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Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism

Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism



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Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism; Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism

An article by RC Parker and Lux. Published in Erowid Extracts Jun 2008;14 pgs 6-11
Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism; Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism

An article by RC Parker and Lux. Published in Erowid Extracts Jun 2008;14 pgs 6-11

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Published by: contemplative on Sep 19, 2009
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Erowid Extracts
— Number 14 / June 2008
This article represents a fairlycomprehensive survey of references todatura and cannabis in Indo-Tibetan tantric Buddhist texts that have been translated into English. The online version includesmore Tibetan and Sanskrit transliterations,links to referenced articles, and additionalrelated material. See Erowid.org/extracts/ n14/tantra. The authors wish to thank Professor David B. Gray and Professor Geoffrey Samuel for their encouragement and many helpful suggestions.
Since the beginning o moderndiscourse about psychedelics in Americanintellectual culture, seminal authors havenoted parallels between psychedelicexperiences and contemplative practices o Asia. In his 1954 essay
The Doorsof Perception
, Aldous Huxleylikened his experience o mescaline to the insightsprecipitated by yogaand meditation. AuthorR. Gordon Wasson wenturther, arguing that somespiritual disciplines o Indiamay be intended to evoke anexperience that was originallyentheogenic in nature.
By the late 1960s,counterculture rhetoricstrongly associatedpsychedelicsand Easternmysticism. AlanWatts tackledthe topic in his1962 book 
The Joyous Cosmology
; Timothy Leary, RamDass, and Ralph Metzner later wrote aguide to psychedelic experiences basedon the ourteenth-century tantric manual
 Bardo Thödol
, the so-called
Tibetan Book of the Dead 
Psychedelic experienceand Eastern meditationhave become so intertwinedin Western culture thattheir roots are diicult todisentangle. Fortunately, inrecent years several thoughtulbook chapters and articleshave appeared examining the complexrelationship between the explosion o psychedelic counterculture and the con-temporaneous popularization o Buddhismin the United States in the 1950s and1960s.
Unortunately, the historyo psychoactive plant use byBuddhists in Asia has not beenaddressed with comparablerigor. Although interestingspeculative work has beenwritten on the subject,
aocused analysis o explicittextual evidence has notbeen published. Overthe last ew decades,university religiousstudies departmentshave producedtranslationso Buddhisttantric texts o unprecedentedquality, providing ample material or anexamination o psychoactive plant use byBuddhists in Asia. This article considerssome o the evidence with respect to tantricBuddhism in India and Tibet, ocusing onthe use o cannabis and datura.
Psychoactive Plantsin Tantric Buddhism
Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism
by R. C. Parker and Lux
Psychedelic experience andEastern meditation have becomeso intertwined […] that their rootsare difficult to disentagle.
Tantric Buddhism
The term “tantra” reers to a greatmany religious practices and belies.It is so diicult to deine, that somereligious historians argue the word haslittle meaning other than to mark extremeor taboo practices.
The Sanskrit wordand its Tibetan equivalent (
) reer tothe texts that orm the scriptural basis orthe religious movement, and also mean“continuum” or “lineage”.Despite the diiculty in pinningdown the term, dierent tantric lineagesgenerally share some characteristics.Practices and scriptures are oten secret,with instructions given in private byteachers to students with whom theyhave consecrated a ormal guru/disciplerelationship. Many tantric practicesmust be authorized by empowermentceremonies, which sometimes last ordays or weeks and may carry lielongpractice commitments as a condition o receiving them.
,Tibet House Museum
Erowid Extracts
Number 14 / June 2008
Most tantric scriptures are practice-oriented texts associated with speciicdeities. Tantric meditation and ritualoten involve complex visualizations o these deities—so much so that the Tibetanpolymath Tsong Khapa (1357–1419)proposed “deity yoga” as the deiningcharacteristic o tantra.
