Drugs & spirituality: thee, coffee, alcohol, smoking etc.

Blavatsky is sometimes accused of being a hypocrite for advocating vegetarianism, but not being one. Yet she never hid her habit of eating (lots of) meat. She didn’t broadcast it either, but then she lived in the Victorian age.

In our time, especially on blogs, it is quite proper to start such a piece as the following with a catalog of sins. Or so I think. So here goes my confession:

  • I don’t drink alcoholic beverages
  • I do watch more television than I care to admit, but it’s a habit I’m trying to break.
  • I do eat about a bar of chocolate a week (and have in the past eaten the same amount each day)
  • I don’t drink coffee, but I do drink tea.
  • I don’t gamble
  • I don’t have a shopping addiction: I’m quite capable of not buying cloths when there isn’t enough money in the bank.
  • I may have an internet addiction, though in the past I’ve often done without reading my e-mail for a week (not any more though).
  • I don’t do drugs of the illegal kind (including Marijuana)

I think that’s it. Many of these are normal. In fact, some of you may snigger a bit at reading this quite proper list. What can I say, I’m a proper girl. I might have added not eating meat, but I’m not sure meat eating counts as an addiction and I’ve recently written quite enough about vegetarianism I think. (links)

One reason for doing such a large list is that from the perspective of spiritual development any of these is a problem to the extent that they help people avoid their problems. Most addictions do that to some extent. Coffee and tea are obviously minor ones. They mainly help people through the drudgery of the day. Alcohol and drugs like Marijuana (spelling?) do more: they help us forget temporarily. So does chocolate, or so I used to feel.

Smoking is in another ballpark. Western culture has waged a war against this drug, but all it does is slowly spoil the lungs. It does not cause social problems (the way alcoholism does do). It does not cause people to be worse (or even better) at their jobs. Smoking is not a mind altering substance. From a spiritual perspective Blavatsky was quite in the clear in being a smoker. There has even been speculation among theosophists that smoking, like incense, is good for the spiritual atmosphere in a room. [Advocates of incense tell us it helps kill air borne bacteria].

All this doesn’t make smoking a healthy habit, of course. But from a classic theosophical perspective it really isn’t an issue that the body lasts 10 years less. The body is a temporary envelope anyway.

Back to the bad stuff… Blavatsky and Olcott took pansil when they were in Ceylon (Sri Lanka now). That means they vowed to abstain from five things. (link). The one that is relevant to this piece is abstention from mind altering substances.

Mind altering substances. This is key. Psychology has taught us something about altering the mind in the past century. Some of the things psychology teaches us were quite well known among esotericists as well. Substances aren’t the only thing that alter the mind. Our thoughts do. Our habits do. Our reading does. Anything our senses bring in alters our mind in subtle ways. Yes that includes TV – as advertisers well know.

However important all that is, it’s quite subtle compared to the fundamental changes drugs, like alcohol, make in our mind.

I think of it as a scale. Spiritual discipline, like meditation done well, is on one side. Addictions like alcohol and hard drugs are on another. In between there is (on the bad side) slightly mind altering stuff like coffee, tea and chocolate. Then in the middle a proper lifestyle abstaining from all this. And then more on the good side practicing speaking the truth, reading spiritual literature, thinking about such things and meditation (again: with a proper teacher).

Of course it is quite possible to do meditation and still keep up habits like drinking coffee and tea (hard to avoid for anybody with a social life). Most people have habits on the ‘bad’ side as well as practices on the ‘good’ side.

As you may notice, I’m being quite hard on the alcohol habit. It’s quite normal to drink alcohol. In fact I recently saw a graph of alcohol use in my country, The Netherlands, which shows that current alcohol consumption is three times higher as the highest peaks in the past (say the first half of the 20th century). This means that people are drinking alcohol more socially. They are drinking alcohol more habitually – with dinner, or before bedtime for instance.

And it shows in our kids: parents are less likely to stop twelve year old kids from drinking. Instead they are likely to say “well, one sip can’t hurt”. The problem is of course: especially in kids it can hurt. Their brains are still developing and that one sip will make them more likely to be problem drinkers in the future.

So I’m worried about alcohol use. Of all the habits I’ve listed it’s the one that can really ruin lives. And it’s all the more dangerous because it is socially acceptable. I’m not advocating it be banned or something. The American Inhibition shows quite clearly that this doesn’t work. I would however want each of my readers to take a good look at their own drinking habits – and perhaps tone them down a bit. Please make it clear to your kids that drinking alcohol is a no-no before they are 20 (or something). This does make a difference. Research shows that kids who are specifically prohibited by their parents from drinking are likely to drink less even when those parents are not around. They are still likely to experiment (teens being teens), but they will have a small voice in the back of their head holding them back from say binge drinking.

This was quite the moral piece. I know that is out of fashion, certainly in The Netherlands.

My main point is that from a spiritual perspective all habits should be examined. The habits that help us through the day are the same ones that stop us from really paying attention to our problems. The funny thing is: problems that are faced usually turn out to be much less of a ‘problem’.

