Eventual defeat doesn’t justify immediate defeat
When we strive to live a principle-centered life by resisting temptations, we may find some temptation irresistible and feel, “Since I will indulge eventually, why not indulge immediately?”
This reasoning is fallacious because the inner war against temptation is not exactly like an outer war against an aggressor. If the aggressor is too powerful, fighting simply means courting pointless casualties: pointless because all the casualties won’t protect one from defeat. Better to cut one’s losses by accepting defeat immediately.
However, the inner war is more like a weight-lifting exercise. We know in advance that we can’t lift a heavy weight forever, or even for very long. But that inability doesn’t mean we should put the weight down immediately. The longer we lift it, the more our muscles will develop and the longer we will be able to lift it.
In the war against temptation – which is a lifelong war – victory lies not in the product, but in the process: not in the product of lifelong abstinence, but in the process of saying no right now. The Bhagavad-gita (05.23) recommends as the means to spiritual growth the process of tolerating temptation – that is, of enduring temptation’s presence without succumbing to its influence.
Of course, we grow spiritually not merely by saying no to temptation, but primarily by saying yes to Krishna. Such connectedness with the divine purifies us, gives us access to higher spiritual happiness and makes worldly temptation less appealing. With the resulting inner composure, we can decide what level of abstinence is sustainable for us and modulate our spiritual practices accordingly. We may even discover that, if we strive diligently to resist temptation in the present moment, we can resist it for one more moment, one more day, one more week, one more month, one more year … and thus resist it lifelong.
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