Diksha and Drugs: An Unfortunate Combination


Some years ago, when I heard the story of three young men celebrating their Vaishnava diksha with a round of cold Guinness, I thought it was the beginning of an Irish joke. Unfortunately it was true. The guru who’d given them their initiation had omitted to tell them anything at all about the practical disciplines of spiritual life and so they’d assumed that their old life could continue as normal.

Over the years many similar stories have reached me, all concerning the absence of customary instruction on the life of a Vaishnava, especially the parts about giving up intoxication.  There are many tales now of aspiring Vaishnavas, perhaps visiting India for the first time, being misled by a spiritual preceptor who allows them to continue with their drinking or smoking in the name of being ‘merciful’. But the combination of initiation and intoxication only produces confusion and, in the long term, sadness and depression.

And it doesn’t stop at a celebratory Guinness. Mother Nature produces a wide variety of substances that can be ingested by being licked, chewed, drunk, and sucked. Although she provides them for medicinal or other purposes, when misapplied or taken to excess they can result in powerful intoxication, inebriation, and hallucinogenic experiences. And when men take those gifts of nature and decide to refine, ferment, distil, then drink, smoke or inject the products, the result can be total addiction and complete destruction.

Its nothing new, of course. Alcohol has been a destructive part of life since the days of the Vedic sages, and both the poppy and the ganja plant have always grown wild in India. All these, and many more, have been used by certain classes of men since time immemorial. And since time immemorial they have been condemned by wise teachers who wanted to help them towards a greater, longer lasting happiness.

So when a candidate comes for initiation into spiritual life, they are expected to have already made a commitment to refrain from taking intoxicating substances. And the guru is expected to help them make that commitment and to then to uphold it through his good instruction.

The fact that some spiritual preceptors are not doing that is, sadly, nothing new. There have always been forgetful or neglectful gurus who omitted important teachings and inadvertently led their disciples astray; and there have been others that deliberately left out teachings on discipline in order to gather a popular following. But that disciplic descendants in the line of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakur are now doing so is troubling. Both of those great acaryas, and then, in their line, Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, strenuously taught about the dangers of intoxication and campaigned against the foolish combination of diksha and drugs.

So I was perturbed when, last year, I saw a young man with neckbeads and forehead tilak markings walking through the street of an English town with a half-finished can of cider. When I stoped him to ask his name it was obvious that he’d been drinking for some time. I was equally troubled when I saw another devotee smoking. But I was very saddened when another young man, newly initiated, recently collapsed of a drug overdose in one of our preaching centres.

Then, just two weeks ago, I was told the tragic story of a married man with a wife and child. He was initiated and looking forward to his upcoming trip to India when he would receive his gayatri diksha. Unfortunately, being insufficiently guided by his ‘most merciful’ preceptor, he’d continued his fascination with his drug of choice. But his favourite substance was an hallucinogenic, used by Amazonian shamans for visionary experiences. At a party he consumed too much, was taken to hospital, but later died.

Srila Prabhupada instituted the recitation of the ‘four regulative principles’ at every initiation ceremony. Before he gave a disciple their new Vaishnava name, he would ask them to declare vocally in public that from that moment forward they would consume no intoxicating substance, not even tea and coffee. His disciples followed his example and the declaration of the four principles is now a standard component of every such ceremony.

Yet apparently this is not done by others, even by those who praise Srila Prabhupada and everything he did, even to the point of declaring themselves to be ‘his siksha disciple.’ Why this should be, we don’t know. But it may – albeit inadvertently – give those who are coming so fresh to Vaishnava life the mistaken impression that one can chant the Hare Krishna mantra and simultaneously engage in consumption of intoxicants. Such an idea runs counter to everything taught by the previous acaryas; runs against the current of advice given the holy Srimad Bhagavatam; and is patently not producing the desired results.

If we are to prevent western Vaishnavism descending into a sahajiya culture – a culture so strenuously fought against by our previous acaryas – then initiations such as these must discontinue. Good advice is required, adequate preparation is needed, and certain dangers must be pointed out.

The river of Mercy must again flow within the riverbanks of Dharma.

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8 Comments

Filed under Guru-Disciple, Religion, Ritual

8 responses to “Diksha and Drugs: An Unfortunate Combination

  1. Mohan Shyam Das

    Hari Hari!
    Joy Nitai Gaur!
    Prabhuji, I have been going to ISKCON mandir for many years in the states. I also have been very dismayed to hear about various young men in the congregation taking to drink and drugs while living lives of diksit Vaishnavas. I recently received Harinam from a traditional Nityananda Parivar Babaji and he spent ten minutes during my initiation lecturing me about drugs and alcohol. Hopefully this is something that all parts of our larger Gaudiya family can agree on and help each other with.
    Dandavats,
    Radhe Shyam!

