There many not be a more contentious issue among the Buddhist laity than the ritual use of psychedelics to augment our practice in an attempt to fuse shamanistic and new-age practices with Buddhist philosophy.
What is Buddhism?
To understand this debate, it's important to keep in mind that the teachings of Buddhism have a singular and specific goal: to end suffering. Suffering is defined as samsara, or the condition of being chained to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Mind expansion and the awakening of a person's spirituality are concerns that lie outside the scope of that singular purpose; they may be artifacts of the pursuit of that purpose, but they are not the goal. Examination of the sutras (Buddhist discourses) and the various commentaries forces us to conclude that the ritual use of psychedelic hallucinogens is, almost categorically, not supported by the Buddha Dharma (the collected body of Buddhist teachings.)
Buddhism Is Prescriptive, Not Restrictive
That being said, many Buddhists, as individuals, are interested in matters that lie outside the prescriptive concerns of the Buddha Dharma. After all, life is a perpetual balancing act of competing values. For them, practices intended to awaken their spirituality can be freely incorporated into their lives, and some maintain that the ritual use of psychedelics in concert with meditation has distinct advantages.
Isn't the Goal of Buddhist Meditation To See Things As They Are?
The answer is more nuanced than that. Buddhist meditation is the practice of sharpening the twin swords of concentration and insight in order to cut through the habit pattern of the mind which chains us to causation. Buddhist philosophy holds that it is attachment which gives rise to and perpetuates samsara. The way the mind reacts to an experience is much more important than what the mind experiences. Experienced meditators know that there are many ecstatic and sublimely pleasurable intoxicating experiences that happen through the normal practice of meditation. If it's possible to navigate these experiences without attachment, then the same is certainly true of psychedelic states of consciousness.
It's Important for Buddhists To Be Honest With Themselves.
The allure of the psychedelic experience can be compelling. Psychedelics can open people up to new ways of living and thinking. However, as a human being or as a Buddhist, if you're using a vague pursuit of spirituality in order to justify an addictive behavior, you walk a perilous path.