What does drinking Ayahuasca have to do with spirituality? Anecdotally it feels like a very special experience, like you’re in the presence of something great and wise (but without the ego) but, also scientific studies have been done which put Ayahuasca experiences at the same level as Catholicism with respect to spiritual value to participants. We’ll also look at how Buddhism, a spiritual practice, overlaps with psychedelic experiences in general.
What does a spiritual experience feel like under Ayahuasca?
My personal experiences with spirituality while taking Ayahuasca:
There is a giant photo of a green snake in this post because when I have meet Ayahuasca she presents herself to me as a snake with the same colors as the one I added to this post. It is awesome. I mean that in the traditional sense of the word, ie extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.
Meeting Mother Ayahuasca is a spiritual experience for me. I should note I have never considered myself remotely spiritual prior to Ayahuasca.
When in ceremony there is a difference when she is present. Sometimes in ceremony, I would be having hallucinations and learning various things, receiving insights and such, but there are other times when I feel her presence in a very strong and focussed way. As if she is taking turns on people in the Maloca and now it is mine.
When this happens I feel as if I am in the presence of someone or something who is very wise, is not thrown off or confused by my bullshit (as I am) and as far as my little problems go seems to have a perfectly reasonable answer or solution to the particular topic or problem we are ‘looking into’.
…we would probably call this beautiful, calming, and de-cluttering experience ego dissolution. Maybe that’s all it takes to have a spiritual experience. Simply that our ego recedes for a time and we experience life with another part of ourselves…
Sometimes she pushes me too far and I can’t or don’t want to go much further. She’s always patient but persistent in teaching me lessons when I’m not open to them for some reason. Other times I say ‘I am strong. Give me all the problems of others which I can handle” and she uses me as a receptacle for removing the stresses and pains of others. It’s more of a brief stopover in me. I purge the other people’s stuff out later.
In my last few ceremonies, I had the distinct feeling that ‘we are all one’ and felt connected to people in the room. I also immediately realized that this oneness should extend to others after my ceremony as well. I should think of myself and others as the same. That there is no separation.
In one particular ceremony, I saw that everyone in the room was filled with a bright light.
- Imagine each of the 4 people as a silhouette but the silhouette is bright white. The rest of the room is dark so they stand out impressively and I’m tripping so they are really impressive to me!
- Each person’s light went below their body as well and connected to a further mass of white light. I had the impression it went on forever or at least everywhere I could conceive at the time. It was beneath us and I had the sense that it pervaded everywhere in regular life but I was being shown it now for the first time.
- It was as if this main body of light was the main entity and every now and then it ‘grew’ one of us and extended its light into us. As if we were a nodule of it.
- Starting to sound familiar to some of you? It reminds me of other spiritual practices, eg Buddhist beliefs.
I think we would probably call this beautiful, calming, and de-cluttering experience ego dissolution. Maybe that’s all it takes to have a spiritual experience. Simply that our ego recedes for a time and we experience life with another part of ourselves. One that doesn’t care if we have more or look better. You know, the things that ego might like.
**Writing that took me back. I’ve got tingles as I continue. I’m a little more connected to that mass of light I mentioned earlier. In part, this is why I write this blog. To remember the lessons.**
Seen as I’m on the topic of meeting spirits it seems relevant to plug the other spirits I’ve met while on Ayahuasca. If we are talking about Ayahuasca being spiritual then what is more spiritual than meeting spirits? None of them were as nice as Ayahuasca though.
In two separate ceremonies, I met spirits which either wanted to ‘fight’ or who were escaping others and wanted a new host. You can read about those here if you like,
Ok, so that is how I feel Ayahuasca is a spiritual experience. Feeling one with all, being in the presence of a truly wise and helpful entity, but how do others associate spiritualism and Ayahuasca?
How do others think about spiritualism and Ayahuasca?
Here is what one Shaman says about Ayahuasca and spiritualism:
…it’s a very deeply spiritual process. To try and capture the ineffable is ridiculous but for many of us it’s irresistible…the spiritual part of that experience is unfolding some of the source of creation…“A Shaman named Site” – 2015 on huffpost.com.
I think this is pretty bang-on. I don’t think I can really comment too much on it apart from to say that it, to my mind is related and relevant to my experiences described above.
The large mass of white light that I saw was pretty ineffable. While I could understand that we are not separated and that the white light goes through us all and pervades seemingly everywhere I think that is more of a characteristic of the white light as opposed to an understanding of what or who it is.
Here is what a Buddhist monk has to say about psychedelics in general and Buddhist spiritualism:
In what was billed as a ‘Community Discussion” Buddhist monk, practicing since 19110, Kokyo Henkel and James Fadiman, author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys, talk about Buddhism and Psychedelics. Some very interesting points come up.
