Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Viscid
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Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Viscid » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:19 pm

On college campuses today, 'Smart Drugs' such as Ritalin, Adderall and Modafinil are getting increasingly popular. These drugs are used by students to study for longer periods and/or to be able to recollect what they've studied more effectively. The ethics of their [ab]use is debatable: is there harm in using these drugs? Is it unfair? Do they offer enough of a benefit? I personally believe that if these drugs are allowing academics to work better, and the health risks in taking these drugs aren't great, that there remains little reason to discourage their use.. Suppose, for example, that because an academic used this drug, he was able to figure out how to cure a disease.

The qualities which these drugs promote, such as concentration and energy, also happen to be Factors to Enlightenment. So my question is this: If a drug existed that was cheap, had no side effects, and it promoted wholesome factors to enlightenment you may not have otherwise been able to develop, would you take such a drug? If not, why not?
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by m0rl0ck » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:42 pm

No i wouldnt. I was drug and alcohol dependent for about 20 years and there is a lot that goes into drug dependence. You have to worry about the right dosage, you have to worry about running out, you have to worry about tolerances, you have to worry about other drugs interactions. If you are dependent on a drug to maintain your "enlightenment" it isnt enlightenment its just a drug side effect. If you run out or have to stop taking the drug because of some other medical condition where are you?
The real problem tho is the view that this kind of question betrays. If your view is that enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it, is a simple matter of brain/body chemistry, that world view, that the self is just the brain/body, is called materialism and is one of the major stumbling blocks to any kind of spirituality or spiritual progress.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

lament
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by lament » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:49 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:The real problem tho is the view that this kind of question betrays. If your view is that enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it, is a simple matter of brain/body chemistry, that world view, that the self is just the brain/body, is called materialism and is one of the major stumbling blocks to any kind of spirituality or spiritual progress.
So monks are materialists because they drink tea or coffee to improve their mindfulness? Should they stop?

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by m0rl0ck » Thu Sep 06, 2012 7:57 pm

lament wrote: So monks are materialists because they drink tea or coffee to improve their mindfulness? Should they stop?

I cant even beleive this is a serious question. Obviously there is a difference in degree here and if tea or coffee were taken away, virtually every habituated caffine user would still be able to do the things they needed to do, including concentrate.
Personally, my best practice happens when i first get up, before i have even had my first cup of tea, and i go through about 10-12 teabags a day.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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Viscid
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Viscid » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:06 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:No i wouldnt. I was drug and alcohol dependent for about 20 years and there is a lot that goes into drug dependence. You have to worry about the right dosage, you have to worry about running out, you have to worry about tolerances, you have to worry about other drugs interactions. If you are dependent on a drug to maintain your "enlightenment" it isnt enlightenment its just a drug side effect. If you run out or have to stop taking the drug because of some other medical condition where are you?
There may be drugs developed which do not cause dependence or have serious side-effects. If a drug was seriously addictive and harmful, of course no one would take it-- it wouldn't be worth it. But if a drug didn't have such side-effects, and made it easier to, say, meditate for longer periods without serious discomfort, I fail to see the reason why someone wouldn't take it.
m0rl0ck wrote:The real problem tho is the view that this kind of question betrays. If your view is that enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it, is a simple matter of brain/body chemistry, that world view, that the self is just the brain/body, is called materialism and is one of the major stumbling blocks to any kind of spirituality or spiritual progress.
There is little question in my mind certain material conditions are much more conductive towards the goal of enlightenment than others. Being near a teacher is a material condition, and so is not having debilitating disease. Having and maintaining an appropriate state of mind, which is heavily influenced by neurochemistry, is extremely advantageous to achieving one's spiritual goals. If we can safely achieve such an ideal state of mind pharmacologically, then why shouldn't we?
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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m0rl0ck
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by m0rl0ck » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:10 pm

Viscid wrote:
There may be drugs developed which do not cause dependence or have serious side-effects.
And pigs may someday fly, until then i wont worry about falling pig crap. The most serious side effect is that you have to keep taking the drug.

