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Open letter to Swami Chaitanya

Confused arguments have been made by Swami Chaitanya, and others, advocating for the use (and sale) of marijuana as a practice and study of Yoga. The recent publicity in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel for Swami Chaitanya's wrong views requires we refute these arguments, to prevent further confusion.

Intoxication is contrary to the practices of Yoga, whose purpose is the strengthening of body, mind and heart - for the purpose of enlightenment. The purpose of attaining enlightenment is to attain freedom from suffering. Intoxicants both retard the development of and cause harm to body, mind and heart. The reason for this is because


  • Intoxicants are physically and psychologically addictive by nature, resulting in attachment. 
  • Intoxicants confuse the mind and senses, reduce emotional control, impair judgement and alter perception, resulting in ignorance. 
  • Intoxicants result in aggressive (not to be confused with "hostile") and risk-taking behavior, preventing insight. 

Swami Chaitanya is perhaps aware that the Bhagavad Gita is quite clear on the use of intoxicants for Yoga: "those who are intoxicated, or self-conceited, or stubborn, or wealthy perform sacrifices contrary to the scriptural ordinances."

Yet, advocating for marijuana, Swami Chaitanya (and others) cite the Atharva Veda, 11.6.15, a prayer made to the world of friends and enemies alike for their protection and non-harm during moments of weakness, disaster and misfortune. Even the plants are appealed to for non-harm and protection: "We speak to the five kingdoms of the plants with soma the most excellent among them. The darbha, hemp, and mighty barley: they shall deliver us from disaster!" By this list of plants, they mistakenly understand darbha (a word describing "Grass") as marijuana.  Their mistake is similar to confusing English words such as "Grass" or "Weed" as euphemisms for marijuana. Swami Chaitanya will note that similar mistakes were once made, which resulted in the death of numerous animals (and sometimes people) as sacrifices. However, study of the Vedas, and proper practice of Yoga will soon dissuade a person from this improper sacrifice, and encourage their sobriety.  This is a cause for hope that Swami Chaitanya's practice improves.

"Soma" is also sometimes confused for marijuana.  But this actually refers to Sarcostema Viminalis, or Asclepias Acida, not any cannabis.

Chaitanya further errs in logic by presuming that, even should the "grass" mentioned in the Atharva Veda is marijuana, marijuana would be helpful and wholesome: when appeal for non-harm and protection is made even to the Rakshas and Arayas, it is easier to understand that a person in distress would pray marijuana would at least do them no further harm.

Swami Chaitanya demonstrates his ignorance of the Puranas, and all sacred texts. When Bhrigu, the son of Brahma, cursed Nandi and Rudra, saying "may all who adopt the worship of Bhava (Siva) become heretics, and doubt; may they neglect purification; may they be of infirm intellects, wearing clotted hair, and ornamenting themselves with ashes and bones; and may they be intoxicated," Bhrigu was not advocating, condoning, nor praising these practices.

Swami Chaitanya should be aware that the sale of intoxicants is not conducive to the study and practice of Yoga. He defends his wrong practice by calling the intoxicants "medicine." And here, availing himself of dubious medical studies, Swami Chaitanya would make his ultimate argument for the Yogic use and sale of marijuana. However, if he is truly compassionately motivated, he would observe his training and not sell nor advocate the sale of a medicine which is urgently needed. Capitalization of distress is wrong livelihood, unsuitable for a Swami to practice or advocate.

Swami Chaitanya, besides being no expert in Yoga, is not a medical expert either.  Consulting medical experts, as consulting the sacred texts, reveals conclusions contrary to the Swami's advocacy.
Would whiskey be advocated by your doctor for the relief of chronic pain, or by your dentist in advance of a tooth being pulled, you would seek another medical provider. Though possessing medicinal properties which relieve symptoms of discomfort temporarily, intoxicants are poor choices for medicine because their use results in disease from short and long term use.

Pain relief? The American Society of Anesthesiologists (Birgit Kraft, MD. July 2008: the Journal Anesthesiology) disproves claims that marijuana should be prescribed for pain relief of any kind, as it makes the symptoms worse.   The NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke concurs that chronic pain is curable - but not by marijuana, which worsens the condition. Chronic pain is not without cure: modern psychiatric and physiological medicine should be used. It is unethical to treat symptoms indefinitely when a cure exists.

Seizures? Though one rare form of epilepsy can be controlled by marijuana, the University of Saskatchewan found marijuana actually intensifies most forms of seizures over time. And that there are better means of controlling or even curing epilepsy.

Insomnia? The symptoms of insomnia, too, are treated by marijuana – but the disease itself becomes intensified by the use of marijuana and dependency which results in diminishing quality and quantity of sleep. Insomnia - like chronic pain – is curable, but only when the cause of the disease is encountered.

