by Swami Krishnananda
In this way, generally speaking, we should conclude that we are living in a world of vibrations. Though we appear to be living in a world of what are called objects, when we really go deep into the matter, we would realise that we are made up of vibrations. Our body is made up of a bundle of vibrations, and the objects of the world are also constituted of similar sets of vibrations moving hither and thither in search of their counterparts. The positive attracts the negative, and every set of vibrations attracts its counterpart. Hence, there is a pull mutually exerted by bodies and minds in the world. To restrain oneself from such influences would be real self-restraint.
“What is self-restraint?” may be another doubt that may occur to the mind. What is meant by the term ‘self’ used in the compound ‘self-restraint’? What are we going to restrain in self-restraint?
As I mentioned, the restraint is merely of the tendency to move towards an object. Everything is an object from the point of view of an observer. I am an object to you, and you are an object to me from my own point of view. I am a subject to me and you are a subject to you from your point of view. For you, self-restraint would be checking the tendency of the mind to think in terms of me as an object. And, likewise, self-restraint for me would be checking my mental tendency to think in terms of your personality as an object, and so on in terms of any object in the world. Again, there should not be any kind of involuntary tendency in our body because that would be slavery, not freedom. There should be no involuntary process in terms of objects of sense. Defining sense control and self-restraint in this manner, one would realise how difficult self-control is. No one can escape thinking in terms of objects.
Self-restraint is intended for Self-realisation. We restrain one kind of self and realise another kind of Self. The whole of sadhana is nothing but this dual process of self-restraint for Self-realisation. And the restraint of the self is nothing but the freeing of the true Self from the entanglements of the network of these relationships of vibrations.
When the true Self gets involved in the meshes of these involvements of forces called vibrations, then it is that it becomes a samsarin, a jiva. A jiva, or an individual, is nothing but this true Self getting limited in its functions to the localised activities of a group of vibrations called bodies. There are no bodies really; they are all vibrations, one moving towards the other, trying to enter the other, to commingle with the other and become the other. This is a world of forces, on account of which also we are said to be in a world of relativity.
This is the essence of the life of samsara, where we are caught up in the cosmic currents which take us outward, far, far away from our centre, and make us feel a sense of perpetual agony and grief, knowing not what is the cause. Spiritual sadhana therefore, in all its stages of practice, is a deliberate attempt of our understanding to appreciate its position in the midst of these sets of vibrations and free itself from their clutches – stand independent and think not in terms of them, but in terms of its own true being. When we can think in terms of what we are rather than in terms of what we would like to have, then we have gained one step in the ladder of spiritual evolution.
But all this would be next to impossible when understanding is lacking. Understanding is at the background of the power of will. If understanding is Siva, will is Shakti. They work mutually. One is the base, the other is the expression. In self-control, therefore, while on one side we have to exert hard by the use of our will in checking our tendencies to self-expression in terms of objects, on the other side we have to see that we are illumined through our understanding. And it is this light of illumination from within that has to help us to live a life of independence. Otherwise, we would be brooding over the objects of sense, though physically we are free from them. The Bhagavadgita calls such a person a hypocrite. To restrain oneself externally while brooding over the sense objects internally would be far, far away from spiritual sadhana because self-restraint is not physical detachment from other objects, but a psychological retention of oneself from contact with them. So if the psychological functions are always in their relations with objects, indulgence goes on perpetually.
Therefore, the karmendriyas are not as important as the jnanendriyas in the act of self-control. The karmendriyas may not be in actual contact with the objects, but the jnanendriyas may be again thinking of them alone, and so we are in contact with objects. What disturbs our personality is not physical contacts, it is the mind’s contact with things. When the mind is agitated, the whole personality is disturbed. Like milk becoming curd, the whole of our being may get dissipated by agitating forces emanating from objects of sense and influencing our mind. This is contrary to spiritual practice.
So in the understanding of what self-restraint is, and the appreciation of the extent to which the power of will has to be exerted here, the sadhaka has to leisurely ponder over the entire situation of his individuality, take into consideration all aspects of his quest, and not underestimate his desires. We should not say, “I have no desires,” because if we have no desires, then there is no need for self-restraint. There is nothing for us to restrain. The desires are the psychological contacts that we have established with the objects. It is these psychological contacts that are called desires, and they have a tendency to act independently without asking us. They take the law into their own hands, and we, many a time, or perhaps often, dance to their tune. This is life in the sense world. Hence, to restrain oneself would be to subdue one’s personality, to bring down the forces emanating from oneself in relation to the objects of the world, revert them inside, make them tend towards the centre, and sublimate them into a power which goes by the name of Soul-force, atma-shakti – something higher than buddhi-shakti or vishaya-shakti.
When this soul-force gets generated within us, a tremendously alchemic process also takes place simultaneously, which we have often read of in textbooks on Brahmacharya, for example: the conversion of bodily and psychic energy into what is called ojas-shakti. The energy of the body tends towards the objects as long as we think of objects. This is the purpose of Brahmacharya, to speak in general terms. All tendency of the mind towards objects is an expression of desire for objects, and a counter activity that is attempted within would be to divert the course of this energy back to its source so that it rises, as the hatha yogins and the tantric sadhaks, etc., say, to the sahasrara, or the crown of the head – which means to say, that energy becomes understanding. Shakti becomes Siva, says the tantrics, etc. Shakti becoming Siva, kundalini becoming one with the sahasrara – all this means the extroverted will getting united with the understanding, becoming one with Being, the world merging in God, man returning to the state of immortality, or whatever we may call it.
