NZASR Conference 2018, NZASR Conference 2015

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Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America
Douglas Osto

Last modified: 2015-09-30


This paper is based on the author's forthcoming book, Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America (Columbia UP, 2016). This study is the first of its kind to investigate the intersection of two modern modes of religious expression in the United States of America: convert Buddhism and psychedelic spirituality. Although part of the folklore about the origins of American Buddhism and an important aspect of American convert Buddhist culture, psychedelic use among American Buddhists has not been address to date in a serious and scholarly fashion. This paper outlines the histories of both “The Psychedelic Revolution,” and “The Buddhist Revolution” in the United States from the 1950s to the present time, and investigates a broad spectrum of American Buddhist attitudes toward psychedelic drugs. Employing data collected from an online survey and formal interviews, the author demonstrates that there is an American Buddhist subculture, which began in the 1960s, whose members continue to use psychedelics as part of their religious practice. The paper also enquires into the debates and the philosophical issues involved in American Buddhism concerning the use of psychedelics, drug-induced mysticism and altered states of consciousness. The paper concludes with some explanatory models for how Buddhism and psychedelics may be related addressing such issues as re-enchantment, the limits of rationality, the biochemical and psychosocial basis of altered states of consciousness, and the nature of subjectivity.


Buddhism; American Buddhism; psychedelic drugs; entheogens; counterculture