Academic Publications

Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

In praise of Altered States:

Altered States genuinely moves forward in laying a path for new, insightful, and valuable information on the American Buddhism that is developing in our global society. Osto’s groundbreaking research will be appreciated by scholars, and his accessible style will be enjoyed by non-academic readers.

(Charles Prebish, Utah State University)

Altered States deftly guides us through the neglected territory of psychedelic Buddhism. This is a fascinating story, full of vivid characters and supported by solid research. Still, I believe it makes a greater contribution in situating these practices and persons in the larger contexts of tantra, of American religion, and of cutting edge neuropsychology and consciousness studies. The result is―to use le mot juste―mind blowing.

(Franz Metcalf, California State University, Los Angeles)

[Altered States] mixes statistics and surveys, historical overview, personal experience, and ethnographic texture to uncover the intertwining history of two fast-growing movements in American spirituality…. This overview will appeal to anyone interested in Buddhism, psychedelic possibilities, and understanding how both are forging a controversial new American religious experience.

(Publishers Weekly)

Provocative…. The book is worth buying, reading, and quoting.

(PsycCritiques)

The topic of psychedelic Buddhism remains both necessary and deeply vexed. For some Buddhists, the idea that psychedelics might have something positive and productive to do with dharma practice approaches heresy; for others—especially in the West—psychedelics have not only served as a “Paisley gate” into the dharma, but remain an ongoing touchstone of practice, view, and energetic insight. While some writers have ventured into these controversial waters, treating both historical and philosophical issues, Osto is the first serious scholar of Buddhism to look closely and impartially at what is arguably the pragmatic crux of the issue: how psychedelics have functioned in the lives and minds of contemporary Buddhist practitioners.

(Erik Davis, author of High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies)

One of my favourite aspects of the book [Altered States] was the luxurious space given to the fascinating voices of the informants themselves…. it surely took a deft touch for Doug to make the space for these articulate and diverse voices to be heard. Simply put, Doug has the tact and wisdom to know when to get out of the way and let his informants speak for themselves, and their frank, in-depth disclosure and self-portraits have a powerful cumulative effect. I also couldn’t help thinking as I read that the field would be enriched if this sort of fruitful encounter between scholarly and practitioner perspectives could be multiplied.

(Dr Michael Radich, Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Heidelberg)

Altered States is an unprecedented scholarly examination of the role psychedelics have played in the past, present, and future of American Buddhism. It heralds the genesis of a new field of Buddhist studies within the burgeoning Psychedelic humanities. More personally… Doug’s book, like Allan Badiner’s Zig Zag Zen before it, has been as a validating force for those of us who view psychedelics and Buddhism as complementary

(Christopher “Doc” Kelley, PhD, Religious Studies, Eugene Lang College, The New School, Psychedelic Sangha founder and facilitator)

Altered States is a valuable and timely book. What Osto has done is to open the conversation he wishes to have through providing insight into how some Buddhists (and others) have used entheogens as an adjunct to their spiritual practice within the context of the somewhat overlapping history of psychedelics and Buddhism in America.

(Mavis Fenn, review on H-Buddhism)

Osto’s book is exceptional in its ability to focus the conversation about entheogens within religious perspectives contrastive to the Protestant regime that culturally underwrites American religion….The book’s most important insight is the fact that, over and over again, psychedelic enthusiasts refer to initial use of psychedelics as “door-opening” – and from his account of a Buddhist perspective, whether or not one continues to use psychedelics or feels he or she has “graduated” from such experiences, the door-opening metaphor persists in individuals’ accounts of their experiences.

(Roger Green, Religious Theory, 28 July 2016)

Altered States is a book that could be adopted as a text in a class on American Buddhism or in courses that focus on drugs in history and the use of psychoactive substances in religions. It not only pulls together information on the subject from otherwise scattered sources, but also contributes original data and ideas. In addition to its potential as a course book, it is engaging writing that may appeal to general curious readers.

(Ronald Green, Journal of Buddhist Ethics, v.24 (2017))

Power, Wealth and Women in Indian Mahayana Buddhism: The Gandavyuha-sutra, London: Routledge 2008.

Click here for the paperback version from Amazon.

His work [Power, Wealth and Women] will also undoubtedly serve as an excellent introduction to the Gaṇḍavyūha and a welcome resource that both surveys and complements the literature already available for the study of this fascinating scripture.

(Dr David V. Fiordalis, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Linfield College)

…this book [Power, Wealth and Women] is a must-read for graduate students and specialists interested in debates regarding the origins and nature of Mahāyāna Buddhism in India.

