None of us want to commit sins. But still we commit sins. Why is it so? Many times, we take a vow to not indulge in any wrong activities but some unknown force within us compels us to indulge in sinful activities. So, is there any way by which we can overcome sinful tendencies? What is the best way to stop committing sins? What the Vedic literatures say about sins? What solution the Vedas give to give up indulging in sinful activities? Let us explore.
What is sin?
Any activity which is against the religious principles is sin. Any activity which keeps us away from God is sin. Vedas tell that meat eating i.e. killing animals for food, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex are sinful activities. So, we should give it up. The scriptures also say that we should give up lust, anger, greed, pride, envy, illusion, and false ego. These tendencies are detrimental for our spiritual growth.
What happens when we commit sins?
Sins cause suffering. Suffering which you and I are experiencing now is because of our past sins. So, if we want to free ourselves from suffering then we must burn all our previous sins. And to stop future suffering we should stop committing sins.
Why we commit sins?
In Srimad Bhagavatam, King Parīkṣit asked his teacher Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī an important question. It is so relevant for you and me. He wanted to know why people despite knowing that sins cause suffering indulge in it? Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.1.9–10)
He gave the example of a thief. A thief knows that stealing is bad. He might have seen thieves being caught and punished but still he does not change. He might have also been caught, might have been brutally punished, imprisoned but still his tendency of stealing does not go away.
It is not just about the thieves. But even applicable for religious people as well.
Why seeking forgiveness from the Lord for the sins does not help?
Srila Prabhupada in Nectar of Instruction Purport 1 gives the example of Christians. Many Christians go to the church every weekend to seek forgiveness for the sins they committed last week. And then during the weekdays they again do all kinds of sinful activities and again come to church in the weekend begging forgiveness from Christ for their sins. And this cycle continues. What is the use of such prayer?
Similarly, people go to the temple pleading Lord to free them from suffering. I have seen people holding their ears in front of the Lord seeking forgiveness. Some even have tears in their eyes. I am not sure whether the tears are genuine or not. The purpose is to show the Lord that they are sorry for whatever mistakes they have done. And the Lord should not punish them anymore. But again, after coming out of the temple they begin doing prohibited things. The Lord will not be pleased by such duplicitous behavior.
People may chant the holy names of God but continue committing sins. They believe that their chanting will nullify their sins. In the Vedic scriptures it is mentioned, “It is an offence to commit sinful activities on the strength of the holy names of the Lord.”
So, we know that committing sins are bad, it displeases God, it brings us miseries. But why do we indulge in it.
We may say that because of ignorance people commit sins. But this may not be always true. Almost all are aware about the consequences of the wrongful activities. We all know that if we do not do our prescribed duties sincerely, we will suffer.
From our day to day life we can see many such examples.
Despite knowing the consequences, we fail to act righteously
A student knows that if he does not study well, he will not get good marks. He is reminded by his parents and teacher to study hard but still he does not study.
I remember one of my friends had developed the habit of chatting with unknown people on internet. Once I asked him, “Why is he wasting his time on internet?” He said, “I know it’s wrong. I am wasting my time, my parent’s money. But I cannot stop myself from doing so.”
An employee in an organization knows that if he is not punctual and sincere in his work, he may not get promotion or increment and may even lose his job. But he continues to remain mediocre.
Similarly, in our spiritual journey too, our spiritual teachers and the sacred books constantly remind us about the righteous and unrighteous behavior. But still we regularly fall prey to our lower nature. When temptations allure us, we fail to control ourselves. And after indulging in it we feel guilty, most of the times extremely terrible. We take a vow at that moment to not repeat the mistake again, but our determination is as fragile as a bubble in the ocean.
Self-help books & motivational gurus tell us what we already know
These days so many self-help books and motivational videos are available on YouTube channels. They try to teach us how to develop determination, how to remain focused on our goals, how to control our mind and senses. When we read such books and watch such videos, we feel so inspired. Their words are music to our ears.
But I have minutely analyzed the lessons they try to teach us. And again, I find the same pattern. What they try to teach you and me, we already know.
- Don’t we know the importance of controlling the mind and senses?
- Don’t we know the importance of remaining focused on our goals?
