Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Biopiracy: When Corporations Patent Nature

Since the early 20th century, multinational corporations have repeatedly claimed ownership of nature and indigenous knowledge systems from developing countries by means of patents, turning the biodiversity of the commons into private, commercialized property. This appropriation of indigenous resources for financial gain, with scarcely any recognition or compensation, is just one of the latest forms of colonialism, the centuries-old practice of affluent, technologically advanced nations exerting economic dominance over poorer, resource-rich countries. 

In the upcoming Synergetic Press title Reclaiming the Commons: Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Rights of Mother Earth, environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva lays out in great detail the legal struggle to defend biodiversity against biopiracy and biocolonialism. 

Vandana Shiva at a 1993 rally protesting GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in Bangalore

What is biopiracy? 

Biopiracy is when a corporation patents seeds and/or indigenous knowledge, gaining exclusive control over those materials. 

Through intellectual property laws created by Western nations, they can legally lay claim on plants and traditional applications of knowledge, despite the fact they have not innovated or invented anything. The burden of proof then lies on the affected community, which often does not possess the resources or legal knowledge to contest the claims. 

One glaring example of biopiracy the case of the neem tree, which has been an invaluable, “cure-all” resource in India for centuries, and can be sourced back to a number of ancient texts. One of its applications was agricultural – a potent insecticide, neem was fed to livestock to increase soil fertility. 

In the 20th century, the general American public became increasingly skeptical towards synthetic pesticides. Naturally, this sparked a corporate interest in neem, with the industry seeing lucrative potential in its natural appeal for American consumers. Since 1985, over a dozen US patents have been taken out on neem-based solutions and emulsions. As a result, prices skyrocketed, depriving local farmers of access to their traditional plant material, and making them dependent on the company owning the patent. 

Another example of biopiracy: a poster by Navdanya, an Indian-based non-governmental organization that promotes biodiversity conservation cofounded by Vandana Shiva, protesting corporations’ patent of rice.

Effects of biopiracy

Thanks to Western intellectual property right systems (IPRs), corporations (mostly pharmaceutical and agrochemical companies) have been able to scour biodiversity-rich countries for their resources and traditional knowledge, and gain exclusive monopoly rights to anything with commercial value via patent laws. This effectively restricts those communities from access to biological resources that have been part of their cultural heritage for centuries. 

Biopiracy has drastically affected the livelihood of farmers, who are cut off from the seeds they’ve relied on for centuries. Farmers are no longer allowed to exchange seed as they used to since that is now a crime under intellectual property laws. They are forced to buy seed from these corporations, rather than saving it, and generate profits for them. According to Shiva, most of the 300,000 farmer suicides in India happened as a result of Monsanto’s falsely claiming patents on cotton, and trapping farmers in debt through cotton royalties. 

It also has a destructive effect on the environment. Often, the biodiversity of the affected regions become eroded due to practices like monocropping, the practice of growing large amounts of a single crop on the same land. While this may be economically fruitful, it does not provide the diversity needed for a healthy diet or ecosystem. 

Hierarchy of knowledge systems

Throughout the long history of colonialism, and into the present day, Westerners have regarded indigenous knowledge systems of medicine and agriculture as primitive and inferior. Hundreds of years of rich and diverse traditional medicine systems, like Ayurveda, homeopathy, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, are dismissed as unscientific – unless, of course, their knowledge is found to be useful, in which case they are appropriated and legitimized without credit. 

There also exists a fundamental tension between Western and indigenous ideas around ownership. Private property is a keystone of Western society. Traditional IPRs, which are shaped by major Western nations, reflect this individualistic value system and work in favor of corporations that seek to monopolize and control any resource that turns a profit. In contrast, indigenous perspectives are more communally oriented, recognizing the land and water to be a sacred heritage shared by everyone. 

The national sovereignty and basic needs of these regions are compromised in the name of free trade and commerce. The World Trade Organization, an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade, has created systems of law that benefit the multinational corporations, and harm small communities. 

In this 2003 Guardian article, Shiva writes: 

The trade-related intellectual property rights (Trips) agreement is the most far-reaching of all the WTO agreements and threatens to hurt us most. It has changed the law related to patents, copyright, design, and trademarks from national to global levels and redefined vital issues of farmers’ rights to seeds and citizens’ rights to medicine as trade issues. It has also expanded patentability to cover life forms, even though living organisms are not invention. For the US, which forced the changes through, these were matters of commerce. For us, intellectual property rights are matters of national sovereignty and basic needs.

Defending against biopiracy 

There have been some positive steps made towards defending against biopiracy. 

The Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty signed in 1993, was created with the goal of “conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.” 

Since then, there have been two supplementary agreements made to the convention. One is the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, effective 2003, which “aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity.” The other is the Nagoya Protocol, effective 2014, which “aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.”

There have also been legal cases between corporations and indigenous people in which the latter were ruled in favor. 

