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Addictions: How to get rid of them - insights from Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.

A perfect depiction of the paradoxical disease of addiction!

A perfect depiction of the paradoxical disease of addiction!

The story of the opium-addict

There was this opium addict who simply was not able to kick away his addiction. So strong was his craving for that psychotropic drug that though he knew it was not good for him, he was helpless in the face of the cravings. So, he was delighted when he came to know of a holy man who visited his place. While everyone went to him with different desires, the addict went to him seeking a cure from his dependence on addiction.

“So you want to give up your addiction to opium?” asked the holy man.

“Yes sire. However, know that I cannot live without opium. So, tell me how I can give up the addiction without having to stop taking opium.”

The holy man smiled. He asked the addict how much of opium he needed everyday. When the amount was measured out, the holy man took a balancing scale and placed the opium on one of the pans. He balanced it with chalk pieces on the other pan.

Giving the chalk pieces to the addict, he said,
“Everyday, weigh out opium against these chalk pieces and consume only that much. Is that fine?”

“Wow! This is a solution that nobody offered to me. Okay. I shall do as you say, but will it help me get rid of my addiction?”

“Not yet. You will have to pray to God. Then alone will the de-addiction occur. And pray with all your heart. Then, write the holy word ‘Aum’ thrice on this slate with the chalk pieces I gave you before you indulge in the opium. You will be cured and healed in due course.”

Needless to say, within a few months time, the chalk pieces wore down to almost nothing because of the writing on the slate. The opium consumption reduced gradually till it completely vanished! In the meanwhile, the former addict also developed love and devotion to the Lord.


The disease of addiction

Among the different problems that one faces as a teenager, the toughest ones are often those of addictions. In fact, the greatest problem that I have faced - of ‘attachment’ - (and I have written about it in considerable detail in the article entitled: When God teaches you to walk) is also an “addiction” of sorts. It is an addiction to people - their attention and affection. Addictions have a powerful persistence that seems to make them impossible to pluck out of the human psyche. At best, it appears as though one addiction can only be replaced by another.

I am sure that almost every teenager will have some addiction or the other - television, smoking, drugs, potato chips, chocolates, videogames, watching porn, consuming meat, alcohol, betting, internet browsing, exercising, gossiping about people, Facebook, make-up, coffee, masturbating, shopping, pills, under-eating, religion, politics etc (got these by googling for the most addictive activities of modern times). The list goes on. There are any number of addictions but all of them follow the same predictable cycle. An emotional trigger leads to craving. That craving results in the ritual activity at the end of which there is either guilt, shame or a sense of feeling bad. It leads to a determination on the part of the ‘victim’ to give up the addiction. But that resolve remains only till the next trigger. After that, it is the same story.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, my Swami, has been my saviour on many occasions when it has come to addictions. There are two examples which He has given which has stuck in my mind. And whenever the question of battling addictions arises, these two pop up in my mind. One is a small story while the other is a play on words.

Just have to make sure that in the process of taking away the pain, it does not introduce us to a greater pain!

Just have to make sure that in the process of taking away the pain, it does not introduce us to a greater pain!

The lessons from that story

Through simple stories, Swami conveys so many messages. Reading the above story, these were the three points that struck me:

1. An addiction cannot be given up in an instant, just like that, based on a decision made in a strong moment. Since it is nursed by the mind and not just the body, it is a tough opponent to combat. That is why the addict needed months to get over it.

2. Directly telling the addict to give up on something he indulges in will be of no help as it simply shuts him to any further inputs. The giving-up process has to be disguised with something else - some other activity. That is why the holy man assures the addict that he would not have to actually give up opium!

Delving a little deeper into this point, this is the method God always uses. If He were to tell us -

All your possessions, relations, careers and wealth are useless. Come unto me and I shall give you the ultimate after taking away the useless things

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- nobody would have ever sought God!

That happens because we are all so addicted to the world. That is why Swami disguises the ultimate gift by offering us trinkets and tinsel in the beginning. As He says,

“I give you what you seek so that one day you will seek what I have come to give.”

3. Prayer and God’s grace are vital for giving up addictions as they are for anything else in life. Theoretically, the addict in the story could have written anything on the slate to reduce the size of the chalk pieces. Even words like “train”, “buffalo” or “Aurangazeb” should have done the trick right? But these are the subtle nuances we have to grasp while listening to Swami’s chinna katha. The need to write ‘Aum’ implies the need for God’s help.

Taking that final leap...

Taking that final leap...

Shutting out an addiction completely

The actions that we perform are very vital in deciding our habits. And addictions are nothing but habits that have got hardened. Sri Sathya Sai Baba says:

Sow an action, reap a tendency; Sow a tendency, reap a habit; Sow a habit, reap a character; Sow a character, reap a destiny.

