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Compulsive Behavior

What is the Cause of Complusive Behavior and Its Solution According to Bhagavad Gita

Reading Time: 5 minutes

अपि चेदसि पापेभ्य: सर्वेभ्य: पापकृत्तम: |

सर्वं ज्ञानप्लवेनैव वृजिनं सन्तरिष्यसि || 4.36||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 36

Even those who are considered the most immoral of all sinners can cross over this ocean of material existence by seating themselves in the boat of divine knowledge.

English Translation, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 36

Anything that goes against dharma, such as causing harm to other people, animals, or nature, is considered harmful behavior. In many religious traditions, harmful behavior is referred to as evil. However, in the Hindu tradition, evil is an extremely problematic and inappropriate term. 

In the biblical tradition, they envision evil as an existent thing and personify it as Satan. This concept of evil is foreign to Hinduism where there is no such thing as evil except for ignorance. This means that ignorance is at the root of all harmful behavior. To understand how ignorance is at the root of harmful behavior we have to return to a topic that we have seen quite extensively: how conventional behavior is driven by raga-dvesha. These compulsions are what lead us to commit acts of adharma.

The compulsivity of raga-dvesha causes us to do things contrary to our values. When we are compelled by raga-dvesha, we end up hurting others and committing acts of adharma. The root cause of all behavior that we label as evil is ignorance. And we are compelled by raga-dvesha due to ignorance. If you felt utterly peaceful and content, nothing would compel you to commit harmful acts. Knowledge removes the compulsivity of raga-dvesha caused by ignorance. This shows that ignorance of your true self is the root cause of all harmful behavior. 

For example, as you chase after what you want, you are trampling people in your way. If you are running away from what you don’t want, someone is an obstacle and you try to get rid of that person. The point is that the compulsivity of raga-dvesha causes us to do things contrary to our values. We have a value for following dharma and not harming others. Yet, when we are compelled by raga-dvesha we end up hurting others. This compulsivity is fundamental to all harmful behavior or what the biblical tradition calls “evil.” 

Suppose you discovered your true nature to be completely full, infinite, and divine. With that knowledge, what could compel you to commit an act of adharma? If you were enlightened, nothing at all would drive you to hurt another person. If knowledge removes the compulsivity of raga dvesha, that shows that ignorance lies at the root cause of all harmful deeds.

What Eliminates Ignorance?

यथैधांसि समिद्धोऽग्निर्भस्मसात्कुरुतेऽर्जुन |

ज्ञानाग्नि: सर्वकर्माणि भस्मसात्कुरुते तथा || 4.37||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 37

Just as a kindled fire reduces wood to ashes, O Arjuna, the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes.

English Translation, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 37

The fire of spiritual wisdom removes the darkness of ignorance. 

There are many who think that when you become utterly enlightened, all action comes to an end. What about actions necessary for survival, such as eating and sleeping? Actions necessary to live do not cease, it’s all conventional action that comes to an end. Conventional behavior includes that which is driven by raga-dvesha. This type of behavior disappears when one is enlightened.

An enlightened person is agenda-less. Someone who has an agenda is driven to chase after what they want, and run away from what they don’t want. An enlightened person is without an agenda since they are free from this compulsion.

This verse also has a second meaning. An enlightened person will not be reborn. Unenlightened people are reborn and have an infinite number of past lives, accumulating karma along the way. To break free from this cycle, one must become enlightened. This occurs when all of the karma gets destroyed. 

If karma is the result of ignorance, if you remove the cause, the effect disappears.

What Does it Mean to Say That Knowledge Purifies?

न हि ज्ञानेन सदृशं पवित्रमिह विद्यते |

तत्स्वयं योगसंसिद्ध: कालेनात्मनि विन्दति || 4.38||

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 38

Compared with knowledge, there is nothing in the world as purifying. One perfected through yoga eventually finds that (knowledge) in oneself.

English Translation, Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4 Verse 38

In a sense, ignorance is an impurity. It is impure in the sense that it causes harmful behavior. And there is nothing as effective as spiritual wisdom in removing impure behavior. 

To solve a problem, often we do not remove the cause. Instead, we remove symptoms and the problem does not go away.

For example, society attempts to remove the problem of causing harm. The most drastic example of causing harm is murder. Our culture has attempted to remove this problem by implementing laws against murder. But does the threat of punishment actually prevent people from murdering? Maybe sometimes, but not fully since murders continue. 

Legal laws that prescribe the punishment of death do not prevent murder. Similarly, religious teachings do not solve the problem either. Nor do social pressures. These rules do not solve the problem because they fail to address the root cause. 

The root cause of adharmic behavior is self-non-recognition or ignorance. In this context, this means the failure to recognize your own divine nature. That which addresses the root cause of the problem of adharma is the most effective. When you recognize your innate divinity, you simultaneously recognize the inner divinity of others.

How Can We Realize Our True Nature?

The only place you will find that wisdom is by turning your attention within. Spiritual practices serve as guidance to point you in the right direction, but ultimately, you have to discover it for yourself. No one or thing can make you enlightened. 

You become enlightened when you discover atma within yourself, and this occurs over a period of time. It takes time because we are so deeply ingrained in the wrong ways of thinking. From birth onwards, we have been conditioned to think that contentment comes from the outside. It starts as infants who need mothers as a source of contentment, and that process continues throughout our lives. It takes time to change the way your mind works after years of conditioning. To transform your worldview is to transform the way you think, which takes time.

But, eventually, you discover within yourself that true source of contentment. 

The discovery of your true nature doesn’t necessarily take time. You can acknowledge it in a single moment. However, it might take time to fully absorb and realize your true nature. While knowledge takes place instantaneously, changing the way your mind works after years of conditioning takes time. After contemplating with time and effort, one can break free from this conditioning and truly live by the discovery of their true nature, which is Atma

What the Gita Teaches Us

Knowledge addresses the root cause of harmful behavior. If the underlying factors causing the problem are not addressed, the issue will not go away. There is nothing as purifying as spiritual wisdom, which at its core is recognizing one’s true nature as divine. Knowledge leads to bhakti and intimacy with Ishvara, and this relationship grows with time. Karma yoga is crucial, but knowledge is the goal.