In 2019, PepsiCo sued 4 farmers for 10 million rupees each for growing a variety of potatoes registered by the company. They claimed their intellectual property rights were being infringed upon under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act, 2001. However, according to the actual details of the act, the farmers were well within their rights to harvest the seed. Pepsico used false claims and intimidation tactics to nearly ruin the lives of farmers who earned a fraction of what they were being sued for annually. 

Reclaiming the Commons

Dr. Vandana Shiva has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, farmers, and small communities. Since the mid-90s, she has promoted traditional knowledge and livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity conservation. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic producers that provide training in sustainable agriculture. 

Reclaiming the Commons is the latest in over 20 books authored by Shiva on biopiracy and environmental justice. It presents details on the specific attempts made by corporations to secure patents on nature, and the legal action taken against them. It is the first detailed legal history of the international and national laws related to biodiversity and international property rights. 

Learn more about Reclaiming the Commons


Sources

The neem tree – a case history of biopiracy
by Vandana Shiva
https://twn.my/title/pir-ch.htm

Points of Law in the Pepsico Potato Case

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/points-of-law-in-the-pepsico-potato-case/article27060326.ece#

Biocolonialism: Examining Biopiracy, Inequality, and Power
by Ashleigh Breske

https://spectrajournal.org/articles/10.21061/spectra.v6i2.a.6/

Living on the Frontline
by Vandana Shiva

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/sep/08/wto.fairtrade8

The Convention on Biological Diversity

https://www.cbd.int/convention/

Seeds of Sustenance & Freedom vs Seeds of Suicide & Surveillance 

https://www.navdanya.org/bija-refelections/2019/09/07/seed-of-sustenance-freedom-vs-seeds-of-suicide-surveillance/

Protect or Plunder: Understanding Intellectual Property Rights by Vandana Shiva
https://www.amazon.com/Protect-Plunder-Understanding-Intellectual-Property/dp/1842771094

Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Living in a Glass House: Earth as a Closed Ecosystem

Life Under Glass: A Message of Planetary Stewardship

We are excited to announce the soon approaching release of the second edition of Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 which tells the inside story of Biosphere 2, and what it was like for eight researchers to be sealed in a giant laboratory for twenty-four months. 

Despite the fact that the biospherians lived isolated within Biosphere 2, the insights from their vision have leaked far beyond the boundaries of the physical structure, forever changing the lives of the crew members and those that came into contact with it, encouraging them to pursue paths of planetary stewardship. 

What was Biosphere 2?

Biosphere 2

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson, Arizona, the 3.15 acres Biosphere 2 facility is the world’s largest closed ecological system. Inside are tropical rainforest, savannah, desert, mangrove marsh, coral reef biomes, a half-acre farm, and human living area.

Biosphere 2 consisted of seven biomes within a three-and-a-half acre closed-ecological system built in Oracle, Arizona. Each of the seven biomes was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on earth, including a tropical rainforest, a savannah, a desert, a marshland , and even an ocean complete with a coral reef! Technologically, architecturally, and ecologically ambitious, it was constructed during 1987-1991, being the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built. 

From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers, called ‘biospherians’, undertook an experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the airtight structure for a period of two years. During this time, the biospherians devoted themselves to caring for their small world, recycling their air, water, and wastes as well as growing their own food. 

In Life Under Glass, biosperian crew members, Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, present the full account of their remarkable two years living within and caring for Biosphere 2. From the daily struggles of growing their own food, to learning to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere. They give us a sense of how Biosphere 2 caught the world’s imagination, tapping into the desire of people to reconnect and forge a new relationship with our planetary biosphere. Its lessons are increasingly relevant in the Anthropocene era as we find ourselves desperately in search of a new direction.

Learn about steps you can take to protect our Biosphere.

The Earth as a Closed-System

Our home has been under threat for decades from the pressure our expanding technosphere has placed upon the biosphere. In one view, the economic and social structures that we now inhabit have been founded upon the premise of “techno-optimism.” Techno-optimism is predicated around the idea that technological progress and development will be used for the betterment of mankind. 

Although, there is truth in the fact that technology has a beneficial impact on many of our lives, its major lack is that technological advancement has not been harmonized with ecological and regenerative practices. To quote R. Buckminster Fuller, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for the wrong reasons.” 

By contrast, Biosphere 2 was carefully designed using non-polluting technologies to support ecology. Similar to our Earth, Biosphere 2 was a closed-systems ecological unit, and the biospherians deliberately factored out the use of any polluting components such as pesticides and chemical products. They did not take up the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that is so widely adopted in our world today. Instead, the biospherians understood that any chemical that leaked into the air, water or earth could be dangerous to their health.

“We understood on a profound level that our health and that of Biosphere 2 were the same. We were intensely aware that every action, everything we did, had immediate consequences. Our bodies understood and rejoiced in our cooperation with and dependence on all life. We had our responsibilities to work cooperatively with our living systems so as to maximize their well-being.” — Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, & Sally Silverstone, Life Under Glass

Living Aboard “Spaceship Earth”

Earlier this year, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, attended the Sundance 2020 Film Festival to attend the premiere of the long-awaited documentary film detailing the long, incredible story behind the construction of Biosphere 2. The film, entitled “Spaceship Earth”, is based in part of the memoir of John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone.