The Surgeon General has long advocated against marijuana. Of special concern are the long-term developmental effects in children and adolescents, who are particularly vulnerable to the drug's behavioral and psychological effects through second and even third hand exposure: marijuana has a broad range of psychological and biological effects, many of which are dangerous and harmful to health. The National Academy of Science concurs as well.

Swami Chaitanya would describe marijuana as safe, for it has a low mortality rate among users. Marijuana has a low mortality rate, but a very high morbidity rate - like tobacco. No one dies from tobacco - but they do die from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Ultimately, as a known toxin and carcinogen, marijuana may indeed be a choice for recreational intoxication, but it is a poor choice as a medicine - or for the practice of Yoga.

RESPONSE FROM SWAMI CHAITANYA: OCTOBER 31


Dear Friends,

In your email you bring up an argument that may well have been going on for thousands of years. First and foremost, however, remember that Lord Siva, who is Lord of Yoga, drinks Bhang. This to me registers as Divine Sanction.

Furthermore, many sadhus start the day smoking charas mixed with tobacco in their chillums. During Holi, entire villages partake of pastries made with ganja paste or bhang.

Surely the texts you quote do condemn intoxicants, but one must consider the true meaning of intoxicant. The root word is toxic, which means poisonous. Many “drugs” are toxic in that overdoses are lethal. They impair one’s faculties and even if they are not fatal, they destroy lives.

The negative view of cannabis is the result of 70 years of false propaganda from the federal government, portraying this magical herb as the devils’ handwork.

Cannabis is not toxic. Rather it is healing medicine, a wellness tonic, and an inspirational elixir. Cannabis heightens one’s awareness, raises one’s consciousness, increases one’s compassion and understanding of fellow humans. It is not a downer, rather it increases concentration and focus.

Rather than being an impediment to sadhana, cannabis can enhance one pointedness in meditation, and can trigger a different awareness of and greater relaxation of the body. It can also inspire creative asanas.

In the Rg Veda, there are many hymns or mantras praising Soma as the Drink of the Gods, with descriptions of the glorious effects of the libation.

There is a wonderful book by Chris Bennett, Cannabis and the Soma Solution, which delves into the question, “what was Soma made with?” He presents a very convincing argument that the main ingredient of Soma was Cannabis. He further demonstrates that many other spiritual traditions also used cannabis as a stimulant to Divine inspiration.

At certain times and places attempts were made to confine its usage to the priestly caste, but the sacred herb continues to defy attempts to deny its Divine Origin. There is even a mention in the saga of the Churning of the Milky Ocean that as the Gods were flying away over the Himalayas with the Kumbh of Amrit, two seeds of Ganja fell out. One was male and the other female, Siva and Sakti, and from them the blessed sacrament bloomed.

It is not coincidental that our bodies make cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, and that there are numerous nerve ending receptors which specifically connect to these molecules. One of the endocannabinoids is called anandamide, from the sanskrit word for bliss, which seems to be essential to our feeling of well-being. Scientists are even speaking of an entire endocannabiniod system, since every organ in our body contains cannabinoids. One of the highest concentrations of endocannabiniods is in mothers’ breast milk, passing on immunity and bliss to the next generation.

Finally, ritual use of cannabis smoke and drink has been unearthed by archeologists in caves and burial sites dating back thousands of years.

It is part of my Seva to restore cannabis to its place as a spiritual ally and sacramental ritual elixir. This summer we are hosting a yoga cannabis retreat in our Sanctuary. We invoke Ganja Ma, (a form of Rajarajiswari) Goddess Protector of Cannabis, with puja and mantra, placing the seeds for the coming year in her lap for a moon cycle to be imbued with her blessing and healing, inspirational power.

We continually strive to maintain the purity and sacred intention of our Flowers. In order to carry out this mission, we need to accept monetary contributions, because it is quite costly to grow in this manner. As offerings are made to a temple, a priest, a teacher, or a doctor, medicine growers need monetary support from those who are benefited by blessings of Goddess of Cannabis.

We live a simple life, filled with friends and many blessings.

Aashirwad

With Love,

Swami Chaitanya

FURTHER QUESTION FROM LOKA HATHA YOGA NOVEMBER 1:


Thank you in advance for the clarification; we understand necessarily any question may have the appearance of hostility or aggression, but would repeat this is not the intent of the query. Our intent is to avoid confusion and to promote understand. As we hope it is your intent in answering not to defend, but to avoid confusion and promote understanding.

So we must again ask you to forgive us, as despite your long emailed response there are several points which remain confused to us - may we ask for further clarification? And there are some points which have not been expounded sufficiently for us to understand what you are trying to convey, may we ask you expound on your answers?

Though we understand your concern with "70 years of government propaganda," this concern is not one of ours; we try not to involve ourselves with politics. We are simply trying to understand better your religious teachings.

