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Everything About Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Importance of Self-Restraint

The entire gamut of Indian culture can be expressed in one word, ‘self-restraint', which also expresses the ways and means of ensuring peace of humanity. When you have uttered this word, you have said everything. It is going to pave the way to health, wealth and welfare of all people everywhere, both here and hereafter. That is the way to prosperity in this world and blessedness in the other world – abhyudaya and nihsreyasa. It does not necessarily mean that you have to suffer in this world for the sake of blessedness in the other world.

The other world and this world are not two opposing tanks. They are like the soul and the body of a person. The other world that you think of, the heaven or the realm of higher attainment, may be compared to the soul of a person, and the life that you live in this physical world is the body of that soul. If the body and soul are not enemies, if they are complimentary facets of a single approach to life in general, then life here and hereafter are not two different things. There are people who reject this world for the sake of the future world, thinking that the world is binding, it is maya, it is an illusion, it is bondage, and the earlier you are rid of it, the better for the sake of the salvation of the soul. This is like saying that the earlier you are rid of this body, the better it is for your soul.

You know very well how wrong this approach is. You cannot get rid of this body, because it is a condition that is necessary for the fulfilment of a purpose for which it is manufactured by the soul itself. The body has not been thrust on you by somebody from outside. It is a house built by the soul itself for a specific purpose. Until the purpose for which it is built is fulfilled, it cannot be thrown away.

The world is related to the higher realms of being in a similar manner. The manifested and the unmanifested are not two opposing tanks; they are two facets of one wholesome reality. Neither can you reject the world for the sake of God, nor can you reject God for the sake of the world. Neither of these approaches are permissible. Materialists reject God and cling to the world. Ascetics reject the world and cling to God. Neither of them is seeing things in a wholesome manner.

I gave you the example of clinging to the soul and throwing away this body or clinging to the body and throwing away the soul. How would you succeed? And what would be the catastrophic conclusion of this kind of unwise attempt on your part? This is one phase of what I am going to tell you today. The other phase is a continuation of what I told you yesterday, the role of self-restraint or self-control in the life of people. Is self-control meant only for spiritual aspirants and, therefore, not a concern of those who cannot be regarded as spiritual aspirants?

Actually, you cannot distinguish between spiritual aspirants and non-spiritual aspirants, just as you cannot cut the life of a person into a soul somewhere and a body elsewhere, the world somewhere and God another place. You cannot divide life into spiritual and unspiritual. These are very important things to be known by any earnest seeker of truth. Truth is not in an otherworldly God; it is also not in a world minus God. They are not two things. The idea of duality, the idea of the distinction that is usually drawn between the visible and the invisible, is to be taken care of properly.

Life is an integral whole. It is a completeness in itself; therefore, you cannot reject anything as unnecessary. A thing looks unnecessary because it has already served its purpose. If you have eaten a beautiful meal, you may not like to eat a second time a few minutes afterwards. The very thing that sustained you and was enchanting you, the delicious meal for which you were in rapture, becomes redundant because it has served its purpose. A thing which has not served its purpose cannot be abandoned. It is up to you to realise whether everything in the world has served its purpose and you have no connection with it. Everything is related to you, but relatively, tentatively, for a particular purpose and for a particular period of time. There is no compartmentalisation of life into sections or classifications of purpose. Life is a growth in a holistic manner from the lower completion to the higher completion. Life is not a horizontal movement; it is a vertical ascent. The verticality of the ascent consists in the wholeness that constitutes a particular level of your life. Whatever be the status that you occupy in life, you are a whole person. A poor man is as whole in his personality as a rich man. The wholeness of a rich person is not capable of distinction from the wholeness of a poor person. Poverty and wealth are accretions that have grown on the personality which by itself can stand on its own legs. There is a growth in a holistic manner in everything, from the seed up to the banyan tree, from the little babe up to the genius. There is no separate, section-wise interpretation possible between the baby that a genius was and the genius that he is now. A great scientific genius who is mature in his mind now was a little baby once upon a time, but he has not jumped from the baby condition to the genius condition; he has holistically outgrown the lower category of wholeness and entered into a larger maturity of wholeness.

The relationship between body and soul also is one of integration. If the body acts totally different from the soul, you could have kept the body somewhere in a cupboard and the soul would be somewhere else. They not only work together, but they work as a unified purpose. The force that is behind the operation of the body is the soul, and the mechanism that is used by this force inside is the body.