The title of the film alludes to the concept as used by the visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller in the mid-1960s. One of Fuller’s primary concerns was the “vision for comprehensive planetary planning that resulted in new strategies intended to enable all of humanity to live with freedom, comfort and dignity, without negatively impacting the earth’s ecosystems or regenerative ability.” John Allen, Biosphere 2 inventor, was close friends with Buckminster Fuller and drew much inspiration from his ideas. 

“The notion was to create an enclosed space with every form of habitat — ocean, desert, jungle, and more — to act as an accelerated version of Earth, to show the rest of us how to fix our environmental problems and figure out how to colonize other planets… Wolf chronicles how the idea for Biosphere 2 developed into a real, functioning laboratory project…The copious footage — this was an experiment, and someone wanted it documented — shows how the crew had highs and lows, and dealt with challenges such as the build-up of carbon dioxide in the dome…Though it’s clear Wolf sides with the Biospherians, whom he sees as the first people to illustrate the dangers of climate change, the director is smart enough to present the facts and let viewers draw their own conclusion.” — Sundance review: ‘Spaceship Earth’ makes the case for Biosphere 2 as America’s first climate change experiment

Want to learn more about Spaceship Earth? Read: ‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship

Inside Biosphere 2

In the rainforest, Linda Leigh reseeds planting pockets of the cloud forest mountain overlooking the lowland forest area. Fast-growing trees formed the initial canopy, protecting light-sensitive ones which will dominate the rainforest as it matures.

The Interdependence of Life on Earth

 

We live in an extraordinary and delicately balanced biosphere, wholly taking for granted the remarkable processes that supply us with clean water, air, and sustenance. In our modern-day world, it is easy to feel cut off from the interdependent relationships that characterize life on earth, and remaining unconscious of this interconnectivity has come at a high price to the only real home we have.

In these times of unprecedented uncertainty, the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) demonstrates how unnervingly delicate the balance of human life is on earth. Beyond the health issues associated with this virus, the effects that it is inevitably having on our social and economic system are of equal concern. The nature of ecosystem change is slow, and steady, compared with the immediate crisis of the pandemic we are now facing, making ecological crises seem like something distant, and far away, thus not spurring us into action.

Perhaps the strongest lesson millions of people will learn from the dramatic changes in our daily lives is a more profound appreciation for interconnectedness of all life. We are one species of billions that share one home on this planet.


Life Under Glass coverLife Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship from Two Years in Biosphere 2 

Abigail Alling, Mark Nelson, and Sally Silverstone, Foreward by Sylvia A. Earle

Planet in a bottle. Eden revisited. Laboratory under glass. The largest self-sustaining closed ecological system ever made. Biosphere 2 is many things to many people. From its half-acre farm to its coral reef to its emerald rainforest—this unique research facility has proven itself a marvel of human engineering and a testament to the human imagination.

For two years, four men and four women lived and worked inside the structure, recycling their air, water, food, and wastes, and setting a world record for living in an isolated environment. But what has this giant glass-and-steel greenhouse been to those most intimately involved with it? What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for it? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

“Life Under Glass tells the inside story of an extraordinary scientific experiment, one in which a handful of idealistic citizen scientists, at considerable personal risk, volunteered to enter a closed system, Biosphere 2. The audacity of the effort, together with the courage that drove them to persevere, brings to mind that famous quote of Teddy Roosevelt in which he hails not the critics, but those in the arena who strive valiantly, who spend themselves in a worthy cause, and who, if they fail, do so while daring greatly, their faces marred by dust and sweat and blood.  — Professor Wade Davis, BC Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

Available April 2, 2020. If you wish, you can purchase the book now, and you will be sent an email notification when the book arrives and is being shipped.

Purchase Life Under Glass

 

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

‘Spaceship Earth’ and Planetary Stewardship | Sundance 2020

“Spaceship Earth” Documentary on Biosphere 2 Premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Last weekend, some of our authors, John Allen and Mark Nelson, along with publisher, Deborah Snyder, attended the premiere of this long awaited film at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Audiences gave standing ovations. The film is based in part on the memoir by John Allen, Me & the Biospheres, and includes extensive interviews with authors Mark Nelson and Sally Silverstone, both authors of our next book, Life Under Glass, a second edition of the account they wrote while living inside.

“Spaceship Earth” unravels the compelling tale behind Biosphere 2 — the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built, comprised of seven biomes within a three and a half-acre closed ecological unit. Each biome was a carefully created replica of one of the various ecosystems on Earth. The film spans a fifty-year history of the small group of individuals who embarked on this extraordinary venture. Directed by Matt Wolf, Produced by Stacy Reiss (The Eagle Huntress).

Spaceship Earth Crew at Sundance 2020

The Directors and producers with the Biosphere 2 team at the Sundance Film Festival 2020.

