him n herb

 by Jeff Brown and the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church

            India appears to be the place where the most direct reference to cannabis use in religion is recorded. Very early in history there are references of trade with Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China.
            In Indian tradition marijuana is associated with immortality.  There is a complex myth of the churning of the Ocean of Milk by the gods, their joint act of creation. They were in search of Amrita, the elixir of eternal life. When the gods, helped by demons, churned the ocean to obtain Amrita, one of the resulting nectars was cannabis.  After churning the ocean, the demons attempted to gain control of Amrita (marijuana), but the gods were able to prevent this seizure, giving cannabis the name Vijaya (“victory”) to commemorate their success.
            Other ancient Indian names for marijuana were “sacred grass”, “hero leaved”, “joy”, “rejoicer”, “desired in the three world”, “gods’ food”, “fountain of pleasures”, and “Shiva’s plant”.

            Early Indian legends maintained that the angel of mankind lived in the leaves of the marijuana plant.  It was so sacred that it was reputed to deter evil and cleanse its user of sin.  In Hindu mythology, hemp is a holy plant given to man for the “welfare of mankind” and is considered to be one of the divine nectars able to give man anything from good health, to long life, to visions of the gods.  Nectar is defined as the fabled drink of the gods.

            Tradition maintains that when nectar of Amrita dropped from heaven, that cannabis sprouted from it.  In Hindu mythology, Amrita means immortality; also the ambrosial drink which produced it.  In India hemp is made into a drink and is reputed to be the favorite drink of Indra (the King of the Indian gods).  Tradition maintains that the god Indra gave marijuana to the people so that they might attain elevated states of consciousness, delight in worldly joy, and freedom from fear.

            Ambrosia: a name given to anything that confers immortality. 1.)The food of the gods. 2.) The ointment of the gods, which preserved even the dead  from decay (Peck, Harry Thurston. Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, Harper and Bros. 1896, 1923.)

            “According to shamanic tradition, Indra....discovered cannabis and sowed it in the Himalayas so that it would always be available to the people, who could then attain joy, courage, and stronger sexual desires by using the plant.....hashish is also called indracense, 'incense of Indra.' (Ratsch, Marijuana Medicine,  2001)
            According to Hindu legends, Shiva, the Supreme God of many Hindu sects, had some family squabble and went off to the fields.  He sat under a hemp plant  to be sheltered from the heat of the sun and happened to eat some of its leaves.  He felt so refreshed from the hemp plant that it became his favorite food, and that is how he got his title, the Lord of Bhang.

            “Shiva is always represented with three eyes,  the third being the eye of wisdom, which man opens on the realization of divinity” (Avalon, 1964).

            Cannabis is mentioned as a medicinal and magical plant as well as a “sacred grass” in the Atharva Veda (dated 2000 – 1400 B.C.).  It also calls hemp one of the five kingdoms of herbs . . . which releases us from anxiety and refers to hemp as a “source of happiness”, “joy-giver” and “liberator”.  Although the holy books, the Shastras, forbid the worship of the plant, it has been venerated and used as a sacrifice to the deities.
Indian tradition, writing and belief is that the “Siddhartha” (the Buddha), used and ate nothing but hemp and its seeds for six years prior to announcing (discovering) his truths and becoming the Buddha.

            Cannabis held a preeminent place in the Tantric religion which evolved in Tibet in the seventh century A.D.  Tantrism was a religion based on fear of demons.  To combat the demonic threat to the world, the people sought protection in plants such as cannabis which were set afire to overcome evil forces.

            The Rudrayamal Tantra, from the eighth century relates that a drink made from cannabis and other herbs, makes humans 'equal to the gods and immortal's (Ratsch, Marijuana Medicine, 2001)

            In the tenth century A.D., hemp was extolled as indracanna, the “food of the gods”.  A fifteenth-century document refers to cannabis as “light-hearted”, “joy-full”, and “rejoices”, and claimed that among its virtues are “astringency”, “heat”, “speech-giving”, “inspiration of mental powers”, “excitability” and the capacity to “remove wind and phlegm”.
            Today in Tantric Buddhism of the Himalayas of Tibet, cannabis plays a very significant role in the meditative ritual to facilitate deep meditation and heighten awareness.  In modern India it is taken at Hindu and Sikh temples and Mohammedan shrines.  Among fakirs (Hindu ascetics) bhang is viewed as the giver of long life and means a communion with the divine spirit.  Like his Hindu brother, the Musalman fakir reveres bhang as the lengthener of life and the freer from the bonds of self.

