The Parliament of World Religions, in Toronto, Canada. November 1-7, 2018

Ayahuasca Spiritualities at the Parliament of the World’s Religions For the first time since the Parliament of the World’s Religions began in 1893, indigenous peoples of the Amazon attended this global interfaith gathering in a spirit of inclusion, respect, compassion and tolerance. The Parliament was held from November 1-7, 2018 in Toronto, Canada, and indigenous spiritual leaders from Peru (Elena Valera Vasquez, Shipibo), Colombia (Miguel Evanjuanoy Chindoy, Inga), and Brazil (Benki Piyãko, Asháninka) were joined by a team of key players in the global ayahuasca spiritual movement. The objective, which was successful, was to effectively raise awareness on traditional spiritual practices of indigenous peoples and other religious/therapeutic minority groups in which the use of ayahuasca stands central. As such, a multidisciplinary approach was facilitated through the inclusion of researchers and representatives of the Union of Indigenous Yagé Medics of the Colombian Amazon (UMIYAC), the Santo Daime church, and ICEERS. The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the world’s largest and most diverse interfaith gathering, which takes place every four years in different cities around the world. It is attended by thousands of people representing over 200 religions and spiritual traditions, gathering in mutual respect and working together to discuss solutions to humanity’s global problems such as climate change, war, poverty, sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination and injustices. The group of 15 people collectively made an impression on the thousands of people gathered at this event – people from different walks of life who were open to hearing about the importance of spiritual and religious protection for ayahuasca traditions. Men and women from around the world have opened their hearts and minds to the message of the Amazonian individuals who participated. This message not only included a strong demand for legal recognition of traditional medicinal and spiritual practices with ayahuasca, but also a plea to take care of mother nature. They consider the widespread destruction of nature as an endangerment to traditional knowledge, spiritual traditions and the cultures of indigenous peoples, and that therefore both issues need to be addressed simultaneously. Mainly because traditions with plant medicines facilitate the reconnection with nature, helping us address the current planetary crisis more effectively. In recognition of the spiritual traditions that work with ayahuasca, the Parliament of the World’s Religions had offered the indigenous group the main stage during the Justice assembly. As they stood on stage together, listening to icaros from Elena and Benki, the group was invited to join the the collective prayer for a stronger recognition of ayahuasca as a traditional medicine. Ayahuasca is  a master plant and/or a religious sacrament used by indigenous peoples, and increasingly non-indigenous people around the globe. All to ensure a future where carriers of this medicine can move freely and where the sacred lands of the indigenous stewards are protected and restored to their care. Activities:
  • Ayahuasca Spiritualities double booth:   The presentation room (booth) in the exhibit hall was permanently staffed by members of the collaboration who spoke with hundreds of peoples about ayahuasca over a 7-day period. The booth included an alter featuring key artifacts related to ayahuasca spiritualities, flyers and framed posters/pictures. 
  • Ayahuasca Spiritualities presentations: This was a formal 1.5 hour presentation on ayahuasca spiritualities, featuring 5 speakers. This presentation was accepted through the formal Parliament submission process. (Part 1 and Part 2, livestream videos)
  • Public fundraising event: This evening event was organized by the Toronto Psychedelic Society on November 3 at Alternity community café and space. It was attended by – mostly locals – from different sectors of society and featured talks by delegation members, audience Q&A, and the sharing of sacred songs.
  • Main stage performance:   All 15-members of the group were invited onto the main stage of the parliament to introduce ayahuasca spiritualities in a brief discourse (presented by Benjamin Mudge). Elena Valera Vazquez (Shipibo, Peru) and Benki Piyãko (political and spiritual leader of the Asháninka, Brazil) shared sacred songs with thousands of parliament attendees. (Video of Elena’s Icaro livestreamed: skip to 1hour45mins)
  • Entheognic plant medicine presentation:   This was a two-hour presentation in collaboration with the delegation from the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative. “Entheogenic Plant Medicines: An Introduction for Spiritual Practitioners” was attended by a diverse audience that included representatives from UN Environment, indigenous peoples, spiritual leaders, and Parliament attendees.
  • Interfaith Rainforest Initiative  During his participation at the Parliament, Benki Piyãko (Asháninka, Brazil) was invited to an additional panel organized by the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, an important international and interfaith partnership on forest conservation funded by UN Environment. Also included in the panel discussion was Davi Kopenawa Yanomami – a well respected indigenous leader from Brazil. (Video of presentation by Benki Piyãko at minute 12:05)
  • Dozens of parallel meetings and participation in Parliament events
  • Crowdfunding campaign video:  Crowfunding video was viewed over 30,000 times and posts and livestreams from the event received thousands of views, likes, and shares. The video made it possible for all these viewers to feel included in the mission to the Parliament. Over 190 individuals contributed to the crowdfunding campaign.
This global stage represented an important opportunity to introduce the ayahuasca spiritual movement, at a time when ayahuasca ceremony facilitators are suffering religious persecution because the tea is getting caught in international drug control mechanisms. Furthermore, the indigenous ayahuasca spiritual traditions have profound spiritual wisdom, and deep connection with Mother Nature, which are precisely the positive influences that Western society needs in this critical era. In fact, many of the words shared by our Amazonian group members spoke to the importance of ayahuasca in supporting their communities to implement strategies to maintain ecological balance in a time where their territories are threatened by extractive industries and policies.   

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