Which is that compound that is common to all plants and mammals with a relatively simple chemical structure? That which is thought to drive the metabolic pathway inside of plants?
The compound in question is Dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT, a naturally occurring psychedelic widely used by humans since ancient times. It is thought to produce transcendental states, leading to an altered state of consciousness. Amazonian people from Peru have used Ayahusca, which has relatively recently become popular in the west, as spiritual medicine for divinatory and healing purposes. One has a clearer understanding of their true nature, a sense of purpose, what you might call as a spiritual awakening after its consumption.
Closer to home, the Rig Veda mentions Soma a number of times as a Vedic ritual drink that people consumed as an entheogen ("generating the divine within") which is a chemical substance used in a religious or spiritual context that often induces psychological or physiological changes. It derives from the root su, meaning to “energize, stimulate, swell, expand and grow", referring to the power of bliss or ananda, which in Vedic thought is the origin of all things and the basis of all creation.
It is associated with Indra, "Lord of Light" as shown in the following verses from the RgVeda: RV 8.82.25:
"For thee, O Lord of Light, are shed these Soma-drops, and grass is strewn. Bring Indra to his worshippers. May Indra give thee skill, and lights of heaven, wealth to his votary. And priests who praise him: laud ye him."
There are divergent theories on what constitutes Soma, some proposed candidates include Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe cubensis, Peganum Harmala, Ephedra sinica, and Cannabis sativa. Soma is supposed to be some secret elixir which can confer immortality. Such investigators according to Sri Aurobindo are oblivious to the Rig Veda (10.85.3-4) which states that the real Soma is not any plant on earth but the ambrosial juice which one tastes after attaining success in Yoga:
“They think, when they have crushed the plant, that they have drunk the Soma’s juice; Of him whom Brahmans truly know as Soma, no one ever tastes”.
Aurobindo also alludes to it as wine flowing through the body quite a few times in his spiritual diary:
“The whole mental consciousness is now beginning to be pervaded by a sense of substantial light (jyotih) and the body with a sense of the flowing of a wine, an ecstatic subtle liquor of delight, Soma. The sense of will as a fire, Agni, is sometimes present.”
Originating out of the need to make sense of Native American and aboriginal practices, one of the most talked about experiments involving consumption of DMT took place in the year 1991 by doctor Rick Strassman. Prior to this, he had a decade-long relationship with a Zen Buddhist training monastery while practicing psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He conducted it on individuals that had a leaning towards eastern philosophies or shamanic rituals and administered approximately 400 doses of DMT to these 60 volunteers. The subjects, among whom were doctors, students, anthropologists, were monitored under a controlled environment of a hospital, in case things went awry. Research earlier had shown that DMT was produced by the pineal gland and was also a vital part of serotonin - the hormone that is linked to feelings of well-being and happiness in humans.
The subjects were administered DMT intravenously in varying dosages, to initiate the process. What transpired was an experience akin to what yogis and seers in deep meditative states undergo, minus the external stimulant. The participants sat open eyed visualizing the cosmos with layers of their humanity peeling off, having an intrinsic connect with their essential nature. What seemed like an eternity was actually just a few minutes. The drug seperates the wall between your subconscious and conscious mind, essentially causing you to dream while wide awake. Also, they experienced a humming sound similar to the ॐ (OM) chant, which as cosmologists thorough the years of research have ascertained as the sound of the universe. Akin to it is the Angiras Upasana meditation which is a simple breathing technique which allows the mind to settle in the awareness of the primeval sound ॐ (OM) (called Pranava Sadhana).
The fundamental aim of all Yogic methods is the diversion of the Prana (life force) which normally circulates in the Ida and Pingala Nadis (channels) into the central Sushumna Nadi. While the Ida (meaning comfort) is active when we are at ease, the Pingala (meaning tawny i.e. sun-like) is operational during periods of activity. Hatha yoga's main focus is in balancing these 2 nadis and hence fulfilling Yoga's main pursuit of helping the prana travel up the Sushumna nadi which is the pathway to enlightenment.
Time crumbles and its linearity becomes an illusion. What essentially rishis call the spiritual experience where time and space lose relevance and one is disconnected from their physical self. Sri Aurobindo spoke about this in what he called as the ascetic experience where the mental or vital sheaths of the being rise above the head – towards the Sahasrara Chakra – and become purified by contact with the Superconscient. The culmination of this experience is the ability to rise above the physical body and unite with the Infinite in Cosmic Consciousness. You may call this as Atman or Self or Shakti or Kundalini.
Agni is the Kundalini fire that ascends from below near the manipuri chakra while Soma is the grace that descends from above i.e. the thousand-petal lotus of the head above in higher Yogic practices called Sahasara chakra. The thousand-petal lotus is often called the seat of Soma or the Moon.
The famous Yogi Mahesh Maharishi associated with introducing spirituality to the west and giving direction to the 1960s hippie counterculture movement, also spoke about Soma as a half physical/half ethereal substance generated in the body during meditation.
One-pointed to the immaculate Delight,
Questing for God as for a splendid prey,
He mounted burning like a cone of fire.
To a few is given that godlike rare release.
(Sri Aurobindo. Savitri, Book I, Canto V)
There is also a time honoured tradition of Somayag in the south of India to please the celestial bodies in accordance with the rituals in the Vedas, specifically the Yajurveda, where a certain Soma plant is used. While in the Kumbh Mela yajnas are performed on a much larger scale encompassing all the Vedas where a person visiting is said to have lifetimes of their negative karmas removed, the Somayag is a relatively small affair for the welfare of humanity. How or whether it can be related to Soma as an entheogen is up for conjecture.
There are parallels one could draw from the Yogic viewpoint & modern users of DMT since both are experiential and haven't been subjected to an empirical analysis. But the Yogic method has been prevalent for thousands of years and is tightly bound to the concept of moksha. The practice aims to break the cycle of saṃsāra while the voluntary consumption of DMT is a drug-induced daydreaming like state which is fleeting. Though investigating the voluntary consumption can be another route in case one is sufficiently entuned with their inner self, it seems far too dangerous for a person who hasn't developed any spiritual mastery to experiment with. Dr. Rick Strassman himself regretted doing the trial due to its unpredictability but continues to harbour hope to prove its use for expanding consciousness through it's controlled use in a manner that is repeatable and safer. Whatever the case may be, it has remained deeply entrenched in our psyche through millennia.
1. History of yoga (editor: Satya Prakash Singh)
2. DMT: The Spirit Molecule - by Rick Strassman
3. The Vedas
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