The Power of the Senses

From the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati

The senses or indriyas are desires and have two states, static and dynamic. When the desire begins to operate, the indriyas are put in motion. This is the dynamic state. As soon as the desire is gratified, the indriyas contract through tripti, satisfaction, and remain in the static or passive state.

The senses and the mind

The mind and the indriyas are one. They are an extension of the mind. The sea is fed by the rivers and cannot exist without the rivers. In the same way, the mind is fed by the indriyas and cannot exist without them. If you have controlled the indriyas, you have controlled the mind, because indriya is just another name for mind.

The mind is a mass of senses. It is a higher power than the senses. The mind is a consolidated indriya and the indriya is the mind in manifestation. Just as a minister obeys the king, so the five jnanendriyas, organs of knowledge, act in accordance with the dictates of the mind. The senses represent backwaters. The desire in the mind to eat has manifested as tongue, teeth and stomach. The desire in the mind to walk has manifested itself as legs and feet. If you can control the mind, you can control the indriyas. The eyes can only see. The ears can only hear. The tongue can only taste. The skin can only touch. The nose can only smell. However, the mind can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. The mind is the common sensory, because it can directly see, hear, smell, taste and feel independent of the senses. The mind is an aggregate of the five senses as all the sense faculties are blended in the mind. By yogic practices you can see and hear directly through the mind, which is called clairvoyance and clairaudience.

This blows out the Western psychological theory of perception. In the Bhagavad Gita (15:7), the mind is termed the sixth sense, manah shashthanindri yani. The five senses are the five jnanendriyas, organs of knowledge, sensation or perception. The mind is the substratum of the experiences of all other organs. The senses cannot do anything if the mind is not connected with them. When you are wholly absorbed in the study of an interesting newspaper, you do not hear when your friend loudly calls you, or you are not aware that the clock has struck five. It is everybody's daily experience. The mind was away at that time and not connected with the sense of hearing. The eyes may be wide open during sleep, but they do not see anything, because the mind is not there.

The indriyas cannot do any independent work without the direct help senses the mind. Sufficient practice for a long time is necessary to control them. Then the senses become thin and are starved to death.

Sister indriyas

The nose and anus are sister indriyas. They are born of the same prithvi tanmatra, the earth element, the nose from the sattwic amsa or portion, and the anus from the rajasic portion. These two indriyas are the least mischievous. The olfactory sense and nerve do not trouble you much and can be controlled very easily.

The tongue and genitals are born of jala tanmatra, the water element, the former from the sattwic portion and the latter from the rajasic portion. Eating actually strengthens the reproductive indriya.

The eyes and feet are born of agni tanmatra, the fire element, the eyes from the sattwic portion, the feet from the rajasic portion. The eyes like to see sights. Her sisters, the feet, say, "We are ready to take you to the fair."

The skin and hands are born of vayu tanmatra, the air element, the skin from the sattwic and the hands from the rajasic portion. The skin says, "I want silk and other smooth articles for my enjoyment." Her sisters, the hands, say, "I can feel through my tactile corpuscles. I shall get for you fine soft silk."

Speech and the ears are born of the akasha tanmatra, the ether element, the ear from the sattwic portion and speech from the rajasic portion. They help each other.

Tongue and eyes

The most mischievous and troublesome indriya is the generative organ, followed by the tongue, speech, ears and eyes. Control of the organ of taste is far more difficult than control of the genitals, because you have been enjoying delicious articles of food from your very birth. Passion manifests itself just before the age of eighteen. You indulge in sexual pleasure only for a short period in every birth. However, you have to take food even in advanced senility. Control of the tongue means control of all the senses.

Music, cinema or sight-seeing are enjoyed in human births only. Ants and rats do not enjoy movies in the cinema. The indriya of sight is not as powerful as the tongue. The organ of sight serves as a loving comrade to the organ of taste. The mind is at once tickled at the sight of the yellow colour of a mango. The eyes see a beautiful mango and the different dishes that are served on the table. At once, the saliva and digestive juices are secreted improving the appetite. With the appetite stimulated, the food is rendered more palatable. The desire for food is aroused first by aroma and then the sight of it. Therefore, a person with sharp sight may relish his food more than a blind person.

