Drugs and Addiction

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Drugs are a big problem in the West. What can be done about this?

Some things are going on in the West, whether in England, Switzerland, France, Greece, America, Australia or Canada, that are not good signs for the future. Powerful civilizations which once existed in Egypt, Rome, Greece, India and China just disappeared in the past. How did they disappear? Our generation must think very clearly about the reasons.

Drugs are everywhere. Even children are taking them and discovering they make them feel good. They want to feel nice, they want to feel transcendental, because their whole life is restless. They were born from restless intercourse and they were brought up in restless environments. Now, they are so restless that without drugs they cannot feel good. Therefore, western thinkers, philosophers and social scientists must rethink this problem now. In order to do this, they need to imbibe certain ideas from Indian culture.

India may not be able to offer the world a very sophisticated technology, but she can give a much safer social system. It is the society, the culture, which ultimately destroys a political system. If things are allowed to continue as they are at present in very affluent western countries like America or Europe, the prosperity may continue, but there is no guarantee that the societies will survive.

Politicians want to control everything through laws and legislation, but this is not possible. If they find you using drugs, they just put you in jail, but that is not a solution. After all, in India we do not use hashish much, although it is grown here and there is no law against it. Many people from the West come to India and purchase hashish to take back to their country because it is freely available.

On certain occasions such as Sivaratri and Holi, Indians crush marijuana leaves and add many nice things like rose petals, poppy seeds, saffron, milk and honey, and make a cool beverage called ‘thandai’. The whole family drinks it together and they start laughing. But that just happens on one day of the year. There are also balls made from marijuana leaves called ‘bhang’, which are made to offer to the Lord. You are allowed to take it as a part of the religious ceremony on Holi or Sivaratri, but not in order to overcome your restlessness.

Alcohol is a very big industry in the West. The people who make alcohol are millionaires. If you want to drink champagne, it is very costly, but one cigarette costs very little. That is another reason why these drugs have become very popular in the West; they are cheaply available to the poorer sections of society. Instead of drinking scotch, they just have a cigarette. When you take alcohol, there is stimulation, but when you smoke ganja there is relaxation. They have different effects.

A culture which ignores the very basis of a good society, which is a sound social system, is sure to undergo a very dark period. I don’t see any silver linings unless a miracle takes place. Think about it. A society which has not produced even one prophet, what future course will it take? That is the problem. Moses was from the East, Christ was from the East and Buddha was from the East. Many of the great thinkers, philosophers and scientists of the West were executed in the last few centuries. Someone will have to work at it in a big way. The drug problem is just on the fringe, but we are aware of it, we have the statistics.

—Rikhiapeeth, November 1994

How can alcohol addiction be overcome?

There are many ways to overcome addictions, particularly to 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 up those yoga practices 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 full of 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.

Psychologists have found that alcoholics possess a deep-rooted pain which is unknown to them and ultimately leads 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 because to stop them is dangerous; they must come out.

If 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 criticize 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. 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. They say, “Since I started practising pranayama, I’ve been getting crazy ideas.” I tell them, “Look here, shankhaprakshalana is going on.” In yoga we call this cleaning the mind chitta shuddhi.

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 person, don’t deny it. Think to yourself, “Maybe I am a bad person.” The moment you accept what other people say about you, you are out of danger. If you dismiss everything people say about 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 person.”

These are things we will have to correct if we want to substantially change our habits. If someone praises us, we consider him good; if someone criticizes us, we label him bad. This is a very limited psychological conclusion. What is a more broadminded conclusion? One who criticizes you is your benefactor, one who praises you is your enemy; one who loves you hypnotizes you, one who hates you dehypnotizes you. If you can adopt this way of thinking, you can break your habits overnight.

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, as that must have been a very unfortunate day since 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 will end up drinking more than usual. You must redirect your mind very gently.

—Zinal, Switzerland, September 1981

Can you get enlightenment by taking drugs?

You can get certain experiences, but you can’t retain them. Drugs weaken the nervous system, cause depression, disturb the hormones and affect the circulatory system. As a result, later on the experiences almost dwindle into nothing. In the beginning, some drugs do affect the processes of the brain and consciousness, either directly or through other parts of the nervous system. If we could perpetuate these experiences for many years, it would be nice. However, I have found that in the course of time the body and physical organs become very weak, and as a result the later experiences are marked by fears, doubts and passions. What is the use of having a high state after which you fall in a ditch? I don’t disagree with people trying these things now and then, but I think you must try to create the change within the consciousness, through the medium of consciousness, if you want to be able to maintain the experience.

—San Francisco, USA, September 1982

How can yoga help in drug addiction?

Drug addicts can be helped by practices which enhance purification. In the first stage, asanas should be practised regularly, then shatkarmas like neti, kunjal and shankhaprakshalana, and thirdly, yoga nidra. This will help a person to get rid of alcohol and drug habits. When an individual is in a state of tension, he needs cigarettes, alcohol and such things, but if he has no tension he has no need for them. If a person smokes or drinks, there is no use fighting the habits because they may be caused by other circumstances, possibly endocrinal imbalances. By practising hatha yoga, one can purify the body and rectify all the imbalances. Then, in the course of time, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes will no longer be necessary.