Costing $200 million to build, Biosphere 2 was complete with a tropical rainforest, a grassland, a coastal desert, and even a coral containing ocean. From 1991 to 1993 eight researchers across different scientific practices, called ‘Biospherians’, began a two-year-long experiment in which they lived fully enclosed within the structure with the aim of studying how the environments would evolve, and if they could sustain human life. But just how did this wild experiment come to be? 

Chronicling back to San Francisco in the early 1960s, “Spaceship Earth” traces the journey of artist-engineer John Allen and his group of like-minded, free-thinking friends who set about making the earth a more sustainable place through theater, art, and ecologically driven projects. Together, the group formed the avant-garde theater troupe, the Theater of All Possibilities, mixing together noetics, science, and ecology with experimental theater. 

The group went on to establish several other projects including Synergia Ranch, an intentional community in New Mexico focused on ecology, architecture, and art. With Synergia Ranch as their headquarters, the group started to scale into even more ambitious projects, founding the non-profit organization the Institute of Ecotechnics (IE). IE’s main goal has been the development and application of innovative approaches to harmonizing technology and the global biosphere.

The team embarked upon constructing their own hand-built sailing vessel from scratch, starting a sustainable forestry project in Puerto Rico, and even an art gallery in London. Their far-sighted scope ultimately led to their most inspirational project — Biosphere 2.

“Synergia’s members hungered for knowledge and were always looking to one-up themselves, under the philosophy that life could be playful and meaningful if you were open to all possibilities. So in the late 1980s, Allen and his band of visionaries embarked on their most ambitious project ever: the construction of a biosphere that would sustain the lives of eight crew members for two years without any outside interference.” — Matt Patches, “Spaceship Earth uncovers the goodness hidden in the debacle of Biosphere 2

“In the end, Spaceship Earth is an epic story told over the course of 50 years about epic people. That we could imagine everyday humans being as epic as the Synergists and Biospherians is the invitation of the film. What would it take for a small group of people to set their vision and imagination on a wild goal and get up every day to accomplish it? Does that have to be such a wild proposition? Have we become too cynical? Has our belief in possibility diminished? If you need a reminder about the awesome creative potential of humanity, see this film.” — Hariette Yahr , “A reminder about the power of Imagination”, Modern Times, the European Documentary Magazine

Biosphere 2 was built as an educational apparatus to study planetary workings by replicating key components of earth’s (Biosphere 1’s) fantastic diversity, and observing how it evolved in a closed system. Beyond this, the Biospherians took the threat of ecological collapse seriously, wanting to develop a harmonic balance between ecology and technology, potentially suitable to colonize space, and gaining insight into how humans can better our impacts on earth’s biosphere.

A Testament to the Power of Small Groups  

Ultimately, the story behind Biosphere 2, and the many initiatives driven forward by the Institute of Ecotechnics serve as a testament to the power of small groups. Wild dreams of envisioning a better world do not have to be cast-off as an idealistic pastime, but rather they can become an even more productive reality when put into an actionable plan. 

A Beacon of Planetary Stewardship 

Today Biosphere 2 continues to serve as a beacon of hope with a message grounded in harmonizing human actions with nature. One of the most crucial insights that we can draw from the Biosphere 2 project is that we already live in a closed ecological system, Biosphere 1, the Earth!  

We can re-empower ourselves with the knowledge and know that what we do as individuals makes a difference to the outcome at large. In the words of Buckminster Fuller:

“I’ve often heard people say: ‘I wonder what it would feel like to be onboard a spaceship,’ and the answer is very simple. What does it feel like? That’s all we have ever experienced. We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth.” 


What Reviewers Said About Spaceship Earth 

“The film’s larger frame is something more spiritual, an innate quest for knowledge and adventure whose principal crime was naiveté. Operating outside the usual government and academic realms for such projects, the Biosphere 2 personnel weren’t prepared for the extent to which they’d be scrutinized and dismissed for that independence. Drawing on a wealth of archival materials as well as interviews with all surviving participants, “Spaceship” is an involving, oddly poignant tale that should have broad appeal to those on the lookout for distinctive documentary features.” — Dennis Harvey, “‘Spaceship Earth’: Film Review for Variety


Books on Biosphere 2

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2 

Me and the Biospheres: A Memoir by the Inventor of Biosphere 2In today’s world, where the problems of climate change, pollution and ecological destruction become ever more pressing, we often tend to forget about the things which have already and are still being done for the environment, in attempts to align man with the natural world.

The 2009 Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Biography/Memoir, Me and the Biospheres is the definitive autobiography of John P. Allen, inventor of the largest laboratory for global ecology ever built and one of the most luminous minds of our time. Contained within a magnificently designed air-tight glass and steel frame structure, Biosphere 2 covered three acres of Arizona desert and included models of seven biomes: an ocean with coral reef, a marsh, a rainforest, a savannah, a desert, farming areas and a micro-city. Eight people lived inside this structure for two years (1991-1993) and set world records in human life support, monitoring their impact on the environment, while providing crucial data for future manned missions into outer space. Anyone concerned with the current world trajectory will identify with Allen’s uplifting account of the most ambitious environmental experiment ever undertaken. Humorous and Whitmanesque, Me and the Biospheres is a tribute to the ingenuity and dauntlessness of the human mind and a passionate call to reawaken to the beauty of our peerless home, Biosphere 1, the Earth.
 

