Control of the Senses: The Starting Point


Control of the Senses: The Starting Point

Jul 17, 2017


Control of the Senses: The Starting Point

We spend our entire lives seeking all the amenities that guarantee the body’s attractiveness, comfort and security. In this way the human being relentlessly focuses on materiality and all the enjoyments that material abundance and the pleasures of the senses offer. Thus we continuously work to satisfy the demands of the body without giving a thought to the Atma, the Divine Soul that dwells within us. Through all of this we have failed to experience true happiness.

The great sages of mankind have asked, “What profit does a man derive from the gains of the whole world if he loses his soul?” Material progress offers material comforts and the pride of vain-glory, yet the human being remains poor in the development of his soul.

What, then, is worth experiencing: the outer world of the senses, or the inner world of Divine bliss? The outer world can entertain you for a while, but not for eternity. The exploration of the inner world will benefit you not only now, but also in your next life, for you will be born with beneficial samskaras[1] as well. In the inner world we can evaluate our behavior, strengthen our character, and learn to focus on the Divine goal that awaits us. In short, if we explore the inner world we will find the guidance and inspiration to heal our lives and come to know our hidden Soul.

The illusory world of prakriti, or maya, acts like a shadow. It masks Reality and Truth by projecting both its great power to deceive and its unerring ability to cast a veil of delusion. Attachment to this illusory shadow realm and all endeavors attempted within its boundaries inevitably prove to be utterly futile. It is like a mill that grinds on day after day, but produces nothing. When death appears, all that we set out to accomplish in this shadow realm will end in nothing but emptiness and darkness. Thus, the inner exploration is no doubt difficult, but it will yield enduring peace.

 Thus, steady and sure is the game. Here my only advice is based on my own experience: shift your attention from the outer to the inner world.

Milarepa, the great Tibetan Yogi, said, “I have understood this body to be the product of ignorance. It is composed of flesh and blood, and illumined by the power of consciousness. To those fortunate ones who long for Emancipation, it is a great vessel through which they can procure freedom; but to those unfortunate ones who sin only, it is a guide to hell.”

The Deceitful Pleasures of the Senses

The cause of all ignorance is our surrender to the five senses. They drag our minds to the objects of the senses propagating delusion thereby. The effects of these sense-objects will vary according to conditions. Sometimes they cause pleasure and brief spells of happiness that create attachments, while at other times they bring misery and pain.

For example, consider the power and scope of the words we speak. When we hear criticism the words create anger and frustration in the mind. Conversely, when we hear praise we experience pleasure and comfort, even though of themselves these words express only attitudes of mind and amount to nothing more than sounds. Similarly, the sense of touch has two primary sensations, soft and coarse. These two sensations cause either pleasure or pain in the body, even though the sense of “touch” is the same. Ugly and beautiful are the correlatives of the sense of sight. Alternately they cause either displeasure or pleasure, even though they are viewed with the same eyes. Odors both fragrant and foul are the correlatives of the sense of smell. Although they are inhaled through the same nose, they respectively give joy on the one hand and displeasure on the other.

This is why Lord Krishna told in Bhagwad Gita, "A man with evenness of mind withdraws his senses into him as a tortoise does its limbs. Once the senses are withdrawn with the practice of Hath Yoga, the Jeeva[2] loses the appetite for the objects of the senses. Even the taste for them will drop away when the Supreme is realized.

The wisest of men will find that, sometimes, the senses will rebel and sweep the mind in their current and the mind will be like a boat tossed to and fro in a gale. Once the attachment for the objects of the senses is given a place in the mind, it will be disastrous. Because, attachment gives rise to desire and desire breeds anger. The next step is delusion and the mind gets confused and understanding is lost. Destruction follows in its wake. The pleasures that arise from attachment are only sources of pain. They have a beginning and end and anything which has a beginning and an end is never a source of eternal joy. When a man reaches the stage when cold and heat, pleasure and pain, honor and dishonor, seem alike, he is ever serene. This means a man who has no body consciousness, no "I" consciousness will not be affected by dualities. This is the goal of Hath Yoga. So, the senses should be controlled, and the man into whom all desires enter as the waters enter into sea, attains peace. This is the divine state.

This is duality, the attachment and aversion, the pleasures and pain, excitement and depression, is like pendulum. Once you move the pendulum, it will oscillate left and right. Thus attachment ends in aversion, likes end in dislike, pleasures end in pains and so on. Through the experience of duality we become convinced that life is an unending rollercoaster of ups and downs, successes and failures, joys and sorrows; in truth these are false distinctions generated by the mind. Shakespeare explained the phenomenon of duality in this way: “It is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so.”

