Eastern Wisdom and the Sacred Medicines – Part 1
This article is offered as the first installment in a series of pieces that will highlight the parallel and congruous nature of essential Buddhist and Hindu (eastern) teachings, and teachings that come from Ayahuasca (Yagé), San Pedro Cactus (Wachuma / Awakoya), Peyote (Hikuri), and Temazcal ceremonies. Each article in the series will examine the writings and teachings of a different practitioner of eastern wisdom through the lens of the sacred medicines of the Americas.
The writings presented here from the eminent Indian poet, artist and visionary Rabindranath Tagore hint towards those parallels. Tagore’s Gitanjali, from which these poems are taken, was first published in India in 1910 and translates to ‘Song Offerings’. Tagore would eventually go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1914, largely due to the profound influence of the English language translation of Gitanjali.
Here it is worth noting that the traditions of the Red Road of the North, and Ayahuasca (Yage) of the South, do not generally keep written records of their ceremonies, rituals and teachings. Instead, they pass down their immense bodies of knowledge and wisdom through story telling, song, ceremony, and shared experiences.
As a bridge to these shamanic traditions, Eagle Condor Alliance is intent on bringing the teachings from the path of the sacred medicines out of obscurity and into the light of consciousness. We believe that much like a dedicated meditation or mindfulness practice, a disciplined study of the medicines provides a level of clarity, truth, love and consciousness that is of immense benefit to the student and to his or her community.
And so while there are certainly multiple valid interpretations of Tagore’s poetry, let us attempt to find in his words the common threads that tie together these two worlds of profound wisdom and guidance.
Thought that my voyage had come to its end
At the last limit of my power, –
That the path before me was closed,
That provisions were exhausted and
The time comes to take shelter in a silent obscurity.
But I find that they will know no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
New melodies break forth from the heart,
And where the old tracks are lost,
New country is revealed with its wonder
We find, in this first stanza, someone who is reflecting back on feelings of stagnation, hopelessness, depletion, and depression. All of his resources seemed to be exhausted, and try as he might, he was nearly set to admit defeat and slip into the oblivion of routine, self-doubt, or acceptance of a less inspired life. This feeling is commonly part of people’s motivation and path to reconnect to themselves and to their spirituality.
We all feel bored and somehow tired at times, and we seek a revival of the sense of wonder, power, enthusiasm, and energy that is embodied in the second stanza. At ECA we often work with participants who seek that same revival. With the medicines of Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Temazcal ceremonies, and mambe and ambil, the path to that renewed spark of life lies in one’s ability to confront the darkness, pain, fear, and imbalances that are revealed by the medicines during ceremonies.
We only know light because we know darkness; comfort from discomfort; courage because of fear. Fortunately, for the author and for those ECA participants who find the strength to sit with what arises, ‘new country’, ‘new melodies’ and a sense of the infinite do come flooding back in.
Freedom is all I want, but
To hope for it I feel ashamed.
I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee,
And that thou are my best friend, but I have not
The heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room.
The shroud that covers me is
A shroud of dust and death;
I hate it, yet hug it in love.
My debts are large, my failures great,
My shame secret and heavy; yet when I come
To ask for my good, I quake in fear
Lest my prayer be granted.
Self-imprisonment or liberation – two sides of the same coin that is bathed in swirling, and at times, unpredictable tides of courage, fear, self-love, and self-doubt.
When we move towards bold changes and decisions, we feel the weight of accumulated fears that have taken root inside of us during years of unhealthy behavioral and thought patterns. We know that we live under ‘a shroud of dust and death’ that we have allowed to form, and yet we ‘hug it in love’ rather than casting it aside and inviting the summer breeze to kiss our chests.
Why? Why can’t we follow that intuitive guide inside each of us that knows what is good for us and what does not serve us? Our intuition, the voice of the healer that we carry inside each of us, whispers and indicates with forceful clarity which way to go during Ayahuasca, San Pedro Cactus, or Temazcal ceremonies. It is up to us to follow its teachings in our daily lives.
