A slim long haired man tokes a joint and contemplates god by the banks of a river at sunset. This scene has taken place for millennia on the ghats of the Ganges, where cannabis has been consumed—and continues to be—as a religious sacrament by certain yogis and sadhus. Many were, in the early Vedic period, followers of the cult of Indra, “Lord of Soma” (the plant‐derived elixir of immortality that Gordon Wasson claims is the psychoactive mushroom Amanita muscaria), and later Hindu Shaivites, followers of the god Shiva, "Lord of Ganja” (cannabis flower).
Mike Crowley (PhD) argues that drugs, and the cult of Shiva, secretly permeated early Vajrayāna Buddhism in medieval India. Crowley contends that these Buddhists actively made use of a psychoactive sacrament known as amṛita that—contrary to the prevailing general opinion—was a mushroom containing the alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin, probably the species Psilocybe Cubensis. Crowley lays out his argument in The Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayana (Synergetic Press 2019).
In this Olio, we'll look into the argument put forth by Crowley in his controversial book and unpack the social-religious consequences that his thesis brings to bear on contemporary Buddhism in the midst of the so called psychedelic renaissance. Today, most Buddhists believe that taking psychedelics is a violation of their Buddhist precepts. If Crowley is correct in claiming amṛita (magic mushrooms) were a central feature of Vajrayana Buddhism, then a comprehensive reevaluation of the Buddhist precept regarding “intoxicants” as well as the way Buddhism is currently practiced is in order.