If someone is so seriously afflicted with pride that they cant muster the necessary surrender to endure the physical and mental pain of practice and instead pursue a path of attempted pharmacological transcendence all they are going to get is just a different kind of pain of much greater depth and intensity. Im telling you this from experience.The difference is that the path of practice has a light at the end of the tunnel.
If someone is looking for the path of least resistance and wants to be lazy, after having tried everything else, i can tell you that practice is in fact that path of least resistance.
Last edited by m0rl0ck on Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig

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manas
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by manas » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:11 pm

Greetings Viscid :anjali:
Ritalin Kids: A New Generation of Abuse

A Jordan


Our parents view Ritalin as a way to calm their overactive children, which doctors and psychiatrists simply hand out when they are approached with a kid who is unable to maintain an extended attention span. It is considered a "quick fix" by many adults, not a potentially harmful, habit-forming drug. Parents are often unaware of the drug's dangers because a great deal of research has been ignored or kept quiet by pharmaceutical companies to promote sales (3). On the other hand, to college-aged and high school students it is just another drug that can be taken recreationally. Because it is prescribed, and not illegal, many people do not see an addiction to Ritalin as a "real" drug issue; many believe that one cannot become "addicted" to it because it comes from a doctor's office. It is harmful when abused, and people need to realize that.http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/n ... ordan.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Let the big pharma profiteers take their own toxic drugs, rather than pushing them onto our children. Please give Ritalin a wide, wide berth.

metta.
Knowing this body is like a clay jar,
securing this mind like a fort,
attack Mara with the spear of discernment,
then guard what's won without settling there,
without laying claim.

- Dhp 40

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:27 pm

Spend the money you would have spent on drugs on doing wholesome deeds. Nothing acts faster than kusala kamma for creating natural hormones that are good for your sense of well-being. When the mind is happy it is easily concentrated. The concentrated mind can see things as they really are, which leads to insight and enlightenment.
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Modus.Ponens » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:35 pm

If such a drug existed, I think it's not a violation of the 5th precept, since the full phrase includes "which lead to carelessness".
"He turns his mind away from those phenomena and, having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.' " - Jhana Sutta

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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Sep 06, 2012 9:33 pm

Just a quick thought on this one, prompted by m0rl0ck's points.

Consider all the uncertainty that we see on these pages and elsewhere about the nature of jhana, concentration, mindfulness, clear comprehension, Samatha, and so on. As soon as anyone says they have attained one of these states, there are several, usually contradictory, opinions expressed as to why they are wrong. People cite the suttas, their teachers, and their own experiences in support of a multitude of views as to what these states are actually like. For example, a frequent assertion is that there is "wrong concentration", or "That's sati, but not Samma Sati!"

Adding an ingested chemical component takes one further away from what the Buddha was talking about. I would be so bothered that I was experiencing a chemically-induced "near miss", so to speak, that I would not trust what I had actually experienced. A bit like someone who is convinced they are really witty while drunk, or really insightful when stoned. Later they realise that they had not been. The concern that I would have an analogous experience would be enough to stop me taking any substance which apparently induced a wholesome mental state. It might do exactly that, or there again it might not. Why add another variable, along with all the current difficulties of translation, culture, and personal kamma?

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Alex123
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Alex123 » Fri Sep 07, 2012 1:24 am

m0rl0ck wrote: The most serious side effect is that you have to keep taking the drug.
If the drug helps to meditate or to live, then Isn't it better to take it for life rather than suffer when it is avoidable?
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Dan74
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Dan74 » Fri Sep 07, 2012 1:50 am

