Q: How can we change a negative habit?
Swami Suryaprakash Saraswati: This question reminds me of an incident many years ago when I was a small child. Swami Niranjan was giving satsang and the topic of discussion was `How to cultivate virtues and eradicate vices'. How can we cultivate positive habits, thoughts, behaviour and qualities, and how can we remove negative qualities?
After the satsang, Swamiji asked me, "So what did you understand?" I said, "I did not understand anything." He said, "Okay, let's go for a walk in the garden." As we were walking across the lawn, he pointed out a weed which was three or four inches high, and said, "Dig it out." I used two fingers and dug it out without any effort. We walked some more and he said, "See that plant? Now dig that out." I pulled at it with one hand. Nothing happened. So I used both hands and all my force, and with much effort managed to pull it free of the earth. Swamiji said, "Let's go further. Can you see that tree? Now dig that out." I hugged the tree, I tried all kinds of things, and finally he said, "Let it be. You won't be able to do it."
Swamiji then told me, "When you are young in age, you can put in whatever good qualities and habits you want, but as you grow older, it will be much more difficult to cultivate a good habit or extract a bad habit. And one day when you are fully grown, any kind of change will be nearly impossible. Therefore, think carefully and try to imbibe good qualities, thoughts and habits now." He added, "When the personality is full of good qualities, negative qualities cannot enter. When good habits are inculcated, then negative habits get left behind automatically and simply don't come to you."
This incident took place many years ago, but it is only now that I have been able to understand its significance. And in this also lies the reply to the question. We can improve or change a negative habit only when we implant positive habits in our life. When the focus is on goodness, then the negativity drops away automatically.
Every negative habit carries with it a positive habit. Every negative tendency has an opposite uplifting quality. If one is lazy, the opposite is dynamism. If the tendency is to be greedy, its positive counterpart is restraint. If one is depressive, the opposite is participation and cheerfulness. So, when analysing a negative habit, the focus has to be on the positive opposite. You simply have to look for this opposite habit and try to develop it.
You have to also make a sankalpa, a resolve, to change a negative habit. Remember that a sankalpa is always positive. Take this example. There are two dogs, one black and one white, and they are fighting. Both are the same size and strength. Which one is going to win? When will the white dog win and what do we have to do to defeat the black dog? The answer is easy. The dog that has been better looked after and better fed will win.
The black dog represents all our negative qualities and the white dog represents the positive qualities. One is creativity, love, compassion and dynamism, and the other is symbolic of all the detrimental qualities. So when you make a positive sankalpa and try to develop a positive habit, you will see that as you grow in it, as you imbibe and understand it more, its opposite negative habit will slowly diminish and be left behind. Thus the answer is that you have to tackle the negative habits indirectly by focusing on the positive, because if you try to tackle them directly, you will continue to face internal conflict, and nothing will change.
After all, the negative habit or thought has come from your own mind and the positive resolve or quality has also come from the same mind. So when the negative and the positive, the good and the bad, have both come from the same source, how we grow depends on what we focus on and what we want to develop.
Every individual has the capacity to know what is good and what is bad, what is positive and what is negative. Everyone possesses that much discrimination and intelligence. So it depends on our choice and focus, on what we choose to expand and enhance. We all have to be responsible for our choices.
—2 June, 2009