Everything About Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: The Nature and Control of the Senses

During the last two sessions we were discussing the nature of self-restraint or self-control. Inasmuch as self-restraint is the essence of spiritual living, it is necessary to know something more about what it actually means. What is meant by self-restraint? All the ancient masters, sages, saints, and scriptures have told us that there is nothing that you cannot achieve by self-restraint. You become a master of yourself. When you become a master of yourself, it seems that you become a master of everything else also. Self-knowledge is all knowledge. We have been told that control of oneself is control of the whole world.

Now, what does this mean, finally? Why should there be self-restraint, and what is the difference between self-indulgence and self-control? Ethics and the practical methodology of living are both based on what philosophers generally call metaphysics. The nature of Ultimate Reality will decide what is proper conduct, what is morality, and what is the way in which you are expected to live in this world. The mode of living, and the conduct and character of a person, depend upon the nature of Ultimate Being. Everything follows from the concept of the Supreme Reality, and its nature will decide the nature of everything else. All things in the world, whatever be their nature, are evolutes – corollaries, as it were, following from the fundamental theorem of the nature of Ultimate Being.

What is Ultimate Being? Religions have called this Ultimate Existence as God, Absolute, Substance, and by such other nomenclatures. This is something which is final, and beyond which nothing can be – because if there is anything beyond it, it cannot be final. The finality of a thing consists in its being all-in-all, and once you utter it, you have said everything about it.

We were discussing the nature of consciousness. Our essential nature seems to be consciousness. It is the Being of consciousness that is the Being of any one of us. This is what we learned in the earlier stages of our discussions. We also learned that this Being is universal – that consciousness cannot be divided into parts. The consciousness that you are is an undivided consciousness, because the division of consciousness cannot be conceived. The conception of the division of consciousness involves accepting the all-pervading nature of consciousness at the same time because to divide consciousness into parts would be to accept a gap between two parts of consciousness; and in order for us to know that there is a gap, consciousness has to be there. So, there cannot be a gap in the structure of consciousness. That is why it has to be everywhere.

It is not only everywhere, it is the only thing that exists. Why is it so? Why is consciousness the only thing that is there, and nothing else can be there? If you posit the presence of something outside consciousness, consciousness has to know that there is something outside it. So, by whatever logic you try to understand the nature of consciousness, you will find that only it is existing, and nothing else can exist because the idea of something else will defeat the all-pervading nature of consciousness; it will divide itself, which is not a possibility. So, Ultimate Being is consciousness only.

Because of its infinitude, endlessness, perfection, deathlessness, absoluteness, we call it Almighty. Generally, when we pray to the Almighty God, we look up to the skies: “O Almighty God! Bless me.” The idea of looking up in our prayer is a symbolic manifestation of our inward feeling that it is above us. The above-ness does not necessarily mean location in space, far-off in the skies. It is a logical superiority, a qualitative ascent of consciousness, which is not measurable in mathematical or geometrical terms. ‘Higher’ consciousness is not high in the sense that it is several kilometres away.

In the Bhagavadgita there are very simple verses which explain all this mystery of consciousness, and the whole of spiritual discipline. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet, ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ; bandhur ātmātmanas tasya yenātmaivātmanā jitaḥ, anātmanas tu śatrutve vartetātmaiva śatruvat (Gita 6.5-6). I feel that there is no need of reading any book, as these two verses are quite sufficient if their implication is understood. What do they mean? ‘Lift the self by the Self’ is the meaning of uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ: Raise the self by the Self. I am giving you a literal translation of these verses, without going into any commentary. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ: Raise the self by the Self. Do not deprecate the self. Nātmānam avasādayet: Do not cast a mood of despondency on the self. Your Self is your friend, and your Self is your enemy. This second part is an explanation of the first part, which says to raise the self by the Self. The higher Self has to raise the lower self. The lower self is to be in a state of harmony with the higher Self. When the lower self is raised to the status of the higher Self, the higher Self becomes the friend of the lower self. If the lower self remains completely satisfied in its own finitude, and the higher Self is completely out of its purview, the higher Self may look like an enemy.

Ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ: The Self is the friend of the self; the Self is the enemy of the self. Which self is the friend? Which self is the enemy? The higher Self is the friend and also the enemy, according to your attitude towards it. Here, ‘your’ signifies the lower self. Your contaminated physical consciousness, your finitude of feeling, is the lower self. “I am Mr. so-and-so; I am so-and-so, son of so-and-so, daughter of so-and-so, relative of so-and-so; this person is here; I have come from such and such a place.” The consciousness which asserts itself in this manner is the lower self.

