XIX - Page 183 Home | Index | Previous | Next

Sense-Control, the Foundation for Self-Knowledge

If you were to construct a house, even a simple and ordinary one, wouldn't you take great care to lay a proper foundation? If that is true for a little house, then how much more care must you take in laying down a solid foundation for the great treasure house of self-knowledge. It is to provide such a foundation that Krishna, in his teachings to Arjuna in the Gita, emphasized the need to control the senses by developing a strong detachment from the objects of the world. This is an essential requirement for building up a solid foundation. If the foundation is not strong, the mansion of self-knowledge will not last long. It will soon collapse.

Renunciation does not spring up suddenly to become the foundation of self-knowledge. Such strong detachment does not just happen on the spur of the moment. This quality must be steadily developed and practiced, together with devotion and sense-control. If you want to light a lamp, you will need oil, a container to hold it, and a wick. In the same way, in order to light the lamp of wisdom, there is a need for detachment, devotion and control of the senses. Detachment can be thought of as the container and devotion the oil. Sense-control may be compared to the wick. If you bring these three elements together, the Lord himself will come and light the lamp of self-knowledge inside you. Before lighting this lamp in the heart of Arjuna, Krishna told him that he first had to establish complete control over his senses.

Such strict control over the senses is not something which can be achieved by most people. Even if they were to make an effort in this direction and achieve some measure of sense-control, ordinary people would not continue with these efforts because they would be convinced that by giving up sense enjoyments their very life would come to an end. They consider sense enjoyments as the only true source of happiness. This is what they experience day after day. But, the unbounded joy of self-knowledge is something they have not experienced even once. When you have a bird in your hand, would you let go of it and try to catch the two birds which may or may not be hiding in the bush? Reasoning in this way, they consider it madness to give up the sensory enjoyments which they enjoy every day in order to gain the bliss of the atma through self-knowledge, an experience which they have never known.