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Compulsive Behavior: Reasons and Solution from Bhagavad Gita

Reading Time: 7 minutes

सदृशं चेष्टते स्वस्या: प्रकृतेर्ज्ञानवानपि |

प्रकृतिं यान्ति भूतानि निग्रह: किं करिष्यति || 3.33||

Bhagvad Gita Chapter 3, verse 33 (In Sanskrit)

Even wise people act according to their natures, for all living beings are propelled by their natural tendencies. What will one gain by repression?

Bhagvad Gita Chapter 3, verse 33 (English Translation)

The topic in the above verse focuses on instinctive behavior, which differs from intentional behavior. Intentional behavior is when you set aside your own agenda with the intent to follow dharma. On the other hand, unintentional behavior is when we act impulsively or mechanically.

Shri Krishna explains how raga and dvesha are so powerful that they overwhelm your mind and intellect and, as a result, rob you of your free will. They coerce you to act in specific ways. This type of behavior is instinctual and drives the behavior of animals. Animals do not question how they should react in a given situation; instead, they act on instinct. Similarly, when we are overwhelmed by raga and dvesha, our behavior is degraded to that of an animal.

A person behaves according to one’s instinctive nature when overcome by raga dvesha. Even a wise person can be driven by instinctive behavior, including enlightened people. 

For example, if enlightened people know that they will never die, they will still jump away to avoid getting hit by a vehicle. In such a case, anyone would act instinctively.

If all beings conform to their nature, then what is the purpose of self-control? There’s no hope of restraint once you are overwhelmed by raga dvesha. The hazard of being overcome by raga and dvesha robs us of our ability to choose our actions freely. 

Once your thinking has been hijacked by raga and dvesha, it’s too late. Often raga and dvesha are translated as likes and dislikes. While this translation is technically correct, it is fairly inaccurate. Raga and dvesha are both compulsions—the former driving us towards what we want, and the latter towards what we don’t want.

What Pulls Us Towards Compulsive Behavior?

इन्द्रियस्येन्द्रियस्यार्थे रागद्वेषौ व्यवस्थितौ |

तयोर्न वशमागच्छेत्तौ ह्यस्य परिपन्थिनौ || 3.34||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 34 (In Sanskrit)

Towards every sense object desire and aversion exist. One should not fall under their control because they are one’s enemies.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 34 (English Translation)

Our sense objects are responsible for succumbing to raga and dvesha. Sense object represents anything we see, touch, hear, smell, taste. A sense object also includes what we perceive with our mind, the sixth sense. In response to anything we detect with these senses, you can fall subject to this compulsion of raga and dvesha

Shri Krishna warns Arjuna (and all of us) not to fall under the spell of raga and dvesha. We should avoid letting them drag us about, as they are our enemies. Both raga and dvesha stand in our way, blocking our path to spiritual growth. Arjuna, on the battlefield, wanted to follow dvesha when he felt compelled to run away from the fight. But Shri Krishna comes to his rescue.

How Do We Know What to Choose if Both Options Seem Bad?

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |

स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: परधर्मो भयावह: || 3.35||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 35 (In Sanskrit)

Better to follow one’s own dharma, even poorly, than to follow the dharma of another well. Dying while following one’s own dharma is better. Following other’s dharma invites danger.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 35 (English Translation)

Sometimes the right decision is the harder one to make. The easier decision might seem more appealing, but the consequences of picking that route are far more severe.

For example, Arjuna’s duty is to fight on the battlefield, but his duty is also vigunah (problematic). While fighting has harmful consequences, it is still preferable to perform one’s duty. This directly addresses Arjuna’s desire to leave the battlefield and live the life of a monk, which would be something more appealing for him to do. That being said, it is the lifestyle of someone else and not the right thing for Arjuna to do. His personal responsibility happens to be to fight in the war. If Arjuna abandons his responsibility, the Pandavas will certainly lose the battle. The harm caused to the entire society would be far greater than Arjuna remaining on the battlefield.

This message applies to us all, not just Arjuna. Sometimes life gets difficult. We are required to perform unpleasant tasks. Not performing duties, however, can be more damaging than performing them. By adopting the attitude of karma yoga, you no longer feel resentful. If you accept that challenging work is a part of your duty, the conflict is resolved. Even though your own responsibilities can be challenging, it is better to perform your own duties than abandon them and do what you prefer.

Back to the battlefield, Krishna tells Arjuna that in the performance of your own duties, the consequence of death is better than abandoning your duties. In Arjuna’s case, dying on the battlefield is preferable to walking away and taking the life of a monk. Our lives may resemble battlefields in some ways, but nothing like the literal battlefield that Arjuna faced.

What Are Internal Enemies and What Emotions Drive Them?