Many tantricyogas are intended to elicit extraordinarystates o consciousness, including sexualyoga with real or visualized partners andenergy yogas that manipulate body heat,respiration, or dreaming.The concept o tantra as a sex-positivereligion devoted to embracing the materialworld is a modern construction that bearslittle resemblance to the historical tantricpractices and belies o Asia.
Tantra began to take shape as a majorreligious movement in India between thesixth and ninth centuries CE.
Manyo the extant tantric texts were written inthese years and the movement reached apeak that lasted several centuries. Mosttantras were composed in Sanskrit inIndia and Central Asia, and many wereeventually exported to China and Tibet.During 950–1200 CE, Tibet underwenta period o upheaval ollowed by a“renaissance”, in which the old Tibetanempire collapsed and reorganized intoa society ruled by a complex network o powerul clans and religious institu-tions.
During this renaissance, enormousresources and labor were devoted topainstakingly translating Buddhistscriptures rom Sanskrit into Tibetan.The Tibetan written language had beendeveloped during the seventh century by acommittee o religious scholars specicallyor the purpose o translating scripturesrom Sanskrit.
Many Buddhist tantrasthat are lost in their original Sanskrit ormsstill exist in the Tibetan scriptural canon.
Why Look to Tantra?
There are several reasons to look totantra or psychoactive substance use inpre-modern Buddhist Asia. The rst andmost important is that non-tantric monasticBuddhism is ar less tolerant o violations o scriptural precepts than tantric Buddhism.Buddha’s injunction against consumingintoxicants precludes the open use o psychoactive substances by members o the Buddhist monastic establishment. Incontrast, tantric Buddhism canallow or, and even applaud,shocking transgressions as a signthat the yogi has transcendedordinary patterns o valuationand behavior.While non-tantric Buddhistpractice was overwhelminglythe purview o ordained monksand nuns in medieval India, the
, or practitioner o tantra,was oten a layperson.A mainstay o tantricliterature is the
, asorcerer-like yogi who achievesextraordinary powers such asfight or psychic abilities throughreligious practice. Unlike theintroverted monk quietly seekingliberation behind monasterywalls, the
expressesspiritual attainment in the world.In their biographies, tantric
s oten commit outrageousacts o apparently reckless violence,consumption o intoxicants, or sexualconduct.
In one amous legend, theguru
o the
Näth siddha
lineageis said to have broken a ve-year astby consuming enormous quantities o hemp,
Strychnos nux-vomica
, the“strychnine tree”), and datura.
In addition to accommodating the useo psychoactives, tantric texts sometimesinclude encyclopedic instructions orthe use o medicinal plants. Ayurvedicmedicine and yoga are two importantantecedents to tantra,
and those disciplinesprovide a template or simultaneouslydeveloping both body and mind in theservice o liberation.
Thisholistic approach to spiritualpractice is preserved in severalimportant Buddhist tantrasin which physical, mental,and spiritual ailments orma single complex o relatedconcerns that must be treatedin tandem. This approach is an easyrhetorical t with pre-tantric Buddhistscriptures, which sometimes describeBuddha as a doctor and suering as anillness.
Consequently, some Buddhisttantras include compendious inormationabout medicinal plants, including cannabisand datura.
Datura in Buddhist Tantra
 Datura stramonium
are well-documented in India andTibet. In Sanskrit datura is known as
, while in Tibetan the plant is
dadhu ra
. Datura’s eects were describedin several ayurvedic
materia medica
.It is mentioned in the
(ca.4th–6th century CE), which says: “I ood be mixed with the ruit o the thornapple (dathura) it causes intoxication”.
 It also advises a man to anoint his peniswith honey inused with datura and longpeppers (
Piper lungum
) beoresexual intercourse to make his partner“subject to his will”.
[…] tantric
often commit outrageous acts of apparently reckless violence, consumption of intoxicants, or sexual conduct.
D. stramonium, Photo by Acidmon
Datura is associated with severalHindu and Buddhist deities.
, a pre-modern devotional textdedicated to Vishnu (date unknown), tellsthat datura sprouted rom the chest o thegod
Its fowers are sometimes usedas ceremonial oerings—a practice thatcontinues to this day in Nepal.
Erowid Extracts
— Number 14 / June 2008
to cause enemies to go insane, to destroytheir wealth, or to drive them away.The
Guhyasamäja Tantra
