Could you say something about your own experiences with drugs?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In the sixties, drugs had a different function than they have now. The spiritual horizon lay two centimeters above the highest tower in Copenhagen—not more than that. We had completely square heads. We would have become even more materialistic than our parents. We drank a lot and had three or four fistfights every week because the pressure was so high. There was no vision for our lives—no view.

The drugs made us more human. But perhaps eighty or ninety percent of Hannah’s and my friends from that time are dead today. We paid a high price. But it is like that for those fighting on the front: they get blown away. Then the next people come and take over the land that the first people conquered. There is no doubt that our entire spiritual environment and our openness is much greater today because the brave people in the sixties broke through the widespread concepts of those times—because they had enough trust in space to break through.

But today drugs are an old hat. They are completely ridiculous. When we took drugs, we were the avant-garde, the best of the society, who took them to make new worlds accessible. Today, deadbeat kids take them to commit suicide slowly. Drugs are out.

It seems like every drug has a period in which it activates many karmas. For example, if we look at old sources about the conquest of the Americas, tobacco was a hallucinogenic when it first came to the West. The people who used tobacco were often depicted vomiting. Over their heads there were little thought bubbles with all sorts of strange things happening. Those people completely hallucinated. And now tobacco is just bad for the lungs.

That means: stay away from drugs. They are no good anymore. My generation killed themselves with drugs. That is also the reason why today the Japanese assemble semi-conductors and not the Europeans or Americans. An entire generation here and in America, who should have done that, is gone. That is why East Asia got ahead. They suppressed drug use; they did not allow their young people that freedom.

How do drugs work from the Buddhist point of view? Are the things one experiences real?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Drugs as a whole are not recommended. The basis for the strong experiences they offer is not the drug itself. The basis is mind. The experiences arise out of our mind. There is not one drug that can bring happiness. The only thing a drug can do is to pack the happiness we would have had over a long period into a very short period. Then, after a while, one has nothing left and the bad experiences come.

In Copenhagen in 1963, there were maybe twenty or thirty people in our group of friends. Today, there are five of us left and two or three of them are carrying their heads under their arms. Of those who survived, only a handful function normally. The losses from drugs are just too high. I really advise against it.

I wouldn’t even use hash, the mildest of them all—and also not too much alcohol. The best thing we have is our clear understanding and the inner abilities of mind. I would bank on that. That is the best drug. Another good drug is a beautiful woman!—or a strong man. Love is also an excellent drug.

If one falls into states of confusion after taking drugs, is that only due to the drugs or does one also have to have a predisposition for it?

Lama Ole’s answer:

There must really be a ring and hook there. I am from the sixties and had a lot of experience with drugs. I wrote my exams at the University of Copenhagen, and before I met Buddhism I was very interested in all possibilities for unfolding the mind.

OK, the clear light that one sees on LSD is really great, or being able to leave one’s body and all of that. But gradually you discover that it’s actually not the drugs that make you happy. The happiness that you might have experienced in half a year gets compressed into eight hours. When you have done that a few times, at some point the red letters come from the bank, “Overdrawn! Overdrawn!” and the joy and meaning are gone—fear and confusion take their place.

If you have taken drugs, then that is the background you can work with. You then develop yourself further through meditation, which lays a foundation for everything beyond that. But if you haven’t taken drugs, you don’t need to do it now.

I am not saying that LSD should not be used. It should be available for psychologists to use in cases of extreme fear of death. Actually, in such cases, minimal doses of 25 micrograms can make a “click” so that the fear disappears. I think that LSD should be available as a tool—as medicine—in the hands of good psychologists, perhaps also lamas if they have the time. But it should not simply be available for everyone to stuff their heads with. That is not good. And if you achieve development without drugs, if you succeed with your own strength through meditation, it is much more effective. You establish something permanent. If you take drugs, first you’re way up and then you crash again; you have a lot of yo-yo trips that you can gab about later, but you have no lasting experience. With meditation, you put one stone on top of the other. Wherever you are in your development—that’s where you really are.

Do you think that people like Aldous Huxley—who thought a lot about philosophy, tried out lots of different things, and also experimented with drugs—could find their own way to enlightenment?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Aldous Huxley actually had two sides. He was extremely gifted, but on several levels he was quite immature. The whole Huxley family was brilliant. It is too bad that their genes died out because, like so many other intelligent people, they forgot to reproduce.
On the one hand, Aldous Huxley was a humanist and on the other hand he had an understanding of perception. There is a lot of wisdom in his books. Also what his wife, Laura Huxley, said about his death is very good: as he lay dying, she sensed his voice echoing further out into space. At least he came to a very high level of consciousness. But if there was no hook for the ring, it is unsure whether he went to a pure land. It is more likely that he went to a god realm.

It is very difficult to enter a pure land out of one’s own power. One needs refuge and a connection to a buddha.

