THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 8, June, 1940
(Pages 366-368; Size: 8K)


QUESTION: Occasional drinking and the serving of liquor are coming to be regarded as social obligations and "business" necessities. For one who would be moderate, isn't total abstinence sometimes a puritanical extreme, unnecessary and therefore ungracious?

Answer: Once we know the true nature of alcohol and its effects on man, this question presents no more of a problem than if our friends were to invite us to drink poison, and were offended by our refusal. Everyone has observed the effect of excessive drinking of alcoholic liquors on the physical man. Theosophists, however, are aware of what alcohol does to man's psychic nature. They realize that drinking is one of the very few purely physical habits which can reach into and corrupt the subtler principles of his being.

But why should alcohol, among so many other substances, produce even the visible effects we see? Why should one combination of chemical elements have the power to stupefy the highest and noblest function of the mind and cause man to stoop below the brute? When we have answered this question we will no longer have any doubts as to whether or not we should drink intoxicating liquors under any conditions, or in any amount.

What is alcohol? The dictionary says, it is "a colorless, volatile, inflammable liquid, which is the intoxicating principle in fermented and distilled liquors." This definition tells nothing as to the basic nature of the substance. The chemical composition of alcohol appears harmless enough, consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, elements found in all organic compounds. Alcohol is a product of the fermentation of saccharine juices present in most grains and fruits. Fermentation is but another term for the decomposition of a complex compound, like sugar, into simpler ones. Sugar does not of itself undergo alcoholic fermentation, but is capable of being decomposed into fermentable substances by living ferments. "Certain germ-cells," wrote H.P.B., "such as those of yeast, develop and multiply in air, but when deprived of it, they will adapt themselves to life without air and become ferments, absorbing oxygen from substances coming in contact with them, and thereby ruining the latter. The cells in fruit, when lacking free oxygen, act as ferments and stimulate fermentation." (S.D. I, 249 fn.)

Theosophy teaches that the lives of all forms fall into two classes, the "creators" and the "destroyers." Fermentation, obviously, is the work of the "destroyers," which decompose form. We must not think, however, that some lives are always creators, and others destroyers. In an ascending cycle, the lives composing a body are predominantly "creators," and in decline the same lives gradually become "destroyers." "Every atom and molecule in the Universe is both life-giving and death-giving to that form, inasmuch as it builds by aggregation universes and the ephemeral vehicles ready to receive the transmigrating soul, and as eternally destroys and changes the forms and expels those souls from their temporary abodes." (S.D. I, 261.)

If alcohol is the product of the "destroyers," it becomes clear why its emanations, upon reaching the brain, cause a temporary break with the higher faculties of the individual. To this may be added the suggestion of H.P.B., that wine and Spirits "contain and preserve the bad magnetism of all the men who helped in their fabrication." (See THEOSOPHY I, 87. )

Further evidence that, used as a beverage, alcohol allies itself with the destructive forces in nature, lies in the fact that alcohol destroys the natural defenses of the body against germs. Alcohol prevents the blood vessels from dilating and makes their walls impermeable, thus preventing the migration of the white blood cells -- the defenders of the body -- to the infected region. The body of a man under the influence of alcohol has no protection against harmful bacteria that may be inhaled, which develop unimpeded until he regains normal consciousness. This recalls H.P.B.'s statement that the sleep of a drunkard "is no real sleep but a heavy stupor, not physical rest, but worse than sleeplessness, and kills the drunkard as quickly."

It might be well to repeat the results of some discoveries about molecular vibrations, which led Dr. Donald H. Andrews of Johns Hopkins to play on the piano the musical chords corresponding to the complex rates of vibration of a number of chemical substances, among them alcohol. (See THEOSOPHY XX, 119.) Alcohol, he found, has a chord of seven notes, described as "seductive." With one exception, these notes form a "well known harmonic combination." Wood alcohol, the violent poison, has a harsh, sharp sound, although chemically very closely related to alcohol.

A tortuous history can be dimly glimpsed behind the phenomena of alcohol. It may seem anomalous that a particularly harmonious set of vibrations should be the basis of a substance which, taken internally, is an insuperable barrier to spiritual knowledge; yet upon consideration such a result appears quite natural. That the chord is "seductive" perhaps accounts for its fatal fascination, and this might be truer still of habit-forming drugs. Is it not logical that the most beneficent of substances, teachings, natures, when once perverted, become the most deadly? When and how did human nature get so out of tune with the form of life represented by the alcohol formula as to bring about its present maleficence to man? What was alcohol as originally designed by nature? Now its most marked effect is release of inhibitions and exposure to moral infection of the inner nature of its victims. Is it conceivable that there was once a time when what has since become alcohol had the effect, used wisely, of making the whole nature of man porous to the Ego?

The Theosophist knows the effect that alcoholic drinks have upon man's moral and mental nature, as well as upon the physical. If he has to drink to keep his friends, then he prefers to lose them. H.P.B. says the Theosophist's duty is "To purify himself inwardly and morally; to fear no one, and naught, save the tribunal of his own conscience. Never to do a thing by halves; i.e., if he thinks it is the right thing to do, let him do it openly and boldly, and if wrong, never touch it at all." (The Key to Theosophy, p. 241.)

The objection to drinking may be more general than we think, especially at social gatherings, for even Emily Post says that as a matter of etiquette the careful hostess will always have non-alcoholic beverages on hand for those who do not use liquor.

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