Control Over Desire
Acharya Tulsi Head of the Terapanth religious organization and the preceptor of the Anuvrat movement in India, is by his very office inclined to b keen on the necessity of maintaining perfect discipline. He has written a book entitled Mononushasamnam ("The Discipline of The mind") which has a special appeal for the modern man whose mind is caught in ceaseless turmoil, Indeed, the psychological problem today has grown terribly complex, as never before. Of course, the mind and the problems created by it have existed since the beginning of time, but of late these problems have become much more acute and intricate. Industrialization and over-urbanization have made man so feverishly busy as to intensify mental disquiet and in equilibrium. Modern age is par excellence an age of multiple communications. News travels fast. It was not so in the previous age. There was little communication then beyond the immediate neighborhood; a relative living in a distant village remained ignorant of what happened to his kin. There has been a remarkable change since. An occurrence in a remote corner of India today becomes immediately known all over the globe. Means of communication have grown so varied and fast that an event gets broadcast to all the world in a matter of minutes. This also constitutes a major cause of mental problems. In fact, modern age furnishes a rich soil for the growth of innumerable psychological complications. No wonder, the phrase, `disciplining the mind' has assumed an extraordinary significance today, arresting the attention of each and Sundry.
The question arises if this disciplining of the mind occurs spontaneously at the very beginning, if the mind is to be approached directly without any preparation, or gradually, in stages, requiring a proper technique to achieve mastery over it. Shivaji kept losing one battle after another. Whenever he undertook an invasion, he was defeated. Once, disguised, he entered the house of an old woman. The old woman extended to her guest a hearty welcome and most hospitably offered him khichri1 (Khichri : a preparation of rice and pulse boiled together.) on a plate. She poured lots of ghee on it. The khichri was hot. Shivaji had not eaten for many days. The aroma of hot food sharpened his appetite all the more and in his extreme impatience to start eating he at once put his hand in the middle of the plate, with the result that his fingers got burnt. He involuntarily drew back his hand without putting a morsel into h is mouth. The old woman smiled and said, "Son! You seem to be as big a fool as Shivaji." At this Shivaji started. " Shivaji a fool!" he murmured to himself. " Why so, mother?", he asked politely, The old woman replied, "Son, don't you see that is what Shivaji is doing all the time-the he invades the enemy's capital where the latter's men and materials are most concentrated. No wonder his attacks are invariably repulsed. Now, if he first sets about conquering the smaller towns on the fringe, his strength and resources will gradually multiply and he could then successfully invade the capital. The eating of the pulse-rice must begin from the periphery and not from the centre where it is too hot."Shivaji thus received an invaluable lesson from an illiterate but experienced old woman.Is not the effort to discipline the mind directly like trying to eat hot khichri from the centre of the plate? Has any man ever been able to vanquish the mind at the very outset? Whoever tried to do so has either failed to grasp it at all or has got terribly confounded in the process? The hot khichri must be allowed to cool before it can be eaten. One must start from the periphery to the centre, not vice-versa.
It occurred to me that Acharya Shri's book could be more appropriately entitled, "Disciplining of Desire"-that is, putting a curb on appetites, restraining of desires. However, the book has been entitled, "The Discipline of the Mind", that is controlling or overpowering the mind. And perhaps rightly so. A palpable fact is immediately grasped' the intangible remains shrouded in mystery. It is the visible edifice (the mind) and not the hidden foundation (desire which movers the mind), which commands recognition in nomenclature. That the mind is ever restless is a patent fact. But why it is restless is not so obvious. In Manonushasanam the whole technique of controlling the mind has been set down. It has six stages:
i) Control over food
ii) Control over the body
iii) Control over the senses
iv) Control over breathing
v) Control over desire
vi) Control over the mind
The `mind' comes last; `control over desire' precedes it. is characteristic of a living being to eat, to have a body, to have sense organs, to breathe, to speak and to think. But in the present machine-dominated age, all these qualities stand rudely shaken. With greater and still greater development in the filed of mechanization, man's innate characteristics seem to have been set at nought. The computer with its artificial intelligence has particularly affected modern life. The computer can do sums and it can also compose verse. Not only does the computer diagnose disease, but it also prescribes medicines. And it does this well than a qualified doctor. To think and reason which is one of the chief human characteristics stands surpassed; the computer thinks better, dictates a more correct decision.
