The mind can defeat us in a battle, but we alone can defeat ourselves in the war
We grow internally by living with moral and spiritual integrity. Such principle-centered living necessitates an inner war against the mind which stubbornly sticks to its errant ways – ways that are sometimes silly in their stupidity and sometimes suicidal in their gravity.
In the Bhagavad-gita (06.34), Arjuna poignantly expresses this hostile nature of the mind and candidly confesses the impossibility of controlling it. He could well be voicing the feelings of spiritual seekers like all of us. The mind, through its subtle temptations and sinister persuasions, sabotages our resolutions for self-improvement. And no matter how many times we resolve to do better, the mind relentlessly sabotages our resolutions again and again. This can make us dejected, feeling that we will never be able to win over the mind.
Significantly, Krishna responds (06.35) to Arjuna’s apprehension by first empathizing with his predicament and then recommending practice (abhyasa) and perseverance arising from detachment (vairagya). Phrased in terms of the war metaphor, this recommendation is a cautionary call to not mistake defeat in a battle to be defeat in the war. Each time we become deluded by the mind, we lose a battle. But the war is not lost – no matter how many times we fall, we still have the opportunity to pick ourselves up and resume the fight. Only when we lose hope and give up the fight do we lose the war. Thus, the mind can defeat us in a battle, but only we can defeat ourselves in the war.
Thankfully, we don’t have to defeat ourselves. If we cultivate the practice of remembering Krishna and persevere despite repeated distractions, then gradually the same inner victory that was impossible on our own becomes, by Krishna’s omnipotent grace, achievable and even relishable.