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The Path to Freedom: Mastering the Art
of Total Perception


Chapter 12: Self-Restraint versus Self-Indulgence (Continued)

What is the distinction between one structural form and another? Why should there be two forms? The reason given behind this is that a form is a whirl of force. One form is distinguished from another form. My body differs from your body, on account of which there are two bodies because the forces that constitute my body whirl in one direction and the forces that constitute your body whirl in another direction. They are poles apart, like positive and negative posts in electricity, perhaps, so they cannot unite. One body cannot unite with another body for these scientific reasons. They are repelled rather than attracted.

There is a repulsion of forces, and this repulsion of bodies on account of this peculiar constitution of force in the bodies is responsible for the sensations of touch. It is this sensation of touch that is responsible for the pleasure of touch. When we touch a pleasurable object, we feel elated. This pleasure is caused by the repulsion of the forces constituting the body, or object, and our body. So really, there is no union, and we have not obtained any real pleasure by the contact of the senses with the object. We are only fooled. We are repelled rather than united, and in this repulsion we feel pleasure. Even if we are given a kick, we feel we are adored and worshipped. This is what objects do they kick us – but unfortunately, we feel they are embracing us.

In this befooled condition of the mind, the subject entertains itself and goes into raptures over the wonders of the objects which attract it, and then again runs after them. The more kicks we receive, the more is the love for the object. What can be greater foolishness than this?

Nature has been originally responsible for the pull of the object and subject because it does not tolerate this separation artificially created between them. With this intention of Nature to remove this separation, what has happened is that forms begin to collide due to the attraction. We are caught on the horns of a dilemma: on one side, we cannot resist the temptations of the object; on another side, we can get nothing from it and have to return like beggars. This is samsara. This is the suffering of mankind. This is the folly of the human mind, and nobody can save us from this folly. We are caught up in a current of force which pulls us and kicks us and pulls us and kicks us, alternately.

This unfortunate condition of the human being was studied very well by our ancient seers, and they tried to institute a method of freedom from samsara, this cycle of entanglement in forces of the world. This is the path of yoga, and I was explaining that yoga is self-restraint. Now coming to the point, where do we stand? And what is this self-restraint supposed to do in this circumstance of ours in this world?

Self-restraint is opposed to self-indulgence. Indulgence is the yielding of the mind to the pull of the objects. When we yield to the pull of the objects, we are supposed to indulge in the object. We cannot resist this object because it has the sanction of Nature, ultimately. This is why it is so attractive. Nature creates beauty in the face of the object. It is this beauty of the object that tempts us and pulls us. It is irresistible. But, what is the remedy for the suffering that seems to be consequent upon this attraction? We are not going to be given anything. We are returning with nothing.

The Yoga System teaches us that we are not to yield to the temptations of objects. Though the intention behind this is a universal unity of the subject and object, there is a blunder involved in it. It is like a foolish person making a good plan. Perhaps Mohammad Bin Tughlaq was a good example. They say his plans were all very good, but they were not practical. Likewise, an unpractical good-intentioned method will not work, so there is no use in there being merely a metaphysical meaning in our actions. There should also be a practical utility and feasibility. What yoga tells us is, “My dear friend, there is nothing wrong in the essential intention of this union between the subject and the object. But there seems to be something definitely wrong, and there can be nothing worse than that, in your attempt at union with bodies one body trying to unite itself with another body.”

This is called self-indulgence, and is not practicable. This again is against the law of Nature. While separation of one thing from another is against the law of Nature, a bodily union is also against the law of Nature. That also will not work. Nature is an indivisible being, and not merely a contact of two objects. It is not samyoga sambandha that Nature attempts in this pull of the object, nor is it samavaya sambandha. Logicians know what this means. Samyoga sambandha is external contact, such as the contact of my finger with this table or, as logicians say, the contact of the stick with the drum that it beats. There is no real contact; there is only an external touch. Nature does not intend this kind of contact in its pull. Nor is it samavaya sambandha, or inherence, like the colour of the flower inherent in the flower. It is not Nature’s intention that the subject should inhere in the object which it pulls. Nature intends union absolute. It is because of this difficulty that the nature of self-restraint in yoga is hard to understand. We oftentimes make a mistake in it, and fail. The restraint of the self is really the control of the tendency of the mind to bring into physical contact the subject and the object, while in a higher sense it is the attempt at the union of the spiritual essences of all things.

