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Religion, Spirituality and Cannabis

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Cannabis has been used in India for centuries. It has been mentioned in the Vedas, the religious text and oldest scriptures. It is also considered as a sacred plant and has a religious/spiritual aspect to it.

In Hindu Mythology, the supreme power, the three deities are known as Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (another name for Lord Shiva). Brahma, the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.  Shiva has been often associated with smoking pot or drinking bhang. 

There are different stories related to cannabis and Shiva. According to one of the stories, Shiva consumed poison to save Amrita – Elixir of life, during a tug-a-war between demons and gods and later consumed cannabis for the cooling effect. According to another story, Shiva was wandering in the field and slept near the cannabis plant, and later he consumed the leaves. Synonyms to Shiva is Himalayas, it is also believed that pure cannabis is available in the Himalayas.

Bhang is another form of cannabis, it is mixed with milk, and some dry fruits and is consumed during an Indian festival called Holi. There is another preparation consumed during the same time, i.e. bhang pakora (fried snack), prepared by mixing bhang leaves with gram flour and some spices.

Cannabis and its various forms are consumed differently; Hermits are known to consume it in its most raw form, i.e. dried up leaves with the help of chillum (a pipe made from clay). The sages in Hinduism consume cannabis as they believe it’s a way to unify with God- Shiva. India is known for its diverse culture, and Hindu’s are known to celebrate many festivals, an important and famous festival called Shivaratri is celebrated in February, before the arrival of summers in India. On Shivaratri, Bhang and Hashish are consumed in plenty, and that too guilt-free as it is considered Shiva’s Prasad.

Other religions have a different viewpoint on cannabis. Religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam prohibits the consumption of any intoxicant, though there is no specific mention of cannabis in their scriptures. Religious people follow their holy scriptures, but their belief is often superstitious, and the prohibition of a substance is more often linked to the law of the land. 

Cannabis is known to aid meditation, and thus people used it to connect with one’s higher self. It is used before practising meditation to have control over one’s thoughts. Meditation is all about the stillness of the mind, controlling the wavering mind. Also, the sages who practice hath-yoga look for peaceful places like the valley of the Himalayas, where one of the most potent hashish is available, another form/ name for cannabis.

Sages do meditation for many hours at a stretch; they consume hashish at a particular time of the day and are very strict with this routine.  The sages also want to experience one of the Patanjali’s eightfold paths – the Samadhi, the super consciousness, the uniting of one with the universe. The thought process of consuming hashish is linking them to the eightfold path.

Another school of thought doesn’t believe in Shiva consuming any substance that intoxicates. He is a supreme power that does not need any external substance to be stoned. The famous Sadhguru once said, “Soma is one of the names of Shiva, Soma means intoxication. Shiva was not such a cripple that he needed chemicals from outside. He was stoned, no question about that. But he is not using a substance; he is the substance.” This school of thought opposes the use of cannabis as it is addictive; the problem is not in using the substance but drawing a line on to what extent one can go. The substance if taken in high quantity and for prolonged use can lead to anxiety issues, hallucinations, affects brain development, behaviour issues and other adverse effects.

As of today, cannabis remains contraband, as per laws of Government of India. Its consumption has increased manifolds in the last couple of decades. Now the question arises, whether it is ok to drink bhang, smoke weed/hashish in the name of religion or spirituality?? Is it essential to have the adrenaline rush from an external substance?? Is that high so mesmerizing?? Apart from these critical questions, cannabis and its various forms have been known for its medicinal benefits as well. One needs to delve upon the pros and cons of using cannabis before jumping to conclusions.

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