Who is our worst enemy?
“Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts”
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We live in a world of bitter competition wherein our rivals sometimes become enemies bent on destroying us. Amidst such external hostility, it is easy to forget that worse than the worst outer enemies is the inner enemy of our own unguarded thoughts. Whereas our enemies might do hurtful things to us, our thoughts can make us do far more hurtful things to ourselves.
For example, many people nowadays are afflicted by a tragic tendency to sabotage themselves. Just when they are about to achieve their biggest success, they irrationally do something that turns their dream into a nightmare. We often see this vividly in the world of sports. In a cricket match, a player who is playing the finest knock of their lives suddenly plays a rash shot and gets out, thus triggering a collapse by which the team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. If that match was a tournament final, that player is left with regrets that haunt for a lifetime.
And what happens in sports reflects what happens in people’s lives. People who are on the path to financial security suddenly make a stupid investment that destroys their reputation, their credibility, their career, their relationships and maybe even their life. People with a steady, happy family suddenly get into an affair that shatters their family members and ruins their own life. And if people in positions of public leadership engage in such acts of self-sabotage, they end up hurting not just themselves or their immediate circle of people, but hundreds, thousands or even millions.
How can we protect ourselves from being sabotaged by our thoughts? To be forewarned is to be forearmed. We can get the necessary forewarning by studying spiritual wisdom-texts such as the Bhagavad-gita that illumine our inner world. With spiritual knowledge, we become aware of the potential perilousness of our thoughts and our disconcerting vulnerability to them.
Gita wisdom also equips us to protect ourselves by becoming vigilant and diligent. Vigilance means that we cultivate inner awareness and become alert to the kind of thoughts that are entering into our consciousness and especially the kind of thoughts that we are entertaining. Diligence means that we keep ourselves constructively engaged in positive uplifting activities that don’t leave us with time or mental space to dwell on stray thoughts. Even if such thoughts somehow creep in, diligence also means that we untiringly, unflinchingly, unsentimentally crowd them out by focusing on something positive.
Bhakti-yoga offers us the most positive object for focus: the all-powerful, all pure Absolute. Through a meditational connection with the Absolute, we become recipients of a descending power of deeper insight and higher taste. Being thus empowered, we can overcome our deep-rooted self-sabotaging tendency and nurture our latent capacity for self-actualization, for becoming the best that we can be.