Previously I mentioned it is self-restraint from one point of view and Self-realisation from another point of view. It is a restraint of the mental self, bodily self, the empirical self, the physical self, the spatio-temporal self, but it is the attempt at the union of the universal spiritual Self. This is Self-realisation, the realisation of the only Self that there is.

On a contemplation on this mystery behind the nature of things, we would realise what the practice of yoga intends, and what it really is supposed to convey to us. It is far, far from our ordinary notion of yoga practice. When we deeply consider over these implications of yoga, we realise our ideas or notions are far from the truth of yoga. We have a very poor notion of it and we are so far removed from it that we do not know how much time it would take us to come near it, let alone practice it.

Everyone is blindfolded, misguided, because of the weddedness of the mind to the perception of sense, and self-restraint in its spiritual connotation intends to free the mind from the clutches of sense and to restrain the mental tendency to bring the body in contact with other bodies. Sense indulgence is contrary to self-restraint. The urges of the lower personality are to be controlled. This is self-control. We have many an urge in our personalities, and these are the impulses or instincts, as they are usually called – the impulse to run after an object. Sometimes we run like an iron filing moving towards a magnet, without knowing that it is happening. To be under the control of an impulse is no wisdom. It is no understanding.

The pull of the object is to be overcome. This is the essence of the whole matter, and for that we have to understand where we stand in relation to the object. No person without understanding of the situation can be a true student of yoga. There is no use closing the eyes, plugging the nostrils and closing the ears, etc., in self-control. All these are of no avail. The impulses are not in the eyeballs, they are not in the nostrils, they are not in the eardrums, they are not in the sensations of touch; they are within you. You may be blind, deaf and dumb, etc., but may still have the impulses for objects. You may be craving for things, even if you cannot see them.

To give an example, what happens in the dream state? Are there any physical objects really? Why do we crave for objects? Where does the craving come from? How is it that we are running towards the objects of sense even in dream, when the objects are really not there? Where are the senses? The eyes do not function, the ears do not function, all the senses are sleeping, and yet why is it that we are so very restless in our rushing towards the objects of sense? Who is responsible?

The impulses are awakened there, though the external organs are asleep. So self-restraint definitely has something to do with the impulses, and it has only to do with them, and not with the organs of sense outside. So it is of no use withdrawing the physical limbs but contemplating the objects of sense mentally.

Karmendriyāṇi saṁyamya ya āste manasā smaran, indriyārthān vimūḍhātmā mithyācāraḥ sa ucyate (Gita 3.6): Far from yoga is that person who withdraws the external limbs in self-restraint but contemplates them in mental reveries and building castles in the air, and so on. Yoga is internal. It is not an outer demonstration of the physical body or outer moral conduct. It has something to do with what we are psychologically. So the attunement of our psychological personality to the law of Nature is essential in all attempts of self-restraint. It is difficult to understand what Nature is and what our role is in this process of evolution. We always make mistakes and it is difficult to understand Nature’s laws because ultimately, Nature’s laws are God’s laws.

Therefore, it is difficult to practice yoga. Let no one have the complaisance to imagine that yoga is an effort of three days. This is almost an impossibility. Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj sometimes used to say jokingly, “He can practise yoga who can extract oil from his own flesh, and with that oil he burns the lamp and waves the arati before God.” This is an example given to show the difficulty of practising yoga. Gaudapada in his Mandukya-Karikas says, “It is easier to empty the ocean with a blade of grass than to control the mind.” We may empty the whole ocean with a blade of grass, but we cannot control the mind.

Control of the mind is self-restraint. Many examples are given to show the difficulty of self-control. The mind is like a wild elephant, they say. It is like a ravaging tempest; it is like a conflagrating fire; it is like a vast ocean; it is like space, and such other examples are given to tell what the mind is, what it is capable of doing, and how hard yoga is.

It sometimes looks that yoga is humanly impossible; it requires the grace of God. The great sage Dattatreya says, in the commencement of the Avadhuta Gita, Ishwara anugraha deva pumsam advaita vasana: It is perhaps Ishwara’s grace that brings us the tendency to think in terms of the unity of things. Who can bring us this consciousness? How can we say that it is our effort that has brought us this knowledge of God? Wherefrom comes this effort?

