Peganam Harmala: Creating the Space which Chacruna Illuminates

Peganam Harmala:
Creating the Space which Chacruna Illuminates

“Look at this window: it is nothing but a hole in the wall, but because of it the whole room is full of light. So when the faculties are empty, the heart is full of light.”

-Chuang Tzu

Yoga is a process of refinement. Working with plant medicine such as the Soma is the same: it invites us to carefully dial up or dial down the two separate levers of the process, the masculine and feminine aspects.

Viveka, or discernment, is a critical aspect of yoga. In order to work with the medicine skillfully, we need to do so in a very embodied way. While the conceptual frameworks are necessary to orient our view, the process is far more intuitive than intellectual. Indeed, for someone who gravitates towards the intellectual orientation such as myself, plant medicines is a practice that brings more into balance through greater embodiment.

The increasingly higher levels of balance, embodiment and wisdom are a result of all of the synergistic components of Tantric sadhana: including asanas, pranayama, mantras, meditation, as well as plant medicine such as the Soma. It is the union of two plants that perfectly mirror the masculine and feminine aspects of consciousness that makes plant medicines such as Ayahuasca and Soma distinct from other psychedelic compounds. This is precisely what makes them an ideal practice for Tantric yogis, and practitioners of nondual Tantric contemplative paths from either Buddhist (Dzogchen; Mahamudra) or “Hindu” (Kashmir Shaivism; Sri Vidya) traditions.

The above quote from Taoist sage Chuang Tzu offers a valuable teaching for how plant medicines such as Ayahuasca and Soma work, for it points to the equally important role of the banisteriopsis caapi vine (in Ayahuasca) or peganam harmala (PH) plant (in Soma) in activating DMT containing plants such as Chacruna and Acacia. The key compounds present in the vine and the PH are harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine. These beta carbolines represent a profound form of intelligence in and of themselves. It is the union of this intelligence with the energy and dynamism of the DMT containing plants that have a synergistic effect that is greater than the sum of its parts.

These beta carbolines are also what allow the DMT to become orally active. Since DMT will break down by itself when ingested orally, it’s essential to consume monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). Finding the right balance between the masculine plant (the vine or the PH) with the beta carbolines and the feminine DMT containing plant is absolutely critical. What has allowed me to develop a much deeper level of appreciation for this balance is taking the beta carbolines separately from the Chacruna. Typically, I’ll consume a full MAOI activating dose of PH 1.5-2 hours prior to consuming a DMT containing plant such as Chacruna. As I began to work with these plants over more sessions, I started to confirm the wisdom in what my friend who facilitates the wisdom had been telling me: that the dosage of the beta carbolines, specifically the presence of the Chacruna, will significantly affect not only the duration but also the depth of the journey.

In my experience, one major benefit of working with the Soma, as opposed to Ayahuasca, is that it’s easy to separate the consumption of the two plants: Peganam Harmala and the DMT containing plant, such as Chacruna.

There’s no reason I’m aware of that one couldn’t separate the b caapi vine from Chacruna as a drink in theory; however, from everything that I’ve heard, in practice, this doesn’t happen. Typically, I’ll consume PH about 1.5 hours before taking Chacruna. This allows me to feel whether the harmala is at a sufficient level of MAOI activation in order to take the Chacruna. That sense of what feels like a sufficient or optimal level comes with experience, but generally MAOI activation comes with about 3 grams, or a bit less depending on the person, of the raw seed of PH.

What separating the plants allows you to do is to clearly discern the difference between the qualities of the two plants. Through the lens of Nondual Shaiva Shakta Tantra, the Peganam Harmala is clearly the masculine, Shiva aspect. It is the container, the space, in which everything arises. It is also the intelligence in contrast to the energy and dynamism of the feminine (the DMT containing plant such as Chacruna). If we’re drawing on the language of Dzogchen or Mahamudra (nondual Tantric Buddhism), then the Peganam Harmala is the dharmakaya dimension of consciousness. It is the empty essence, the groundless ground, from which appearances arise and to which they return. The Chacruna is the sambogakaya, the clarity aspect of mind. 

In Dzogchen and Mahamudra, the union of clarity and emptiness is the true nature of the mind. This is what gives rise to the world of appearances, the third aspect of mind: nirmanakaya. In some crucial respects, Taoism is similar to Tantra, hence why Taoist works can be helpful in understanding Soma through a Tantric lens. To play with Chuang Tzu’s metaphor, the PH opens the window that allows the sunlight to flow through. The nature of the room is its empty essence, dharmakaya. The luminosity of the sunlight is sambogakaya. The PH is the empty essence of the room; the Chacruna is the sunlight.