- Don’t we know the importance of having strong will power?
- Don’t we know that if we resist temptation and work hard, we will have a better future?
- Don’t we know that if we give up smoking and drinking, we will have good health?
- Don’t we know that if we exercise daily just for 20 – 30 minutes and eat healthy food we will have good health?
- Don’t we know that if we are not short tempered, we will have good relationship with our spouse, colleagues, neighbors and with everyone?
We know all these. And we have tried hard to implement it in our lives. Many times, I have observed that when I read or watch political news for hours, I am simply wasting my time and even polluting my consciousness. But I continue doing so. Some amount of news is fine, but we should not be obsessed with it. Similarly, we waste our time on social media or watch entertainment videos or channels or movies. They just suck our time and does not do any good to us.
We all want to free ourselves from these self-destructive habits. But again and again, we get knocked down by our mind and senses.
Reading self-help books and watching motivational videos gives us a positive direction. We may even take steps to improve our life. And we may also succeed to some extent.
But what I have observed is that it never solves our problem permanently.
And let me explain why.
Limitation of self-help books and motivational videos
Suppose that a person has skin infection. He goes to a doctor. Doctor gives him an ointment. He applies the ointment and the infection goes away. But it reoccurs again after a week. He again goes to the same doctor. The doctor gives him the same ointment which again relives him from the disease for a week and it re-occurs again. He does not get any permanent cure.
The patient decides to visit another doctor, an experienced one. This doctor asks him to go for blood test. The blood test reveals that the problem is not in the skin but is in the blood. Now the doctor gives him medicine to cure his blood infection. And once his blood becomes pure, his skin disease automatically vanishes, it does not reoccur again.
The 2nd doctor was successful in treating the patient because he did a root cause analysis. It helped him to find that the problem is not in the skin but in the blood.
The material solutions provided by the self-help books and by motivational gurus provide superficial solutions. It does not address the root cause of our problems. So, it is not completely effective in freeing us from our lower modes and helping us to stop committing sins.
In fact, some of the motivational speakers does not even consider a sin a sin. For example, they will not tell people that watching pornography is bad, eating meat is wrong and drinking/smoking should be completely given up. They will only say do these things but in a balanced way.
If these are not sins according to them then how will they help us in giving up sinful habits.
So, what is the best way to stop committing sins? What solution we should look for?
What is the best solution to give up sinful habits?
The Vedic scripture provides an alternative solution. The sacred literature talks in detail about sins, the suffering it causes.
And it explains in detail how to give up sinful habits forever.
It addresses the root cause of our sinful habits.
It explains, we commit sins because of our lower modes. Lower modes means being in mode of ignorance or passion. As long as we are in these two modes, we will continue committing sins and continue suffering.
So first we should elevate ourselves to the mode of goodness. Once we are in mode of goodness, we become self-controlled and we are able to take control of our lives in a better way.
Now to come to the mode of goodness we first have to free ourselves from the modes of passion and ignorance. When our heart and mind is filled with the impurities of lust, greed, pride, anger, envy, illusion and false ego, we remain in passion and ignorance. So, we have to cleanse our hearts of these impurities.
And the scriptures provide ABCD formula which guarantees complete success. Following this process many have been able to free himself/herself from all sinful habits.
Association (A): Associate with those who are pure in their habits
A popular proverb is “Show Me Your Friends and I will Show You Your Future.” The people with whom we associate plays an important role in shaping our thoughts and our life.
- Take the example of Kaikeyi, she loved Lord Rama more than her own life. But she associated with Manthara, an evil-minded lady. And the association made her so contaminated that she developed hatred for Lord Rama.
- Mrugrari was a hunter. He was so cruel that he used to enjoy killing animals and seeing them die. But he got the association of sage Narada. The association transformed him so much that later he was careful to not harm even an ant.
- Hippies in the western countries were indulging in all sorts of sinful activities. But by associating with Srila Prabhupada they got totally transformed. They gave up all sinful habits and began leading a pure life.
So, the Vedic books tell us that we should be extremely careful in choosing the people with whom we associate with. If we associate with those who are impure in their habits, we will also develop bad habits. But if we associate with people who are pure in their habits, are self-controlled then we will become like them.
