How many of us have in one form or another suffered from some sort of an addiction? Well, I guess most of us do have experience of an addiction; some of us climb out of it while some succumb to it. Some are not so lucky though, and their lives are ruined by their uncontrollable indulgence, be it in alcohol, drugs or the like.
So, what really is an addiction? It simply refers to our inability to rein in our mind and senses from an object which we think gives us pleasure. When we are unable to resist the temptation or the urge to do something we enjoy, or we aren’t able to take our mind off it, then we are addicted to that activity or thing. Well, frankly there are two sides to it; we may be addicted to something which does us good or to that which bring us harm.
Well, mostly the word ‘addiction’ has a negative connotation; addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, and narcotics, for example, are often talked about and discussed in schools, media and other forums. Such activities are looked upon as anti-social and resulting in dysfunctional behaviour and lifestyles; hence, much focus is given to the prevention of such addiction especially among children and adolescents. There are also many other types of addiction though; addiction to pornography and sex, computer games, watching television, pilfering, being angry, feeling important, looking good, different foods are some examples, to name a few. In any case, all of these situations point to the fact that we are being controlled by some subtle power or force which we are unable to resist, or find it very difficult to ignore.
According to Vedic literature, specifically the Bhagavad-Gita, the root of the problem is explained as having its fertilization in the mind. The mind forms an interesting make up of our body; it is described as being part of our subtle body, together with the intellect and false ego. (The mind has three functions – thinking, feeling and willing; the intellect has the power to discriminate, while the ego is a matter of identity, who we identify ourselves as.) When the mind focuses on a particular sense object – form, taste, sound, touch, smell, and contemplates on it, then attachment for the object develops due to lust (the sense of enjoyment). Therefore, this means that the more we think about the pleasures of the sense object, the greater the affinity we have for it. Then, as this attachment grows, greed develops, and when we are unable to satisfy it, then we become angry, and with anger bewilderment where we lose control. This explains why a drug addict will go to great lengths to fulfill his craving for narcotics, even to the point of robbery or murder. It is for this reason that some countries impose the death penalty for drug-related offences for the overall well-being of society.
With the root of the problem identified, therein, too, lies the solution. The focus of the mind and its thoughts on objects which yield a desirable outcome should be encouraged; in a world of negative stimuli, we may remain unaffected if we do not lend our mind to such thoughts or ideas. In it comes and out it goes, with not a moment devoted to its contemplation or deliberation. However, the challenge remains in disciplining the mind, which seems to act at its own will, with thoughts flowing in as rivers to an ocean. How do we maintain our equilibrium and remain undisturbed, ocean-like? The Bhagavad-Gita also offers the prescription: regulation of the senses, or in other words, maintaining a routine is essential in keeping the mind focused. An unstructured lifestyle with no fixed plan or routine is an invitation for trouble. The mind will thus take the opportunity to jump at an inviting thought or idea or sense object in the absence of a regulated life of fixed routine.
Yoga practice is also aimed at helping to discipline the mind; by focusing on the Absolute Reality, rather than on transient sense objects and flickering thoughts. Specifically, it is prescribed that singing the holy names glorifying the Personality of Godhead is the most effective way of subduing the mind, an attempt which has aptly been described as more difficult than controlling the wind. It is also proven to be more effective than adopting yogic postures as singing the Lord’s glories can be done without the barriers of time and space, and it also invokes automatic remembrance of His uncommon activities and qualities. When a higher taste is established, the lower taste is abandoned. It is a natural phenomenon, and its applicability is universal.
At the end of the day, the litmus test is whether we are in control of our mind or we are slaves to it. Do we allow ourselves to be dictated by the urges of lust, anger and greed or do we pander to their demands? Are we able to withdraw our mind from the contemplation of sense objects which come in contact with our senses or do we dwell on them? The mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. The choice really is ours, and only for us to make, that is, regulation of the senses and developing a higher taste.