Why not to smoke pot from a Buddhist point of view.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jun 10, 2010
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Why Buddhism views Pot as a no-no (hint: it’s not about morality)

I believe it should be legal, safe, and taxed like alcohol. But I personally don’t smoke, because I don’t find it helpful.

My buddy D and I have had the is-pot-a-good-thing-for-humans argument for years…well before pot became more or less legal in these here parts.

I’ve smoked pot, we’ve all smoked pot. But I was brought up Buddhist, and Buddhism is all about clearing and opening and waking up one’s mind. Pot isn’t always conducive to such, though in limited and mindful quantities it can be a lot of fun, and relaxing. So I don’t smoke, and haven’t done for many, many years. (In high school, in Vermont, however, I had my bogarting everyone’s spliffs phase).

Many folks still view marijuana as immoral. Buddhism doesn’t, and I don’t. It’s about the same as alcohol, to my mind, only far less harmful (alcohol causes so many accidents, and can lead more easily to fights…pot leads to eating brownies, watching TV, deep conversations about where fire goes when it burns out, and deep conversations about Sartre, and God, and Kant). That said, from a point of view of developing one’s path of meditation, pot might not be helpful for most of us.

Still, Buddhism more or less forbids the smoking of pot. I remember my Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, invited all his Buddhist students to bring all their pot to “a party” in the early days—and, when they got there, they were ordered/asked to throw it upon a bonfire. Smoking dope is akin to “inviting clouds of ignorance into your mind,” Trungpa Rinpoche said, or something along those lines. I couldn’t remember the exact quote, or find it online, so I asked my momma:

From: Waylon Lewis <info at elephantjournal dot com>
Subject: Re: curious
Date: Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 1:13 PM

Dear Mom,

I looked all over…there’s lots of references to him talking about it as inviting clouds of ignorance in to your mindstream, that sort of thing, but I didn’t find an exact quote.

Dear Waylon,

All I know is what I’ve told you before—Rinpoche told us in the early “70’s, after trying most everything himself without it having much of an effect on him, that we shouldn’t do drugs or grass, “Try ordinary mind instead!”—not that we knew what that was then.

But the message was at least clear to me to give up my hippie pattern of trying whatever was offered; if I were going to have a teacher, I should follow his teachings.

Later in the mid- to late ’70’s he was asked about drinking and he seemed to think that was ok because if one lost one’s mindfulness, the hangover was the re-grounding message.

In the early 80’s he also said over and over again not to mimic his life-style, but to emulate him.

This made sense as all along he had pointed out that Gampopa was not like Mila who was not like Marpa who was not like Naro who was not like Tilopa.  (The monk was not like the yogi who was not like the merchant-farmer-translator who was not like the scholar of the Northern Gate of Nalanda who was not like the man along the banks of the river living off of fish heads and entrails!)

Cheers and love,


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


87 Responses to “Why not to smoke pot from a Buddhist point of view.”

  1. RobiDon says:

    Those who worship Shiva consider cannabis to be a gift from Shiva and use it as part of their worship.

  2. RobiDon says:

    What dependency and health consequences? The human body has its own cannabis system – the endogenous cannabinoid system – which is responsible for maintaining the homeostasis of the body from cells to organs. I would say that all studies which purport that cannabis is harmful are flawed, either methodologically or through outright ideological prejudice. The Dalai Lama says that meditation is fine and necessary, but developing affection and compassion is more important. I think he's alluding to the ego's ability to make even meditation practice into a source of "pleasure or pride."

  3. Torsteld says:

    Agreed very much with Baracas.

    One is guided by the Eightfold path. But, in the end, one must find their own way. This may contain some smoke, this may contain no smoke. Everyone has their own path, and though they may intertwine, they are not the same. What works for some is not always the path of others. Do not be too critical on the self about any misgivings you have towards your actions along your path. It is a long journey, and one will find them places they did not expect. That doesn't mean it's bad, wrong, evil, whatever.

    Follow your path with a kind heart and a wise mind, and one will find their way. It might be a way filled with marijuana smoke or maybe none at all, only you will know.

    Peace, love, and blessings of life.


  4. MJPatient says:

    I'm a student of the Buddha but not really a Buddhist.
    I use it medicinally to help me sleep mostly by reducing inflammation in my bad shoulder.
    For me it is like life: sometimes good, sometimes bad, and everything in between.
    I understand that hard core Buddhists may want to remain pure. But for most people it's a good way to relax, to enjoy, and to see things differently. Sometimes it helps me see important truths that I would otherwise miss. Sometimes it helps me really appreciate things.
    Could I do without it?
    No doubt.
    But I see no reason to.
    To each his own.
    No big deal either way as far as I can see.

  5. Jenny says:

    While I don't necessarily agree with the "forbidding" of pot by anyone, I have studied the teachings of the Buddha and monks are certainly told not to do things and certainly in many Buddhist traditions any substance that alters the mind is "discouraged".
    However most "lay Buddhists" have a more lenient view towards using alcohol and marijuana in moderation.
    One of the things I like about Buddhism is that one is allowed to find one's own way as long as one is on a path towards bettering oneself.
    And as far as I know the Buddha never specifically spoke about marijuana.

  6. Walter Logue says:

    I have entertained many conversations about Buddhism and marijuana; This particular sangha and marijuana; Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoches feelings about marijuana…. I certainly am familiar with the popular topics of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s party and buring the marijuana in the fire: “burning deception” or some such words being chanted during the ritualistic divorce from ‘grass’ amongst the long hairs, pygmies and hippies of that particular generation.

    It is a very interesting topic and I thank you muchly for bringing it up in this forum, Waylon!!

    I certainly have mixed feelings about the topic.

    In terms of actions, I have definitely smoked grass in the past few years – excesssively at times, though none since about 2009. Truth is, I would probably still smoke occassionally if not for the job markets that I frequent.

    I am a “buddhist” though I do not believe that the “religion” has anything to do with the question of ‘to toke or not to toke’.

    I know that many of my teachers have expressed similar concerns about Marijuana. On some level I suppose people might say that this should be the end of the debate in my heart – my teachers have expressed concerns about grass so that should be a clear beacon to me as to how to relate to it in my own life, but it is not quite so clear to me.

    SOME Buddhists

    “Dont kill”.

    Not anything, not for any justifiable reason other than to fulfill the actions of the 4th karma.

    SOME Buddhists do not employ someone to kill for them. Never, not any sentient beings, not for any justifiable reasons…

    No Lying, Stealing, Sexual Misconduct, Intoxicants to the point of inebriation…

    SOME Buddhists.

    I LOVE and CHERISH the fact that there are boundaries and the fact that there are conduct guidelines and teacher disciple instructions.

    These are extremely important (in fact necessary) on the path of any genuine tradition.

    If your teacher specifically tells you not to smoke marijuana then I think that is clear and accurate and should be observed at the cost of ones life.

    If your teacher told your best friend to stop smoking marijuana, I think it would be helpful for you to help remind your best friend as needed, gently

    >>if they asked you to help them with this instruction…

    but that does not mean you should stop smoking marijuana just because your friend was told this.

    This path is about our own particular ideation and our own particular karma in this particular life.

    Your best friend cannot walk the path for you, nor you for them.

    Moral of story: Ask your own teacher.

    If you do not have a genuine teacher that you have asked to guide you on your path yet – then maybe that is the more important question to examine first.

  7. These drugs are good at blasting us to new states. I can say the same of non-drug spiritual methodologies. However, those rocket ships only fly for so long. The real test is day-to-day living. I can be perfectly spiritual in my cave on the mountain, but once I come back to society the real test begins.

    What is needed is real practice in daily life. Otherwise you're just a dilettante with a head full of intellectual fluff.

  8. mary says:

    The Buddha said 'no intoxicants' isn't that fairly clear?

  9. Finly says:

    I've been smoking regularly for 4 decades. Never more than a few tokes at a time. Maybe a few times a week. It breaks the spell of the conditioned mind. Expansion happens. Creativity happens. Meditation happens. Appreciation and Gratitude happens. I say that ANYTHING can be abused or used. To each his/her own. We are all unique Beings on our individual and collective journeys. Stop with the "Yes, it's good. No it's bad". Some day We will All begin to see beyond labeling everything as "good" and "bad". See what's true for You. Namaste.

