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Books - The History and Natural History of Ephedra as SOMA
Written by S. Mahdihassan   


When there is limited knowledge of drugs more than limited knowledge of diseases, the drug automatically becomes panacea, a cure-all, when its active principle correspondingly becomes Pneuma, a universal agent, and treatment means overhauling the system as whole and not treating any particular part or any one symptom. In fact Panacea would transform even the sinner into a pious, not to speak of transforming an aged into a youth. Here we see most clearly how treatment means, transformation of the whole, physically as spiritually. Radin (1952; 39) points out that, the primitive thinker had poor analytical power and was "Characterized by a demand of endless repetition of the same event (so that) change for him means essentially some abrupt transformation." In our case this means that the ailing patient as a whole, was transformed abruptly into an individual with perfect health. This is what is also understood by resurrection, which at once transforms the dead into a mobile living being. Such a principle, of "treatment by transformation," characterizes all the early systems of medicine, Greek, Indian and Chinese.
Their theory has been explained, among others, by Armstrong (1971;84) He writes that "there is no such thing as a local disease, there are only localized symptoms." And what was panacea has been looked upon not as a specific for any given disease, but a specific for health." This shifts the problem of disease to health. Then this has also to be explained while investigating as to how the ancient system of medicine explaining a cure is brought about. With regard to Greek medicine Ackerknecht (1955; 55) observes that "the Hippocratic physician's approach was fundamentally the treatment of an individual and not disease and the treatment of the whole body not of any part." And the curative agent responsible for the "treatment is based on the assumption that nature has a strong healing force and this according to Asclepiades is Pneuma which brings animation into the whole body." Then wherever there has been self-cure it was the already existing in the system that ran up to the ailing part and infused fresh life, repaired the tissue and brought about the cure. When a drug had to be used and it effected the cure it was the pneuma of the drug that was transferred to the system of the ailing recepient. "Here I can recall the claim of a famous Unani drug-house in Pakistan which affirms that "the strength of the medicament (they offered) passes into the system of the patient." Naturally the medicament is a powerful remedy so that the cure is easily expected. It would thus function like a vitamin that was lacking in the body and was supplied by a plant juice in it. What is important is to note that the curative agent is Pneuma and cure means "bringing animation." In clearer terms pneuma donates a quantum of life-essence and since disease means insufficiency of soul this is supplied by the drug rich in it. The idea that disease is due to loss of soul is as old as we can go into the past. P. Radin (1952;144) speaking of the primitive Ammassalilk Eskimo, informs us that according to him "man's loss of his soul (results) in illness." Then treatment naturally would be infusing soul whence reanimation means the return of health. In fact disease has been looked upon as a sort of death and cure as resurrection. Then once we speak of death it is death of the whole body and not any part and correspondingly cure as resurrection would be the reanimation of the body as whole, not of any part. Thus the animating principle is the curative principle which identifies, Pneuma = Soul.
To state that Pneuma means soul would be vague. There is the cosmic soul, the source of all existence, and a quantum of the same is found in a life-form as individual-soul. In Arabic it is Ruh, in Sanskrit Brahman, in Greek it is pneuma, also recognized in alchemy. Here Taylor (1953;251) explains that "in antiquity a very general notion (existed) of a substance as a universal agent, something that could act upon everything and become potentially every thing." Taylor (p.250) further quotes Diodorus Siculus that, Pneuma is "the spirit of Zeus", the sky-god, which then offers a "quickening influence unto all living creatures and is the common parent of all things." This would be the First Principle and as such the cosmic soul. Taylor (p.250) removes all further doubt by writing that the statement above "appears (to be) the clear concept of pneuma as a fifth (cosmic) element and the active principle in all things." On p.251 he further explains this "active principle and the fifth element as Pneuma, spiritus, Breath (which is) common to heaven and earth." In Chinese thus would be Chhi. What is common to heaven and earth is naturally cosmic soul and this is Pneuma. Pneuma then is the cosmic soul fully capable of donating life-essence according to Greek thought.
