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Sex as sacrament? - Perspectives on Cannabis and Tantra Tradition

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Cannabis Origins and Cultural History

Cultivation of cannabis probably started in China to produce seeds for food and medicine and as a fiber for cloth and fabric. While the Chinese were building their hemp culture, the cotton cultures of Indian and the linen (flax) cultures of the Mediterranean began to learn of Cannabis through expanding trade and from wandering tribes of Aryans, Mongols, and Scythians who had bordered China since Neolithic times.

The Aryans (Indo-Persians) brought Cannabis culture to India nearly 4,000 years ago. They worshipped the spirits of plants and animals, and marijuana played an active role in their rituals. In China, with the strong influence of philosophic and moralistic religions, use of marijuana all but disappeared. But in India, the Aryan religion grew through oral tradition, until it was recorded in the four Vedas, compiled between 1400 and 1000 B.C. In that tradition, unlike the Chinese, marijuana was sacred, and the bhangas spirit was appealed to "for freedom of distress" and as a reliever of anxiety" (from the Atharva Veda). A gift from the gods, according to Indian mythology, the magical Cannabis "lowered fevers, fostered sleep, relieved dysentry, and cured sundry other ills; it also stimulated appetite, prolonged life, quickened the mind, and improved judgement."

In Hindu India Cannabis is believed to have been used in India as early as 1000 B.C.E. In mainstream, lay religious usage, it is usually taken in liquid form as bhang and used during religious ceremonies such as marriage, as well as the Hindu celebrations of Holi. Hashish, or charas, is widely smoked by Shaivite devotees, and cannabis itself is seen as a gift of Shiva to aid in sadhana. Wandering ascetic sadhus are often seen smoking charas with a chillum. As Sikhs are absolutely prohibited by their religion from smoking, the use of ganja and charas in this form is not practised by them so they drink bhang.

In Hinduism, sadhu is a common term for an ascetic or practitioner of yoga (yogi) who has given up pursuit of the first three Hindu goals of life: kama (pleasure), artha (wealth and power) and even dharma (duty). The sadhu is solely dedicated to achieving moksha (liberation) through meditation and contemplation of God. Still others partake in the religious consumption of charas, a form of cannabis and contemplate the cosmic nature and presence of God in the smoke patterns. Charas is the name given to hand-made hashish in India and Pakistan. It is typically grown in the Himalayas and is an important cash crop for the locals.

British psychiatrist G. Morris Carstairs spent 1951 in a large village in northern India and reported on the two highest castes, Rajput and Brahmin, and their traditional intoxicants of choice -alcohol and cannabis, respectively. The Rajputs were the warriors and governors; they consumed a potent distilled alcohol called daru. The Brahmins were the religious leaders; they were vegetarians and drank a cannabis infusion called bhang. Rajput lore, glorified sexual and military conquests. The priestly Brahmins, on the other hand, "were quite unanimous in reviling daru and all those who indulged in it. Bhang, a Brahmin told Carstairs, "gives good bhakti." He defined bhakti as "emptying the mind of all worldly distractions and thinking only of God." Whereas the Rajput in his drinking bout knows that he is taking a holiday from his sober concerns, the Brahmin thinks of his intoxication with bhang as a flight not from but toward a more profound contact with reality."

Generally in orthodox Islam, the use of cannabis is deemed to be khamr, and therefore haraam (forbidden). As with most orthodoxies, early practices differ in this. Some say that, as hashish was introduced in post-Koranic times, the prohibition of khamr (literally, "fermented grape") did not apply to it. Despite the official disapproval of the various Islamic governments througout the span of Arabia in Africa and spilling beyond the regions of the Middle East to SE Asia, the use of cannabis is so historic in the culture, that billions of Muslims use a potent hashish recreationally as commonly as alcohol is used in the West. Only the Sufi muslim use it in a religious way similar to the Brahmin.

