Guru and Addiction

Swami Anandananda Saraswati, Italy

Both Swami Satyananda and Swami Niranjan have told us the story of the camel caravan travelling in the desert. At night the camels were tied up to prevent them running away. One night, however, one hitching pin was missing, and the elder advised the camel driver to go through the motions of tying up the camel to an invisible, non-existent peg. He did so and the camel sat down quietly and went to sleep. Next morning the other camels were untied and the caravan was ready to move, but the ‘untied’ camel would not move. The elder explained that it still thought it was tied up. So the driver went through the motions of untying the camel and removed the imaginary peg. The camel then stood up and the caravan continued its journey.

We are all like the camel because some part of our being, our mind or our psyche is tied to something that doesn’t really exist and we feel we can’t move. This is applicable not just to addiction, but to all of us as disciples. It is also significant in regard to attachment and identification. Our awareness is identified with many invisible pegs. The yogic tradition speaks about non-attachment, which we may view in a negative light. As soon as somebody says, “Be non-attached,” we say, “What about my telephone, my digital camera, my computer? Can’t I drink coffee or eat chocolate anymore?” We get scared. This is why Swami Niranjan often changes the wording from ‘non-attachment’ to ‘being the witness’. In yogic language it means that the individual awareness identifies with the observer.

When you say, “I am addicted,” you identify with addiction, with guilt, anger, jealousy, with “I am . . .” The individual awareness is identified with the object. Yoga and the guru-disciple relationship help us to recognize that we are tied to an invisible peg. We recognize that we have a need, a hang-up, a pattern, a condition, a limitation, but at the same time we don’t identify with it.

The guru is a powerful symbol, not only for our logical or rational, superficial mind, but deep down in our psyche, in our astral and spiritual dimension, in vijnanamaya kosha and in the self as well. In the process of the guru-disciple relationship and rehabilitation, the awareness shifts from identification with a problem or a negative condition to identification with a positive symbol. In his physical existence the guru is the living example; he represents all the qualities, strengths and capacities that we are searching and aspiring for and which have to do with the complete, whole, integrated human being, with the flow of divine light.

If an addict has decided to stop, change is possible. It is very important to be motivated. We all have habits. We may not be addicted to heroin, but to coffee or chocolate, or to our thinking, to our limitations or condition. When we perceive the positive energies and the positive radiation of the guru, the awareness shifts from constantly thinking, “I am an addict, I am suffering, I am creating so many problems for myself and other people,” to a positive identification. We can call it rehabilitation. We can call it being free. We can give it many different names.

Swami Niranjan has said, “Pain is a part of life, but to be a slave to pain is not a part of life. When we are slaves to our suffering, we identify with weakness and limitation, with the words ‘I can’t’, but when we identify with strength, with the words ‘I can’, then goodness, wisdom and willpower become more dominant.” We need to shift from identifying with pain, which brings impossibility and limitation, to what is positive and creative. This change of awareness comes from the guru’s energy. He becomes a model and a symbol. You apply his teachings and follow the direction he is pointing towards.

There are three phases in rehabilitation. The first phase starts in the street, when the person is still full of heroin, but emerging from all those years when the only thought was how to get more and where to get the money. The second stage is detoxification and going through withdrawal, which is a very critical time. The third phase is after detoxification. In all rehabilitation centres it is the time when the person is sent out to fend for himself. But where does one go? Back to the same square, the same pub, the same friends, where there is no awareness, strength or willpower. Such an environment does not allow one to stay on the straight path. It is a very critical time and one where most people relapse.

Here the guru-disciple relationship and the ashram can provide a very solid and supportive environment. Both are based on identifying with the positive and reducing the negative programming. Through the routine, the different activities and the tasks the guru gives, the mind becomes concentrated and oriented towards the positive, to helping others, to creating things. The person becomes more self-confident each day. One cause of addiction is lack of confidence and inner strength, lack of the awareness that ‘I can do it’. A person is rehabilitated when he can stand on his own two feet.

Paramahamsaji has said that behind every addicted person there is a yogi. Addicted people are very sensitive. Most of the time they take drugs to cover up that sensitivity or to reduce its intensity. They become addicted because in our society they do not find the right response, object or reality for their sensitivity. A yogi is not only someone who practises asanas and pranayama. A yogi is a complete, integrated human being. The guru is concerned with developing our dormant, inherent potential. A yogi is a person in whom that potential has been awakened, and that is the process of yoga.

In the eyes of the guru we are all addicted, not to heroin or alcohol, but to sleep, to food, to little things. The guru eventually teaches us that we can still be ourselves and manage even if we have missed a meal or a few hours sleep. These things are our hang-ups, our invisible pegs. That makes us a camel. So we need the rehabilitation process, the ‘decamelization’ process. The guru is a very powerful symbol and can show us the way to remove our imaginary pegs and become integrated human beings.