How do drugs affect the mind?

Lama Ole’s answer:

With the exception of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and a few similar drugs from the Amazon, drugs have the opposite effect of meditation. Drugs show you the experiences in mind; meditation shows you mind itself. Drugs scatter mind; meditation gathers it. Taking drugs and meditating are not compatible.

Alcohol—as stupid, unspiritual, and uninspired as it is—is indeed better because it doesn’t make you slippery. You act stupidly, but you’re aware of it and excuse yourself later—people understand and then it’s over.

But hash is different. It makes you slippery like an eel. Your twist things to please yourself. You get older but not wiser. I myself smoked a lot—almost every day for about nine years of my life. In the sixties, we believed that it could be useful. We really thought that. We had Leary, Alpert, Huxley—all of the best brains with us who said that.

But my experience with drug users is that I become restless when I’m with them. I don’t feel that what I’m doing is catching on. If I am with people who drink, I try to tell them something. But with people who smoke hash, I would rather read the newspaper because I have the feeling that whatever I say won’t be understood.

I would advise people who want to meditate to stop smoking hash. It is cheaper to learn to meditate! And after a while, it is at least as pleasant. But it is more difficult. You have to build it up with your own strength. On the other hand, what you have built yourself you can stand on firmly!

How should we deal with people who have just started coming to our Buddhist center and who have problems with alcohol or drugs?

Lama Ole’s answer:

I wouldn’t start any big discussion about it in the center. People can only come if they are clean, and then they get what they want. You can spend a whole evening talking to someone with a drug or alcohol problem; he’ll understand everything very deeply, and then the next morning, when the drug has no effect anymore, he won’t remember a thing. We pay taxes for institutions to take care of people with these problems. Those who come to us should be capable of meditating and should want to do it.

We are not social workers. If we were, we would wear ourselves out and have nothing to offer those with surplus. So if someone is drunk once, we can put up with it because he is a friend. If he smokes pot once, it is also not such a big deal. But people with permanent problems do not belong in the center.

How can we help friends who have started to take drugs and become rather arrogant and exclusive?

Lama Ole’s answer:

We should simply explain to people who take drugs that even though they feel better subjectively, objectively they function worse. Drugs decrease one’s ability to think critically. Although objectively their abilities continually decrease and they accomplish less and less in school, work, and life, they think they are good and are becoming better and better because their ability to think critically decreases so rapidly.

The ego avoids situations in which they could have developed. One can always point out the facts very clearly: exams they didn’t pass, work they didn’t do, personal issues they couldn’t cope with, and so on. They might feel good, but they are in their own personal dream. Seen objectively, life is not going particularly well for them. Actually, one can only help drug users once they have already discovered that their lives are going down the drain.

The reason why we don’t let people who take drugs into our centers is simply that it is a waste of time: you won’t be talking to them but rather to the drugs. If a heroin user walks in, he’ll be sentimental. If a cocaine addict comes, he’ll be callous and want to check everything. If someone on ecstasy comes in, he won’t understand anything. A person on amphetamines will run around the table three times and then out again. A pot smoker will sit there and have a lot of emotions, but the next morning he won’t remember anything.

Because our lives are so short and time is so scarce, we can say: “Thank you for coming and thank you for leaving. Come again tomorrow when you can understand what we are saying.

Are there Buddhist explanations for how psychoses develop?

Lama Ole’s answer:

In Buddhism, one speaks of four different kinds of madness:

The first kind arises if one used a lot of drugs or alcohol in former lives. Then in this life, one will be born without enough neurological connections in the brain—so the “machine” works with some defects.

Second, there are malfunctions that result from using a lot of drugs or alcohol in this life.

The third type appears when a person has lived so unhappily, brought so little joy into his life, and let himself go so much that he is no longer protected by the good impressions in the mind of a healthy person. Then various strange energies can come in and work inside a person. This is called schizophrenia.

And the fourth possibility is that a person has allowed so many negative and disturbing impressions to accumulate in the store consciousness that every time the mind comes to these points, it can’t stand it and tries to escape into something else. These would be states of paranoia.

After death, problems and disturbances associated with the body fall away, and one has new possibilities again. On the other hand, when one has built up very strong disturbing energies within oneself, then these also go along into the next life.

How can we make our body more disciplined, with a greater capacity to work?

Lama Ole’s answer:

The best method in Diamond Way Buddhism is the 111,111 prostrations. If you have forced yourself through this practice, then everything in life is easy. Once you work your way through this intensive treatment, then the body isn’t a difficult master anymore but rather a good servant. Then you can use it for what you want to do, and it won’t be all crooked and obstructed anymore. After the prostrations, your body will be completely different.

I would give everybody this advice: use the prostrations to push out all the drugs, all the laziness, all the compromises, all the things you have constrained yourself with—forcefully blow all this out of yourself with the help of the prostrations and then move on.