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Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics Hardcover – April 1, 2002

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

The use of psychedelic drugs is that dark little secret behind the popular origins of Eastern spirituality in America, but if they really open the mind in the same ways meditative experiences do, why shouldn't they be legitimated and brought out into the open? In Allan Hunt Badiner and Alex Grey's Zig Zag Zen authors, artists, priests, and scientists are brought together to discuss this question. Opinions fall on all sides. Ram Dass, for instance, discusses the benefits as well as the limitations. Rick Strassman outlines his work in the first federally funded psychedelic study in two-and-a-half decades. Rick Fields sets the historical scene. China Galland offers a wrenching personal experience. Robert Jesse introduces the varieties of entheogens, drugs that engender mystical states. Lama Surya Das tells of his early drug years. And a roundtable discussion with Ram Dass, Robert Aitken, Richard Baker, and Joan Halifax caps it all.

Interspersed throughout are stunning full-page, full-color images of spiritual art by the likes of Robert Beer, Bernard Maisner, and, of course, Alex Gray. A fascinating look at a complex topic, Zig Zag Zen is worth appreciating and pondering. --Brian Bruya


"Zig Zag Zen challenges Buddhists to acknowledge their psychedelic legacies, while confronting the duality undermining any chemically dependent spiritual path." -- Douglas Rushkoff, author, Ecstasy Club, Exit Strategy, Playing the Future, and Coercion

"Zig Zag Zen is a must read for anyone who is concerned about the future of Buddhist practice." -- Bob Thurman, Chair of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia Univ.

"Zig Zag Zen is a treasure trove... inspiring, frightening, powerful, funny, and eye-opening." -- Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts without a Thinker

"Zig Zag Zen shines by its fairness: it faces the Zig and the Zag. That's Zen at its best." -- David Steindl-Rast, OSB, author of

"Zig Zag Zen touches all the high points... it is an important book." -- Laura Huxley, Founder of Children Our Ultimate Investment

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811832864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811832861
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,364,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Luminous Numinous on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it's there, but few feel comfortable talking about it. It's the relationship between Buddhism and Psychedelic drugs in the West. Zen centers, sanghas, and meditation retreats are littered with former (and current) psychonauts and trippers. You can take one of three tenable stances on the issue: 1.) Psychedelics are intoxicants and are, therefore, antithetical to true Buddhist practice OR; 2.) Psychedelics are not intoxicants at all, but are powerful sacraments that have had an undeniable historical influence on Tantra, Vedanta Hinduism, and Vajrayana Buddhism OR; 3.) you can take the middle path, acknowledging that psychedelics are powerful, but also admitting that they can be dangerous, for they are full of "raja", full of fire that can transform but that can also consume.

One of these three views holds the truth. Psychedelics are tools that help Buddhist practice, they are hindrances that obstruct Buddhist practice, OR psychedelics are value-neutral, possessing the power to help or harm depending on context. But anyway you cut it, psychedelics are hardly IRRELEVANT to Buddhist practice. The position that they are is untenable and, frankly, provincial.

Why are there so many psychedelic Buddhists and so many Buddhist psychonauts? What do psychedelics and Buddhism have to do with one another? Both psychedelic exploration and Buddhism center around the quest for non-ordinary states of consciousness--states of profound unity, where the subject-object dichotomy--the boundary demarcating self and cosmos dissolves. That's not to say that Buddhism and psychedelics are the same.
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61 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Brian Wallace (Co-author of It's Not Your Hair) on February 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
a beautifully designed and arranged collection of articles that expose the intelligent and creative uses of psychoactive chemicals.
While the "spiritual purists" may balk at the contention that chemicals seriously open up levels of consciousness and awareness, one comes away with deeper appreciation of various traditional methods of enlightenment (with and without chemicals).
This work effectively counteracts the anti-drug propaganda that has shamefully denigrated certainly respectable uses of treasured substances.
Zig Zag Zen does the universe proud.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bud Valley on July 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is one of the most comprehensive and lucid treatments of the topic of Buddhism and psychedelics. I came away from it with a much better understanding of how the two might be reconciled in the context of a "serious" spiritual practice. What struck me most was the extreme lucidity and potency of each of the essays. There were a few I skipped over, but for the most part I was very impressed with the eloquence and insight offered by each contributor. If you are at all interested in Buddhism, psychedelics, or both, this book is great food for thought. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Huston Smith's preface confronts us: "Entheogens have entered Buddhism to stay; there can be no turning back from the point that has been reached." (14) Stephen Batchelor notes in his forward the crux of the Buddhist proscription against "intoxication"-- some interpret this as to the "point of heedlessness." "Although certain ecstatic Zen masters and Tantric yogins may be deemed sufficiently awakened to be exempt from strict adherence to this precept, there is no discussion about the role that drug use might play in propelling someone onto the path in the first place." (10)

Editor Allan Hunt Badiner promotes the individual's empowerment, freer of mediators or power structures:

"The democratization of psychedelics, however, and of Buddhism to a similar extent, has been very much about the breakdown of this restricted access to the divine. In Buddhism, as in psychedelics, the individual takes responsibility for their relationship to the source of their being, and for access to the highest states of spirit mind." (16) Contrary to two superficial reviews of this anthology preceding this one on Amazon, a careful reading of primary material, let alone the thirty or so essays, reveals their nuances.

"While psychedelic use is all about altered states, Buddhism is all about altered traits, and one does not necessarily lead to the other. One Theravadin monk likened the mind on psychedelics to an image of a tree whose branches are overladen with low-hanging, very ripened, and heavy fruit. The danger is that the heavy fruit--too full and rich to be digested by the tree all at once--will weigh down the branches and cause them to snap." (17)

Arts editor Alex Grey brings in many illustrations. Few of these wowed sober me, but your reaction may differ.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ira Israel on May 15, 2015
Format: Paperback
I found "Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics" to be one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. I was born in 1966, the year that LSD was made illegal and all of the experiments at Harvard Divinity School and in the psychology department at Harvard went underground. One must take into account that the professors leading these experiments at Harvard - such as Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), David McClelland, Frank Barron, Ralph Metzner - as well as many other people experimenting with these drugs such as Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts - were exceptionally bright, well-educated people who had the intention of exploring human consciousness. By the time I was a teenager in the 1980s, drugs were mostly used for recreational distractions.

Allan Badiner wanted to know what happened to the research with psychedelics by bright, spiritually-minded people so he decided to ask a wide spectrum of seekers what their experiences exploring the relationship between Buddhism and psychedelics was.

Firstly, as all Buddhists will tell you, the Buddha was very specifically against intoxicants (although Robert Thurman says that in the original Pali language, the 5th precept clearly refers to alcohol). So most of the writers and interviewees in "Zig Zag Zen" have to weigh in on whether psychedelics constitute intoxicants or not. Some argue that they are intoxicants, some argue that they aren't intoxicants, some argue that they are intoxicants but get a pass, and some argue that they aren't intoxicants but still should be avoided.

What Mister Badiner has assembled is a captivating array of diverse perspectives and personal experiences wherein many gifted writers and thinkers try to use language to convey the ineffable.
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