            The students of the scriptures at Benares are given bhang before they sit to study. At Benares, students of the Ujain and other holy places, yogis, bairagis and sanyasis take deep draughts of bhang that they may center their thoughts on the Eternal.
            At the turn of the twentieth century, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, set up to study the use of hemp in India, contains the following report:

            “. . . It is inevitable that temperaments would be found to whom the quickening spirit of bhang is the spirit of freedom and knowledge.  In the ecstasy of bhang the spark of the Eternal in man turns into the light the murkiness of matter.
            “. . . Bhang is the Joy-giver, the Sky-flyer, the Heavenly-Guide, the Poor Man’s Heaven, the Soother of Grief . . . No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of bhang . . . The supporting power of bhang has brought many a Hindu family safe through the miseries of famine. To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as the hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance and to large bands of worshiped ascetics, deep-seated anger.  It would rob the people of a solace in discomfort, of a cure in sickness, of a guardian whose gracious protection saves them from the attacks of evil influences  and whose mighty power makes the devotee of the Victorious, overcoming the demons of hunger and thirst, of panic, fear, of the glamour of Maya or matter, and of madness, able in rest to brood on the Eternal, till the Eternal, possessing  him body and soul, frees him from the haunting of self and receives him into the Ocean of Being. These beliefs the Musal man devotee shares to the full. Like his Hindu brother,, the Musalman fakir reveres bhang as the lengthener of life, the freer from the bonds of self. We drank bhang and the mystery I am He grew plain.”

            Indian medical works dating back to 1300 A.D.  list among the effects of cannabis that it “sharpens the memory”, “sharpens the wits”, “creates energy”, 'stimulates mental powers' and is an elixir vitae. Indian Commission witnesses testified that cannabis is “refreshing and stimulating”, alleviates fatigue, creates the capacity for hard work and the ability to concentrate, and gives rise to pleasurable sensations, so that one is at peace with everybody”. (Great Britain 1969:174-175, 191-192)

            Moslems as well as Hindus share the belief that ganja is a “holy plant” (Chopra, article Man and Marijuana ,   1969:216-218.

            Much of the holiness of bhang (marijuana) is due to its virtues of clearing the head and stimulating the brain to thought. Among ascetics, the sect knows as Atits are specially devoted to  hemp. No social or religious gathering of Atits is complete without the use of the hemp plant; smoked in ganja or drunk in bhang.  To its devotee, bhang is an ordinary plant that became holy from its guardian and healing qualities.

            According to one account, when nectar was produced from the churning of the ocean, something was wanted to purify the nectar. The deity Mahadev supplied from his own body, and so it is called angai or body-born.

            According to another account, some nectar dropped to the ground and from the ground the bhang plant sprang. It was because they used this child of nectar or of Mahadev in agreement with religious forms, that the seers or Rishis became Siddha, or one with the deity.

            He who, despite the example of the Rishis uses no bhang, shall lose his happiness in this life and in the life to come. In the end he shall be caste into hell. The mere sight of bhang cleanses from as much sin as a thousand horse-sacrifices or a thousand pilgrimages. He who scandalizes the user of bhang shall suffer the torments of hell so long as the sun endures. He who drinks bhang foolishly or for pleasure without religious rites is as guilty as the sinner of sins. He who drinks wisely and according to rule, be he ever so low, even  though his body is smeared with human ordure and urine, is Shiva (a man of God). No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of bhang. (HEMP DRUGS REPORT).

            In India, the pipe is known as a chillim (sometimes spelt chillum or chillam) which derived from the Hindu chilam, meaning chalice. Cannabis pipes today are sometimes known as chillums and have given rise to the colloquilism 'chill out', meaning to take it easy and relax. (Martin Booth CANNABIS A HISTORY)