    • Thank you Mohan Shyam Das, it is interesting to hear that a caution was inserted into the main lecture at your initiation ceremony. Our Gaudiya philosophy is, as you know, more concerned with the intimacy and sweetness of our relationship with Sri Krishna than with worshipping a God whom we fear. But if we take our closeness to God as granted, especially in the neophyte stage, then the tendency will be assume that we do not need to follow the laws of God. This is spiritual conceit, and leads to destruction. The line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was practically ruined by this and it is our duty to be very vigilant in this area.

  2. Martin

    Thank you for this very clear message, Prabhu.

    Could you please expand, sometime, on how the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was nearly ruined by spiritual conceit?

    Hare Krishna!

    • Thanks Martin, the line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was almost ruined due to various sects that developed over several hundred years. By the late 1800s Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur counted 13 of such groups, all claiming to be Vaishnavas following the teachings of Chaitanya, but in truth practising very heavily compromised forms of the original doctrine. By his book and song-writing, and his strong preaching and travelling, he was able to reclaim the position of orthodoxy. This was later consolidated then institutionalised by his son, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. The uncompromised form of Chaitanya’s teachings were then brought west by our Srila Prabhupada.

      • Martin

        Thank you. I didn’t know that.

      • The argument may be justifiably raised as to whether a movement begun by an avatar of God can actually become ‘ruined’ but the Lord Himself, in the Bhagavad-gita, says that the very reason He incarnates millenium after millenium is precisely because the parampara teachings have become lost.

        It should not surprise us, therefore, that the teachings can become lost in Kali yuga when spiritual subject matters are not given priority by the majority of the population.

        The situation in Bengal after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was that there was a great deal of synchretism – the mixing of teachings – and an influence of Islamic Sufis, outcast from Persia; Buddhists from China; tantric practitioners and Kali worshippers, – and then came the British!

        Unfortunately, Krishna consciousness is a very good mixer but the resulting cocktail of beliefs led to confusion and the proliferation of multiple sub-groups, each of them becoming a fresh parampara.

        So you have a great responsibility there in Guildford: to keep Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s lineage pure!

  3. Davis Daruka

    All Glories to Lord Krsna’s unbroken chain!

  4. Acyuta Krsna Dasa

    Jay Sri Radha Gokulananda

    Very sweet article Prabhu Ji, I especially like your correlation between intoxication and sahajiya practices.
    A lot of emerging devotees have come to this science after taking shelter in intoxication for many years, sadly it is all most people know in the west.
    As an addictions counsellor I try to approach the issue from a holistic, personalised point of view. It never seems to work when prompting people to take the more satvic path of sheltering in the supreme, this is down to sheltering in tamas for so long. Plus people this covered do not take to hellfire preaching.
    This wonderful science of self-realisation is one of total honesty with oneself, when we really see our shortcomings we advance onto a satvic path naturally. These shortcomings or anarthas are usually the reason why people take shelter in intoxication in the first place. Here presents the dilemma, how do we take to the path without honesty and how can we be honest while engaging in intoxication.
    Diksha and drugs results in a very watered down, sahajiya version of the truth, the two are diametrically opposed. Maybe people start with the belief that drugs will open their eyes to the self but like anything in this material world, if focussed on consistently it distracts from the self.
    When asked, anyone with an addiction will say that they are lost as a result of their intake; the same can be said about recreational use.
    The higher taste of being true to ones own devotional nature is the only way to compete with this tamas. Relishing the duties of your ashrama, engaging in constructive enlightening sanga and doing your activities as seva are the only highs in this life. Due to negative association people forget this taste so need to be reminded, temple sanga serves this purpose. The warmth and compassion of a devotee’s heart knows no bounds.
    In the past we would send these neophytes packing, calling them bogus sahajiyas. This may be the case; these people may simply prefer to be cheated.
    I would personally choose a personalised approach when advising these people to be honest with the self and shun anything that distracts from the self. How can you be the self when you get off on physical / mental kicks? This is just my approach though and the last thing I want is to come over as I am saying this is the only right way. Some may be totally bogus and need shunning themselves, although I would always give them a chance. Different things work for different people, some warm to the tough love hellfire approach and others need simply to be listened to. This is why I say I try to adopt a personal approach to identify that individual’s reasons as to why s/he takes shelter in destructive things rather than things that help one advance. By honest exploration of these issues we provide a beacon to aim towards for all those cheating themselves.
    Sincere people receive the mercy of the devotees, enabling them to traverse this darkness and come out the other end and eventually shine in their true siddha. Professionally I have met many troubled souls with what seems on the surface, no redeeming qualities. Somehow underneath all that baggage, there is always a little spark of well-meaning sincerity.

    Jai Srila Prabhupada

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