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Related DC writings: Psychoactivism, Intoxication & Practice
4-20-08 - What was Shunryu Suzuki's policy on drugs and alcohol? First, he wasn't really a policy type guy. Hard to pin him down. He was tolerant, but he asked his students not to smoke pot or drink before zazen, not to come to the temple high on anything. There was no speed or other hard drugs in our circles so to us the term "drugs" meant pot, acid, and related substances.
Many of his students came to practice with him after having been involved with entheogens such as marijuana and LSD. Many students told him they wouldn't have had an interest in Zen or zazen or awakening if they hadn't had the eye-opening experiences with entheogens. Some were still enthusiastic about entheogens and would even try to talk him into trying LSD. He almost never took any strong position on the subject, possibly because he had no experience with these substances, but also I think he liked for people to come to their own conclusions and he had confidence that as their practice deepened, his students would leave whatever interfered with their practice behind them. And that's mainly what happened. There were those who continued regular marijuana and occasional LSD and other entheogen use, but it pretty much became a non topic at the ZC. It was sort of like these psychoactives were recruiters for Suzuki who couldn't come in the door.
Japan, as far as I'm concerned anyway, is a fairly hedonistic country. Priests there are known for drinking, especially at festive occasions. Not all of them do of course. I've often seen and imbibed alcohol at temples on special occasions or even just for dinner if it was a family temple and not a training temple. Suzuki was no drinker though. Anytime I saw him drink anything he'd just go to sleep. He also didn't particularly like parties. He'd tolerate them.
Jack Van Allen was involved in the psychedelic scene in the Haight Ashbury and at his wedding Suzuki told the assembled that they could attain enlightenment if they gave up drugs. See that part of my interview with Jack.
As for my history, LSD and pot played a major role in my coming to Zen Center. I arrived in October of 66 and had a few more acid trips, my last one in February of 67. I was introduced to cocaine in 1972 and did a bit of that for a few months, a number of times secretly in my room in the City Center. I had coke occasionally through the years, never as a habit. Outside of the ZC, I smoked pot now and then, sometimes a lot, and drank too much at times and finally stopped them both altogether. Now it's only caffeinated tea, lots of it.
As for drugs and alcohol at the SFZC centers, from the sixties on, there would usually be some pot and some booze at a party of ZC people outside of the ZC places but no big scene with either of them. I lived for seven years at Tassajara and have been back many times, have lived in the City Center, and at Green Gulch for some years each and visit now and then. I have seen very very little rule-breaking pot smoked or alcohol drunk in those places in all these years. Every now and then I'd discover there was a student or students who were going off to smoke pot at Tassajara or Green Gulch. Guests bring stuff in and no one cares as long as they're discrete. Guests can drink their own wine or beer in the dining room at Tassajara. Back in the early days there was alcohol at a few weddings or on New Years. Nothing much. I, and not many others I know, used to drink and smoke pot with guests at Tassajara at times in the guest season. There are students and former students who smoke pot and drink wine or whatever at home or about and no one thinks anything about it. There have been a few people in the ZC who in recent years who have spoken up for beneficial aspects of occasional ecstasy use. I know of a few cases of people with cancer taking cannabis for medicinal purposes at a ZC location.
I'd say that today the tradition continues of the SFZC centers being places where people not only are asked not to do any drugs or alcohol, but where they don't - while at the same time there not being any big official anti drug and alcohol trip. People's lives are their own. - dc
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