Control of the senses

Observe mouna for a couple of hours daily at any time that suits you. Try to speak little at other times and avoid unnecessary conversations. Don't speak harsh words and obscene language, but talk sweetly and gently. You must develop perfect control over speech. Control over speech means control of the mind. The organ of speech, vak indriya, is a great distracter of the mind. Mouna gives peace and removes anxieties and quarrels. It develops willpower and conserves energy.

The three organs of eyes, ears and tongue externalise the mind and make you altogether worldly. The eyes and ears are the avenues of sense knowledge, vritti jnana. Close the eyes, shut the ears with balls of cotton or with the two thumbs, making shanmukhi mudra, and you have destroyed two-fifths of the world.

The object of sadhana is to internalise the mind by introspection, antar mukha vritti, and to realize the truth within. If you control the three organs of eyes, ears and tongue, then you can discipline the mind and prevent the mental energy from flowing externally. These organs are the main cause of making the mind restless.

Six ways to control the senses

There are six ways of controlling the indriyas: (i) through vichara, enquiry, (ii) by willpower, (iii) by kumbhaka, retention of breath in pranayama, (iv) by dama, restraint, (v) by pratyahara, abstention or sense withdrawal, and (vi) by vairagya and tyaga, dispassion and renunciation.

>Vichara: Aspirants can control the mind, the senses and dispel the darkness of ignorance through meditation and vichara, enquiry. They should cultivate indifference towards happiness and misery, love and hatred and all sorts of pairs of opposites. Such mental equanimity can be acquired by self-enquiry, study of sacred scriptures and satsang. There is no vasana or desire in Brahman. The desire is in the mind. If you practice vichara, all desires will dwindle into nothing.

Willpower: Through iron determination, strong willpower, patience and perseverance, you can conquer all obstacles quite easily. Determination and self-reliance are necessary for success.

Kumbhaka: Kumbhaka increases the period of life. It augments the inner spiritual force, vigour and vitality. Prana gives strength to the senses. When you withdraw the prana and try to centralize it, the senses have no vigour to run outside. By gradual practice, the senses will be absorbed in the mind.

Dama: Sense control or dama blunts the senses. Perfect control of the senses, however, is not possible through dama alone. If the senses are very sharp and acute, they carry away impetuously the minds of even good sadhakas, "just as the gale carries away the ship in stormy weather" (Bhagavad Gita, 2:67).

Dama is a rational control of the senses and not deadening the senses by foolish austerities. The body is the moving temple of God. It should be kept healthy and strong. Many silly aspirants amputate the organ of reproduction or swallow tons of nux vomica to kill this organ. They think that passion can be eradicated completely by such a procedure. Lust is in the mind and if the mind is subdued, what can the external organ do? It is only the abuse and misuse of the organs that brings misery and untoward results. What is wanted is judicious control of the senses. They should not be allowed to run riot into sensual grooves. If the senses are disciplined properly, they become useful servants.

Pratyahara: The effect of dama, restraint of the senses, is pratyahara. When the indriyas give up objects, they are drawn into the mind. This is termed pratyahara or abstraction. When the mind is disconnected from the senses, mental abstraction takes place. If you can do pratyahara at will, consciously attaching and detaching the mind to and from the senses, you have gained really great control over the mind. Pratyahara is the stepping-stone to inner spiritual life. If pratyahara is perfected, all the organs are under perfect control.

Tyaga and vairagya: Happiness comes through calmness of mind and senses. When you give up objects, all desires will melt away. When there is a true spirit of tyaga, renunciation, there can never be any idea of old impressions or past relations with your mundane existence.

Vairagya is non-attachment or indifference to sensual objects. It thins out the fatty sensual mind and turns the mind inward, putting a break to the extrovert tendency of the mind. Vairagya is the most important qualification for a spiritual aspirant.

Control of thought

If you have the reins of the horses under control, you can have a safe journey. The indriyas are the horses and they cannot do anything without the help of the mind, their master and commander. The mind is at the bottom of the senses and a tumultuous internal fight goes on between the five organs of knowledge, each trying to have a lion's share of the enjoyment. With viveka, the power of discrimination, the senses cannot tempt and deceive you.

Control of the senses means control of the mind and ensures perfect safety and supreme peace. Control of one's thoughts leads to control of the mind and senses and to the attainment of infinite bliss and eternal life.