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.