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The difference between knowing what is good and doing what is good...

Updated on July 2, 2017
Duryodhana speaks out to Krishna
Duryodhana speaks out to Krishna

There is a very poignant and pregnant moment in the great epic, Mahabharatha. The ‘wicked’ forces of the Kauravas (a clan) are spearheaded by Duryodhana, the eldest son of the blind king, Dhritharashtra. Dhritarashtra proves that he is blind in ways more than one as he allows his jealous yet zealous son a free rein in all matters.

So lost in greed and desire is Duryodhana that even when Lord Krishna approaches him as a messenger of peace to avoid the war, he refuses to listen to Him and even makes the foolish attempt to take Him captive. Lord Krishna then reveals His cosmic form in all its might but that is a completely different story altogether.

On one occasion, Duryodhana meets Lord Krishna. He knows that he has been doing wrong all his life. He also knows the divinity of Krishna. He breaks down and confesses - “Lord! It is not that I do not know Dharma (righteousness). I am very well aware of it. But Lord, inspite of knowing it, I am unable to practise it! I know not why and I know that I will not change. So please forgive me, let me be and you just go about your own ways.”

I remembered this story because of a question someone asked me yesterday - “Why do we not do the good when we know the good?” That set me thinking and discussing and there was an interesting conclusion.

Why do we not do the good when we know the good?
Why do we not do the good when we know the good?

First, it is time to rule out some outliers or exceptions. These outliers have actually been defined by the brother and wise minister of king Dhritarashtra, Vidura. He describes the different kinds of people who are unable to do the right thing even after knowing it. Once we examine the list, there is no need for any explanation of the list.

The list includes the intoxicated ones, tired ones, angry ones, hungry ones and scared ones. However, there were four categories other categories in that list which struck me – greedy ones, impatient ones; desire filled ones and ones with an unsteady mind.

Those four struck me struck me because while the first few are people who are physically incapacitated, the latter few are those with concerns of the mind!

Every person is a composite of the body, mind and soul/heart/spirit/awareness. The body is the gross part and the mind is subtle. The subtlest is the soul/heart/spirit/awareness. At the subtlest level is the knowledge of good and bad. And that is why it is said that everyone is good ‘at heart’! However, action is at the level of the body and before the body performs action, knowledge has to pass through the intermediary – the mind.

It is at the level of the mind that this difference between knowing the good and doing the good happens.

The mind is subject to infinite influences. The mind however is also capable of infinite possibilities. It is the key to the ultimate liberation or terrible bondage as the ancient adage goes – “Mana Eva Manushyanaam Karanam Bandha Mokshayoho.” It is so powerful that it can influence one's whole life.

I remember getting up one day and asking Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba)

Me - Swami, the mind is troubling me so much! Please help me.

Swami - What do you want me to do?

Me - Swami please help me control it...

Swami - It is your mind and you want me to control it?

Me - Okay Swami fine! At least give me the strength to control it...

Swami - You already have that strength! Everyone has the strength. You need to put in efforts!

Treatises and essays can be written about the mind. But as Swami says, the mind is a cloth made up of the 'threads' of desire which are constituted by the cotton of 'thoughts'. When it comes to the problem of translating the ‘knowing’ of good into the ‘doing’ of good, I feel there are two aspects to be considered.

The mind always searches for "How does something benefit me?"
The mind always searches for "How does something benefit me?"

The first aspect

The first is that, since it is composed of desires, the mind always looks for benefits. Any action that has to be done, the question that arises is,

“What is there in it for me?”

Though the Good and Righteous always triumph in the end, it does not appear so in the short term. So, though the mind has the knowledge of goodness (which it receives from deep within from the soul/heart/spirit/awareness), it also knows that this ‘good’ is a long term benefit. In the short term, the 'good' seems not so beneficial at all.

And it makes this choice of a short term pleasure or benefit over the long term, permanent one. So, as it seems, the knowledge of good alone is not motivator enough. Be it bribery, copying in the examinations, telling a lie, cutting trees to make a building – the short term advantage drives the mind and it thinks that the associated problems could be taken care of ‘tomorrow’. In that craze of pursuing the short term benefit, the mind loses sight of the long term, permanent benefit.

The heart/soul/spirit/awareness is like a fertile bed. The mind is like a pool on this fertile bed and each desire is like a drop of water that is added to it. (After all, the mind is the sum total of all our desires.) Every time a drop falls into this pool, it creates a ripple. Just as every ripple makes it hard for us to see the fertile bed, every desire makes it hard for the knowledge of goodness to get exhibited.

And that is why the wise advise us to silence the mind; to rid it of thoughts by focusing on something – God' name, God's form, a flame, one's breath and so on.

