Why Can’t I do What I Know is Right?

Arjuna has no further doubts about what he should do… yet still he finds himself unable to do it. So he asks:

“What forces a person to do wrong things, even against his will?” [36]

Krishna answers:

“Selfishness – which soon becomes wrath and is born from passion.  Selfishness is all-devouring, the worst evil, and your worst enemy.  Selfishness eclipses your true self ever more thickly: like smoke covering a fire, dust covering a mirror, or even a womb covering a child.  Selfishness eclipses all wisdom.  It is an insatiable inferno, the constant enemy of the wise.” [37-39]

Arjuna would want to know where the enemy has its base. So Krishna says…

“It makes fortresses in your senses, in your emotions, and deep within your thoughts.  From there it bewilders the soul and eclipses its wisdom.” [40]

Arjuna would want to know how to attack and fight with this enemy. So Krishna says…

“Attack selfishness by regulating the practical activities of your senses.  Only then can you begin to defeat this villain who devours knowledge and wisdom.  Gradually progress from your senses to your emotions, and from your emotions to your thoughts. You can conquer and reclaim all these strategic locations because you, the soul, are superior to all of them. [41-42]

“Become strong by placing yourself within your self – knowing that the real you is beyond even your thoughts. Be victorious in the very difficult battle against the true enemy: selfishness.” [43]

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5 thoughts on “Why Can’t I do What I Know is Right?

  1. Hauntingly beautiful. I have a question: “Attack selfishness by regulating the practical activities of your senses.” Does this mean start by keeping the sensual delights in moderation? What does “regulating” precisely mean here? Based on what model do we “regulate” senses, and later on, emotions and thoughts?

    • Take the entire context of Gita as your guide to answer this question. In short: we have duties to perform. In the course of doing those duties inevitably we will often encounter happiness and pleasure, just as we will inevitably encounter unhappiness and stress. Regulation of the senses means that it is OK to experience both – because the main point is to do your duty. Sometimes there will be pleasure, and that is fine. It keeps the body and mind happy and healthy. Sometimes there will be stress, and that is also fine. It keeps the soul on a trend towards purification and selflessness.

      • Thank you for explaining that. I understand what “regulating” means now, but I have another question: “we have duties to perform,” you mentioned. In the context of Gita, do these refer to “religious” duties (like imperatives handed down by any higher power?) I ask this because there is a debate about the whole concept of “duty” in the philosophy world, so I’m curious to see if Gita offers any definition of “duty”. I apologize for not being familiar with this text, and appreciate it if you comment on that.

      • Duty is defined as “dharma”. This word simultaneously means “the essence of a thing” as well as “the function (duty) of a thing” because our identity determines our duty.

        Dharma’s are self evident, but the explicit details for specific individuals in specific cases are given by guides from the guidelines of “shastra” – which is the collected wisdom of guides. Most dharma is very self evident. For example: I am a mother, so it is my duty to take care of my children. I am a husband, so it is my duty to tend to the needs of my wife. I am a student, so it is my duty to study. Etc. etc. etc.

        We are all humans, therefore everyone’s duty is to cultivate intelligence and philosophy (the special trait of human beings). And we are all spirits, so our ultimate duty is to cultivate our relationship to the all-inclusive spirit.

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