18.38: Material Letdown and Spiritual Breakdown: The Twin Troubles of Transgression
“What’s wrong with a bit of indulgence as long as one is not harming anyone?” This utilitarian-seeming rationale sometimes tempts us to transgress moral boundaries given in the scriptures.
Gita wisdom gives the surprising response that our immoral indulgence harms at least one person for sure: ourselves. The Bhagavad-gita (18.38) states passionate indulgences that seem initially like nectar turn out eventually to be like poison. What does this poison refer to? At one level, it refers to the karmic consequences that we will have to undergo in due course of time. But even without considering the gradual karmic consequences, we can understand this poison in terms of its two immediate consequences: material letdown and spiritual breakdown.
- Material Letdown: Material pleasures rarely, if ever, live up to the hype that our media and our mind accord them. Despite the dreaming and scheming that precede them for a duration extending from hours to years, the actual indulgence ends within moments, and we are left feeling disappointed at best and cheated at worst.
- Spiritual Breakdown: The passions and perversions that accompany immoral indulgences tend to dominate our minds, leaving us with little intelligence or inclination to cultivate loving remembrance of Krishna. This in turn alienates us from the experience of devotional happiness, sabotages our determination to persevere on the path to transcendence and thereby accelerates our spiritual breakdown.
When we thus understand that the poison of consequence totally outweighs the nectar of indulgence, immoral pleasures stand exposed as brainlessly bad bargains whose rejection is an act of not self-deprivation but self-protection.