The battlefield within a person
The Srimad Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna and Bhagavan Krishna. Arjuna was not only in a dilemma, but he was also under severe stress because he was unsure of what he was supposed to do. He found it difficult to decide what was righteous and what was not. This uncertainty led his mind to his being deluded which in turn made him consider giving up and walking away. He was also ready to stand unarmed and get killed by the Kauravas – SBG 1:46 “It would be better for me if the sons of Drtaraashtra killed me with weapons while I stood unarmed and not resisting.”
Towards the end of his conversation with Bhagavan Krishna, it becomes clear to Arjuna that all the problems he faced, existed only in his mind and that the ways to be victorious in the battle between the negative forces and positive virtues within him, were to have absolute faith, to master his own mind and to change his way of thinking.
What are thoughts, how do they work and how do they cause a person to act?
Understanding what thoughts are, helps in knowing how they work. Thoughts are basically mental images that continuously run through the mind. Every thought consists of two parts. One is the subject and the other, the object. The object is what or who one thinks of and the subject is invariably the false ‘I’ or the false ego which veils the real ‘I’, the ‘Self’ or the consciousness of a person. This false ego is based on the identification of the ‘Self’ with the body along with its attributes such as strength, beauty, general appearance and so on. The topic of understanding the ‘Self’ in a person is dealt with in detail in the Bhagavad Gita. The real ‘I’ or the ‘Self’ in a person, is neither the body, the mind, nor the intellect, but it is that which a person cannot exist without. It is the Divine energy known as life that exists in all living beings, which on departing, leaves behind a dead being. A person can exist without limbs and many other organs but not without the ‘Self’ or life. The ‘Self’ is distinct from the body and the senses. However, the subject of the thought which is the false ego, sees itself at the centre of all its thoughts. A desire is a thought in which the false ego visualises the person to be receiving some kind of gratification or benefit while the ‘Self’ does nothing.
SBG 5:14 “The Self which is the master of the body creates neither activities nor the fruit of actions. All the actions are performed by the Gunas or the three modes of material nature.”
SBG 13:31 “Being without a beginning and being devoid of any qualities, the Supreme Self, imperishable, though dwelling in the body, O Arjuna, neither acts nor is tainted. When one stops seeing all living entities as separate identities and when he sees them as situated in one, he attains the Absolute.”
Let us now take the example of a person who is seated on a chair and is reading a book. This simple example should further help in distinguishing the real Self from the body and the senses. The person’s body is seated on the chair and the hands hold the book. The person’s head is pointed towards the book and the eyes look at the book. The lens in the eyes of the person, focus and refract onto the retina the light reflected from the page of the book. The optic nerve communicates the signals to the brain which processes the data based on the existing cognitive skills and the memory bank of the person. Finally, mental images of what the words in the book describe, are created and projected in the mind of that person. It is evident from this example that the ‘Self’ in the person is not doing anything at all, except for being an observer of this entire action of sitting, reading and understanding.
The actual ‘doers’ are the three Gunas which influence the thoughts of a person.
SBG 3:27 “All actions are done by the three qualities (Gunas) of nature. But he, whose mind is deluded by false ego and arrogance, thinks ‘I am the doer.”
SBG 5:08 “A person of selfless action thinks, “I am not doing anything at all”, even while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, dreaming, breathing,”
SBG 5:09 “talking, giving up, accepting, opening, closing of the eyelids, believing that the senses rest in sense objects.”
Devotion and meditation help people in freeing themselves from the clutches of the Gunas which cause the cycles of births and deaths.
Mind management and acting on thoughts.
How can we control thoughts which are so difficult to manage?
There are thousands of thoughts that cross our minds every day. We are conscious of each and every one of them because no thought can ever pass through our mind without our knowledge. When thoughts cross our mind, we choose which one to act upon and which one not to. We certainly don’t act on all the thoughts that run through the mind, but we choose only some of them that somehow interest us. Acting on a thought is the process of taking the necessary steps in order to realise the mental image that was visualised earlier in the mind. The thought could be of acquiring something or someone, because we like or love the object, or it could be of destroying something or someone due to our dislike or hate towards that object. Liking, loving, disliking and hating, stem from the senses of a person. They are merely emotions which when left uncontrolled, can even go against the interests of the person. Such thoughts are also the greatest hindrance in their path of spirituality.
SBG 3:34 “Both, attachment and repulsion for sense objects rest in the senses. One should not come under their control because they are obstacles in one’s path towards self-realisation.”
Thoughts are very powerful and their intensity is influenced by the way one perceives an object. A particular object may be liked by someone but not wanted by someone else. That is the way the business of trading works. The seller strives to get rid of an object for a price to a buyer who pays the price for that very same object, because he or she so badly wants it. The object remains the same, but the way one perceives it is different. One wants it while the other wants to get rid of it.
