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How to control the senses? || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagvad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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तानि सर्वाणि संयम्य युक्त आसीत मत्पर: ।

वशे हि यस्येन्द्रियाणि तस्य प्रज्ञा प्रतिष्ठिता ।।  2.61 ।।

tāni sarvāṇi sanyamya yukta āsīta mat-paraḥ

vaśhe hi yasyendriyāṇi tasya prajñā pratiṣhṭhitā

Controlling all of them, one should remain concentrated on me as the Supreme. For, the wisdom of one whose organs are under control becomes steadfast.

~ (Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 61)

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Question (Q): What is meant by controlling the senses? Is it related to Yama-Niyama of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, or is there any other way? Please guide.

Acharya Prashant (AP): The answer is contained very directly, very obviously in the verse itself. The verse says, “Controlling all of them, one should remain concentrated on Me as the Supreme." The two parts of this sentence are just a reiteration of the same thing. 'Controlling the senses', and 'remaining concentrated on Me' — meaning the Truth or Krishna, are one and the same thing.

The Indic scriptures use the method of repetition greatly, and with great effect too. The same thing is repeated a thousand times, sometimes in slightly different ways, and sometimes in highly different ways, but they rely a lot on repetition. The same thing is happening here as well.

Please understand the inner dynamics of this.

The senses want something as the object, so the trick, the method is to keep telling the senses that — the only worthy object is Krishna.

The moment the senses feel attracted towards a sight, what do you remind the senses? What do you tell the eyes? You tell the eyes, "The only sight worthy of beholding is of Krishna, so forget what you are attracted to."

The ears feel attracted towards a particular sound or voice. What do you remind the ears? The only sound worth listening is that of the flute of Krishna. So don’t pay too much attention to what you are currently hearing; ignore it."

The mind, the sixth sense, is busy thinking about something. What do you tell the mind? You tell the mind, "The only worthy object of thought is Krishna himself. So drop all the non-Krishna nonsense that you are obsessed with."

That is the method.

But how does the method go ahead? Does it stop at telling the eyes that whatsoever you are looking at is not important, only Krishna is important? No, it doesn’t stop there.

Krishna is by definition someone who can have no image. Or Krishna by definition is someone who has an infinite number of images. No particular image applies to Krishna.

If you reduce Krishna to one particular image, howsoever beautifully you have crafted it, then you are dragging Krishna down to your own level. That is gross injustice, and a grand demonstration of your own ego.

So, the eyes will say, “Alright! I will not look at what I am looking at, only on the condition, that you will show me the image of Krishna.” Because you have dragged the eyes back from what they were looking at, so now the eyes demand an image of Krishna. The eyes will say, “See, you said that that which I was looking at, was not important, the image of Krishna is important; so I have listened to your counsel. Now you give me the image of Krishna.”

The moment eyes say this, the mind will supply the eyes with some image. The moment the mind does this, your job is to again tell the mind that - "Krishna can have no particular image."

The eyes, on being disappointed at not finding the image of Krishna, will again go and start seeking pleasure in some other visual object. Your job then is to again tell the eyes to come back. Eyes will come back, but the tendency of the eye is to always seek some image, so they will try to create some image of Krishna. What is your job again then? To tell the eyes and the mind that - "Krishna can have no particular image. "

It is a battle of attrition. It is the battle in which the winner is going to be the one who keeps standing till the last; it is a battle in which the loser is going to be the one who gets defeated, because he gets tired. It is an endless loop.

The eyes, the ears, the mind, the entire set of senses are hell-bent upon seeking images, and you are determined that neither will you let the senses wander in the world, nor will you let them create some kind of image of Krishna.

There is a great determination on both sides.

The senses are determined to wander away, but you are determined to not let them wander away. The senses say, “Fine! We will not wander, but at least give us a substitute image,” but even that expectation you are not ready to fulfil. You are saying, “Neither will I allow you to wander there (pointing at the outside world) , nor will I allow you to wander here (pointing at the mind) . When you wander there, you wander in the world. When you wander here, then you are just floating in your own imagination. Both are equally bad.”

Again and again the senses will get disappointed, they will run away; again and again you will have to pull them back. As I said, it is a battle of attrition. The one who will keep standing till the last will prove to be the winner.

This is the way.

Ultimately the senses and the mind get tired, if you are resolute enough. If you do not yield, if you do not get defeated, then they get tired. And when the mind gets tired, what does the mind do? It relaxes; it has to fall asleep. The moment the mind gets tired, it falls asleep; the ego has retreated, the ego has gone closer to its natural state.

The mind has discovered that it has been given an impossible mission; the mind has discovered that it has been given the mission to create an image of the unimaginable. It is mission impossible; it cannot happen. The mind after a while realizes that. And having realized that, the mind says, “Fine, I give up, I surrender.” That is the final aim of all the spiritual practices — the surrender of the mind.

This is the thing that the saadhaka (seeker) has to remember and practice — “I will not allow the external world to become too meaningful for me.” And the second thing is more important, and is trickier. A lot of people survive the first stage, but fail the second one. The second stage is — “I will neither find the external world very meaningful, nor will I find the internal world very meaningful.”

It is great a disappointment, a very unfortunate thing that — there are a lot of people who strictly abhor the world of images, and sounds, and perceptions, and experiences; to that extent they do alright, but then they start living and frolicking in an internal world. They create magnificent images within.

They say, “All these images outside are of no use, the world is an illusion. I will not give this world too much respect,” but the trap they fall into is that — they start giving too much respect to their own imaginations; they start creating lucrative inner images. They say, “This is my Krishna”; they say, “My Krishna is a great personality, my Krishna is so beautiful!” and say many stories. This is as bad as falling prey to the world, because the world is not merely outside; the world is that which is outside, as well as inside.

That which you see with your eyes is the world, and that which circulates in your mind is equally the world. The distinction between outside and inside is in itself quite a flimsy one.

So, the trick is to not let the ego find any support, whether outside or inside; neither without nor within.

“I will not let you get attached to anything there nor here. If the tangible, material world is illusory, then the so-called intangible world of ideas, and images, and thoughts is equally illusory.”

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