back to Homepage
HanfBlatt Nr. 107, May 2007
Thank you very much for your great book, but what was your motivation to come out with it now after all these years?
There were several motivations. The most personal was the need to exorcise
the ghost of my 37 years in India and move forward towards giving that very
strange experience some meaning.
Spirituality has become so mainstream - and I’d even notice and remark in the 70’s that wild freaks, anarchists, psychedelics would often, upon embracing some sort of spirituality, become just like the mainstream Christians or Jews they seemed to be rebelling against, except that they would call it by another name, an Indian name usually, and then sprinkle their vocabulary with Indian words. I’ve never liked to hold hands and chant OM, sing “Saving Grace,” put the Hanuman Chalisa to country and western music, preach in airports, or pat myself on the head congratulating myself for being saved.
Just the opposite – my experience grew the anarchist inside of me, deified the psychedelic agent, expanded my small politics into the meta-politics of culture, and yet connected me solidly with a universe that stood in contradiction with the discourse of my upbringing. I guess you could call that my spirituality.
Now, while this makes me “contrarian” and even subversive in the west, curiously enough, within the most ancient tradition of India, the Naga Sannyasis, I’m seen as somewhat conservative. I knew that there was no way to have people understand and feel what my experience was, but storytelling doesn’t have to do that, it has more important tasks. Analogy has some use or meaning beyond the specifics of the story. So, I was not really interested in writing an “autobiography” (that word in the title of my book was applied by my publisher, well after I wrote and edited BABA), but a story, that like all stories, must entertain, hold people’s attention. Then, it’s got to take an audience on a trip, and if on that trip, there’s a path, a paradigm that has been reflected thousands of times in all our literatures and fairy tales, some call it “Journey of the Hero,” then an individual may go on that path himself, without having to spend years naked in a cave in India. A father may leave the result of his life work to his son, but an intellectual’s estate lacks materiality, and he must find another way to leave it for whoever might find it curious.
While reading it, I was happily wondering, that I was able to accept your story at face-value as something with authority and possibility though it would have been easy to dismiss it by rationalization as mere phantasies of a disoriented or even harder a deranged mind, western psychiatric style. Have you been confronted with such opinions?
I’m laughing. Actually, no, I haven’t. No one has ever confronted me with that, but if someone would, I would have to agree with him. I am not a scientist or an academic. A straight psychiatrist would certainly comment that I have no connection with reality, that I communicate with “imaginary friends.” That’s not the world I live in. The descriptions and events in my book are toned down, for believability, it’s a somewhat sober world I portray compared to rationality-sacrificing (murdering?) life theater in which I’ve been both actor and audience.
We are all asking ourselves, at least occasionally in times of a boring TV-program: What is the purpose of it all, why am I here, what is the meaning of life? Do you have found any answers transformable into words?
A young man from Ukraine, a disenchanted Catholic, came to me one day in Riga,
to be convinced or converted or something like that. He asked me what I believe
in. I told him it’s not for sale.
I’m not a preacher. I’m not going to try to tell anyone “where it’s at,” what it all means. I’m a witness of strange things, and as a storyteller, tell you what I’ve seen. One thing I’ve witnessed is that change is always taking place, it never stops. So anyone who tells you the meaning of life, you had better ring him up the following day to find out if the meaning is still the same.
What has someone to expect, if he or she is going to visit you in your ashram?
My ashram is traditional and not influenced by how one might IMAGINE an ashram to be. It may be quiet, or there may be a rowdy bunch of naked shamans and yogis smoking chillams late into the night. People come to make their Sacred Bath in the Ganga River there, meditate quietly on her shore. When I’m there we usually have lively discussions, make a few rituals, and sometimes a great feast. I give some traditional esoteric instruction to my close disciples.
The development of humankind seemingly fueled by greed is going along with the rapid destruction of our once beautiful world. There is some ecological awareness, not rarely even neurotic itself, some enthusiasm for animals and plants, sometimes more something like a fetish, but all in all respect for nature and fascination for creation is more often ridiculed in the western media and behaviour, the gifts that belong to nobody exploited to be exchanged into status-symbols for the illusion of wealth and the addictive experience of power. Where do you see the potential that something sprouts into something beautiful? Or do we have to surrender to the inevitable, let go to amok-runners, Pseudo-Krupp or whatever?
Yes, we are consuming everything in sight, and I see no end to it. Can we reverse it? I doubt it. Are we in deep shit? I believe so. What can we do? Witness it.
In Europe the Psytrance- or Goa-Scene has a spiritual core, trying to push through psychedelic dance-parties spiritual and environmental awareness, incorporating elements, at least deco-elements, of traditional cultures. The D.J. Goa Gil and others of the old guard of western travelers and seekers who stayed in India since the sixties are friends of yours. What about this scene?
I would prefer the expression Psytrance, because, quite frankly, I have no idea what Goa-scene really means. OK, it’s a reference to the MYTHOLOGY of Goa, which has different spins in different heads. There was a time when there was a Goa scene composed of outlaws, anarchists, poets, musicians, artists, shamans, junkies, and dreamers. Now we have a “would-be” replica, sort of “virtual” Goa, mainly composed of merchants and tourists. I think “psytrance” can be a modern reflection of what seems to be an ageless, transcultural ritual of freedom through dance. Dance is sort of a contradiction to productive society, you move your legs and arms, yet don’t go anywhere, and you don’t make anything. In ancient Greece, the rituals of Dionysus consisted largely of full moon dances, off somewhere in the forest, away from disapproving eyes. I think society has always disapproved of this kind of behaviour, which actually is a good thing, not because it shouldn’t happen, but because that way the dance can not be controlled by the society or the laws of man, but can have unlimited possibilities. After all the psytrance event is not a social gathering, not a cocktail party, but more of a spiritual exercise, resulting in a communal liberating experience.