That beautifully summarizes the importance of actions and need to cultivate good habits. An addiction always results from a bad habit. And so, it is important to completely eliminate the habit(s) that led to the addiction in the first place. Many times, it so happens that a person who has decided to quit smoking, reaches the verge of quitting it completely and then turns complacent. He feels very confident that having done so much, he will be able to do away with the addiction anytime he wishes. So, he continues to play with those same habits that got him ensnared into the addiction.

In emphasizing on the importance of ridding oneself completely of a bad habit, Swami does a beautiful play on the word - HABIT.

He says that when one decides to give up a habit, one must do so completely. If he gives up only a part of it, say ‘H’, then ‘A BIT’ still remains. Now, he gives up the ‘A’ and a ‘BIT’ still remains. Giving up the ‘B’ to kick out the habit, he realizes that ‘IT’ still remains. He throws out the ‘I’ now and ‘T’ (habit of drinking tea) still remains!

I could not help smiling when I heard Swami do this play on the word HABIT in a discourse during my school days. And it has remained embedded in my conscious ever since. The explanation shows that human faults are like garden weeds. They grow without cultivation and soon take over the whole place if they are not thinned out and eliminated completely.

The only worthwhile addiction?

Is there an addiction, a madness, that is worth cultivating in life? There is! What is that? Let me reveal that through another small incident.

It was during the morning of Sivarathri on the 10th March 2013. The morning discourse was on via Radiosai. During the course of that discourse, Swami said (the gist)

“ Looking at people who worship God, many people call them mad. Looking at such people who do not believe in God, you people think that they are mad. The truth is...”

At this point, I thought that Swami would stand for the devotees. I was in for a little shock.

Swami continued,
“The truth is that both are mad!”

When I heard this, I thought,
“Swami this is not fair. we have trusted you and placed faith in you. But you call us mad?!”

Swami resolved my question beautifully in His very next statement,

“Both are mad. But madness for God is the least harmful and the most beneficial while madness for the world results in misery!”

Madness for God, the addiction for God is possibly the only worthwhile addiction that one can have in life.

Of all the madnesses that afflict man, God-madness is the least harmful and most beneficial! :)

Of all the madnesses that afflict man, God-madness is the least harmful and most beneficial! :)

A beautiful solution which Sri Sathya Sai demonstrated in an interview to give up a bad habit

An addiction is a habit that has gone beyond control. So, while the ‘opium-addict’ story of gradually giving up works for an addiction, a ‘bad-habit’ has a slightly different treatment.

A few teachers from the Brindavan campus of the Institute got the privilege of being called in for an interview with Swami. As always, the first enquiries Swami made were about the students and how they were faring. The teachers told Him that they were all doing well by His grace. Swami was happy. He then began to speak about the importance of inculcating good habits and giving up bad ones.

The professor of Mathematics who was seated in front of Swami asked a doubt,
“Swami, how should one give up one's habit - all at once OR little by little?”

Swami looked at Him, almost with pity and asked back,
“Suppose you think you are holding a rope in your hand. Suddenly you look at it and realize that it is a snake! Will you release it little by little or drop it all at once??"

Everyone laughed, including Swami, at the dramatic example. The message was clear.

But the professor persisted,
“Swami, but a bad habit does NOT go away so easily. What to do?"

There is something magical in going the opposite way when it comes to bad habits.

There is something magical in going the opposite way when it comes to bad habits.

Suddenly Swami’s face changed. It became serious. He almost glared at the professor. Then, He began to search for something. He found an empty envelope on the windowsill. He picked it and rolled it into a tube. When the professor was about to ready himself to receive a blow from the rolled envelope, Swami released the envelope. It now lay in His palm, slightly curved.

“How will you straighten this?” He asked.
Nobody answered as they awaited Swami to provide it. Swami now turned the envelope around, rolled it in the opposite direction and released it. It now lay flat in His palm.

He then smiled and said,

With that, the enlightening session ended.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy the following:

1. Heart vs Mind -1 - A matter of choice.

2. Sathya Sai Speaks.

3. The importance of being good.

4. On Prayer

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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya


Anonymous on July 09, 2020:

om Sairam. Before I became the lord's devotee, As a teenager I did indulge in some bad habits mentioned here, and since then I have given up everything which he would disapprove of. However, I'm feeling extremely guilty and terrible about my past practices even though I do not indulge in any such bad practices now. Thank you for the article, I seek the forgiveness of my lord. Jai Sairam.

Devendirakumar on September 13, 2017:

Dear Brother - My Loving Sairam. Thank You so much for this loving article teaching us the importance of having addiction with the Lord.

Thank you Brother.

With Love.

