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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
MATTEO PISTONO 27 reviewing, reassessing, and experimenting with psychedelics in small sanghas across the country. Intention and caution are two hallmarks of the contemporary flowering of psychedelic use among Buddhists. Recreationally trip- ping on mushrooms or LSD at a Phish show is not to be confused with dharma practice. Instead, as one Zen teacher from Washington said, “We take these substances, which we consider medicine, as a kind of sacrament, with aspirations of healing ourselves so that we can more effectively be of service throughout the world.” Washam continually emphasizes to those who ask her about aya- huasca, “It is not a recreational drug. Ayahuasca is a powerful medi- cine—it heals—it should be honored and respected.” Intention has long been stressed as a principal driving force behind how one experiences one’s mind on psychedelics, beginning with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass) and their research group at Harvard in the 1960s. They referred to intention as the “mind-set,” or simply “set,” one creates going into a psychedelic experience. Equally important to the set is the setting, or the social and physical surroundings in which the experience takes place. “Of course, the drug dose does not produce the transcendent expe- rience. It merely acts as a chemical key—it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting,” Leary wrote in his 1964 guide, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The setting for Washam’s Buddhist ayahuasca retreat is a tradi- tional shamanic ceremony in the Peruvian jungle. This is not only because ayahuasca is legal in Peru and understood as a medicine to Today’s practitioners insist their forays into psychedelics are not a replay of the counterculture scene of the 1960s.