Substance Use and Zen
This is something I have always been curious about. I've never had a chance to ask a fellow practitioner so, what do you think about substance use and the practice of zen?
EDIT: When I say substance use I mean experimentation, not over use/abuse.
Treeleaf Founder and Priest
Re: Substance Use and Zen
Originally Posted by PaxAnimi
Let me give you my opinion. Our Precepts guide us to seek, as we can, to not harm others, not harm ourselves ... and to realize that there is no difference between each. "Over use/ abuse", as you describe, seems clearly to be a source of harm to ourselves and others. Even small use that causes a person to, for example, neglect their studies or crash the car would seem a clear harm, no question about it. Any use at all by a very young person would seem extremely dangerous and likely harmful until the person has time to mature. Any supply or giving of drugs to another can have harmful effects, known and unknown.
We also believe that nothing is needed to enhance or improve the experience of being human ... we certainly don't believe in seeking refuge in alcohol, heroin, etc. in a search for escape or release from mental pain. (Zazen, by the way, is not by itself a cure for alcoholism, a very powerful medical condition that requires all the typical types of treatment for it. Zazen and Zen practice, however, can be a key part of a 10 step program or the like).
I drink a glass of wine ... or two (once in awhile) ... in the evening and in moderation. Our way is a way of moderation, red wine is healthful (I think). For something like ecstasy and other mind altering drugs, similar habitual use would have many harmful effects.
Our Precepts are guidelines with few hard answers and, ultimately if mature adults, we must all be the judge of our own lives. Maybe other members of this Sangha will offer other opinions and perspectives?
Black tea has much less caffeine than coffee, and most green teas much less than that. Interestingly, the legend of the history of tea suggests that it was discovered by Boddidharma, who was delighted to find something that would keep him awake during meditation:
As for other substances, well, it can be hard to meditate with a clouded mind, and many substances will do that. This said, I credit certain substances with having opened my mind toward such things as meditation, but that was a long time ago when I was a teenager...
In Friedrich Schillerís poem, 'Das Lied von der Glocke' (engl. 'The Song of the Bell'), there is a famous line which reads 'Der Wahn ist kurz, die Reu ist lang', which roughly translates as 'The craze is short, the regrets are long'. That comes from a part of the poem in which he reflects about various subjects, including whimsically marrying the wrong partner, but the basic principle applies to all pursuits of pleasure. Whatever it may be, the actual pleasure is always fleeting. (Well, that applies to unpleasant things as well, but thatís another topic). You may fantasize about something in advance, enjoy it for a while, and then long for it to return afterwards, but the actual time span when youíre enjoying it is always very small and is over far too soon, after which itís only a fading memory. You may even have regrets during that period of enjoyment, or start to be sad that the pleasure will soon have come to an end. Occasionally, I used to overindulge as well, but once this fleeting nature of things became apparent to me, it pretty much lost itís appeal. Thatís impermanence. Understanding this has helped me to be able to make more clear and rational decisions about my actions. Nowadays I still enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, but it may be weeks or months between one glass and the next...
as for myself, i have had similar experiences to those mentioned by others here. i still drink, and occasionally drink more than i find pleasurable (an interesting sideline of my work, in some ways), but i find that i don't enjoy intoxication in many situations.
in [i]Siddhartha, Herman Hesse suggests that the man who would become the Buddha indulged in many extremes, and most histories seem to acknowledge at least the ascetic extreme. Also, psychology generally suggests that one needs to experience a number of things for oneself in order to understand them fully (at which point one may choose to shun them completely, or at least find middle ground).