Satyavathi on September 12, 2017:

I was addicted to movie songs. Any new movie audio released, I used to buy the audio cassette and lyrics book n start practicing..throughout the day I keep singing. Those days (1970's) we had only radio. I was always having the radio transistor close to my ears. I will be listening to songs in low volume till late night when the whole family is sleeping. Such was my addiction.

But what next ? I know I am not so good at it to sing to others . So all that so called Joy was to myself. This was how I was till my 11th std (teenage).

This is When I first saw swami's photo on a magazine for his 60th bday (1985) . In the next one month someone took me to the nearby sai samithi in pondicherry for a Thursday bhajan session. I was immediately attracted seeing a lyrics book in everyone's hand called "bhajanavali", one lead singer singing , everyone repeating, tabla/ harmonium supporting the bhajan etc. I started learning and singing bhajans.

Bhajanavali replaced my movie lyrics books. Sundaram bhajan audio cassettes replaced my movie audio cassettes.

it's been 32 years now. I am still one of the lead singers in my samithi.

Swami had diverted my so called addiction from movie songs to bhajans. I stopped listening to and singing movie songs long back. My joy of singing has multiplied with bhajans, that also gives joy to others like swami always says " bhajan singing is double joy- for both singer and listener".

Not just joy, but adds lot of grace due to namasmarana and keeps our mind relaxed without thoughts.

I keep listening to and singing bhajans throughout the day. The so called " radio transistor" that was always in my hand 32 years ago has now become " radio sai" .

Gouthami Reddy on March 29, 2015:

Encountering bad habit by habituating a good one..I am going to rid off my late morning sleeps by starting a good book.This helped me really ..thanks bro :) sairam

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on February 28, 2015:

@UK - Any good habit is an opposing one. Since you are vague about the bad habit, I can only speak generally.

The "opposing habit" need not be something that requires skill or talent or special ability. What special ability does one need to chant God's name? What special ability does one need to go out and spend some time with people in need of care and help?

Basically, one should occupy the time one spends in the "bad habit" doing something else.

UK on February 28, 2015:

What do you do when you do not have any opposing good habit to counter a negative bad habit/addiction?? If someone has a talent in something or is good in his or his career then they can work longer hours towards it, but what about those who do not have such talents or skills?? Now don't say everyone has some talent/skill....i have been held captive by an addiction for 16 long years now and if there was something else I could use to counter I would definelty have.

VENUGOPAL.S on February 24, 2015:

When ever any bad thoughts comes to our mind we should tell our self that my Lord does not like this three times, then definitely we would not get into action.

Prashanth on February 24, 2015:

I think the first step is recognizing a bad habit and wanting to change it. If that happens, we should consider ourselves blessed. Those of us who know and love Swami can try to dedicate the action of dropping a habit at His feet and make a promise to Him. Remember 'mother prmise' and 'god promise' which we used to make as children? Well this is the Mother of all God promises! Let your love for and fear of upsetting your mother keep you away from the undesirable.


Thuva on February 24, 2015:

Sairam bro,

Thanks to swami and you to share this message.

sai on January 29, 2014:


sai ram on January 23, 2014:

Swami simply says " be good...... this is the way to god"....

so discriminate " what is good and what is not good".....

And make contstant effort to being good......

Addiction is just a fancy word for everything we think, say and do........

nothing unusual about that in human life...... but what is important is.... to focusing our effort to being good as swami says.......

being a good human in life is the best way to love and live life.

sai ram

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on May 28, 2013:

This is wonderful! Thank you for writing it! So there is more than one way to overcome an addiction / bad habit! I've always used cold turkey, but I'll try gradual with the ones I have left.

Doing an opposing action has helped me tremendously. Even when I didn't overcome, it at least improved my health and fitness.

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on May 22, 2013:

@Narayanan and tpudayshankar - Thank you for your comments.

@Dr.V.A.P Ghorpade- Very correct points. Superb observation. By any chance are you into counselling too?

dr.v.a.p.ghorpade on May 22, 2013:

All these techniques impresses non addicts well, slightly for a mild to moderate addict and almost bill for an hardcore addict. Turning point comes up in a addicts life governed by divinity which helps him to transform his life. These tips will be very effective when it is given at an appropriate time by a appropriate person in a appropriate way. Gist would be "Strike when the iron is hot"

tpudayasankar on May 22, 2013:

brother you have compiled this article so well that this could be a life saving drug to the vast majority of those addicted to something. addiction to divinity is positive and therefore if we access sai literature wherever found and in what ever form, the other negative addictions shall find their way out of the system. please continue your creative articles and remain as the instrument of our Lord Sai

Narayanan on May 22, 2013:

This article was very useful for me. There is another form of addiction and that is the habitual negative thoughts that we entetain and many of us are victims to that. Maybe some incident or some setback might have triggered it but many cling on to the negative and self-defeating thoughts. The rolling of the envelope on the opposite side is a very good indication to develop positive and energizing thoughts so that one could get rid of the habituated thought-process. Another of Swami's nugget is that if there is dirty water in a glass the best way to get rid of it is to hold it below a tap of good running water. In a short while the dirty water will be displaced with pure, crystal clear water. Sai Ram.

poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on May 08, 2013:

I am reminded of a sai spiritual showers story on how Swami's classmate, a doc who was addicted to morphine injection got out of it. Enjoyed HABIT explanation. Gandhiji's quote "God to be God must rule the heart and transform it" just fits the write up.