Depending on how aligned or unaligned our lives are with this voice and the teachings that arise, we may be faced with the reality that fulfillment and true, lasting joy will come into our lives only if we are willing to make dramatic and courageous changes. The hope is that after hearing this voice and reconnecting to the feeling of powerful vibrancy that life can have, we will no longer ‘quake in fear’ when we ‘ask for our good’. Instead, we will boldly honor our blessings, our ancestors, and ourselves by manifesting our unique essences in beautiful ways on this earth.
He whom I enclose with my name
Is weeping in this dungeon.
I am every busy building this wall all around;
And as this wall goes up into the sky day by day
I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.
I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it
With dust and sand lest a least hole should be left
In this name; and for all the care I take
I lose sight of my true being.
Here Tagore touches on one of his and eastern teachings’ favorite themes; the ego.
Writing in the first person he is painfully aware of the separation that is occurring within him. He is on one side of the ‘great wall’, while his ‘true being’ resides nearly out of sight now on the other side. He takes great pride in the ego-structure that he has constructed and ensures that has not a hole.
One way to think of the sacred medicines of the Americas is as tools for breaking down these identifications, attachments, and walls that separate the ‘I’ from one’s ‘true being’. These plants have a way of simplifying things so that the analytical mind, where the ego resides, can relax a bit and be led by a consciousness or intuitive voice that emanates from the heart and the lower abdomen. Both the sacred medicines and meditation show us that the mind is a useful tool when in service of that greater consciousness, but that it is not to be trusted when left to its own devices.
Whether you are a doctor, an artist, a soldier, a programmer, a lawyer, a housewife, or a wanderer, the medicine reminds us all that we are living beings on planet Earth. As organisms on this planet we must breathe, drink water, and eat some food. Some would say we must also love. The rest is up to us. However we choose to identify, engage in society, and define our roles in this lifetime is a choice – and it is beneficial to our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health to understand that our true self remains even when our roles and identifications change.
Light, oh where is the light? Kindle it
With the burning fire of desire!
There is the lamp but never a flicker of a flame,
is such thy fate, my heart! Ah, death were
better by far for thee!
Misery knocks less at thy door,
And her message is that thy lord is wakeful,
And he calls thee to the love-tryst
Through the darkness of the night.
The sky is overcast with clouds and
The rain is ceaseless. I know not what this is that
Stirs in me – I know not its meaning.
Here we find ourselves in the depths of an Ayahuasca, San Pedro, or Temazcal experience, as Tagore might have found himself in deep meditation, confronting the darkness and confusion that arises when we are faced with parts of ourselves that have long been hidden.
This is the hard work that we talk to ECA guests about. This is why you have come across the world to participate in these shamanic ceremonies; your intuition, dreams, body, mind, and heart have told you that there are things going on in you that you need to understand better or set straight. You need clarity and strength, but first you must face the darkness and perhaps even let your ego die. This can be difficult and frightening, but all true growth and enrichment comes through adversity.
In this case, you are your own adversary, and you must see that clearly before you’ll step out of your own way and let the light of simplicity, love, and clarity lead you.
On the day when the lotus bloomed alas,
My mind was straying, and I knew it not.
My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.
Only now and again a sadness fell upon me,
And I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace
Of a strange fragrance in the south wind.
That vague sweetness made my heart ache
With longing and it seemed to me that
It was the eager breath of the summer
Seeking for its completion.
I knew not then that it was so near,
That it was mine, and that his perfect sweetness
Had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.
In the end it’s about feeling grateful and being open to life’s blessings. When we get out of our own way, let ourselves be led by heart-consciousness, and connect to the feeling of being alive on Earth, we can heed the lotus flower that blooms. And of course Tagore, being the master of language that he was, leads us here to understand, in the most gracious way, that the blossoming of the greatest gifts occurs in the depths of our own hearts.
We are our own best healers. We are our own best guides. We honor our ancestors, our communities, and ourselves when we live with love, gratitude, and consciousness.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all one family.