Jonathan West is on a mission to set up a Sanatana Dharma Vedic and Shamanic Retreat in Ecuador in South America. His retreat hopes to combine the Shamanic tradition of South America and Vedic traditions of India.
In this interview with CSP he talks about his dream and why it is important to realise it.
Why are you setting up this retreat combining the beautiful traditions of Indian and South America?
The retreat is to provide a space for people of the world to go, find peace and heal. The retreat is to provide a space for all to come to explore their inner Self and their connection to divine. To meditate, practice and learn Yoga, work with Shamans and Gurus, to conduct ceremony, to learn and expand their consciousness and find their connection to Self. A safe space for all seekers, not just Hindus, but because of the truths I have personally realized, Sanatan Dharma and Shamanic traditions will be the focus. It will be setup as a non-profit and will be made available to all, regardless of income level and focus on keeping prices reasonable just enough to cover costs supporting Shamans, Gurus, and food. I do not want any of our fellow brothers and sisters to be denied based on financial ability. For those unable to afford the retreat financially, I will offer work exchange allowing seekers to stay up to the full term of the Ecuadorian visa of three months. As the retreat will be open to all, it is also my hope that a retreat like this will help heal the gap we find created by Abrahamic faiths of the world working against Sanatan Dharma and other polytheistic and pagan traditions in the world.
It is a retreat combining a Hindu temple with attached sacred ceremony space in front for ancient Vedic ceremonial tradition including Soma in addition to sacred Maloka and Temazcal ceremony spaces for Shamanic tradition. A conjunction of two of the most ancient spiritual practices and paths to exist in our human history.
I have chosen the ideal location for this retreat, a valley in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Ecuador alongside a river providing clean water next to which a Hindu Temple can be constructed as per ancient tradition alongside the river in addition to the sacred Shamanic ceremonial spaces. There are multiple suitable properties in this valley alongside this river for this project and I have already scouted many of them. The valley provides an ideal and comfortable climate for year around retreats.
As this will be a blending of ancient Sanatan Dharma/Vedic tradition with South American Shamanic tradition, in addition to the Hindu temple with attached sacred ceremonial space, there will be two Temazcal (sweat lodges) as well as a large Maloka, a covered ceremonial space with space for central sacred fire with adequate space for up to 60 participants.
What kind of a training did you undergo to come to this path?
My previous experience after my time in the military and at UC Berkeley for a business degree was in running my own business for 15 years. I have done no formal training regarding spirituality beyond my own spiritual path, experiences and research. I will however as I continue on this path become a Shaman myself, perhaps the first Vedic Shaman in South America, and in the process of joining Sanatan Dharma & Shamanism and strengthening the spiritual ties between Ecuador and India, spend time in India working with gurus and temples there.
What circumstances led to the point where you were introduced to Vedic traditions?
My life and the winding spiritual path I took is my inspiration for all I do now. Being raised Catholic, I was never spiritual only religious. No one in my family was spiritual. We participated in church every Sunday, it was a routine. When in the military I was exposed to the missionary side of Christianity in Japan. At 19 I got married to a Japanese girl whose family was Shinto and I remember the priest telling her she must become Christian in order for us to be married in Church. The priest explained that she must be saved in order to go to heaven. She asked the priest about the rest of her family, her ancestors, all of whom were Shinto. The priest informed her that her family would also need to become Christian and that her ancestors, having never come to Jesus were unfortunately in Hell. I left Christianity then, my now ex-wife, never became Christian. For years after these experiences, I never considered organized religion. I knew nothing about Sanatan Dharma or Dharmic traditions back then so saw Hinduism, Buddhism and Dharmic faiths as just a different form of organized religion.
I was always a seeker, but Christianity had turned me away from religion. On my path, I read, I became interested in and studied our human history, I listened to and read from many different spiritual teachers as I sought answers. With the advent of YouTube I heard from many spiritual gurus and advisors, from Ekhart Tolle, to Moji, to Sadhguru and a host of others helping humanity but through it all, I always resisted any form of organized religion. Through the combination of my curiosity for our ancient ancestors and history and my seeking for spiritual answers, I had come to my own loosely formulated understanding of human spirituality, the divine, and Self.
It was not until I travelled to South America and was introduced to the Shamanic traditions of the native culture of the Andes and Amazon that it all came together. I had been spending a lot of time in meditation at this point in my life, and In deep meditation in a retreat in the Andes mountains as I contemplated the nature of duality/non-duality I came into full contact with Self and I was transformed. I no longer questioned, I knew who I really was, I was at peace, a feeling of joy encompassed my every waking moment. I knew I was connected directly to something much bigger. I knew that my body, which I had always previously identified as my self was only a shell and I was so much more as we all are. My interactions with nature and all living things including my fellow human beings on this planet shifted.
