Understanding the reflective self and the impulsive self

We often experience an inner tug of war between opposing voices. To better understand these forces, let’s consider the dynamics of our inner world, as described in the Bhagavad-gita (03.42): it places the senses, the mind, the intelligence and the soul in an ascending hierarchy. 

The Gita’s next verse (03.43) urges us to use our intelligence to become spiritually grounded and thereby regulate our lower impulses. To better understand this verse, let’s consider two senses of the self: reflective and impulsive. As the soul and the intelligence together are meant to regulate, let’s refer to them collectively as the reflective self. As the short-sighted desires that are to be regulated are present mostly in the mind and the senses, let’s refer to these two collectively as the impulsive self. Phrased in this terminology, the Gita urges us to use the reflective self to regulate the impulsive self.

One way to do so is by looking back at times when we acted foolishly. In doing such retrospection, we are using our reflective self to catch our impulsive self in action. If we analyze several of the moments when the impulsive self prompted us to do something unwise, we may identify the typical situations in which the impulsive self overwhelms us. Equipped with this knowledge, we can be on guard whenever we encounter those situations again. 

Our reflective self is like a muscle — it weakens if used rarely and strengthens if used regularly. Therefore, the more we use the reflective self to catch the impulsive self in action in the past, the stronger it will become. Over time, it will start catching the impulsive self in action in the present too, thereby protecting us from acting self-destructively. 

One-sentence summary:

The more we exercise our reflective self, the more we can regulate our impulsive self. 

Think it over:

  • What is the reflective self and the impulsive self?
  • Think of three past incidents wherein you can catch the impulsive self in action. 
  • How can you exercise your reflective self regularly? 


03.43: Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence and thus – by spiritual strength – conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Regulation and regular practice are one of the most important factors in today’s changing world….

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    • Happy to be of service.

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      • Superb explanation

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      • Amazing stuff, to be able to decode the important verses and put in such a clear and concise manner. Real kudos to you guys!
        Great service to all humanity.
        Let the Lord keep all of us under his constant blessings.

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        • Thanks for your appreciation, happy to be of service.

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