Devotee on May 05, 2013:

Sairam bro,

Need your inputs on a situation.i am trying to help a fellow devotee out of a serious addiction.i have been giving my all in terms of unconditional love,help,support and by setting a good example myself because we can't help unless we practice what we preach or help others with.

Swami has come in a series of dreams the past few years to give me specific directions and insights.the fellow devotee being a great devotee and soul also had a similar understanding and a great bond was formed in this manner.

Yes there is progress each time but we fail to reach the point of clearing the addiction or affliction which swami wants to eliminate completely.i have endangered my life and my family members's life in this process and swami keeps indicating He is happy.But I m not because the person is simply unable to come out of the vicious cycle He has created for amount of love and support seems to get rid of the negativity he has surrounded himself with.

At this point I just need to listen to smething inspiring from swami to have the courage to go on.Swami knows I m doing my best n He is only working through me.but the current setback is making me lose my courage in the task swami has assigned to me.i know we are supposed to be the cracks in the dam which can break the bridge but it gets too much sometimes.

Padma on May 04, 2013:

Another worth waiting article..How sweetly swami has explained the word HABIT.

Very recently got addicted to your articles..and that too started expecting a new article everyday :)

Sairam..Wish swami to bless this madness..

P Naik on May 04, 2013:

Swami used to tell us about avoid habits - "krama kramena tagginchu" (reduce gradually, step by step). If you suppress it, it rises again with double the force, like a rubber ball pressed to the ground, release it and it'll jump twice as high as before....

saisarannaga from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India. on May 04, 2013:

Yes, we all had these afflictions (addictions) from child hood days. It is not easy to pluck them by the root since it requires enormous effort and the grace of God. The story of a Doctor who was addicted to morphine injection, and how Swami rescued him ultimately in a case in point. The examples given by Swami is really superb!

Sreenidhi on May 04, 2013:

“Both are mad. But madness for God is the least harmful and the most beneficial while madness for the world results in misery!” - I have now read this in couple of your hubs and every time I come across this, its puts a smile on my face. I should say I have overcome certain addictions over the 2 years, like reading too much of fictions.

Of course, reading is good but I was too addicted so much so that whenever a book was released, I had to somehow read it and somehow within 2 days and.3 days ( I had set a goal.I would even sit up late to complete the book and miss eating.) Slowly and gradually, Sai Literature took its place and it was very very useful and gave space for much more pure and blissful thoughts. That's how certain lessons of life began dawning upon me. Thinking back I only understand I lost time and energy reading all those fictions. It was like a competition I had with myself to finish those books.

Swami has a big role to play in making me get rid of this addiction. It all began with the 'My Dear Students' series of books. I just did not feel like touching any other book. So many lessons and again when my mind tried to read it like how I read fictious books, I couldn't.I began to consciously practise what Swami advised students to do as I read that book. Reading it spanned for days and days, even after I left Srisailam. Coming back to Oman, I had access to your hubs to read and thus love for Swami got me addicted to something very beneficial and very very blissful. Now, I just don't get time to read any of the fictions.

Though I still have a desire to read Godfather by Mario Puzo, but that desire is not greater than how much desire I have to read Sai Literature. Still Swami is helping me get rid of some silly addictions by the way of showing this quote and hitting me with it. Sometimes, the above words of Swami comes like a solace and sometimes it teaches hard-hitting lessons. Thanks a ton to the Swami in you for a highly inspiring and refreshing hub. I loved it!

Sairam on May 04, 2013:

wow! that was so beautifully written- i felt as if swami personally addressed it to me

Aarthi on May 04, 2013:

The world may laugh at us because we are mad about God but little do they know the everlasting true joy we get in this 'madness'. Can we laugh at them because they are mad about the world? We can only pray for them that they too soon turn their madness towards God.

KokilaVaidyanathan on May 04, 2013:

OMS.. Sairam...this is amazing...this was the very same topic of our study circle last week.. And as we are using the Radiosai study circle material..we came across the same example of the chalk and opium...and the group was amazed and how our dear Swami gives such a a practical solution.... We had an hour long discussion word beautifully explained.... Amazing...totally zapped..thanks a lot for the article...

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