APRIL 2020

Life Under Glass: Crucial Lessons in Planetary Stewardship Learned from Two Years in Biosphere 2

What has it meant to the first crew who studied and cared for Biosphere 2? What was it really like to be sealed inside a giant laboratory for twenty-four months?

In Life Under Glass, crew members, Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson with co-captain Sally Silverstone present the full account of those two remarkable years. From the struggles of growing their own food, to learning how to help sustain their life-giving atmosphere, the general reader is offered a rare glimpse into how a group of dedicated researchers managed to surprise the world and fulfill their dream. In this updated edition, a new chapter reflects on the legacy of Biosphere 2 and the state of related scientific progress. Other crews will come and go, but no one else will face the risks, the uncertainties, and the challenges that this new breed of explorers did on Biosphere 2’s maiden voyage. Here is the fascinating story of how it all unfolded—the dramatic tales of learning to live in a separate world under glass.

Browse books on Sustainability & Ecology

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch in San Francisco

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch in San Francisco

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Prayer OfferingSecret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

We want to issue a massive thank you to everyone who joined us for our Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch at Haight Street Art Center on 18th November in San Francisco as well as those who attended  Psychedelic Sangha’s DARSHAN 9 event that took place at Lang College of the New School in New York. Both events were aimed at exploring and celebrating the convergence of psychedelic studies and Buddhism whilst simultaneously celebrating the launch of Michael Crowley’s new book.

The Book Launch was kicked off with a mantra meditation led by Michael Crowley in which he relayed a yogic technique from the Dzogchen tradition which helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Experience Michael’s guided meditation here.

Psychedelics in Buddhism: Evidence of Amrita in Tibetan Art

 

The scriptures of the Vajrayāna repeatedly make reference to a sacrament called amrita, the  Sanskrit term for ‘immortality’. The word amrita is significantly older than the Vajrayāna and was also used within the ancient Indian scripture, the Rig Veda, (composed c. 2000 BC) as a synonym for soma, the divine intoxicant. At the Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch, Mike Crowley gave a presentation highlighting the ubiquitous prevalence of amrita in Tibetan art as well as recounting personal anecdotes about his path as an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage.

Panel Discussion on Buddhism and Psychedelics led by Erik Davis (Psychedelic Sangha)

One of the highlights of the evening was a panel discussion moderated by author, podcaster, and award-winning journalist, Erik Davis. Erik Davis also is co-founder of the Psychedelic Sangha in NYC and actively organises the San Francisco Sangha. 

Many psychedelics are reentering culture under the necessity of the medicalisation framework due to the hierarchy of approvals that are needed to legitimise them as healing tools. Psychoactive substances and the Buddhist tradition converge on the aphex of spiritual experience. This discussion served to “probe the heretical edge” of this controversial, but crucial topic, exploring the relationship between psychedelic sacraments and Buddhist practice; the importance of the role of community (Sangha) in integrating mystical experiences; the ways in which Buddhist doctrine and practice is inherently ‘psychedelic’ and much more.

Erik Davis, Mariavittoria Mangini, David Presti, and Allan Badiner at Secret Drugs of Buddhism discussion panel

Discussion panel with Erik Davis, Mariavittoria Mangini, David Presti, and Allan Badiner

Panellists included: 

Erik Davis, author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, a cult classic of visionary media studies. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, including Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. His latest book, High Weirdness, explores the new counterculture of drugs, esoterica and visionary experience that emerged in the 1970s. 

Mariavittoria Mangini Ph.D., FNP is a member of faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Program. Her academic interest has been the historiography of psychedelics and she has written extensively on the impact of psychedelic experiences in shaping the lives of her contemporaries. 

David Presti Ph.D. is a neurobiologist, psychologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1991. Since 2004, He has been teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks and nuns in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, part of a contemporary dialogue between science and spirituality initiated by the Dalai Lama.

Allan Badiner is a contributing editor at Tricycle magazine, and the editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. He also edited the books, Dharma Gaia: A Harvest in Buddhism and Ecology, and Mindfulness in the Marketplace. Allan holds an MA from the College of Buddhist Studies in LA and serves on the boards of Rainforest Action Network, Threshold Foundation, and Project CBD.

Deborah Parrish Snyder at the Secret Drugs of Buddhism book launch marvelling @phaneros_art's visionary gallery.

Publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder at the Secret Drugs of Buddhism book launch marvelling Sander Bos’ “The Veil”

Partners & Exhibitors

We’d also like to give a special thanks to the San Francisco Psychedelic Society for partnering and exhibiting with us, and the SF Dharma Collective for exhibiting and helping to make this evening such a uplifting event. 

