The conventional understanding of the word “intoxication”, madh in Sanskrit, is linked to wine, or to other substances like opium. To be intoxicated is to lose sensitivity, and to lose the power of reason. My teacher would say that undesirable as it is, wine as an intoxicant is a poor second to many others.

For example, the intoxication of vidya madh, or education. Those who attend haloed educational halls, consider others as lesser humans. They disdain ideas from other sources, and end up taking themselves  more seriously than they deserve. Or, beyond education, the intoxication of gyan madh, or knowledge. After attaining some education, a person learns to apply a part of it, and then feels superior to others. Some give themselves fancy titles, and affix numbers before their names, and expect all around to pay obeisance. And then there is youth and physical strength, leading to jawani madh. And the most deadly of all, raj madh, or the intoxication of being the ruler. By themselves, these are good qualities, or gunas, to possess. The educated and the knowledgeable can transmit what they know for betterment of society. Those who are strong can protect the weak, and those who are rulers, can serve the people with devotion. But when these qualities stick with the ego, they change from guna to madh. An example is King Ravan. The most knowledgeable of his time, he was strong, and ruled over a prosperous kingdom. Unfortunately, these qualities intoxicated him, and the result was ruin. Saint Kabir says:

The Sun cooked for him, and Fire cleaned his clothes—

A fortress of fame like Lanka, with the ocean as a moat around it—

Thousands of sons and thousands of grandsons,

Yet that palace of Ravan became a dark ruin.

Qualities that stick to our ego will soon become putrid and bring grief. My teacher would bless us so: “The more you know, the more humble may you become.”

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