Is spirituality the only way to overcome bad habits?
Transcription by: Suresh Gupta
Question: Is spirituality the only way to overcome bad habits?
Answer: Definitely there are people who are non-devotees and who have given up bad habits. Basically, the mind is like a programable device. It is running a particular program and we need to re-program it. It depends on what new program we try to put in. Some people may give up drinking but replace it with smoking. If they smoke they may replace it with drinking. They might reprogram their minds into thinking that smoking is not as dangerous as drinking or vice versa. Ultimately this does not really get them out of bad habits, it is just replacing one bad habit with another.
Similarly, somebody might replace a bad habit with a good one. However, some people succeed, and some people fail. Along with the impetus that makes them pick a bad habit, it is also due to the strength of impressions. For example, if somebody is a social drinker then all that they need to do to give up their bad habits is change their social circle. Just by hanging out with more sober people, their drinking will go away. Such people are not so much interested in drinking but are more interested in the sense of belonging and acceptance.
Other than that, somebody might be drinking so that they may get some break from life’s worries. Even if such people change their social circle, they might not give up their drinking because their need is different. Maybe when such people start doing something else that gives them a break (for example, hearing music, gardening etc) then they might give up drinking. Therefore, in terms of specific extreme expressions of anarthas, by certain practices which may not be necessarily devotional, people can give up those habits. However, in terms of complete anartha nivritti, that is difficult because in the conditioned stage, anarthas are what are seen as a source of pleasure. One may think, if I give them up then what will I do with my life?
However, should we complement our practice of bhakti with something else? It depends on what we are doing. Many devotees, in their chanting, when their mind is just wandering too much, they stop for some time and take a few deep breaths. What happens by this, the deep breathing itself just calms the mind down. Taking deep breaths and breathing slowly for some time can help calm the mind and then one can chant. However, if somebody says, “Okay, actually breathing calms my mind and chanting does not. Then instead of chanting, I will just do slow breathing for two hours”, then this will be a wrong understanding.
There are two things – pacification of the mind and purification of the mind. Deep breathing will basically just pacify the mind. It is not really removing the anarthas, it is just distancing us from them for a particular time. This is more like a pain killer and not a curative medicine. Pain killers are cheap but provide immediate temporary relief whereas curative medicines are expensive and require patience. Out of temptation for immediate relief, one cannot say, that if pain killer can give immediate relief then why to take curative medicine at all. Similarly, when we do something which brings us temporarily to sattva guna then such an alternative might seem easier. For example, there are people who do laughter therapy. We might laugh at it but those who do it get some relief. It is not that they are being foolish but If someone thinks that this is all I need to do then that is a problem.
With respect to pain killers, it is best to do what one needs to do. Do not campaign for it and do not campaign against it, because each person’s pain might be different and a pain killer that works for someone, may not work for someone else. Someone may not even need it, but another person might need it. However, if one starts campaigning for it then they are just burdening people with something which they do not need. Similarly, if we campaign against it then we are depriving someone of something they need. Therefore, it is best that if there are certain practices which calm our mind, then we can adopt them. It is only when we start seeing them as alternatives to bhakti, that is when it becomes a problem.
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