mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
– Bhagavad Gita, 2.14
O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.
Krishna awakens us to our reality that we are eternal souls living in temporary bodies, in verse 2.13. He awakens us to our spiritual existence in a human experience. Out of our 84 million stints (x number of times), the human experience is quite alluring, but it’s also replete with sufferings that our constant endeavors to find fleeting happiness cause us.
Dukhalayam ashashvattam, ashukham anitayam, says Krishna. This world is a mansion of sufferings, and by nature it’s temporary. Happiness here originates in matter and ends in matter. Krishna is neither a pessimistic God, nor a negative thinker. He just knows the truth of this world and those beyond it, because He is Supreme. Srila Prabhupada elaborates on Krishna’s words. He calls this world a jail. No matter how fancy and luxurious our rooms are in a jail, we still remain imprisoned. Our freedom is outside the jail, inside it we simply find ways to be distracted from the darkness. As prisoners, our goal should be to get out of the walls of suffering.
Our mind and senses are the gadgets that keep us entangled in the material world. Through tongue we eat and speak. The stuff we eat can be tasty and healthy, or it can cause digestive disorders. Our words can heal someone or hurt them, and vice versa. Through skin we experience touch which can be arousing or abhorring. Through ears we hear. What we hear repeatedly can transform us for good or change us for worse. Through eyes we see. What we see can be beautiful or ugly. And the mind processes all our experiences according to our karmic conditioning. What we experience in this world lasts only as long as our mind and senses last.
The causes of our suffering are classified under 3 categories in the scriptures: suffering caused by other beings, suffering caused by natural calamities, and suffering caused by our own internal state. Similarly, our experiences of pleasure are dependent on what other living beings do to us and for us, another cause is the nature’s beauty which kindles peace and its facilities that bring joy, and when the mind-body are healthy, we feel in harmony with the universe. We eat our karmic brownies through the false ego, mind, intelligence, and our senses. Some brownies are delicious and some are burnt. When the mind desires and senses acquire, a pleasurable experience is born. But when the senses don’t acquire what the mind desires, the mind suffers.
Krishna advises us to endure (tolerate) both happiness and pain that we experience at mental and physical level. H.H. Radhanath Swami Maharaj says, “The greatness of a person is estimated through his ability to tolerate provocative situations.” We’re provoked all the time, from within and without. Isn’t it? Rash drivers provoke us. Corrupt politicians and rich industrialists that elope with the obscene amount of the nation’s money anger us. The neighbor who plays loud music snatches away our peace. Everything around us contains ingredients to stimulate in us irritation and pain. And the brighter-looking side of life promises us success, fame, power, money, good looks, and adulations. Pleasurable experiences blind-fold us to their transient nature and to the miseries that follow once we’re deprived of the objects of desire.
Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. Krishna’s advice is to tolerate both without falling prey to them. One who becomes excited at a pleasurable experience is naturally bound to become daunted in the times of suffering. Krishna says tolerate both. Don’t react. Just accept the inevitability of pleasure and pain during human experience, says Krishna. Does He want us to become impassive? Is He encouraging inaction? No, neither in this verse, nor through the overall context of the Gita! Rather Krishna wants us to take actions in a higher state of consciousness, with a purified intelligence. He didn’t advise Arjuna to fight out of revenge or flee because of mundane compassion. Krishna’s advice to Arjuna was to fight with a sense of warrior’s duty and with his consciousness fixed on serving Krishna.
The purification of intelligence begins at the gross level because we think we are these gross bodies. At the gross level, we should tolerate our urges: urge to eat, urge for physical pleasure, urge to speak at every opportunity, and so on. Srila Rupa Goswami starts the Nectar of Instructions with this verse, “A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly and genitals, is qualiﬁed to make disciples all over the world.” And, it’s not a coincidence that tongue, belly, and genitals are all in one line in our bodies.
A journey that begins with enduring the needs of the body and wants of the mind ends in freedom from lust, anger, envy, greed, madness, and illusion. And then the eternal purpose of our existence begins to unfold. Before he became a saint, Sri Bivlamangala Thakur would remain consumed with lust for a prostitute known as Chintamani. Unable to control his urges, immediately after performing Shradda ceremony of his diseased father, in a night raging with storm, he left home to be with the prostitute. Blinded with lust, he crossed the torrential river holding a corpse that he mistook for a log. Finding the gate of the prostitute’s palace locked, in the darkness of the night, he scaled the wall grabbing a cobra which he mistook for a rope. Seeing his condition, Chintamani chided him. If only he had used his determination and resolve for a higher purpose instead of satisfying his lust, in no time he would become eligible to enjoy the ecstasy of devotional love that only one in a billion souls is blessed with. Chintamani’s words hit the right chord in Bivlamangala Thakur’s heart. He left for Vrindavana to devote his life to Govinda. But the hidden enemy, his lust, attacked him once more. Succumbing to the urge, he tried to enjoy a brahmana’s wife. Realizing his grave sin, he poked the lady’s hairpin in his eyes and blinded himself to the transient attractions of this world. Bivlamangala Thakur overcome his urges and with his purified intelligence and heart absorbed himself in Krishna bhakti.
Srila Prabhupada, the founder Archarya of ISKCON, left Vrindavana for USA at the age of 70 to fulfill the desire of his guru, to distribute the gift of Krishna Consciousness to the west. Srila Prabhupada begged for a cargo ship ticket to United States. He survived two heart attacks on the ship. Not only he fulfilled his guru’s wish, he also became the Jagat Guru who will continue to distribute Krishna bhakti to the world for the next 9500 years, according to a prediction in the Chaitanya Charitamrita. Srila Prabhupada endured his old age and bad health. He gave up the spiritual security of Vrindavana and endured the materialism of America to please his guru. To fulfill a higher purpose, he relinquished his conveniences and lived through dangerous situations at an age when people play cards or watch TV in their living rooms.
The urges of our senses are the oceanic abyss that we have to cross to accomplish our goals. A high reward always awaits us if we channel this urge, through determination and prayers, into a means to serve a higher purpose in life. A quantum jump begins with baby steps. We can start with small goals and continue to evolve. Someone who endures the urge to smoke cigarettes for the sake of good health can also accomplish a higher goal by brooking risks and inconveniences that he may have to live through during his journey. The longevity of the rewards we receive depends upon the type and quality of the goal for we which tolerate the demands of our mind and senses. Forsaking some desires for a business goal may bring the rewards we have been seeking, but these achievements will last as long as our stay in our current bodies lasts. Attuning our minds and senses to the practices that empower us to achieve the eternal goal of our soul, nitya dharma, requires solid determination, youthful enthusiasm, and intense prayers. The reward that follows lasts till eternity. And it’s worth every act of toleration.