My journey into the world of plants in relation to consciousness and spirituality began some fifteen years ago when I accepted an offer to teach a course in Sociology and Anthropology on the topic of Science, Religion and Environment. As a professor in plant biology, the thought of teaching a discipline that was so far beyond my expertise was quite unnerving. The focus of research ever since the beginning of my career has been on the investigation of an inherent property of plant cells which allows them to regenerate into complete beings. The students in the humanities program found this journey of a single cell into a whole plant simply astonishing. To my amazement it quickly became a topic of an interesting discussion “is this ability to regenerate in perpetuity a reflection of the spirit of the plant?” I must admit that the connection between plants and spirituality emerging from the regenerative capacity of the plant cell presented a rather scary but fascinating platform for an exciting course of investigation.
The more I searched ancient scriptures of different cultures, the more I became aware that humans have a deep emotional connection with plants which is reflected in the doctrines immersed in their mythological stories, religious texts, and descriptions of traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to invite scholars in humanities to discuss topics such as the association of plants with divinity, worship of certain plants as Gods, plant based practices such as Ayahuasca known to induce a higher level of consciousness, and the events of enlightenment under specific trees. Interestingly, these tales of traditional wisdom depicted a close relationship of nearly all stages of plant life with some aspect of spirituality. Thus, the quest to understand the role of plants in human spirituality began and the idea of Spiritual Botany came into existence. In this context, the complex phenomena of consciousness, enlightenment and spirituality entail the journey of the discovery and awareness of the self as influenced by plants.
Overtime, my views expanded and I could relate to the portrayal of plants in many world religions as sacred sensory organs of the earth that mediate all five essential elements of the environment and enrich our life experiences. As well, the philosophy of inter-connectivity of the plants, people, and the rest of the planet was now easy to comprehend. My involvement in teaching cross cultural perspectives on religion and environment was brief, but it ingrained a new dimension in ways I admired plants. I started to include a couple of lectures on mind altering plants, mindfulness and spirituality in my new science course on medicinal plants which received immense attention from the students. At this stage, research programs on the biology of plant propagation in my lab led to the establishment of the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation (GRIPP) to address the issues of fast diminishing plant biodiversity. The mission of GRIPP included dissemination of ideas and information on the significance of conserving biocultural diversity. Unfortunately, medicinal plants face serious threats of extinction worldwide. The moment to initiate the development of a medium to express and bring together the scientific and philosophical views on plants and plant-based practices that influence our wellness as well as the sustainability of natural resources had come.
Botany and Spirituality are recognised disciplines on their own with rich traditions and knowledge generated by dedicated scholars, researchers, shamans, and enlightened teachers. In the context of this magazine, Spiritual Botany is defined as the science of plant environment interactions in exploration of human consciousness, spirituality, and health. Plants have unique powers to manipulate and modulate human perceptions and behaviours through direct chemical interactions but also through indirect inspirational activities. In recent years, we have begun to understand the importance of the synergy of plant medicines and traditional mindfulness practices and their effects on the efficacy of medical treatments. We live in a time, where now more than ever, greater awareness, understanding, and discourse for the intricate relationship between plants, spirituality and human health are needed, and I hope Spiritual Botany Magazine will become a platform to make this happen.
Spiritual Botany Magazine has been a work in progress for many years and I am very grateful to my family, friends, students and research associates for sharing their wisdom and enthusiasm which consistently inspired me to envision different approaches to research the world of plants. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Philip Gosling and Mrs. Susan Gosling for their friendship and support in making my vision of Spiritual Botany a reality.
Praveen Saxena, PhD
Editor-in-chief, Spiritual Botany Magazine
Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Director of the Gosling Research Institute for Plant Preservation, Guelph, Ontario, Canada