It’s the kind of book that seems easy to pigeonhole—until you pick it up and begin reading. In his preface to Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, newly rereleased by Santa Fe’s Synergetic Press (paperback; $26.95), religious scholar Huston Smith explains that the collection of essays “rigorously abstains from drawing conclusions regarding the never-never land it leads the reader into.” Glowing accounts, neutral histories and ambivalent reactions to mind-altering substances all find expression in its pages. “There is a saying that Zen is slippery and slick, like picking up an egg with a pair of silver chopsticks,” Smith says. “Readers will not find here any attempt to turn the slippery Zen egg into putty that chopsticks could handle with ease.”
Fans of the original 2002 edition will still find thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces like Peter Matthiessen’s “Shadow Paths,” a Jung-inflected contemplation of his youthful experiences with ayahuasca and LSD. (“And yet ... At no time did the ‘I’ dissolve into the miracle,” he notes almost sadly.) “DMT Dharma,” by Rick J. Strassman, MD, about his 1991 clinical drug trials at the UNM Hospital General Clinical Research Center, remains a compelling look at not only the medical side of spiritual exploration, but also the vehement disapproval his research encountered in his own Buddhist community. And Myron Stolaroff’s evenhanded argument for the “significant role in deepening and accelerating the progress of one’s meditative practice” played by hallucinogenic substances provides a useful framework in “Do We Still Need Psychedelics?” Stolaroff advises a “judicious spacing of psychedelic experiences” and “developing a Buddha muscle.”
If all this sounds a little high-flown for a book largely about doing drugs, rest assured that Zig Zag Zen also continues to offer juicy and visionary eye candy.
This fresh edition of Zig Zag Zen adds plenty to the conversation. Ralph Metzner contributes “A New Look at the Psychedelic Tibetan Book of the Dead.” He postulates that “the two most beneficent potential areas of application of psychedelic technologies are in the treatment of addictions and in the psycho-spiritual preparation for the final transition”—aka death. David Coyote discusses his “strict and demanding ... sometimes wrathful, sometimes peaceful” spiritual teacher ayahuasca in “Jungle Dharma: The Interweaving of Buddhism and Ayahuasca,” emphasizing the careful integration necessary to benefit from the entheogenic brew’s “sudden, intense, and deep nature.”
If all this sounds a little high-flown for a book largely about doing drugs, rest assured that Zig Zag Zen also continues to offer juicy and visionary eye candy. Enjoy more of the instantly recognizable work of Alex Grey, the book’s art director, as well as a selection of mind-bending or beautiful pieces like Ang Tsherin Sherpa’s “Things That Pop in my Head” and Odilon Redon’s timeless “The Buddha” from 1905. All are printed in lush full color on heavy, glossy stock. Android Jones is another superstar contributor, and it’s certainly hard to remain unmoved by the gatefold spread of his hyperreal “Harmony of Dragons.”
Now’s your chance to meet some of these learned psychonauts in person. Editor Allan Badiner, plus Alex Grey, Rick Strassman and Allyson Grey come to Collected Works (202 Galisteo St., Santa Fe) on Tuesday, May 19, at 6pm to discuss “Buddhism, Psychedelics and Visionary Art.” Come and listen, but don’t expect a specific, universal path to be revealed. Zen and its intersection with entheogens remains a slippery egg—but a fascinating and revealing one.
[Editor’s note: A previous version of this story confused Zig Zag Zen contributor Ralph Metzner with Richard Metzger, who coauthored The Psychedelic Experience with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert in 1964. The error has been corrected above.]