  10. Clifford says:

    I don't think there is anything explicitly forbidden in Buddhism. I do understand there are five aspirations: I undertake to train myself not to harm or kill. I undertake to train myself not to take that which is not freely given. I undertake to train myself not to engage in unwholesome speech. I undertake to train myself not to engage in sexual/sensual misconduct. I undertake to train myself not to partake of intoxicants that cloud the mind.
    Though I am not there yet, I would understand that as one acquires insight the use of such substances may be voluntarily limited as not being helpful. Notably, One teacher has described "pigging out" on sugar as an experiment, and his experience that the effect was to make mindfulness and awareness of energy very difficult, if not impossible! Again, though I am not there yet, I understand that when one is further along the path to awakening judgement of both oneself and of others is replaced by an incredible compassion. Perhaps these insights passed along by lamas I have had the great fortune to encounter may be helpful to the discussion?

  11. Kai says:

    There is a big issue with saying anything is from a "Buddhist" point of view, like all these articles are doing. This is assuming that Buddhism is a monolithic entity, and this viewpoint can represent everyone who identifies as Buddhist. Buddhism is vast and cannot be essentialized; the same applies for Buddhists, Christians, Jews, yogis, etc.

  12. Mark Mullen says:

    Seems hypocritical for Trungpa….a well known, admitted, and profligate boozer….to be down on a vice that i less harmful than his own. There are plenty of Buddhist who would have made good examples. Whether it is drugs or lovers or coffee, looking for happiness among the Ten Thousand Things is a fool’s errand, an affliction, and a….the….major cause of suffering.

  13. Walter Logue says:

    Marijuana, tobacco, incense in enclosed spaces, excessive amounts of juniper smoke being inhaled from a lhasang ceremony… All of these are SMOKE and ALL of these are said to carry a risk to the subtle channels of our body.

    Smoke in the nadis can be problematic for the practitioner.

    In the yoga practices related to Nadi, Prana and Bindu, there are specific instructions surrounding SMOKE and getting SMOKE into the channels of ones subtle body.

    This can cause difficulties for the practitioners.

    SMOKING anything, by inhaling it into ones body makes it more likely that it can enter into the channels and create problems in our practice.

    There have been many commentaries about this in the teachings I have studied, it is true.

    I am in no ways suggesting that this is an unimportant topic and I truly believe that there are many profound masters whose teachings on this subject are extremely helpful and important.

    In terms of ones’ path however, this is a PERSONAL issue and one that should be related to very personally.

    Generic answers will not be very helpful for us if we do not see their application in our own lives and in our own world.

    o say that this school teaches that this should be avoided or that school supports this notion is very helpful as a guideline but it is not very helpful as a dogma.

    As I say above, the teachings on killing are very clear from Buddha. They do not include the notion that it is okay to kill flies and ants and cockroaches.

    Is there some exception made for slaughtering cows and chickens? Does this mean that entire societies of peoples should just starve to death because there are no available plants for nourishment to sustain life? Does this sound like a good instruction from a competent teacher as a means of traversing the path?

    Obviously not.

    As with most instructions on the path of dharma, one should take them to heart, take them for a test drive, kick the tires, do a few wheelies and check the handling… as it were… and if there are questions about an instruction then we should >>>ask our teacher<<<

    This is one of the many reasons for having a personal teacher and a KALAYANAMITRA or spiritual friend on the path.

    There is no generic answer among the 108000 dharmas.

    Or, that is how I feel about it anyway!

    love and stuff!!

  14. Sunshine says:

    you definitely have not tried DMT or ayahuasca.

  15. emilyo says:

    Strictly speaking of health consequences, is "smoking" pot bad for you if you don't smoke it but instead VAPORIZE it? There is no burning or smoking, only heating up to release the chemical. What do you think?

  16. More is the treasure of the Law than gems;
    Sweeter than comb its sweetness: its delights
    Delightful past compare. Thereby to live
    Hear the Five Rules aright:

    Kill not- for pity’s sake and lest ye slay
    the meanest thing upon its upward way.

    Give freely and receive, but take from none
    by greed, or force or fraud, what is his own

    Bear not false witness, slander not, nor lie;
    Truth (Dharma) is the speech of inward purity.

    Shun drugs and drinks which work the wit abuse:
    Clear minds, clean bodies, need no Soma juice.

    Touch not thy neighbor’s wife, neither commit
    Sins of he flesh unlawful and unfit.

    Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
    Which none at last can turn aside or stay:
    The heart of it is Love, the end of it
    Is Peace and Consummation Sweet. Obey!

