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. mary says:

    Tsa Lung teachers in the nyingmapa tradition say smoke in general clouds the channels.
    That pot initally opens the mind, but if this is not supported with ethics right behaviours.wisdom etc..it twists the heart center and closes it up again,thats the ignorance.
    And that one shouldnt depend on any substance to change ones state of mind if possible.

  2. Rick Gilbert says:

    I've heard from another dharma brat, who said that her father told her that Rinpoche made a proclimation when the weed was added to the fire–something along the lines of "burn, self-deception, burn."

  3. Jenny says:

    It might have been fun to be close to that fire though. (back then).

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    I would add to Mary's comment that it not only "clouds" the channels but inhalation of any smoke ie. Marijuana, tobacco, opium actually kills subtle beings inside the subtle body of an individual. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche in admonishing a few of the Brazilian workers working at his center in southern Brasil taught from a text from Guru Rinpoche that smoking, each instance, was equivalent to killing 100 sentient beings.

  5. swati jr* says:

    seems to me all mind-altering drugs are the same ultimately. we really don't need any of them. and especially not for developing higher states of consciousness.

  6. neil g says:

    Smoking pot facilitates fun, it leads to people laughing a little easier. There are many hours in a day, they don't all have to be spent developing higher states of consciousness, doing good, being responsible….. Sometimes smoking pot leads to people not feeling good about things, which leads to them being contemplative in the following days, wondering, what was going on that did not allow me to have fun. These following days are equivalent to Trungpa Rinpche's hangover rationalization for drinking. If Trungpa Rinpoche happened to love pot instead of Sake, he would have made his argument the other way around : )

  7. Jeff says:

    Set and setting goes a long way towards resolving speculation.

  8. zenbo says:

    Trungpa Rinpoche advising his followers not to alter their consciousness with 'chemicals" ?
    That's a rich one!

  9. Randall Smith says:

    It would be interesting to have a lama and an ayahuascero compare notes. Recreational use is escape. Entheogenic use is engagement.

  10. Padma Kadag says:

    As in all religions you can find exception to the norm. If you decide to practice Buddhism as prescribed by Lamas who are of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism…you have done just that…you decide to practice according to their teaching and maintain samaya. If we do not want to follow the Lama's instructions then we are not and should not practice. Marijuana has no place according to the school of the Nyingma. Neither do mushrooms, peyote, opium, and so on. Why would we use if this was just another ordinary state? If enlightenment were possible with these substances then why aren't there millions of enlightened users? If we are talking occassional use then the individual needs to have that discussion with their teacher. We in the West don't "take kind" to being told what we can and cannot do.

  11. via http://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal
    Dan M
    The Author seems to still be drawn to the cult of personality around Rinpoche. Why not instead celbrate that he was a brilliant, and entirely human being, with many all-too-human flaws. (some interesting links there too, leading to more questions than answers)

    Deniz T
    I would've told him, "OK, I'll throw it in the fire if you throw all your booze in the fire too."

    Steve D
    That's funny, a cult of personality, a term derived from Marxism I believe, applied to Trungpa.

    Mira F
    Didn't have time to read the article. But it's refreshing to see celebs smoking herb for a change 🙂

    German G
    I had this conversation about the use of marijuana with a friend back in march this year in a little town close to Monterrey, Mexico. At the time there was a wave of violence and killings in the big city that all of us were talking about. Some of my many climbing friends from the US and Canada were contacted by family and friends to check if they were OK. My friend and I agree that seemed to be the general opinion that the violence and killings were so negative, perhaps "and immoral thing"? but for many of the very same people complaining about the insecurity in Mexico it doesn't seem like a bad idea or "immoral" to consume the byproduct of that violence and kill that is the marijuana.

    "Men are more moral than they think and far more immoral than they can imagine". ~ Sigmund Freud

  12. smithnd says:

    I'm not a practicing Buddhist. So what you say is not entirely relevant to me. If I were a Buddhist, this would present a dilemma and a potential source of engagement/confrontation with the tradition and what it means to me. If the religious/spiritual tradition you follow holds to a doctrine that you find unacceptable, you can choose to confront it from within the tradition or leave. I'm not a huge fan of leaving. But as I say, there is nothing here for me to leave.

    My point is simply that from what I understand of Buddhism, the prohibition of marijuana makes little sense. What's the difference between that and alcohol, tobacco, paan, or psychotherapeutic medicines. Of course, there *are* differences, but what are they and to what degree? And do these differences warrant a prohibition of one and not the other? As an outsider, this looks inconsistent. If I had to wager, I would guess that it has a lot more to do with long-standing social and cultural attitudes than any *real* or thoughtful differentiation. If that's the case, then this doctrine deserves to be challenged.