On Oprah someone said once that people who overcome addiction are facing the major spiritual challenge of their life. It transforms them, because in the process of dealing with the addiction they are also dealing with the underlying issues that caused them to create that habit.

I totally agree. I don’t really care whether it’s smoking, alcohol, chocolate or TV. I’ll be continuing my struggle with the latter addiction and I hope you won’t call me a hypocrite for still telling you all that it’s an issue you too should perhaps be dealing with.

4 thoughts on “Drugs & spirituality: thee, coffee, alcohol, smoking etc.”

  1. Hi Katinka,

    I disagree with you about smoking. Perhaps in Blavatsky’s day tobacco was tobacco, but today it bears little resemblance to what it once was. If I remember right, she always had some sort of tabacco lite.

    I “was hooked” on smoking for 18 plus years and smoked 2 to 3 packs a day. In that time I smoked Indian cigarettes as well as South American cigarettes and even an occasional cigar.

    It was the most difficult addiction I ever attempted to break. In addition to the tobacco, t is terrible what cigarette companies put into cigarettes causing them to be proven carcinogenic agents and responsible for emphysema, cancer, and other physical maladies. Cigarette smokers are also more prone to missing work due to ill health.

    Tobacco is a mind altering substance just as any incense and any other air born particulate, to say that it is not, is folly to my way of thinking. Everything we ingest has its own consciousness and its effects on our physical, astral and perhaps mental bodies.

    Smoking also has the same loathsome after effects as alcohol, i.e. it is so pervasive in our system that you can smell the smoke born of tobacco after a person has extinguished their cigarette. I assume the particles hang out in one’s etheric sheath.

    Smoking also diminishes the body’s vitality. When I quit smoking, I was so out of shape, I could not run without gasping for air, or ride a bicycle for more than a half mile without tiring and being winded. Today, roughly 18 years after quitting I can run 3 miles at any given time and usually stop at 7 to 8 if I have a mind to do that. I can ride a bicycle approx. 4 minutes to the mile for 2 plus hours, and I can dance all night. Second hand smoke affects other people’s health, and mothers who smoke affect the future of their unborn children. All the adverse effects of smoking is well documented.

    If I remember correctly, tobacco deadens the senses and this is why blavatsky continued to smoke. I suppose she continued her diet of meat due to her travels. Alwfully hard to find a veggie restaurant in the mid to late 19th century, let alone folks who did not have to live off the land and the critters there on, in order to survive.

    Coffee is another bad thing in excess, but that is for another day.

    Hope all is well with you.


  2. I think you missed my main point: smoking does alter the mind in the sense that it is addictive – obviously – but it does not make people less alert, or more so. It does not make people hyper or see visions. It does not make people depressed. Any addiction has consequences for the mind though. Thanks for pointing that aspect out.

    I’m not denying the health problems associated with smoking. I forgot all about the stuff tobacco companies put in cigarettes – that is certainly an issue (and should be considered criminal in my book).

    As for Blavatsky: there are speculations that she may have suffered from a disorder that made her eat a lot of meat, because she could not ingest some foodstuffs properly.

  3. It’s interesting to me how you posted this blog just as I am quitting caffeine (again).

    In my lifetime I have dealt with addiction issues ranging from drugs and tobacco, to video games to, yes, simple coffee.

    Today I no longer smoke, drink or do drugs, and as of now I don’t drink coffee. I go through cycles with caffeine, still–I go for long periods of months on end with no caffeine, but then lapse into drinking coffee. I tend to start drinking coffee again during particularly stressful times in my life, when things are so demanding and I just don’t feel as though I have the energy to keep up.

    I agree that caffeine is a more minor addiction, but also don’t think its consequences should be overlooked. I am a bit depressed and disappointed in myself this time around due to some of the differences I noticed.

    I am normally very aware of my breathing and the circulation of my prana, but during a period of caffeine use, my breath becomes shallow and I don’t pay much attention to it. In general, it leads me to stop relying on my higher faculties and to begin relying on lower ones. To me that is completely inherent in my purposes for uding the caffeine: As a source of seeming energy, to feel more alert and able to cope with things. I am in essence then leaning on something physical whereas under normal circumstances I draw my power to keep moving from my higher self, from light. My motives tend to change to reflect this as well. I am more pleasure-seeking and self-serving in general during a period in which I am drinking coffee. These things, in me at least, are all linked and I take them pretty seriously.

    I recognize that it may not be such a big deal for others, but I thought I’d offer some of my own perspectives on the matter.

  4. Hi Katinka, loved your latest post. I like it because you talk about ‘real’ life issues in the context of spirituality…

    Made me think about my own habits…


    Drink alchohol couple of times a week (couple of beers, or wine)
    Lots of sugar…some sort of sugary thing as a pick me up every day…(dark chocolate, protein powder with sugar, and apple juices etc)
    Checking meyemail way to much…(got to handle that!….any suggestion…??)

    There is a great film about getting it all into balance:

    wheeloflife.tv which I enjoyed. There are some spiritual teachers in it who are more into living an integrated and whole life…and there is also a fitness guy who is just like ‘Get moving, and stop eating so much’…so an interesting blend.

    Anyway, once again, great post.


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