“The material covering of the pure spirit soul is an external feature, as much as fever is an external feature of the unhealthy body. The general process is to decrease the degree of the fever and not to aggravate it by maltreatment. Sometimes it is seen that spiritually advanced persons become materially impoverished. This is no discouragement. On the other hand, such impoverishment is a good sign as much as the falling of temperature is a good sign. The principle of life should be to decrease the degree of material intoxication which leads one to be more and more illusioned about the aim of life. Grossly illusioned persons are quite unfit for entrance into the kingdom of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.26 Purport)
1. At a function involving colleagues from the office
“Oh, I can’t wait. I am going to get hammered tonight. The company is footing the bill. It is about time these cheapskates did something for us. This will be a night to remember. Let’s get wild. Let it all hang loose. We are off tomorrow, so no worries about sleep.
“Wait, you are not having any drinks? Are you waiting for the right time? Don’t worry about running into senior management. They are probably half in the bag already. Oh, so you’re not drinking at all tonight? What happened? Is everything alright? Is it something you want to talk about?”
2. At a wedding
“Let us raise a glass to the newly joined couple. To many years of wedded bliss. They are just perfect for each other. I am so glad they found true love. It is never too late. Don’t give up hope.
“I noticed that you didn’t drink from your glass after the toast. Is everything alright? The champagne wasn’t bad; I promise you. Wait, you haven’t had a drink all night? Are you the designated driver? Is the wife on your case about drinking too much? I get that all the time, but once I’ve had a few I stop caring. All the yelling and screaming just blends into the background.”
3. If an old friend wants to hang out for the night
“It is great catching up with you. We haven’t met in so long. It is sad sometimes, the way life’s journey works. We cross paths for a certain period of time. We accomplish great things. We never want to separate, but then we are eventually forced to.
“Anyway, let’s drink to celebrate the reunion. Oh, you’re not having anything? Come on, man, you used to put them down back in the day, when we were in college. You were the best drinker out of us. Let’s try to rekindle some of that magic.”
In the bhakti culture following the parampara with its origins in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is a general prohibition on intoxication. The aim is to be more like a brahmana and less like the kripana. The kripana is miserly, a trait developed through primary interest in sense gratification.
The brahmana is more liberal in nature. This is due to seeing things as they are. A clear vision, not obstructed by intoxication either induced by chemicals or saturation of material desires, piled on top of one another.
The restriction on intoxication is but one small piece of the overall culture of devotion, but there is tremendous difficulty when outside of the temple setting. As the aforementioned examples illustrate, someone trying to implement this basic system of sense control will meet opposition, bewilderment, and perhaps anger from the outside.
The reward is well worth the inconvenience. If one can fight off the hindrance, they will soon see clearly. They will reap the benefits of sobriety. Another way to frame the concept of God is ‘”the Absolute Truth.” He is beyond duality. Whatever principles we implement have accompanying defects, like the fire producing smoke.
यथादर्शो मलेन च
तथा तेनेदम् आवृतम्
yathādarśo malena ca
tathā tenedam āvṛtam
“As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, similarly, the living entity is covered by different degrees of this lust.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.38)
This is not the case with God. He is absolute in nature. This extends to His names, forms and pastimes. Connecting with Him is vital due to the general illusion surrounding us. The appeal of intoxication is rooted in this illusion, and so someone who can limit attachment to unwanted behaviors will have a superior standing in their pursuit towards perfection of spiritual life.
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, the more we decrease material intoxication, the more we can see clearly the ultimate objective of life. Therefore, the rules and regulations serve a vital purpose, and followed under the guidance of a proper authority figure the regimen can yield lasting benefits.
Like sore vision healed,
Lasting benefits to yield.
When intoxication stopping,
And other anarthas dropping.
Through guru wisdom hearing,
That foggy picture clearing.
Where Absolute Truth to show,
As all-attractive to glow.
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