It is, therefore, fundamental in spiritual practice to free this dual application of the understanding and the will from any kind of emotional tangle because while it may look that the understanding functions well, it may be vitiated by an emotional tangle from within, secretly working at the bottom. We know very well that our contacts with the world are mostly emotional, they are not intellectual or volitional. And when emotional contacts cease, all other contacts also cease. It is this emotional contact that is called raga-dvesha, and in self-restraint, the tendency to raga and dvesha ceases.
As a matter of fact, there is only one tendency, raga. Even dvesha is a part of raga itself. There is no raga-dvesha, there is only raga. Dvesha is only a negative avoiding of factors which are contrary to the fulfilment of raga. So it is raga alone; the whole world is raga, desire. The strongest impulse of emotion is what is called raga, and this is our actual contact with the world. To free our emotion from objects would be to free oneself from raga, or attraction for things.
Here comes the role of understanding. We cannot free ourselves from affection for things as long as the understanding is weak. We have to understand the situation under which we have been tempted by objects of the world. Why do we love an object? The love is an emotional act, and we cannot sever the emotional relationship from the object unless we exercise the understanding simultaneously.
Thus, in self-restraint, understanding, will and feeling all work together. It is not merely one aspect or function of the psychological organ that works in self-restraint, but the whole of it taken collectively. It is the self that is being restrained by the power of the higher Self. The doctrine of this is very beautifully described in the Bhagavadgita: the higher Self restraining the lower self, and the lower self getting transmuted into the higher.
Evaṁ buddheḥ paraṁ buddhvā saṁstabhyātmānam ātmanā jahi śatruṁ mahābāho kāmarūpaṁ durāsadam (Gita 3.43): We cannot control kama before we know that Higher Being. Evaṁ buddheḥ: not before that. The lower self cannot help us because the lower self is a bundle of kama itself. The very tendency towards the objects of the world is kama, and the whole of this lower empirical self is made up of these threads of kama scattered in various directions. So the higher Self has to come to the rescue of the lower self.
This mahāśano mahāpāpmā (Gita 3.37), as the Bhagavadgita calls it, this terrible foe of man – the only foe of man perhaps – is raga for things, affection for the world, bondage to samsara. This contact can be snapped only by that higher understanding which is nothing but that light of the higher Self in us, God working. And no success can be achieved in this world unless we start interpreting our activities in terms of God. That is the only positive element in the world; everything else is negative. The whole world is made up of negative values. The only positive principle in creation is the God element. And only when we take resort to this supreme positivity of all creation will we be able to control ourselves and free ourselves from entanglements in these negative values we call worldly existence.
We live today a hopelessly meaningless life of negativity, and that is why we have sorrow. The whole of our life is one of sorrow, grief. Why? Because there is nothing positive in us – no substantiality in us. We are empty of content because the only content which is meaningful is God. So in all spiritual sadhana, particularly in this context of self-control, we should remember that great verse of the Bhagavadgita towards the end of the third chapter where we are admonished to take the help of the most positive of meanings, the higher Self in us, which is God, and subdue the lower self in such a way that it gets transmuted completely; then raga or kama, desire for external things, gets converted into aspiration for the Universal, and the pleasures of the world vanish into the bliss of God.
These considerations should give enough strength to the mind of man in spiritual sadhana. In self-restraint, vichara also should go side by side. Every day we should find a little time to do vichara in this way. The human being standing independently on his own legs cannot stand the onslaught of the oppositions of the worldly forces. Unless the Higher comes to the aid of the lower, the lower cannot win victory in this world. Lodged as we are in the lower self, we cannot hope to win victory in this battlefield of life unless the Eternal Krishna comes to our assistance and we surrender ourselves, as the Pandavas did, to the Supreme Radiance of the Eternal, which spoke the Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata, which guided the destinies of those souls called the Pandavas. We all stand in similar positions, similar situations, and these epics are written for us as mankind in its completeness.
Thus, taking the examples from those lofty minds that lived before us, and using our higher understanding side by side with the will in its coordination with understanding, freeing emotion from its subtle subterfuges and relationships with longed-for things, the sadhaka should learn to live a life of dependence on the Self within and free himself from dependence on what is outside. When self-restraint gets deepened, it becomes meditation, and meditation deepened still is Realisation. These sum up the essence and the principle elements involved in spiritual practice.
It need not be added that caution should be the watchword of the seeker because it is easy to be duped by the forces of the world which take concrete shape as objects of sense, and we may become unwary and mistake the object for the subject, the thing for the Self, and things that we love as our own self. This mistake is again samsara. We do not know that we are in samsara; that is the very meaning of it. The very moment that we become conscious that we are in it, we also have the power to get out of it. Such inward consciousness should be generated within us by rightly directed understanding, will and emotion, and ultimately prayer to God.