  17. emilyo says:

    Can you provide the source for this info? If a lighter was used to smoke, inhaling butane must have some effect, no? Vaporizing is the answer : )

  18. Pamela says:

    Yes. It is actually quite dangerous for tantric practitioners to smoke marijuana…does very strange things in the nadis and creates shadow channels. New research shows that it can dehydrate the brain's synapses…my teacher says it is like practicing for alzheimer's. It is not the smoking, it is the thc….kryptonite for tantricas.

  19. Pamela says:

    You are really asking for trouble when you combine pot with practice. Tremendously naive.

  20. Carl says:

    You are such a Dharma brat!!!!…If ingested and used as a life enhancement, that interacts with our very own endo-cannabiniod system, it has the potential to unlock more of the mind, and act as a preventative medicine and healer for all sorts of debilitating diseases, not to name drop but – CANCER – HIV – PTSD – PARKINSONS…..and the list goes on.

    Sure it has a pleasure element and I mean this next statement from the bottom of my open heart but so does meditation, yoga, physical activity, sex, deep focus, achievement. All these stimulate the mind and react with its chemical balance…whats so wrong with considering cannabis sativa as you would a yerba mate or cup of joe that you love so dearly?…no comparison in a truly free world.

  21. Turiya Hill says:

    I have yet to meet any one who smokes marijuana regularly and is able to maintain the constancy of a daily meditation ( 1 hour ) practice….

  22. ardha chandra says:

    Okay. So I am way out here on the fringes of hip, cool, insider insight. Can someone, anyone tell me why Chogyam Trungpa, who is acknowledged to have been an alcoholic, is so down on mind alteration.
    What kept him drinking to excess for years, while insisting that ganga be burned on the fires of illusion?

  23. Mike Smith says:

    Waylon, nice writing here and great addition from the letter from your Mom. Nice job Linda. I think, in short, from Padmasambhava's teachings down to Chogyam Trunpa Rinpoche the message was clear. Don't smoke pot if you want to be a Buddhist. CTR's comments were enough for me though.

  24. Chris says:

    Buddha Shakyamuni instated the precept of abstaining from the use of intoxicants to protect practitioners from being careless, breaking their vows, and causing disharmony. To refrain from the use of intoxicants is an act of compassion and can do nothing but benefit sentient beings.

  25. Chris says:

    The precepts were developed to support a practitioner in developing stability and should be followed if one wants to not waste time on the path. This human life is precious and time is limited. Based off of my own experience any substance that clouds the mind is not conclusive to the practice of Buddhadharma. If you don't want to waste time walking in circles I recommend letting go of extraneous hindrances like drugs and alcohol. We have enough trouble as human beings practicing Dharma sober.

  26. Joyce says:

    Isn't it true that we can become attached or dependent upon anything if there is an emotional void and a need to fill that void with something external that makes us feel better? So, if shopping, exercise, food, sex, alcohol or drugs be addictive, why can't pot? Regardless of if science declares the substance as addictive or not, anything can potentially be addictive if we are dependent upon it to meet our emotional needs. I think if people use pot to either make them feel happy, relaxed or aid in meditation, etc., they need to always be aware of the potential for a dependency. In my opinion, it's far more productive identifying our emotion needs and meeting them internally, rather than using external means.

  27. Joyce says:

    I would agree that there is no threat in it being an obstacle, as long as a dependency doesn't develop. Once a dependency develops, whether it is to food, exercise, success, shopping, alcohol, drugs, sex, etc., etc., very real obstacles develop. Try being dependent on something…anything…and have it NOT affect your life in a negative way. It's actually impossible.

  28. andeejo says:

    you hit the nail on the head there. exactly. in my ayurvedic practice i explain that to patients, but in my western practice, for patients with cancer etc, i advocate for pain control with prescription thc… but it really does seem to do something different to the body when the intention is medicinal, that may apply to everyone… but i don't think most of us are enlightened enough to know the difference… so until then… prolly not helpful for the path… 🙂

  29. trin says:

    Marijuana is like any drug, alcohol included. If used regularly by people who have a predisposition it can provoke mental illness. I have experienced addictive behaviour with some of my friends who went from social smokers to chronic smokers. It changes a person's perception and lowers inhibitions. It didn't change them for the better and they have become addicts. If people can use this drug and not harm themselves or anyone else than that is there choice. It's the same as alcohol and I suspect other drugs that will be legalised in the future. I think the problem is not in what drug people use it's the intention with which they use it.

