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Conventional human behavior

What Factors Drive Conventional Human Behavior?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

हतो वा प्राप्स्यसि स्वर्गं जित्वा वा भोक्ष्यसे महीम् |
तस्मादुत्तिष्ठ कौन्तेय युद्धाय कृतनिश्चय: || 37||

If you fight, you will either be slain on the battlefield and go to the celestial abodes, or you will gain victory and enjoy the kingdom on earth. Therefore arise with determination, O son of Kunti, and be prepared to fight.

Bhagavad Gita 2.37

सुखदु:खे समे कृत्वा लाभालाभौ जयाजयौ |
ततो युद्धाय युज्यस्व नैवं पापमवाप्स्यसि || 38||

Fight for the sake of duty, treating alike happiness and distress, loss and gain, victory and defeat. Fulfilling your responsibility in this way, you will never incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita 2.38

एषा तेऽभिहिता साङ्ख्ये
बुद्धिर्योगे त्विमां शृणु |
बुद्ध्या युक्तो यया पार्थ
कर्मबन्धं प्रहास्यसि || 39||

Hitherto, I have explained to you Sānkhya Yog, or analytic knowledge regarding the nature of the soul. Now listen, O Parth, as I reveal Buddhi Yog, or the Yog of Intellect. When you work with such understanding, you will be freed from the bondage of karma.

Bhagavad Gita 2.39

नेहाभिक्रमनाशोऽस्ति प्रत्यवायो न विद्यते |
स्वल्पमप्यस्य धर्मस्य त्रायते महतो भयात् || 40||

Working in this state of consciousness, there is no loss or adverse result, and even a little effort saves one from great danger.

Bhagavad Gita 2.40

व्यवसायात्मिका बुद्धिरेकेह कुरुनन्दन |
बहुशाखा ह्यनन्ताश्च बुद्धयोऽव्यवसायिनाम् || 41||

O descendent of the Kurus, the intellect of those who are on this path is resolute, and their aim is one-pointed. But the intellect of those who are irresolute is many-branched.

Bhagavad Gita 2.41

Inner compulsion is what drives our actions, leading us to seek sources of happiness. The same inner compulsion makes us avoid actions that are deemed harmful or unpleasant. This inner compulsion is also what denies us freedom. 

For example, imagine you are sitting in a comfortable chair perfectly content. Then you desire a cup of tea. This means that you’ve made the judgment that a cup of tea is a source of happiness, and it is essential for your contentment now when a moment before you were content simply sitting. This desire is enough to compel you to rise from your chair.

Often raga and dvesha are translated as likes and dislikes. These are not helpful translations because it’s natural for one to have likes and dislikes. Those who are enlightened can still have likes and dislikes. The compulsivity of raga and dvesha are what cause the problem. They compel you to chase what you want and run away from what you don’t want. It’s a form of bondage.

Karma yoga is a way to overcome doing certain karmas and to avoid other types of karmas.

Adopting a Particular Attitude

Karma yoga is a spiritual practice where you adopt a particular attitude in doing whatever karma you are doing.

The word karma was frequently used to refer to Vedic rituals. In ancient times, the term karma yoga could have been confused with doing Vedic rituals. Krishna makes it clear that karma yoga has nothing to do with these rituals. 

Regarding Vedic rituals, Krishna says destruction is possible even after having begun. If there are some errors made during a Vedic ritual, such as a dropped mantra or offer, the benefits of said ritual are destroyed. The rituals are meant to produce karmic merit that can bless you in this life and in the next life. But that karmic merit is only produced through the proper performance of the ritual. 

In contrast, if you begin properly in karma yoga and then go off base, you are still blessed to the extent that you started properly and adopted the proper attitude towards what you do. 

Even karma yoga can bless you tremendously.  This small shift in attitude can create a huge change in your attitude towards your actions.

The Four Goals of Life

In response to the main question, four factors drive conventional human behavior. When we speak of purusarthas (goals) of life, these include dharma (righteousness), artha (prosperity), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation). 

Kama means pleasure in the present moment, whereas artha means contentment for the future. Dharma represents peace for whatever follows this life. These three goals summarize conventional life.

The true source of contentment and peace that you seek already exists within you. Moksha represents freedom from the struggle towards gaining contentment and peace. It takes a lot of effort to chase after what you already possess. 

The true source of happiness and peace is within you and is ready to be discovered. The irony of life is that we spend so much time and effort and struggle to try to gain the happiness and contentment that’s already our true nature. 

Moksha is the enlightenment of discovering that the true source of happiness and contentment within you. With this discovery, you are freed from the struggles of daily life. 

What the Gita Teaches Us

One of the most challenging things in life is finding happiness. People have always struggled with this issue—they have sought happiness in the things they own, the job they have, the love they have found, and the relationships they have fostered. 

But, in the end, the true source of true happiness is an internal state of joy that you can only experience when you accept yourself for who you are, love yourself unconditionally, and appreciate life for the gifts that it is.