An Introduction to Self-inquiry
Introduction to Mastery of the Senses and Mind
Krishna then moves on to describe the sense and mind control needed to help assimilate Self-knowledge. This may be thought of as an introduction to upasana yoga which focuses on internal actions and the means to steady the mind. The analogy which Krishna uses is the ability to retract the senses from objects, “like the turtle withdraws its limbs.” If you’ve ever watched a turtle retract its limbs, it’s quick and sudden. The ordinarily slow turtle doesn’t hesitate to withdraw from any apparent danger and take immediate action to ensure its safety. In the same way, the wise know when to retract the senses—that is, when to not be lead by them.
Krishna states that even for those who make much effort, the powerful senses can still sweep away the mind. It’s only through discrimination that we have a fighting chance of defending ourselves against the powerful allure of object-oriented thoughts. Krishna describes the sequence for how the senses take control of the mind as:
attachment —> anger —> delusion —> loss of discrimination —> loss of peace and freedom
In the individual who becomes seduced by an object, attachment is born. From attachment, is born desire, and then anger (from not being able to attain what is desired). From anger comes delusion, and from delusion comes loss of discrimination (e.g. not being able to tell right from wrong). Because of the loss of discrimination, the mind loses control and as a result, there is pain and loss of freedom. In other words, at that point, you’re under the spell! It’s important to note that we don’t just become bound to our likes and dislikes, it’s a process. Once you’re familiar with how the mind becomes attached, you can catch yourself before the momentum of desire leads to a loss of freedom and suffering.
Desire and fear are the two primal forces that all beings must manage and for this reason, are frequently mentioned throughout the Gita. When examined closely, they are actually two sides of the same coin, because behind every desire lurks a fear: What I desire, I fear I won’t get. Thus, desire is a positive fear and fear, a negative desire. These two forces play out in our minds endlessly, creating a tension that binds us and obstructs us from gaining freedom.
Next, Krishna compares the wise to the ocean:
Like the ocean that is brimful and still even as water flows into it, unchanged are the wise for whom all objects enter. As for those who desire objects—not so much. (2.70)
The symbol of a brimful ocean is one of the more beautiful metaphors in the Gita describing the wise. First to note is that the ocean is not dependent on any other source of water for its existence. Where lakes, ponds, rivers and streams are reliant on rain water to feed them, the ocean is not. The ocean is always full regardless of weather conditions and seasonal changes. For this reason, one can say the glory of the ocean is within itself alone. Once a person has fulfilled a desire, they may feel a brief sense of fullness (bliss). Unfortunately, this sense of fullness is only temporary, which means very soon they’re off pursuing the next desire. In this way, the unknowing person is always dependent on objects to gain a sense of fullness. On the other hand, the wise don’t feel they lack anything, because they don’t depend on objects to feel complete. They know the Self to be that which, like the ocean, is always full. This is what is meant by the biblical quote “My cup runneth over.” The wise are “brimful and still” and as a result, they are at peace, satisfied with that which is immutable, limitless and eternal. Second, the fullness of the ocean is not affected by the various entries of rivers and streams. Similarly, the wise are not affected by the objects that enter the mind. For one who is not familiar with the Self, giving up binding desires is problematic and fraught with difficulty. It’s only for those who know they are the Self, that objects enter the mind without attachment.
Many people are surprised to learn that objects don’t actually have the power to make us happy. But it should be obvious that all objects are inert and value-neutral. Even if joy were in the object, that would mean the same object would make all people happy, all the time. That’s obviously not the case since each of us has different preferences and over time, those preferences change. The “loss of discrimination” mentioned as the result of attachment is an obvious symptom of samsara. The allure and entrapment that some objects cause is sometimes likened to being caught in the jaws of a crocodile, for which there’s little or no chance of escape. Because we are ignorant of the truth about objects (including people and relationships), their powers of seduction trick us over and over again. In contrast, the wise person whose senses and mind are restrained and who ”moves through life without longing and is without the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine,’ attains freedom.”(2.71)
From peace, we get happiness, and as a result, once attained, the knowledge becomes established.
Having attained this knowledge, one is no longer deluded. Even if it takes up until the end of a person’s life to learn, they will still gain liberation. (2.72)
As the chapter comes to a close, Krishna reminds Arjuna that once the knowledge is gained, it sticks and that moksha is possible even up to the last days of one’s life. In other words, once one has Self-knowledge it won’t be a passing fancy and moksha will be possible in this very lifetime. Life then becomes less about checking off a bucket list of experiences and places to visit, and more about a constant meditation on that which encompasses all experiences and places—the Self. Furthermore, whether you’re old, sick or have been given only a short length of time to live, moksha is still an option. This especially applies to the elderly who are no longer hypnotized by life’s bright, shiny objects. They have already had enough time to see through the false promises of object-oriented attraction and may find it easier to fast-track their way to moksha given a qualified teacher. And really, what greater life accomplishment than to have been able to understand one’s true nature?