We now turn to Indian Medicine and the agency corresponding to Pneuma. H.R. Zimmer (1948;LXII) writes that, "Hindu medicine is based on the idea of universal living-force that pervades everything as well as the higher organisms of men and animals." Now the proper term for what is described above would be cosmic soul, or pneuma in Greek. Here we may consider a modern definition of disease. Cyrill Scott, quoted by Armstrong (1971;112) states that "the prime cause of disease is the absence of substance which should be in the body and the presence of substances which should not be in the body:" Primitive medicine would then maintain that, the cause of illness is absence of soul in the body and recovery is the reintroduction of soul through some agency. Coming to Chinese medicine Schiffeler (1979;286) states that there the active principle is Chhi. "It is an animate ethereal principle conceptualized as a vapour and translated as Pneuma. From the medical stand point pneumation is the belief that the phenomenon of life, is associated with the existence of a subtle vapour Pneuma, which permeates the whole organism." I (1960) have discussed at length that Chhi as the Chinese equivalent of cosmic soul and Iksir, correspondingly elixir, is the Arabicized term Ek-Chhi meaning "the one soul", the universal soul. Thus by now we find the active principle responsible for the cure of any ailment is pneuma in Greek, "a universal living force" or Brahman in Indian philosophy and Chhi or Universal soul in Chinese.
To know what is disease we were required to know what is health. Now we have to know what is life. This means analysing the constitution of man as life-form.
To know life the early thinkers carefully observed how life gradually departs. Normal death, revealing no impressive antecedents, remained unsolved and was looked upon as eternal sleep, but death from wounds proceeded in observable stages. Firstly there was loss of blood, next loss of breath and finally loss of heat, when the cold body became stiff like a log of wood. Based on such observations blood became water carrying a red pigment so that water was recognized as essential to life. This any one could independently confirm. Accordingly water became the first element. Breath meant air circulating within the human system so that Air came as the next element. Then body-heat was obviously essential which was idealized as fire being tangible as an element. Thus water, air and fire became elements common between man and universe. But as the constitutents of the human system or of microcosm they are called humors whence in Sanskrit there arose, Air=Vata; Water = Kapha; and Fire = Pitta. These three .humours were known separately before but Panini, first mentioned them together as elements constituting life as whole. In other words pneuma, the life-essence, or Brahman, would also be Water-plusFire, conceived as one and as abstract entities.
Now all substances carry a soul but the ratio among the constituents differs. In Soma=Rasa, for example, water, the vehicle of blood is dominant, making it most beneficial. Even in cosmology water is recognized to be the first element that appeared. Rigveda, before there was cosmology, recognizes this to be the case. Likewise in Greek philosophy water is admitted as the first element, being the contribution of Thales. Then as the first and last sings of death there correspondingly arose the loss of pair of opposites, Blood (Water) and Heat which later become cosmic elements. But as qualities of life the same were looked upon as Moisture and Heat. Now in Rigveda where there is no cosmology as such but two gods are intimately associated and they are Soma and Agni. Soma stands for vegetative life and there is to be one quality responsible for it and it is Moisture. Likewise Agni would be Heat. Briefly, as qualities Soma = Moisture and Agni = Heat. Then a legitimate interpretation would identify Moisture/Heat with Soma/Agni.