Cannabis In Tantra

Tantra (Sanskrit: "weave" denoting continuity), tantric yoga, or tantrism is one of any several esoteric traditions rooted in the religions of India. It exists in Hindu, Bönpo, Buddhist, and Jain forms. Tantra, in its various forms, has existed in India, China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Korea, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia and Mongolia.

Tantra of The Right Hand Path (Dakshinachara) is claimed to be the Bodhisattva ideal of Mahayana Buddhism represented historically and mythologically by Avaloketishvara, Tara and others, as well as today in the person of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan teachers. In the Tantric or Vajrayana aspects of this system, harnessing the energies of the body, emotions and mind, including, joy, wrath and sexual energy, is not an end in itself but a potent means to the ultimate goal of realizing the true nature of reality, emptiness or Shunyata, thus attaining complete spiritual enlightenment and relief from the endless dissatisfaction of life, and using the power thus gained exclusively to help others do so as well.

Tantra of The Left Hand Path (Vamacara) is the one associated with the so called "darker" side of tantra. Tantriks engaged in left hand practises embrace and accept what is usually considered repulsive to the ethical senses, or what are nominally temptations to be avoided, such as sex, alcohol and and the use of charas and bhang to heighten both sensuality and spirituality. A key tenet in tantra is to accept everything as a manifestation of the divine. Thus mentally overcoming what the Hindu mind otherwise sees as repugnant, like bone, uncooked meat is an important practise on the path to master the mind. However the goals remain the same as those of any yogi; to overcome reactive elements of the mind and achieve complete control over it. This path, however is seen as more treacherous and the presence of a guru, all the more important.

Common variations include visualizing the deity in the act of sexual union with a consort, visualizing oneself as the deity, and/or "transgressive" acts such as token consumption of meat or alcohol. Occasionally, non-standard or ritualized sex may be undertaken such as having sex in graveyards. This accounts for tantra's negative reputation in some quarters and its reception in the Western world primarily as a collection of sexual practices. In the West, tantra had originally been reviled by early European orientalists as a subversive, antisocial, licentious and immoral force that had corrupted classical Hinduism. On the other hand, many today see NeoTantric practice as a celebration of social equity, sexuality, feminism and the body.

There is another historic Samayachara Tantra that is hyper-puritanical in which it is forbidden to meditate on chakra below the navel to keep the mind a respectful distance from the genitals.

Ecstatic Enlightenment Beyond the Tantric Religious Landscape

The fact that I had no knowledge of any of Tantric doctrine and yet experienced a scenario that contained only the bare-bones psychological and sexual equivalents of the proscribed protocol that resulted in a supreme transcendence- suggests that a intuitive/sensual/spiritual episode can trigger transcendent grace as well as one that is ritualistic/sensual/religious.

Personal Observations Regarding the Qualities of Cannabis.

My Supergirl was- by a factor of 3x- the most sensual grass I experienced during the subsequent 15-year period when I was both using and home-growing cannabis for my personal use. Not only is there a huge range of potency among samples of the various varieties of sativa and the sub-species indica but an orchestra of psychological effects that characterize the thousands of hybreds evolving around the world. For example in my obsolete experience, Panamanian Red is paranoid, indica genrally zones you out while original Jamaican sativa is sexy and uplifting.

Since I haven't smoked in over ten years I'm sure there are varieties that may approach the quality of my original "SuperGirl" that I have no knowledge of. For a brief period I did use (eaten rather than smoked) some extremly potent hashish that I had smuggled in from Istanbul but found it made me such a sexual madman that I threw it away for fear I might abuse my girlfriend- much to her annoyance. Other than my one experience with magic mushrooms, I have no knowledge to speculate how other than THC-based recreational or entheogenic drugs might work in a neo-Tantric scenario but would be highly skeptical. I suspect they would lack the spiritual/sensual balance and unique "good bhakti" quality of cannabis and might produce either a psychedelic warp or a raw sensual overload.

Roger Christie
Cannabis Sacrament Minister.

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
The Byrds

words adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger
music by Pete Seeger

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time of war, a time of peace
A time of love, a time of hate
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time of peace, I swear it's not too late!
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