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Chapter 19


Sense Control - The Key to the Highest Wisdom


Once you have gained true detachment, then even the attainment of the highest heavenly worlds will seem trivial and insignificant to you. Arjuna asserted, "Krishna, even if I were given rulership over the three worlds and I were made master over all of creation, it would mean nothing to me. I have no interest in any of these things."


Embodiments of Love,


Arjuna had achieved great strength of renunciation at the time when he surrendered himself and was ready to receive the Gita teachings. At that point, he had detached himself from the world, and attached himself firmly to the transcendent principle manifested before him in the form of Lord Krishna. Such detachment from the world and its objects, and attachment to the divine principle, which is your true essence, must become your goal also. This is the destiny of every human being. In the course of your spiritual evolution, you will, as will every other individual in time, develop renunciation and dispassion towards the objects of the senses, and at the same time, develop an intense aspiration to realize the atma within.


Sense-Control, the Foundation for Self-Knowledge


If you were to construct a house, even a simple and ordinary one, wouldn't you take great care to lay a proper foundation? If that is true for a little house, then how much more care must you take in laying down a solid foundation for the great treasure house of self-knowledge. It is to provide such a foundation that Krishna, in his teachings to Arjuna in the Gita, emphasized the need to control the senses by developing a strong detachment from the objects of the world. This is an essential requirement for building up a solid foundation. If the foundation is not strong, the mansion of self-knowledge will not last long. It will soon collapse.


Renunciation does not spring up suddenly to become the foundation of self-knowledge. Such strong detachment does not just happen on the spur of the moment. This quality must be steadily developed and practiced, together with devotion and sense-control. If you want to light a lamp, you will need oil, a container to hold it, and a wick. In the same way, in order to light the lamp of wisdom, there is a need for detachment, devotion and control of the senses. Detachment can be thought of as the container and devotion the oil. Sense-control may be compared to the wick. If you bring these three elements together, the Lord himself will come and light the lamp of self-knowledge inside you. Before lighting this lamp in the heart of Arjuna, Krishna told him that he first had to establish complete control over his senses.


Such strict control over the senses is not something which can be achieved by most people. Even if they were to make an effort in this direction and achieve some measure of sense-control, ordinary people would not continue with these efforts because they would be convinced that by giving up sense enjoyments their very life would come to an end. They consider sense enjoyments as the only true source of happiness. This is what they experience day after day. But, the unbounded joy of self-knowledge is something they have not experienced even once. When you have a bird in your hand, would you let go of it and try to catch the two birds which may or may not be hiding in the bush? Reasoning in this way, they consider it madness to give up the sensory enjoyments which they enjoy every day in order to gain the bliss of the atma through self-knowledge, an experience which they have never known.


Sense Enjoyment is an Illusory Joy


It is for these reasons that you will find many people criticizing the doctrine of detachment and control of the senses which is taught in the Gita. They say it is not really useful and applicable for ordinary people in their daily lives. But this criticism arises because they are ignorant of the real process that is taking place. All the momentary pleasures which they enjoy are just reflections of the true joy that always exists in the heart. By thinking again and again of a particular person or object, the mind departs from its own resting place and goes out to that person or object and takes on its form. Then it deludes itself into thinking that it is enjoying that object. But this can never be real joy. It is only a limited kind of joy which is imagined in the mind, a reflection of the true inner joy which is the source of all joys. To make this clearer consider an example.


A small baby may be sucking its thumb and drinking its saliva. It gets delight from this because it thinks that it is getting milk out of its thumb. But, the fact is that the saliva, which the baby thinks is milk, is coming from its own mouth, not from its thumb. It deludes itself into thinking that the source of its joy originated from outside its mouth. Consider another example.


A dog has found a hard bone. Once he has this bone it becomes very dear to him and he does not want to share it with any other dog. So, he takes it to some solitary place. There, he looks at it, admires it and starts gnawing on it. Since it is an old bone it is very hard. With all his enthusiasm and strength he goes on biting until he dislodges a tooth from his gums. Some blood spills out and oozes onto the bone. The dog is convinced that the blood has come out of that bone, and he immensely enjoys the taste of it. But the blood has not come out of the bone; it has come out of his own mouth. The dog does not realize the truth. Just as in the case of the baby, he has become deluded by following the imaginations of his own mind.


