Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: On Controlling Desires

The last of the verses in Karma Yoga talks about how difficult it is to control desires unless you make conscious effort.

indriyani mano buddhir, asyadhisthanam ucyate
etair vimohayaty esa,jnanam avrtya dehinam

1) Only when I see, taste, feel or experience something, I know how enjoyable it is and they become the objects of my desire. It is safe to say, that my desires creep in through my sense organs. My mind enjoys the perceived sensations and my intellect remembers the joy from the desires met and tempts me to relive them over and over again.

2) The vicious cycle of Avidhya- Kama- Karma works infinitely. When I do not make any effort to overcome my ignorance (Avidhya), I will have no control over my desires (Kama) and will be encouraged to get involved in actions (Karma) that will satisfy my ego.

3) My ego veils my sense of judgement and prevents me to differentiate the right from the wrong, and therefore I always choose an action that satisfies my desires, boosts my ego and betrays my judgement.

tasmat tvam indriyany adau, niyamya bharatarsabha
papmanam prajahi hy enam, jnana-vijnana-nasanam

4) I realize that  my mind and intellect get involved in the desires when my sense organs send the signals to them from the objects around me.  If I don’t want to let my mind and intellect be involved I have to stop picking signals from tempting actions, thoughts and objects with my sense organs.

indriyani parany ahur, indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir, yo buddheh paratas tu sah

5) I know that I do not have ultimate control over my intellect, mind, senses and body, today. It will take me years of meditative practice, hours of introspection, conscious attempts at correcting my deviations from the ideal path and living by the values in the scriptures instead of just attempting to understand it.

6) It helps to know how much work is involved to be able to control desires. It gives me a reason, a purpose, a direction, a path I have to take, to a goal that I can achieve.

7) Being an extrovert (the entire world will vouch that I am one) is not one of the qualities of a spiritual seeker. If my goal is to be more introspective, I cannot be at the periphery of my personality, interacting with the external world and being unavailable for myself. Brahmacharini Vishakaji says,’Extroverts seldom have space inside of themselves. They seldom turn within, to find themselves’. That gave me something to reflect about.

evam buddheh param buddhva, samstabhyatmanam-atmana
jahi shatrum maha-baho , kama-rupam durasadam

8) The lessons from Karma Yoga, encourages me to be mindful and alert about every action I take. I realize that it is easier to think, say and do mindlessly and it takes incredible effort to be mindful. It comes with practice. By learning to be mindful and alert, I hope to exercise control over my desires and temptation to deviate from what is right action.

9) When I fail in my attempt to control my desires, and mindlessly allow my ego to drive my actions to fulfill my desires, I know how far I am from realizing the divinity within me, how far I am from letting go of my ego.

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Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: On Desire and Anger

This week the four verses we discussed, revolved around the emotions of desire and anger. Through the dialogue that Arujna and Lord Krishna engaged in, my learning for this week is thus.

arjuna uvaca 
atha kena prayukto ‘yam, papam carati purusah 
anicchann api varsneya, balad iva niyojitah

1) I reckon that there is a force, (call it my bad Shoulder Angel) within me, that makes me act, speak or behave in a way that may not be the ideal or right way. I have no control over it, even if I do realize that I am wrong.

2) The only way I can measure how far I have deviated from the ideal is by introspection. A Seeker, will measure himself against the ideal man as portrayed in the Gita, to take stock of how far he has deviated or how much he has to work towards changing his ways to be anywhere close to the ideal man.

3) If I question my motives, actions and words, introspect and measure myself against the teachings, it will help me stay humble and grounded. I have to make a conscious effort not to allow my ‘satvik ego’ ( I do not become pure and holy because I attend Gita Satsang every week) interfere in the way I deal with situations, people and work I do.

sri-bhagavan uvaca 
kama esah krodha esah, rajo-guna-samudbhavah 
mahasano maha-papma, viddhy enam iha vairinam

4) When I am spiritually ignorant, my mind is pre occupied with endless desires for material things, for attention, for validation, for love, for importance. When I am unable to fulfill my desire, it turns to anger. I look for ways to express my anger. I have come to appreciate that desire and anger are two sides of the same coin.

5) This desire-anger emotion is a hindrance to my intellect and does not allow me to introspect or reflect if I have chosen to do the right thing. This further tempts me to invariably compromise on my values and make irrational decisions.

