See the addicted not as demented or degraded but as tormented

Suppose someone becomes addicted to drinking. Despite being urged to give up drinking and despite even promising to give up, they keep drinking. We may view such drunkards as demented or degraded.

Demented: We may think, “For the momentary pleasure of a drink, who will risk losing their reputation, relationships, wealth, health, even their life itself? Only someone insane.” 

Degraded: We may think, “For such fleeting pleasure, who will trample over their sacred values and hurt grievously those who love them? Only someone degraded.”

However, such assessments of the addicted are usually unhelpful. Why? Because when we affix such labels on people, we start looking down at them. And our condescending attitude makes them unreceptive to whatever help we might offer them for overcoming their addiction. 

Additionally, these assessments are inaccurate. Why? Because despite their demented or degraded behavior, their inner reality is that they are tormented by desires that goad them toward indulgence. 

If someone started goading us externally, we would try to push them away or run away from them. But we can do neither when we are goaded internally; we can only helplessly bear the pain till it becomes unbearable. Finally, desperate for some relief, however short-lived, we succumb. 

Voicing this universal human predicament, the Bhagavad-gita (03.36) raises the question: what impels us to wrongdoing, as if by force, against our will? That inner tormentor is the self-destructive force of lust (03.37). 

How can we protect ourselves from this inner tormentor? Through spiritual knowledge and practice, which act as both our inner armor and inner elevator. Initially, they shield us from lust’s goads and eventually, they raise us beyond lust’s reach. 

When we learn to see the addicted as tormented – not as demented or degraded – we can empathically equip them with spiritual resources for freeing themselves. 

 

Think it over:

  • Why is seeing the addicted as demented or degraded unhelpful?
  • Why do the addicted relapse, despite knowing that they shouldn’t?
  • How does the Gita equip us against our inner tormentor? 

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