After 13 Years Of Daily Meditation, This Spiritual Guide Drops 'Pristine Purity' And Turns Back To Cannabis For Awakening

Zinger Key Points
  • Under traditional Buddhism teachings practitioners are abstain from consuming intoxicating substances.
  • Will Johnson, a meditation guide, challenges this road to spirituality, saying that for some cannabis helps awakening.
  • Cannabis in Spiritual Practice provides guidelines fo people interested in adding a small amount of cannabis to their meditation practice.

Can cannabis be a tool to help you reach spirituality? For some, the answer is definitely yes. But, what about when marijuana use is believed to go against the religious teachings of your faith? Is it just a matter of interpretation?

Buddhism, one of the world's largest religions seems to have a complex stance on cannabis consumption. On the one hand, its spiritual tradition doesn't contain a path to salvation through faith or a "higher authority," but rather is more focused on the practitioner’s personal spiritual development.

Does this mean cannabis use is peremitted if it helps in a person's own spiritual journey or awakening?

The answer is not that simple considering that Buddha provided Śīla, a code of conduct comprised of Ten Precepts for "right speech, right action, and right livelihood." The fifth one requires Buddhists to abstain from consuming intoxicating substances that can fog the mind, and a clear mind is needed to see the "true nature of all things." Some practitioners and experts believe that the Fifth Precept refers only to alcohol.

In Buddhism, which originated 2,500 years ago in India, developed to have several traditions and schools, some of which have agreed that THC's relaxing effect can improve meditation practice.

Benzinga wanted to learn more, so we reached out to Will Johnson, the founder and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training, which combines Western somatic psychotherapy with Eastern meditation practices. Johnson is also the author of several books including Cannabis in Spiritual Practice: The Ecstasy of Shiva, the Calm of Buddha. For Johnson himself, cannabis plays an important role in spiritual practice.

"Cannabis felt like God's medicine to me from the very first time I ever got high," Johnson told Benzinga."Almost immediately I experienced a far deeper sense of self and identity from the bon vivant, Ivy League, art critic persona that I believed myself to be. What immediately followed was a flashing recognition about religion: that it had nothing to do with blindly following stale beliefs and everything to do with a courageous exploration of what lay inside the body and mind."

Ida Rolf Impact

Johnson graduated manga cum laude from Princeton in 1968 with a degree in Art and Archaeology, after which he worked as an art critic in New York City. He then left for California in pursuit of spirituality and became fascinated by the role of the body in psychological and spiritual awakening. He became a student of the famous somatic teacher and biochemist, Ida Rolf, who pioneered subsequent research into the importance of connective tissue, which we now understand as fascia. Later on, this type of manual therapy that claims to align the human body's "energy field" and Earth's gravity, promoting self-healing, was named after her – rolfing.

"Most people don't know this about her, but she viewed the deep hands-on work that bears her name not as an end in itself but as the foundation for an ‘evolutionary awakening’ that naturally then led me to explore Buddhist practices," Johnson told Benzinga. "It is her teachings about breath and body that I've introduced into the Buddhist world and that has been proving so revolutionary to students independent enough to let go of the outmoded and in many ways torturous, orientation to sitting meditation coming over from Asia."

Back To Cannabis

While Johnson felt a deep spiritual awakening in his twenties thanks to cannabis, in his early thirties he came across Goenka-style vipassana and let go of cannabis. He thought this was the way to "wise up and get serious about my spiritual awakening."

"And so I did.  Hair clipped close to the scalp.  No alcohol.  No cannabis.  Sitting, as best I could, for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.  Well, thirteen years later I awoke one morning with the painful admission that I was not happy and that my commitment to the ‘pristine purity’ of the practices had actually impeded the trajectory of spiritual openings that had occurred for me in my twenties."

That's when he decided to welcome cannabis into his life again and "it completely changed my approach to sitting meditation practice. At this point in my life I really enjoy ‘invoking Shiva’ before I sit, and the mix of a small amount of cannabis and body-oriented sitting meditation practice is extraordinary."

Shiva's Sacrament

Johnson shares that these practices closely align with culminating instruction from seminal Buddhist texts that are not often considered by most traditional Buddhist schools.

"In traditional Buddhism mind-altering substances of any kind are not allowed so it has no role other than as forbidden fruit to not go anywhere near," Johnson explains. "But the great Hindu teacher Shiva was the first pothead of historical legend.  Stories down to this day relate how Shiva would drink bhang, a cannabis-infused drink that so many of us who have ventured to India still enjoy, and that his body would come alive with powerful felt energies that would start generating spontaneous movements, and out of these movements he brought the body-oriented practices of dance and yoga to the planet." This is what essentially happened to Johnson and so many young people who've shared their stories of awakening with him, he adds.

Johnson shares his wife’s experience of when she was living in the foothills of the Himalayas. A group of wandering Shiva sadhus (religious ascetics) took shelter on her porch and invited her to join them in their morning meditation and yoga practices. These practices would always begin by "invoking Shiva," through sharing a chillum (a straight conical smoking pipe traditionally made of either clay or a soft stone) filled with cannabis. The Shiva sadhus said cannabis taken as Shiva's sacrament allowed their bodies to awaken.

To learn more about Johnson's advice to let go of any guilt or shame over cannabis use in spiritual practices, his thoughts on recreational use without any "higher' goals, and why he believes Buddhism is in need of reform. proceed to the second part of the story HERE.

Photo: Courtesy of Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock

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