Mental turmoil is usually caused by improper prioritising of objects in the mind. A particular situation which is looked at from a different point of view, completely alters the mind of a person although the situation does not change at all. Let us consider a situation where a man rushes out to the street because someone told him that his car was on fire. He is under severe stress as he dreads the loss of his car which had cost him a fortune. But when he nears the car, he realises that the car is not his and he calms down immediately. The situation and the object are the same but the way he perceived them changed and hence the state of his mind changed too. The lack of attachment or mental connection towards the car calmed him down almost instantaneously. He did not have any sense of ownership of the car and therefore was not bound by emotion. The manner in which one perceives an object determines the subsequent emotion of liking or disliking the object.
Everyone has the ability to hold a thought, entertain it, act upon it or replace it with some other thought. This power of discrimination rests entirely with an individual but many don’t realise this great truth. The one, who has learned to control the mind, has mastered the art of Mind Management which is the main teaching in the Bhagavad Gita. Mastering this art means being good at harnessing the unimaginable power of one’s own mind and protecting oneself from any possibility of becoming its puppet or slave.
When a thought of acquiring someone or something enters the mind of a person, it starts growing in strength and finally fills the mind completely. If the person does not attend to the thought or does not take the right step to manage it, he or she becomes a slave of that thought which hijacks their ability of discernment after which the person is no longer governed by reason. The thought projects an illusory image of an attractive and pleasant situation in the mind of the person who is the subject. The object of desire does not cause the illusion. But it is the thought which is influenced by the Gunas and is based on the person’s perception of that object, that creates this illusion and enslaves the weakened mind. What began as a desire becomes an obsession which eventually damages the intellect of the person.
SBG 2:62 “A person who thinks of sense objects develops an attachment for them. From this attachment desires are born and from desires, anger is born.”
SBG 2:63 “Anger gives birth to delusion and this delusion results in confusion of memory. When memory is confused, intelligence is destroyed and from the destruction of intelligence, the person perishes.”
When a lustful desire is satisfied, greed for more pleasure is produced and when it is not satisfied, anger is born. Anger that is born out of one’s failure in satisfying a lustful desire usually turns violent. An uncontrolled mind taken over by a desire which has grown into an obsession can force a person to commit sin and other heinous crimes. When Arjuna asks Bhagavan Krishna to tell him what exactly makes a person commit sin, Shri Bhagavan said: (SBG 3:37) “Lust and anger are born out of the quality called Rajas Guna which is the mode of passion. This is all-devouring and greatly sinful. You must know that this is the greatest enemy in the material world.”
Civilised conduct and respecting social norms differentiate human and animal behaviour. Humans are the beings that are endowed with the Sattvik and Rajas Gunas apart from the Tamas Guna that exists in all living beings. When children are born, their families and the society they live in, teach them social rules that have been developed by humans over a large period of time. This enables them to develop their social skills which are aimed at making the child a civilised person fit to live in a society consisting of males and females. People who develop their natural power of discrimination, do not find overpowering and managing thoughts to be very difficult. All kinds of emotions such as love, hate, joy, pain, sorrow, anger and guilt originate in the mind and a mind that is well under control, makes the person suitable and useful to the society. In order to control the mind, purifying it is absolutely essential. The study of spirituality is the journey towards achieving mind purification.
Desire, Passion and lust.
What is it that causes a person to sin?
SBG 3:40 “The senses, the mind and the intelligence are called the seats of lust. They cover the power of discrimination and knowledge and delude the embodied being.”
Behind every action that is consciously done by a person, there is an engine called desire. Whatever action people do is aimed at attaining happiness or some kind of a benefit. Even in the case of a person who committed suicide, there was a desire to die. It is the desire to live that drives a person to work and to be social and friendly with others. Desire exists in the senses, in the mind and in the intellect of a person and they are thoughts that flow continuously through the mind. Desires usually arise due to the following:
- Attraction based on the senses. (Wanting to enjoy eating delicious foods, owning material possessions and satisfying the compelling need to have people under their control)
- Emotional or physical incompleteness (Hunger, the feeling of inferiority, etc.)
- Thirst for knowledge (Being curious to know things, hunger for mastering various sciences, etc.)
When there are no thoughts in the mind, there are no actions. Therefore, when a person is asleep, there is no action simply because there are no thoughts. All actions have their roots in thoughts.
Actions may be broadly categorised as:
- Karma – prescribed duties
- Vikarma – actions which are prohibited
- Akarma – Actionlessness, inaction or action done as a sacrifice in devotion
Desires are powerful enough to delude the minds of even highly experienced, intelligent and erudite people. We have seen earlier that it would be an erroneous assumption to make that objects create desire. They don’t and they can’t. They create a fantasy in the mind that acquiring the desired object can give them happiness. This is nothing but delusional thinking because instead of looking for bliss within themselves, they try to find it in an external source which will only lead to dependence on that object and also to pain in the event of losing that source.
