Michael’s Macro Photos

Published on June 2, 2013

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I should know better than to talk about drugs and the dharma (and I usually don't) in the same sentence. Encouraging drug use is not my intention. And it would seem that there really is no obvious link between drugs and the dharma in this country. However, there is one indirect link that to me it is very interesting, and worth risking a discussion.

In my experience drugs are not per-se dharmic, with one exception, LSD. And, although they may not be popular, here are my thoughts:

For me the direct results of LSD had to do with the nature of the mind and how it worked. When acid came on the scene in the early 1960s, it was not just another fun high like marijuana. It struck at the core of the 1950's fixed mentality and split it wide open. The genie was out of the bottle.

It is a testimony to the universality of the truth of the dharma that it does not have to come in a Tibetan or Japanese wrapper. Rather, the dharma is like the laws of nature, right up there with gravity and sunshine. It just is. We don't break the laws of nature; they break us. It is the same with the dharma. We work with it and not against it.

When LSD came along and laid bare some of the internal workings of the mind, that was my first real dharma lesson. Like a mental tsunami, acid left in its wake chaos and instability, but also insights and clarity for many of us at that first taste. And it certainly did not have the name of dharma stamped on it, but it was very dharmic.

And when almost a decade later great dharma masters like Chögyam Trungpa came along, they made quick work of our acid trips. It suddenly all made sense. And unlike those of us with acid experience, where we might have this insight right but had no idea where it fit into the overall scheme of life, the dharma had a place for it. Everything we saw in the light of LSD fit together with the dharma teachings like plugging a piece into a jigsaw puzzle.

I had been to the brightest minds I knew (like the Catholic Jesuits) and shared my acid experience asking for an explanation, but they did not have a clue. "Have faith," was about all they said. With my LSD experiences I had somehow ventured beyond the pale of society's consensus and into uncharted waters, territory usually reserved for shamans and those who find themselves in alternate realities and states of mind. I was a voice crying in the wilderness and there were suddenly millions of us. We could not really sort it out. What we were seeing was just too different. Like the dharma, it was a wakeup call.

When the great dharma teacher Chögyam Trungpa came on the scene in the early 1970s all that changed. He was totally at home with whatever we had come across in the mind on acid and never blinked. In fact, it is reputed that Trungpa once took LSD and his only comment was "Nothing happened!" Not only was acid not a challenge to Trungpa, but he was able to show people like myself how each insight into the nature of the mind that LSD had given us fit into an overall approach to training the mind.

Everything my generation could throw at Trungpa just became more grist for his mill. Believe me friends, THAT was impressive and he immediately tamed thousands of us who had fallen into the scary habit of thinking that we must be the Lone Ranger and somehow unique because of our LSD experiences. Trungpa could settle that question with a simple comment. Nothing we saw in the mind was news to him. Out of the chaos of our acid experiences Trungpa made order. And we just got in line.

What we had seen on acid was the truth or part of it. Like a piece of a puzzle, we had no idea where this or that insight fit in. Trungpa showed how all our pieces fit into the larger picture and we got it. At least in my case, these two powers changed my life, first LSD, and then Trungpa, who helped make sense of it all.

I tell this story because it explains my ambivalence when it comes to drugs. I never got much out of any drugs (except some entertainment), with the exception of LSD. But I would be a liar if I denied that I learned an inestimable amount from taking that drug.

That being said, I should hasten to point out that I sincerely believe that acid was useful at a particular time in history when the fixed dichotomy of the current thinking of the time needed some air, and acid was a shortcut to the future. It paved the way for what we call the 1960s and, IMO, was the principle catalyst for that revolution. Nothing else came close.

And that fact that what we saw on LSD turned out to be part of the dharma is a testimony to its truth and universality. Thank goodness that the Tibetans, driven out of their own country, wandered into America and showed us where the pieces of the puzzle of the mind that we saw on acid fit. Once I found the dharma, drugs no longer interested me.

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