From this, it becomes so clear that the only way to be able to see the fertile bed below would be to prevent ripples. To be able to see beyond the mind into the soul, one should be free of the ripples of desires! And just like a pool of water dries up when it receives no water, the mind too ceases to exist once it is free of desires. The actions now (body) follow the soul/ heart/ awareness/ spirit!

The dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna throw some light on achieving this:

Arjuna - Lord, the mind is unsteady and wavering. The wind can be controlled but not the mind! I am troubled by it O Lord! What do I do?

Krishna - Arjuna! I agree that the mind is very powerful and it seems to make you helpless. But constant vigilance, repeated practice and detachment are sure to give you mastery over the mind.

This is a quantum leap. It means that it is no longer about long term or short term benefit. It is not about benefit at all. (Remember, it is only the mind that perceives benefit) Every action is done by direct link to the spirit within. Every action is done only because it is good. That is what we term selflessness.

In short, knowing the good does not translate into doing the good for we are not selfless. We always seek some personal benefit – long term or short term.

As long as we seek benefit, we have desires and desires are the cause of us being blinded to “good”. Interesting isn’t it? For this means that once we are selfless, all our actions are 100% good all the time! In fact, selflessness can be used as an indicator of goodness – anything that is selfless, is good!

The second aspect...

Having said that much with one aspect of the mind, let us move to the second aspect that was mentioned in the beginning.

The second is that the mind is heavily influenced by the company it keeps. In the company of noble and virtuous, the mind tends to be so. And in the company of the low and vulgar, the mind becomes so. Again, the company kept is like streams entering the pool. We may find it hard to evolve to the state of mindlessness through desirelessness. But can evolve from a state of low and mean desires to noble desires. This ensures that pure and clear water alone is added to the pool so that it is not muddled and the fertile bed is still seen.

Swami always says,

“Tell me your company and I shall tell you what you are!”

Let us keep good company. And let us try to reduce our desires. One day, let us become desireless so that the good we know also becomes the good we do!

UPDATE - Here is what I read much after the article was written. It is from Swami's discourse:

The mind is an aspect of the Atma. Do not consider it as a mere bundle of desires. From the worldly point of view, it may be a bundle of desires, but from the spiritual point of view, the mind is a bundle of Divinity. How can such a person who does not know the nature of the mind and matter understand humanness? Do not be under the mistaken notion that the body, composed of the five elements, alone constitutes a human being. Humanness, in fact, consists of three aspects, namely, manas (mind), buddhi (intellect) and samskara (the process of refinement). These three have their origin in the Atma (the 'heart' mentioned in this article).

What do you think is the best way to go about dealing with the mind?

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    • profile image 

      6 years ago

      Well written and nicely presented . Thanks for sharing .

    • profile image

      vincent goh 

      7 years ago

      being mindful...of the mind and its associated energy, process & activity

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      7 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      Sairam Dr.K.S. Ananda Kumar,

      This quote that I have used is from the discourse on 19th January 2002. Swami was speaking during the first anniversary of the SSSIHMS at Bangalore (Brindavan)!

    • profile image

      Dr.K.S.Ananda Kumar 

      7 years ago

      Dear Brother,

      SAI RAM

      Please let me know the source wherein Bhagawan told that Mind, Intellect and Samskar are part of ATMA. Nobody told like this at any time. All the three are matters and they are not to be considered to be part of ATMA but only as delusion or purely temporary. - says Bhagawan. But, I cannot remember the date and time. You can ask Sri.G.Venkatraman of to clarify the matter.

      Your Sai Ram Brother,

      Dr.K.S. Ananda Kumar. E-mailID:

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      There is a reason why Mahabharata and Ramayana are considered as epics.... I dont know how I missed this blog..... But felt great reading it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Just know the nature of the mind. Keep it nice short and simple in this case. The more complication, the more the use of the mind

    • profile image

      Krishea Aswani 

      8 years ago

      so simple,yet soo good and sooo true beyond doubt...thnk you for the lovely message. It has really helped me answer some of the questions sticking around for a very long time...thnk u once again :)

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      8 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ Frank - Just cannot agree more with you! You have put it so well! thank you for enriching the hub

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Becoming desireless as the ideal makes logical and practical sense, as we then are not pulled here and there like marionettes. To the point of showering and eating, etc., it is important to remember that one not run by desires simply follows dharma, and does what is appropriate moment by moment, regardless of personal preference. With this in mind (no pun intended), such a person showers for the benefit of those nearby, eats so as to be fully energized to do seva, etc. We sleep so as to be more pleasant and civil with our neighbors...

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      8 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ Mr. Happy - Well, as always, you have triggered in me many thoughts with your questions. As i mull over and pray, let me share on thought.

