The sthitapragna state represents self-control. Lack of self-control is the result of an unsteady mind. The free-minded cannot accept self-control. They cannot turn away from indulging in pleasures. That is why there is a continuous battle between indulgence and self-control, both within the self and without in the external world. What leads to supreme happiness? Is it indulging in sensual pleasures or living a life of self-control? Such agitating doubts make one indecisive, or cause one to make incorrect decisions. In such times, the Gita clears our confusion. It warns us to keep away from indulgence by explaining the true principles of self-control of our senses and mind. The following shlokas highlight this.
Withdrawing the Senses
Shri Krishna says,
‘Yadã samharate chãyam koormongãneeva sarvashaha, indriyãneendriyãrthebhyastasya pragnã pratishthitã.’
“When a person withdraws the senses from their pleasures, like a turtle withdraws its limbs from all directions, that person is said to have a stable intellect (Gita 2.58).”
The word ‘samharate’ is the key word in this shloka. ‘Samharan’ means to withdraw and ‘kurma’ means a turtle. To withdraw one’s limbs at will is a special trait of a turtle. It is able to withdraw six limbs – four feet, head and tail, all in a short time. Thereafter, it is as though it has built a firm wall between it and the outside world. It has nothing to do with the ongoings outside. It can enjoy a protected life. We will call this ability to withdraw its limbs the ‘turtle tendency’. A sthitapragna person is constantly wed to such a ‘turtle tendency’; he withdraws the senses from worldly pleasures like a turtle withdraws its limbs.
It is common to indulge in what one desires. The entire world is carried away in this way of life. We are controlled by our desires. We indulge in pleasures, and as we do so more and more, the desires become more intense. Consequently, we cannot resist from indulging; we become addicted, and as a result, there is no end to misery. This is the underlying problem.
Self-control is the solution to this problem. Self-control means withdrawing the senses and restraining them from indulging in mundane pleasures; to shun the pleasures, i.e. the ‘turtle tendency’. With the example of a turtle, the Gita teaches us a lesson in self-control, withdrawal and repulsing.
To become self-controlled, two things must be understood – the senses and pleasures. Eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc. are our outer senses; the mind is an internal one. Whenever we do any action – like moving, walking, speaking, seeing, listening – we use our external senses. When we want to think of something, we use our internal sense – the mind.
There are five main types of sensual pleasures – sound, touch, beauty, taste and smell. These five pleasures are experienced with the corresponding sense organ.
Now, let us think of an everyday situation. To look at something is the subject of the eyes. We all see beautiful things, but there are times when we cannot resist from looking at them – our eyes are drawn to them. Sometimes, we cannot resist from looking at things which would cause us harm – this results in periods of distress, turmoil and misery.
Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj often explained this with the following example:
There was once a carpenter. He got a job to cutting wood at the house of a Portuguese officer in Div. Once, while the carpenter was working in the house, the officer was sitting with his wife on the upper floor. His wife was very beautiful. The carpenter saw her once, and his eyes were drawn to her beauty. He could not resist from looking at her. As he cut the wood, he would keep taking a glance. He thought no one was looking, but the officer noticed his behaviour. The officer warned him not to look, but the carpenter’s focus had been drawn and thus he could not resist looking. He kept on glancing. He was warned three times yet he continued to look a fourth time. The officer got angry and poked his eyes out with the carpenter’s chisel. The carpenter was blinded for life.
“What did he gain from looking?” Yogiji Maharaj used to ask, inspiring us to think of the consequences of wilful indulgence.
The same applies to the ears, tongue, skin and nose. The ears are drawn to hear what should not be heard and hear it. The tongue is drawn to taste what should not be eaten and eats it. The skin is drawn to touch what should not be touched and touches it. The nose is drawn to smell what should not be smelt and smells it.
That is why the word ‘sarvashaha’ – ‘from all directions’ – has been used in the above shloka to give greater depth in meaning. It does not tell us to withdraw our senses from just one pleasure, but from all pleasures in all manners.