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Man Acts Despite Himself - Teaching From Bhagavad Gita

In the Gita, Arjuna asks Sri Krishna an important question: ‘Under what compulsion does man commit sin, in spite of himself and dragged, as it were, by force?’ Replies the Lord, ‘It is desire, it is anger; both spring from rajas. These are our enemies, all-devouring and the cause of all sin.’ A poignant verse from the Mahabharata describes how Duryodhana was helpless when he was overpowered by desire for his cousins’ land and kingdom: ‘I know what is dharma, but I cannot practise it; I know what is adharma, but I cannot refrain from it.’ Desire and anger are twin brothers. And in the words of the Gita, when coupled with greed these twin brothers pave the way to hell.

Most people think that they will see through worldly enjoyments, and that Vedanta could wait for their retired life, if at all. Unfortunately, things do not work out that way. A mind given to sense enjoyment and brooding over worldly concerns cannot just turn to higher things concomitant with retirement. Nor does fulfilment of our desires help us get rid of them; they only increase all the more. King Yayati’s life from the Bhagavata illustrates the point. In his brim of youth Yayati was cursed to premature old age by an incensed sage. The king asked the sage’s pardon and prayed for a remedy. The sage told him that he could have his youth back if someone else exchanged his youth for the king’s old age. The king exchanged his son’s youth for his old age and enjoyed sense pleasures for thousands of years. If desires could be quenched by satisfying them, Yayati would have been a sated man by now. Instead, he discovered a profound truth: ‘Desire can never be quenched by enjoying sense objects. Like fire fed with ghee, it only flames up all the more.’

Desire leads to gradual ruin. In sense life too, there is no such thing as free lunch. If man gets sense pleasure on the one hand, the pleasure also simultaneously forges one more link in the chain that binds him to the cycle of birth and death, and blinds him to his real, divine nature. The Gita vividly describes the systematic descent triggered by brooding over sense objects: When a man broods over sense objects he develops attachment towards them. Attachment gives rise to the desire to possess them. Desire results in anger (towards the obstacles to sense enjoyment). From anger is born delusion, and delusion results in loss of memory (of what one has learnt from the scriptures and from one’s guru). With loss of memory one’s buddhi, discrimination, is lost. And loss of discrimination is followed by spiritual death.