अर्जुन उवाच |

अथ केन प्रयुक्तोऽयं पापं चरति पूरुष: |

अनिच्छन्नपि वार्ष्णेय बलादिव नियोजित: || 3.36||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 36 (In Sanskrit)

Arjun asked: Why is a person impelled to commit sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if by force, O descendent of Vrishni (Krishna)?

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 36 (English Translation)

There are two kinds of enemies. One is the obvious kind– the kind of enemy Arjuna faces on the battlefield. Sometimes your enemy could be your boss at work, an obnoxious neighbor, financial problems, illness, or others. The other kind of enemy is the one that lives inside. Raga and dvesha are both internal enemies. A person living compelled by raga and dvesha no longer exercises their own free will.

श्रीभगवानुवाच |

काम एष क्रोध एष रजोगुणसमुद्भव: ||

महाशनो महापाप्मा विद्ध्येनमिह वैरिणम् || 3.37||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 37 (In Sanskrit)

The Blessed Lord said, this desire, this anger, born of the quality of passion is a glutton and great sinner. Know it to be the enemy here.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 37 (English Translation)

Anger represents the forceful and negative nature of compulsion. There could be positive compulsions that drive people towards positive action. However, the compulsion of raga and dvesha that Krishna refers to is forceful and negative. 

Raga and dvesha are never completely satisfied. After you satisfy one desire, another arises. In that sense, the compulsion is insatiable. Raga and dvesha are the root causes of adharma

Raga and dvesha exist because you are not enlightened. If you were enlightened and understood your true nature as full, you would be free from compulsion. The root cause is the absence of enlightenment or ignorance of your true nature.

In the absence of that recognition, you feel incomplete and needy. You feel compelled to get whatever will make you feel more complete or run away from anything that will make you feel less than. With raga and dvesha comes adharma.

If you were perfectly content without compulsion, why would you commit an act of adharma? Acts of adharma are driven by raga and dvesha and result from self-non-recognition. 

In this life, the compulsive force is the enemy. The primary enemy in life is not the enemy outside—it’s not the angry boss, the neighbor, the stock market, or ill health… The real enemy in life is within us. We become our own worst enemy when we are overcome by raga and dvesha

Are We Predestined or Do We Have Free Will?

धूमेनाव्रियते वह्निर्यथादर्शो मलेन च |

यथोल्बेनावृतो गर्भस्तथा तेनेदमावृतम् || 3.38||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 38 (In Sanskrit)

Like fire is covered by smoke or a mirror is covered by dust or a fetus is covered by the womb, so too, this (wisdom) is covered by that (desire).

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 38 (English Translation)

Your ability to use free will becomes overwhelmed by that inner compulsive force of raga and dvesha. The inner enemy overtakes your inner wisdom. Just like your wisdom gets covered, a fire’s light may be obscured by smoke, a mirror dirtied in dust that no longer reflects, or a fetus helplessly immersed in amniotic fluid (which was considered undesirable in ancient times).

आवृतं ज्ञानमेतेन ज्ञानिनो नित्यवैरिणा |

कामरूपेण कौन्तेय दुष्पूरेणानलेन च || 39||

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 39 (In Sanskrit)

The knowledge of even the most discerning gets covered by this perpetual enemy in the form of insatiable desire, which is never satisfied and burns like fire, O son of Kunti.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 3 verse 39 (English Translation)

The ability to discern between dharma and adharma gets covered by this relentless enemy. The wisdom in the main gets covered by this relentless enemy in the form of desire (raga and dvesha), which is difficult to satisfy, insatiable, like a fire that is never satisfied and can always be fed.

You can go on feeding fuel into the fire, and the fire will consume as much as you put it in. No matter what, it will never be satiated. Krishna provides a stern warning that inner compulsive force is insatiable, which means you will never come out of raga and dvesha by getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want. 

The more wood you put in a fire, the bigger it becomes. And a bigger fire requires more wood to burn brightly, whereas a small fire requires less wood to burn brightly. That fire represents our raga dvesha. For someone who excessively satisfies their raga and dvesha, or for someone who is a hedonist, their fire of desire grows bigger and bigger. The bigger their desire grows, the bigger their demands grow. This is the problem of hedonism. The solution is, as a start, to avoid being focused on satisfying our desires. This is where spiritual life begins. 

When you recognize that no amount of worldly happiness will ever lead you to feel perfectly contentment and perfect peace, that recognition is the beginning of genuine spiritual life. With this recognition, you can begin to wean yourself away from raga and dvesha

What the Gita Teaches Us

We will lose all self-control if we let raga and dvesha control us. No matter how hard we try, our compulsions can never be satiated. If we continue on this cycle, the void inside us becomes larger and more challenging to fill. Our compulsions are the real internal enemy that prevents us from attaining spiritual growth. The solution is recognizing that the real culprit is inside us and finding a resolution through external factors will never lead to perfect peace and contentment.