Accomplishment of the yogi can come from consumption of herbs
Spirituality is an inside job. Nobody can walk the path other than ourselves. Having said that, in my experience there are triggers for stepping onto the spiritual path that often come from outside ourselves. Life-changing events like the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, sickness or financial bankruptcy propel us into deeper inquiry about our true nature and why we do the things we do. This inquiry can also be triggered by a teacher, in a human or non-human form. In my own life, I’ve experienced lessons from the non-human teachers of plant spirit medicines.
The plant spirit medicines referred to here refer to traditional plants that have entheogenic effects in addition to medicinal effects. Entheogens are known to induce spiritual visions, insights, and divine communion.
I’ve at times found it difficult to manifest my own realizations due to the limitations of my mind and body. These can include doubt, fear, lack of discipline, and attachment to my views. All of which are constructs of the mind.
It can be like walking the razor’s edge to use the mind to control the mind. Many times I have wanted to seek the help of something/someone outside me to tame my ego and mind. About five years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to go out of my mind and observe myself from the outside. Soon enough, I was presented with an opportunity to participate in a religious ceremony where Ayahuasca was served as a sacrament.
Many people without a clear understanding of these medicines can express their doubts to the ones who are exploring them. Despite the judgements surrounding the use of plant medicines, I did not hesitate to participate in these ceremonies,
Plant Spirit Medicines in the Yogic Tradition
Plant spirit medicines have been used by wisdom traditions seeking spiritual growth for thousands of years. In Shaiva Siddhanta (Shaivism), the leaves of marijuana represent the body of Lord Shiva. And smoking marijuana was akin to being in communion with the spirit of Shiva.
In the Yoga Sutras, chapter IV verse 1, the sage Patanjali writes janmau adhi-mantra-tapah-sam dhij h siddhayah. This translates to, “Accomplishments of the yogi can come from powers from birth, consumption of herbs, recitation of mantras, and penance.”
In the Vedic texts, there are a number of references to a plant or category of plants called soma, that possess qualities both mystical and medicinal.
Plant Medicines in Native American Shamanism
Native American shamans have used Ayahuasca to connect with the human and non-human spirits, for wisdom, guidance, and intuition. When their children came of age, the elders of the Chumash tribe would initiate them in rite of passage ceremonies using Ayahuasca or Dhat?ra. In all these traditions, the guidelines for consumption of plant medicines were very clear: to use them only as a tool to aid the healing and spiritual ascension of an individual. The custodians of these herbs would carefully screen the initiates before administering the medicines to them. It is my hope that modern-day medicine people and spiritual teachers maintain the same integrity and intention towards plant medicines.
The Santo Daime Church
My journey took place within the structure of the Santo Daime church. Founded in the 1930s in Brazil, and active in the US, this syncretic religious organization combines several spiritual traditions including vegetalismo (use of plant medicines). We drank Ayahuasca and chanted mantras invoking Jesus Christ, Maria (Mary), and Jose (Joseph) in Portuguese, for seven hours straight.
About an half hour into the journey, a number of sensations indicate that the Ayahuasca is taking effect; yawning and trembling of the body are common. This is a sign of the medicine working its way, it is preparing you for what is to come. The medicine is a powerful detoxifier. Within a short span of time it expels the contents of the digestive tract. If we are channels for downloading cosmic wisdom, the medicine clears the channel of any physical and energetic blockages so that the cosmic wisdom will flow gracefully. This is why we are advised to not eat eight hours before the ceremony and have just one liquid meal early in the day. We are also advised to maintain a clean vegetarian diet for a week before the ceremony, devoid of alcohol, coffee, and acidic foods in general.
Shortly after the cleansing of the body, visions begin to arise. This is where the magic begins. The beauty of these visions lies in that we cannot control them. The moment we try to control them, they disappear. The moment we start thinking, the visions disappear. Enjoying the visions is possible through surrender. It is as though the mind and ego are put on pause for a moment. Then we are shown the things you need to see.
Learning from the Spirits
This is precisely what I was looking for, something that could take me out of the mind. My visions often begin with flora and fauna with colors and features that seem otherworldly. To me, these visions are a reminder from the spirit that we are part of nature, the stream of consciousness that runs through us also runs through the flora and fauna. By tapping into this consciousness, I have found that I can learn from the plants and animals around me.
In one of my first ceremonies, I was communicating telepathically with a wild boar. I could tell it wanted to show me something. As I followed it, it led me to a temple in South India, where the main deity was Lord Vishnu. It occurred to me much later that Lord Vishnu once took the form of a wild boar in one of his incarnations. I took this as a sign and visited some temples in the south during my next visit back to my home in India, where I had a profound spiritual awakening at a Shiva temple in a South Indian town called Srisailam.
Further into the medicine journey, we might have visions of people in current or past lifetimes with whom we have strong attachment or detachment. The medicine can show us the purpose of these people in our lives and ways to heal, fortify, or let go our relationships with them. It provides a different perspective of why we are not fully at peace with ourselves or with these people.
Lessons from Visions
My next and most powerful visions are related to the spirits and my relationship with them. Most of my visions are from this realm. I have learned many things from my telepathic connections with several celestial beings and saints such as Shiva, Durga, Ganesh, Krishna, Hanuman, Sai Baba, my spiritual teachers, and more. I’ve learned about the nature of consciousness, mysteries of the universe, and harmonious living with divine alignment.
It is common to see visions of the forms of divine we are most attached to. The longer we sit with these medicines, the distinctions between the different man-made gods vanish and we begin to connect with the singular stream of consciousness that is running through all creation. This, in my view, is the most powerful lesson.
I was also blessed with telepathic downloads on a number of subjects: space and time, extraterrestrials, rhythms of the universe, oneness in all creations, nature and age of god, visitations from ancestors in parallel universes, and more. The nature of the visions described above vary for each person, based on their past samsk?ras and present state of consciousness.
I must mention that many of these visions are metaphorical. And I’d suggest not interpreting them verbatim. Sometimes the lesson is very clear, while other times it is less clear. It is important to ponder these visions and wait for guidance on how they can be interpreted. I have found that one of the benefits of my repeated plant medicine journeys is that the more I sit with the medicine, the easier it becomes to interpret my visions.
Healing with Plant Medicine
Many people in plant medicine communities have found that they experience spiritual benefits. These can include leading simpler and more harmonious lives, as well as strengthening affiliation to their own religious and spiritual faiths. Community members have shared with me a number of physical and mental health benefits from sitting in plant medicine circles. While these are anecdotal, the scientific communities are turning their attention here in research studies on Ayahuasca. For example, a recent study conducted at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil investigated the antidepressant effects of Ayahuasca. Researchers around the world are looking at the psychological and physiologic effects of Ayahuasca in addiction and mental health. Investigations of psilocybin mushrooms for depression have been published in esteemed journal The Lancet and is an area of active research.
There is even an organization devoted to the modern study of plant medicines. MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, “is a nonprofit research and educational organization that develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana.”
Proceed with Caution
I do want to mention that not everybody has the positive effects I have had with Ayahuasca. The plant is a living spirit. Some have expressed dissatisfaction with the medicine or the process of consuming it. In my humble opinion, each experience depends on the authenticity and integrity of the people who are administering the medicine and the intentions of the people taking it.
If plant medicines are part of your path, I wish you good health and spiritual growth.