Bertrand is a Zen Buddhist monk and teacher of meditation in his early
seventies. Formerly an artist, he had an awakening experience on Mescaline
which made him re-evaluate life and to seek a spiritual path, and when he
was 47 he took up Rinzai Zen with a strict Japanese master. Though he found
the training extremely hard, he eventually became the abbot of a Zen
Bertrand has taken Ecstasy about 25 times over 10 years. He has generally
used it on the second day of a five day meditation, and finds that the drug
allows him to give his wholehearted attention without distraction. As a
student, he also once used the drug when undertaking a Zen exercise called
Koans - such as the classic: "to understand the sound of one hand
clapping". The master would name the task which the student would have to
contemplate and then return to demonstrate his comprehension of it;
normally after a considerable time and very often being told to try again.
On MDMA, Bertrand zipped through the Koans with impressive ease. He has
also felt enlightened on two occasions, although he is wary of accepting
this as the highest level. He also knows a Swiss Zen Buddhist who uses E,
but never told his own master. He feels that the experience would be of
great value to some of his devout but stiff fellow Zen monks, although he
knows only one other Zen monk who uses Ecstasy.
Asked whether the E experience was of equal value to 'getting there the
hard way', he replied that MDMA simply allowed one to focus wholeheartedly
on the task in hand, and that the result was in every way as real because
it was the same. In fact, MDMA allowed him to go further than he was able
to without it.
I pressed him to find negative aspects, and he told me that he once made
the mistake of taking E just before leading a meditation. This opened his
eyes to how strained and needy his students were. He expressed what he felt
too freely: that they looked like corpses, all lined up in their black
tunics! This was inappropriate and he did not use MDMA while teaching
again. He felt his mistake lay in not respecting that his students were in
a different space.
However, Bertrand believes that MDMA would be an extremely useful tool for
teaching if the students were on it too. In fact he wondered if he would
live long enough to be able to use it legally. Pressed for possible
problems, he said that there were always people who came wanting to be
given enlightenment on a plate, and that news of a new technique using a
drug would attract those who expected it to 'do be done for them'.
The rave party was the first time Bertrand had taken E except while
meditating, and he was surprised how different the experience was.
Beforehand he said he could hardly stand the noise and volume, but after
coming up said how he could see the value of the volume in drowning out
distractions, and the monotonous beat was akin to American Indian
ceremonies which also provide the feeling of tribal bonding by the use of a
drug - although he felt the rave missed the Indians' cultural framework and
focus. (Bertrand had been guest in an American Indian ritual, though
without taking any drug.) He could see the value of his new experience to
Buddhism as expansive - meditation was contractive, but both were
His first reaction to coming up was sadness in his position as part of the
establishment of a restrictive religion, and a realisation that the Zen
training was not suitable for Westerners in its present form. Later, he got
into the dancing and, as his face changed from severe to happy he
exclaimed: "This is meditation - to be truly in the moment and not in your
head". Next day, he said that he felt the experience had made an impression
on his life and was not sure where it would take him. It had emphasised
what he already knew: that his students were too contracted, and that the
expansive experience of the rave was what they needed, and it was a pity
that he could not advocate it in his position.
Next day he said this may be an important turning point in his life. He had
to take time to digest what he had learned, but his immediate response was
that he could not continue to be part of the establishment of his school in
its present form. He could see that the contractive aspect of the training
had been overemphasised in his school in the belief that Westerners were
too expansive anyway, but in fact those who sought Zen masters in the West
really needed the ability to be expansive - and the rave provided it.