(Dr Amy Langenberg, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Eckerd College)

For full academic reviews of this book, see:

Articles & Book Chapters:

  • “Altered States and the Origins of the Mahāyāna,” in  Setting Out on the Great Way: Essays on Early Mahāyāna Buddhism, edited by Paul Harrison (Sheffield: Equinox, 2018), pp. 177-205.
  • “No-Self in Sāṃkhya: A Comparative Look at Classical Sāṃkhya and Theravāda Buddhism,” Philosophy East and West  68.1 (January 2018): 201-222.
  • “Merit” in The Buddhist World, edited by John Powers (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 351-366.
  • “Orality, Authority and Conservatism in the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras,” in Dialogue in Early South Asian Religions, edited by Laurie Patton and Brian Black (Farnham: Ashgate 2015), pp. 115-135.
  • “A New Translation of the Bhadracarī with Introduction and Notes,” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 12.2 (December 2010): 1-21.
  • “The Supreme Array Scripture: A new interpretation of the title ‘Gandavyūha-sūtra’,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 37.3 (June 2009): 273–290.
  • “‘Proto-Tantric’ Elements in the Gandavyuha Sutra,” Journal of Religious History 33.2 (June 2009): 165-177.
  • “Soteriology, Asceticism and the Female Body in Two Indian Buddhist Narratives,”Buddhist Studies Review 23.2 (2006): 203–220.

For PDF files of published papers, see http://massey.academia.edu/DougOsto


Book reviews by Douglas Osto:

  • Eviatar Shulman, Rethinking the Buddha: Early Buddhist Philosophy as Meditative Perception, in Religion 47:1 (2017): 117-120, DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2016.1188630.
  • Carl Olson, Indian Asceticism: Power, Violence and Play, in Religion 47:1 (2017): 114-117, DIO: 10.1080/0048721X.2016.1188629.
  • Robert M. Geraci, Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life, in Religion 46:4 (2016): 682-686, DIO: 10.1080/0048721X.2015.1123579.
  • Jeff Wilson, Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture, in Religion 46:3 (2016): 464-468, DIO: 10.1080/0048721X.2015.1089738.
  • Erik Braun, The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism & the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw, in Religion, 45:4 (2015): 625-627, DOI: 10.1080/0048721X.2015.1036718.
  • Gananath Obeyesekere, The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience, in Religion 44.1 (2014): 164–166.
  • Naomi Appleton, Jātaka Stories in Theravāda Buddhism: Narrating the Bodhisatta Path, in The Journal of Religion, 93.4 (October 2013): 520-521.
  • Richard S. Cohen, The Splendid Vision: Reading a Buddhist Sutra, in Religion 43.3 (2013): 436–439.
  • Jason Neelis, Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks: Mobility and Exchange within and Beyond the Northwestern Borderlands of South Asia, in Buddhist Studies Review 29.2 (2012): 301–303.
  • Andy Rotman, Thus Have I Seen: Visualizing Faith in Early Indian Buddhism, Cynthea J. Bogel, With a Single Glance: Buddhist Icon in Early Mikkyo Vision, in The Art Bulletin 93.4 (December 2011): 486–489.
  • Lee Gilmore, Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man, in Religion 41.3 (November 2011): 499–503.
  • John Powers, Bull of a Man: Images of Masculinity, Sex and the Body in Indian Buddhism, in Religion 41.2 (June 2011): 290–294.
  • Sree Padma and A. W. Barber (eds.), Buddhism is the Krishna River Valley of Andhra, in Religion 40 (2010): 65–66.
  • Daniel Boucher, Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna: A Study and Translation of the Rāstaprapālaparipcchā-sūtra, in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 11.2 (December 2009): 203-7.
  • Jonathan A. Silk, Riven by Lust: Incest and Schism in Indian Buddhist Legend and Historiography, on H-Net Reviews, H-Buddhism (October 2009).
  • Douglas E. Cowan and David G. Bromley, Cults and New Religions: A Brief History, in Religion 39 (2009): 210–211.
  • Ralph Flores, Buddhist Scriptures as Literature: Sacred Rhetoric and the Uses of Theory, in Religions of South Asia 3.1 (2009): 151–153.
  • Susanne Mrozik, Virtuous Bodies: The Physical Dimensions of Moralityin Buddhist Ethics, in Religion 38 (2008) 403–404.
  • Barbra Clayton, Moral Theory in Santideva’s Siksasamuccaya: Cultivating the Fruits of Virtue, in Journal of Buddhist Ethics 15 (2008): 63–67.
  • Barabara Hendrischke, The Scripture on Great Peace: The Taiping Jing and the Beginnings of Daoism, in New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 10.1 (June 2008): 170–172.
  • Dan Arnold, Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion, in The Journal of Religion 87.1 (January 2007): 128–130.
  • Gavin Flood, The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory and Tradition, in Religion 36 (2006): 58–60.

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