Two terms which are often misunderstood and confused with each other, are passion and lust. When one has an object of passion which is a person or a thing, it means that the person is enthusiastic about it. There is love for the object of passion. Whereas having lust for someone or something, always has a negative connotation. The feeling of lust is not comparable with the passionate feeling one may have towards their spouse or towards a lover because of the lack of the element of love in lust. Lust is purely based on seeking pleasure. A person, who experiences lust for someone, sees the other person merely as an object and source of pleasure but not as a sentient being with an individual personality. There is no love or respect in lust because it is purely selfish. The lusting person aims at satisfying the senses and ego in them by acquiring, owning and enjoying the object that they lust for. On the other hand, the passion that one has for his or her spouse, lover, work, hobby, etc., is founded on deep love. There are passionate leaders, teachers, workers, lovers, parents, siblings and so forth that have love and selflessness in their passion. A passionate teacher, for example, strives hard in order to help pupils excel in their studies. A passionate parent with pure and selfless love for their children makes tremendous sacrifices in life in order to build a bright future for them. But the lust that a person has for someone or also for something such as power or position in the society is not based on love but on their drive to achieve the fulfilment of a desire and to gain pleasure out of it. When there is lust, there is no love and when there is no love, there is no truth. Lust clouds the intellect of people and leads them to behave in an inappropriate manner and commit acts that go against the norms of the society and the law of the land they live in.
SBG 3.37: “The Supreme Lord said: It is lust alone, which is born of contact with the mode of passion, and later transformed into anger. Know this as the sinful and all-devouring enemy in the world.”
But for good upbringing; and moral, ethical, social and legal restraints; there would be no respectable family traditions at all. Moral values are absolutely essential for a society to exist, grow and flourish. In order to preserve moral values, it is essential to protect family traditions. One of the reasons that troubled Arjuna’s mind before the start of the great Mahabharata war was the possibility of menfolk dying in large numbers that would result in the destruction of their families.
SBG 1:40 “With the destruction of the family, family traditions are lost and when the traditions are lost, the whole family engages in unrighteous acts.”
SBG 1:41 “When unrighteousness becomes predominant O Krishna, the women of the family become defiled and when the women are defiled, unwanted offspring are born.”
SBG 1:42 “Such unwanted population create hell for everyone and they destroy family traditions. Ancestors of people from such fallen families are deprived of offerings made to departed souls.”
SBG 1:43 “From the sins committed by destroyers of family values and traditions, family and community are destroyed.”
Therefore entertaining the feeling of lust for someone signifies the lack of respect for that person as an individual as well as treating him or her as purely an object of gratification. Harbouring lust for power, wealth or for any other object, affects the one’s power of reasoning thereby pushing the person towards Adharma which only causes the person to collect more negative Karma.
SBG 6:24 “Yoga has to be practised after having completely renounced all desires born of fancy and by controlling the senses by the mind alone.”
SBG 6:25 “One should withdraw little by little, establishing the mind in the Self through intellect regulated by concentration. He should not think of anything else.“
SBG “6:26 Wherever and whenever the mind wanders restlessly because of its unsteady quality, it should be restrained and brought back under the control of the Self.”
SBG 6:27 “The Yogi whose Rajas or passion is pacified, has a tranquil mind, is sinless and is identified with the Supreme Brahman, attains the highest level of happiness.”
Overcoming lust is the first part of the process of mind purification which is the most important prerequisite in the journey towards attaining the Highest Goal. True bliss and happiness are not outside of a person in objects of desire, but they exist within oneself. It is absolutely essential to fight and win the true battle within oneself between the negative thoughts and positive virtues by destroying lust and desire. Lust is simply not worth the huge risk of destroying one’s honour and social standing that it brings along with it. True love for Bhagavan Krishna and an extremely close relationship with Him protect devotees from illusions created by the mind.
SBG 15:05 “Free from pride and delusion, victorious over the evil of attachment, dwelling constantly in the Self, their desires having completely turned away, freed from the pairs of opposites known as pleasure and pain, they will certainly reach the eternal goal.
18:58 Mentally renouncing all actions in Me, having Me as the highest goal and devoting yourself intensely to Me, you are under My protection. Resort to spiritual intelligence and have your mind always fixed on Me.
The one whose mind becomes pure; evolves spiritually; gives up all objects of desire; is free from pain and sorrow, and moves towards the Supreme Goal of becoming one with the WHOLE.
Jai Shri Krishna