      The fire does not burn because it desires to. It does so for it is its nature. So too the wind blows and water wets. The nature of man is bliss. Bliss should come naturally. But we feel that we 'need' desires and desire-fulfillment for bliss. Thus the evolution from desires to less desires to desireless!

      And yes! Beautiful woman, your grandmother must have been!

      @ Amey - Wow! What an amazing way to put things! As always, you continue to inspire and ENCOURAGE me! :)

      @ Ramesh Wadhwani- Indebted for the wonderful advice. Reminding oneself of the CIA principle 24X7 is indeed what Swami wants all of us to do...

    • profile image

      Ramesh Wadhwani 

      8 years ago

      It is an excellent and extremely well written article which distilles down complex theory of Mind in one pager with the help of 'clear/muddy' pool water analogy, so common people like us to understand/grasp depth of the problem created by the Mind.

      Once the fundamental principal of Body/Mind/Soul complex is grasped, I would encourage the reader to take this article a bit further and focus on practising the principal of 'Constant Integrated Awareness' (i.e. firmly understand that Atma or Spirit is all pervading). How do we do this? Conciously allow all your daily Thoughts Words and Actions (TWA) to filter through the CIA principal on a 24/7 basis. If you do this daily, you will be amazed with the quick results.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Somehow the mind understands any situation only in terms of cost-benefit analysis! It analyses to see if the benefit out weighs the cost. We only go ahead when that happens. i guess the toughest part is actually calculating the cost and benefit (short-term vs. long term).

      Well it was easy for this article though,100 % benefit and zero cost... That is a great investment. Zero risk and 100% return! Thanks for the great ROI.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      8 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I thank you very much for writing this. You have answered one of the questions which I have been battling for a while. I couldn't find the answer for it but you did. Cheers!

      But that was a "want" too ... the answer for my question so, should I not have wanted an answer?

      "Tell me your company and I shall tell you what you are!" LOL My grandma used to say that.

      "One day, let us become desireless so that the good we know also becomes the good we do!" Desire-less does become a bit of a problem. Is there a reason why I would get out of bed tomorrow? If I do not desire to brush my teeth or shower or eat ... If I do not want to learn more and know more, I am left with nothing. I am pretty much there anyway since I own nothing: I have nothing but wanting nothing ... I am not fully sure what to do with that.

      This article was simply awesome! I cannot thank you enough for it. I will have to sleep on it. Cheers!

    • aravindb1982 profile imageAUTHOR

      Aravind Balasubramanya 

      8 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      @ darshi - When we are bound, how does it matter whether the chains are golden, silver or iron? Swami says that desires are binding and good desires may be likened to golden chains. They are better than iron ones but are nevertheless chains finally! That's why I felt that we should evolve from lesser desires to nobler ones till we reach desirelessness - i.e evolve from selfishness to less selfish and reach selflessness.

      @ Hema B - It is only Swami's Grace and Love

      @Dr.Sai Mangala - Wonderful prayer to grow from individual to Universe - that is what Swami calls as Expansive love.

      @ balasubramanya Subbarao - Bon Apetit

      @ Spirit Whisperer - Perfect. I heard one of our teachers say, To love without judging is Divine. Beautiful thought that you have put in..

      @ Shruti - Thank you sis! Can always bank on you :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very very true..... Need such blogs to remind us of His words!!!

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      8 years ago from Isle of Man

      Good and bad in themselves are evidence of the duality that exists in mind. I believe the ego's keeps us distracted by the illusions we make up. Good and bad are judgements, meanings that we attach to a world that we experience through our senses. We write our meanings on what God has created and that is why we cannot see the truth. It is my belief that when we suspend judgement we deny the illusions and eventually we starve the ego.

      Thank you for another wonderful hub and yes, a tasty breakfast for the mind.

    • profile image

      Balasubramanya Subbarao 

      8 years ago

      Tasty breakfast to the Mind.

    • profile image

      Dr Sai Mangala 

      8 years ago

      Let us pray to SWAMI to give us the power to mend our weak and unstable minds ,fill these minds with LOVE so that "OUR" "SELVES","OUR" "FAMILIES", "OUR""CITIES","OUR" "NATIONS","OUR" "WORLD" and ultimately "OUR" "UNIVERSE" are benifeted

    • profile image

      Hema B 

      8 years ago

      Well thought,well written.Swami's teaching has been brought out clearly. enjoyed

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I really liked this, Anna. I have one little question though :)

      Reducing desires is definitely the way to go, however, what if the desire is not something bad? What if the desire is something good? If we focus energy and our thoughts on that one desire with awareness that our mind can achieve infinite possibilities...what do you think about that? It's like how the Law of Attraction, and The Secret works..

      Are good desires okay, or is it just still, a desire?


      Too much thinking in the morning here ! Thanks Anna, and Eid Mubarak :)


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