The Importance of Sense Control in Spiritual Life
We are continuing on our discussion of the Second Chapter of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is:
One of the symptoms of a person in Krishna consciousness is that he is transcendental to the continuous changing situation of happiness and distress he faces in the material world.
We all know in our own lives that sometimes we are in a “happy” situation and sometimes we are in a “distressful” situation. Our natural tendency is to work to try and maximize the happy situations in our life and minimize the distressful situations. However a devotee understands that the nature of the material world is full of duality and there will always be distressful and so-called happy situations coming and going, and we have no control over this. No matter how hard we work to maximize our happiness and minimize our distress we will still suffer as much as we are destined to suffer due to our bad karma and we will “enjoy” to the extent our good karma allows us to.
“One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws his limbs within the shell is understood to be truly situated in knowledge.” (Bg. 2.58)
Almost everyone we see in the material world is a servant of his senses. Instead of controlling their senses their actions are dictated by their senses. They are controlled by their senses. The eyes see some beautiful thing and they run to that place to get a better look, the noise smells some beautiful flavor cooking and they run to that spot to enjoy the smell. The tongue is hankering for some particular food or drink so they run to the place where they can get that food or drink.
The senses are compared to poisonous snakes. They want to act very freely and without any restrictions. However, if we want to make advancement in spiritual life, we have to control these poisonous snakes, like a snake charmer. The snake charmer never lets his snakes act independently. Similarly we should never allow our senses to act independently. We need to control our senses by the mind an the intelligence.
There are many instructions in the revealed scriptures, some of them are do-not’s and some of them are do’s. Unless we are able to follow the do’s and the do-non’s, restricting ourselves from sense enjoyment, it is not possible to be firmly fixed in Krishna consciousness.
The example that Krishna gives here is that of the tortoise. The tortoise can at any time wind up his senses and then exhibit them again for particular purposes. Similarly the senses of Krishna conscious persons are used only for some particular purpose in the service of the Lord. And are withdrawn otherwise. Keeping the senses always engaged in the service of Krishna is the example set by the analogy of the tortoise, who keeps his senses within.
“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” (Bg. 2.59)
Unless one is on the spiritual platform it is not possible to refrain from sense enjoyment. Some make an artificial attempt to control the senses, by following the rules and regulations of the Vedas without developing any love for Krishna, but this is like a doctor restricting a sick patient from certain types of food. The patient, however, still desires to eat these types of food the doctor has prohibited him from eating. He does not like these restrictions placed on him by the doctor, nor does he loose his taste for the food that he is not supposed to be eating.
Trying to control the senses by some spiritual process like astanga yoga or impersonal mental speculation is like this. Although the person practising this process is trying to control his senses and may even control his senses for some time, he does not loose the taste for the sense gratification which he is forcibly trying to restrict himself from. And where there is the smallest flaw in his spiritual process he will again fall back to the material platform and again engage in sense gratification.
The only way one can actually control the senses permanently is if one can experience a “higher taste.” To give up a lower pleasure one has to experience a higher pleasure. Otherwise, no matter how much austerity and sense denial he practices, the desire for sense gratification will remain in his heart and at some time he will again try to satisfy that desire, thus falling from the spiritual platform and again descending to material consciousness.
One who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Krishna in the course of his advancement in Krishna consciousness has experienced a higher, spiritual, taste. Because of experiencing this higher taste he no longer has any attraction to the “lower taste.” He no longer has a taste for dead material things.
In the beginning of spiritual life there are restrictions which we need to force ourselves to follow. In Krishna consciousness Srila Prabhuapda has summarized these restrictions into four:
- No illicit sex life.
- No meat eating.
- No gambling.
- No intoxication.
To advance in Krishna consciousness we must follow these principles, but we need to understand also that the restrictions will only be successful if we have a taste for Krishna consciousness. Dry renunciation will not last for very long. We must come to the platform of experiencing transcendental pleasure from the spiritual platform and when we are relishing that ever new transcendental pleasure we will no longer have any attraction at all to the so-called pleasures of the material world.
And the way to relish that higher, spiritual, taste is through the offensless chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Please look for my next mail in a couple of days and we will go into more detail on the process of sense control and how we can develop the higher, spiritual, taste.
This is adapted from Srila Prabhuapda’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is. If you do not have the book please get it and read it from:
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!