Through this connection in self, I saw the divine in everything. Knowing this truth, every person I met I looked deeper, piercing their shell to their divine. This was a jolting experience as I realized that, just as I had been previously, most of humanity was not aware and had no connection to Self. My view of the world was transformed forever. I have tried to explain this but realized, the joy of the realization of Self can only really be understood by those who have attained this understanding and experienced it personally.
Years later, I saw a presidential candidate here in America. I had been uninterested in politics for a while at that point as I realized that none of the candidates were offering anything substantially different, they were politicians and no matter which one was elected, nothing would really change. But then I saw Tulsi Gabbard giving a town hall and the moment I saw her and heard her speak I recognized it. She was awake, she knew the truth. I saw real hope for the first time in my life for the political situation in America. I had never really supported a presidential candidate previously so I started reading her policies, her views, what she wanted to do for America and the world. Her views on the environment, her views on religion, her views on the issues with corruption in our government, her views on the corrupting influence of lobbying, corporations and media influence on our government, her views on the revolving doors politicians were using to enrich themselves through government service, her views on income inequality, her views on healthcare, her views on war. I realized, not only was she fully awake, she was incredibly intelligent and understood what was happening in our government and the world and had real solutions for the problems. Being a Marine veteran of Iraq and understanding the real human cost of war, her anti-war stance was of course important, but there was so much more.
I had never been active on social media, but I suddenly found myself working full time on Twitter in support of a Tulsi Gabbard presidency. I felt called to, almost compelled to dedicate my time volunteering to support her campaign. I saw at once a lifetime candidate who could shift the direction of not only the United States, but the world. Tulsi was fighting against the normal establishment propaganda that I had seen in politics when I watched Bernie Sanders run in 2016. But with Tulsi, for the first time, I saw something different. Early in this process, I was disturbed to see some very ugly propaganda being waged against her. It was highly bigoted religious propaganda, some coming from Christians, but most coming from Muslims and Islam. I had spent years away from any type of organized religion but was highly spiritual. I knew very little about Islam but I was shaken at what I was seeing. I started looking at the source of this propaganda against her. Propaganda that was being spread throughout the Bernie Sanders campaign, propaganda that was even introduced and supported by people well placed in the Democratic Party and Bernie’s own campaign. This propaganda was coming out of the Islamic nations of the world and carried by the left, the Progressives and Democrats in America. Much of it was from Pakistan and left political parties in India and all of it angled against Hindus and Hinduism.
I can see now, if I had been Christian or Muslim, I could have easily bought into the propaganda because of the religious indoctrination against polytheism, paganism and therefore Hinduism predominate in Abrahamic faiths. Being spiritual but not religious, instead I got curious and started researching. Since most of the propaganda of this nature was coming out of Pakistan and India and being carried by the west and at the time there was a lot of news about Kashmir I started researching India and South Asia. Being interested in our human history, I started there and ended up studying the history of India, from the period of Islamic invasion, through British colonial rule, through the partition of the native homeland of India and Dharmic tradition, to the war of 1971 and Operation Searchlight. It didn’t take long to understand what was happening. A continuation of centuries of persecution of Dharmic faiths and traditions by Islam and Christianity. In our modern world, we are seeing a continuation of a religious war that has waged for 2000+ years against Hinduism and Dharmic faiths. A war being waged by both Islam and Christianity. Tulsi wasn’t being attacked on the merits of her accomplishments or lack thereof, nor for the ideas was she bringing to our government. She was being attacked because she is of Hindu faith.
Here is a link to some of the threads I had created in that time frame as I was realizing what was really happening in our election and globally in a concerted propaganda war against India, Hindus & Hinduism. The second link down in this thread contains many other threads I wrote. This was done after researching India and seeing that the Bernie Sanders campaign was actively participating in the propaganda against Tulsi Gabbard, propaganda which centered on her Hindu faith and tying her to the propaganda war against India, Hindus and Hinduism.
I had avoided organized religion for most of my adult life, instead pursuing my own spiritual path. But now I got curious about Sanatan Dharma, Hinduism. I wanted to understand why, in our modern world, someone would be attacked in such an ugly manner simply because of their spiritual belief. I started reading the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita. It didn’t take long to realize truth, I had taken a long winding path to spirituality and to understanding our human existence. A path that came to full realization through the spirituality of the Shamanic traditions of South America. I realized I had only repeated a path taken thousands of years earlier by the Vedic sages of India and Shamans of South America. I realized that through my spiritual path, I had become Hindu without realizing it. Not just become, that I always was, as natural as breathing. My own self realizations were chanted in mantras some 8,000 years ago by the sages of India and carried forward in the Vedas, sung in Icaros by Shamans and taught by Krishna thousands of years before I was born. Without knowing the name for the path I was following, I had unlocked what is taught in the Vedas and Upanishads as Advaita Vedanta. As such, becoming Hindu was as natural and easy as taking my next breath.
