[Excerpt from his book 'Spiritual Deraillments in the Modern Age']
The use of mind-altering drugs presents spiritual development with a special
problem. While to a limited degree they can advance spiritual growth, drugs also can
endanger and stifle it in a particularly noxious way. Ironically, it may be the drugs
commonly considered least harmful that pose the greatest threat to the spirit. While
still illegal, marijuana meets with general popular toleration if not acceptance. A
president of the United States can admit to using it in his youth and still get elected.
Marijuana, therefore, stands as a good example of the paradox of the spiritual benefits
and dangers of mind-altering drugs.
Marijuana need not interfere with your ordinary life. Most people who use it find they
can live in a thoroughly normal way. Like alcohol, however, it can upset the normalcy
of life for a minority and cause them serious difficulties adjusting to the real world.
Their "breakdown," however, is not necessarily bad. From a spiritual standpoint, the
inability to live a normal life can be a blessing. This is because the drug induces the
upheaval by interfering with the false spiritual investments that dominate ordinary life.
How it does it do this so that it affects some but not all who take it? In a pure form, the drug does not use up the mental and physical energy you need to live normally. To that extent, it would not interfere with normalcy. However, it may turn your will away from normal concerns so you choose to put more energy into what normal society finds useless and dangerous. Since major spiritual derailments arise from inordinate investments of energy into the objects the world values (everything from acquiring fancy automobiles to having a beautiful body), the drug turns you temporarily or
permanently away from "having" and "getting" these things and toward sensuously
enjoying the natural beauties that surround you.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to both benefits and curses in this effect.
Because most of them have automatically absorbed definitions of what is good and
bad (or normal "values") from others, the energy they use in focusing on and for
acquiring these good things and avoiding the bad reflects two defects. First, it is
directed at goods and bads other than those they themselves know as good and bad. And, second, it steals spiritual energy that does not belong to these objects and displaces it from the realm of spiritual development to the material world.
Normally, when you are aware of it you can deal with this misdirection and theft in two ways. The first -- more common in the past -- is to keep a portion of your spiritual energy free from the world of things and to use it to grow in your knowledge of the immaterial standard of good. Thus, gradually, you could take over the direction of your life and invest attention and energy only of a kind and to a degree appropriate to the things. The second -- more common today -- is to let yourself get drawn more and more into the world of things. When you find things empty and oppressive to the spirit, instead of abandoning them, you respond by going after them all the harder under the illusion that your feelings of emptiness and oppression mean only that you had not yet got enough of them.
A drug like marijuana could stimulate your spiritual growth if you were either already
reserving spiritual energy from the world or were willing to pay more attention to the
meaning of your unhappiness with things. It could allow you a quicker liberation
from the false normal investment of energy in the world of things. However, you
could turn even the quick release from the world's illusions into something bad. You
could use the drugs as a means to escape from the need to grow spiritually and a
crutch supporting a life of mad acquisitions. It would help you break out of the
illusions of the world of things but only for brief periods and in a way that did not
demand spiritual development.
The chance that this might happen leads us to consider the most serious problem with
the use of mind-altering drugs. It is that the experience consumes spiritual energy that
you would not, and maybe could not use in normal life. This energy bubbles up and
looks superfluous because you cannot use it for any normal purpose. It reserves itself
naturally for spiritual growth but drugs give it a way of dissipating itself without
contributing to spiritual growth. It takes this pure spiritual energy and invests it, not
in things, but in the surface of things and illusions you attach to them. This
appearance lacks the substance of things. Moreover, it has a unique quality. It can
give you the illusion that it is no-thing or the genuinely pure spirit that the spiritual
energy craves. Therefore, instead of advancing your consciousness and conscience, it
retards and undermines them both.