Kokyo starts by saying that Buddhism is,
“foremost about kindness and care for each other…”
And that when we are trying to see if a substance ‘fits’ into Buddhism it’s useful to think about the 5th precept of Buddhism. That being,
“Do not consume alcoholic beverages that lead to heedlessness or carelessness”.
Kokyo, says that if we replace psychedelics with alcohol then we can start to cross-examine it for Buddhist purposes.
- Although I should note too you that he also says that some strains of Buddhism are much more strict about the interpretation of this and consume no alcohol at all.
- Furthermore a precept is able to be broken in other strains of Buddhism if it is in order to care for someone or something. That is to say, if it is alignment with one of the other precepts. Long story short it’s complicated once you get really into it but for the purposes of our conversation let’s replace psychedelics for alcohol.
I personally would say that doing psychedelics do not cause heedlessness or carelessness and in that case, would be fine with Buddhism, but Kokyo also says that we should break a precept only after being very aware of our intention in doing so. He says it is tricky not to be fooled into doing so for what may seem like the right reasons but perhaps is not.
For example, what if I do psychedelics in order to work on myself. I wouldn’t be hurting anyone right? But Buddhism appears to me to have a focus on helping others. In that case, is working on myself with that being the end goal helping others?
Maybe it is and by helping yourself you, in fact, create a better environment for your kids or partner and those directly in your life.
Or maybe you want to level up on a few thought patterns you have had that are holding you back from a business venture. In the latter case perhaps the focus, from a Buddhist perspective, is a little off.
I think it’s easy to see how many different and subtle ways a goal could be misaligned with the aims of Buddhism.
Where does the spiritual nature of psychedelics and Buddhism overlap?
At another point in the talk, Kokyo goes through 9 ‘mystical states of consciousness’ which he reads out while the audience silently compares them to their Buddhist practice and psychedelic experiences and sees if a characteristic can be ‘checked off’ in only one or both areas.
The impression is that many of them can. Let’s go through them and you can do the same or indeed do so at a later date. I think it’s a good idea just to watch the video at this point.
Then the question then is how many of these characteristics overlap with both Buddhism and Ayahuasca? I’ll let you decide. While I have started a Buddhist practice I’m literally a few weeks in so I think I should practice more before sharing how it overlaps for me.
I noticed in the resulting discussion after these characteristics were read out there seems to be some, I think normal, confusion over how psychedelics should be incorporated, if at all, into Buddhist practice. Note: I would also say, as it is in my case, that the opposite also needs to be thought of.
I think that psychedelics give you the powerful mystical experiences which could make you pick up a Buddhist practice and a Buddhist practice helps you stay on the path that psychedelics may have set you upon.
I don’t think it’s healthy to be doing psychedelics every day. But you can meditate and use Buddhist principles every day. Integration of the two is probably the best thing. Buddhist practice daily and every now and then a psychedelic experience. How often? Good question. For me, I think my next psychedelic experience is a few years away. Ayahuasca gave me the impression I needed to learn to quiet my mind before going back to her.
In her subtle but calm way (she’s subtle and calm with me anyhow) she said that until I learn to quiet my mind there is not much more that she can show me. I should go away and learn to meditate. I immediately thought (or was the thought planted in my mind?) of Buddhism. I knew I had to look to them to learn meditation. I had come across Buddhist doctrine before in South East Asia where I spent a year so I was somewhat familiar with it.
There is one last thing which I will mention. James Fadiman in this video said that psychedelic users are more often concerned with self-improvement and not usually with compassion and the desire to help others. Buddhism seems to be, to me, more like self-improvement with a view to helping other people.
In this way, I think Buddhism is a natural extension of psychedelics and vice versa.
Are there any scientific studies about Ayahuasca and spiritual experience?
Dr. Rachel Harris, a psychologist who practiced for 35 years and who has also drunk Ayahuasca carried out a study with two groups.
The first was a group of 81 Ayahuasca users and the second a group of 46 Catholic retreat attendees. They both completed a lengthy set of questions and the results were compared on 3 factors, those being,
- Joy in Life,
- Relationship to the Sacred and
- Toxic Feelings.
The results as the authors of the study put it were that,
Although the ayahuasca users had significantly higher scores on the first two factors, the two groups had modest mean differences indicating a similar response to two very different spiritual experiences. This key finding strongly supports the view that ayahuasca users are engaged in an authentic process as spiritual in nature as that of the retreatants.A Study of Ayahuasca Use in North America by Dr. Rachel Harris and Dr. Lee Gurel – 2012.
So, based on this study, we can say that Ayahuasca appears to be as significant, if not more significant, of spiritual experience than a very popular religion of today.
Note: I should note that I have only read one study on this topic and to get a better understanding I should read more widely. Something I will try to address in the future.