All Joy Comes Only From the Self


In a similar way, the ignorant think that they are getting joy out of the sense-objects. But, this limited joy that they experience does not come from outside of themselves. Ever present within their own hearts is true joy. It is this unchanging inner joy that gets superimposed on an object, making that object appear as if it is the source of joy. In this way, they believe they are deriving joy from the things of the world, but their joy is merely a small reflection of the unlimited joy that is hidden within them. Once they delude themselves into thinking that the joys and pleasures which they have in the outer world are true experiences, and the joy which they might get from the inner world is only an illusion, they lose all interest in practicing detachment. Then they give up pursuing the transcendental joy and continue to pursue only the worldly enjoyments which they believe can be obtained from sense objects.


If an object truly gave joy then everyone would experience that joy to the same extent. If the joy were really inherent in the object itself, then the joy derived from that object should be the same for all people. Yet we know that this is not the case. If a particular object gives joy and pleasure to some people, the same object may be repulsive to other people, giving displeasure to them. For instance, some people may greatly enjoy cucumbers, whereas others may not like them at all. If joy were an integral part of cucumbers then there would be the one experience for all. Cucumbers would not give a feeling of joy to some and a feeling of dislike to others. Why is there this difference in reaction between different people? Why are there things which you may like that are disliked by others? It must mean that the joy you experienced was not directly associated with the object but that this joy came from within. The feeling that you experienced was but a reflection of your own inexhaustible inner source of joy.


Sense Objects Can Only Give Temporary Joy


These likes and dislikes that you now feel, are just temporary phenomena. They are not permanent. Consider for a moment that at some time you felt very hungry. Now suppose that you were served some food which you found very tasty. What made this food so delicious? If you examine this question carefully you would conclude that it was your hunger that made everything taste so good. As long as you were hungry you found the meal that had been served to you to be most delectable. But after your hunger was satisfied, even if the most sumptuous delicacies were placed in front of you, they would not have appealed to you. When you are hungry, ordinary food will taste quite good, giving you great joy. But once your hunger is satisfied, even the most delicious food is not at all tasty to you. The only way that you can understand this change is that all these likes and dislikes emanate directly from you, the individual. They do not come from the objects as such. All your feelings of joy and sorrow emanate from the inner being, not from the external objects.


Ordinary people think that the joy or pain which they get from being with people whom they like or dislike comes from those people; but it is not so. It is one's own likes and dislikes which are responsible for one's joys and sorrows. It may be observed that when people have a strong liking for others, holding them very dear, then whatever be the attitude or the actions of that person, they will still like them all the same. What is the reason for this unshakable fidelity, this affectionate regard one may have for another person, despite a number of unsavory things which that person may be saying or doing? The reason is that when you like someone, the things which that person says and does will appear sweet to you. When you consider a person as very dear to you, then you feel that you love that person very much. This quality which you call 'love' is really a feeling of attachment in you that you are directing towards the other individual. In such an attachment both the love and the joy which appear to be present, originate only from you. Whether or not the other person has similar feelings, the feelings which you actually experience come from within you, only. They are not a part of the other person, at all. A similar thing was told by a great sage to his wife, in the ancient scriptures.


The sage said to his wife, "Dear one, you do not love me for my sake but for your own sake. Everything you love and hold dear, you love only for the sake of the atma, your highest self;. The atma is the dearest of all, and it is for its sake that someone is dear to you. These feelings you have for others are all just manifestations of that great love you feel for your own true self."


Body-Consciousness Taints the Pure Love of the Self


In the whole world each person, whoever he may be, will love another only for his own sake, not for the sake of the other. If he loves an object, he loves it for the self alone, and not for the sake of that object. That self is the atma, the true self. But, when the pure love of the atma becomes tainted with body consciousness, and the senses hold sway, attachment and selfishness arise. This inevitably leads to sorrow.


The body is impermanent. Death is certain for all. Even if someone were to live for a hundred years, he would still have to face death one day. Everyone knows that. But, isn't it strange that the would-be dying are crying and feeling sorry for those who have already died? Everyone is sure to meet death and so everyone may be thought of as among the dying. Yet, even though they themselves are dying, people feel sorrow and grief when thinking of someone who has died. It is as if death were a totally unusual and unexpected thing, rather than the natural conclusion that must come to all. This sorrow that comes on, particularly when someone near and dear has died, can only be there because of attachment. After knowing full well that death is certain, if you still worry about somebody, it must be due to the attachment which you have developed for that body. It is this attachment which is responsible for all your grief. Therefore, when someone has died the primary cause for sorrow is attachment, not love.


