ALAN WATTS, DRUGS & SPIRITUALITY – Is getting stoned essential to spiritual progress?

A friend sent me a passage by Alan Watts (it is at the foot of this article). It made me want to address the issue of drugs in relation to spirituality.


Thanks for sharing this C…….. Meditation and inspiration changes the brain – there is no need for substances!

I have no doubt that the hallucinatory non-reality of most people’s lives is a fact. I have no doubt that the core of all true paths is what we call we call perennial wisdom/philosophy i.e. the essential mystical core is the heart of all the true religions.

However having done alcohol/substance counselling I have no doubt that the metaphorical ‘wine of astonishment’ enables you to end up in a good place whereas the physical stuff rots soul, body & mind.

From my copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity (A Watts) I note that AW says that when we learn to end the self-imposed suffering (that the Buddha and Mr Tolle speak of).

"the mind becomes whole: the split between I and me, (wo) man and the world, the ideal and the real comes to an end. Paranoia, the mind beside itself, becomes metanoia, the mind with itself. Free from clutching at themselves the hands can handle’ free from looking after themselves the eyes can see; free from trying to understand itself thought can think. In such feeling, seeing and thinking life requires no future to complete itself nor explanation to justify itself. In this moment it is finished."

What a brilliant last sentence!

The fact that drug taking is widespread is no recommendation for it as a legitimate way for spiritual progress. Not all facts are truths.

The mystic wine is available free at the core of all faiths – however because there is so much crud heaped by men in most religions Interspirituality is a surer and safer way, and a way to save yourself a few decades of effort and the possibility of brain damage or a shortened life!

For example I don’t need any substance to get high and stay in bliss when there are such teachers as the beloved Heschel;

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”


Watts apparently died of ‘old age’ (i.e organ failure) at 58 through the effects of heavy drinking – see HERE He taught us, and continues to teach us, two things. The first is a wealth of stuff useful to understand interspirituality and perennial wisdom/philosophy. The second is the dangers of substance dependency. By rights he should have taught for another 30 years like Thich Nhat Hanh instead of having such an early demise. Perhaps the need for a sangha plus the Buddha and the dharma is relevant. Did Watts have groupies rather than a sangha?

Thich Nhat Hanh after a life of great hardship, as well as great purpose, is in his mid-80s and still undertaking international tours. Which of the two, Watts or Thich Nhat Hanh best supports the drugs-no drugs argument and which shows most clearly the falsity of the argument that because some primitive people take psychoactive substances this should provide the basis for us to to do the same?


In brief I think we can see in the last paragraph (see below) that he had lost his way, and perhaps his faith. Perhaps it was because he stood alone? It seems that, agonizingly,Watts didn’t realize the Oneness of truth and reality in a way that gave him peace.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is such a thing as ‘reality in both spirituality as well as science but as Wilber points out the truth-telling systems are different – one being mystical the other the rules of science. To dig through to the mystical reality in religions cluttered withmad-made accretions is enough to drive you to drink. But today we have Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanhh, Heschel, Thomas Merton, Abdu’l-Baha, Shaikh Kabir Helminski etc a whole gardenful of teachers through whom we can create a sure foundation for ourselves.


"Since at least 1500 B.C. men have, from time to time, held the view that our normal vision of the world is a hallucination, a dream, a figment of the mind, or, to use the Hindu word which means both art and illusion, a maya. The implication is that, if this is so, life need never be taken seriously. It is a fantasy,a play, a drama, to be enjoyed. It does not really matter, for one day (perhaps in the moment of death) the illusion will dissolve, and each one of us will awaken to discover that he himself is what there is and all that there is, the very root and ground of the universe, or the ultimate and eternal space in which things and events come and go.

This is not simply an idea which someone ‘thought up,’ like science fiction or a philosophical theory. It is the attempt to express an experience in which consciousness itself, the basic sensation of being ‘I’, undergoes a remarkable change. We do not know much about these experiences. They are relatively common, and arise in every part of the world. They occur to both children and adults. They may last for a few seconds and come once in a lifetime, or they may happen repeatedly and constitute a permanent change of consciousness. With baffling impartiality they may descend upon those who never heard of them, as upon those who have spent years trying to cultivate them by some type of discipline. They have been regarded, equally, as a disease of consciousness with symptoms everywhere the same, like measles, and as a vision of higher reality such as comes in moments of scientific or psychological insight. They may turn people into monsters and megalomaniacs, or transform them into saints and sages. While there is no sure way of inducing these experiences, a favorable atmosphere may be created by intense concentration, by fasting, by sensory deprivation, by hyper-oxygenation, by prolonged emotional stress, by profound relaxation, or by the use of certain drugs.

Experiences of this kind underlie some of the great world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism in particular, and, to a much lesser extent, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As expressed in the doctrines of these religions, they purport to be an account of ‘the way things are’ and therefore invite comparison with descriptions of the universe and of man given by physicists and biologists. They contradict common sense so violently and are accompanied with such a powerful sense of authenticity and reality (more real than reality is a common description) that men have always wondered whether they are divine revelations or insidious delusions." ~Alan Watts


see HERE

4 Replies to “ALAN WATTS, DRUGS & SPIRITUALITY – Is getting stoned essential to spiritual progress?”

  1. Well in answer to the question do we need drugs to advance spiritually I hope not because I have never taken any. It’s the old Carlos Castaneda thing is it not? If we say yes then the argument can be usedvto justify all kinds of excesses and indulgences. Foods, herbs, potions and extreme physical practices that lead to mind altering states and euphoria are common to all cultures. In countries like Afghanistan and India where hallucinogenic drugs were normalized we can see the powerful negative effects which have retarded spiritual and material progress for entire populations. My home country Scotland culture of excessive drinking of ” the water of life” has blighted thee lives of millions.


    1. Wise counsel as usual from ex-pat Gordon – thanks for chipping in. I’m trying to persuade one or two in our One Garden Interspirituality groups that drugs are a bad thing period – and pseudo-scientific claims from Huxley onwards don’t alter that fact. The main point however is that you get far better highs from what any true spiritual teacher teaches. Our groups start with Thich Nhat Hanh and Eckhart Tolle, Abdu’l-Baha, A J Heschel, SHaikh Kabir Helminski etc – much more life-enhancing that cocaine, heroin, crystal meth etc.


  2. I’ll give you a simple explanation. People will do what they do according to how they were brought up, their genes and their experiences that’s all what is going on here. If someone say their soul is pure because they believe in God and they have peace of mind because of how they live their life its just ignorance created by the inability to see the truth. No matter how much you wanna one up someone else in anyway its simply not possible, impossible. Because none is ever responsible for who they are and if they are then so is everyone else simply by being alive, because its all connected.

    And you can’t change the world either, because you are the change. It is happening as I type, the change is in my typing, your article and everything which is going on now. People who have peace have peace, people who are killers are killers, people who starve, starve, people who help others, help’s others. And the answer to the age old question why are we here is simply to do whatever you do.


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