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Do What I Do!: An Accidental Entheogenic Archaeologist in India

Adam Fish

An entheogenic travelogue from the far east...

On March 19, 2003, Coalition Forces flew over the Iraqi capital of Baghdad releasing from their caches untold numbers of armaments. A few hours before, I too flew over Baghdad, en route to Delhi from Paris. Armed with a camera rifle and a quiver of pencils, as an archaeologist traveling to India to document the decay of sacred world heritage sites, I brought a distinctly different payload to the third world. Where the destabilization that the Iraq War brought to the region encouraged the looting of the National Museum of Baghdad, which before March 19 housed some the finest and earliest examples of human creativity, my trip was designed to protect legacies of human culture. At a motel around 3AM I flicked on the black and white TV and surveyed the bombing. Under the thundering bombardments, through the BBC remote speaker, I could hear a solemn, dusty song sung in Arabic. Two hours later I heard the same song echoing through the streets of Delhi and I recognized that it was the call for morning prayer for all Moslems. I looked out my motel window, five stories up, upon a confused mosaic of gray washed buildings under a pink-gray sky. Facing east, the direction of Baghdad and Mecca, I kneeled, wept and prayed.

Beginning in Delhi and traveling alone, I had a basic itinerary and a Nepalese driver named Karaka. I traveled from the Indian capital south to three Buddhist caves in Central India called Aurungabad, Ellora and Ajanta, made World Heritage Sites in the '90s, and I visited the holy cities of Champaner, a sixteenth-century Islamic capital, and Hampi, a riotous festival of seventeenth-century Hindu temples and shrines scattered amongst and constructed from tawny boulders, surrounded by verdant well-irrigated crops of rice and plantain. For three weeks I moved quickly, photographed hard, and followed the first principle of world travel: avoid tourists.

Everyone who goes to India, whether they know it or don't want to, is there to satisfy some spiritual need. That is what you do there. Everything about the country forces upon a person experiences which confer or encourage spiritual development. On trains one is forced to meditate. Walking the streets one is made to concentrate with the skill of an archer. Poverty, disease and ever-present danger makes one constantly see their own dry skull with tattered scalp skin slung around the neck of Kali-ma. Too much downtime or three too many wrong turns and you, too, may find yourself using a cracked begging bowl. Not to mention that India has bestowed upon the planet the most refined contemplative traditions. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are underlain by a folk tradition of transcendence. There is a temple, grotto shrine, or bearded trident-carrying mendicant on every street block to make you responsible for this history. These elements create a culture that encourages spiritual development and teaches the recognition of spiritual accomplishment.

One the first frescoes of the Ajanta Caves showed examples of Buddha's last meal, which Wasson suggests was the mushroom, Amanita muscaria. Considering that these pictures were very early (c. 400 AD), they are the oldest exhibition of this meal and one of the earliest depictions of entheogenic ingestion. Further upstream in the canyon, I discovered Jain caves which exhibit a Buddha standing under a domed temple which is topped with three tiers of mushrooms. In the ferocious heat, I apathetically took the photo and smoked charas with a gorgeous Barcelonian woman named Eleanor who, during her week off helping to make housing for the poor in Pune, was staying at the Bagwan ashram and touring Buddhist caves. After the noon heat, I visited a smaller set of four caves, thinking that (aside from the ubiquitous catatonic dog) I had the caves to myself. I entered the black room carved out of a mountainside and a man dressed in white flicked a match, allowing me to see the carvings in the Aurungabad Caves. Aside from gorgeously wrought hand symbols called mudras, in the dim light, I noticed two serpent-hooded bodhisattvas who with much deliberation, precision, and effort were buttressing a vine to grow into the sacrum of a Buddha seated on a lotus. With a simple interpretation, requiring little to no Jungian tango, the importance plants played in building the foundation of Buddhism reached explicit, literal iconographic expression. I let out a massive "Om!" and realized that the acoustics of the cave are also designed as a high-psycho technology.

The saga continued to the final Buddhist cave, Elora.

Both elements, the mushrooms hovering in tripartite groups above enlightened heads of Buddhas, and vines shoved into the asses of sitting Buddhas, were present at Elora, including one immense sculpture sporting mushrooms colored distinctly like Amanita. Recognizing this, another epiphany broke through: sculptures are not complex symbols. The opposite is true. These sculptures were made to convince an illiterate population to learn the most inexpensive and essential life skill in India: patient meditation. Each sculpture says, "Do what I do!": sit here, cross your legs, be quiet, sit up straight. Do it. There is a basic inclination to teach, to rain down transcendence. This mimesis theory seems to have some correlation with recorded experiences of encountering non-human beings in DMT visions. Soon after experiencing this confusing joy of discovery, I climbed to the top of a temple minaret and did a yoga pose which mimics the shape of the temple stupa, my head the most finite top window, my sacrum the door, and Eleanor appeared from behind one of the corner shrines!