Basically, every human being, at all times, is a seeker of joy. He thirsts for joy and does not ever want sorrow. Man always aspires for profit, never for loss. That is his very nature. Profit, joy and bliss are inherent in his makeup; they are at the very core of his being. Every man, right from the beginning, would like to have only gain, not pain. For a business man, the first thing he thinks of is his profit. Here in India, when measuring out some staple such as rice, if the number of kg's goes above six, then the shopkeeper will not say '7', but '6 + 1'. This is because the word for seven also means 'weeping'. The shopkeeper will use another word to avoid uttering this unhappy word. In this way, man never wants to face unhappiness and loss. He wants only profit and gain, and the happiness they bring.


Self-Knowledge Gives the Greatest Joy


Of all the possible profits and gains, the supreme profit of all, which gives the greatest joy, is self-knowledge, the knowledge of the atma. That is the joy you must seek and make your own.


Consider a beautiful rose; the moment you look at a rose joy emanates from your heart. Similarly, when you see a handsome person or any beautiful thing in this world, you instantly feel joy. Many people undertake trips to go sight-seeing. Why do they go? In order to derive joy from it. Therefore, you can see beauty in nature and you can see beauty in people, and you can derive great joy from all the beauty that you see. But how long does this kind of joy and beauty last? The rose that you picked today starts to dry out tomorrow; then its beauty gets lost. The moment the beauty fades away, the joy that you previously derived from it also subsides. It is the same with the different stages of life: childhood, youth, adulthood and old age.


Childhood may be said to reflect divinity. During early childhood the individual does not suffer much from hatred, jealousy, anger and so forth. Jesus said that since children do not have any really bad qualities, they could be considered divine. During that period of life, there are no bad thoughts or bad traits, either in the mind or in the body. Little children are beautiful because they do not have impure feelings arising out of impure thoughts. As they grow up they gradually develop tainted qualities. The moment such negative qualities grow, the beauty of the small child fades away. Therefore, it is the coming in of impure thoughts which lead to impure words and impure deeds, which then results in the child losing its beauty.


Beauty and Joy


We see that the beauty possessed by a person is transient. It gradually fades away and, therefore, it cannot give permanent joy. Even a new-born donkey is very beautiful, but gradually as it grows up it develops a big stomach, gets a splotchy coat, and becomes ugly to look at. As long as there are no negative qualities everything looks beautiful. But, whoever be the person or whatever be the sense-object, you will find that its beauty is limited and, therefore, the joy derivable from it is also limited. Joy and beauty always go together. What is the one principle which has permanent joy and permanent beauty within itself? It is the atma! It never changes; it has no modification. In fact, it has no form at all. Beauty and joy are its form.


Although joy naturally emanates from the core of your heart, you think that you are deriving joy from the sense-objects and the sensory organs. But this is not so. All joy comes from within you and you have deluded yourself into thinking that it comes from something outside. The scriptures speak of the ethereal joy that emanates from the heavenly world of the creator. The joy which can be experienced through the contact of the senses with the sense objects is extremely small when compared to that creative joy. The sensory joy may be described as a drop in the ocean of bliss that is the creator's joy. But even this vast ocean of joy experienced by the creator of the universe, is itself as small as an atom when compared with the boundless joy that radiates from within your spiritual heart. That is the primary source of all joy. It is the joy of joys. The heart can be compared to a most splendorous and effulgent light which shines everywhere. Try to understand this brilliant spiritual light, which is ever luminous and all pervading, and is your inner truth.


The Light of Atma Illuminates Everything


During the day, the sun illuminates the various objects of the world; at night, the moon plays a similar though lesser role. Therefore, you can declare that it is the sun and the moon that are responsible for the luminous nature of the world and its objects. But during the dream state you also see various things; where are the sun and the moon in that state? The sun that you see in the daytime during your waking state is not there in the dream state; nor is the moon there, nor is any other source of light visible there to illuminate the various objects. Yet you can see an entire world, namely, the world of the dream. What is it that illuminates that world? In the deep-sleep state there is absolute darkness. There is neither knowledge nor wisdom in that state. But how do you know that it is dark? What is it that enables you to apprehend this darkness?