  13. Padma Kadag says:

    good comments…there are all kinds of buddhisms and millions more types of buddhists. if you were a buddhist you would most definately find fellow buddhists that share your habits as i have found those that share mine. Actually tobacco is regarded much in the same way marijuana is in regard to effects on the subtle body. The source of this comes from the experience of many masters. It is also documented in the the teachings of Padmasambhava and commented on extensively by HH Dudjom Rinpoche. There are links to Dudjom Rinpoche's commentary on line. Alcohol is also not allowed for monastics but is allowed for lay practitioner ngakpas at very small quatity. It is also required for ganachakra offerings. paan is also not encouraged and I am not sure of the reasons why. Any habits we have that only serve to create more attachment and confusion are not encouraged of course.

  14. Yeshe Dorje says:

    I don't know about "Buddhism" forbidding the use of marijuana. I do know that all the vajra masters I have studied with have been quite specific in requesting me not to smoke anything. I have respected that request.

    I do get curious every so often about the impact of cooking marijuana into some food… However that is not an option for me, as this plant is still very "illegal" in my neighborhood.

    Funny planet. Funny religions. Funny gun-weilding governments…

  15. Robert Bullock says:

    "Still, Buddhism more or less forbids the smoking of pot."

    I don't think that's anywhere close to true. It might be true for monks, maybe. I don't think smoking a LOT of grass is good for anyone for any number of reasons, but I don't buy that it's "forbidden" for good little Buddhists. It makes you sleepy and fat and hard to meditate. But once in awhile, it seems like a really good thing for spiritual practice.

    For one thing, it's a rich, intense experience with which you can work with. If you're a decent meditator, a little bit of good weed is not going to pose a problem. You can work with whatever experiences you have and since the experience of being high is not your norm (if it's not), it's a good opportunity to observe something outside of your habituated mental states.

    If you're a newbie, it can absolutely provide you with yet another delusional state that you'll mistake for "enlightenment", but you're going to do that over and over again anyway, so what's the big deal?

  16. Robert Bullock says:

    I agree with German G… we shouldn't be smoking/consuming anything that promotes or funds violence. Now try that trick and see how long you can survive in this country! It's virtually impossible, this nation was and is fueled by violence. That said, I personally would only smoke weed grown by local friends. It's better anyway and nobody gets hurt.

  17. Robert Bullock says:

    " If enlightenment were possible with these substances then why aren't there millions of enlightened users?"

    But there are! They just don't realize it you know.

  18. Robert Bullock says:

    Can't disagree with that. However, I don't think it's a question of whether drugs are *necessary* for developing "higher states of consciousness" but if they're either blanket forbidden by the Buddhist tradition and/or a real obstacle to development. I say no on both counts. Then again, I like weed. 😉

  19. Robert Bullock says:

    And that one shouldnt depend on any substance to change ones state of mind if possible.

    Yes, but "depend", that's the key word.

  20. Robert Bullock says:

    I can believe that. Because for a lot of immature, inexperienced practitioners, drugs would no doubt be yet another self-deception. For the mature, experienced practitioner, however, maybe not.

  21. Padma Kadag says:

    "If you're a decent meditator, a little bit of good weed is not going to pose a problem. You can work with whatever experiences you have and since the experience of being high is not your norm (if it's not), it's a good opportunity to observe something outside of your habituated mental states. " This statement is this referring to you? Wow thats great!

  22. Robert says:

    It's referring to anyone who experiments with altered states of consciousness with a spiritual orientation. It's very difficult sometimes to see our thought patterns until they're disturbed or interrupted. Some people become very frightened when they take drugs. Some very happy. Some very spaced out. Any state of mind that is outside of your norm is good to work with, but if you believe that the drug is bringing some special insight on it's own, you are definitely deluded.

  23. gsergg4rg says:

    The biggest benefit that I personally see to marijuana is that it increases my sex drive. I'm 22, male, and have almost no sex drive usually. I regularly go months without feeling anything vaguely sexual whether physical or mental. But if I smoke pot? Wow, it's like I have a normal sex drive and can get aroused for once.

    So basically for me it increases certain aspects of aesthetic enjoyment, in particular enjoyment of certain types of music. I can't get into much of my meditative music while high but other stuff is just unbelievably enjoyable. One other effect of it for me is the enhancement of associative thinking – instead of feeling fairly centered in mental calmness, thinking deliberately and slowly in a singularly directed fashion, pot causes my thoughts to create new connections in novel ways, and sometimes will spend hours simply thinking in this manner, enjoying the show of it. It requires a great deal of concentration though to not get lost in the maze of my own thoughts. If I am absent minded for even a moment there's the very real possibility of landing in a paranoia trip and spiraling out of control in my own web of illusion.

    Marijuana is also "useful" for relieving depression. Of course this could be said of anything which lightens anyone's mental load but I do find it incredibly potent for clearing away the dark clouds. I've even been in states close to suicide where, after smoking, I laugh at the grave seriousness of my prior mindstate. Of course when the high wears off I'm back to where I started from, mostly, but that relief period is sometimes enough to give me the will to continue on.

