Hallucinogenics in Eastern Spirituality


The psychedelic experience and the deep meditational or spiritual experience can be paralleled with startling ease. The first similarities can be found in lifestyles of people who have psychedelic experiences with those who are spiritual practitioners. The hippies and beatniks of the 60’s counter-culture in America were rebelling against the establishment. As the mantra of Timothy Leary says, “Tune in, Turn on, Drop out.” They were dropping out of society, dropping acid, and tuning into
themselves and the spiritual world. The shramana “...like the hippie, has rejected worldly values, renounced the social structure of his country, and is leading the life of a wandering beggar, in which the use of drugs occasionally plays a part.”

1 Note the outer similarities of the two, long hair, conspicuously different clothing, and inwardly a spiritual thirst for prajna. Drugs may or may not have played a part in Shramana movements depending on the individual values of the renunciant, as is true with the hippies and beatniks. However, it seems probable that drugs were used in very early Hindu rituals and spiritual practices. The Rig Veda, a main ritual Hindu text sites a plant called Soma. Of its 1,028 hymns, about 120 are devoted to praising soma and the preparation of soma.

2 It was called King Soma; it was sacrificed into the fire, and its juices were drunk. The plant was praised as a mind-altering substance; its identity was lost thousands of years ago. In 1968 R. Gordon Wasson claimed to discover the identity of Soma, the Amanita muscaria mushroom. “Some of the strongest evidence...is that the Rig Veda makes no mention of the divine plant having any roots, leaves, blossoms, or seeds.”

3 Amanita muscaria probably grows in high elevations. Directly translated from the Rig Veda, Mandala V 43 Soma is a “plant from the mountain” and Mandala IX 46 says soma is “seated on the mountaintop.” These texts seem to make it clear that the plant grew high above us in the mountains. One question that arises is why are all the “King Soma” used in sacrifices agreed upon as being substitutions, rather than this real live plant that they are talking about. One explanation that goes with the mushroom theory is that when the Aryans migrated from the northern highlands into valleys and lowlands, they had no way to bring it with them because the only trees the Amanita muscaria will grow with grow only in the highlands. This is actually an argument to prove the identity of Soma as Amanita muscaria, rather than to answer why the Aryans didn’t bring it with them. For any regular plant could be transported, and replanted. The Amanita muscaria, however has a special mycorrhizalin relationship with certain trees that grow only in the highlands such as pines, firs, and mostly birches. The proposed Soma, Amanita muscaria, is bright red with woolly spots on it.

4Another indication in the Rig Vedas that Soma might be the Amanita is from Mandala IX 17 “He (Soma) has clothed himself with the fire bursts of the sun,” much resembling the cap of the spotted red mushroom. Also interesting is the fact that soma’s mild is described as a “tawny yellow color” which sounds closer to cows mild or Amanita juice than anything extracted from a green chlorophyll plant. More evidence begins with this quote from the Rig Veda, Mandala IX 66 “with those two forms which stand facing us, O Soma, though reignest over all things.” There are two forms of Amanita which Wasson came across which can be drunk with hallucinogenic effects, the direct juice extracted from the mushroom, or the urine of a person who has consumed the mushroom or its juices, “since the Amanita’s psychoactive principle are altered very little by passing through the human body.”

5 Mandala IX 74 “Soma, storm cloud imbued with ghee...the swollen men piss the flowing Soma.” Another Hindu belief that can be linked to psychedelics is the concept of the kundalini. Kundalini is “shakti” or “divine power incarnated in our body and inextricably involved in its destiny.”

6 In order to define kundalini in understandable terms, sybolism is largely used. Usually the kundalini is depicted as a female snake coiled up inside the “cave” at the base of the spine. The snake is sleeping, but gives off enough energy for the individual to remain alive. However, when the practicioner seeking to awake her does so, she rears up and makes her way up the chakras (energy centers corresponding to ascending locations from the tailbone to the cranium) all the way to the head “where she opens a hole through which the atman (soul or self) can escape.”

7 Awakening the kundalini is achieved by Hindu yogis through various methods of yogic practices, mainly meditations and austerities. The effects of LSD have recently been compared to those of awakening the kundalini. People, mostly between the ages of 19 and 25, 85 percent male and 15 percent female, were surveyed about the effects of psychedelics. In the survey nothing was mentioned about the kundalini. No people were surveyed about effects of kundalini because experience of this is so limited. Rather the author of the study cited books to reference the effects experienced by kundalini practitioners whom had already recorded their experiences. The correlations are as follows:

Spontaneously twisting and/or revolving of the body andlimbs, dance-like gestures

Trembling of the body

Spontaneous laughter, tears of joy.

Automatic/involuntary laughing or crying

Alterations in sexual desire

Sensory hallucinations: audio, visual, gustatory, and olfactory

Audio hallucinations: humming, rushing water, tinkling bell sounds, etc.

Closed eye perceptions: dots, lights, flames, geometrical shapes, and pure white lights. These may be perceived as visions of saints or deities

Creeping sensations in the spine
Tingling sensations through the body.

