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Question: I want to get rid of my bad habits. I have tried all the things to get rid of them, but I am still unable to do that. What is the reason?
Speaker: How do you know whether a particular habit is good or bad? How do you decide?
Listener 1: It has been told to us earlier, that what is good and what is bad.
Speaker: You have been told earlier that what is good and what is bad. That is the way we go about deciding everything – what is right, what is wrong, what is fair, what is unfair – on the basis of criteria that has been given to us in advance. That this is good, this is bad.
Once you know, once you really-really know that what is harmful to you, that what will cause suffering to you, will you still go ahead and do it? Once you see the entire cause-effect chain, do you still go ahead and do it? Once you see yourself, not just believe in somebody’s words, not just believe what your parents have told you, or what society has told you, or what religion has told you, once you see it yourself, do you still continue doing it?
For example, my religion tells me that eating non-vegetarian food, eating animal flesh, is bad. I am a ‘Jain’ by religion. So for me, eating meat is bad. But do I really know for myself that what is meat and what is meant by meat consumption? Do I really understand? I don’t understand, but I may still not eat meat. This abstinence from eating meat is purely a habit given by somebody else. Right? But you will call this ‘a good habit’. Hence you have created two words, ‘good habit’ and ‘bad habit’.
I want to ask you a question. What is the definition of ‘habit’? Have you ever tried to understand that what is the definition of habit?
Listener 1: Anything that we do daily.
Speaker: Anything that you do daily. But whatever you do daily, is that a habit? Will you call it a ‘habit’?
Listener 1: Yes.
Speaker: Yes? Is merely the act of doing a habit? Or is habit something else?
Listener 2: It depends on our interest.
Speaker: Interest? Does habit depend on interest? If it is really of your interest, then why do you want to get rid of of it? And if it is of your interest, then do you need it as a habit? Out of interest you will do it. But you need it as a habit. So, interest is sufficient.
What is a habit? Some of you said that anything that we continuously do in a routine, is habit. This is a good point to start. But this definition is not complete. Something is missing in this definition. What is missing in this definition?
Listener 3: Sir, it is done without understanding.
Speaker: Wonderful, very good. So, a habit means two things. One, there is a pattern, we do it regularly. Second, we do it without understanding. We do it without being conscious. We are not really aware that this is happening. It just happens because of habit. And if somebody asks you that why do you do this, then you will say, “Oh! It’s a habit with me.” So that is habit.
There is no utilization of the mind. You don’t even think while doing. It just happens like in a machine. A button is pressed and the system starts operating, without understanding that why it is operating that way. That is a habit.
So we said two things about habit. One, there is a pattern. And second, it is done without being…
Speaker: Aware. In the moments when the habit functions, we do not even know what we do. Later on we may recall, we may repent, we may feel bad. But when the habit is taking place, we have no awareness, and hence no power. You are powerless at that moment. Right in front of the habit, you are totally powerless. Is that so? Yes, there is a force of the habit, and that force is the pattern of the habit. Am I right?
Listeners: Yes, Sir.
Speaker: Now, how can there be ‘good habits’ and ‘bad habits’? We just took an example. We said, “If I am a Jain then for me not eating meat is a…
Listeners: Good habit.
Speaker: For a Jain, not eating meat is a good habit. But for people from some other religions, killing animals on the occasion of certain festivals is again a habit. Is that so?
Listeners: Yes, Sir.
Speaker: Because it is being done year after year, year after year, continuously. And they say, “Killing is a…
Listeners: Good habit.
Speaker: Strange! Same act. For one it is a good habit, and for another one, it is a bad habit.
Somebody who is a ‘Jain’ by religion, would he not eat meat had he been born in some other religion, or some other family, or some other country?
Listener 2: It depends on his interest.
Speaker: It is not a question of interest. It is a question of understanding. ‘Interest’ and ‘Understanding’ are two different things. Two very-very different things.
Listener 2: They are aware that they are killing the animals.
Speaker: Are they really aware? Awareness is not that ‘I am holding this mic’. Awareness is something totally different.