The renowned curator Phaneros Art awed us with an elevating exhibit of visionary art, including paintings by artists like Sander Bos and Bernard Dumaine. Phaneros Art is a platform devoted to curating peak experiences through showcasing visionary art, with the word Phaneros coming from the Greek phan “to show” and eros “love.

Musical Offerings

No Book Launch would be complete without a little celebratory party. The musical offerings of the evening included Sound Temple, a soul soothing duo comprised of Stephen Kent, the pioneering Australian Aborinal didjeridu player, and ritualistic teacher and performer, Jeffrey Alpjonsus Mooney. Following this, LA-based Lynda Arnold, otherwise known as Divasonic, graced us with her healing melodies. The night was concluded by DJ Goz, SF-based Michael Gosney who has been producing transformational events since the 1980s such as a Digital Be-In series, and Burning Man Community Dance series.

Cover Art of 2nd Edition of Secret Drugs of Buddhism by Michael Crowley About Secret Drugs of Buddhism 

Did the Buddhists of the ancient world make use of shamanic plants and psychedelic sacraments in their sacred rituals and practices?

This is the provocative question that Buddhist lama and author, Michael Crowley, explores in his recently re-published book, Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayāna.

Drawing on scriptural sources, botany, pharmacology, and religious iconography, Crowley calls attention to the central role which psychedelics have played in Indian religions and traces their history from the mysterious soma, venerated in the ancient Hindu scriptures, to amrita, the sacramental drink of the Vajrayāna.

Get your copy of Secret Drugs of Buddhism


More About San Francisco Psychedelic Society 

San Francisco Psychedelic Society Logo

The San Francisco Psychedelic Society is a Bay Area organization devoted to weaving community with people from all walks of life who share an interest in the exploration of altered states of consciousness. They frequently organize events with the purpose of educating people on psychoactive substances, providing support, and opportunities for integration and spirtual growth. The current leaders of the San Francisco Psychedelic Society include Deth Warner, Danielle Negrin, and Damla Gunngor.

Keep up-to-date with the San Francisco Psychedelic Society psychedelicsocietysf.org or @psychedelicsocietysf

More About Psychedelic Sangha

Psychedelic Sangha Logo Sangha संघ (saṃgha) is Sanskrit for “spiritual community.” Psychedelic Sangha offers a safe and supportive spiritual community with a commitment to discernment, practice, and play. They provide refuge to those who value the integration of Indic-based yoga and meditation with psychedelic exploration. Psychedelic Sangha is headquartered in NYC, with groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boulder, and Montréal.

Their public mission is to organize and host spiritual trips—immersive experiences that facilitate the encounter of psychedelics and meditation in a spirit of critical dialogue, ethics, community-building, and navigational group practice. 

Keep up-to-date with Psychedelic Sangha @Psychedelic_sangha or psychedelicsangha.org


About the Author Michael Crowley

Author of Secret Drugs of Buddhism Mike CrowleyMichael Crowley was born February 26th, 1948 in Cardiff, Wales. He began studying Buddhism with a Tibetan lama in 1966, becoming an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage in 1970. In order to augment his Buddhist studies, he acquainted himself with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese. Mike has lectured at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific, Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has been published in Fortean Times, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, Psychedelic American, and Psychedelic Press UK. In January 2016, Mike received the R. Gordon Wasson Award for outstanding contributions to the field of entheobotany. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Psychedelic Sangha, a group of psychedelically-inclined Buddhists, based in New York and he teaches at the Dharma Collective in San Francisco.


Other Books on Psychedelics by Synergetic Press

Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics edited by Allan BadinerZig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics edited by Allan Badiner 

More than ever, people are in pursuit of greater fulfillment in their lives, seeking a deeper spiritual truth and strategies for liberation from suffering. Both Buddhism and psychedelics are inevitable subjects encountered on the journey to wisdom. Examined together, the reader may understand more deeply the essence of each. Edited by Tricycle contributing editor Allan Badiner and with art edited by renowned visionary artist Alex GreyZig Zag Zen features a foreword by Buddhist scholar Stephen Batchelor, a preface by religion historian Huston Smith, and numerous essays, interviews, and art, that lie outside the scope of mainstream anthologies.

Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs edited by Dennis McKenna and Wade Davis published by Synergetic PressEthnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research (1967-2017) edited by Dennis McKenna

Certain plants have long been known to contain healing properties and used to treat everything from depression and addiction, to aiding in on one’s own spiritual well-being for hundreds of years. Can Western medicine find new cures for human ailments by tapping into indigenous plant wisdom? And why the particular interest in the plants with psychoactive properties? These two conference volume proceedings provide an abundance of answers. The first international gathering of researchers held in San Francisco, California on this subject was in 1967, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and U.S. Public Health Service. It was an interdisciplinary group of specialists gathered in one place to share their findings on a topic that was gaining widespread interest: The use of psychoactive plants in indigenous societies. The WAR ON DRUGS which intervened slowed advances in this field.