Now, as we have observed earlier, our essential nature is consciousness, and it is not locked up inside the body but is everywhere. Infinitude is the nature of this consciousness, which means to say, outside consciousness nothing can be. As we have noted, if there is something outside consciousness, there would be nobody to know that there is something outside consciousness. Consciousness is being; being is consciousness. Existence is consciousness; consciousness is existence. Existence cannot be divided into parts. You exist, I exist, a mountain exists, the sun exists, a river exists, an ant exists, an elephant exists. Existence is a common denomination and a foundational reality of everything, and cannot be partitioned or sectioned. Therefore, indivisibility is the nature of existence, and indivisibility is also the nature of consciousness. Inasmuch as there cannot be two indivisibilities or two infinities, existence becomes consciousness, and consciousness becomes existence. Everything is Being-Consciousness – Satchidananda. If this is the case, what is the role of the sense organs in the life of a person?

As I briefly mentioned yesterday, the senses contradict the wholeness of the spirit. They create a segmentation between the perceiving consciousness and the perceived object so-called. There is a violation of your conclusion that being-consciousness is indivisible. If you are going to stick to this conclusion that being-consciousness is all-inclusive and is all-in-all, then the sense organs have no role to play. They cannot act or operate at all. The eyes cannot see anything because there is nothing for them to see. If you believe that the eyes are seeing something outside, that outsideness violates the indivisibility of existence, it violates the nature of pure consciousness, and it violates the nature of Ultimate Reality. So all sense perception is a violation of the nature of Ultimate Reality. If that is so, all of our life which is sense ridden, conditioned through perceptions through the sense organs, is not compatible with the nature of reality. The humdrum life that we are passing through in this world of dissection, division, partiality, good and bad, right and wrong, and so on, does not seem to be in harmony with the conclusion that reality is indivisible. The sense organs rebel against the conclusion that existence is indivisible. The sense organs are the opposite party contrary to the ultimate truth that existence is pure consciousness.

You may have heard the biblical story that Lucifer rebelled against God; he asserted his independence, and the reaction from God was a catastrophic rejection of the self-affirmation of Lucifer, causing his headlong fall into the precipice of an inverted perception of things. This is not a scriptural story, it is a scientific operation taking place every day. The Aitareya Upanishad tells us exactly what the Bible says in connection with the fall of Lucifer and his becoming Satan by a topsy-turvy headlong falling down and visualising things contrary to reality. The Aitareya Upanishad is very brief, but it tells us everything about the process of creation and also the return process. Ātmā vā idam eka evāgra āsīt, nānyat kiñ cana miṣat (1.1): In the original condition of things there was nothing anywhere except this all-inclusive Atman. The creational doctrine tells us there is a gradual condensation of the will aspect of this universal consciousness, and there is a tendency to objectification of what is essentially universal. If the universal is to get objectified, it is an example of universal self-alienation. I become a non-I in my perception of things. I behold myself as something other than myself when I look at creation. The process of this self-alienation is described beautifully in this Upanishad.

No self-alienation and perception of that type can be possible unless there are faculties or means of perception. These faculties are the sense organs. There was a central will which congealed, as it were, into a direction of consciousness towards what you consider as light and shape. The work of the particular sense organ called the eye is the cognition of light, colour and shape. The other organs perform similar functions of a different type. There is the cognition of sound, taste, etc. The process of cognition by a sense organ in respect of a self-alienated object outside is impossible to conceive unless there is something to connect the perceiving organ with the object that is perceived. You cannot have a gap between the perceived object and the sense organ.

To give an illustration, there is a tree in front of you, and your eyes are seeing the tree. There is absolutely no connection between your eyes and the tree. There is a vacuous space between the eye that is eager to see and the object that is seen. This energy which operates inside as the means of perception is called adhyatma, the subjective faculty that cognises things. The objective phenomenon which is cognised by the sense organs is called adhibhuta. All things that you cognise through the sense organs as if they are outside come under the category of what is known as adhibhuta prapancha, the world of materiality and objectivity. There is a subjective impulse towards cognition of an object which appears to be separated from the subjective consciousness; the subject and object are dichotomised. I am not the tree and the tree is not me, and yet I see the tree. The phenomenon of the perception of a tree, or of anything for the matter of that, as an object outside by an otherwise-pure subjective faculty of the sense organs cannot be explained unless there is an intermediary principle between the subject and the object. In the language of Indian thought, this intermediary principle is called adhidaiva, the superintending principle.