The idea of finitude, limitation, location, implies the existence of that which is not located. There cannot be a consciousness of finitude unless there is also an awareness of the infinite beyond itself. So, the infinite has to be there. The infinite is above the finite self. In what sense is it high? Not in a measurable manner. I have been giving the analogy of higher education and lower education. Higher education is above lower education, but when you use the word ‘above’, you are likely to think that one is sitting on the head of the other. It is not measurable by distance. What is the distance between lower education and higher education? There is no measurable distance. Though one is far away from the other, it is a conceptual, ideological, logical distance – distance in consciousness itself. Consciousness cannot have a geometrical distance; it is a distance measurable by consciousness itself. Therefore, intriguing indeed is the nature of this Self. It is a wonder. You cannot understand what is this Self. Yet, it has to be accepted because you are limited. The limited consciousness implies the presence of an unlimited consciousness. Thus, what the Bhagavadgita means by saying ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ is nothing but the ‘unlimited’ consciousness and the ‘limited’ consciousness.

The infinite consciousness is your friend, and it is also your enemy. If you oppose it, it becomes your enemy; if you are in a state of harmony with it, it is your friend. Self-control – coming to the point now – is nothing but the removal of all the impediments in the finitude of self which prevent the friendly attitude that you have to develop towards the infinite Self. How can you be a friend of the infinite? What do you mean by ‘a friend’? A friend is one who can set himself or herself perfectly in tune with the other, who is the friend or the alter ego. They have to think alike. If two people think perfectly alike, they become friends; but if think differently, they cannot become friends. Therefore, if you are to become the friend of the infinite Self, you have to think like the infinite Self.

Do you know what the infinite Self is thinking? It cannot think anything other than its own Self, because to think as we do in our common perceptional or cognitional parlance would be to be aware of something outside oneself. The infinite consciousness does not have anything outside itself; therefore, it cannot think in a perceptional manner, as we think. What does the infinite consciousness think? It thinks itself. I think it was Aristotle who said that thought thinking itself is God; thought thinking another thing is a human being, a mortal.

Here is the meaning of the higher Self and the lower self. Why should you restrain yourself? Why should there be self-control? You have to understand first of all what the meaning of the term ‘self-control’ or ‘self-restraint’ is. It is the dissolution of, or the resolution of, those factors in the finite self which block the connection between the finite and the infinite. There is a wall between the finite and the infinite. This wall is what is called objectivity, externality consciousness, or involvement in space, time, and causation. When you are aware of something outside you, you are thinking contrary to the Universal Self. At that time, you are not a friend of God. If you are not a friend of God, He also is not your friend. Ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham (Gita 4.11), says the Gita: As you approach Me, so I will approach you. What you think of God, that He will think of you.

Now, what do you think about God? You cannot think Him, because you are thinking about the world of objects; you are entangled in objects of sensory attraction. The whole day and night you are running after the pleasant things in the world for your enjoyment, and you move Earth and heaven to remove obstacles to this kind of sensory satisfaction. Running after the objects of sense which are supposed to be satisfying, and simultaneously rejecting anything else which is going to be an obstacle to this pursuit of pleasure is what you are doing day in and day out. You go to the factory, or are a clerk, an officer, a minister, etc., but all these are various forms taken by the pursuit of finitude towards an enjoyment through the sense organs.

There is no such thing as enjoyment through the sense organs. The senses cannot give you satisfaction. You may wonder why you feel happy when you obtain the object of satisfaction. When a desirable object comes near you, you feel very happy; when it is very near, you are still happier; when you possess that desirable object, you have an immense happiness. But you must know that even if the desired object is really under your grip and you are holding it in your hand, you will have the anxiety inside that you may lose it one day. There can be bereavement. So, even the highest satisfaction through the sense organs is infected with the feeling of the agony that you may lose it some day. Anything that you possess in this world can be lost. The possibility of losing even the best of things gnaws into your vitals and poisons the joy that you are apparently having through sense contact.