The hatha yoga shatkarmas are the most important part of a heroin addict’s treatment. The whole physical body has to be thoroughly purified internally and externally. Toxins have to be removed from the intestines, liver, kidneys, spleen, etc., and the production of acid, bile and phlegm has to be regulated. By practising certain asanas and pranayama, the hormonal secretions can be regulated and the endocrinal blockages removed. Postural defects can be rectified and the vitality of the body can be greatly enhanced. The treatment will be quicker and more successful if the practice is regular and if a special diet is maintained. It is also recommended that this treatment be undertaken in an ashram environment.

Ashram life is important to make one free from addictions. In the ashram environment those who are addicted to any vice, not only alcohol and drugs but other vices as well, are greatly helped by the positive situation in the ashram. The ashram is a place where people come with a definite purpose, where they have an aim, where there is a systematic philosophy, a systematic diet and way of living. Such ashrams should be formed in western countries. They have minimum creature comforts, not modern facilities. At the same time people from the West come every year and stay for a period of time because they find that the ashram atmosphere helps them to gain their lost willpower.

—Bogotá, Colombia, 1980

How can yoga nidra help in addiction?

Many people who are subject to certain addictions have resolved many times to give them up, but have failed to maintain the resolve. Through yoga nidra, however, they have been able to do a lot of work on themselves. In particular, they have found that the sankalpa or resolve made at the beginning and end of the practice influences their life so much that they are able to conquer their addiction.

In India drinking is dangerous and detrimental to health because it is such a hot country. If a person cannot give up drinking, he will definitely die sooner rather than later and his family will perish. We give these people yoga nidra and during the practice we ask them, “What exactly do you want to do?” They decide that they will not drink anymore. Thousands and thousands of people have given up drinking. Many social service institutions which were preaching the harmful effects of drinking have now added yogasanas, pranayama and yoga nidra. There were also cases where some aged people who had been drinking for many years gave up this habit in one session of yoga nidra.

Now, people have become aware of the effect of the transformation of consciousness on human behaviour. Yoga is able to transform the inner personality, whereas other methods simply don’t work.

Yoga nidra is a practice which gives strength to your willpower. It gives strength to your mind and it is able to transform your positive thinking into successful action. It is easy for people to think positively, but when it comes to the point of execution, it is very hard. Yoga nidra is a superior quality of experience. After having eaten a nice chocolate, you will not want to have another rotten sweet. Anything that is superior, whether it is a dress, a person, a system, a wine, or even yoga, always supersedes the inferior quality of experience.

—Plymouth, UK, February 1983

How can we overcome bad habits?

Many people have bad habits which they despise. For example, someone may be addicted to hashish and every time he has a smoke, he hates himself for doing it. Even though he thinks, “I don’t like this habit, I don’t want to smoke,” due to this strong tendency in his personality, as soon as evening comes he starts longing for hashish. This creates conflict within and his mind is split into two. He desires something he knows is bad for him. If he compromises, then he is addicted to hashish, which is detrimental to the brain and respiratory system.

How can this situation be overcome? There is a simple formula. Lie down on your bed and concentrate on the breath and the body. The moment you feel yourself starting to doze off, say one thing, “No hashish any more.” A parent or guardian can do this for children who are still young. Try this technique on any habit and within ten days you will find that you are forgetting about it. Through this resolve made when the mind is totally relaxed and receptive, you can improve your eyes, your digestion, your family relationships – you can change your whole life.

—Bogotá, Colombia, 1978

Should I smoke or not?

The most important thing you have to remember is that the different addictions, like smoking alcohol and other vices, belong to the rajasic state, rajo guna, and cause a sort of attachment to the body and senses. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a yogi of the highest order. When a devotee asked him why he smoked a hookah, Ramakrishna replied that in order to live one needs a link with vasana (latent desire). To fly a kite you must have a thread and if the thread is cut, you lose the kite. However, as long as there is the desire to live and attachment to your latent samskaras of past or present, then you exist. If there is no vasana, you will not exist; you will fly away from the body. Existence depends upon our vasanas with objects. We have attachments for many things – prosperity, wealth, name, fame and power. Vasanas cause us to cling to this existence, but once they are removed one by one, you cannot exist.

Nature has made certain conditions for all of us. The vasanas must be maintained in tamasic and rajasic states. If you try to deplete your vasanas, it will hamper your spiritual evolution. For the evolution of the soul from tamasic and rajasic states to the higher sattwic states, the presence of vasanas is necessary. In one person it may be alcohol, in another it could be the desire for wealth, name and fame, in others something else. In you it is smoking. So you should not think about whether or not you should smoke.

If you are smoking, go ahead with it and if you don’t want to smoke, please don’t do it. If you are not smoking and you want to smoke, do it. But don’t keep on thinking, “Should I smoke or not?” because that creates a psychological problem which will affect your personality. When you have two thoughts about an action, it means you are not sure about its purity. When the body is pure, without toxins, and the mind is able to dispose of tensions, then you do not need these things to help you. Many people are in the habit of drinking and smoking. If that can be replaced by doing japa with a mala, then it is a very good addiction, a very good habit.

—Coimbatore, India, January 1982