Since the senses are concerned only with the object, they have a tremendous push towards what is totally different from themselves in the perception of an object. The sense organs cannot locate the presence of this intermediary principle, just as in a cinemagraphic projection you can see the movement on the screen and the wheeling of the film in the camera, but you cannot know what is happening in between. The light rays which work in a very interesting manner between the rotating wheel of the film and the screen in front cannot be seen. Sit in the middle of the audience in a cinema hall and try to see the light. You will not see anything. You will see the screen, the moving picture, and if you go behind you can see an arc light being projected from the camera on which the reel is moving. The middle thing cannot be seen because the mediating, intermediary thing is not an object, because if that also becomes an object, there will be no intermediary connection at all. If it is taken for granted that the so-called adhidaiva, or the intermediating principle, is also something to be cognised by the sense organs, then there would be a regressus ad infinitum, as they call it. To cognise that intermediary principle through the sense organs, there must be some relationship between the sense organs and that peculiar intermediary principle, so that the second intermediary principle would go on like this endlessly. Infinite regress will follow. Because of this difficulty, you cannot know what is happening in between yourself and the object that you are perceiving. The adhidaiva, the superintending divinity, cannot be seen.

The scriptures, the Upanishads, tell us that the sun in the sky is the conditioning factor of the operation of the eye; and similarly there are divinities which are super-physical, beyond the faculties of sense organs and objects, operating to give life to the sense organs. The eye cannot see unless there is life in the eye. This life comes from a particular divinity.

There are three processes, therefore, in the act of the perception of an object: the subjective side which is the sense organ, the objective side which is the object, and the intermediary principle which is the divinity. If that divinity is not to operate, you will not know anything that is happening. The whole world will look blank and empty, and no perception will take place. If you withdraw the mind, the eyes cannot see the object. If you are deeply thinking of something, solving a mathematical problem or some issue which has taken possession of you, you cannot see an object in front of you. Even a rushing railway train will not be visible to your eyes because your mind is elsewhere. The elsewhereness of the mind is nothing but the elsewhereness of the divinity operating through the mind.

There is a threefold process in all perception, which is a travesty of affairs ultimately, since you cannot divide reality into a threefold categorised existence of subject, object, and the intermediary principle. The Ultimate Being is not a subject because it has no object in front of it. It is not an object because there is no one to cognise it. There is no question of an intermediary principle because neither the subject nor the object is there. This is the nature of Ultimate Being. But inasmuch as we are living in a world of perception through the sense organs where this threefold category is incumbent upon our life, we are living in a world of unreality. The sense organs are deceiving us. They are not our friends because they give us a report which is contrary to the nature of things. Indivisibility is dichotomised into the seeing subject and the object that is seen, while such a thing is not the true nature of things.

To give another example, see what is happening to you in the state of dream. There is a something which sees the dream. You are seeing the dream, and you are seeing a world of dream, the same world as you are seeing in the waking condition. All sorts of things – space, time, sun, moon, stars, mountains, rivers, people – an entire phenomena of what you see in the waking condition is seen in the dream condition also. You see a mountain, for instance, so far away from you in dream, and you are there also. You see and visualise that mountain. The same process of an intermediary principle comes into operation between the dream subject and the dream object, without which the dream subject cannot know that there is a dream mountain. But you know very well there are no mountains in dream. The waking mind, which is your real mind, so to say, has cut itself into three parts: the visualiser in the dream, the visualised object, and the process. In dream there is also space, time and causation. You can see a vast space, and there is a time process, and something proceeds from something. And so in dream, as is the case with waking life, you will find the entire world operating.

But is there a world in dream? The one indivisible mass of your waking consciousness has converted itself into a threefold operation of a seeing subject, a seen object, and an intermediary superintending principle. The same thing also happens in the waking condition. If you believe that there are no mountains in dream, then there is also no person who sees the mountain, and there is no question of an intermediary principle. Why is it so? Because the total mind, which is what you call the waking consciousness, has artificially divided itself into three parts, but not really. The mind has never become the mountain, you have never become any subject, and there was no superintending principle between them.

The same is the case with the waking world. In place of this individual mind that has differentiated itself into three parts in dream, there is a cosmic mind which operates totally but appears as the visualising subject which is you, me, etc., and the object seen outside, and it requires an intermediary principle also. This is to say the operation of the sense organs is a complete havoc that has taken place, and perception through the sense organs is not actually a perception of reality. This is why Patanjali Maharshi in one of his sutras says even the consciousness of an object is a vritti which has to be subdued. Pramāṇa viparyaya vikalpa nidrā smṛtayaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.6). Five categories of perceptional psyche have been mentioned in this sutra. Pramana is right perception. To be aware that there is a tree in front is a right perception, but it is a wrong perception from the point of view of yoga practice because the tree is not outside you, as you have already concluded existence is indivisible and existence is consciousness. If the Ultimate Being which you are aspiring for – God-realisation or the realisation of the Absolute – is indivisible existence-consciousness, then the operations of the sense organs, even if it be called right perception in ordinary parlance, is not right perception. It is a vritti of the mind. But because you are attracted to it and you regard it as something very comfortable and utilitarian, these vrittis or functions of the mind in the process of what is called right knowledge are not considered as suffering. Therefore, they are called painless vrittis.

