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.