  24. Daniel says:

    I am not now nor do I desire to be a Buddhist so whether it is allowed within that context is not my concern. I have witnessed various cultures and all seem to have an acceptable intoxicant. I have seen marijuana almost everywhere I have been. Coca leaves are chewed in the Andes, Kat or Miraa in Africa, opium in asia and alcohol most (but not all) everywhere. And there are many more that I know nothing about.

    Is it harmful physiologically? Of course it is. So is breathing the air in any major city. I once read that living in Los Angeles equated to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Soda, or pesticides or lying in the sun are also bad for the body. Living is bad for the body. From the point you are born your body begins the path toward death. No amount of vegetables or sun salutations or anything else will divert us from our path back to the dust.

    I spent a few years as a bartender which provided an interesting sounding board for smoking. I came to realize that as a bartender I was nothing more than a legalized drug pusher. Addicts showed up, I served them. Pour them hard and they would sit at my bar all night and tip me well! Over time I began to systematize drugs similar to alcohols. I began to see that marijuana in its natural form was very similar to beer. Very predictable and controllable. The same is true of most unrefined drugs such as raw coca leaves or Kat. Then we step up to the refined level. Whiskeys began to look like hashish or cocaine. Strong addictive power that can and does catch people in its net. Everybody knows what can happen when a bottle of tequila gets cracked and is passed around the room. Then there are the realms beyond this that I wanted no part of.

    I personally have found it useful in limited amounts. Every once and I while it is nice to have a bit to review where I am in life and whether or not I am happy. A chance to look at myself from a different perspective. In that affect it has influenced some major decisions in my life,… for the better. I also find it a nice change to exercize. It brings a focus (or a dulling of peripheral distractions) to the routine. It could be a long hike in the woods or a bike ride or a deep stretch routine. As with anything, used in moderation it has its positives.

    I think the Dutch have got it right. We can argue the morality but hard to argue its presence. Create a legal niche and control it.

  25. dave says:

    Padmasambhava never spoke against marajuanna or cannabis not once, theres no record of it anywhere

    he gave many teachings on tabacco and its ill effects

    am i right in thinking he was a practicing shivite in the charnel grounds??

    the effects of grass and tabacco are very different, look at chinese medicine that is a good way of seeing what both plants do to the chi, tabacco very bad effect , grass not so bad but can cause problems if over used

  26. David McKinney says:

    Frederic says: "Bottom line is if you're serious about your enlightenment, it should be avoided."

    C'mon, man–first of all, there is no *your* enlightenment, right? And even if we take a very relative view and allow for "your" enlightenment and "my" enlightenment, how could you possibly presume to know what inhibits or facilitates "mine"?

    Most of the anti-weed arguments sound like recycled judeo-christian dogma to me. Within Hinayana view, for sure, it's "bad" and should be avoided. From any view focused on the cultivation of the wisdom that perceives emptiness, however, how could weed possibly be any less empty than not-weed?

    Also, I feel the context of CTR's teaching on this has been totally overlooked. CTR came to Colorado in the 70s and was met by 70s hippies who were veering to the extreme of sloppiness and spaciness. Collectively that group of people were spaced-out and loose enough that they didn't need any more space, so he quite logically nudged them back towards the middle! Nowadays, however, lots of buddhists seem kinda stiff to me, caught up in rules and minutiae, the letter of the dharma vs the spirit of the dharma you could say. The spirit or goal of the dharma is recognizing the true nature of mind (for the benefit of all beings), and anything that facilitates this is, to my understanding, dharma.

    It's not helpful for everyone, but for many people cannabis sativa facilitates a fresh perspective, and if the practitioner is able to use that fresh perspective skillfully to investigate the true nature of mind, well–I don't see how that's "bad"…

    Undoubtedly there's serious potential for confusion/misuse, but that's true for almost any substance/teaching/appearance in all six realms!

    Btw, I feel it's important to make a distinction between sativa, which stimulates awareness, vs indica, which tends to be dulling….very different plants, and should not be indiscriminately lumped together!

  27. Marcos says:

    Marijuana and/or some other psychedelic drugs can initially open up your mind and promote some kind of contact with the mystery which is all around us, so people become entranced with it. But the ego is a clever son of a gun and will soon use this as a form of pleasure or pride saying: “see, I can be enlightened doing this and have fun at the same time, I’m so cool” I think it’s another big delusion and completely unnecessary when one meditates regularly, not even talking about dependency and health consequences.

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  33. Sunnata says:

    With respect, its not about a higher states of consciousness, its about the eightfold path. Specifically, right mindfulness and right concentration and even right understanding are all affected when under the influence of a mind altering chemical such as alcohol and mindfulness.