The pursuit of material pleasures invariably enhances this process, which inevitably results in discontent and misery. But through the inner search you will understand that it is only the mind that takes us on this the rollercoaster of ups and downs, and causes one to pass such dualistic judgments according to what is good and what is bad. In this way the communion between sense objects and the senses is the cause of delusion and untruth.

The effect of the sense objects is merely fleeting and ephemeral. Therefore we should avoid them completely.  One attains a stage of detachment on the path of Yoga wherein a Yogi’s senses become but a witness to the senses and their objects, for he has overcome all duality. Such a yogi has achieved the state of awareness described in the Bible (Matthew, 6:22.): “The eye is the lamp of the body, so if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.”

Lord Krishna speaks of the impermanence of the sense-objects in the Gita, (9: 22) “Enjoyments that are born of senses are nothing but wombs of misery. They have a beginning and an end, and a wise man finds no joy in them.” Just as worms in a mire of pus are delighted with their feast, so does man satiate himself in the bowels of worldly filth in his pursuit of sensual pleasures. Furthermore, man seeks enjoyments in the very outlets of urine and bodily wastes. These ignorant creatures will even swallow chaff to satisfy their hunger. Is this not like the condition of a worm enjoying the taste of feces? This is delusive infatuation. To these wretched individuals such misery is the substance of their very life. They are like frogs entrapped in the mire of sense objects, or fish caught in the shallow waters of worldly enjoyments. Their fate is naught but darkness and misery.

Who falls prey to the deceitful pleasure of sense-objects? Only those who remain pleased with the pleasures of sense-objects remain caught in the web of this delusion. Like the moon during lighted fortnight, calamities increase for him who is slave to his senses. If these infatuated souls abandoned the sense-objects of their desire, they would no longer be possessed by the desire to commit such grotesque and destructive sins. Great prosperity waits upon him who has subjugated his senses. When mortal souls remain neutral to the enjoyment of sense-objects these barren enjoyments will wither away. Mankind would then make great strides towards attaining the peace of mind and purity of heart that leads to Eternal Salvation. With discrimination, determination and devotion to God the community of mankind will emerge from ignorance and delusion and seek divine communion with God. Who would then be prepared to endure the calamitous ordeals of growing in the womb, negotiating the difficult path of life, and suffering through the woeful hardship of death? 

Instead, we must seek the Divine within and find illumination through the disciplines of Purity, Truth and Devotion. The infinite happiness and the supreme bliss of Eternal Life is all that will remain.

Seek Truth, and Pursue Your Goals with Determination

Lord Krishna tells Arjun in Bhagwad Gita, " Consider desire and wrath as the direst enemies of man. True knowledge is hidden inside. Ignorance, assuming the form of Yama, cannot devour the man who kills desire by self-restraint. This does not mean abandoning the duty. Duty has to be performed, but it should be done with surrender of all attachment for the fruits. Ignorance receives the name "death". The desire for enjoyment first strikes a man. Lust and wrath soon follows behind. These three lead foolish man to death.

        Three crimes are considered to be terrible: theft of another's property, outrage of another man's wives and breach with friends.

        These ten do not know what virtue is: " the intoxicated, the inattentive, the raving, the fatigued, the angry, the starving, the dejected, the covetous, the frightened, and the lustful."

       Well-spoken speech is capable of doing so much good, while ill-spoken words cause evil. Forest pierced by arrows or cut by hatchets may grow again, but the heart wounded by ill-spoken words can never recover.

Arjun asks krishna, " whose mind is even and unclouded?

  One who has cast off all the desires of the mind and his spirit finds comfort in itself. His pulse does not fail when sorrow approaches him and it does not beat faster when joy approaches him. Three things have no place in his mental make-up: desire, fear and anger. He is never attached to anyone and anything. Good and evil are treated with the same equanimity by him. He does not rejoice and he does not hate. Both bind man by Karma.

Detach your mind from all traces of desire, perform your duty as a sacrifice, then sin nor reward cling to you and you are free.

Our life is the boundary-mark whence one may take the upward or the downward path. Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each one of us must decide, in one way or other, for lasting good or lasting ill.

But keep in mind that the spiritual journey is neither easy nor short. We must be prepared to make many sacrifices, for nothing is achieved without effort and sacrifice. Few people choose to seek Truth and pursue this goal with determination, for we are hesitant to engage in the disciplines that will purify the body, mind, ego and intellect. But those who focus on the goal with determination will join the true saints, yogis and sages of all religions who have proclaimed that real and everlasting happiness can be obtained only by overcoming all human limitations through God-realization and communion with the Universal Spirit, which is the source of all life, power and bliss.

Swami Satyanand

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[1] A samskara is a subconscious memory or impression that is created whenever a karma (or action) is performed. Samskaras remain latent until triggered by circumstances into releasing a subtle desire or motivational impulse into the mind-stream.

[2] Jeva: soul enveloped in Prakriti.

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