“Do you know of what this net of maya [illusion] is comprised? Sense objects, lust, gold, name, fame, ego, vanity, selfishness, and so on. With all these, maya binds the mind of man. Come out of this net, and the mind will run straight to God. All bondage is in the mind. All freedom is in the mind.”

“The worldly man is drunk with the objects of sense, with name, with fame, with lust, with gold. Be you also drunk, but be drunk with selfless works, with love of God, with ecstasy, with samadhi [the superconscious state]!” – Swami Premananda [1]

The Baal Shem Tov used to tell a story about two men who are passing through a forest together; one is drunk and the other is sober. When they enter into the heart of the forest, they are accosted by a band of robbers, who steal their money and beat them up.

When they finally reach the other end of the forest, they come upon a group of travelers who are about to enter the forest themselves. Seeing the two friends, the travelers ask them if it is safe to enter the forest. The drunk, who is so inebriated that he does not feel the pain of the beatings, and has already forgotten what had happened to them, responds: “It is perfectly safe to go through the forest. Nothing will happen to you.” The travelers point to his torn clothing and the bruises all over his body and ask him: “If it is safe in the forest, then how did you get those bruises?” “I don’t know”, the drunk confessed.

Turning to his companion, they once again ask: “My dear sir. Is it safe for us to enter the forest?” The sober man immediately replies: “There is a band of murderous robbers in the forest. You enter it at the risk of your lives.” [2]

This is what it means to be drunk with this world. It means to become so completely deluded by the power of maya that we do not even recognize what is happening to us. We are numb to what we are enduring, oblivious to the truth of our experience in this world. We no longer feel the daily blows that we absorb, or remember the pain and suffering we have gone through in the past. We just keep telling ourselves that “life is beautiful” and that happiness can be found in the pleasures of this world.

This is what it means to be drunk with the world. But there is also another kind of drunkenness, the intoxication of Divine inebriation. Nancy Pope Mayorga gives us a personal and graphic description of this state in her memoirs about her spiritual journey:

“All day I am overtaken by sudden surges of ecstatic joy. In between them, my heart is full of love, my throat full of laughter. When I go to bed, I am sometimes overwhelmed with bliss. I awake every morning in ecstasy…I am at the stage Brother Lawrence describes when I don’t pick a straw off the floor without doing it for God. Before I put food into my mouth, I say, ‘I offer this to You. May it give me strength to serve You more fully.’ And then sometimes I can’t eat at all for the bliss that seizes me. I have lost eight pounds. I can’t read anything that isn’t about God. I can’t stand to talk about anything else. It is an effort to work. I don’t want to so anything but just sit and feel that current coursing through me – again and again – and sometimes continuously.” [3]

Sri Ramakrishna was also filled with such a Divine inebriation. He was so filled with God-consciousness that he would often lose outer awareness. He had to partake of all sorts of simple pleasures, liking eating sweets or smoking a waterpipe, in order to keep his mind on the physical plane.

This Divine inebriation caused Ramakrishna to see God in everyone and everything. Everywhere he went, some mundane occurrence would remind him of God. When he saw a young English boy standing against a tree with his knees and elbows bent, it reminded him of the Lord Krishna in his classic pose with knees and elbows bent holding a flute in his hands. When he went to the circus and saw a lion, it reminded him of the sacred mount of Ma Durga, the Divine Mother. When he passed a tavern and saw the drunks staggering about outside, they reminded him of knowers of God and the swoon of Divine inebriation.

This sort of drunkenness is what the rabbis intended when they commanded us on Purim to become inebriated “Ud delo yada ben ‘arur Haman’ ve ’baruch mordechai’”, “until we cannot differentiate between ‘Haman is cursed’ and ‘Mordechai is blessed.’” They wanted us to become so filled with the light and love of God that we are drunk with it. They wanted us to be so overtaken by the Divine Spirit that we see only God in everyone that we meet – Mordechai and Haman, the holy man and the scoundrel, our friends and our enemies.

