In the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the young protagonist Siddhartha encounters the older Buddha and immediately begins to question the validity of the master's teachings, to which Buddha replies: "You are clever, O Samana [wandering ascetic]. You know how to speak cleverly. Be on your guard against too much cleverness!"
That scene has always stuck with me. I totally relate to young Siddhartha's cleverness. There have been plenty of times when I've tried to to outsmart this game of life. In fact, I would say that using drugs and alcohol is one big attempt to outsmart the mechanics of life, and enlightenment.
Since our body's nervous system responds predictably to certain molecules and chemicals, we can tinker and toy with drugs and alcohol by artificially inducing preferred states of consciousness. For instance, let's look at marijuana.
Marijuana induces a meditative state akin to the one resulting from Deep Meditation. With smoking pot, you just take a few tokes, and boom!—THC enters the respiratory system and bloodstream, then you are stoned in a matter of seconds. With meditation, the process of cultivating calmness can take considerably longer (though sometimes it happens pretty quickly), and instead of relying on an entheogenic plant, we rely on a native vibration within our own mind. See the difference?
Shortcuts can slow us down, and there is a price to pay when we trick the nervous system.
When I was in elementary school, I had a friend that brought counterfeit dollar bills to school one day. He had made a big stack of fake bills using a standard copy machine. It was nothing professional. They were black-and-white, paper copies and slightly blurry. Yet, I was able to use them in the change machine in the cafeteria. The sensor in the change machine saw the image of a dollar bill and was deceived, so it kept spitting out quarters, not knowing that I was fooling it.
Needless to say, I eventually got busted and had to pay back the money. As penance, the headmaster also made me read passages from the Bible. There was no beating with a paddle, however. Lucky me!
The nervous system is like that innocent dollar machine. The receptors receive the molecules, regardless of what is trailing behind the molecules. If there is a plant or chemical trail behind the molecule, it will be a somewhat artificial experience. If there is nothing but our own inner chemistry and emotions behind the molecular triggers, the experience will be more authentic and wholesome.
Even though I've been sober for several years now, I still have to be vigilant with my cleverness. Am I trying to outsmart basic necessities and stages of development? It's a good question to ask contemplatively, and to let stillness reveal the answer. In the game of spiritual practices, there are still pitfalls, like falling into the illusion of attainment ("I have arrived; I am completely enlightened; I am beyond all life experiences.")
The pitfalls are easily avoided by continually checking in with oneself on a gut and heart level, which means utilizing a childlike honesty as our mental and behavioral compass. That way, our cleverness is not bandied about recklessly or foolishly, but rather employed with skillful means, and for meaningful purposes.
And that's all I'll say about cleverness...for now... ;-)