We live in a culture today in which the use of drugs is widespread at both medical and recreational levels. It has been estimated that nearly twenty five percent of children in the United States are under regular medication, extending to over ninety percent of seniors, who may be taking several drugs daily. Many new drugs have been invented to treat such physical conditions as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and allergies, as well as a broad range of antibiotics for infectious diseases. At a mental level, there are many new drugs for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, insomnia, and for attention deficit and hyperactivity in children. Certainly many of these drugs have their benefits but one wonders if the pursuit of drugs is the best way to handle our human problems.
Physical diseases are rooted in poor diet, lack of exercise and other life-style factors for which taking a drug may not provide the long term solution. Problems with the mind and emotions are connected to physical factors, but also to situational problems, wrong life-style and lack of purpose and spirituality in life, for which a pill may not provide a truly meaningful alternative.
Recreational drugs are also commonly used today from legally available alcohol and tobacco to marijuana, which can be easily found in most cities in the West and is legal in some places. In addition, and more dangerously, illegal drugs are commonly available not only for adults but also for teenagers and are involved with criminal elements in society.
The statistics here are not clear but it is likely that a majority of the youth in all western countries has tried recreational drugs and a significant minority takes them regularly.
On top of such more overt taking of drugs, many people take junk foods, fast foods and soft drinks that are low in nutritional factors and contain many artificial chemicals, additives and colorings. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are common in the vegetables we eat and our air contains various chemical pollutants. Even our water is not always safe to drink owing to its chemical content!
We certainly live in a chemical age and our bloodstream often carries a variety of chemicals that we are not aware of and which our ancestors never had to deal with. Reflecting this ‘chemical orientation’ of our society, it is not surprising that the youth looks to drugs to either provide them happiness or solve their problems.
Drug addiction is arguably a social problem encouraged by the greater artificial life-style of our culture. It reflects a deeper seated weakness in our cultural life-style connected to a lack of spirituality and introspection.
What is the Hindu view of the use of drugs? Traditional Hindu medicine or Ayurveda does accept the value of drugs to treat certain physical health conditions. However, it sees them more as a secondary and temporary tool for health, not the first line or primary approach.
Our health is determined by the primary factors of our physical existence which are the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the air we breathe, the exercise we do, how we adjust to climate, seasonal and age changes in life. Our state of health is a matter of our own action or karma, how we live on a daily basis. To have good physical health we should first address how we live relative to the natural factors of physical life. We should make sure to have good food, natural beverages, good air, adequate exercise and sufficient rest and relaxation.
In this regard Hindu practices of yoga postures and pranayama, as well as a sattvic diet emphasizing natural foods, are more important for long term physical health than any drug, however useful these may be at certain times for extreme conditions.
Ayurveda also accepts the value of drugs for treating psychological problems, but again regards them more as a secondary or temporary treatment for extreme conditions in which the patient may be in danger of losing control of their faculties. Our psychological health is the outcome of the primary factors of our mental existence, the type of sensory impressions we take in, the emotional states we are involved with, our basic values, relationships and associations in life.
Again our psychological health is a matter of our own action or karma, how we think on a daily basis. To have good psychological health we should first address how we live relative to the natural factors of psychological and spiritual living.
In this regard, Hindu practices of mantra, meditation and devotion to the Divine are more important for long term psychological health than what any drug or therapist can do for us, however necessary these drugs may be in extreme conditions.
Some people point out that a number of Hindu sadhus take marijuana, as if this was some justification for the recreational use of all kinds of drugs. There are a few Hindu sects which do this. Smoking of marijuana can help sadhus deal with the cold and bodily discomforts of their austere lives. Ayurveda uses small amounts of marijuana in its formulas mainly for its pain relieving properties. Yet many other Hindu sects do not accept the use of any type of drug, including marijuana. Even a classical yogic text like the Yoga Sutras defines the use of drugs for spiritual purposes as a non-yogic approach that has its limitations.
Many native people use natural mind-altering drugs in a sacred way under special conditions and as part of traditional rituals. This is very different from recreational usage of drugs for personal pleasure as well. While one may not agree with the use of any drugs for spiritual purposes, one must discriminate between a regulated sacred use of natural mind-altering substances and an indiscriminate and self-indulgent use of recreational drugs.
The main problem with most pharmaceutical drugs is that they tend to accumulate in our tissues. As unnatural substances of a chemical and metallic nature, the body is not able to eliminate them. Their heavy nature also allows them to get deposited in the tissues and organs for which it can be very hard to extract them. Above a certain very low threshold they become toxic to the body as a whole.
So we should be very conservative in our taking of drugs, particularly when we are young, in order to avoid their accumulation to toxic levels within us during the course of our lives. As medicinal drugs may not be entirely avoidable, we should at least not expose ourselves to recreational drugs whose short term pleasure may result in long term health problems that may not manifest until our later years.
Drugs can have their benefits medicinally but they are not the main factor behind human health and disease either physically or psychologically. We should never forget that the ability to master our own existence and gain the real goals of human life lies in our own power and is a result of our own attitudes, values and actions. Recreational drugs can also provide enjoyment for us but they tend to weaken the nervous system in the process and make us less capable of finding natural happiness and contentment.
Hindu Dharma offers an inner technology of yoga, mantra and meditation for accessing higher states of consciousness, peace and happiness without needing to rely upon any external medications. If the Hindu youth studies and practices these then they will find the solution to all the issues and problems of life taking one to the highest Self-realization and universal awareness, understanding one’s own nature and the nature of all of life as part of the same unfoldment of Divine bliss. Yet unless we make these yogic practices part of our daily lives, we should not be surprised if the youth follows the ways of the outer culture of today in which drug addiction is more likely.
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