Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Drugs and Spirituality

Some people described as religious leaders who include Catholic, Orthodox and Presbyterian priests, Rabbis and a Zen Buddhist recently took part in an experiment in which they were given powerful doses of psilocybin, a psychedelic drug, to see how they would react and if they would report any mystical experiences. See here. This prompts me to revisit some comments I made elsewhere on the subject of drugs and spirituality because I am firmly of the belief that the two don't mix and those who try to mix them on the basis that drugs can offer an experience roughly simulating the mystical are making a mistake. I apologise if these remarks seem a bit piecemeal. I originally made them in another context and have only edited them slightly for this post.

To begin with, why should one even consider associating consciousness altering drugs and the spiritual path? After all, the real aim of the spiritual path is not to achieve a higher state of consciousness (if it were, why be born?) but to acquire virtue using that word to encompass all that is involved in the idea of the good, the beautiful and the true*. You might say that experiencing these states could reorient a person to the spiritual but even if that were true (and I don't dismiss the idea) then once is enough. You don’t need to keep going back even in the context of ritual or so called worship. The point is that it is an artificial means to try to take the kingdom of heaven by storm and therefore a fundamentally irreligious thing to do. It is putting your will above God’s. If he wants you to experience transcendent states he is perfectly capable of giving them to you. However he knows the strong likelihood that a person gets attached to these states and loses the reason for being on the spiritual path in the first place which is to get closer to God through the heart not by means of drugs. The latter will make the former more difficult not less so.

I took LSD a few times in my youth and I also took morning glory seeds which have a similar effect to LSD but are a natural substance. I know how powerful the psychedelic experience is. But what does it really teach you? That higher states exist and that some of them might be something like those you have experienced? To put it bluntly, so what? That's not going to change you fundamentally, not as you are in your character though it may change the way you think. It's a mechanical technique and mechanical techniques don't work in the spiritual world. The best they can do is offer a parody of spirituality. Advocates claim it reveals a world of oneness and love but I'm afraid, even in the best case scenario, all that will happen as a result of that is that you will start behaving in a way you think corresponds to that. That is to say, your behaviour will be considered rather than spontaneous and coming from an inner realisation. There will be a gap between you as you are and your behaviour caused by what you think. You'll be a fake.

You see, drugs operate in the world of experience but spirituality, true spirituality, the spirituality of the saints, is a matter of innocence meaning precisely that it is a natural not artificial expression of what you are inside.

Even setting all this aside, the fact is that taking drugs can open a person up to the influence of dark forces even if done in a supposed religious context. Your (to use a New Agey kind of term) energy fields are open and anything can get in. Drugs can introduce you to the inner side of creation (this is the world of the shaman and quite distinct from the higher spiritual world), and there are many different kinds of inhabitants there. However it is not the realm of the true saints and sages who are humanity's teachers. This is not accessed through drugs.

The fact that no proper spiritual teacher or prophet or guru has ever advocated drug taking in any context should be enough to make one aware that it is not the route to go down. Indeed, my own teachers told me that my use of them had damaged my brain to a degree, and I was by no means a heavy user.

It could be said that one's motivation determines the legitimacy of taking drugs. For instance, what if one is truly seeking divine reality and not just doing it for kicks? I'm afraid that alters very little. Good intentions certainly mitigate a wrong action but a wrong action is still a wrong action, and the point about trying to bend God's will to your own still stands as does the one about prioritising experience over being.  I don't think drugs of any kind have ever made anyone a better person, usually the reverse.

The truth is that the attempt to break into the next world by any artificial means, whether through drugs, chemical or natural, or even fasting, dancing, drumming etc is not the way forward. It belongs to our evolutionary pre-rational past and comes from a time when connection to perceived oneness was being lost and people sought to recapture it. So it’s essentially degenerate behaviour.  It is not a spiritual practice because when you come right down to it it is self-seeking. It is valuing God's gifts above God himself. In our present state of being meditation and prayer are the way forward. Can you imagine any of the saints doing this? Can you imagine Jesus or the Buddha recommending it?

You might think these strictures apply only within the context of theistic religion and are not relevant in terms of an approach that seeks higher levels of consciousness without bringing God into the matter. Setting aside for the moment whether that is an incorrect approach or not (it is!), I would still say that drugs actually reduce one's ability to access these states naturally and, even more important, to respond to them from the standpoint, moral and spiritual, of their own level. By which I mean that if you trespass where you have not earned the right to be you will not be able to understand where you are. Only when you have earned the right of entry by the inner quality of your own being can you respond to these levels properly and in terms of what they really are. Spiritually speaking, you cannot separate knowing and being, and if you try to circumvent that rule you risk inner disconnection. 

The point about higher states of consciousness is not that we should experience them but that we should be like them. This won't happen through drugs but through repentance, self-purification and dedication to the light, principally the light of Christ. Ultimately it's a question of 'thy will be done'. Trying to storm the kingdom of heaven by means of drugs is doing 'my will'.

*Note:  It could be argued that's just the Christian aim but I think it is the universal aim as in what God wants from us. However even from a Buddhist perspective of enlightenment the goal is to go beyond the idea of 'states' altogether so anything tending to affirm that idea could only increase attachment and cravings. Hence for the Buddhist the use of drugs must be seen as perpetuating illusion.


ted said...

Interesting post William. Last year I had my first experience with Ayahuasca with a shaman (even blogged about it). It was a profound experience at the time; more so because I have a busy mind and have found it hard to open myself to higher states of consciousness through meditation and prayer. But did it change me? For a time, yes. But it did not stick. I find myself continuing with meditation, prayer, and study and assumed my path will continue to be a gradual slog (and maybe that is best). I can also attest to what someone said to me at one point of the experience through entheogens: sure they offer a strong medicine, however, the powerful impression of great clarity and insight can also be yet another veil and bulwark against utter nakedness.

William Wildblood said...

I've heard it said that in this age when the veil between the worlds is so thick it is legitimate to use drugs responsibly (whatever that means!) to open oneself up to the divine. Maybe, but I don't believe it because it's putting the cart before the horse. In the spiritual world it's what you are not what you experience that matters.

The barriers in our mind that separate us from higher states (and drugs just remove these barriers I think) are there so that we can focus on building a spiritual character. Trying to bypass these barriers might be said to constitute a refusal to learn the lessons of the material plane. I think your approach is the right one. Try the experience if you wish but then return to the solid path of meditation and prayer etc in which you slowly but profoundly build the results into your being instead of having them slapped on the surface as is the case with drug taking.