The deep-sleep state has been described as the unconscious state; the dream state has been described as the sub-conscious state; the waking state has been described as the conscious state. There is a fourth state which transcends all these other states; it may be described as the super-conscious state. In the super-conscious state you are able to see everything, everywhere, and enjoy bliss supreme. What is the light that illuminates this bliss state and permits you to experience this unmitigated joy? That light is the effulgence that emanates from the atma. It is this light which illuminates all the other states as well and enables you to see them.


In the Vedas, the sages have spoken of this super-conscious state. They declared, "We are able to see a state which transcends the others, including the darkness of the dreamless state. Beyond the dreamless state is the supreme light of the atma which illuminates the waking, the dream and the deep-sleep states." To understand this a little better, consider an example from the waking state. When you close your eyes for a minute, what exactly are you seeing? You will say that there is nothing there, only absolute darkness. But then the question arises, 'How is it that I am able to perceive this darkness? Since I seem to see it and am able to describe it, there must be a light of consciousness which illuminates this state and enables me to see even this darkness.' That light is the light of the atma It is only through this transcendental light that all the other lights can shine.


We celebrate a festival of light in which we light a candle, and from that one candle go on lighting all the other candles and lamps. This first light is the basis for lighting the others. It is because we have this first light that we are able to light so many others. For living beings, this first light is the divine light of the one atma. With it, all the individual lamps, representing the countless individual beings, are lit in turn. It is because of this divine light that the eyes are able to see. It shines from inside and illuminates all beings. But it is not only the source of all living beings, it is also the source of all objects and all the external bodies of light, such as the sun and the moon.


You may wonder, since you cannot see this divine light, how can you be sure that it illuminates all these other objects and lights. Here the example of a battery will be instructive. You cannot see the electrical power which is in the cells, but if you switch on the current flow you can see the light in the bulb. If there had been no electric power in the cell, you would not have been able to get any light from the bulb. The body may be thought of as an electric lamp driven by this battery cell which is the mind your eyes are the bulb and your intelligence is the switch which controls it. In this battery cell of the mind, a very special type of energy derived from the atma is stored. In ordinary electric batteries the power gets exhausted very quickly, but the atmic current flows continuously through the mind. The Vedas have declared that the mind is the receptacle for storing the atmic energy. It is this inexhaustible source that provides the temporary flow of pleasure when some pleasing object is perceived.


The Joy of the Self is the Only True Joy


All the joys and pleasures which you enjoy in this world are only temporary, and are just the reflections of the immeasurable joy which is inside of you. Out of ignorance you believe that your joy comes from sense-objects and that this momentary joy is true. But only what is permanent is true. These temporary joys which are associated with the things of the world are not the true joy. Only the eternal bliss that is the atma, is true; these others come and go. All the things that you see in the waking state disappear in the dream state. All the joys and sorrows which you experience during the dream state you leave behind when you come back into the waking state. People and objects that you see in the waking state will appear as changing reflections in the dream state, and then they get completely absorbed and disappear in the deep-sleep state. In this way, your joy changes as these states change.


All the worldly joys which you think to be so permanent will give you a great deal of trouble in the end and lead you to grief. "Therefore," Krishna told Arjuna, "pay attention only to your inner truth, the basis, from which springs all manifestations. Then outer appearances and sense-impressions will not bother you." The basis does not change, whereas the manifestations which depend on that basis continuously change. If the basis were changing along with the manifestations, it would be impossible for you to even live. Consider this small example.


At various times you may have used different types of vehicles, such as cars, trains or buses, to travel from one place to another. The car might be moving fairly fast, so might the bus, and even if you are just walking you might be going quite fast. In each case, this movement will be in relation to the road which remains steady and unchanging. Suppose along with the moving car or the moving bus, the road itself is also moving rapidly, as in violent earthquake. Then what would happen? You would certainly be moving, but you could end up in any direction. You are not likely to reach your goal despite great efforts and hardships along the way. In order to reach your goal the road must be steady.


