Cannabis Use by Yogis in India

This is a pretty good talk for SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies by Dr Matthew Clark, who’s also written the most persuasive and rigorously researched book to date on Soma.

The cultural and historical information in the lecture is quite accurate, I reckon, albeit the information about hashish and botany less so.

A couple of things to note, however:

In the sections concerning the Bronze and Iron Ages, Dr. Clark often says “shan”, where I’m pretty sure he should in most cases have been saying “bhaṅga”. None of these early references from India’s pre-Persianate era can definitively be said to be Cannabis, cases of “bhaṅga” not least because they are in masculine or neuter form, whereas the known definite instances of Cannabis are in the feminine form, bhaṅgā.

In the case of the alleged shan (i.e., śaṇa) in the Cakrasaṃvaratantra, this is mere speculation by American academics, when the most authoritative edition (ed. Tsunehiko Sugiki) has “caṇa” (chickpeas), in line with the Indo-Tibetan tradition. Even if śaṇa were correct, other instances such as in the Mahākāla 50 Chapter Tantra are far more likely sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea), which is how Nepali and Tibetan tradition has it, with no reason whatsoever to assume some kind of puritanical censorship of Cannabis. The same texts describe various practices with Datura, for example.

It’s unlikely the Cakrasaṃvaratantra is as early as 5th or 6th century, incidentally. I’ll discuss this further in a forthcoming piece on Cannabis and Buddhism. For a thorough debunking of most popular factoids on this issue, there’s a good thread here by a student of Sanskrit.

Unlike Buddhism or the Buddhist Yogini Tantras, a world where Cannabis certainly does feature extensively is Hindu Shakta Tantra. Beginning well into India’s Persianate era, Bengali Shakta scriptures such as the Tārātantra frequently assert that Cannabis is a superior catalyst of meditative bliss to wine, which was the ritual ‘intoxicant’ favoured by earlier Shaiva tantrikas such as Abhinavagupta. Here’s the British Museum’s general introduction to Shakti, the timeless power of the divine feminine as understood in tantra.

I’ve written on the notably different roles for cannabis at Durga Puja in Bengal and Kumaon in this old piece on Himalayan cannabis culture, while discussing misleading claims about alleged traditional strain names for region-specific domesticates.

Here’s another talk from Dr. Clark, this time for The Oxford Psychedelic Society. As with the earlier video, I have major reservations about some of the botanical and ethnobotanical information, not least the question of hashish versus charas, but very worth watching nevertheless.

One response to “Cannabis Use by Yogis in India

  1. Pingback: Nanda Devi: Landraces and Tall Tales from the Himalayas | The Real Seed Company: The Honest Online Source for Cannabis Landraces Since 2007·

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