We are aware of many practices in India, including the rituals that you described; amazingly, in some places, some traditions maintain a ritual of covering themselves with the ashes of the dead, matting their hair, and stupifying themselves with intoxicants. Yet in the Vishnu Purana, when Bhrigu, the son of Brahma, cursed Nandi, "may all who adopt the worship of Bhava (Siva) become heretics, and doubt; may they neglect purification; may they be of infirm intellects, wearing clotted hair, and ornamenting themselves with ashes and bones; and may they be intoxicated," Bhrigu was not advocating, condoning, nor praising these practices. There has been a ritual as well, of murder - of killing animals, and people, as religious sacrifice - but these practices have been generally abandoned and understood as wrong. Translations of the Puranas and Mahabharata are sometimes unreliable, but when thorough reasoning is undertaken against the intermediate goals of continence, strength, and self-control, it seems that marijuana is not an appropriate means toward these ends: cannabis use results in increasing tolerance to dose, and dependence - the plant ultimately alters emotional states and the ability to perceive reality; its use results in pleasure - and pain. In short, we are unconvinced by your citation of the nameless Sadhu who taught you this ritual: we would find more helpful to know upon what reasoning, upon what scriptural basis do you persist in the use of marijuana - and other out-of-date practices?

We are also confused by your translation of "intoxicant." The sanskrit seems to indicate the meaning being quite different. The Sanskrit "mada" implies defeat (failure to obtain the goal of ending suffering, of enlightenment, of self-control and continence, of strength) by lack of self-control, a form of allurement (in the context of being related to the stimulation of the five cords of sensuality). In example, madacyut is the word used to describe intoxication with soma: madabhanga is humiliation: madadvipa is an elephant enraged from rut: Madana is alcoholic beverage: madanakantaka is the erection of the penis as a result of lust: madanakalaha is a fight between lovers. There are other examples, but these suffice. Fighting the one you love, the humiliation of lack of self-control, the involuntary instinctual response, these are different than your understanding of "poison." And in the context of the Vishnu Puranas and the Mahabharata, intoxication seems to not mean poison. The grievous Halahala was not alcohol. How did you come to your translation? How is "different awareness" not intoxication?

Also, it would be good to understand why you choose to emulate the devas (this we understand as your "gods?"), whose intoxicated pride prevents their enlightenment and must take animal and human form for their spiritual evolution?

You cite the Vedas, but nothing specifically. Did you mean the Atharva Veda, 11.6.15? A prayer for non-harm and protection to a world of friends and enemies during moments of disastrous misfortune? In it, many plants are appealed to, specifically: soma, dharbha, hemp and barley. By this list, we presume you understand soma to be “marijuana?” The mistake is similar to confusing English words such as "Grass" or "Weed" as euphemisms for marijuana. We have seen similar arguments used to justify killing numerous animals (and sometimes people) as sacrifices. However, proper practice of Yoga both dissuades a person from improper sacrifice, and encourages sobriety...But even if marijuana is appealed to in the Atharva Veda, it seems illogical to us to presume marijuana would be among the friendly plants when the Rakshas are also appealed to: marijuana, if included, is like a Raksha... Upon what basis do you believe that marijuana is not stimulating to the senses, altering the senses, or otherwise "rajastic" like the Rakshas?

Opioids are produced by the brain, as well - do you advocate the use of opioids? Upon what scriptural basis, or reasoning? Do you advocate the use of other chemicals native to the brain? Which ones?

Alcohol has been used for thousands of years too - do you advocate this practice? Or other practices which have been going on a very long time? Is it upon the basis of its age that you advocate the practice of seeking "inspiration" from altered awareness?

You also seem to imply that the use of Marijuana is aryuvedic. Aryuvedic practices also include the use of arsenic, and other substances understood to be unwholesome to modern medicine. Do you undertake these practices as well?

You mention cannabinoids are in mothers milk. Do you advocate the consumption of mothers' milk for adults? Or the use of marijuana by children?

Your explanation about the churning of the ocean is particularly puzzling. In the churning of the ocean, many deleterious things fell out - together with many good things. Do you advocate the use of all of these? We would just understand your reasoning better, and ask you expound upon this...

Also, we understand "donation" as "dana," perhaps incorrectly? In any case, your comparison of what we understand to be "Dana" with "Wages" or "Trade" (the purchase of product to support an act of industry) seems to have resulted in more confusion than understanding. How is Dana possible when product or service is expected in return? Even if that product or service is simply your continued existence? How is product or service provided with the expectation of Dana? Upon what scriptural or reasoning do you justify accepting this "support?"

Thanks! :)

FINAL RESPONSE FROM SWAMI CHAITANYA NOVEMBER 4:

Aum Namah Sivaya, Aum Sri MahaKali, Aum Sri MahaLakshmi, Aum Sri Maha Saraswati Aikhya Swarupini Sri Mukambikaiye Namaha. Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti.