Bad Habits Which Should Be Given Up

P.R. Sarkar
Philosophically speaking, defects and qualities may both be called bondages. That is, any idea which binds a person or an entity may be called a bondage. A defect may be called a negative quality. To accomplish anything in practical life, one must not only acquire certain positive qualities, but one must also avoid certain negative qualities. Intelligent people develop those qualities through constant practice and thus acquire special advantages in the struggle of existence. By keeping away from certain ingrained defects or by giving up certain bad habits, they avoid many of life’s major problems. There are a few of these bad habits which everyone should try to avoid. It is said;

Ete hátavyáh śaŕ adośáh bhútimicchata.
In this sloka, people are cautioned about six dangerous bad habits. Those seeking welfare (in Sanskrit, bhuti means “well-being”) in individual or collective life, in social or political life, should avoid these six bad habits. They bring great trouble to people, both individually and collectively.

The first bad habit is sleep (nidra). Sleep is a state that creates a feeling of vacuity after it is over. That is, immediately after waking up people forget where they were or what they were doing before sleeping. They lose the sense of time. “What’s the time now?” they ask, forgetting whether it is day or night. If people sleep too much for days on end, this mental disorientation persists for a long time. “Is it day or night? What time is it?” they ask, confused. If this continues, their receptive and retentive powers decrease resulting in an almost total loss of mental power. They become dull, and lack courage to face life’s problems. They may have physical strength, but they lack courage. The ancient people believed that excessive sleep is good for health, but this is not the case. Rather, too much sleep not only impairs the health, but has an adverse effect on the mind.

What is sleep? It is something like the temporary retreat of an army after a major offensive, or, the way runners push their legs behind them on the starting line to give themselves more momentum to sprint forward. Before undertaking a strenuous task, a short rest is required. This is our sleep. As for myself, I usually do not sleep more than four hours a night for many months at a stretch, and have no difficulty. Those who know the special techniques to control the nerve cells or nerve fibres may forego sleep altogether. You must have noticed that some people who sleep too much often doze off at work. This has brought much trouble to the society. Suppose a man’s lifespan is 80 years but he spends forty of them sleeping; he will not get much time to do anything worthwhile. To be under the spell of sleep is therefore highly deplorable. Those who sleep too much must strive to reduce their sleeping time as far as practical.

The second bad habit is dullness (tandra). It is a sense of contraction, the loss of momentum or inspiration to do any work in life. This may occur due to glandular defects, diseases or even due to inborn instinct. Those suffering from the latter normally die in their early teens.

Those who are habitually lazy suffer from a lack of original thinking and a lack of drive in the field of action. “Shall I be able to do this? How will I ever get it done? I’m good for nothing. I’m illiterate.” When people think in this way, their nerve cells fail to control their nerve fibres properly, resulting in their apathy for work. This dullness is a dangerous thing. The drowsiness that one feels after waking up from sleep is also tandra, and is also a kind of dullness. To overcome it, one should practice certain psychic exercises and follow a psychic discipline.

Some students can only concentrate attentively on their studies for a short time before their minds are diverted to the playground. Their eyes may remain fixed on the text-book, but their minds play in the playground for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. Their parents and teachers feel satisfied with their apparent studiousness, but actually, they cannot study properly. The eyes may read, but their minds do not. This is also a kind of staticity because the mind is fixed in the playground.

During the examination period, a student may have to study under compulsion due to the high expectations of friends, parents and neighbours. In this case, too, the eyes will read but the mind will not, as the boy is working under external pressure. What will the result be? During the first period of relaxation after the examinations are over, when he goes to the cinema or playground, his mind will revert to its original static position. He quickly forgets within two or three days what he had previously learned and remembered with great labour. During the examination period, you will notice that you can memorize your lessons very quickly, but, as soon as the exams are over, you will forget everything within two or three days. The same sort of psychology works in all such cases. Thus, dullness is a very dangerous thing. One should remain vigilant against it.

If the feeling of dullness overcomes a woman cooking in the kitchen, she will forget to add salt and spice to the vegetables. She is physically present in one place, but mentally, she is somewhere else. If you see a man who is inattentive to his duties, or a woman forgetting to add salt and spices to the food, you will know that their minds are under the spell of lethargy. They need psychic treatment. And in the case of boys and girls – particularly those who are engaged in studies – it takes a long time to shake off this psychic lethargy. School teachers should understand this psychology so that their students can learn from them.

The third bad habit is fear (bhaya). This fear instinct is ingrained within everyone’s mind. When fear is prominent, people are said to be timid. The rule regarding fear is the more you surrender to it, the more it will increase. Similarly, the more you sleep, the more you want to sleep, and the day may come when you will develop the habit of sleeping twenty-four hours a day. The more you eat, the more your desire to eat increases. One can devour as much as a demon, but if one reduces the intake of food, one can remain just as healthy. I have spent about five years virtually without food. It seems impossible, but anyone can do that if they try. It is not very difficult.

One must exercise control over all these habits. It may happen that due to adverse circumstances, one is unable to get any food for ten days. One who does not have any control over the food habit will certainly die in such a situation. But the one who has control will manage to survive even for four or five years. This is within the bounds of possibility for human beings.

If one surrenders to fear, the fear instinct will increase. One who is timid may see a ghost even in broad daylight. Conversely, one who is brave will not see a ghost even in a burial ground in the dead of night. What is the reason for this? Due to fear psychosis, a kind of internal psychic projection is created. Usually the mind is in one of five states: almost mad (kśipta), almost foolish (múrha), scattered (vikśipta), almost concentrated (ekágra), and one-pointed (nirodha). Depending upon one’s internal psychic projection within any one of these five states, ghosts may be created. Even in the dead of night, one can dismiss the presence of ghosts with the help of negative hallucinations. This is just the opposite of internal psychic projection (positive hallucination). Thus, one should have control over fear. How to do this? The only way is to ideate on and take shelter in the most powerful entity – the Supreme Being (Parama Purusa).

Yátováco nivartante aprápya manasá sáha,
Ánandaḿ brahmano vidvám má vibheti kadácana.

If one takes shelter in the Supreme Being one need not be afraid of anything in this world. In fact, this is the only way to become totally free from fear. Those who are affected by a fear psychosis doubt their own capacity to do anything. But, if they were to try a little, they would easily accomplish what they wanted to do. “Shall I be able to do this work?” You might wonder. But who knows, maybe the task will be accomplished before you think. If someone sees a ghost under the spell of fear and immediately they remember their ista mantra, they can then take a few steps forward, slap the ghost and immediately understand that it was not a real ghost – it was perhaps a chair which was wrongly taken to be a silhouette of a human being. This is what happens. March forward with courage and you will see the ghosts, ghouls and goblins stepping away from you doing Namaskar [a most respectful salutation]!

It may happen that you are tormented by someone in your personal life and tolerate everything out of fear. If one day you summon up all your courage to oppose that person, you will find that the tyrant retreats ignominously. Similarly, under the spell of fear, a community may allow itself to be exploited by another community. But if the exploited community turns against the exploiters, the tyrants will take to their heels. There is a great need for courage. Never surrender to fear in individual or collective life.

The fourth bad habit is anger (krodha). What is the nature of anger? When there is too much agitation in the nerve cells and nerve fibres, perhaps after thinking or hearing something, one is affected by anger. When someone vexes you or humiliates you too much, your nerve cells become agitated. It may also be that no one has insulted or disturbed you, nor have they done anything to provoke you; yet simply thinking about a certain person your nerve cells get tremendously excited. Perhaps someone said something insulting to you as long as fifteen years ago. Even now, when you suddenly remember those words, your nerve cells get excited, your nerve fibres become restless, and you grow angry. As a result of anger, the whole body trembles, and the skin changes colour: one with a fair complexion becomes reddish, one with a black complexion becomes violet. (The Bengali word for anger is “rága”: rańj + ghaiṋ = rágá. In Sanskrit, rága means to colour something. In Oria it is also “rága”). This is the effect of anger on the human body. Anger is the same everywhere. It occurs when the nerve cells fail to control the nerve fibres.

Let me give another example of what happens when one loses control over the nerve fibres. Some people are so crazy about football that they dream of the game while sleeping. What is a dream? When we think during the wakeful state our conscious mind operates and we understand that we are thinking inwardly. But when we think during the state of sleep, the conscious mind does not work and we wrongly think the objects thought of are real. So a football fan who dreams about the game while sleeping may shout, “Gooaal! Gooaal!” and start kicking left and right with his legs. Clearly, his nerve cells have lost control of the nerve fibres.

When one gets angry, one is easily defeated. That is why Lord Buddha said,

Akkodhena jine kodhaḿ asádhuḿ sádhuná jine;
Jine kadariiyaḿ dánena saccena aliikavádinam.

To fight anger you must be established in the state of non-anger. When angry, one loses control over the nerve cells and fibres – one trembles all over and says things which would not otherwise have been said. If you remain free from anger, you will easily overpower an angry person because you have absolute control over your nerve-cells and fibres. The angry person will fall down with the slightest push. Thus Buddha’s advice is, “To fight anger you must be established in the state of non-anger.”

Asádhuḿ sádhuná jine: To fight against a dishonest person, you will have to become even more honest yourself. To fight against a miser, you will have to become more charitable. These mental tendencies, that is, anger, dishonesty, miserliness, etc., are the expressions of mental disease. If you want to fight against them you must be totally free from mental disease. If you are not, you will have to keep aloof from them at least at the time of battle.

I once told a story about the habit of miserliness. There was a tight-fisted man whose wife was equally miserly. Let’s call him Somá. One day, when Somá returned home, his face was pallid and he was physically sick. Seeing the wretched condition of her husband, his wife – we can call her Somii – asked:

Somii kahe samá se kanche muh malin
Kyá kuch gánt́se giir gayá kyá kuch diiya diin.

“Somá, my darling, why is your face so pale? Why do you look so haggard? Have you lost some money? Did you happen to give a present to someone by mistake? Something like this must have happened, otherwise why would you look so pale?” Somá replied;

Na kuch giiro ná kuch diiyo diin
Diiyo dekhe dosarko táhe muh maliin.

“No, nothing like that. Neither have I lost any money, nor have I given a gift to anyone. I just happened to see someone giving a donation to another person and lost my usual composure.”

So you see these are all psychic diseases. Obviously, when you are preparing to fight against psychic disease, you must remain free from the disease yourself, at least during the time of battle. Only then will you be victorious.

The next bad habit is lethargy (alasya). In the human body the various actional faculties take the form of action with the help of different nerve cells. Some people are incapable of activating those nerve cells due to their inborn instincts – they are unable to work even if they wish; whereas others develop the habit of idleness in the course of their lives. Idleness is most harmful in the spiritual sphere, less harmful in the psychic sphere and still less harmful in the physical world.

Every human being, from the age of fourteen or fifteen, has an innate desire to ideate on the Supreme. With cosmic ideation one will attain vast expansion of mind, one will become great in all respects. No one can check the all-round growth of such a person. People realize this and yet ignore it and thus waste their time getting old for nothing. That is, they waste their time in non-spiritual pursuits. This is called “spiritual lethargy”. It causes the greatest harm to human life because it results in only a very small percentage of the human potentiality – maybe one or two percent – being utilized by humans. Even those whom we call great personalities hardly use ten percent of their potentialities. Due to spiritual lethargy people are unable to grow, and thus remain very ordinary. They come to the world, live, decay and die as ordinary human beings.

Next is psychic lethargy. What is the nature of this sort of lethargy? Psychic lethargy is the lack of mental courage to think independently and to utilize the physical potentialities according to one’s inherent thoughts. For example, most people realize that since all human beings are the progeny of the Supreme, there should not be any distinction of caste. Those who accept casteism can never accept the Supreme and conversely, those who believe in the Supreme can never accept casteism. Almost all human beings understand this and yet, in their individual lives, they surrender to old customs and beliefs. Just imagine what a serious lapse this is, what a serious psychic lethargy. The root case is the lack of moral courage.

Next is physical lethargy, which you all understand from your personal experience. Extreme physical idleness has led to the ruin of many communities. Many communities in the world are so adverse to physical labour that they employ people from outside to do their work for them. Even if they had no food to eat they would be reluctant to work. You will also find people who only have enough food for a few days and yet lie blissfully in bed. Some are in an even worse plight because they remain oblivious to their condition under the influence of alcohol. The people of many countries in the world today are affected by this lethargic mentality. This explains physical lethargy. People will have to fight against it.

The sixth and last defect is procrastination (diirghasútrata) – the psychology of delaying tactics: not today, but tomorrow always tomorrow. Defer everything until tomorrow. Though procrastination is a very serious defect according to the scriptures, personally, I do not totally accept this view. In my opinion, the capacity to delay noble deeds is a vice, but the capacity to delay sinful deeds is a virtue. If I waste time and postpone good deeds until tomorrow, it is extremely bad. But if I postpone bad deeds until tomorrow, it is good. While delaying something bad, one’s mind may change and one may decide not to do it after all. Hence, procrastination in the case of bad deeds is a virtue.

There is a good story in the Ramayana. When Ravana was about to die, Rama came near him and said, “You are an experienced and knowledgeable king. In comparison to you, with your vast experience, I am just a boy. Please give me some valuable advice”. Ravana said, “Rama, through experience I have learnt that whenever you wish to perform a noble deed, do it immediately. Do today whatever you propose to do tomorrow: Shubhasya shiighram ashubhasya kálaharańam.

Yo kál kare so áj kar, yo áj kare so ab
Palme pralay hoyegii, bahurii karoge kab?

“The work which you decide to do tomorrow, do it today itself. Why should you delay it until tomorrow? The sun’s rays may not penetrate into your life tomorrow. Do it today. And the work that you have decided to do today should be done immediately, this very moment.”

“Rama,” he continued, “I thought about building a staircase to enable everyone to reach heaven. Unfortunately I delayed and delayed and now am about to die. I will never complete the work.”

Ashubhasya kálaharańaḿ: “Whenever you have a thought in your mind to do something bad, delay it. Think to yourself, ‘I won’t do it today, I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll keep postponing it.’ Alas, I didn’t follow this advice. On the spur of the moment, I took a decision to abduct Sita. I should have realized that it was not a good deed, but I didn’t wait. I abducted her without any delay. The result is that I am about to die. So, Rama, I advise you to follow these two principles.”

So to repeat, procrastination in the case of good deeds is extremely bad, but in the case of wicked deeds, is extremely good. Thus, whenever you have a desire to do something bad, you should delay – do not do it immediately. And then you should ask others whether the action is worth doing or not. Maybe the delay will bring about a change in your mind and you will not do the bad deed after all.

When people overcome these six bad habits and strive to move ahead, there is no force on Earth which can stop their movement, or check their progress. In your personal life you should always try to keep yourself free from these six bad habits. If you do, you are destined to be victorious.

From: Ánanda Vacanámrtam Part 8
Copyright Ananda Marga Publications 2011

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