By this my second week I had moved out of my Saddhu phase and into the Raj-phase, meaning that I decided to kick down an exuberant sum for a nice hotel where a bell boy waits at every door decked out in traditional gear. Besides, it was my twenty-seventh birthday. This place had a wet sauna so hot your rings burned and you couldn't sit on the marble. I invited her to come over for dinner and sweat out the week of India filth. She arrived soon after sunset, and we swapped a number of sweats with cold showers. Exhausted under the black sky she and I laid on white marble near a fountain. She brought out a heavy auburn cone of clay which had an inner rod that fit snugly inside the hollow cone. She ripped a tattered fragment off of her orange sarong and tied it around the thinner end of the cone, brought out a small cup made from an immature ash-blackened coconut in which she crumbled up a 1:2 mix of charas and rare ganja which she tightly packed into the wide end of the chillum.

"Om Shiva Shankara Hari Hari Ganga!"

Ditto. I mimicked her mantra and we began. "I got this pipe from a baba who resides in the Shiva Temple at Hampi." I was to take the overnight sleeper bus to Hampi the next day. Like possessed pumas we did yoga beside the fountain which added moisture to our tan skin before being waited on by twelve boys while we had tea in the dining room, like two British dons before Ghandi had ever marched to the sea for salt. "Shanti, Shanti!" We moved up to my room.

"Have you ever tried DMT?" she asked. I hadn't but there were still two hours left of my birthday so it did not surprise me that I was about to. I freebased DMT and I saw a spark that exploded with fire in the heart of a dry log. "I" glanced up through a foggy dusk jungle and noticed two naked women, my mother and sister, who were watching me and I realized "I" was the first fire made by humans. The achievement of that supreme technology, deeply etched in all human genetic memory, was showing itself. This, the dawn of culture, over a million years ago, was a fitting introduction to one other vision.

I was floating in the sea looking down through clear green-blue waters that had a slight sylvan wave action and a womb-like warmth at a very long sea-beet frond. In the Puget Sound there grow giant red beets that we find cast about on my family's private beach. The root is grotesquely elongated but each of the three fronds which grow from the tuber is immensely longer. One of these fronds grew quickly from a deep source, so quickly, in fact, that it was zipping by like a fishing reel recently hit by a swordfish, or a movie film without a catch reel spilling out on the floor. Spitting from this loquacious sea beet were glowing gold letters with rich red borders, Sanskrit sentences. The sea beet was like the rolled-up prayers within a prayer wheel, which Tibetans constantly spin, or like the mantras issuing from prayer flags. Spiraling patiently down the Sanskrit vegetable to its root, I got to the sandy floor and noticed the gnarled top of the beet and realized that it looks much like the medieval woodblock print of Mandrake, the important entheogen of the Old World. As I got closer and nearer to inspect the plant spitting out vegetative language it kept frustrating my scientific inspection by leaving my center vision and rotating away, to my right, and behind me. Giving up on requiring that I microscopically "look" with frontal orbitals, the linguistic leaf rotated around and simply assumed its role. It was always my spine. I am a Mandrake trilling and whistling a million filigreed words a minute through the top of my head in a blue-green sea. We ate a small round ball of opium, I welcomed her into the Free-Range Fellowship, and slept until I caught my bus to the sacred citadel of Hampi.

My first goal was to find the Baba who taught Eleanor the art of chillum smoking. Before we slept she gave me the full story of the Baba, how he dosed her whole body with blue ash, dabbled salt on her eye lids, blew incense on meridian points of her body and quivered with joy when she told him that she was to pack a chillum of only cannabis as opposed to partitioning it with tobacco. "It will please Shiva most!" she said. The Shiva Temple was not difficult to find but there are so many bizarre shrines cut into little canyons, rocky outcrops transformed into lingams, and cracks in river-worn rocks morphed into meditation chambers that one can, with great reward, get distracted from worldly pursuits. I found a human mandible cast aside beside a worn out sandal on the trail to the Baba just before I happened upon the little stand that sells bhang lassi.