Macdonald (1896;121) tells us that, Madame "Zonaide Ragozin considers it the key to the whole Vedic religion, the whole naturalism of Rigveda, the entire conception of the universe and its making, hinges on two sets of natural phenomenon: Those of Light and Moisture, embodied in Agni and Soma." Now to interpret", the entire conception of the universe would clearly mean establishing cosmogony and in this case with Light and Moisture as cosmic powers, be they as qualities. Since there is no cosmology duly formulated in Rigveda we must nevertheless expect to find the progenitors of Water and Fire, which later became cosmic elements, with their qualities Humidity and Heat. We are however required to make a slight modification in the formulation of Ragozin. Light is not the primary attribute of Agni. Fire was actually discovered to provide heat, in fact to turn non-consumable foodstuff edible. Then the "naturalism of Rigveda" must be traceable to the cosmic qualities, Moisture and Heat, rather than to Moisture and Light. We are now to explain how the thinkers who composed Rigveda came to conceive a protocosmology. Using the words of Radin (1952;73), "We are always to begin with the man in he midst of life.' The nomad's chief problem of life was procurement of food and his main activity was hunting. We have now to realize what these two factors meant to him. Roaming all over the open country his trouble was that of facing cold. Then chasing game, he would land himself in sites where water was not available and as hunter he could not always carry enough water to meet such emergencies. Then the dangers he actually experienced were cold and thirst: Thirst must have quailed him most, and RV. verse 9.79.3 refers to "thirst having subdueth in the desert." Above all, he had to satisfy hunger and to make himself an indefatigable hunter he had to depend upon Soma juice. Moreover to turn non-consumable foodstuff edible he roasted them, thereby utilizing fire. Thus to become an efficient "grocer-cum-cook" he had the support of Soma and Agni, which became his joint-benefactors. Of all his troubles the hunter experienced thrist as the worst which then made water most precious. Projecting water it became the first substance that appeared on earth. It became the First Principle. Rigveda thus virtually recognizes water as the first cosmic element. Next to thirst, cold was his worst enemy. From it arose the importance of fire which, at the same time, helped him to exploit natural products as food. Thus came fire as next in importance to water. What then is the origin of fire: Water is the first born so that fire can only emanate from water. Accordingly verse 1.143.1 is dedicated to sons-of-water where the term Apamnapat means Son-of water a designation of Agi. 10.8.5 says "thou art the water's child 0 Jatavedas and on p.650. Griffith renders Jatavedas = Omnicient Agni. Then Apamnapat, and Jatavedas each designates Agni, making him the son-of-water. On fractionating water into its irreduceable minimum or as its essence, we get to Humidity. Accordingly 1.23.23 states "the waters I this day have sought and to their Moisture have we come." We can now interpret Water= Cosmic element, and Humidity as Cosmic quality, and each as explicit in Rigveda. Next we turn to fire. Rigveda, Valakhilya Griffith's translation, vol.2, p.267, verse 10.2 says "kindled in many a spot, still one is Agni." When universality is thus bestowed upon fire it becomes a cosmic element. We have further to learn of its main quality. 10.88.10 states "Agni (as cosmic power) fills both worlds (Heaven and Earth) through strength and vigour,. They made him to appear in three fold essences: he ripens plants of every form and nature." Now the known property that "ripens" a plant is Heat. Thus Agni carries Heat as his quality. This however is implicitly stated in Rigveda.
Having discussed Water and its Moisture and Fire and its Heat we are now left with assigning Soma a place in the proto-cosmology of Rigveda. In as much as water is admitted to be the First Principle,Soma is to be interpreted as related to water in some way. R.V. Valakhilya 10.30.5 (p.424 Griffith's translation) says "Those (waters) in which Soma is delighted as a young man with pleasant damsels; go thou unto those waters, 0 Adhvaryu and purify with herbs what thou infusest." And the next verse, 10.30.6 says "so maidens (waters) bow before the youthful gallant (Soma) who comes with love." Waters are compared to damsels and Soma to their lover, and thereby "Waters bow before Soma." This makes the position of Soma as the superior. Above all water is purified by herbs, among whom Soma is the most powerful. And purification means that Soma donated life-essence and vivified the waters. A critical consideration will show that while water was the first element, it came as a lifeless entity, a form of matter and no more, it had no life or generative and creative powers. These came later through the grace of Soma. This is a life form and can offer life-essence. This the poets of Rigveda have beautifully expressed. Waters are damsels while Soma is their chivalrous lover., It is the lover Soma who made the maiders (the waters) productive. And we know otherwise that Soma is an aphrodisiac, on account of its being an energizer, like the Coca drug. Now West (1901;100) informs that "Haoma (Soma) is also entitled Durosha." And Bailey (1972; 105) has explained that "Durosha is an epithet of the lover's drink in (an Iranian) lyrical text." Thus the simile was well chosen. There is a therapeutic background to the above verse which says that the youthful gallant Soma comes with love unto waters (as maidens).
