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Conquering Bad Habits

by Paramhansa Yogananda
Fall 2008 No Comment

It is especially important on the spiritual path to understand the power of habits. Unspiritual habits like restlessness can easily destroy weak meditative habits. Those who meditate only occasionally, or for just a short time, find that their desire to meditate vanishes when challenged by the powerful habit of restlessness.

When you yield to bad habits, they become stronger and your will power becomes weaker. Nonetheless, there is no evil habit, however strong, that you can not overcome through meditation, good company, and the continuous effort to adopt the counteracting antidote of a good habit.

Importance of will power

Weak will power is one of the main reasons people fail to overcome their bad habits. Most people are “half-hearted” in their thoughts and actions; hence they do not succeed.

Find out, through daily introspection, whether you eat, work, and meditate according to the dictates of your will power, or whether bad habits undermine your efforts. Then, convince yourself that you want to “overthrow” the undesirable habit.

Self-pity, sorrow, self rebuke, and even violent but spasmodic rebellion are of little avail. You are the maker of your habits and you must undo them by strong, persistent effort.

Remember: the greater your will power, the less the enslaving influence of your bad habits. One of the best ways to strengthen your will power is always to follow through, no matter what the obstacles, on any decision you make to do something you know to be right.

Avoid discouraging influences

People are often unsuccessful in overcoming bad habits because their families or friends have infected them with habit-forming, discouraging thoughts. To overcome bad habits, be especially aware of the kind of people with whom you associate. Watch to see how family, close friends, or others with whom you regularly spend time influence you.

Watch also how books, movies, and other leisure time pursuits influence your thought-habits. Distance yourself from anyone or anything that reinforces your bad habits.

Use good habits to overcome bad
Good habits are your best helpers. Reinforce their strength by good actions and use them to crowd out all bad habits.

If, for example, you have a bad habit of telling lies, cultivate the opposite good habit of telling the truth. Similarly, if you are suffering from ill health or poverty, use thoughts and affirmations of health or prosperity to crowd out thought-habits of ill health or poverty. By affirming the new attitudes morning and night, with full attention, you will also strengthen your will power.

Give your new actions enough time, attention, and energy to gain strength and don’t become discouraged over an occasional lapse. A bad habit takes time to attain supremacy, so why be impatient about the growth of its rivaling good habit?

Meditation cauterizes bad habits
If a person carries over from past lives the seeds of bad habits, his efforts to create good habits will bring only limited results unless, through meditation, he cauterizes the pre-natal seeds lodged in the brain. Thus, for a person with a prenatal tendency towards ill health, affirmations and other actions will not, of themselves, create good health.

Meditation, which cauterizes “evil-saturated” brain cells, is the best way of uprooting bad habits. In a non-meditative person, the life force is concentrated in the muscles and senses. During meditation, the life force relaxes away from the body and sensory motor nerves and accumulates in the brain. The superconsciousness uses the relaxed energy in the brain to go deep into the brain grooves, seeking out evil habits. It cauterizes the “evil-saturated” brain cells with divine energy, changing them into “good-saturated” brain cells.

The time needed to form new habits through meditation varies with an individual’s nervous system and brain cells, but is determined chiefly by the quality of attention. You can install new habits in the brain almost instantaneously through the power of deep attention in meditation.

The receptive power of love
A divine soul like Jesus has the power to charge the brain of another with cosmic energy and cauterize all evil-saturated brain cells. In the Bible there is the story of the sinful woman who sought Jesus out when he was visiting a certain house. Weeping remorsefully, she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them with ointment.

Jesus healed the woman of her sinful tendencies saying, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” By the receptive power of her love, the woman was able to draw divine energy from Jesus, which cauterized all seeds of sinful tendencies lodged in her brain.

The moral: No matter how error-stricken you are, when by meditation you feel God’s love deeply, you can attract the grace of the Guru and overcome all bad habits. The Guru is able to transmit cosmic energy into the brain of the disciple and burn out habits of ignorance from many incarnations.

What is true freedom?

True freedom consists in doing such things as eating, reading, meditating, and helping others based on right judgment and conscious exercise of will, and not being compelled by habits. The way out of the dark delusion of habit lies in using your will power to meditate deeply each day until you can achieve the bliss-contact of God at will. A person of unbounded will power can fix a new habit in the brain instantly.

Excerpted from
East West Magazine, 1926; Praecepta Lessons 1933-1935; and Inner Culture Magazine.

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