Excerpts from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
by Paramahansa Yogananda
Arjuna said: O Varshneya (Krishna), by what is man impelled, even against his will, to perform evil—compelled, it seems, by force?
—The Bhagavad Gita III:36
Every man sometimes experiences a peculiar state: even as he strives toward virtuous action, he seems to be dragged into temptation, almost by force.
Many a moralist trying to control the strongest mental and physical impulse created by Nature—the sex impulse—finds his mind driven, seemingly automatically, to sex thoughts and sex desires, and consequent illicit sex acts.
Attraction to pleasant tastes and odors, or even to beauty, art, and music, may harmfully lure the strict ascetic who wants to rise above them and concentrate on self-control.
Repeated performance of good or bad actions forms good or bad habits. Habits are psychological automatic machines that enable man to perform actions without conscious effort. To be able to perform good actions under the compelling influence of habit is beneficial, because good habits make easy the performance of good actions. The psychological machine of a good habit can create good activities by mass production. Without the automatic power of a worthy habit, a fresh difficult effort has to be made each time one strives to perform a good action.
A person is free to choose between good and bad actions before his inclinations solidify into habits. Once he becomes used to good or evil, he is no longer free.
Even a devotee who is not easily influenced must guard against the unconscious creation of bad habits. If he has already been poisoned by a bad habit he should cure himself by continuously using the antidote of good actions, good habits, and good company. Strange it is! often a person—even while loathing his own actions—finds himself indulging in anger, lust, prevarication, dishonesty, overeating, sloth, disorderly life, and so on, owing to his careless creation of bad habits.
Bad habits of past lives appear as strong moods and octopus-like inclinations whose tentacles are strengthened by evil company and thoughtless actions. Wrong tendencies should be curtailed by man's seeking good company and practicing self-control; and he should wholly consume those evils with the fire of discrimination and meditation.
Desire Can Never Be Fulfilled
The Blessed Lord said:
Born of the activating attribute of Nature (rajo-guna), it is desire, it is anger, (that is the impelling force)—full of unappeasable craving and great evil: know this (two-sided passion) to be the foulest enemy here on earth.
—The Bhagavad Gita III:37
Both material desires and anger are created by man while he is incarnate on earth, working under the activating influence of the rajas quality of nature. This activating quality produces in man the desire for pulsating change. The soul, having descended into the senses from the sphere of unvaried calmness, becomes feverishly active with desire, anger, and habits arising from actions, and thereby finds itself identified with the body, the fluctuating mind, material environment, moods, and inclinations inherited from the past or recently acquired. (...)
Desire and anger can never be appeased by fulfillment, not even by control over all matter. Every material desire leads man farther away from bliss, delaying his task of finding the way back to his native state of absolute peace. The unfulfilled longing of desire and the obstructed longing of anger, therefore, are disastrously inimical to the recovery of bliss. Lord Krishna warns that this duo-force is man's great enemy.
As fire is obscured by smoke, as a looking glass by dust, as an embryo is enveloped by the womb, so it (wisdom) is covered by this (desire).
—The Bhagavad Gita III:38
The blissful wisdom-nature of the soul is enveloped and obscured by the impelling and often wrathful force of desire in one whose consciousness is identified with the attributes of Nature. By the commanding influence of the three qualities (triguna) of Nature through which desire expresses itself, the concealment of the blissful soul wisdom is of varying degrees, comparable to the progressively grosser coverings produced by smoke, dust, and the density of the womb.
The soul is bedimmed by any relativity, whether of the good, active, or evil modes of Nature. Influenced by environmental attributes, the soul succumbs to desire and adopts the guises of Nature. When the soul's pure nature is hidden behind sattvic (good) attributes—as a fire is covered by smoke—the smoke screen is easily dispersed by a strong breeze of discrimination. Even through this screen the soul's dazzling bliss can be slightly perceived, though in a distorted way. The devotee looks beyond good attributes, distinguishing their paleness from the brilliance of the soul. Goodness gives a semipermanent mental happiness, but soul realization imparts unending, changeless bliss.
When the rajasic (activating) qualities dim the soul's splendor—as dust obscures a mirror—one needs the cloth of continuous right effort to wipe off the ever cumulative covering of selfish, desire-producing activities. In other words, it is more difficult to remove the thick rajasic layer of restless, active, selfish desires from the soul than it is to disperse the smoke of sattvic qualities.
When the tamasic (evil) attributes are paramount, the soul is as hampered and darkened and hidden as an embryo in the womb. It is very difficult to release it from the desires of the tamasic qualities of ignorance and sloth.
Desire is a Relentless Foe
O Son of Kunti (Arjuna)! the constant enemy of wise men is the unslakable flame of desire, by which wisdom is concealed.