For a proper rational interpretation however we turn to Indian cosmology properly formulated. Here are four tangible cosmic elements, fire, air, water and earth, and above all as the fifth, Akasha, which Divanji (1948) has rightly equated, Akasha = Brahma. This would be creative energy, which the Chinese recognize as Chhi. Akasha, then permeates the other four cosmic elements which begin to function as dynamic powers. When we now turn to the proto-cosmology of Rigveda, Soma becomes proto-Akasha, the creative energy. Thus Soma offers to vivify waters, in fact energizes them as dynamic entities capable of reacting with others. Briefly Soma = ProtoAkash-Brahma. In earlier times the mental process of abstraction was not fully developed, so that creative energy was realized as procreative power, and this was symbolized as love, and Soma, a life-form, personified it.But Soma did donate life-essence to water even though this was admitted to be the first substance. Soma then would be proto-Akasha or one with creative powers. Briefly, water was element, Moisture its quality: -Fire another element, Heat its quality; and Soma was ProtoAkasha, which vivified water and made it productive when water can give birth to Fire, as the "son of waters. The role of Soma in enabling water to generate fire is thus explicitly revealed.
The first two elements being water and fire, the corresponding qualities became Humidity and Heat. Then, considering these qualities, we may look for an independent approach confirming their importance. Here comes alchemy to throw proper light upon this matter. Alchemy asserts that all metals are basically one and the difference among them is due to the stage of growth. The best grown is gold and the most rickety would be lead. Then elixir is a substance which induces growth so that when a base metal is made to accept elixir", the metal grows to perfection, thereby acquiring an everlasting form, examplified by gold which is even fire-proof. Cosmology however maintains that all substances are reduceable to four qualities and the best form of a substance would have Heat and Humidity as manifest qualities with cold and dryness as non-manifest. Then, Heat and Humidity as manifest qualities characterize an ideal constitution, be it metal or man. For a better insight we refer to Prof. Nasir (1976;195). He writes that "traditional alchemy is a complete way of looking at things. It is at the same time a science of cosmos (or what Ragozin terms the Conception of the Universe). The key to the understanding of all substances is the balance (between) the inner and outer qualities. (And among the metals) the qualities which become outwardly manifest, as Hot and Humid, make it the most perfect as gold." Thus Heat-Humidity as manifest qualities specify gold, the best form of a substance. And the same qualify the best state of health. Finally they would also qualify panacea, the most powerful drug we can conceive. And if water functions as panacea such water would have the qualities Humidity and Heat. And this we have already explained. To confirm their importance we have turned to alchemy as an independent witness. Finally we can identify Heat=Agni and Humidity= Soma which confers importance on these two as deities.
The most important property attributed to water in Rigveda is its function as Panacea. Such water becomes purified water, or vivified water, otherwise known as water-of-life. Water as panacea is indicated in several places in Rigveda. Verse 1.23.19-20 explains that "in the waters there is the healing balm (and even) Amrita is in the waters." But this information came only when "Soma thus told me (that now there) dwell all balms that heal." But that was after Soma, the Lord of herbs, saw that "Waters were purified with herbs," as indicated in verse 10.30.5. Now purification means vivification, so that water had been a dead substance before but, duly purified, it became live-water or water-of-life. Of purified waters verse 10.17.14 explains that, "the plants of earth rich in milk (Rasa) and rich in the essence of waters, make me pure therewith." Then purified water, is another term for water as panacea. Verse 10.137.6, accordingly affirms, "Waters have their healing powers, waters drive diseases away, waters have balm for all. Let them make medicine for thee", when this later on would be Rasayana. Once there is purified water, now imbibing Rasa donated by Soma, it is charged with life-essence, which in turn it can offer to, any recepient. That the active principle of panacea is life-essence is shown by the fact that the recepient of panacea is thoroughly transformed. Panacea overhauls the system as a whole, corporeal and spiritual; the sick becomes healthy, the aged becomes young, and the sinner innocent again. Verse 1.23.22. assures us that "Whatever sin is found in me whatever evil I have brought waters remove it from me." Even later on Rasayana drugs conferred rejuvenation and according to Patanjali, also resurrection, both being traceable to Rasa, as the active principle.