Normally when you look at the face of your parent or your friend, you see not just the
organized form of a face but, recognizing it, you also see the many meanings that are
not visible to your senses but dwell in spirit. You see, for example, also the goodness
and care they lavished upon you, your mutual love, and the general relationship you
have. All these spiritual meanings and more you developed through, and now hold
within, your three spiritual faculties, memory, reason, and will. You gain access to
them in the act of recognition. Thus, every specific normal perception you experience
-- such as the face of a parent -- encompasses the whole breadth and range of your
spiritual knowledge and not just what is in your eyes and the simple form your mind
uses to organize the data they gather. The state of this wholeness is what we call
"consciousness." Your consciousness is as developed and as deep as the quantity,
quality, and depth of what you recognize in every act of perception. Of course, your
consciousness is always partly false and limited. You may not have seen in the past a
dark side to your parents or your friend. Thus, you see them only in love.
The drug experience shatters the crystal of consciousness. it rips apart the fabric of
consciousness where it is weakest. You see only the shape of a face and, instead of
holding a firm and faithful pattern of meanings along with it, your mind can attach
any other meaning. It may suddenly reveal to you the falseness of your former
consciousness and attach ugly meanings to the face, ones that repel you with fear or
hate. The benefit in this is the chance it gives you to repair false, and reduce
limitations on, consciousness. However, it also spontaneously -- often prompted by
the panic of falling through its holes -- stitches together patches of fabric without
regard to their proper place. Therefore, it can lead you into greater lies because it gets
you to connect to the face meanings that have nothing to do with these people and are
utterly divorced from who they are and are to you in actual life.
In any case, the drug draws your spirit to focus on the surface, the face, and on the
play of varying meanings your mind can attach to it. To that extent, it drains the
specific kind of energy that you need if you are to do the work necessary for actual
spiritual growth. Spiritual growth in consciousness would require you, for example,
to harmonize all your knowledge of people and be at peace with your actual
relationship to them. The complexity of the meanings you now associate with them,
however, may overwhelm you and your spiritual capacity. But even worse, whatever
special spiritual capacity you have you invest in the amazing experience of the drug.
The surface play of masks, instead of growth in consciousness and conscience,
attracts your spirit. You stop seeking the higher good that unifies your understanding
and your life and you dwell in continuing fascination with what you see under the
influence of the drug.
If you are young, you are particularly at risk when you use the drug experience to
escape the banalities and falseness of normal life and to adventure into free floating
imagery long enough. This is because of two things. First, you are unlikely as a youth
to have developed the spiritual capacity and methods you need if you are to deal with
unifying the complexity of the valid information that is flowing in at you. Even if you
have a naturally brilliant mind, you can capture only part of it and you have only the
distorted categories of rationalist theories modern psychology and science have
provided to rely on. Second, regular and heavy use of the drug actually causes
spiritual energy to increase. It develops your spiritual energy without developing your
spiritual abilities. Thus, you get into a bind of increasing spiritual energy that has
nowhere to go except into deeper escape or into the frustrating and suffocating
channels of scientific-psychological theories. Moreover, you may actually impress
others with "insights" you connect with these theories and with the "depths" of your
understanding of them. You are likely to fall into pursuing more intense but empty
worldly activities when off the drugs along with further refinement of the highs you
experience when on the drug. Once this happens, you are on the road to disaster. Only
intervention from above and outside can save you. A grace or a gift will come, but the
chances that you will accept it are not good.
The upshot of all this is that mind-altering drugs are very dangerous, particularly to
those who would otherwise have the best chance for spiritual development. These
include those who are most emotionally, sensuously, and intellectually alert. None are
in greater danger than those who are awake in all three ways. Those who are
primarily visually sensitive, minor artists, for example, might use the drug to loosen
the hold of old images and to stimulate and enrich the ones they then portray in their
artistic medium. A film director might endlessly praise marijuana for stimulating his
"creative" powers. It gives him, he says, a gold mind of visual images to re-produce
on the screen. When the critics praise as a masterpiece the film he thus creates, it is
not because it is an example of great art but only because of the novelty of the images
to them. In this way the drug panders to the ego of the director as well as to the
hunger for spiritual diversion in his audience. In both cases the drug not only
perpetuates spiritual derailment but also enhances it. The greater the natural genius
the individual and the more all three of their sensitivities are in balance, the more the
world can appropriate them for its purposes. The flattery of the world for this kind of
prostitution of the spirit is one of the hardest temptations for anyone, especially the
young and innocent, to survive.