Restrain the senses first

(… continued from ‘Shankara’s path’)

When the United Nations, the famine relief organisation, came there, both tribes were starving. They brought food, but the people on the plain were very resentful and bitter that the tribe living in the hills should also be fed.  They said, “They have been starving so they have not been raiding us because they are too weak, and we also have nothing. But you give us food and we shall start cultivating again, and, again, they will come down and murder us. Don’t feed them. Feed us. You are feeding our murderers.”

The United Nations man said how bewildered he felt. We can feel an external unity, but the true unity, the Gita says, is internal unity. The external unity, which has to be constantly reinforced by kind words, by greeting, is no true unity at all.  It has been compared to (well, we don’t have them now, but there used to be) bad field telephones, the army used to use them, and the communication was extremely bad. After each sentence it was necessary to say, “Hello, hello, can you hear me?”, and the other end would say, “Yes, yes, I can hear you. Go on, yes.” Then you would say a few words. You say, “Can you get that?” He said, “Yes, I got that. I will read it back to you, yes?”, and so on. Constant interchange because there was no real unity. Constant interchange necessary. “Can you hear me?”, “Yes, I think I heard that”, “I will repeat it back to you.”

But when the line is good, there is no need for all that interchange. Simply, the message is spoken down the line. The man at the other end says, “Yes, got that.”  Then there is unity. A Christian mystic said, “First, you will talk to God, then God will talk to you, but then neither of you will need to say anything at all because there will be real unity.”

Again, a teacher has given this example.  When there are two people, one wants a pen, “Would you lend me the pen?” “Oh, yes, yes.” “Well, thank you. Are you sure you don’t need it?” “No. No, I don’t need it, no. If I want it, I can ask for it back.” “Well, if you are quite sure you don’t need it, all right then, I will take it.” But with the two hands, now there is unity. The right hand doesn’t say, “Could you lend me the pen?” “Yes, certainly, yes.” “Are you sure you don’t want it?” “Oh, no, I would be pleased if you have it.” No, the left hand simply passes it across, but first there is unity.  The teacher said, “In that way, there is a true unity which doesn’t have to be constantly reinforced.” Madhusudana, one of the great Vedantins, said that true unity is brought about when the individualities begin to be melted in common pursuit of devotion to the Lord.

Now, Shri Dada said this of a family. ‘The love of a family is not an end in itself. Each member of a family, while loving other members, must love art, poetry and music and kindle the flame of devotion to the Lord in his heart. A prosperous society degenerates into soul-debasing luxury and profligacy. So does a family, without a common higher interest in life, degenerate into a breeding ground of malice and jealousy and become a field of thorns’.

So he says there that not only a family but any group must begin to dissolve itself into a higher aim which is always in this, ‘The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching’, the devotion to the Lord and the pursuit of spiritual freedom, and then there can be a real unity.

Shankara says, in another place, the same point, that the buddhi must be awakened first. The end of Chapter 3 of the Gita. ‘Restrain the senses first. Cast off desire, which is destructive of knowledge and experience. Even when there is knowledge, even when there is spiritual experience, the traces and samskaras of desire can disturb it’.

The Gita says this and Shankara confirms it, which is destructive of knowledge and vijnana, wisdom experience. ‘The senses are more subtle than the objects. Higher than the senses is manas’. That is the discursive mind. ‘Higher than manas is buddhi, the spiritual vision. Even higher than buddhi is He, the Self. Knowing him who is above buddhi, subdue the self, the senses in the lower mind, by the Self’. He says, ‘By meditation, by samadhi, and so slay the enemy in the form of desire, hard to conquer’. Shankara explains ‘hard to conquer’ because it takes many forms which are difficult to recognise.

A teacher used to say, “My pupils do everything that I tell them, so long as they agree with it. If they don’t agree with it, they find some way to interpret it away, but as I am telling them things, very often, that will upset their personal ideas, in fact, they do everything I say except what I actually do say.”

Desire, Shankara says, and the clinging to personal identity is difficult to conquer because it is complex. It takes many different forms and it is difficult to recognise those forms. Hard to recognise them. We can feel that we are doing good, but until we have reached the stage of purification, then it is very hard to recognise what is good and what is not good.

© Trevor Leggett

(Continued in ‘Mind must be purified’)

Titles in this series are:

Part 1 : Shankaras Path

Part 2 : Restrain the senses first

Part 3 : Mind must be purified

Part 4 : Yama and Niyama

Part 5 : Killing the Self