If water has the quality Humidity and fire, Heat, Soma as Proto-Akasha, owns the quality, Rasa, which becomes creative-energy. Such significance of Rasa needs confirmation. Rigveda presents water as panacea conferring health, longevity and even resurrection. But Bosch (1960:60) maintains that "On closer scrutiny, water does not possess these virtues, but through an immanent force Rasa, or Essence, from which emanate life-giving forces. This Rasa is purest in sap of plants for plant, as Embryo of water (Aqueous Womb), Apam-Garbha, water being its nature. The sap of each plant is Rasa, but Soma, the king of plants is Rasa, in its strongest concentration, its purest essence. The same substance is found in blood. It imparts health, wards off old age, protects from death and offers perpetual life." What then is the origin of this Rasa in water as panacea. Bosch mentions the term Apamgarbha and renders it as embryo or seed. Literally Apamgarbha=Aqueous - Womb. And we admit that water came to exist as the first substance and as such would be the source of all material universe. But it must own some power or quality enabling it function as fountain of universe. To gain such insight we consider the term Hiranya - garbha occurring in Rigveda. Griffith translates it as Gold-Germ. Gold would be the concretization of the idea, everlasting, so that as effective translation, Gold= Eternal, and Garbha.Womb, and not embryo. Accordingly Hiranya-garbha=Gold-Womb, the eternal source of existence. When the source of existence is specified as water, we have as its designation Apam-garbha, but when its role is emphasized we get the term Hiranya-garbha. When existence of the material world is traced to its origin, what functions as the creator would be Hiranya-garbha, more specifically, Apam-garbha. Briefly Apam-garbha= Hiranya-garbha=Creator. We can now look upon this source as that of energy which induces matter to expand and give rise to the universe, or, specifically, water as matter and Rasa as creative energy, together the source of all creation. Now the term Hiranya-garbha, as the eternal source, would imply a corresponding quality which makes it, the fountain of all universe. Hiranyagarbha would be a dynamic term suggesting both creative matter and creative energy, matter-cum-energy, container and content as one. Briefly Hiranya - garbha= Creator. Hence we find verse 10.12.1 states "in the beginning rose Hiranya-garbha born only Lord of all created beings." This would be the one source of all universe. But we have admitted water to be the First Principle, in fact water as the sire which gave rise to Agni as his son. Hence verse 10.121.7 says "what time the mighty waters came, containing the universal womb (not germ, as translated) producing Agni." Now if Water.Universal womb. Source of universe, the quality that makes water such a power would be Rasa, clearly emphasized by Bosch. The translation of Apam-garbha is now fully confirmed.
Water is the womb, and Agni is its Embryo or seed. Water is Apam-garbha and Agni is Apamnapat, the issue of water, and Rasa was there as the quality, the dynamic principle of water, its soul. Now water as prime matter, charged with Rasa as energy, corresponds to the Chhi of Chinese cosmogony, where Chhi is matter-cum-energy. In the conception of the Eternal source of universe Hiranya-garbha, or creative energy, is implied, for otherwise it can not persist as the eternal source. Trying to translate the above ideas in terms of proto-cosmogony we have Water =First principle, and Agni=The second cosmic element. Water seeded with Rasa, has been thus conceived and becomes Aqueous-womb, Apam-garbha, which contains, the Aqueous-embryo, Apamnapet, the issue of water, as Agni. Focussing attention on Rasa it becomes the quality of Soma. Soma becomes Proto-Akasha, ProtoBrahma, and Rasa, creative energy, the power of the creator. In consmogony the four cosmic elements were originally static but impergnated with creative energy, donated by Akasha, they were vivified as dynamic principle which then could interact with one another. Rasa of Soma thus impregnated water which could then deliver Fire as its issue.