Research, however, has continued, and in the fifty years since that first conference, new and significant discoveries have been made. A new generation of researchers, many inspired by the giants present at that first conference, has continued to investigate the outer limits of ethnopsychopharmacology. In June of 2017, once again specialists from around the world in fields of ethnopharmacology, chemistry, botany, and anthropology gathered to discuss their research and findings in a setting that encouraged the free and frank exchange of information and ideas onthe last 50 years of research, and assess the current and possible futures for research in ethnopsychopharmacology. The papers given at the 2017 Symposium, organized by Dr. Dennis McKenna, appear in this handsome two-volume boxed collectors set represents perhaps themost significant body of knowledge in this interdisciplinary field available.

Browse related books on consciousness and psychedelics

 

Synergetic Symposium and Salon: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

Synergetic Symposium and Salon: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch

We are delighted to announce a one-of-a-kind event exploring and celebrating the convergence of psychedelic studies and Buddhism with the launch of The Secret Drugs of Buddhism by Mike Crowley. Hosted by our publisher, Deborah Parrish Snyder, and associate publisher, Michael Gosney at the beautiful Haight Street Art Center in San Francisco on 18th October 2019. 

The evening’s experiences include:

The evening’s experiences include:

• Mantra Meditation led by Mike Crowley

• Panel Discussion: Buddhism and Psychedelics
Erik Davis – (Psychedelic Sangha, moderator)
Allan Badiner – author, Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics
David Presti – Prof. of Neurobiology, UC Berkeley
Mariavittoria Mangini, PhD, FNP – CIIS Psychedlic-Assisted Therapy program

• Mike Crowley presentation and book signing

• Musical Offerings
Sound Temple with Stephen Kent and Jeffrey Alphonsos Mooney

Deep Jam with Mike Crowley and emergent players

Divasonic – live electronic set

DJ Goz – closing grooves

• Exhibitors:
Psychedelic Society of San Francisco
SF Dharma Collective
MAPS

• Visionary Art by Phaneros Gallery

• Cash bar (by donation) – wine and beer

When & Where? 

The Synergetic Salon and Symposium: Secret Drugs of Buddhism Book Launch will take place on Friday, 18th October at San Francisco’s Haight Street Art Center, with doors opening at 7:00 pm. 

Buy Tickets Here  

Buddhism & Psychedelics Panelists Include: 

Erik DavisErik Davis Ph.D. is an author, podcaster, award-winning journalist, and popular speaker based in San Francisco. He is the author of TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, a cult classic of visionary media studies. He has contributed chapters on art, music, technoculture, and contemporary spirituality to over a dozen books, including Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. His latest book, High Weirdness, explores the new counterculture of drugs, esoterica and visionary experience that emerged in the 1970s. He is also co-founder of Psychedelic Sangha, organizing the San Francisco Sangha. 

Allan BadinerAllan Badiner is a contributing editor at Tricycle magazine, and the editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics. He also edited the books, Dharma Gaia: A Harvest in Buddhism and Ecology, and Mindfulness in the Marketplace, and his written work appears in other books including Dharma Family Treasures, Meeting the Buddha, Ecological Responsibility: A Dialogue with Buddhism, and The Buddha and the Terrorist. Allan holds an MA from the College of Buddhist Studies in LA and serves on the boards of Rainforest Action Network, Threshold Foundation, and Project CBD. He has been a student of Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, for more than 25 years.

David Presti Ph.D. is a neurobiologist, psychologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1991. Between 1990 and 2000, he worked as a clinical psychologist in the treatment of addiction and of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco. Since 2004, He has been teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks and nuns in India, Bhutan, and Nepal, part of a contemporary dialogue between science and spirituality initiated by the Dalai Lama. His areas of expertise include human neurobiology and neurochemistry, the effects of drugs on the brain and the mind, the clinical treatment of addiction, and the scientific study of mind and consciousness.

Maria ManginiMariavittoria Mangini Ph.D., FNP is a member of faculty at California Institute of Integral Studies Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy Program. Her academic interest has been the historiography of psychedelics and she has written extensively on the impact of psychedelic experiences in shaping the lives of her contemporaries. She has worked closely with many of the most distinguished investigators in this field. Her current project is the development of a Thanatology Program for the study of death and dying.

Secret Drugs of Buddhism Pre-Order Discount

Did the Buddhists of the ancient world make use of shamanic plants and psychedelic sacraments in their sacred rituals? This is the broad topic that Buddhist lama and author, Michael Crowley, attempts to unfurl in his book Secret Drugs of Buddhism: Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayāna. Crowley’s book is the culmination of over forty years of research exploring the extensive historical evidence for the use of entheogenic plants within the Buddhist tradition. Learn more about the Secret Drugs of Buddhism.

To further celebrate the release of this exciting book, we are currently offering a 40% discount on all pre-order purchases of Secret Drugs of Buddhism.