Having an understanding now of the history, and what was really happening in India, I started pushing back against the propaganda war being waged not only against Tulsi, but against the entire Hindu population of India. The propaganda was rampant in not only America and in the left political parties of India but in all western nations and Islamic nations. This was a continuation of centuries of bigotry driven by Islam and the imperialism of the Christian based western nations against India and its Dharmic and Vedic culture. It was highly disturbing to say the least to understand what was happening. Even more so to see that within India itself, political parties were catering to Islam and Christianity and their crusade against Hindus and Hinduism. If you scroll my feed on Twitter, @MycoJonathan, I have created countless threads on the topic in addition to pushing back against those spreading the propaganda against Hindus.
In my own spiritual path and desire to help others, I came up with the idea of forming a Vedic and Shamanic retreat in Ecuador. Ever since I came fully into the realization of Self, it has been a desire of mine to help others wake up to their true nature. To help others awaken to their full potential and ease the unnecessary pain and suffering I see in the world. I soon realized, people have to seek these answers on their own, you cannot push them, you cannot make them see. It is a journey of self-discovery, and through that self-discovery, truth unfolds naturally. I wanted to find a way to help people and realized the best way to do this would be to provide a space for them to go in their own seeking, on their own path. In my own participation in retreats and ceremonies in South America, I found I had a propensity to help others in that setting.
Having experienced both Shamanic traditions and now seeing the truths from my own spiritual path expounded in Sanatan Dharma and the truly ancient teachings of the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, I realized the need for a place people could go in their own spiritual journey as they seek answers. A retreat combining the Shamanic wisdom of South America and Vedic wisdom of India is a natural fit, yet it doesn’t exist.
You point to similarities between Vedic and Shamanic practices. Did they intersect at any point of time?
Yes, I believe they did intersect in our ancient human history. There are stories of ancient Vedic sages traveling as far as South America and sharing their knowledge. There are similarities found between Indian and ancient Incan and South America gods. If we ever unlock our full history, I believe we will find we were much more connected in the world that we understand today.
What are the main commonalities: Both worship and respect nature and all life on our planet. Both recognize our place in the universe and our connection to the universe. Both recognize our innate connection to divine through Self. Both have multiple gods, many of them very similar and a recognition of a supreme creator. This is because of the background of Shamanism in South America and the pagan religions it sprang from. The real focus on Shamanism is our individual inner connection to divine, all living things, our planet and universe. Our connection to Self which we also find taught in the Vedas and through Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Are there Vedic influences in Ecuador today?
Not strongly at this time. It is my goal to change that. In my several trips to Ecuador, I only encountered three people of Dharmic faith, Hare Krishnas. But, I have read documents suggesting that even as far away from India as Peru in our ancient history, there was Vedic influence with ancient Sages visiting South America and one can see similarities with the Gods of the Incas and Hindu Gods. I believe these connections were lost in our history.
What is the role of Chanting in Shamanic traditions?
Chanting and Icaros are used in ceremony just as they are in Vedic tradition. They are sacred spiritual songs as are the Vedic mantras. Many Icaros are thousands of years old, just as with Vedic mantras, they were passed down via oral tradition. Just as with Mantras, they are much more than words. They are sound, vibration and energy and carry their own healing properties as such. They are used to connect with the divine, they are used to worship nature and the gods, they are used to enable and re-enforce our own connection to divine and God, they are used for healing. A practicing Hindu will recognize this connection immediately. Part of this process at this retreat will be to bring Vedic mantras into shamanic ceremony alongside the Icaros joining the two in ceremony.
What are the Pagan aspects of Shamanic practices which are similar to Vedic ones?
As they are coming from pagan roots, recognition of the divine in nature, a deep connection and recognition of the divine in all living things, plants and animals as well as water and earth. The worship of the divine in many forms, through feminine as well as masculine with multiple Gods and Goddesses. Religious celebrations coinciding with cycles of the earth, our solar system and the universe. Practice of meditation and connection to the energies of the earth, universe and divine and our inner connection to these. As with Sanatan Dharma, they are non-proselytizing, recognizing spirituality as an individual path. If we could turn back time and sit with the sages of ancient India and the shamans of ancient South America, we would find they were seeking and finding the same answers but with differing names.
(Link to Jonathan West’s GoFundMe initiative to raise funds for the retreat: gf.me/u/yfq6q9)