Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 8, Verse 03
tadaa bandho yadaa chittam
saktam kaashvapi drishtishu
tadaa moksho yadaa chittamasaktam sarvadrishtishu
When the mind is drawn to any sense experience, then it is bondage. When it is disinterested in all sense experiences, then it is liberation.
The Nature of Sense Experience
In the previous two verses liberation and bondage are explained in reference to the mind and its modifications. Here they are explained in reference to one’s perceptions and attachment to sensory experiences. The senses are the only means by which we perceive the world and learn about it. Our scriptures identify 15 senses. They are the five organs of functions, five gross and five subtle senses. All are important for our survival and success. Much of our knowledge and wisdom arises from them. It is difficult to imagine a life without them.
The same senses which play an important role in our lives and which in many ways extend our reach and influence in the physical world are viewed rather negatively in the spiritual world. They are considered a major source of ignorance, delusion, bondage and suffering. Why is it so? It is because they can only show us the surface world. They also prevent us from knowing the deeper truth of who we are or our true nature. They draw us into the world and think more and more of it and become more involved with it, whereby we develop desires, likes and dislikes, opinions, rigid thinking, preferences, priorities, beliefs, prejudices, attachments, and so on.
The senses all interfere with our thinking and knowing. As we repeatedly interact with the world, we learn to stick to the pleasant aspects of it and avoid the unpleasant ones. We are attracted to some and are repulsed by some. While it increases our chances of finding happiness and fulfillment in the world, it also leads to suffering and ignorance, as we engage in desire-ridden actions and refuse to see the world with enough clarity and objectivity. Due to their influence, we also acquire many habits, and rigid ways of thinking and behavior which interfere with our ability to use discretion and make right choices.
From a worldly perspective, attraction and aversion to the dualities of life are natural responses. You cannot be human and not respond or react to what happens to you or what you experience through your senses. The world evokes a diverse range of thoughts and emotions in you according to your natural disposition, desires and expectations. Through them, you learn many truths about life and experience the feeling that you are alive and active. As a human being you are expected to make choices and live your life according to the knowledge you gain from your perceptions and experiences.
However, in spiritual life, you learn a different truth. You realize that while the senses are helpful in the objective realm, they are also a true hindrance to know the truth of the world and the truth of yourself in the subjective realm. If you want to look beyond the surface reality and see the essence of things or what is hidden in them as their essential reality, they are not very helpful. By keeping you outbound and involved with the objects of the world and creating ripples in your consciousness, they also do not let you know who you truly are or your oneness with the rest of creation. The notion of separation or being different and distinct never goes away when you are involved with the senses and drawn out by them.
Therefore, when you start practicing yoga, the first thing which you learn is how to restrain your mind and senses and withdraw from your surface consciousness, so that you can see things differently from the silence of your mind, free from desires and attachments, from likes and dislikes and the modifications of the mind. If you truly want to know your true-self, you have to step out of the sensory world and the commotion and confusion they create in your mind, which prevent you from seeing things with clarity and objectivity. You have to learn to see things from inside out with the purity of yourself rather than with the commotion of your mind and senses.
The senses are messengers of truth, only when you are pure and wise and see things as they are without the influence of your ego and desire-ridden judgment. Only a few can do it. In the most ordinary circumstances, they are but instruments of maya which veils the truth of things with ignorance and delusion and produces suffering and sinful karma. Therefore, yogis who seek liberation, use their senses with discretion and caution. They restrain their movements and practice detachment and renunciation. Mentally and physically keeping a safe distance from the world as if it is a fire which can burn the soul, they refuse to be drawn out into the world or become involved with it. They also remain indifferent to all kinds of sensory experiences, whether they are positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, remain content within themselves.
A good test to know how far you have progressed on the path of liberation is to know how effectively you can restrain your mind and senses and how quickly you can withdraw them in your meditative practice. If you are frequently disturbed by your perceptions or cannot resist them, it means that you still have a long way to go. In today’s world, it is difficult to ignore your sensory experiences as you are constantly flooded with a sea of images which are designed to hold your attention and influence your thinking, behavior and choices. They keep coming to you, even when you are withdrawn from the world and remain aloof.
You cannot overcome the problem by merely shutting them down or escaping from the world, since they are inseparable from your mind and body, and it is physically impossible to remain on guard all the time. You can do so only by cultivating resolute will and remaining steadfast in practicing detachment and renunciation. The senses cannot permanently be shutdown but they can be rendered ineffective through detachment, indifference, sameness and dispassion. If you let your perceptions arise and subside on their own, without actively pursuing them or becoming involved with them, you will not be easily disturbed by them.
Withdraw into yourself and become a witness to the drama which unfolds in you and around you, with stoical indifference, knowing that it is the nature of the senses to be outbound and dwell upon things, and they arise and subside in the field of nature (mind and body) rather than in you. The self is independent and self-knowing. It does not depend upon any external source for its existence or knowledge. Therefore, to let the pure knowledge of the self manifest, you have to give up the knowledge of the senses and withdraw from them.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- Essays On Dharma
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- Hindu Festivals
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- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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