Hinduism’s Perspective on Smoking

“From purity of food follows the purity of the internal organ”
~ Chandogya Upanishad, vii.26.2

Harmful habits like consuming tobacco is considered immoral and sinful in Hinduism. It’s a proven fact that all tobacco products, when consumed, kill. No religion in the world encourages its followers to indulge in the use of tobacco in any form whatsoever.

Can religion help smokers quit the habit?
It is imperative to find out how religion, religious organizations and gurus can help in achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) dream of a tobacco-free world.

Tobacco & Religion
A conference on Tobacco and Religion was held at WHO headquarters, in Geneva, in 1999, where representatives of major religions decided to develop a collaboration between religious organizations and WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative on evidence-based educational programs and investigations of the harmful effects of tobacco on men, women and children. It was also decided to focus future meetings on the ethical and moral aspects of tobacco and tobacco control, and to continue the dialogue and share information with religious organizations at the country level.

Swami Amarananda on Smoking
Hindus give as much importance to their holy books as to living gurus and saints. Swami Amarananda of the Hindu Centre of Geneva, who represented Hinduism in this meeting urged Hindu religious leaders and associations to come forward to dissuade people from using tobacco. “Tobacco is traditionally seen as a vyasana or an unhealthy dependence. And the goal of spiritual life lies in the cessation of suffering, access to bliss and freedom from the bondage of nature. So a vyasana matches ill with a spiritual life”, he said.

Swami Sivananda’s Views
Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh says: “The body is a mould prepared by the mind for its activities. There is an intimate connection between the body and the mind. The nature and condition of the body has a vital effect upon the mind and activities. Therefore, the materials or foods that build the body and the mind should be pure, wholesome, nutritious, substantial and bland”.

Tobacco Didn’t Exist in Ancient India
The Global Tobacco Control and Law Conference, held in New Delhi in January 2000 revealed new data demonstrating the negative health and economic impact of tobacco use in India and urged for a higher degree of support amongst farmers to shift out of tobacco. Tobacco did not exist in ancient India, but now, according to a survey conducted a few years ago, the sale of bidis or mini hand-rolled cigars can sometimes exceed the country’s defence budget.

Scriptures on Purity of Food
Kalidasa, the greatest of Sanskrit poets said: “The first among all spiritual practices is the care of the body”. In Vedanta, the human body, as we see it, is considered the gross body, which food helps to build. Attached to it, is a more powerful subtler body, which is the assimilation of the life force, the nervous system and the organs of cognition. Here’s where resides the spirit of pervading power. So the Vedic mantra says, “If food is pure, the mind is in poise. When the mind is in perfect poise, there develops the capacity of retaining subtle truths by the mind”.

In the Upanishads, the purity of a particular food item has been judged by its effects on the mind. Accordingly, all edibles, including hundreds of leaves have been divided into three categories: exciting, non-exciting, and intermediate. So, we have three kinds of food that a man can eat: Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic. These gunas or qualities (Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas), determine a man’s taste for a particular ingestible substance.

The Gita on the Classification of Food
A detailed classification of food can be found in The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVII: “That food which increases life, purity, strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are dear to the Sattwic (pure) people. Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning are liked by the Rajasic and result in pain, grief and disease. That, which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the Tamasic. From Sattwa (purity) arises wisdom or knowledge; from Rajas (passion) arises greed; and from Tamas (inertia) arises heedlessness, delusion and ignorance.

Bottom Line
Above all, one should desist from the pleasure of smoking out of consideration for others, for “doing good to others is an act of merit; harming others is a sinful act”. If you believe in this dictum you should abstain from smoking and encourage fellow-smokers to quit this habit.

~ Subhamoy Das