- If as a student, we want to excel in our academics then we should spend time with students who spend most of their time in studies and are controlled enough to not get distracted.
- If we want to be successful in our profession, then we should spend our quality time with those who are sincere in their work.
- If we want to be happy in our life, then we should surround ourselves with happy people.
- If we want to give up habits like smoking and drinking, then we should always seek the company of those who do not drink or smoke.
- If we want to give up addiction to social media, to political news, to watching movies then we should associate with people who do not indulge in these time-wasting habits.
- If we want to grow in our spiritual life, then we should seek the association of devotees who are sincere and focused in their spiritual journey.
So, let us ask ourselves – Who are our friends? Who are the people with whom we spend good amount of our time?
Their thoughts, their beliefs have a great impact in our life. So, we should choose our friends carefully.
Choosing friends should not be a matter of chance but should be a matter of choice. And our choice should be based on our values and principles based on which we want to live. It will determine our destiny.
Books (B): Read sacred Books
The books we read, the movies we watch, the news we hear, the time we spend on social media like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. also shapes our life. We must be careful as what input we are giving to our mind.
GIGO principle always works – Garbage in Garbage Out. Good in Good out.
We should read books like Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, life stories of great personalities. When we read such books then we associate with the thought process of the character of the book which transforms our thought process.
Chanting (C): Chant the holy names of God regularly
One of the most effective means to rise above the lower modes is mantra meditation.
Chanting the holy names of Lord is very effective in purifying our hearts of all the impurities. Vedic scriptures tell that in this age, Hare Krishna Mahamantra is the most effective mantra. Millions of people today are chanting the Hare Krishna Mahamantra all over the world. And the holy name is helping them to give up old bad habits.
Chanting helps in many ways. Initially when we begin chanting, we find that it is difficult to chant with complete attention. In fact, when I started chanting, I was not able to complete even one round of chanting.
But if we pursue with determination, we find that slowly we can sit at a place and chant for long number of hours. Chanting has so many benefits.
HG Radheshyam Prabhu, President Iskcon Pune, India, and one of the respected preachers all over the world tells the following benefits of chanting Hare Krishna Mahamantra.
Benefits of chanting:
- Chanting gives us will power.
- Chanting helps us to gain focus.
- Chanting calms our mind.
- Chanting removes unwanted habits of lust, anger and greed.
- Chanting gives us thrill and joy because of connection with Krishna.
- Chanting produces happiness because Radha and Krishna is in the name – Hare and Krishna.
Chanting Hare Krishna Mahamantra destroys sinful reactions, burn sinful seeds, counteracts sinful proclivities, and uproots ignorance.
So, when King Parīkṣit asked Śukadeva Gosvāmī as how people can give up sinful habits completely then the revered sage said, “Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to Kṛṣṇa can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will revive. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun can immediately dissipate fog by its rays.” Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.15
Diet (D): Eat pure food
What we eat also plays an important role in our life. Eating dead animals are harmful to our consciousness. When the animals are about to be slaughtered, they become extremely fearful and tries hard to save themselves.
Their body gets filled with passion and ignorance and so when we eat such food it degrades our consciousness. Also killing animal is sinful. People may not kill animals directly but buying it from slaughterhouses also means they are participating in the killing; they will get karma for that.
God has provided us enough vegetarian food and milk for our survival, so we should eat such foods. Not just that we should even offer the food to the deity of Krishna before we eat it. When the food is offered to the Lord it becomes pure and spiritual.
So, if we want to stop committing sins then instead of looking for material solution, we should look for spiritual solutions.
Material solution like reading self-help books and watching motivational videos will give temporary solutions. But it will not be able to completely uproot our sinful tendencies.
But if we choose spiritual path then we can completely give up all our sinful habits. So, to stop committing sins, we should focus on following four activities.
- We should try our best to be in the company of those people who are pure in their habits.
- We should read good books like Bhagavad Gita and life of great personalities.
- We should eat pure food and not eat dead animals as it degrades our consciousness.
- And most importantly we should chant the holy names of the Lord. Chanting has many benefits. Chanting connects us to the Lord and as Lord appears in our hearts our heart becomes completely pure and we lose all taste for sinful habits.