The Agitativeness of the Senses
Shri Krishna clarifies this matter further with the words, ‘Yatato hyapi Kaunteya purushasya vipashchitaha, indriyãni pramãtheeni haranti prasabham manaha.’ – ‘O Son of Kunti (Arjuna)! The senses, which have a tendency to disturb, forcefully capture the minds of even the intelligent who try to repel them (Gita 2.60).’
The strength of the senses can be understood from this. Let us take a more detailed look at the words, ‘yatato hyapi’, ‘vipashchitaha’ and ‘prasabham’. ‘Yatato hyapi’ means even of those who are trying. ‘Vipashchitaha’ means even the intelligent. ‘Prasabham’ means forcibly.
How many people try to turn back from a life of indulgence? Of those, how many endeavour intelligently and sincerely with an understanding of the characteristics of the senses and pleasures? The world is filled with people who ignorantly remain engulfed in indulgences, but such ordinary people are not used as an example here. Here, the example is of those who try to change their lives for the better, those who are intelligent, those who know the characteristics of the mind, senses and pleasures. The senses forcefully draw even such people who try with a sincere knowledgeable effort. The senses forcibly make them sin. They do not want to do anything wrong, but, subject to the senses, they end up doing wrong. This is the strength of the senses.
Now, if the senses are able to forcefully draw even a knowledgeable person putting in a sincere effort towards indulgence, then what can be said of those who have no intention of turning away from pleasures at all? To believe that one can win the battle by freely indulging in pleasures is childish ignorance. It is suicidal self-confidence. In today’s intellectual era, seized by a life of indulgence, many thinkers say, “The principle of self-control has peculiar effects on the mind. By starving the mind, it becomes more attached to pleasures. Thus, instead of adopting self-control one should indulge in pleasures and keep the mind at rest. There is no need to refrain but to awake.” But this is false. Such thoughts will never fall in accordance with shastras like the Gita. Such thoughts would amount to something like mounting a chariot that has strong young wild horses joined to it, and letting go of the leash to welcome death head-on. Thus, such distorted thoughts are the by-product of an intellect which is wed to desires and the body. The Gita forewarns us so that our intellect is not smeared with such distortion.
After describing the strength of the senses, it then explains the strength of pleasures.
Pleasures Depart but the Desires Remain
Shri Krishna says,
‘Vishayã vinivartante nirãhãrasya dehinaha, rasavarjam raso’pyasya param drushtvã nivartate.’
‘Those who do not partake in pleasures via the senses are only relieved of those pleasures, but not of the desires for those pleasures. One is only relieved of the desires for pleasures when one realizes Paramãtmã (Gita 2.59).’
‘Nirãhãra’ means to not partake in food. Normally this word is associated with not eating, but Shri Krishna uses it here in a much broader sense. ‘Nirãhãra’ does not just mean to refrain from eating, but from the ‘food’ (objects) of all the senses – the eyes, ears, tongue and nose also. In other words, to refrain from pleasures is ‘nirãhãra’.
‘Rasa’ means desire or affection. It is possible to become ‘nirãhãra’, i.e. to physically refrain from pleasures, but still harbour the desire for those pleasures.
Let us take an example of a fast. On the day of a fast, we refrain from taking food – we are ‘nirãhãri’, but we all experience that we think of food more on such days. This is indeed the
very speciality of pleasures. When we physically refrain from partaking pleasures, they stay afar, but they leave behind desires for them. The pleasures go, but they do not take the desires for them with them. Therefore, even after having physically forsaken them, there still remains a mental desire to indulge in pleasures.
This can be seen in birds and animals too. If a dog or crow comes to eat some cooked food, we deter it with a stick or stone. It is not able to eat the food, but it cannot stop thinking about it. That is why it comes back a short while later. The thing that makes one think about pleasures is called desire. If a bullock is tied up all day and not given any food, it does not eat any forage, but it still continues to think of it. A bullock can be separated from forage physically, but it cannot be separated from the desire for it. Bhagwan Swaminarayan calls this ‘dhoralãnghana’, i.e. merely fasting physically (Vachanmrut, Gadhada II 8). With regards to desires for sensual pleasures, man is no better than animals. This is the essence of the word ‘rasavarjam’.
Thus, Shri Krishna gestures to us to make refrainment more stable by detachment, i.e. make refraining from pleasures more stable by shedding desires.
The above precepts inform us of the characteristics of the senses and mundane sensual pleasures.