However, `to desire' remains one indisputable characteristic of a living creature. The computer can do many things, but it cannot desire. To desire is a living being's most mysterious and inimitable trait. This is what distinguishes a living creature from the inanimate. The function of the brain is to think. The computer, too is a kind of brain, it is man's creation. But the computer in man-his brain-is nature's creation. Breathing, too, is a physiological process. But one has to go deep to find the origin of desire. Here is a marvel form a different world- the world of the psyche-a door forms an invisible body, which opens into the physical body. A subtle gland generates desire, which, in its turn, is the basis of all action.
The mind is restless through desire. Desire comes from a profoundly subtle world beyond the mind and fills it with perturbation. It grows restless and starts wandering. We want to grasp the mind, but it eludes us all the time. How to grasp it becomes a problem.
An electric fan was on. A peasant came and found the strong current not to his liking. He wanted the blades to stop moving. So he put the stick he was carrying in his hand in between the blades. Seeing that the fan had stopped moving, he drew back the stick and put it beside him on the floor. Immediately the fan restarted. The same strong breeze! He felt confounded and struck the fan with his stick a number of times. The stick gave way and the fan too was damaged. The peasant thought the fan too recalcitrant, to so totally disregard his wishes.
Aren't we all behaving in the same fashion? The he fan of the mind is on. We want to stop it, but know not how to switch it off. We utterly ignore the power, which makes the fan turn. The electric current drives the fan. Push the button and the current is on. Unless the current is witched off, the fan would not stop. The blades do not move on their own. They move because of the current. As long as the current flows, the fan moves. We may say, "The fan is stubborn, that it is skittish; it does not stop." But will that stop it?Our response to the ceaselessly chattering mind is not unlike that of the illiterate peasant. Vainly do we assail the mind? By brute force we would make it stop. It does not oblige. The fan of the mind will stop only when we inactivate the motive force behind it. That motive force is desire. It is the force of desire that makes the mind so restless. The electric charge of desire sends out its waves and the mind is caught in turmoil. Like the electric current, desire itself is invisible. The blades of the fan are visible and one starts quarrelling with the blades. In vain. One may go on like that for 10, 50 or 100 years; it would serve no purpose. The fight ceases only when the function of desire is fully grasped. Where there is desire, confusion inevitably creeps in, passions rage, aberrations and fickleness set in. This fickleness cannot be done away with, nor can we destroy the passions like anger, lust and pride; confusion persists to the last. Unless of course we get hold of the root, which is desire. It is, therefore, extremely necessary to control desire. A naughty child was indulging in mischief. He was indiscriminately throwing about this man's clothes, that man's books and still another man's kerchiefs. Someone said, "Child! Why are you doing all this?" Pat came the answer; "It's my will, who are you, pray, to question me like that."There could not be a more damning reply.
A man sat down in the middle of the road. A wayfarer objected, "Why are you blocking the passage?" He answered, "My sweet will! Who are you to expostulate with me?"
The wife remonstrated with her husband, "You are ill. The doctor has proscribed salt for you. Why do you take it then?" The husband retorted, "What I should take or not take is my own affair. May you and the doctor be damn'd!
My will! My desire! - An irrefutable reply before which all other replies pale into insignificance. And yet man has found that desire has nothing permanent about it; it is conditioned by time and place. One cannot have one's way everywhere and at all times. This naturally led to the necessity of controlling desire. Man reasoned thus:
Whatever desire may arise, whatever impulse originates form within, whatever option offers itself, it cannot be unilaterally of universally imposed. It needs to be controlled, disciplined. A maxim duly evolved: "purify desire!" Desires are basically arbitrary, irregular, If each desire is allowed to have its way, there would be complete chaos, our society being turned into that of aboriginals, dominated by constantly changing whims. All sorts of desires enter the mind. If a man acts upon each and every desire that comes to him, life would become impossible. A desire to rob someone, to appropriate another man's property comes to the fore and the man commits the robbery, forcibly occupies another man's house. If you demand why he is indulging in these anti-social acts, he says, "It's my will. I felt like killing and robbing and I have done it. Who are you to stop me from pursuing my desire?" In a situation like that, the whole edifice of justice crumbles down, causing grave disorder, Hence the evolution of the principle of desire-purification. Desires must be sifted, purified, refined. Only that desire may be acted upon that does not interfere with other people's freedom that does not obstruct or harm others in any way. Without this sifting and purification, no civilized society or culture would be possible.
Even sublimated desires can pose great danger, and society accepts these at its own risk. For example, society acknowledges the right of married couples to unite. This is an outcome of the regulation of man's natural urge. Nevertheless, indiscriminate and excessive sexual indulgence would land a man in the whirlpool of lust, making him a prey to various diseases irreparably destroying his energies; thus rendering him incapable of any action whatsoever.