Itching orcrawling sensations under the skin
Sensations of heat or cold
Extreme feeling of ecstasy and divine bliss
Extreme feelings of fear
Enhanced sense of empathy
Loss or disassociation of emotions
Recall past lives
Enhanced intuition and psychic powers
Feelings of unseen guidance and protection
Emptying of the mind
There is an experience of being a witness in the body
Questions may arise in the mind and be spontaneously answered (revelation or enhanced insight)
The hidden meaning behind the (Indian) Scriptures arerevealed
Mystical experience

Of the subjects that he questions by email survey many answered with experiences strikingly similar to kundalini accounts. One such account says “...but there was a sound that I heard and I know that that sound was the universe.” Another was “I have experienced unity with the universe. I have been led on mystical voyages through the spirit world...” and various others all paralleling some sort of enlightenment, or kundalini experiences. (see Appendix) The author of this study concluded that if psychedelic experience and kundalini were related then possibly the psychedelic experience could be used as a model for kundalini awakening and in this way the physiological effects for psychedelics and kundalini would be similar. This would show that since LSD is a chemically induced state then maybe kundalini is, too, and the “biological correlates of the siddhis” could be discovered. That seems to imply the attempt to physically induce the phenomena of siddhis, rather than through the accepted practice of mind exercises, although the author did not state this.

8 Similarly, Rick Strassman, M.D. sees the Pineal gland as being a possible source of the brain’s very own “home-grown” [my term] hallucinogens. His contention is that these “home-growns” might be produced under certain specific mental and/or physical conditions, including: near death, birth, high fever, prolonged meditation, starvation, and sensory deprivation. He calls the pineal gland the “seat of the soul” or the infamous “third eye” and postulates that under these circumstances and because of chemical alterations of melatonin and seratonin caused by these circumstances it might produce DMT (N, N-dimethyltryptamine, a very strong hallucinogenic drug) on its own, and that this chemical may be responsible for spiritual realities experienced under the aforementioned conditions. He continues to theorize about the pineal gland, but starting with facts. It first becomes visible in the human fetus at forty nine days after conception, at the same time the gender becomes distinguishable. Coincidentally, according to several Buddhist texts, “forty nine days is how long it takes the life-force of one who has died to enter its next incarnation.”

9 These two separate facts together could be used to infer that “the life-force of a human enters the fetus at forty-nine days through the pineal.”

10 This would also suggest that the force leaves the body at death in the same way, and entry and exit of the soul or “life-force” into the pineal gland would be indicated by a release of DMT. Tripping on “acid” naturally during birth and death? An interesting concept, to say the least. This all appears to be wild speculation, but seems to fit well with other studies and speculations, fulfilling the hypothesis that psychedelic experience and eastern mystical experience are closely related and may be physiologically very similar. In his book “Be Here Now,” Richard Alpert recounts his trip to India. He went to meet holy men “and I’d give them LSD and they’d tell me what LSD was. Maybe I’d learn the missing clue.” [my italics] He finds such a man, Maharaji who displays yogic siddhis, such as mind reading. Maharaji reads his mind and demands the LSD from Ram Dass. Ram Dass gives him a fairly large dose, but the guru demands more, until he is taking 915 micrograms of LSD, which Ram Dass explains is more than 10 times what a “first timer” could take comfortably. After Maharaji took the LSD, Ram Dass says, “All day long I’m there and every now and then he twinkles at me and nothing--nothing happens! That was the answer to my question. Now you have the data I have.”

11 They psychedelic state was nothing new for the guru, maybe something he had experienced daily while practicing his spiritual meditations. The religious implications of this are astounding. Do we “trip” naturally? Have we the chemicals in our brains already necessary for a psychedelic/spiritual experience? A yogi meditates and learns how to control the workings of his inner body so that he can understand and/or control the outside world. A hippie takes acid and suddenly understands the outside world, and on occasion experiences the siddhi powers yogis strive so hard for. Are these experiences intrinsically the same, simply triggered by a different catalyst? “A psychedelic experience is a journey to new realms of consciousness,”1 as explained by Tim Leary. “And universal consciousness, luminous and omnipresent, radiates in his heart: in this way he attains brahman,”2 as
explained by the Upanishads. Doesn’t sound too different, does it?

Baba Ram Dass Be Here Now The Crown Publishing Group, New York

Strassman, Rick J., “Dharma and DMT Research” Tricycle New Jersey; The Buddhist Ray Inc, Fall 1996

DeGracia, Donald J., Ph.D. Psychedelic Drugs and the Awakening of Kundalini at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/dondeg/ 12-10-97

Smith, Michael. Amanita Muscaria as the God/Plant Soma of the Rigveda at http://www.entheogen.com/amanita.html 12-10-97

Jesse, Robert “Entheogens: A Brief History of Their Spiritual Use” Tricycle New Jersey; The Buddhist Ray Inc, Fall 1996

Varenne, Jean Yoga And the Hindu Tradition The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London

Leary, Tim, Ph.D., Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., and Richard Alpert, Ph.D. The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of The Dead University Books, New York, 1964