Therefore, even sensory satisfaction is no satisfaction. It is like sweet porridge or kheer mixed with a pinch of bitter neem leaves; bitterness is mixed with sweetness. The bitterness of sense satisfaction is in its unreliability, in the sense that you cannot possess anything finally. No two people can join completely; they can split at any moment, whatever be their relationship. All friendship is conditional, and unconditional friendship is unthought of in this world. Two things cannot become one. ‘A’ cannot be ‘B’; it is a contradiction. ‘A’ is ‘A’ only. So, the sense organs try to convert ‘B’ into ‘A’. The object should be myself, which is an impossibility because ‘B’ cannot be ‘A’, and this is the contradiction. ‘A’ is ‘A’, ‘B’ is ‘B’; how can ‘B’ be ‘A’? But this contradiction is involved in all kinds of sensory enjoyment.

Therefore, the finite being, which every one of us is, is in a world of great catastrophe, error – which is the running after things that are apparently outside. How could there be anything outside if the Ultimate Being is infinite? Thus, in your search for the objects of sense, you are denying the infinite – denying God Himself. Therefore, you are suffering because God Himself becomes your enemy. The infinite Self becomes the enemy of the finite self when it is behaving in a manner contrary to the nature of the infinite Self. If you think like God, God will think you, but if you think like a finite being wedded to the sense organs, you will end up in tragedy.

What is the tragedy? One thing is, the possessed object will leave you one day or the other. You can lose money, land, buildings, friends, husband or wife, children; everything can go at any time. You have a feeling inside that one day you will lose everything, and so the possibility of sorrow following a temporary enjoyment vitiates the enjoyment. So, even the temporary satisfaction of the sense organs is not a real satisfaction; it is a big blunder. Secondly, what happens is when your mind feels that the object of desire has been possessed, that mind which was moving outside itself – moving away from its centre towards the object – withdraws itself because of the feeling that there is no necessity now to go outside. Temporarily, for a flash of a second, the mind ceases to think of the object; it rests in itself. Then immediately, consciousness inside flashes forth in that resting condition of the mind; this is called sattva. You feel a deluded happiness when you have obtained the object of desire.

The object has not given satisfaction. Do not be under the impression that you have got satisfaction from the object. What has happened? The mind that was hovering around the desired object has ceased to function in an objective manner because of the feeling that the object has been obtained. When it ceases thinking in terms of an object, the rajoguna prakriti in the mind ceases, and sattva manifests itself. Sattva is like a clean mirror, and through that the Atman flashes forth. Immediately, you feel happy. That is why there is happiness even in sense satisfaction. Happiness is not coming from the object, it is from yourself only.

Thus, all life in this world is a big tragedy. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which are the great epics of life, tell you how tragic things are – because you are pursuing a will-o’-the-wisp, a phantasmagoria, a mirage. You are pursuing things which are not there. It is like a dreamer running after the beautiful things of the dream world. The dream objects also are included in the world of dream, and so they cannot give you satisfaction.

Self-control, therefore, is the art of behaving in your consciousness in such a way that it is in tune with the infinite Being. For that purpose, you should withdraw the channelising of consciousness through the sense organs outside. It appears that self-control is like sense control. Sense control is self-control, and vice-versa, self-control is sense-control. There is a peculiar difficulty here in understanding the nature of self-control, because you may think it is sense control, as it has been explained just now – withdrawing consciousness from the sense organs. So, what spiritual seekers sometimes do wrongly is that they suppress the activity of the sense organs. To see an object outside is an activity contrary to the nature of infinite Being. You close your eyes, and then you think that the eyes are controlled; you plug your ears, and so on. You cause the practical cessation of the operation of the sense organs. But the sensation is different from the sense organ. This is a question of psychology. You are happy or unhappy not because of the presence of the sense organs, but because of the sensation that is operating through the sense organs. Even a blind person who cannot see has desire. Even if you cannot hear, you still have desire. Desire cannot cease by being deaf and blind. You may not speak at all; you may observe mauna forever like a dumb man, but desire cannot become dumb. Therefore, closing the mouth in mauna in a literal sense, closing the eyes, closing the ears, is not self-control because the self is not actually the sense organ.

You have to understand what the meaning of self-restraint actually is. It is the withdrawal of the tendency of consciousness to move through the sense organs. The organs are faultless; they are fleshy manifestations of the physical body, and are not your enemies. The organs are there even in a dead body. When the person dies, the eyes are there, the ears are there, but there is no activity or sensation, whereas a person has sensation, and not merely organs such as eyes, ears etc. Hence, the art of self-restraint is the restraint of the tendency of consciousness to project itself through the apertures of the sense organs. Actually, self-control means control of consciousness. It is the restraint of consciousness by consciousness – restraint of the lower operation of consciousness by the higher operation of consciousness. The finite consciousness is restrained by the metaphysical consciousness or the universal consciousness. Again we come to the Platonic idea. The idea of Plato is the metaphysical reality, and the perceptional consciousness is the lower, sensory one.