So, mere purification of desire is not enough and one must go beyond.One must study, as a preparation to knowing oneself, who shall object to that? But if a person reads continuously for 24 hours of the day, he will spoil his eyes and his brain will get perverted.Desire must be sublimated, refined, but that too call for restraint and discipline.
In Ayurved is mentioned a doctrine made of their terms-non-concentration, concentration, and over-concentration. Where there is no concentration, nothing flowers. If a man cannot concentrate at all on his studies, he wills continue to be an ignoramus. Too much concentration is also harmful. If a man reads day and night, his energies would soon be exhausted. He will not be able to accomplish anything, both no concentration at all and over-concentration stultify. But to concentrate is good. Study for 2-4 hours, then rest, and then study and rest again. This is what disciplining of desire means. Concentration means control over sublimated desire, its proper regulation.
An important rule of spiritual training is that desire should be disciplined. The question arises as to how it is to be done. Can desire be forcibly controlled? No. Discipline must arise of itself, spontaneously. Manonushasanam lays down the whole process in detail.Our body houses all the centres of desire and emotion. Every disposition is contained therein. both cruelty and mercy find a place there. With the centre of lust there coexists the centre of virtue.
Likewise centres of unrest and profound peace or salvation. All these centres are present in the body. Only one has to study the entire process to know which button must be pressed to activate a particular centre.
From time immemorial, man has been confronted with the question, "Who Am I?" This important question has been endlessly contemplated upon. Thousands of devotees over a thousand years have repeatedly asked it. Thousands of devotees over a thousand years have repeatedly asked it. Thousands of them have reached the core of their being to resolve it finally. Maharishi Raman provoked it often, endlessly reiterating, "Who am I, Who am I?" Who Am I? I wish to go into it today from an entirely different angle. Do I really have to know who I am? Couldn't I for a moment, completely set aside the question whether I am a soul or God? And is it possible to ask this question, who am I? Purely in relation to the body? Am I an ichha-purush, a person dominated by desire? Am I a prana-purush, a person possessed of preponderant wisdom? I don't have to go far to seek an answer. I don't have to read any book to find that out. I don't have to do anything whatsoever. Let me just observe in what part of the body I usually reside and I shall know who I am. It would be crystal clear by itself.
The body has three parts: (1) the heart upwards, (2) in and around the navel, and (3) the navel downwards. The diligent seeker must locate the center of his consciousness in one of these three parts. He must ask himself. "Does my consciousness abide in the part of the body upward of the navel or downward?" Where his consciousness resides most, the centres thereabout would be more active. If counsciousness moves abosut the navel downwards, the lower centres would be activated. If consciousness stays longer in the sphere upward of the heart, then the centres of that sphere would stand depleted of energy, giving way to lethargy and sleep. I have only to be clear as to where I am. In which of the three parts of the body do I wander most? The moment it is clear, I shall know who I am. If my consciousness roams about the navel, I shall know myself to be an ichha-purush (a person possessed of preponderant desire), for the navel is the seat of the awakening of desire; all the cravings are centred there. It is the seat of attachment and unrest, of lewdness and immorality. Here desires are born Consciousness repeatedly gets stuck here. Consequently, the centre is activated. One desire follows another. There is an overflow, a deluge of cravings, and waves of lewdness incessantly rising, which clearly indicates that I am an ichha-purush. Craving is dominant here innumerable yearnings, more and still more, beyond control. If consciousness is centred in the heart, or in the throat, or on the nose, or on the eyebrows or if it moves about the central part of the forehead and over the head, if it stays there, it shows I am a prana-purush (a person possessed of preponderant vitality) or a prajna-purush (a person possessed of preponderant wisdom). The movement of consciousness from the avel to the nose indicates a prana-purush; and the movement of consciousness from the eye-brow upwards prognosticates a prajna-purush.
When consciousness is active in the upper regions, it would awaken the higher centres and the lower centres would be inactivated. When consciousness is active in the upper sphere, the desire centre would, of itself, work in a disciplined manner. The really important thing is to locate the control centres in one's body.
A woman was driving at a furious speed. A police van accosted her and the policeman said, "It's a crime to drive so fast." The woman cried, "I know. But I am helpless. The controlling device has gone out of hand. I don't even remember where it is located." She flew along and collided with a tree and that was the end of the woman and the car. When the control gets out of order, it foreshadows instant annihilation. The vehicle of life glides smoothly as long as the controlling device and the brakes function normally. When the controlling device breaks down, one finds oneself confronted with danger at every step.