In the Hasidic community of Bobov, the custom was to have a large keg filled with beer on Purim from which the Hasidim would drink their “lechaims.” One Purim, there was a certain very big Hasid who kept going over to the keg and pushing everyone else out of the way so that he could get to the beer. The Rebbe quietly watched this going on for a while; then he decided that it was time to step in. Going over to the Hasid, he pulled him back from the keg, and told him: “that’s enough for now. Let the others have a chance to drink.” The Hasid turned to the Rebbe and pleaded: “but Rebbe, I haven’t gotten drunk yet, and I have to fulfill the mitzvah of ud de lo yada.” The Rebbe curtly replied to him: “do you think that you can only get drunk on beer? Try instead to get drunk on loving your neighbor as yourself.”

What does it really mean to see God in everyone and everything? What does it mean to truly love your neighbor as yourself?

This is how Mother Krishnabai, the disciple of Swami Ramdas, describes the way in which she came to understand this truth:

“Although all the limbs of my body from head to foot are different from each other and their functions are different in nature, still I look upon the body as myself. In the same way you made me experience that you exist as the universe with its various forms, calling yourself by different names and doing actions in different ways, and that all these are myself and I am beyond them…

“As we do not look upon ourselves with hate and jealousy, so also, after we attain the vision of the Eternal, it is not possible for us to hate anyone, as that one is none other than our own self. Since you [God] are manifest in entirety in all beings, we cannot imagine that we could see you only in what we like and not in what we dislike. Otherwise, we have to admit that there is a power other than you…

“When I had the body-idea [identified with the body as myself], even though I could not give up the good and bad in me, I loved myself. Similarly, now I love all beings in the universe as they are myself. Even if there are shortcomings in some of them, since they are myself, I cannot possibly be unloving towards them.” [4]

When we see the Divine in everyone, we realize that like us, they too are struggling to get by in this difficult world of ours. Who is a drunk really? It is someone who could not bear the suffering of this world; a sensitive soul that was in so much pain that he sought refuge in alcohol. We do not need to extol his lifestyle, but we can see the humanity in him – the Divine in him. Only a human being suffers on this level. Only a human being goes through the kind of mental anguish that drives someone to drink. We can look at such lost souls and see them as casualties of our fall from Eden; the result of losing our Divine state of consciousness and having to take on the physical consciousness of this material world instead.

Most of us cannot live life on this lofty level. We need to keep spiritually sober so that we can function in the day-to-day reality of life in this world. We have jobs to keep and families to take care of. God intoxication is too overwhelming and all-encompassing for us. But there is one day a year when we can let go of all our restraints and fears. One day, when we can become totally and irrevocably drunk with God. That day is Purim.

On Purim we can remain immersed in God’s presence all day long, without caring or getting anxious about anything else. On Purim, we can give charity indiscriminately to whoever asks, kol haposhait yad, “whoever sticks out his or her hand”, as the tradition tells us, because in the state of Divine inebriation we see everyone as a manifestation of God. On Purim, we can feel love even for our enemies, ud delo yada ben “arur Haman” ve “Baruch Mordechai”, because on Purim we transcend the state of duality where there is good and bad, light and darkness, right and wrong.

On Purim, we can talk about God, dance with God, speak with God, and drink in the Divine Presence to our hearts content, without worrying what anyone will say, without worrying what anyone will do. On Purim, we can take off our mask of material consciousness and dwell in the state of Infinite Oneness that is the natural home of our Eternal Soul.

Copyright @ 2011, by Yoel Glick

Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Swami Prabhavananda, The Eternal Companion, p. 151
  2. Yaacov Yosef of Polonya, Toldot Yaacov Yosef, Torah portion Ki Tavo
  3. Nancy Pope Mayorga, The Hunger of the Soul, p. 32
  4. Mother Krishnabai, Guru’s Grace, Autobiography of Mother Krishnabai, translated by Sri Swami Ramdas, p. 85-90