Ayahuasca Does Not Deceive

Ayahuasca Does Not Deceive


Amazonia expert explores ayahuasca from the perspective of an elder of the indigenous Shawi people.

Rafael Chanchari and I met in the courtyard of a hotel in Iquitos. He wore khaki pants and a white short-sleeved shirt with a couple of pens protruding from the front pocket. We sat down together at a quiet table. We were the only customers in the establishment. A creaky pedestal fan whirred nearby.

Chanchari works in the Peruvian Amazon, where he teaches young indigenous teachers in training. He also describes himself as a medico, a Spanish word for “doctor” or “healer” used locally to refer to specialists who heal people with indigenous medicine.

I began by saying that people in different countries had recently developed an interest in ayahuasca, and it seemed important that they have access to Amazonian voices on the subject. He nodded in agreement. ...

People in the Peruvian Amazon commonly refer to ayahuasca as la purga, “the purge,” so I asked Chanchari if purging (vomiting after taking ayahuasca) was an important part of the brew’s medicinal effect.

“Yes, it cleans the stomach of all the impurities that we ingest with our food and drink. Look, when you want to purge, when you want to clean out your stomach in order to drink ayahuasca, you don’t need to diet that much; you can eat and drink. And if you drink ayahuasca on a full stomach, within 30 minutes or so, you will vomit and go to the toilet, and this will clean you out, but it will not make you dizzy. And if you drink a brew made only from the leaves of the ayahuasca vine, this is magnificent for purging. It doesn’t make you drunk, but it sends you to the bathroom for a total cleanse. It empties you.”

He gave a clear description of how a medico could use ayahuasca to do healing work. But I had a nagging suspicion that the brew could also mislead people.

So I asked, “Can ayahuasca deceive you?”

“Ayahuasca does not deceive,” he replied. “People are the ones who deceive.”

“Meaning that people deceive themselves?”

“Yes. Ayahuasca does not deceive you; ayahuasca tells the truth. How could ayahuasca deceive you? It looks at you and sees everything that you are and everything that you have, as well as when you will die. Because humans have to die at some point. Ayahuasca also makes you see that you will die.”

“But I have seen people,” I said, “mainly foreigners, who drink ayahuasca and then claim that ayahuasca told them to do such-and-such, and it turns out to be nonsense.”

“Yes,” he replied.

“So it seems to me that one needs to learn the difference between seeing things that are true and seeing things that are not. Does that seem right to you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “Listen—”

“So,” I said, interrupting him, “that means that ayahuasca misleads people, doesn’t it?”

“It is not that ayahuasca lies, but rather that lies and truth exist in the world, and ayahuasca allows you to see this. Ayahuasca focuses on the great human values; on the environment of your personal life in the past, present, and future; on the greater aspects of life in a community, a nation, or the world. It does not focus on nonsense. And it allows you to see the negative impacts of human activities on the environment, through destruction and lack of care.” ...

“Regarding your question, for my part I make a distinction between hallucinations and visions. In my experience, with ayahuasca, when you hear a message, it is true; And when you see a screen in front of you showing what is going on in the world, this is also true. But sometimes you have what seems like an intuition, and you think ‘maybe that’s how things are happening,’ and this is not true.”

“And how do you learn to tell the difference?”

“You need human values to be able to make the distinction. And this takes practice and experience, not just one or two days, but over a long period. Now that I have experience, the things I hear and see are true, but there are times when I have premonitions, and they are not true.”

“So the problem is that one contributes to the process by making projections?”

“Yes, that’s right. That’s where the lie is: You have what feels like an intuition, you are imagining things, and then you affirm them, but they are not true.”

Adapted excerpt from Plant Teachers: Ayahuasca, Tobacco, and the Pursuit of Knowledge Copyright ©2021 by Jeremy Narby, PhD, and Rafael Chanchari Pizuri. Printed with permission from New World Library—www.

Ayahuasca plant

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