How can we succeed in leading a principle-centered life?
Question: When we strive to live according to principles, why do we often fail? What can we do to avoid such failures?
Answer summary: We fail because we often fight for our impulses instead of against them. To end such failures in our inner battle, we need to resolutely side with our principles.
When we strive to lead a principle-centered life, our heart becomes the arena for a fierce war between our spiritual principles and our materialistic impulses. The result of this war depends not just on our past conditionings or present conditions but also primarily on the side we take.
We may say that we obviously side with our principles and want them to win, but honest introspection often reveals a different story. We are still quite fond of our impulses and we still hope that indulging in them might just give us pleasure that we don’t want to miss. That’s why, though in public we live according to principles, in private we frequently give in to our impulses. When we re-emerge in public, we hide all telltale signs of our lapse and continue our principle-centered act.
The Bhagavad-gita (03.06) warns us that if we lead this kind of double life, we are not just cheating the world (mithyacharah) but are also cheating ourselves (vimudhatma).
How are we cheating ourselves?
Because we are fighting for our enemy instead of against it and so are wounding ourselves grievously and unnecessarily. Our short-sighted materialistic impulses are our enemies; they not only deprive us of eternal spiritual happiness but also sentence us to miserable material existence life after life. Each time we let those impulses win over our principles, we voluntarily let the enemy wound us. And each time we cover up the lapse, we conceal the wounds that need urgent treatment. This concealment causes the wounds to worsen, thereby making us even more vulnerable to future attacks and further wounds. Thus by helping our impulses in winning the inner war in effect we fight for our enemy instead of against it.
If we seriously want to lead a principle-centered life, we need to firmly stop fighting for our impulses and consistently start fighting against them. This doesn’t mean that we publically display our wounds, but that we do whatever is necessary to treat the present wounds and prevent future wounds. This curative and preventive program necessarily centers on intensifying our strength-enhancing devotional practices and possibly includes consulting a competent spiritual doctor, a trustworthy devotee-guide. Often the mortification involved in confessing to someone whom we love and respect is the impetus that we need to stop siding with our impulses. Sometimes when the wounds are not too serious, just contemplating unflinchingly on that mortification may also serve the same purpose. Whatever be the specific program that we adopt, we need to ensure that we fully commit ourselves to fighting for our principles.
When we thus offer our heart to our principles, our head will naturally follow and we will thereby get many more ideas for winning in various specific inner battles. All these victories in the daily battles will contribute to our eventual triumph in the lifelong war when we remember Krishna at the time of death. Then we will go forever beyond the malevolent reach of all materialistic impulses and be fully free to delight in a life of selfless and endless love.
Thus, by understanding clearly how our impulses are our enemies whose side we need to abandon and by planning intelligently to do all that is necessary to fix ourselves on the side of our principles, we can succeed in leading a principle-centered life.