    An individual can choose to do whatever they want, but I believe that dharma teaches the further you stray from the eightfold path the more likely you are to experience suffering.

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  36. Alex Hak says:

    Ah, but all states of mind are inherently determined by neural function, and therefore, "substances"!

  37. clear high says:

    What a great saint to get advice about a medicine from LOL http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/09/disturbing-facts-re-trungpa-rinpoche-on-wikipedia/

    Whenever people say “marijuana does this…” it is such BS -If a million people report a testimony about a plant…well I may look at their experience…but it may not have anything to do with mine! We are unique and as much as i respect peoples’ opinions and warnings to watch for addictive distractions, there is sooo much factual evidence which has shown that EVERYTHING WE WERE TOLD ABOUT POT WAS 180′ BACKWARDS!


    Wake up people out of the shell of dogmatic beliefs and take responsibility for your mind and actions!!!

  38. Michael says:

    "Buddhism more or less forbids ___."__I did not realize that Buddhism has a definitive list of what shall be allowed and what shall be forbidden. Could you provide a reference to this list? I assume that since it is "Buddhism" that you are referencing and not some individual Buddhist, that this will be a list that is accepted and regarded as authoritative by all Buddhists (including, I guess, by me, even though I have never actually heard of the list). If you could post the list that would be great so I can know whether I am on the outs or not. _

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  42. Colin says:

    mind —> sense contact —> + feeling —-> craving —> rebecoming (recurring states of mind affected by said craving) etc. You cant really be happy while craving for anything. Not because its immoral or anything but because these cravings will prevent meditative absorbsion required to attain 1st thru 4th jhana. Cannabis, food, power, wealth, sex, all roots for craving and attachment. That requires eliminating (relinquishing, putting down) all attachments and basically going off in seclusion to meditate. That's my take on it anyways.

  43. Gesar Mukpo says:

    The self deception of thinking you got the message is far more problematic these days then your addiction of choice. Especially coming from the point of view of a sangha rife with alcoholics as the reference point.

    Drugs cloud perception but so does ignorance. It trivial to say smoking marijuana is bad when you are steeped in a tradition that alleges to allow you the quick path to enlightenment while dancing in samsara and embracing it.

    I think like anything if we are to be as arrogant as we are in thinking we embody the fast method as foe-destroyers and thinking we know what needs to be stripped for clear perception we are bordering on extreme hubris. In my years I have seen many partitioners who think they have experienced enlightened mind through basic tantric practices. It’s like an intellectually un-complex Buddhist take on Tony Robbins but that self empowerment leads to thinking they are special. It’s a case of missing the point.

    I’m saying a fair amount here because I have a point, addiction in any form is bad; but I’d rather be addicted to weed then my own self image as a follower of the one path. For me tantra werma all of that is very dangerous, and from my point of view badly abused.

    As far as I’m concerned from now on no one from Shambhala can say anything derogatory about marijuana usage until they address the problem of alcoholism resounding within their own ranks.

  44. Baracas says:

    This judgement is irrelevant- smoke or do not smoke- both are appearances to mind- watching TV or not watching TV- anything can cause delusion or not- there is no inherent marijuana smoke- judgement of what is and what is not forbidden is obstruction to omnisciene- if an individual generates virtuous actions, kindness, compassion without harm to sentient beings no matter what they watch or inhale this is correct path- Buddhism is not a rigid path of dogma and orthodoxy- dont get lost in your own righteousness and deluded pride about what is right and what is wrong- it is all ultimately emptiness- Love and be Kind to all beings reaponsibly…

  45. RobiDon says:

    Much as I love Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, it is hypocritical for him to condemn cannabis use when he used alcohol. Also, there is a definite difference between alcohol and cannabis re the human body. As we now know, the human body has its own cannabis system – the endogenous cannabinoid system – which functions to maintain homeostasis in the body. In this regard, alcohol is but a toxic interloper. I consider cannabis to be the major plant ally which facilitated my developing my mindfulness meditation practice. I have participated in 10 day Vipassana meditation courses where I didn't smoke cannabis. Now that I meditate on a more or less daily basis, I have less use for cannabis. Perhaps what is being said is that meditation is the royal road to enlightenment – the development of compassion, discernment, equanimity, and social involvement, while cannabis is a plebeian precursor. However, as in all things dealing with class and privilege (and the Siddhartha was a Prince, remember) we need to be careful to avoid being elitist.

  46. RobiDon says:

    "Is it harmful physiologically? Of course it is."

    This statement flies in the face of research which compared the health and capacity of the lungs of people who didn't smoke anything, those who only smoked tobacco, those who smoked tobacco and cannabis, and those who only smoked cannabis. The tobacco-only smokers had damage leading up to emphysema. The tobacco-cannabis smokers had much less damage. The cannabis-only smokers were equivalent to the non-smokers.