Overcoming Alcoholism

Here Swami Satyananda Saraswati gives sound advice to those who would like to overcome their addiction to alcohol. As well as recommending particular yoga techniques, he discusses the need for alcoholics to accept their own psychological personality. Recorded at the Zinal Conference, Switzerland in September 1981.

There are many ways to overcome addictions, particularly for alcohol. In action, alcohol is a stimulant, and in reaction, it is a depressant. Therefore, to eradicate reliance on alcohol, you must first of all take to those practices of yoga which can give you stimulation and peace of mind simultaneously.

In particular, if you practise pranayama, hatha yoga and kriya yoga, you will be helped a lot. When the body is filled with toxins, it always demands more and more of the same toxins. So, at this time, the body should be purified by the practices of hatha yoga and the science of fasting.

Mental purging

Psychologists have found that alcoholics possess a deep rooted pain which is unknown to them and ultimately leads them to some sort of narcotic or alcoholic habit. Therefore, what alcoholics should do is root out the cause of their problem by probing into their mind. As they penetrate the mind they must allow everything to come out, not only what is divine and sublime. They may find horrible things, many fantasies, endless passions, criminal and sadistic thoughts, crazy ideas and so on. However, these negative things must not be suppressed, for to stop them is dangerous. They must come out.

Supposing you are thinking criminal thoughts, you must accept that. If an evil thought comes into your mind, you should not stop it, nor should you criticise it. Do not hate it and do not suppress it, let it develop and it will culminate in another thought. If you are assailed by sexual fantasies, let them continue. Whether you have a regular fantasy, a perverted fantasy or a sadistic fantasy, it does not matter. Develop it and you will find that within a few hours, days or weeks, it will culminate in some other thought process.

Society and religion have created a deep rooted guilt in man. If you are having sexual fantasies, why should you say it is bad? When you are angry with someone, why should you think it is not good? After all, a thought is just a thought. If you allow it to manifest, it becomes feeble; if you suppress it, it becomes strong. So, by suppressing a bad thought, you are only committing yourself to a bad action. But if you express a bad thought, you are becoming free of that karma.

There are some people who are very complicated. They have so many things inside but they don't know it. They are mentally constipated. They just cannot think bad things and they don't want to see their bad face or know their negative side. Such people are not normal; they are making a great mistake. Everybody knows that physical constipation is injurious to health, but in my opinion mental constipation is worse. Just as a purging process is necessary to relieve physical constipation, those with mental constipation must also undergo a purging process.

During the practice of pranayama, purging takes place. If you start practising bhastrika pranayama daily, after a few days, some crazy ideas will start coming into the mind and you will have many funny thoughts and dreams. Some people get very frightened when this happens to them. They go to a swami and say, 'Since I started practising pranayama, I've been getting crazy ideas.' If anyone says this to me, I tell them, 'Look here, shankhaprakshalana is going on.' In yoga we call this cleansing of the mind chitta shuddhi.

Praise and blame

Alcoholics and other addicts must increase the frequency of their dreams, and somehow they should induce more visions in their meditation practice. It is most important that they do not try to escape from or cover up their own psychological personality. If you are an alcoholic and somebody says you are a bad man, don't deny it. Think to yourself, 'Maybe I am a bad man.' The moment you accept what other people say about you, you are out of danger. If you dismiss everything people say of you and convince yourself that they are wrong, you will become very arrogant. This is everybody's mistake. When someone makes negative remarks about us, we say, 'Oh, he is a useless man.'

You see, these are the things which we will have to correct if we want to substantially change our habits. Supposing a man praises us, we consider him good; if he criticises us, we label him bad. If a man loves us, he is good and if he hates us, he is bad. This is a very limited psychological conclusion. What is a more broad-minded conclusion? He who criticises you is your benefactor, he who praises you is your enemy; he who loves you hypnotises you, he who hates you de-hypnotizes you. If you can adopt this way of thinking, you can break your habits overnight.

Gradual program for eliminating alcoholism

Now, let us discuss sadhana. Practise yoga nidra regularly and your mantra every day. Do not take a pledge not to drink; don't think about alcohol at all. Just remember one thing: 'I will practise five malas every day. On a free day, I will practise ten malas more.' Let this program continue for one month.

Then add one more item: 'I will miss a meal one day per week.' It is preferable if you do this on the particular day of the week on which you were born, because that must have been a very unfortunate day, as you became an alcoholic. Therefore, it is important to sanctify it by missing one meal on that day.

Continue this for about two months, then add one more item: 'One day per week, I will have one drink less.' If you normally have ten glasses of alcohol per day, on that nominated day of the week, take only nine glasses.

So, gradually, month by month, easy rules must be added. You should not make difficult rules for yourself, because if you say, 'One day per week I am not going to drink any alcohol,' your mind will revolt. It will give you a lot of trouble and you'll end up drinking more than usual. Very gently you must redirect your mind.

Even an alcoholic can die an honourable death

Many, years ago, I had a disciple who died at the age of ninety eight. He was a wealthy man who was always drunk. He used to drink twenty four hours a day. For him, drinking was a constant process just like ajapa japa. From time to time I used to visit this man and every time I stayed with him, he used to follow one set of rules. The day I stepped into his house, he ordered his family not to prepare meat or cook fish. Nobody was allowed to smoke or take wine in the home, and he purchased from the market a special set of utensils for cooking my food. Hindus have a peculiar custom, when swamis come to their home, they will not cook food for them in their own vessels if they have been used for cooking meat. So, every non-vegetarian family has a special set of utensils for preparing our food. Likewise, this disciple of mine made this rule for himself.

Once I stayed with him for three months. It was so difficult for him because he was a chain smoker and he could not smoke, he was a habitual drinker and he could not drink, and he generally ate meat four times a day but he had to stop this too. He did not know what to do and I was aware of his difficulties. I was only going to stay with him for two months, but one day I told him I would stay for one month more. After some thought, he came to me and said, 'You know Swamiji, one day you should go to Allahabad, have a bath in Ganga and then come back.' I knew he just wanted me out of the way for eight to ten hours so he could drink and smoke and resume his other habits. So I told him, 'No, I am not going.' I stayed for one month more.

One day I told him, 'I am so comfortable with you that I do not want to go. I will stay here for another month. Also, I don't have the money to go.' Then, do you know what he did? He went straight to his bank and withdrew Rs. 5,000 and gave it to me. In those days Rs. 5,000 was such a big amount that you could buy more with that than with $5,000 today. He said, 'Swamiji, please take this money. You can visit all the pilgrim places and pray to all the gods for me.' I had no option, I left.

When this man was ninety six years old, I met him again, and he told me one thing that still hovers in my mind. He said that he had been a true disciple to me all these years, but because I did not tell him to give up alcohol, he never did. He put the whole blame on me. He said, 'You did not tell me to give it up and you did not ask me to stop eating meat, therefore even now I still have these habits. Now that I have only a few more years to live, I will not try to give up these things any more.'

Five days before his death, he called all his relatives from different parts of India, and he predicted the exact time of his death. I also went to his home' and on the appointed morning we all gathered at his side. He just sat down calmly in lotus posture, recited two slokas from the Gita and then took a deep breath in. The breath never came out; he died at that moment.

So, even an alcoholic can have a very honourable death. If you know when you are going to die and you know how to die, and if you die in front of all your relatives and with your guru before you, what more honourable death can you have?