In the perception of an object, to which I made a brief reference last time, there is a twofold categorisation: pure perception in a general fashion, and emotionally conditioned perception. If I see something in front of me, that is general perception of the object. But if I see something in front of me which I like very much or hate very much, that is an emotionally conditioned perception of an object. You may be aware of an object in a general fashion, as you are aware of a mountain in front, or the Ganga that is flowing, or the sun that is shining. You are not emotionally disturbed because you see the sun, moon, stars, etc. But there are things in the world which upset your mind. You cling to them or repel them. These are the painful vrittis, klista vrittis, born of the ignorance of the fact that your real nature is indivisible existence.

First of all, you must know what you are wanting. What do you want, finally? You are running here and there throughout your life, from morning till evening, but what for? To attain perfection, deathlessness. You do not want to die. You want perfection for all time to come, which is called immortality, which is the nature of this individual existence. This is what you are unknowingly pursuing even in your wrong activities of the world. Such being the case, how would you consider sensory perception as anything but the world? Therefore, self-restraint is necessary. Self-restraint is the withdrawal of the operative process of consciousness towards a particular organ in terms of an object which is imagined to be there. If dream is not a reality, waking life is also not a reality for a similar reason because the structural pattern and the operational process in dream is similar to the structural pattern and the operational process of waking. You are bound either by a golden chain or an iron chain; anyhow, you are bound. You are in the prison. With what you are bound is not important; that you are bound is the point.

So a yogi, an aspirant in spiritual life, has to practice self-control. We have touched upon this point previously. A person who is wedded to the operation of the senses cannot know reality because reality cannot be seen, heard, touched, tasted. It is being as such – God-being, as it is called. You can imagine what it would be to be in the state of pure being as such, indivisible, without any externality, no segmentation; outside you there is nothing, and you are there as pure being, indivisible, undivided, pervading everything. The one alone is, ekam sat.

If this is your aspiration, the operation of the sense organs has to be restrained. In the beginning, the painful vrittis have to be subdued. Later on, the painless vrittis have to be subdued. Most of us have love and hatred. There is nobody who does not love something or hate something. You have created a division between what is necessary and what is not necessary, what is worthwhile and what is not. This particularisation is false because in the interconnectedness of the things of the world, you cannot know which is the cause which is the effect, and which is beautiful, which is ugly. The things do not exist at that time. But the sense organs tell you they are there. They are totally there; therefore, you have to love and hate them. It is all right; you can live in the world with this impulsion, but then there is no use searching for perfection and deathless existence. One has to be sincere in what one is seeking. You should not play a joke with your life. That is why Prajapati told Indra to observe self-control for so many years.

When Sri Krishna went to the court of the Kauravas to make peace, Dhritarashtra asked his minister Sanjaya, “Who is this Krishna who is coming? Can I see him?” because he had only heard of Krishna, and did not know what kind of person he was. Sanjaya replied, “Sri Krishna is a kritatma. A kritatma is one who has subdued his sense organs completely and all objectivity has melted down into the pure universal subjectivity. Such a one is Lord Krishna, and if you are of that type, you can see him; otherwise, do not try to see him at all.” The Purna-avatara of Shakti, the universal force in the Purna-avatara of Sri Krishna, was due to the melting down of all objectivity into the subjectivity of universality. That is what is called Visvarupa. When all the world which is pure objectivity melts down into the pure subjectivity of universal being, you are Visvarupa at that time; you are God Himself. If that is your aspiration, the senses have to be restrained. Otherwise, you will be running after a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantasmagoria. It is like the blind Dhritarashtra wanting to see what he could not see.

But what is self-control? What is meant by self-restraint?  Is it closing the eyes, blocking the ears, not eating, not sleeping, not talking? Is this called self-restraint? That is again a misconception. It is very difficult to live a true spiritual life. The moment you touch something, the problem arises. You are prevented from knowing what is actually taking place. A great competent master is necessary to live a spiritual life, or even a good life, a humanitarian life, a gentlemanly life, a social welfare life, a worthwhile life – whatever you may call it. This restraint of self is necessary because the more you restrain your sensory operations, the more you expand the dimension of your being nearer and nearer to the borders of universal being, and you become a superman, or perhaps a Godman.