—The Bhagavad Gita III:39
Wood sustains fire; the flame vanishes with the exhaustion of the fuel. Similarly, sense pleasures sustain the fire of material desires that hide any view of the soul. When a sense pleasure is exhausted, the fire of longing ceases for a moment. But, owing to a lack of knowledge as to the nature of inflammable desires, the foolish man soon adds more fuel of sense indulgence; the raging fire continues to obscure wisdom. While such stupidity continues, a man never finds the peace of lasting satisfaction; he momentarily wakes up to this fact only when his longings are thwarted. He doesn't realize the consuming power of desires because his sense of discrimination is paralyzed. Thus desire is the hail-fellow-well-met companion of the foolish man; the wise man knows desire to be a relentless foe.
The materialist is identified with the body surface and is goaded to action by sense temptations. The wise man watches and governs his mind processes with discrimination and self-control. The sensual man does not realize the destructive power of desires; he embraces them and is consumed by them, like an insect that is burned by its attraction to a flame. The thinking, watchful devotee is conscious whenever even a slight spark of malevolent desire starts to spread in the huge timbers of inner wisdom; he puts out the fire of desire at its first tantalizing flicker.
The senses, mind, and intellect are said to be desire's formidable stronghold; through these, desire deludes the embodied soul by eclipsing its wisdom.
Therefore, O Best of the Bharata Dynasty (Arjuna)! first discipline the senses, then destroy desire, the sinful annihilator of wisdom and Self-realization.
—The Bhagavad Gita III:40-41
Sense acts create sense habits. Sense habits create sense desires. Sense desires create sense acts. This vicious circle is to be avoided. So the temporarily charming catering-to-the-senses acts must be stopped, first by discriminating and staying away from the objects of temptation, then by using the fire of wisdom to destroy the inner tendencies toward temptation.
The greater one's sense indulgence, the more urgent and increasing the desire to cater to the senses. As the sense desires increase, like tenacious weeds they choke the growth of the healing herbs of discrimination and meditation-born Self-realization. Matter exists without; Spirit within—the former exists opposite the latter. As the sensuous desire to look without increases, the discriminating desire to look within decreases. The concentration on sense temptation automatically destroys the vision of Spirit, simply because they exist in diverse spheres; the paths to matter and Spirit lie in opposite directions.
To find freedom from the enslaving power of the senses, the greedy, angry, sensual individual first must avoid the material environment that easily excites his specific psychophysical weakness, and then must kill the inner desires that will otherwise accompany him wherever he goes. The devotee who exercises outward self-restraint and thereby feels secure against temptation should introspectively remind himself: "Perhaps you can easily run away from outer temptations, but can you escape from the inner living photograph of hypnotic eyes of desires that you have created and preserved within yourself? Let not their subtle manipulative power catch you in a moment of vulnerability!" These inimical desires must be brought out from their subconscious hiding places and slain by the counteracting agents of spiritual perception developed by meditation. The more awareness of lasting inner bliss one attains, the less he is entrapped by desire.
In the sacred scriptures of India, a carriage drawn by ten horses and guided by a driver who holds the reins is compared to the soul riding in a body-chariot drawn by ten sensory-motor stallions reined in by the mind and charioteered by the intelligence. The owner is most important, for the carriage is his responsibility. Next to him in importance is the driver, then the reins which are necessary for control. Then come the horses, and lastly, the vehicle itself. Similarly, the soul, the creator of the bodily carriage, is most important. Next to the soul comes the directing intelligence; then the mind or instrument of control; then the sense stallions; then the body. (Chapter III, God Talks With Arjuna by Paramahansa Yogananda, p. 415)
Attachment & Desire
For sanctification of the ego, yogis perform actions solely with (the instruments of action) the body, the mind, discrimination, or even the senses, forsaking attachment (disallowing ego involvement, with its attachments and desires).
—The Bhagavad Gita V:11
The ego is always identified with and engrossed in material things. Its effect on actions results in self-perpetuating attachments and desires. Desire is produced by the contact of the instruments of action with matter when those instruments are under the influence of the ego.
Attachment is the offspring of desire; attachment then gives birth to further desire. Attachment is not possible without desire, but desiring can be initiated without an obvious prior prompting of attachment. This is because of the underlying ego's intrinsic attachment to things material.
Every time the egoistic man entertains a desire, he puts a condition on himself that he will have to fulfill. Every desire is a burden that he will have to work out at some future time. Even a forgotten desire continues to lurk behind the screen of his subconsciousness, ready at an opportune moment to ensnare its host and exact its dues. With every desire, man travels further from the natural peace of his soul, because desire's indiscriminate temperament makes him forget the purpose of his existence. He is led by attachment, born of desire, to cling to those things that are incompatible with his soul's nature; he prays for things that are even dangerous to its peace. (p.542)
God is Sufficient
Fulfillment of a particular desire
seems necessary only if one lacks conviction that he can find perfect fulfillment in God.
One who is at peace in God is not tortured by unfulfilled earthly desires. No one can hurt me by thwarting me in some outward matter, because to me God is sufficient. His joyous presence is the only conditioning factor in my happiness. Each of you should try resolutely to meditate and to feel His presence, and see how quickly you will become aware of His favor. (Seek God Though Kriya Yoga by Paramahansa Yogananda)