Karl Marx wrote "Religion is the opium of the people." Some people think that Marxism is a religion. But is there any truth to the concept that religion has a narcotic effect on people? Before I answer that, I'd like to look at a couple of religions that use narcotic plants in ceremonies: Peyotism and Rastafarianism, both of which have practitioners in Arizona..
Peyote was used in the territory of modern Mexico in pre-Columbian times to commune with the spirit world. From the mid-15th century, the use of peyote spread to the Great Plains area of the United States primarily through the efforts of the Apache tribes. Peyotism is now practiced in more than 50 Indian tribes and has probably around 250,000 adherents.
Peyote rituals can be conducted by oneself and (it is believed) with the Creator, or with a guide, or in a group, and at any place or time the Spirit or Creator and the participant deem them necessary. The ritual includes prayer, the eating of peyote, songs, water rituals, and contemplation. The peyote ritual is believed to allow communion with God and the deceased, and to give power, guidance, and healing. The healing may be emotional or physical, or both.
The Rastafari movement is a new religious movement that uses cannabis. For Rastas, smoking cannabis, usually known as "healing of the nation", "ganja", or "herb" is a spiritual act, often accompanied by Bible study; they consider it a sacrament that cleans the body and mind, heals the soul, exalts the consciousness, facilitates peacefulness, brings pleasure, and brings them closer to Jah (God). The burning of the herb is often said to be essential "for it will sting in the hearts of those that promote and perform evil and wrongs." There are two types of Rasta religious ceremonies. A "reasoning" is a simple event where the Rastas gather, smoke cannabis and discuss ethical, social, and religious issues. A "grounation" or "binghi" is a holy day. Binghis are marked by much dancing, singing, feasting, and the smoking of cannibis, and can last for several days.
According to many Rastas, the illegality of cannabis in many nations is evidence that persecution of Rastafari is a reality. They are not surprised that it is illegal, seeing it as a powerful substance that opens people's minds to the truth — something the Babylon system (establishment) clearly does not want. In July 2008, however, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that Rastafari may be allowed to possess greater amounts of cannabis legally, owing to its use by them as a sacrament.
I will leave the debate about whether the religious or medicinal use of peyote or cannabis should be legalized to the NORML examiner. Instead, I will examine the biochemical effects of prayer, meditating in darkness, sungazing, chanting and singing. Do these practices produce a psychoactive substance in the brain that brings the practitioner into a state of higher consciousness, bliss and union with God? And is this a spiritual experience or just a biochemical high?
Dr. Rick Strassman, who conducted research at the University of New Mexico from 1990 to 1995 on the effects of the psychoactive drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), suggested that the pineal gland is involved in DMT production, because the precursors and enzymes necessary for its formation are quite high in the pineal. He says “DMT may be released from the pineal during dreams, near-death, death, birth, and during meditation and mystical experiences.” Near death experiences are identical to DMT trips. HRM says that at the moment of death, the pineal gland collapses, releasing all it’s contents. Scientists have found that during meditation in total darkness, the pineal secretes DMT after a few days. I propose that chanting and visualization accelerate this process and that sungazing afterwards induces the secretion of other peptides in the pineal, pituitary and other glands that have psychoactive effects. The mixture of these secretions has been called various names: nectar of the gods, the living water, and Amrita, and produces a light in the head and a feeling of extreme bliss.
This “light of a thousand suns” has been seen by mystics, initiates, prophets and shamans throughout the ages. They refer to it as the experience of God or of a universal intelligence. Many people have induced this experience through the use of hallucinogenic substances, such as soma, mushrooms, Mescalin, and LSD. However, these experiences tend to be short-lived and require increased doses to repeat the experience. Certain yogic techniques can also force the third eye to open prematurely before the mind is ready, and this can lead to psychosis. Mystics of all religions and cultures agree that natural methods, such as intense meditation in darkness retreats, visualization, deep-breathing, chanting and sungazing combined with purification are the best ways to gradually awaken the third eye so that the person is not shocked by experiences of higher consciousness and these experiences are not colored by negative images in the mind.
The pineal governs energy level. Thus, the more it is stimulated, the higher a person’s energy level. Monks at a monastery in France were told by a new abbot to stop chanting. They found that they no longer were able to get up before dawn to work in the fields after only a few hours of sleep. When chanting was restored, so was their energy. You can find chanting and singing practices in many cultures that activate the third eye. The reason why is because the pineal sits above the mouth suspended in the third ventricle, a chamber filled with cerebrospinal fluid. This makes the pineal gland quite uniquely positioned to respond to sonic vibrations. Manly P. Hall, in The Opening of the Third Eye stated that the pineal gland “vibrating at a very high rate of speed, is the actual cause of true spiritual illumination.”
Other adepts have said as much. Take, for example, this quote from The Dialogues of Kabir, “In the center between the two eyes is the seat of eternal music, the music of the spheres. One who practices this sound principle gains entry into this kingdom.” And a more recent teaching from Sri Chinmoy states that “There are quite a few mantras that also help in opening the third eye. The Gayatri Mantra, for example, helps in opening the third eye, for it invokes the infinite knowledge, wisdom and light.” Sun yogis usually recite the Gayatri mantra while sungazing. The last line of this mantra can be translated as “May it [the sun] activate the brain.” Jonathan Goldman in Tantra of Sound wrote that “Sound can act like a psychoactive substance, altering and enhancing consciousness.” Perhaps this is because certain sounds can stimulate the production of psychoactive substances in the brain. But the two major stimulators are light and darkness.
The solar priests in sun temples thousands of years ago knew how to induce the Amrita experience through a combination of sungazing and darkness retreats. Archaeologists who have examined sun temples in various parts of the world: Egypt, Mexico, Peru, India, and so on, discovered that they all had underground chambers or caves beneath or on top of them. They assumed correctly that these were used for initiations. The initiate would first purify himself or herself by sungazing, fasting on water, deep breathing and mud baths: the four elemental purifications described in the Essene Gospel of Peace. Then, when the priest felt the initiate was ready, he would lead the initiate into the underground chamber where he or she would meditate and chant in total darkness for several days. During that time, the initiate would see the inner light and go through an emotional purging and enlightening process induced by DMT. The final step was reemergence at dawn, during which the rays of the rising sun would flood the brain with serotonin and other psychoactive substances such as oxytocin and tryptamine that would combine with DMT to produce Amrita and samadhi.
Whether this experience of samadhi is truly contact with divine intelligence or just a hallucination can be answered by seeing the effects on the life of the initiate. Does he or she exhibit greater wisdom, compassion, and will power to do good, and does the high last? If so, then the experience is real.
August 2, 2009