Awareness is understanding. Do you really understand that why you are not eating meat? Do you really understand that why you are killing the animal? You are born in a particular religion, so since childhood you are told that eating meat is bad. So you do not eat meat. But do you really understand what is meat-eating? Do you really understand what is meant by killing? That is a habit. Habit is that which you do regularly, but without understanding. Whatever we do regularly, but do not understand is a…
Speaker: Whatever we do regularly but don’t understand, is a habit. Can there be good habits? Can there be good habits at all? Because if you say that something is a good habit, then you are also saying that not understanding is good. Because a habit by definition means- “I don’t understand but I do.” Can anything be a good habit?
So let this come to you very clearly, very strongly. No habit is a good habit.
Habit by definition means- “I am doing it just because of conditioning. I am doing it just because I am habituated. I am doing it just because there is a pattern from the past that I am following.”
The question then arises: why do we call something as a good habit? Because we have been told that certain things are good and certain things are bad, so we have started calling some habits as ‘good’ and some habits as ‘bad’.
The question asked was: “How do I get rid of my bad habits?” The question asked should have been: “How to get rid of all habits, whether good or bad?” Can all of us ask this question: “How to lead a habit-free life?” Is that not a more important question to ask? How to lead a life which is entirely free of habits?
“I don’t have any habits. Whatever I do, I do out of my understanding. I don’t need habits. I am aware, and every action is happening out of that awareness. Every action is happening in that awareness. I don’t need habits. Habits are needed only by those who are half-asleep.”
Do you understand what is meant by being really aware? A truck is coming towards you and you are immediately sensing that danger. The entire mechanism of knowing is functioning with great sensitivity. You don’t even have to think, and you know. You will not say, “Oh! It is my habit to walk in the middle of the road.” The moment you see a truck coming, what do you do? You jump away. Or do you say that it is my habit to walk in the middle of the road? You won’t have time to make such a foolish statement. That is what I mean by being really aware. To understand the urgency of the situation. To be in contact with the danger ahead. To know what it is really.
But there is a problem. The problem is of time. When the truck is there in front of you, just twenty meters away, then you can see within a fraction of a second that it will hit you. But when you are drinking alcohol, then you cannot see that you are dying. Because dying is still many years ahead. The truck will hit you right now, but when you are drinking alcohol, you will not die right now. When will you die? May be a few months, a few years, or a few decades later. So you cannot be alive to the danger of what you are doing right now. That is the thing.
To be really intelligent means to see the entire cause-effect chain in one instance, right now. “Right now I can see what will be the result of what I am doing. Time is not needed. Yes, there may be a time-interval of ten-twelve years, but those ten years cannot deceive me. I will not be fooled by those ten years. As I am doing this action right now, I am able to see the results right now. I don’t have to wait for ten years. I will not deceive myself. I will see the repercussions in this moment itself. I will not tell myself, ‘Oh! The future is so far ahead. Let me enjoy this right now.” That’s what we tell us, right?
Listener 3: But it is said, “Live in the present.”
Speaker: “Live in the present” is such a beautiful thing to say, but we misuse it. Right? By living in the present what we mean is- being asleep in the present. That do whatever you want to do now, and don’t bother to understand it. Is that the meaning of living in the present? Living in the present means- to pay attention right now.
I assure you, each one of you, that habits are powerless. Just see what you are doing. And to really see what you are doing, you just need to pause for a while and pay attention. To get rid of habit, you don’t have to label it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That if it is a ‘bad’ habit, you will want to get rid of it. And if it is a good habit, you will keep on doing it, without understanding it.
You all are young. And in youth the mind is rebellious. It wants to rebel. The moment somebody tells you that something is bad, you want to do more of it. The more you will tell yourself that a particular action or habit is bad, your mind will be inclined more towards it. Am I right? Certain websites are said to be bad. And what do you do? You specifically watch those websites.
“Bad movie! Should watch it. Bad books! Should read them. Bad actions! Don’t bunk the class. Don’t copy assignments”, and you will specially do them. It is because bad is exciting. Bad has a thrill and adventure about it. And you want to go through that adventure. “Let me do all the bad things first.” Right? So, if somebody asks you, “How to make a habit permanent?” The answer is, declare it to be a bad habit. The moment you declare something bad, it stays forever.
As I was coming to your campus, there was this wall besides a place of worship. It was written on the wall, “Kindly do not urinate here.” I am so sure that the entire city goes to urinate there (laughter).