God’s grace is responsible, says even the Advaitan Sankara in one of his passages in the Brahma Sutras. “Who is the cause of the knowledge in the jiva?” is the question that Sankara raises in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. We cannot say that it is the jiva, because the jiva is full of ignorance. How can ignorance be the cause of knowledge? Who causes the blossoming of the jiva into the experience of Truth? Can we say there is no cause? We cannot say there is no cause, and we cannot say that the jiva is the cause of the jiva’s illumination.

Sankara stumbles on the inescapable conclusion of accepting God is the cause. Some commentators say that here Advaita fails, and point out this mistake of Sankara’s acceptance of God’s grace in his scheme of Advaita. Well, it shows the difficulty in knowing anything in this world. It is not merely the difficulty in knowing God and His creation, but we cannot know anything completely, not even a grain of sand. We cannot fully understand even a flower that grows in the garden, because the poets tell us that to touch the petals of the lotus would be to touch the stars in the heavens, so intimately are the two related. These are the mysteries behind things, which speak the mystery of God in His creation.

So in our act of self-control and our attempt in the practice of yoga, we have to take a complete view of things. We should not be partial physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually. We have to weigh the situation, whatever the situation be. Every step that we take should be a kind of all-round step. Yoga is a kind of moving equilibrium. It is moving because it is rising from one step to another step, and yet it is an equilibrium at every stage. Every stage of yoga is yoga, just as every rung of the ladder is a movement on the ladder itself. It is not movement from partiality to wholeness. In all yogas it is rising from smaller wholes to higher wholes. So it is not movement from untruth to Truth; it is movement from lower truth to higher truth.

In the yoga of self-restraint, the difficulty that we usually face is the fact that we are oblivious of the meaning behind the practice and get confounded by the outer attraction of things, mistaking one thing for the other. Even advanced students make this mistake of thinking that they are well off in self-restraint, while they are really indulging in things. We may be terribly attached to a thing, and yet may have the notion that we are absolutely free because of a confoundedness of the mind the reason being again, the incapacity to distinguish between the spirit behind the practice of self-restraint and the outer form it takes.

It is difficult to withdraw the mind from the form in which it is encased. The form and the mind are almost the same. How can we withdraw our thought from our body? It is difficult. It is like peeling our own skin, but yet it is said to be a feasible affair. When daily concentration on this is practised, we realise the distinction between the consciousness and the form with which it is entangled. Self-restraint is nothing but the withdrawal of consciousness from the form in which it is encased. The form, whether it is of the body or of the relation between one body and another body, or purely of another body, or again whether it is in the form of a social relationship all these are bondages ultimately, from the point of view of spiritual aspiration.

Thus, in the practice of yoga, while teachers tell us that we have to practise self-restraint, we must be well up with kshama, dhama and uparati, equipped with the toughness within to concentrate the mind ultimately on the nature of the Absolute. To be initiated into this, ultimately we have to practice all the auxiliaries that are necessary for bringing about that condition of mind where it is prepared to accept this explanation of Reality. When we are in a state of passion, for example, when we are highly prejudiced for or against something, we will not listen to any logical explanation because there it is that instinct tries to play its role. We try to adduce specious arguments and rationalise our instincts, which are all dangers on the spiritual path.

Here comes the Guru, the guide, who weans us from such tangles and frees us from the clutches of sense. The objects may not physically catch us, but their urges may catch us. The forms of the objects produce such an effect on the mind that they remain in the mind even when the body is cast off.

In a famous passage in one of the minor Upanishads, it is said, poison is not poison; to contemplate an object is poison. Why? What is the reason? Ordinary poison can destroy one life only, but this other poison can destroy many lives, because the sensory impressions will be so embedded in the mind that they will be carried from birth to birth, from one transmigratory life to another. Therefore, it is dangerous to contemplate the objects of sense. It is not the objects as such that are dangerous, but the contemplation of the mind on their forms.

This is briefly the philosophical foundation of yoga and particularly self-restraint, a very important subject not only in our spiritual life, but also in our practical day-to-day existence. It is essential for us to live a successful life in the world, and ultimately, to attain God. Self-restraint is the word. That is the motto in any field of activity: self-restraint versus self-indulgence.