Why do we sometimes act irrationally, doing things that we would normally never do?

by October 8, 2014

Answer Summary: Madness possesses us when inner weakness couples with outer recklessness.


Madness refers to our irrational relapses into regrettable behaviors that leave us shocked at ourselves: “How could I have done something as terrible as that?” Such madness doesn’t come upon us just by random chance about which we can do nothing – it comes by a method that we can comprehend and counter.

Essentially, madness possesses us when inner weakness couples with outer recklessness. Weakness refers to the impurities in our heart that make us vulnerable to certain forms of immoral or anti-devotional indulgences. Recklessness refers to our carelessness in leaving within easy reach the external sense objects for which we have a weakness.

Consider for example recovering alcoholics. They have a weakness for alcohol – though they have resolved to give it up, their resolve may go down whenever recollections of their past indulgences start attacking their consciousness. When they are thus internally weakened, a key thing that will check immediate relapse is the external unavailability of alcohol. The heavy attack of temptations doesn’t last forever – it comes in spikes of heightened craving. Recovering alcoholics just need to endure those heavy-attack phases and such endurance becomes easier when the object for indulgence is not readily available. Soon their intelligence and conscience will re-surface and they will resist and reject the temptation. But if they have recklessly kept alcohol nearby, then it’s almost certain that they will relapse. And who knows how long it will be before the madness releases them from its grip and they find themselves with a hangover in the head and frustration in the heart?

The heavy attack of temptations doesn’t last forever – it comes in spikes of heightened craving.

Alcoholism may not be a problem for most of us, but we all have our weaknesses that sometimes drive us mad. This analysis of how the coupling of weakness with recklessness invites madness can help us better apply in our inner battles the Bhagavad-gita’s two-point strategy given in its illuminating exposition on lust (03.36-43). Though this Gita section focuses on lust, the strategies it outlines can apply to whatever our blind spots may be.

The Gita’s two-point strategy

The first strategy (03.41) centers on sensual regulation. In our analysis, it can correspond with avoiding recklessness and not keeping alluring objects easily available. In the past, most spiritual cultures and in fact of most human cultures stressed minimizing, if not preventing entirely, unfiltered mixing between the genders, thereby decreasing greatly the danger of wrongdoing. Thus the culture served as an assistant in the individual’s endeavors for sensual regulation. At present unfortunately, the culture has largely become an opponent to the individual’s efforts due to its public depictions of sexually suggestive imagery. But still we can get some cultural help by situating ourselves in a community that respects, even expects, sexual morality. And we certainly can according to our specific vulnerabilities put as much distance as possible between ourselves and the objects that especially allure us. Rather than rejecting such distancing as fanatical, we need to recognize it as foundational. For example, just as recovering alcoholics can’t stay sober if they choose to live next to a bar, recovering porn users can’t stay sober if they retain unfiltered Internet access. When we thus carefully keep our living environment morally safe for ourselves, we can stop madness from possessing us even when we feel internally weak.

Rather than rejecting such distancing from tempting objects as fanatical, we need to recognize it as foundational.

The second strategy (03.43) centers on spiritual nutrition. The Gita urges us to use our intelligence to contemplate our spiritual nature and situate ourselves firmly on the spiritual platform, thereby conquering lust. Situating ourselves spiritually means rendering loving service to Krishna because we are at our core, souls, who are eternally his parts, as the Gita informs later (15.07). When we remember and serve Krishna with a devotional disposition, we relish a profound non-material enrichment, just as the hand becomes nourished when it provides food to the belly. With our innate need for happiness thus satisfied at the spiritual level, we feel rejuvenated in our battle against our inner weakness. As our inner strength increases, we push back the temptation towards which we had been becoming allured. As our intelligence and conscience become re-activated, the folly and the futility and the depravity of the indulgence becomes evident to us. And we push the temptation completely out of our consciousness.

By thus protecting ourselves externally and nourishing ourselves internally, we can methodically counter the method of madness.



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