Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 03 Jun 2020


If consuming alcohol is sin, why did ancient saints consume it?

[Amdavadi asked: You have said that drinking wine is one of the ‘Five Horrible Sins’. In that case, why did all ancient Hindu saints consume alcohol (surapānam)? Or do You deny it?]

Swami replied: It is not a question of whether some concept existed in ancient scriptures or not. The question is whether the concept is right or wrong, based on sharp scientific analysis. Old is not fully gold. Neither is the latest completely the best. The old and the new contain both good and bad. In ancient ritual sacrifices, the flesh of killed animals was eaten as the sacred remains of food eaten by God (prasāda). Does it mean that killing innocent and soft-natured animals is not a sin? The reality was that even if the sacrifices were not conducted, people would have consumed non-vegetarian food anyway by killing animals. It was unavoidable. So, the Veda merely said that one should at least offer the food to God, before eating it, whether the food is vegetarian or non-vegetarian. This small instruction does not cause any inconvenience to anybody. So, they will follow the Veda instead of rejecting it altogether. The merit of following this Vedic instruction and offering the food to God is that, in course of time, people will study the knowledge of God given in the Veda. They will realise that God will certainly punish sinners. Over a period of time, their tendency to commit sin will gradually reduce and finally, they will give up sin.

Drinking alcohol is also a sin because alcohol damages the liver, leading to premature death. Killing oneself in this way amounts to suicide. It is a sin because God has granted this human life to the soul, so that it may attain nivṛtti by passing through the middle-step of pravṛtti. Now, the main point is that one should not say that he has killed the animal since the Veda has instructed us to kill the animal in the sacrifice. Pūrva mīmāṃsakās say that killing the animal for the sacrifice is not a sin! This is the greatest twist of a bad lawyer! Even if the Veda does not instruct a person to kill the animal, the person is anyway going to kill the animal and eat its flesh. So, when the the Veda says “Kill the animal, offer its flesh to God and only then eat it”, it means, “After killing the animal, which you were going to do in any case, offer it to God before eating it yourself”. One cannot pretend that, had the Veda not given the instruction to kill the animal, the person would not have killed the animal.

Śaṅkara says that the Veda is only going along with your uncontrollable habit and is then suggesting some small improvement. It does not mean that the Veda is asking you to follow your habit, even if it is not correct (Śāstraṃ jñāpakaṃ na tu kārakam). The Veda has said that food is to be derived from plants (Oṣadhībhyo annam). The Veda also says that it is not actually the animal which is to be killed in the sacrifice, but it is the animal-nature of the soul that is to be killed (Manyuḥ paśu). The Veda also says that it is not the physical ghee that should be burnt in the sacrificial fire, but it is the desire for receiving some fruit from God, which is to be burnt (Kāma ājyam). The actual sense of any Vedic statement has to be derived with the help of other Vedic statements.


| Shri Datta Swami | If consuming alcohol is sin, why did ancient saints consume it? | surapaanam Prasaada Shaastram jnaapakam na tu kaarakam Oshadhiibhyo annam Manyuh pashuh Kaama aajyam Nivrutti Pravrutti