Spiritual life is not a simple thing. It is an engineering feat, an artistic feat, a mathematical feat – whatever you may call it. Caution, vigilance is the watchword of the spiritual seeker because at any moment you can slip down. Indriyāṇi pramāthīni haranti prasabhaṁ manaḥ (Gita 2.60): Impetuous are the sense organs. They tousle us here and there like a powerful wind, a tornado, a cyclone which tosses a ship on the ocean. The ship of the mind can be thrown in any direction by the impetuous gale-like movement of the sense desires.

The mind thinks in terms of sensory reports. What does the mind think? It only thinks what the senses say. If the eyes say that there is a tree, the mind accepts it and believes that the tree is there. It is convinced by the thought “yes, there is”, and the intellect just okays it. Therefore, the power of the sense organs is nothing but the power of desire.

Why do you desire? What has happened to you? Desire is an erroneous handling of your love for God Himself. That is why no desire can finally be fulfilled in this world. You are employing finite means of satisfying an infinite desire. How can an infinite longing be satisfied by means which are finite? The Upanishad says the ‘unmade’ cannot be known by the ‘made’, which is to say, the Eternal cannot be known through the temporal. There is no connection between them. The world is a spatiotemporal externality, whereas the Absolute is a non-temporal, non-spatial infinity. So, there is no connection between the two. A person who lives in this world of space-time-objectivity cannot contact the infinite. To contact the infinite, you have to be in the state of consciousness which is in harmony with the state of infinitude.

I have told you enough about what self-control is. It is not controlling any particular organ. It is not a repression of any particular function. It is an absence of the longing that consciousness apparently has in respect of a thing outside itself. Tell the consciousness, “Outside you, nothing is,” because if consciousness has something outside it, it has to be there also. Therefore, consciousness is everywhere. So to think that consciousness can love an object is a contradiction, a great blunder. Then the senses will come down. Tell the consciousness, “What are you doing? When you are seeing something, hearing something, wanting something, you are trying to see, perceive, have, enjoy, possess something which is really not there.” This is why some people say the world does not exist. It does not exist in the sense that externality does not exist. The so-called externality is a phenomenon that is projected by the operation of what is called spatiality, temporality and causality. These are the troublemakers, and they cannot operate in infinite consciousness. Once again go back to the origin of our discussion that consciousness cannot but be infinite, and there cannot be anything outside it. Therefore, to desire an object is an absurd activity of consciousness. It is a futility, finally. Tell the mind again and again, “What are you looking at? What are you seeing? What are you thinking? What do you want?” You cannot want anything, really speaking, because consciousness cannot have anything outside it.

Therefore, desires themselves are meaningless; they are like diseases of consciousness. You have to go on doing japa of this great truth that consciousness cannot have anything external to it, and therefore, the projection of consciousness in terms of an object through the sense organs is an erroneous activity. The moment you withdraw the tendency of your lower consciousness in terms of an object, the higher Self manifests itself immediately; then the dreaming man wakes up into a wider awareness. This happens even in a very short time, if you could really, earnestly practice this technique of yoga. This is called yoga, actually speaking. What is called yoga is nothing but self-control – the withdrawal of the tendency of externalised consciousness, and centralising it in the infinitude of consciousness. Here is the whole of Patanjali, the whole of Vedanta, everything in a nutshell before you.

This is the reason why self-restraint is necessary. If you are successful, even in an adequate measure, in the art of restraining your consciousness, heaven will descend on your head. Patanjali says, the cloud of joy and virtue will jump and inundate you – dharma-megha samadhi will come. Righteousness will manifest from yourself. You need not do right things; they will automatically emanate from you like a fragrance from a flower. Your body will emanate righteousness; like a rose flower you will be. In the Bhagavata Purana, it is said that Rishabhadeva, one of the great sages, used to emit the fragrance of jasmine from his body, which could be smelled for several miles’ distance. He had achieved self-control to such an extent that God was implanted in his heart. So, it was the fragrance of God Himself. All the fragrance of the rose flowers, the beauty of the music, and the colour – all these things are coming from God only, from the infinite consciousness. It is the reflection of infinitude in finite projections which makes them look beautiful. There is a mistake in living as you are living in this world. If, perhaps, the grace of God is abundant, you may become good people, bright people, better people, emanating the fragrance of jasmine from your personality. God will bless you.