  30. John says:

    in "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula – the 5th of the 5 Precepts: "not to take intoxicating drinks". and brom Jack Herer's book "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" ".Buddhists (Tibet, India and Chia) – from the 5th century BC on – ritually used cannabis; initiation rites and mystical experiences were (are) common in my Chinese Buddhist Sects. Some Tibetan Buddhists and lamas (priests) consider cannabis their most holy plant. Many Buddhist traditions, writings, and belief indicate that "Siddhartha" (the Buddha) himself, used and ate nothing but hemp and its seeds for six years prior to announcing (discovering) his truths and becoming the Buddha (Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path).

  31. Sachin says:

    you can get information about the "do's" and "dont's" for Buddhist practitioners in the Tripitika -Vinaya Pitaka. The Buddha never laid any rules as a pre-existing condition, but evolved as the situation arose. Gautam Buddha specifically states, "It is forbidden to use any intoxicants which cause heedlessness.

  32. Sachin says:

    Lovely! in fact as one walks the road, one's state of being itself discards things it does not need. It is effortless, there is no need to be judgemental about one's self, so long as the 5 core "sila" are not being violated of sexual misconduct, lying, stealing, killing and intoxicants which cause heedlessness.

  33. nathalie says:

    And what difference would it make in your life if you meet this person or not? I am going to take a guess and assume that if you do not meet this person ever, you will momentarily be satisfied that you have proven your point and then what? The satisfaction of being right will disappear in seconds. If you actually find this person you will be proven wrong, your ego will get hurt, you will have to deal with the discomfort of being wrong but you would have learned something new. Even if you don't ever meet this person, it does not mean that this person does not exist, unless you interview every single person in this planet and they all happen to be 100% honest people and fully open up to you. The chances of you accomplishing the latter are pretty unrealistic. There are people in this world who smoke cannabis and meditate and do yoga and do all sorts of things any other human being can do and there those who don't smoke and also do all sorts of things in the world. There are also people who call themselves Buddhists and Christians and meditators and gurus who have all sorts of flaws and despicable behaviours, who crave sugar, attention and money, those who drink coffee and alcohol and, there are those who try to be the best they can be. Don't worry about meeting this person, just be happy that we have all sorts of people in this world and let others be, chances are the more people learn about cannabis, you'll have a chance to meet one of these people soon, you just need to be open to meet these kind of people 😉

  34. DJB says:

    I took refuge in Buddhism in 1997. I'd estimate that I did around 8,000 hours of meditation, living on retreat for months at a time under teachers like Pema Chodron and Reggie Ray, the Sakyong, and others. During all of that time I had almost zero experience of dealing with my own personal trauma related to having been victim of extensive child abuse, even as I continued to experience intense depression, suicidal thoughts, panic disorder, social anxiety and crippling loneliness well into my 30's. I was not a weed smoker because teachers had told me not to do it. When I finally, finally, finally discovered how powerful cannabis can be for alleviating the symptoms of PTSD I was stunned, nothing I'd encountered in Buddhism or Yoga even came close. I awoke to my own trauma history in a very personal and direct way with the help of that plant and I'm living a much fuller and richer life now because of it. So yeah, I'm angry that I took the bad advice of spiritual teachers and overlooked a life changing treatment for so long. At this point I could care less if all the Buddhist teachers in the world lined up and denounced Marijuana, they didn't help me nearly as much as it did.

  35. DJB says:

    I appreciate hearing your perspective Gesar, we crossed paths at RMSC years ago. I remember thinking some of the rumors I heard about you were scandalous as I was trying to be an upstanding Vajrayana Buddhist back then. But anyways when I discovered Marijuana it opened me up to experience traumatic aspects of my own story that I had buried and avoided through many years of Buddhism. I don't do anything Vajrayana anymore, still do yoga and basic meditation but I wish I had discovered weed many years earlier.

  36. Mau says:

    just because the human body has its own endogenous cannabinoid system does not justify the use of marijuana. in fact, if one uses marijuana regularly, then one's own production and utilization of endogenous cannabinoids will be disturbed. we can actually learn to enhance our own inner physiology to feel high. and the benefit to that is that there will be no hang over and no need to ingest anything other than free clean air. try going for a walk in nature and smoke an imaginary joint and see what happens 🙂

  37. Ric says:

    Rinpoche, responded to a family members question if he would give her permission to smoke pot, to which he replied only for teaching purposses, (from then on used it to learn, and not just waste away high on pot.)