6) I know now that I should not look outside of me for help to overcome my desire- anger emotion. Introspecting and awakening my senses to spiritual ideologies maybe the answer.

dhumenavriyate vahnir, yathadarso malena ca
yatholbenavrto garbhas, tatha tenedamavrtam

7) My desires veil my intellect and interfere with my wisdom, my rational capacity and my ability to control my anger.

8) Even my satvik pursuits is a form of desire- Desire to understand the teachings from the scriptures, desire to be attached to a guru. If I don’t watch out, I will soon find myself preaching the lessons from the Gita to the others, before I apply the learning in my life. (Popular way to lose friends!)

9) Some of my desires may be difficult to overcome than some others. Some of my desires have to run its course before I exhaust the attachment to them, before they become undesirable. Some of my desires will change form and become other kinds of desires. I appreciate and understand the truth that my happiness quotient entirely depends on lowering the number of desires I entertain instead of the increasing the number of desires I fulfill.

avrtam jnanam etena, jnanino nitya-vairina
kama-rupena kaunteya, duspurenanalena ca

10) I have no one else to point fingers at but myself for the insatiable desires I experience. The more I work towards satisfying my needs, wants and desires, the more likely they will increase in number and size. I lose my sense of telling apart the good from the bad, the important from the unimportant when I work towards fulfilling my desires, needs and wants.

Lessons from The Bhagawad Gita: Am I a Seeker?

This week we discussed three verses from Karma Yoga that talked about what differentiates a Seeker.

My key takeaways from this week’s lesson:

sadrsam cestate svasyahprakrter jnanavan api
prakrtim yanti bhutani , nigrahah kim karisyati

1)As I embark on this journey of understanding the lessons in the Bhagawad Gita, I constantly remind myself that just being knowledgeable about Karma Yoga does not make me a Karma yogi. I have to walk the path, abide by the teachings and apply what I have learnt to reach a state of sthitapragya (steady intellect). I know the journey is long and arduous. What matters is that I have begun the journey. Therefore I am a Seeker.

2) I understand and appreciate the fact that even though I may succeed in grasping the essence of the Gita, my natural instincts of thought, will still interfere in the way I view behave and deal with people. I have to consciously put to practice, the learning. I dare not call myself a Seeker, if I blame all my actions on my natural instincts of the mind.

3) Despite my conscious efforts of referencing the lessons from the Gita to go about my life, if I fail and continue to blame my nature for the way I deal with things, people and situations around me, then I will give myself time to evolve. I will accept that I am not ready for higher learning. I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

4) I know and understand that I cannot choose to be a Seeker on a few days of the week or only when it suits me. I will consciously allow the teachings of the Gita to interfere with my nature and learn to channel my train of thought to be worthy of being called a Seeker.

indriyasyendriyasyarthe, raga-dvesau vyavasthitau
tayor na vasam agacchet, tau hy asya paripanthinau

5) The fact I like a certain person, food, or activity has nothing to do with how fabulous the person, the food or activity is. Similarly, my dislike of a person, food or activity has nothing to do with how terrible the person food or activity is.  Any attachment or aversion I feel is decided by how I have filed the information in my mind as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, how my mind perceives the external stimuli. My buddhi (intellect) is ultimately responsible for how I deal with external stimuli (person, food or activity)

6) As a Seeker, I am expected to be in control of my buddhi. When my buddhi is in control, then my natural instincts stop controlling how I perceive external stimuli and allows me to experience the stimuli without judging them as good or bad. As a Seeker, I have to learn to be less caught up in my own drama. I have to unlearn to be a happy victim of my life.

sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah, para-dharmat svanusthitat
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah, para-dharmo bhayavahah

7) I choose to be at peace with who I am instead of yearning to be like someone else. My personality (Svabhava) is the external manifestation of my predetermined inborn nature (Svadharma). Just to please someone, if I place a constraint on my natural inclinations and alter my personality to be someone else that I am naturally not, then the pretence only hurts and does not keep me happy in the long term.

8) My personality does not depend on where I was born or to whom, which religion I belong to or what caste. It largely is the result of my thoughts, shaped by my past. To be at peace with the choices I make, I should act according to my thoughts, however imperfect or flawed they are. I have to let my true nature make the choices and not force myself to follow the choices someone else makes for me – even though the alternate choices may be the right or a better choice. By doing that, I help purge my way of thinking, and that alone will let me adapt to a newer way of thought.