It is because the atmic source, the indweller of every heart, is permanent and steady that people are able to enjoy the things of the world, which are impermanent and changing. But, Krishna warned Arjuna, "Do not be satisfied with these furtive pleasures, which you mistakenly believe come from the world. The world is fleeting. It is fickle and full of sorrow. It is the ever-changing outer manifestation. It is not the permanent basis. It cannot lead you to your truth. How can you count on the world for your support when it is undergoing so many changes and modifications? Would it be possible for you to derive permanent bliss from it? Let go of the world and turn towards the transcendental principle. Turn towards the atma. It is forever steady and unchanging. There you will find the unending joy that you have been seeking futilely outside in the world."


Do Not Drive with Your Foot on the Brake


Now, some of you may be thinking that if young children are taught sense control they would turn into inert, helpless human beings? But nobody is telling them that they should not make use of their senses. It is only that they should learn to control them properly. There are brakes in a car, and whenever there is danger you use the brakes to stop the car. When Swami is asking you to control the senses and to control the mind, some of you might be wondering if you would be able to live at all and carry on your routine functions. Swami is not asking you to drive with your foot on the brake, but to use the brakes when necessary to control the car, whenever there is some danger. It is when there is some danger, such as impure thoughts, impure feelings, impure sights, impure hearing and so on, that you have to exercise control. If you do not have any brakes at all you will surely come to grief. A bullock which cannot be brought under control, a horse without reins, a car without brakes, a person without sense control, are all extremely dangerous and heading for disaster.


"Therefore, Arjuna," Krishna said, "control your senses and your mind, and recognize the defects that are inherent in all the objects of the world. When you turn from the changing manifestations and establish yourself in the unchanging basis, then you will be able to live happily anywhere, because you will be established in the source of all happiness, the atma, which is eternal bliss."


The wisdom teachings do not admonish you to give up your family or give up your worldly duties. Be in the world. Use your senses. But do so in a proper and ethical way, appropriate to each time and circumstance, never forgetting your true purpose. The Gita teaches the importance of discipline, of observing limits in all your activities. The brakes are used in a car for the welfare and protection of the passengers, so that they can safely reach their goal. In the same way, the senses must be brought under control and used for the welfare and protection of the individual, so that it can complete its journey safely. That is why Krishna was so insistent that Arjuna develop sense-control.


Detachment, Devotion and Sense-Control


This sense-control is something like the wick in the lamp of your heart. Merely having the wick of sense-control is not enough. You must also have oil, which is the fuel for the lamp; that is your devotion. And there must be a container which holds this oil, and that is your detachment. If you have the container, the oil and the wick, you will be able to light the lamp easily. Still, someone has to come and light it. That someone is God. Once you have detachment, devotion and sense-control, then the divinity will come and light the lamp in your heart. In the case of Arjuna, it was Krishna who performed this sacred act of lighting the lamp and revealing the splendor of the atma in Arjuna's heart.


Suppose you have some flowers, a needle and some thread, will these automatically turn into a garland? No. There has to be someone to string the garland together. You may have gold and precious stones, but without a goldsmith to create it, you will not be able to obtain a beautiful jewel made out of these articles. You may have a high intelligence, you may have books containing the highest knowledge and you may have keen eyes to see them, but without someone to teach you to read, they will all be meaningless and useless to you.


The atma is always present it never changes, it never comes and goes. The spiritual teachings will also be ever-present; they will be there waiting for you when you are ready to receive them. And, inwardly, you may have an intense yearning for illumination. All these may be there for you, but unless the true guru, the spiritual teacher, comes and transmits the immortal knowledge to you, you cannot become enlightened. If you are ready to realize the underlying reality of all the objects of the world and to discover the divine principle within you, then you need the true teacher, the highest source of knowledge to come and instruct you. To gain the sacred knowledge of the self, that teacher is the universal teacher. It is God himself who comes to guide you to your goal. He may take on different forms. In the case of Arjuna, the divine teacher was Krishna, the avatar of that age, and he started by teaching Arjuna sense-control.


You must take some time to reflect on the deeper significance of all these teachings on sense-control, which were given by Krishna to Arjuna, not in an ashram setting, but on the battlefield, at the eve of a great battle fought to preserve righteousness and to counter the forces of injustice and untruth that had become rampant.


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