Isn’t it more peaceful to appease temptation than to battle it?
Question: When we are disturbed by temptation, isn’t it better to indulge in it, get it over with, become peaceful and get on with life instead of trying to resist it and live constantly with an agitated mind?
Short answer: No, because the only way to get over with temptation is by resistance, not indulgence. The peace that we get after indulgence is short-lived and deceptive; lasting peace comes only through resistance and transcendence.
It is true that our fight against various sensual temptations can gradually wear down our will to fight – especially when the temptations seem to keep returning endlessly like an enemy army with unending reserve forces. At such times, our mind often starts inducing within us the disconcerting and deceptive feeling that our life would be much more peaceful if we just stopped fighting and simply gave in.
This feeling seems plausible, but it directly contradicts the insistent and persistent declaration of Gita wisdom. The Bhagavad-gita (2.70) states that only those who resist temptations attain peace – and never those who indulge in them. To grasp the rationale underlying this Gita statement, we need to look at the working of temptations from a long-term perspective. Indulgence pacifies temptation temporarily because it acts as food for temptation. Just as an enemy will stop attacking while eating, temptation also stops attacking us while feasting on our indulgence.
The Tragic Trap
But just as the enemy will, soon after the meal, resume the attack with increased strength, temptation, soon after the indulgence, resumes its attack on us with increased strength. Thus the policy of appeasing temptation leads to increased temptation, which in turn requires greater appeasement, which further strengthens the tug of temptation. Soon we find ourselves trapped in the mutually feeding cycle of temptation and indulgence. So after indulgence, we don’t get over with temptation; rather, temptation gets all over us.
Can we keep purchasing peace by appeasing temptation with indulgence whenever temptation attacks? No. Because of two reasons:
- Immorality: Such an appeasement policy will soon make us immoral and even bestial because, the stronger temptation becomes by our continual appeasement, the more its demands will become increasingly immoral, outrageous and perverse.
- Impossibility: Even after dragging us down into immorality, the demands of temptation will keep growing and will inevitably outgrow our capacity for appeasement, which is inescapably limited by our body’s finite capacity for indulgence. When our bodily capacity is exhausted, then indulgence becomes impossible, but temptation keeps goading us for more, thereby leaving us feeling tormented, enervated and frustrated.
Due to this vicious cycle of temptation and appeasement, people who start with a casual one-time drink sometimes unfortunately become addicted and ruined alcoholics. People who start with casual promiscuity sometimes tragically and horribly become serial rapists and even pedophiles. Of course, not all people who start on the road of appeasement with an initial indulgence end with such deadly perversions. But this stop somewhere-along-the-way to degradation doesn’t happen automatically; it happens because they take a conscious decision, at some point or the other, to stop appeasement. At a particular point, according to their own conceptions of civility or morality, they feel that they can’t allow any further self-degradation. So, they fight and resist the temptations that were increased after that initial indulgence. In essence, what saved the day for them was not appeasement, but confrontation.
The earlier, the better
So, all of us have to stop appeasement of temptation at some time or the other. What is the best time? The earlier, the better, because the later it is, the stronger the temptation is likely to have become due to having been fed by our past appeasement and the tougher it will be to stop appeasing it.
And the moment we say “No” to temptation, it will start attacking and tormenting us with all its might. If prior to this, we have fed temptation with a lot of indulgence, then to that extent our torment will be more severe. Thus, our initial indulgence makes it tougher, not easier, to give up the appeasement policy. A person who has never drunk finds himself rarely troubled by the temptation to drink to the same extent as a person who has drunk frequently or even occasionally.
Thus, winning the war against temptation may be tough, but losing it is tougher still in terms living with the consequences.
Of course, the sacred scriptures allow a certain amount of license for us to appease temptation within certain limits. But the Bhagavad-gita (3.34) warns us not to become attached even to this licensed indulgence because that attachment can at any moment drag us beyond the license. Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to this verse, “As long as the material body is there, the necessities of the material body are allowed, but under rules and regulations. And yet, we should not rely upon the control of such allowances. One has to follow those rules and regulations, unattached to them, because practice of sense gratification under regulations may also lead one to go astray—as much as there is always the chance of an accident, even on the royal roads. Although they may be very carefully maintained, no one can guarantee that there will be no danger even on the safest road. The sense enjoyment spirit has been current a very long, long time, owing to material association. Therefore, in spite of regulated sense enjoyment, there is every chance of falling down; therefore any attachment for regulated sense enjoyment must also be avoided by all means.”
Srila Prabhupada sometimes gave an example to illustrate this point of sanctioned yet regulated indulgence: salt in food. If the food has no salt, then it lacks taste. Similarly, if our life has no material indulgence, then life becomes joyless. But if food contains primarily, or, worse still, exclusively, salt, then it becomes not only difficult to eat but also possibly dangerous to health. Similarly, if our life is motivated primarily, or, worse still, exclusively by worldly temptations, then life becomes not only difficult to manage but also dangerous for our overall well being – not just spiritually, but also materially.
That’s why, the Bhagavad-gita (3.41) urges us to regulate temptation as early as possible. And, to help us succeed in this challenging call, it equips us with abundant intellectual arsenal and arousing devotional motivation. It gives us a systematic philosophical understanding of our spiritual identity and the superiority of spiritual happiness. It also provides us with the revelation of a lovable and loving God, Krishna, whose devotional remembrance and service can fulfill our heart’s ultimate longings for happiness.
When we are thus intellectually and devotionally empowered, and, if we keep fighting and rejecting temptation, no matter how tough it seems, then even if it screams menacingly at first, over a period of time it will become weak and docile due to being starved of its essential food of indulgence. And then we will be free from the torment – forever.
That’s why losing the war against temptation and living with its consequences of lifelong ever-increasing torment is far tougher than fighting the war, empowering ourselves with Krishna consciousness to turn the tables in our favor and then gradually relishing the relief and freedom that comes from the decline and disappearance of temptation.