Viscid wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:No i wouldnt. I was drug and alcohol dependent for about 20 years and there is a lot that goes into drug dependence. You have to worry about the right dosage, you have to worry about running out, you have to worry about tolerances, you have to worry about other drugs interactions. If you are dependent on a drug to maintain your "enlightenment" it isnt enlightenment its just a drug side effect. If you run out or have to stop taking the drug because of some other medical condition where are you?
There may be drugs developed which do not cause dependence or have serious side-effects. If a drug was seriously addictive and harmful, of course no one would take it-- it wouldn't be worth it. But if a drug didn't have such side-effects, and made it easier to, say, meditate for longer periods without serious discomfort, I fail to see the reason why someone wouldn't take it.
m0rl0ck wrote:The real problem tho is the view that this kind of question betrays. If your view is that enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it, is a simple matter of brain/body chemistry, that world view, that the self is just the brain/body, is called materialism and is one of the major stumbling blocks to any kind of spirituality or spiritual progress.
There is little question in my mind certain material conditions are much more conductive towards the goal of enlightenment than others. Being near a teacher is a material condition, and so is not having debilitating disease. Having and maintaining an appropriate state of mind, which is heavily influenced by neurochemistry, is extremely advantageous to achieving one's spiritual goals. If we can safely achieve such an ideal state of mind pharmacologically, then why shouldn't we?
I thought Buddhism was about liberation from delusion. Apart from anything else this involves formation of new neural pathways, pathways that are formed by life experience and insight. Drugs cannot do it, any more than they can give us maturity and wisdom.

Discomfort, struggles, boredom, running into dead ends - this is life and learning to deal with all this and more is what practice is about. Bypassing the difficulties, we bypass the very essence of practice.
_/|\_

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Ben
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Ben » Fri Sep 07, 2012 3:18 am

One of my children was diagnosed with ADHD and Sensory Integration Disorder. When the paediatrician prescribed ritalin it was a god-send. My son's performance at school and his interactions at home and with his peers improved beyond our expectations. I have no problem with the idea of ritalin or similar medications being used to treat conditions which limit a person's intellectual and/or social development.
If a person is using ritalin as a 'smart' drug to help them get through exams - I am more ambivalent about its use. I think its far more beneficial for one to develop study skills and habits - not just for the short-term goal of doing well in a particular exam but in life generally.
As for an aid for enlightenment - I am sceptical.
The idea of a pharmacalogical aid for enlightenment is not new. And to date its only result has been various forms of intoxication or poisoning misdiagnosed as spiritual experience.
I think if you are seeking an exotic experience then perhaps the Dhamma isn't for you (or for you yet).
Wishing you all the best,

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Viscid
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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Viscid » Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:00 am

Ben wrote: I think if you are seeking an exotic experience then perhaps the Dhamma isn't for you (or for you yet).
Wishing you all the best,
This seems sort of addressed to me so: I am not taking any drugs myself, nor advocating their use for spiritual gain.
Dan74 wrote:I thought Buddhism was about liberation from delusion. Apart from anything else this involves formation of new neural pathways, pathways that are formed by life experience and insight. Drugs cannot do it, any more than they can give us maturity and wisdom.
But drugs may make us more capable at becoming mature and wise. What 'wisdom' and 'maturity' is is actually a very debatable thing, but it does require learning, and there are drugs available which make learning easier.
Discomfort, struggles, boredom, running into dead ends - this is life and learning to deal with all this and more is what practice is about. Bypassing the difficulties, we bypass the very essence of practice.
There's no reason why someone on such a drug I'm proposing would cease to have discomfort altogether-- if they were just drugged out on heroin constantly and in bliss happy land they'd probably have little incentive to practice. There's a degree to which a perception of suffering is necessary to encourage spiritual practice, but if we can remove unnecessary barriers to spiritual progress pharmacologically, we should.
Last edited by Viscid on Fri Sep 07, 2012 6:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James

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Re: Pharmacological Aids to Enlightenment

Post by Kamran » Fri Sep 07, 2012 5:23 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Spend the money you would have spent on drugs on doing wholesome deeds. Nothing acts faster than kusala kamma for creating natural hormones that are good for your sense of well-being. When the mind is happy it is easily concentrated. The concentrated mind can see things as they really are, which leads to insight and enlightenment.
:goodpost:
"Silence gives answers"

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

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