Now Bosch (1960;52) commenting upon Hiranyagarbha quotes a Vedic source explaining that "This germ (womb) is called primordial creative breath" and it is "Agni, the fiery essence of creative breath" (p.60). What we now read is an eloquent restatement of the fact that water is the first principle and fire, as quality, contains Heat which is better understood as "creative breath". To make the subject clear we must equate Hiranya garbha= water, and Agni = Fire, when its quality Heat = creative breath.-Chhi. Now what makes water an "Aqueous womb", the dynamic source which gives rise to fire, is Soma. Briefly Water+Soma=Apamgarbha=Hiranya garbha. We now look up to internal evidence in Rigveda confirming Soma's power to produce waters as dynamic and productive. Rigveda contains the word Vrishan, Griffith (Rigveda, Vol. 1, p.424) translates it as Mighty, explaining that "the word is commonly applied in the Veda to living beings and things preeminently for strength." And Vrishan, the principle of living being as strength, according to 8.13.32, makes "strong the press-stones, strong the flowing Soma juice." And the origin of their strength is revealed in 5.36.5, where we read that "May the strong Heaven make thee the strong wax stronger." Then sifting different verses we can reasonably assume that Vrishan is the equivalent of Rasa and Vrishan is primarily the active principle of living beings emanating from Heaven. Now this easily recalls the concept of Mana as current among the Melanesians and of Ton as believed by the Red Indians of North American together with their origin.
Bishop Cordington has been the first to write upon Mana.This term is used in Polynesia. The Red Indians of North America know it as Ton. Radin (1956;254) writes that, according to a priest of the Dakota tribe "all the gods have Ton, the power to do supernatural things. And Ton means something that comes from a living_ thing, such as the birth of anything the discharge from wound or the growth from a seed." And the origin of Ton is traced to a heavenly source, called Wakan, in whom we are not further interested. But Ton like Vrishan is a power inherent in a recognized life-form and it is a life-form that best donates life-essence. And Vrishan owes its strength to Heaven. By now we can equate: Rasa =Ton. Each comes from a life-form, plant or animal, and each has its origin in heaven. Power then can not be doubted. And we have equated Soma=Proto-Akasha, therey assigned Soma a heavenly status, with creative powers, just as Akasha=Brahma. This then takes us to the plant Soma deified as god Soma. The plant Soma grows in paradise and Indra had to become a bird and steal it and bring it to earth. Its celestial origin then accounts for its powerful virtues. Briefly we have Soma a heavenly plant, with procreative -cum-creative properties.
We now come to the proto-cosmology of Rigveda. The cosmic powers recognized in Rigveda are Water, Fire and Soma. Water has the quality Moisture, and Fire, Heat and Soma creative energy. The last donated life-essence enabling water to produce fire, whence Water+Soma =Aqueous womb, Apamgarbha, the source from which issued Fire, as Apamnapat, the son of water. The Humidity of water and the Heat of Fire each became manifest by the energizing property of the life-essence donated by Soma. The life-essence is called Rasa and its synonym is Virshan. They are elements found in a life-form with powers donated by Heaven. The Aryans as hunters knew the value of Water and of Heat while, as pastoral nomads, they learnt how animals multiply due to procreative power. Procreative power was developed into creative power, with Rasa, first representing procreative powers and later connoting creative powers. As incorporated in waters, Water+Rasa=Aqueous Womb and Apamgarbha= Hiranyagarbha, the eternal womb, the source of all universe or the Creator. Now water energized by Soma, or as Water + Rasa, gave rise to Fire, when the qualities of water and fire became duly energized as the dynmic qualities Moisture and Heat. Heat and Humidity thus became growth energy. In Chinese cosmogony, they together constitute Chhi. But the universe reveals multiplicity as well as growth. Here Rasa functions as the procreative-cum-creative energy which then can 'Confer multiplicity. This again refers us back to Water+Rasa= Apamgarbha = Hiranyagarbha. Rasa as creative energy then became the cosmic power as proto-Akasha. Briefly the proto-cosmology of Rigveda depend upon water as matter but upon Soma as energy. They together produced Fire. Thus arose three qualities, Humidity of water, Heat of fire and the Energizing multiplicity or creativity of Soma. Water, Fire and Soma, as Proto-Akasha, easily explained how a universe of some kind came into being.

Our valuable member S. Mahdihassan has been with us since Sunday, 24 March 2013.

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