The moment you prohibit something, the moment you forbid something, the mind wants to do it. Is that not the nature of the mind? The moment you forbid something, it will do it. Don’t we do all those things that are forbidden? And we feel especially good when we break a rule or a law. Don’t we feel good when you do that? “Yes, I displayed my masculinity. I am somebody. I did all those forbidden things.”
According to Abrahmic tradition, there is a story about how man came on earth. In Abrahamic tradition, they say that God first made Adam and Eve. He told them not to eat the apple. So, there is one man, one woman, a large forest. And they were very happy. Who cares for one apple? There is so much in the forest. And there was, of course, the rule of the serpent and all that. But because God prohibited them to eat the apple, they tasted the apple. And because of this, they were expelled from heaven and sent to earth.
That psychology of man has not changed. It is still continuing till today. A habit is just a habit, and it is only stupidity. No habit is a good habit. All habits imply that you are not living, that you are just acting out of your conditioning. Whenever you are in habit, you are not really alive. Do not condemn your habits out of morality. Do not say, “My habits are bad.” Just say, “This is a habit.” And when something is a habit, it makes you stupid, and nobody likes to be stupid. Right?
A habit prevents you from living fully. A habit prevents you from acting consciously. When you understand, you do not need habit. When you really know in attention, then habit becomes powerless. Whatever small things that you do throughout the day, start paying attention to them. Ask yourself, “Is this happening because I am aware, conscious. Or is this happening because I am habituated?”
Let me give you an example. When you enter your classroom, which chairs do you choose first to sit: the ones in the front or the ones at the back?
Listeners: The ones at the back.
Speaker: Then ask yourself, “Why is it so that whenever I enter the classroom, I rush towards the back, or I sit in the front?” Ask yourself. Don’t just do it. Pause for a second and ask yourself. That is the way to identify a habit. The moment you know it is a habit, it is gone. Then it has no more power on you. Are you understanding this?
When you meet a teacher and you wish him, just pause for a while and ask yourself, “Do I really feel good about this person, or is it just a habit with me to wish my teachers?” If it is just a habit, it is meaningless. It is stupidity. You are just performing a ritual, just a ritual. When you meet a friend, what do you do? You wave a hand at your friend. Ask yourself, “was it because of friendship and love that I waved my hand, or is it that it has become a habit with me that whenever I see an acquaintance, I just wave my hand?” And if is just a habit, then pull your hand back. Stupid habit. Stupid habit.
Even at this moment, ask yourself, “Am I really listening, or my thoughts are wandering?” And if your thoughts are wandering, then ask yourself, “Did I want my thoughts to go here and there, or is it just the habit that whenever I sit down, my mind starts wandering?” So, come back. Wherever you are, come back.
That’s why we said that when habit is in action, then we are not really alive. We are just like a machine. We are very much like a machine when the habit is operating. And we don’t want to live like machines. Or do we? How many of you are interested in living like machines? Raise your hands.
And how many of us want to be fully human?
(Many raise their hands)
And if you want to be fully human, then catch the habit. Do not label it as a ‘good habit’ or a ‘bad habit.’ What are these good habits? To be disciplined. Now what kind of discipline is this which is coming out of habit? If right now you are attentive in listening, is it because of discipline or because of attention? There will be people here who are sitting quietly just because of discipline, and not because of attention. Will that discipline help them?
Listeners: No, Sir.
Speaker: And if you are listening attentively, then do you need discipline?
Listeners: No, Sir.
Speaker: We are engaged with each other right now. I am speaking to you, you are listening to me, and we are engaged with each other. Do we need some master to discipline us here? Do we really need somebody to stand here to discipline us? We don’t need anybody. Discipline is not needed. What is needed?
Listener 4: Attention is needed.
Speaker: Only attention is needed. Whatever you call as a ‘good habit’ is as dead as ‘a bad habit’. This again is such a good demonstration. There is this fan. I press that button on and the fan starts moving. Does the fan understand why it is moving in such a way? Does the fan understand?
Listeners: No, Sir.
Speaker: This is a habit.
Do you understand what you are doing? Ask yourself, “If something is happening, is it happening out of attention and understanding? Do I know respect? Do I know love? Or am I just habituated? Just doing, without understanding.”
If it is coming out of your understanding, then it is not a habit. So pay attention and understand. Then you will be free of habits.
– Excerpts from a Samvaad session.
Edited for clarity.
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