There are innumerable control-centres in the body. The brain is the controller, the regulator of them all. The nervous system and the spinal chord (sushumna) are the control centres. The man who has experienced the movement of consciousness in his sushumna, or in his brain and in various parts of the body, fore and back, right and left, and in the upper regions already stands in possession of a great many secrets. There is one control centre in the upper part of the body, one at the back, one each on the right and the left, one in the middle. It is possible to make our body transparent at these five junctions. The whole of our body constitutes a magnetic field. But it is possible to make it more magnetic at these five points. When it is fully magnetic, clairvoyance is born, There are five kinds of clairvoyance pertaining to the front, to the back to the right to the left, and to the centre, Without understanding the body and its control centres, it is not possible to render it fully magnetic, or to make use of the electricity generated by it.
To exercise control over desires it is necessary to understand the working of the control centres. Desire comes from within. It works with the power of the vital life force. Deprived of that motive power, desire may originate from within, but would become instantly inactive as soon as it comes out. Whatever originates from within, if it gets no leader, without the willing cooperation of the local public, finds he lost in futility, incapable of accomplishing anything. The support of the vital life force is essential.
A writer wrote to an editor, "The stories published in your paper have neither head nor tail. What monstrosities you publish! See, here's a story with a head and a tail." The editor wrote back, "Your story is well-made. It has a head ad also a tail, but it has no life. I am returning the manuscript."Neither head nor tail is of any use, if there is no life. It there is life; the head has a use and the tail too. But the head and feet of a corpse are useless. It is in conjunction with the vital life force that they acquire usefulness. And it is with the power of the vital life force that desire becomes active. We should so concentrate the life force in the control centres as to awaken the centres of the upper regions while putting the desire-centre to sleep with a view to rendering it inactive. Then, desire may arise, but it will soon dissolve. It may arise again, and again it will dissolve. This is the technique of controlling desire. In Manonushasanam, this whole process has been outlined in detail. We may study that book as a first step towards self-knowledge. One may ask, "Why read Manonushasanam at all? We know the author, Acharya Tulsi well. We have complete faith in him. We need not read the book." And yet, we might be living in illusion. When we say we know a particular person, we do not really know him. Perhaps we could know him better through his book.
As long as consciousness is turned outward, we shall not be able to know anyone or recognize anyone-neither another nor ourselves.Only when consciousness is turned inward, knowing one self becomes a distinct possibility. When we know ourselves, it becomes easier to know others. All our problems then stand resolved. Without knowing ourselves, all the criteria that we might evolve are rendered futile.
When we come to know ourselves, we shall have to difficulty whatsoever in knowing others. Then, all approaches shall be valid and our knowledge will be accurate.
To know oneself it is essential to look within. To look within it is necessary to control the mind. To control the mind it is necessary to control desire. So the process of discipline would run as follows:
Control of desire
Control of the mind
leading to insight into oneself
Control over desire automatically leads to control over eating. As desire gradually weakens, control over eating becomes more established. Why does a man indulge in overeating at all? Desire for self-gratification is the principal cause. It is not because of necessity that a man overeats. Let each individual find out for himself how much food he consumes because of necessity, and how much because of desire. Surprisingly, it would be difficult to find one person out of 100 who eats only because of necessity or utility. Most people eat for gratifying the senses. What a man eats far exceeds the demands of the body. With the change of season, the sky is overcast. A cold wind blows. Desire for taking hot halwa (A kind of sweet) arises in the mind. And one eats halwa to one's heat's content. Here, it was simply the weather, which created the desire; the question of utility was thrown into the background, and the question of necessity never arose. Take another instance. Immediately after dinner, one goes to the market. Some delicacy presents itself to the eye and makes the mouth water. One buys it immediately and as long as one roams about in the market, one eats twice or thrice or even four times. Is it because of necessity that one consumes one item of food after another? Or is it because of sheer sensual craving? It is scarcely because of necessity. If a man eats only out of necessity, many problems would never arise. If a man eats only when he must, he lives longer, keeps free from disease and lives in great joy.
The process of discipline has its own order :
Control over desire
Control over eating
Control over the body
Control over the senses
Control over breathing
Control over speech
Control over the mind
We shall follow this order in our exposition of Manonushasanam It will be seen that we are not taking up first the control of the mind. For, we must start with the seed. The seed is desire. Later, we shall consider the branch, the leaves and the flowers. Only towards the end we shall come to the fruit. Let our enquiry proceed in this order and may our understanding ripen gradually.