Pre-order Secret Drugs of Buddhism

Evan Hirsch Interview with Mike Crowley at Psychedelic Science 2017

“There is no fluff, it is just solid information. The reason that someone might want to read it [Secret Drugs of Buddhism] is that it legitimises the use of psychedelics in a sane and responsible manner for spiritual progress. It shows that for hundreds of years that were used perfectly well, perfectly safely in this manner when used with great respect and used in a spiritual context.” —Mike Crowley

More About the Author, Michael Crowley 

Mike Crowley - The authorMichael Crowley was born on February 26th, 1948 in Cardiff, Wales. He began studying Buddhism with a Tibetan lama in 1966, becoming an upasaka of the Kagyud lineage in 1970. In order to augment his Buddhist studies, he acquainted himself with Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese. Mike has lectured at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific, Warsaw, the Jagiellonian University, Cracow, the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His work has been published in Fortean Times, Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness, and Culture, Psychedelic American, and Psychedelic Press UK. In January 2016, Mike received the R. Gordon Wasson Award for outstanding contributions to the field of entheobotany. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Psychedelic Sangha, a group of psychedelically-inclined Buddhists, based in New York and he teaches at the Dharma Collective in San Francisco.

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: 5th International Psychedelic Conference

Breaking Convention: More than a Conference

This August, Breaking Convention, one of the world’s largest conferences on psychoactive substances took place at the University of Greenwich, London. Over 1500 people attended, coming together to share and discuss psychoactive substances from a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds. 

More than a conference, Breaking Convention’s program featured over 150 interdisciplinary presentations across the span of three days covering five simultaneous academic tracks – not to mention the various workshops, art installations, musical performances, and stalls (of which we were proud to be one). 

David Luke speaking at Breaking Convention

Dr. David Luke, co-director of Breaking Convention, talking about altered stated of consciousness.

Not limited strictly to the scientific, Breaking Convention presents a unique convergence of voices, weaving together a multi-layered narrative, skillfully incorporating the numerous perspectives involved in today’s dialogue on psychedelics, encapsulating insights from neuroscientists, psychologists, psychotherapists, anthropologists, spiritual practitioners and many more. 

We found ourselves truly overwhelmed with the tightly packed schedule of quality speakers, unable to choose between one talk and another. Lucky for us, the team at Breaking Convention records and broadcasts all of the talks online free of charge. Watch their video lectures here.

In the days leading up to the conference, there were also several related events hosted around Greenwich. One of our personal favorites was the comedy show hosted by UK Psychedelic Comedy featuring stand-up comedians Shane Mauss, and Adam Strauss. Needless to say, we laughed a lot and even learned a little in the process.

The Psychedelic Renaissance

Breaking Convention Group photo from 2016

Breaking Convention group photo from 2016

Well beyond the anti-drug backlash of 1960s counter-culture, times are changing. Many psychoactive substances are slowly on their way to being decriminalized, with the mental stigma and cultural baggage associated with psychedelics dissolving. 

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of research into the therapeutic potentials of these substances. The growing body of scientific research continues to demonstrate the psychological, medical, and spiritual value of many psychoactive substances leading to their reevaluation in mainstream consciousness.

The psychedelic renaissance is here, and the growing interest in these substances can be observed in the fact that Breaking Convention has seen a marked rise in interest surrounding the conference, with each iteration of the conference growing in size. Psychedelics are becoming more commonly accepted, no longer considered fringe or radical. 

Extinction Alert: In Response to the Ecological Crisis

This year, Breaking Convention placed a heavy focus on the current ecological crisis and the extinction threat that we face collectively as a species, acknowledging the copious evidence that supports that our planet is in a state of ecological crisis. 

Over the last century, industrialized human civilization has upset the natural balance of life and as a consequence we are in the 6th wave of mass extinction, facing a rapid loss of species estimated to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. As organisms with psychedelic properties may constitute part of the medicine cabinet of our future, Breaking Convention as a cultural and educational organization declared a state of ecological emergency and it supports efforts to educate the public on this situation.

Dr. Gail Bradbrook co-founder of Extinction Rebellion gave a talk about the ecological crisis, stating: 

“I’m not actually here to really push this idea of nature connection even though I believe it’s foundational because I don’t think we have time to really write that in us. I think that it is going to be many centuries of work and I want it to happen. Because this issue is systemic we have to think about the system itself and how that sits in us.” 

Watch Dr. Gail Bradbrook’s talk below. 

Find out more about Extinction Rebellion.

Keep up-to-date with Breaking Convention

Breaking Convention LogoIn early 2015, Breaking Convention achieved registration as a UK charity. Its main objectives include organizing and hosting their biennial academic conference which brings together multiple disciplines associated with research into psychedelic substances. Further, they are concerned with promoting and supporting research in psychoactive substances and assisting in the dissemination of useful findings from such research, publishing an academic collection of essays submitted by the speakers of each conference. It is in their aims to purchase physical premises to act as a psychedelic charity shop and workspace within London. The Psychedelic Museum will sell books and wares, acting both as a networking space and a place to raise money for the organization. 

Interested in getting involved? Stay tuned with their latest developments and events through their website

BreakingConvention on FB or BreakingConvention_uk

Pin It on Pinterest