What is the difference between Babas, Sadhus and Yogis?
Baba can mean “father” “grandfather” or “baby” as well as “shaman,” “yogi,” or “renunciate.” So baba is a more affectionate as well as intimate word. A sadhu is a renunciate. A yogi is someone advanced in his or her spiritual practice.
What does Cannabis mean to Babas, Sadhus and Yogis?
First of all, there are many kinds of babas, into many different traditions. Many babas in my tradition and others consider cannabis, of all the intoxicants, “balanced,” and suitable and even beneficial for spiritual practice. In Sanskrit Language, the word for cannabis is “vijaya” which means “all victorious,” and cannabis is also used in many medicinal formulas to balance the other various herbs. Cannabis was one of the 14 treasures that came out of the Ocean of Milk, when it was churned by the Gods and Demons seeking the Nectar of Immortality. The God Shiva took possession of the cannabis when it emerged, and it has been connected with Shiva and consciousness ever since. Before smoking we often invoke the God Shiva.
What kind of a role does Datura play?
Datura is considerably more shamanic. It places its user in a world of spirits and is therefore dangerous for anyone but the experienced and initiated. It’s never used for pleasure or consciousness, but more for communicating with spirits which is very tricky, indeed.
How is a Chillum smoked Sadhu-style?
The chillam is Earth. The mixture is the Moon. The fire which lights it is the Sun. The moist “safi” cloth on the bottom of the chillam is Jupiter. So when the fire of wisdom (the Sun) burns through the changes of the mind (the Moon) in the vessel of man (Earth), filtered though the guru (Jupiter), the result is the intoxication of joy. The chillam is smoked with two hands, and pointed towards the sky, the smokers lips only touch his hands, and never the chillam or the “safi” cloth.
Why is tobacco smoked together with Cannabis?
Difficult question, I’ll speculate. Probably because it cools down the cannabis, makes it less strong on the throat and lungs and therefore more enjoyable.
What are the differences between Bhang, Hashish and Ganja?
In common speech, bhang refers to the plant, and hashish and ganja refer to the products of the plant. But there are 3 basic different plants under the category of cannabis, each of which makes a different kind of product. When people consume bhang, it is the plant that has the smallest amount of what people refer to as THC, volatile oils, and resins. Smoking bhang does not get one high. One must eat it or drink it (after making it into a paste). It’s high is the most balanced of all the three products, the most similar to a psychedelic high, and often used by intellectuals and wrestlers. It seems to stimulate thought and articulation. Ganja is the resinous flower top that is harvested whole and then dried and comes from the plant that makes large buds suitable for cutting and drying. When dried, a couple drops of water are added to the ganja and pressed by hand before mixing with tobacco and smoked in a clay chillam. Hashish is the resin that is either rubbed by hand off the resinous flower tops, or extracted in some other way, such as harvesting the plants and shaking the resin off the plant. Very recently new technology has emerged using ice, which isolates the resin. This “new” product is affectionately referred to in Manali as “ice-cream.”
Did the role of Cannabis change during the 37 years you are now living in India?
With the babas, the major change has been the price, which has grown by about a 100 times since I first came to India. Among the rest of Indian society, its use has gone way down among the urban working class and poor, but up among the young upper middle class. During the time of Rajiv Gandhi, alcohol production and consumption had been seemingly encouraged, and government distributors of cannabis were shut down.
A friend was of the opinion, that the sadhus smoked bad cannabis and more tobacco than cannabis, when he joined them at a kumbha mela. Supposedly it was better, stronger, more inspiring, in the former days. Any comment on this?
No, I wouldn’t agree with that. One mustn’t look at all babas as the same. There are babas of all different classes and tastes. One mustn’t draw conclusions about all babas after meeting only a few. And the other thing is that we can always talk about the “good old days,” when “everything” was better, but that really doesn’t get us anywhere. But I might add that usually rich people smoke better cannabis than poor people these days.
Is there still legal Cannabis in India?
There are still some forms of medicinal cannabis made into proprietary formulas legal in Madhya Pradesh.
There has been some fuzz about the smoking of scorpion-poison. Can you tell us something about that?
Scorpion tails are very poisonous and smoking them is very dangerous. Still, some babas smoke scorpion poison at high altitudes in the Himalayas. It makes the body hot with fever, which some babas find useful for living in the snow naked.
The most discussed unknown psychoactive sacrament is "Soma", mentioned in ancient vedic texts. Gordon Wasson thought he found it in the Fly agaric. Others believe(d) it was Somlata (Ephedra ssp.), Peganum harmala or preparations made out of it, Psilocybe-mushrooms or even good old hemp. What do you think or know about it?
I just love psychoactive sacraments! And I think it would be extremely cool if Soma were a psychoactive sacrament. I am 100% for it. Also, I think Gordon Wasson, who I once met, was an extremely interesting and important man. But, quite frankly, I believe we are super imposing our current thinking on an ancient tradition that had different thinking, different “speech,” and a very sophisticated way of perceiving the world. We are presuming that Soma was psycho-active, and even being psycho-active myself, I just don’t see it, having watched 100’s of vedic rituals, and living with babas all these years. I would look for psycho-active substances more among tribals and shamanic culture than among cultured Brahmin priests. And remember, the Vedic culture is only a tiny piece of a huge Indian tradition. That being said, in my tradition we understand Soma of the Vedas to be Somlata, the creeper that grows in Panjab. There were/are very specific conditions for choosing and harvesting the Somlata, which must be adhered to if one is to use the Somlata in the prescribed way.
Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Yogi"
Bell Tower, New York 2005
Englisch, Geb. mit Su., 244 S.
back to theHomepage with Interviews and Articles