Bhang lassi is a delicious drink of sour milk, honey, banana and cannabis tops. The drink is hand mashed, sometimes cold with ice, murky and frothy, and always guarantees a smooth and rich daylong high. I downed a six-ounce cup, refused the opium lassi as it would have engendered a dissociative state incongruous to spiritual work, and I found the Shiva Temple. Hampi is an enchanting village of five hundred temples set around a jewel pond. We were entering the diurnal period of the day, the pelicans in the pond were stretching their wings, a chorus of birds erupted and, as the sun set, drums, chanting, yelps of ecstasy and tablas and tamboras accompanied by holy songs were issued over a loudspeaker all echoing off the percussive pond. I noticed a man who appeared to be circumnavigating the pond, unshod. He stopped and bowed in a swastika-like diagram at many points around the lake. On my way to the Shiva Temple, just outside his eyesight, I followed him and did what he did. At the Ram Temple I bowed towards the setting sun and kneeled towards the nearby Hanuman icon, just as he had. Near the Shiva Temple I met a man dressed in orange with long flowing gray hair and a combed gray beard. I told him I was a Canadian Hindu who had come to meet him. This was the Baba.

The temple is five hundred years old and consists of pillars decorated with tangled serpents and erotic sculptures. A vast sculpture of Shiva, in his Nataraja form, dancing in symmetries, foot raised in defiance of time, his other foot on the back of a repulsive dwarf-ego, and emancipated saddhus offered themselves to the god on either shoulder. Here the Baba put tilak on my forehead and soon I was compelled to repeat my yogic routine. At the pinnacle of each pose I did he nodded and grunted with surprised and proud approval. After I had stood on my head and hands and assumed an upright position he adopted a martial art pose and began doing quick tai-chi motions punctuated by a loud, "Huh!" which accompanied an inward pulse of his stomach. I did what he did and then he asked me to sit cross-legged in front of him at which point he put his moving thumbs over my eyes and pressed rather hard asking, "Do you see the white?" then, "Do you see the person?" As I confirmed both, he told me to remember to go inside and do what that person does.

The next day I left on a sleeper train to Mumbai (Bombay). Awaking in Mumbai I got jacked by an abusive taxi driver who caught me at 6AM with my guard down, confronted the only African people I'd seen in India all heroin junkies on the street then, tracked by a tag-team gang of multilingual teenage prostitutes selling their bodies for hefty scoops of mango ice cream and daylong beer cruises in the Arabic Sea. I dedicated myself to fulfilling one more task in India before flying back to Paris and then to Cancun to direct a Mayan archaeology excavation. I am not sure why, but I needed a turq, those simple white caps that Moslems wear.

In Bombay there are miles and acres of street side vendors peddling local goods and foods. There I noticed the headlines of the April 10, 2003 newspapers. The Americans were in Baghdad, the Second Gulf War was over. This news struck me with a slight depression and frustration. In my month in India I had grown sympathetic to the plight of Middle Eastern poverty, and, like many Indians and most Moslems, suspicious of American-brand democracy. With the war over, markets like this throughout the Middle East will soon be full of non-traditional goods as American-brand democracy spreads from the exhaust of Tomahawk missiles. And though an Islamic regime with many holy sites in its country has fallen on this day a lone American was walking up to every Moslem he saw pointing at their white and gold thread embroidered cap, the symbol of their faith, and asking, "Where did you get it?" Or, more subtly, "Can I do as you do?" Islamic architecture and symbolism attracted me from my first days in India. It displayed a sort of Ken Wilber-esque, post-conventional, post-iconic, post-shamanic chic aesthetic which points more clearly toward the future of religion than the Cabbage Patch dolls with Down's Syndrome in pastel colors that are worshipped in many Hindu temples, which have more in common with the puppet Mother Mary "Full of Grace!" in John Waters' classic film Pecker than something that engenders religious awe.

Each of a dozen Moslems said, "Biddi Bazaar" and pointed north, up the road. After a 50 minute walk, I found the Bazaar and many suspicious looks coming from bookstore owners with Saddam Hussein publicity photo posters for sale in their shop windows. I bought a couple of turqs from an old man and quickly donned one. Returning, I walked past what appeared to be a mosque. I looked at myself in a long white traditional Indian shirt and pants and a bright white Moslem cap and realized that, albeit a little pasty, I could do what they do, and I took off my shoes, washed up in the fountain, scrubbed my feet and entered the clean, well-carpeted hall, where I assumed a position shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the men. Facing East, the direction of Baghdad and Mecca, I kneeled, wept and prayed.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2004-10-11 00:00:00