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Lions Roar : May 2015
I’M PRETTY PRO-MARIJUANA. Cer- tainly people can have problems with it—people can have problems with just about anything—but lots of people are able to use pot more or less harmlessly, and have enjoyable, even fruitful experi- ences doing so. But for me, smoking got out of balance. Being high can amount to innocent fun, but over time it can cause you to retreat inward. What’s going on “out there” some- times can’t compete with the big-budget productions taking place in your head. You may retreat even more if, like me, you’re a bit ashamed of your use. I’m ashamed because I know, and have known for a good while now, that it has caused me to hold back in my dharma practice. It’s also caused me to be a bit duplici- tous, a potent source of shame in itself. When friends have talked about weed, I often haven’t spoken up, out of fear of blowing my cover. I had a secret I wanted to protect, and a habit I didn’t want to own up to, much less change. I was afraid of what others would think, and embar- rassed for not being real. Recently, there’d been an extra bump of shame, because I was routinely using pot but didn’t quite want to be. Even when it was enjoyable, I’d find myself fantasizing about renouncing it—making room for something more rewarding, by which I mean dharma practice. Now, I’ve taken smallish breaks from weed in the past, and I’ve felt good (for the most part) every time: more present, less self-involved. But eventually, I’d have a difficult confrontation with someone, or a stressful episode, or maybe would just THIS DHARMA LIFE Up in Smoke Pot use is having its moment, finding new acceptance across America. So why, after a long love affair with weed, has this Buddhist kicked it to the curb? become bored and not creative enough to work through it. Next thing I’d know, I’d be texting my friendly neighborhood dealer. Because, why the hell not? Stash replenished, I’d smoke up, and things would feel wonderful enough for a little while. But soon I’d be haunted by the knowledge that I wasn’t being truth- ful—to my community, to my peers, to myself. Once that happens enough times, you realize: Hey! This isn’t working. I’ve always kind of known my smok- ing could compromise the qualities I’m trying to cultivate as a dharma practitio- ner: stability, compassion, clarity, and so on. When I took the precepts as a young Buddhist, I took them quite seriously. Except for the fifth one. Reciting the fifth precept on not intoxicating the mind, I think I knew that I was really just paying lip service. (I have to assume my teacher, no fool, knew it too.) The “rules” that the precepts seemed to represent were, to me, bendable. And it’s true: the precepts do have flex- ibility in them. Each one is simply a tool that allows us to reflect on our behavior and whether it’s truly in line with the dharma. No one forces us to take these precepts, and no one—least of all the Buddha—is keeping score. We take the precepts because they help us foster the mind of a bodhisattva, someone who is trying to put others before themselves. Nonetheless, I learned I could con- vincingly justify my pot use (at least to myself ). Overall, I’m a responsible and conscientious person. I practice often, and have a happy little family and a career that I love. Contrary to the old, stale notions about pot enthusiasts, I’ve been getting shit done. So if I’ve been smoking and doing practice all these years, does that prove that the two are compatible? I won’t say that they are or that they aren’t. What RICHARDBAXTER Since marijuana is still illegal in 46 states, the writer prefers to remain anonymous. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2015 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE