When I was ranting about news the other day I wasn’t totally honest, there was one piece that caught my attention because it offered a fresh insight into a familiar problem that can have great repercussions for us as devotees even if it seems to be unrelated.
It’s about experiences of one young woman who tries to abstain from alcohol for one year, in London. She describes it as probably the worst place to be a teetotaler and gives plenty of reasons why, main of which is binge drinking.
The result of it is toxic atmosphere where everyone is goaded into drinking and there’s too much societal pressure to conform. Elsewhere, in her experience, when people don’t drink to get drunk then no one cares if someone abstains completely or not, but in London not being intoxicated considered practically rude and party spoiling.
Anyway, she soldiers on, on the seventh month now, and she’ll probably complete her “vrata”, so all is good. What can WE learn from it?
In her struggle she questions several fundamental assumptions, first of which was that not drinking is considered “extreme”. What’s so extreme about it? As she says in her article, she is not bungee jumping from London Tower with a live cheetah strapped to her back, that would be extreme.
This is what happens to us when we step out into a society – they have funny notions of what is extreme – no drinking, no coffee, no meat, no sex. For us it has long become a lifestyle, they, however, think that we are torturing ourselves. When someone asks me “So, do you like vegetarian food?” I don’t know how to answer politely. I don’t know any other food anymore, this is what I eat every time, day after day, year after year. We don’t wonder if dogs like dog food or fish like fish food or Italians like Italian food, so why ask if vegetarians like vegetarian?
Now, when we see such artificial limits in others we might consider similar psychological barriers we build for ourselves. Things that we think are impossible, like becoming a book distributor or strictly following the fourth. Much of it is impossible only in our minds just like those London alcoholics can’t comprehend teetotaling.
Back to the story, her next challenge is to “everything in moderation” paradigm. Why? Why should everything be in moderation? A little bit of rape is okay? A couple of murders? Occasional shooting rampage? Shoplifting? Infidelity? Taking office supplies home? A little spouse abuse? A little child abuse? A little heroin?
Why can’t we exclude some things from our lives altogether? We might fail, or we will most certainly fail from time to time but why should we set our goals low from the start as if failure is inconsequential and should become new standard to spare us some embarrassment?
This is where this woman goes to the heart of the problem – people are addicts, substances are addictive, telling people to consume them in moderation is like saying “Hey, you know that stuff that makes you want more and more as soon as you have a bit? Yeah, just have a bit!” It’s actually absurd or outright devilish.
Well, okay, what does it have to do with us? We don’t expose ourselves to addictive substances, we are safe here.
Not quite – life is addictive. Sex life is most addictive. Eating is addictive, too. Games are addictive, news are addictive, TV is addictive, friends are addictive, our jobs are addictive (if we are engaged according to our nature). Everything in this world is designed to be addictive, to make our senses want more and more of it.
Of course eventually we get tired of enjoying stuff, too, and go into some sort of withdrawal phase like sulking teenagers but it’s a cyclical process, mode of passion eventually takes over again and forces us to become addicted to something else.
Problem with life is that we can’t abstain from it like we can abstain from alcohol. With life we have to take it in moderation, there’s no other choice. Or is there? Is this woman right in the absolute sense and “everything in moderation” is a bogus rule?
Yes and no. While we want to enjoy life we should take it in moderation but if we want to become devotees then total abstinence is our only option. As devotees we should not accept any kind of sense gratification in any dozes, however small. Pure devotion means free from any trace of desire for sense gratification, it means total victory over the senses, as instructed in Upadesamrita.
“Isn’t it a but extreme?” someone might say. Yes, we’ve heard this already, just a few paragraphs up, it isn’t, it’s all in our minds. Pure devotion is available to everyone and it is in everyone’s nature so it’s not extreme in any sense.
We shouldn’t look at Krishna consciousness goalposts and think “Oh, that’s for paramahamsas, not for me.” We all must become paramahamsas, there’s no other way, and we all ARE potential paramahamsas, there are no excuses.
Hmm, perhaps these young people are not as hare brained as they usually appear in their selfies. Maybe not everything is lost yet.