Addiction – A Spiritual Perspective

We are all addicts – some are addicted to drink, others to drugs, some to soaps, others to TV, some to sex, others to food, some to religious ritualism, others to their arrogance, anger…we are all addicts. People often think of Gurmat as being about do’s and don’ts. Needless to say, many of these come from our culture and cannot be found from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The major do is to praise God; the don’ts include not having your life dominated by anger, lust, greed, attachment and pride. Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the Praise of God and the Sacredness of the Everyday. The don’ts are to give up the habits, which desecrate, (i.e. de-sacred) this life which is a holy gift. In addition to this universal mystical spirituality, there are a few don’ts, including stealing and alcohol.

What has alcohol or drugs got to do with spirituality? The Guru gives reasons. People get intoxicated and loose control, do silly things – desecrate the world, and earn God’s displeasure. When asked by the Emperor Babur if he would like to smoke some hemp, Guru Nanak replied that he all-ways enjoyed the drug of awe of God. Two points – why have an intoxication which will end when you can have one that is unending? And what a sad life if you can only have pleasure by escaping it. But so it must be for God is Life, and those who reject God lie behind the dam of ego and the rivers of Joy and Grace raining amrit – elixir of immortality -within and all around us do not reach them. Burning with spiritual thirst they are miserable and can only live with themselves by drugging themselves into a fantasy world, an escape from the self, a peaceful oblivion. Yet the hero who surrenders and sacrifices this ego enjoys this peace everlastingly, a Divine Intoxication. Not a brief respite from a nightmare-existence, but a morning after, a first morning, when the Sun of Grace has raised the misty shadows of the ego.

Such a person is like a bumble bee which flies in the garden of the world enjoying the flowers and taking nectar from them, working with others to make honey. A contrast is with the fly who will always go towards filth. These are useful images for they show that the spiritually liberated is free while the ego-driven is predictable, caught up in some kind of drama, his life an act, like a scratched record or CD. We find it hard to give up these habits because they give us security. We feel parents or friends or God has abandoned us – we are alone and need to fill ourselves up. We hunger so we feed. Stealing is when we feed on things belonging to another. Addiction is when this feeding becomes compulsive – we are no longer in control. We are controlled by the habit.

Watching a soap opera on TV religiously for a half-hour each day might be daft – why watch life rather than live it! – but it offers a respite from loneliness. More serious cases of self-abuse reveal that we feel that we are being punished, and, therefore, want to be told off and to tell ourselves off. A common example is the hangover game. The basic line in all addictions is that “you can’t stop me” and indeed people often don’t want to. The connection who sells the stuff, the best mate who tells you not to, but wants you to so that s/he can laugh at you or at least tell a good story to others, or take part in this story, the parent who seems to enjoy telling you off for no reason – this provides a reason, a helper who you can tell the story to, only to insist on your own self-damnation, all these are characters in the game. This fills your life with people acting out a play with you, but leaving you alone at last for there is no intimacy here, only a well-rehearsed drama. There’s no real me and no real you. And the characters suffer too. The connection who gets more embedded in a life feeding off others, the so-called friend whose insincerity makes a mockery of her own life, the helper who feels weaker than before, the parent who is more isolated, when they really don’t know what to say and do to you – can’t you help? And you, what about you, do you want to live your life as a fantasy?

Can you look your habit in the face and tell it to go away. We are intrigued by it. Transfixed by it, we get bitten and the hunger is unending. We are so needy, so weak, we need another shot to settle us. We are trapped into patterns of behavior, which we do not really like. It helps us deny that we are loveable, that we have any worth, but don’t value yourself and you will realise that you are priceless. The average egotist places a big price on their own head. The hero-egotist is one who wishes to deserve life, making bargains with God, taking part in efforts/rituals to buy God. Only when we realise that life is a gift can we be grateful. Only when we realise it is the ego itself which feeds addiction and evil can we become willing to let it go.

Gurmat is about universal grace – God dwells in every heart like fire in wood, fragrance in a flower, reflection in a mirror. God reaches out to everyone, loves everyone, is Friend of everyone. Thus, we can admit that we have no power over our addictions and that our lives are out of control, and that a Power greater than ourselves can restore sanity to us. We then turn our face from the ego (man-mukh or ego-facing) to Gurmukh, (Grace-facing, to God as we understand God), each of us uniquely. Then we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves, and admit our wrong-doing to God, to ourselves, and to other human beings. (This is part of the concept of sadh sangat). Get ready for God to remove these defects and remove our shortcomings (this is part of the Ardas). Make a list of all people harmed and try to make it up to them, except where to do so would harm them or others. (This is like the “punishment” given to those who admit to breaking any one of the four vows of abstinence and be re-admitted to the Order of the Khalsa.) Continue to examine yourself, and through prayer to improve our conscious knowing of Life=God as we understand God, praying for knowledge of God’s Will for us and for the power to carry it out. Each of us bears a Name of God and that quality is manifested through our living it. The will of God cannot be stated, but only realised (Real-I-See/Sea(d), by a drop in the Ocean Who Is God.

The hukam cannot be stated…only those know it, know God who live it, live God, Living Life

Japji Sahib.

Reality is beautiful, it is here to be used, to be lived. Not un-used – those who reject life – the ancient monks and yogis; nor ab-used – egotists who despise life, fearing it and try to control it. But all they can control are their fantasies and, therefore, they fall into scripts. In between and beyond them are those who live, intimate with people and truth-full. Such child of the moment is yet the owner of the moment, the Owner being God yet trusting to Her own. For those who give up the ego, control the shaping of the sacred gift and Graces of Life they have been given. Those who give up fantasies live Reality. The Guru calls the world the wonderful drama. Rare are those who live in-between and beyond the games people play. These are mystic revolutionaries, seers of the Light in all hearts, free to change the rules of the games which have made the garden of God into the nightmare of private hells in the world. For we can forsake the ego, and open up to and share Life, (e)in-joy-ing true friendship and fellowship. By so choosing and entering the channel of life we become more than mere recipients of gifts of Life, becoming more than hoarding, grasping, addictive appetites and egos.

Kanwar Ranvir Singh