The more that you turn up the beta carbolines in the PH, the more you open the window, the more space you create for the luminosity of the DMT to shine. 

When working with Ayahuasca or Soma, it’s essential to have a strong base of MAOI in order for DMT to become orally active. However, separating the two has allowed me to appreciate how to balance the two in a more nuanced way, for the goal isn’t simply to have DMT become orally active. It’s not all about the DMT; it’s not even mostly about the DMT. The value of the two plants is completely equal. There is no hierarchy between them.

It’s optimal to have a very strong grounding in the Peganam Harmala because this not only creates extensive space through which the Chacruna can move but it also grounds the dynamism of the DMT. Otherwise, if the Chacruna is very prevalent relative to the PH, one of a few things can happen.

Firstly, without sufficient beta carbolines the experience is either superficial and/or short in duration. The beta carbolines give the experience not only duration but also depth. Also, when the Chacruna is overweight the trip can feel very ungrounded, very based in the upper chakras rather than striking a middle path. There’s too much emphasis on transcendence and not enough embodiment that comes naturally when the beta carbolines are pronounced. The goal is not to escape your body or this realm (even though the Soma absolutely takes you to another dimension even when it’s optimally balanced between the two plants). The goal is to wake up in this realm, to recognize the dreamlike nature of samsara. However, just as in Tantra, the nature of the Divine is both masculine and feminine, transcendent and immanent. Embodiment is an important aspect of immanence.

This is also what makes Ayahuasca or Soma distinct from other psychedelics; these plant medicines contain two components that mirror both the masculine and feminine dimensions of consciousness. Similar to strands of cannabis that are well balanced between CBD and THC, the beta carbolines present in these plant medicines offer grounding and coherence to the dynamism and creativity inherent in the psychoactive compound (DMT, in this instance). In my experience, this creates the conditions for a more balanced and embodied entheogenic journey. Moreover, it is the intelligence present in the beta carbolines that represent an equally valuable element of the medicine.

Finally, what also offers a great deal of insight into the importance of the dharmakaya aspect of the PH is not only the dosage taken before consuming the Chacruna, but also any doses taken later in the evening. When I feel the effects of the first round of Chacruna subside, I will sense into the level of potency of the PH. Again, this increases with experience, but one easy metric is if you feel on the cusp of nausea or if there is substantial impairment of fine motor skills such as walking. If I’m experiencing either of these I definitely won’t consume any more PH, and I would simply take more Chacruna, assuming that the effects had subsided and that I wanted to take another dose.

However, what’s so interesting for the purposes of this teaching about the dharmakaya, is that the Shiva nature of the PH means you don’t need to necessarily take any more Chacruna if you want to increase the effects of the DMT. By simply consuming even a modest amount of PH, another half a gram to one gram, the effects of the Chacruna can go from zero to sixty. If you open the window again, the sunlight will shine through. You don’t have to increase the wattage of the light (the Chacruna). Just expand the territory of the space through which the light can traverse, by consuming more beta carbolines.

Refining the process in this way will also allow you to not only have a more potent experience of the DMT, but also a more grounded experience. As I was about halfway through a two month intensive of working with the Soma with my friend Ronin he offered his understanding of the view, the direction in which the medicine leads us. According to him, though the Chacruna is always important, over time the medicine becomes less and less about the visions of the Chacruna and more about grounding in the dharmakaya aspect of mind, embodied in the harmala. In other words, just like the process of awakening itself, the medicine empties you out. In my relatively limited apprenticeship during this time, I could sense how the medicine was leading me in this direction. In fact, even now as I take a pause from working with the Soma and I’m working only with the PH, I can sense how the medicine continues to unfold and lead to a stabilizing grounding in the dharmakaya, Shiva aspect of consciousness.

Yoga is a process of refinement. Working with the Soma is the same. It requires us to carefully dial up or dial down the two separate levers of the process, the masculine and feminine aspects. This is also precisely why yoga and meditation are such important practices for working with plant medicines such as Ayahuasca and Soma. It’s very important to cultivate a consistent capacity for embodied presence in order to wisely discern how to work with the medicine, and to decipher the lessons that the medicine has to teach us. This latter point involves being able to discern the difference between karmic visions and clear light.

This is a critical way in which the medicine empties you out: it’s essentially revealing and transforming your karmic patterns into clear light. Notably, this doesn’t happen automatically. The medicine will meet someone wherever they are in their own understanding, so the more work we do with refining the rest of our sadhana, including an understanding of right view and our own shadow work, then the more intelligently and swiftly the medicine will be able to accelerate the unfolding of our own awakening. 

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