(ca. 8thcentury CE) is generally considered oneo the earliest extant Buddhist tantras.
 This key scripture describes the basicarchitecture o tantric practice and isvenerated by several schoolso Tibetan Buddhism—particularly the Gelukpas, whotake it as the central tantra.
 In the
Guhyasamäja Tantra
,Buddha Vajradhara givesinstructions or undertakingthe destruction o evil-doers:[M]aking an image o the enemywith the excrement and urine o those who ollow the great Dharma,wrathully burn it in a ire o thorn-wood, and even the Buddhawill certainly perish. […] So hesaid black mustard-seeds, salt, oil,poison, and thorn-apple [datura],these are taught as the supremedestroyers o all the Buddhas.
Similarly, the
Cakrasamvara Tantra
(ca. late 8th century CE) is highlyvenerated in Tibet to this day. It states:“Should the well-equipoised one immolatemustard oil with crows’ wings and [thevictim’s name] in a
re, he willimmediately be expelled or killed.
Cakrasamvara Tantra
also tellsthat a
can drive an enemy insaneusing magical implements, including acharnel ground cloth bound around the “veintoxicants”. The Tibetan commentatorBudön Rinchen Drup explains that “veintoxicants” reers to the root, stem, leaves,fower, and ruit o the datura plant
—all o which contain psychoactive alkaloids.
Inanother reerence to datura, the tantra claimsthat immolating “one hundred and eightgolden ruits” (
, explicated as“datura ruit” by the commentatorJayabhadra) will allow one tobecome insubstantial.
(ca. 10th century CE) containsinstructions or killing an enemy sayingthat the practitioner should perorm a rite:“naked, with disheveled hair and acingsouth, draw the sixteen-section wheel o 
[…] on a shroud invenom, blood, salt, black mustard,
 Azadirachta indica
) and
juiceusing a pen made rom a raven eather orrom human bone.”
This tantra also provides instructionsor using the ash o datura wood tomagically break a relationship between aman and woman, or to drive people away.
 Datura ruit may be used in magical ritualsto drive an enemy insane:[…The practitioner] takes
 ruit and, mixing it with humanlesh and worm-eaten sawdust,oers it in ood or drink. He recitesthe mantra and that person willinstantly go insane and then diewithin seven days.
and to destroy wealth:Then i, wanting to turn wealth intopoverty, [he] perorms a hundredand eight burnt oerings at night ina re o cotton using
ruit,(that wealth) will indeed becometrifing.
Datura was sometimes includedin ritual ire oerings that may haveproduced psychoactive smoke. Akey eleventh century commentary onthe
Kälachakra Tantra
describes: “When the oblationis oered in the octagonal pot, [ona ire made with
aggots, withthorn-apples [datura] and
 oered into the ire, it accomplishesstupeactions [o the enemy] […]”.
has been identied as milkweed and
as Assyrianplum.
This compound “becomes anointment for the eyes. Afterapplying it one revolves aroundand around like a bee.”
deities in tantric Buddhism are said to beond o datura,
which is sometimes usedas a ritual oering to placate these deities.
 Reerences to datura in the pre-eleventhcentury
Vajramahabhairava Tantra
havebeen used to argue on behal o an OldWorld origin o 
 Datura metel
Cannabis Leaf, Image by Tganja
The psychoactive eects o daturahave long been recognized in Tibet. Thereligious author Sachen Kunga Nyingpo(1092–1158) used the eects o datura toillustrate how our senses can be distorted,writing: “When datura […] is eaten,appearances maniest as yellow.”
Thethird Dodrup Chen Rinpoche (1865–1926),a Tibetan scholar-yogi, compares a cryptic“nectar rendering liberation” to the powero datura. He writes, “[I] one takesthe nectar by itsel the [subtle body]will receive blessings spontaneouslyand excellent accomplishments will beachieved, like being intoxicated by alcohol[…] and being deluded with visions byDatura or thorn apple[…]”.
 Datura intoxication may have beenwidespread in
culture. In
 Indian Esoteric Buddhism
, Ronald M. Davidsonobserves:[M]any o the
scripturesdiscuss ointments and drugs,especially those applied to theeyes or eet. The use o the variousspecies o datura (especially[
 Datura metel
]) is particularlyevident. Sometimes termed the“crazy datura” (
)or “
’s datura,” it was generallyemployed as a narcotic paste or aswood in a re ceremony and couldbe easily absorbed through the skinor the lungs.
The use o datura in various rites isprescribed by a number o seminal tantrasthat exerted a proound infuence on Indianand Tibetan religious culture. Most o the known datura reerences pertain tomagico-religious rites o attack intended

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