6.17 Eats, Shoots & Leaves

yuktāhāra-vihārasya
yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasu
yukta-svapnāvabodhasya
yogo bhavati duḥkha-hā

He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system. – Bhagavad Gita, 6.17

The sun wakes me up every morning. A hot cuppa coffee gets me started. At breakfast I feed my taste buds, between work assignments, I gossip, watch all kinda stuff on the Internet. At night, a few drinks are enough to zone me out. I live life king size! Really? This life sounds like the life of a bonded slave who is forced to serve his senses–if he doesn’t titillate his senses, he’d be absolutely devastated. What’s the purpose of life, dude? Why am I here if I can’t do what I like? Round-the-clock pleasure is the goal of my life.

It’s my mind’s goal to experience pleasure. It’s not My goal. Who am I? Am I my mind? Am I my senses? No! I’m a soul whose happiness lies in Krishna. Krishna means All-Attractive, Absolute Truth, Sat-Chit-Anand.

What is Krishna talking about in this verse? Why does He want me to regulate eating, sleeping, and even recreation and work! Happiness in this world means “absence of pain”. Happiness in the spiritual world means eternal bliss, not an absence of pain. Spiritual world is oblivious to pain. Since we’re not only in this world but also of this world, to begin with, we should learn to mitigate material pains. Krishna suggests that we need to mitigate pain, not avoid it. We can’t run away from pain, but train ourselves to be not affected by it.

How do we experience pain? By exploiting our senses for pleasure, we open our doors to pain. When senses are young and healthy, we make them addicted to pleasure. And, when they give up, we give up! Actually, just senses are not enough, time and circumstances should also be friendly and cooperative. The senses, time, and circumstances do not always work in unison. For some of us, they rarely cooperate.

Krishna says by regulating our activities we set ourselves free from the senses’ slavery. And, a free person is always happy. His happiness doesn’t depend on matter. He realizes that he’s beyond flesh and blood; he’s spirit. Bhakti acharayas bring our attention to something that most of us never ponder over. They remind us that tongue, stomach, and genitals are in one line. Once we control the tongue, it’s easy for us to control the stomach, and then controlling the genitals becomes much easier. How do we control the tongue? By eating only that which Krishna has accepted, and by speaking only of the highest truth. One who eats only prasad and speaks only of Absolute Truth, becomes free from the urges of genitals. He becomes a Goswami; master (Swami) of the senses (Go). A master of the senses is never shaken by the material miseries.

I spent my mid 20s to mid 30s craving for hot and spicy food. I would fill my stomach with fast food and desi snacks like paneer tikka and mushrooms laden with onions and flavored with garlic. I was hungry for genuine love, but I mislaid the desire of my soul as craving for food. Krishna had plans for me. I have been lucky! Just before a day of my resolution to visit the new ISKCON temple in my vicinity, I had gone out and fed myself with some Chinese food, and at the same night I hogged pizzas, too. Food poisoning welcomed me graciously that night. I suffered from its hospitality for the next couple of days. My instant karma of eating food that was unhealthy for my body and mind couldn’t detain me at home. Krishna empowered me with determination to go to the temple no matter what. He made my resolve so strong that I told myself if I didn’t visit the temple on this day, I would never go again. So, I had to go. He spoke to me from within my heart that I had to go. I was amazed at myself. I walked down for 2 kms even though I was completely dehydrated and running a very low blood pressure. Within a few weeks of visiting the temple I understood that it was time for me to say goodbye to the poison I had been eating. In the association of devotees, I started making efforts to eat prasad and give up food that’s in the mode of ignorance and passion. Krishna says He’s the ability in humans. He became my ability.

After traversing on the path to Krishna for one year, Krishna (or maybe my karmas) put me through a test which has only made me stronger. Medical science calls it Irritable Bowel Syndrome. After suffering severely for 5-6 months in 2014, I learned to identify the food that didn’t agree with me. My health has been deteriorating since then. I prayed and prayed. On my last birthday, I suffered so much that for 3 days I couldn’t eat anything. That’s when He helped me through a devotee. This devotee took me to an Ayurvedic doctor who has put me on a diet that I would have NEVER been able to live on if I were not practicing bhakti. Those who know me are amazed that I have been able to live on only 5-6 vegetables all in all and 3 chapattis a day. Many people would feel that I’m suffering. Yes, I am, but the ability that Krishna has bestowed me to control my senses doesn’t let me get affected by this suffering. I feel very light in my body and calm in my mind since my treatment has begun. It’s a blessing in disguise. It’s Krishna mercy.

Krishna throws challenges and empowers us to receive them as prasad. This is one of his infinite ways to teach us self-control. H.H. Radhanath Swami says, “Those who leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything.” When the desire to seek the Truth ignites in our hearts, Krishna conspires to help us realize the Truth; to fulfill our desire. Though the road to the Absolute Truth is never easy, it’s so beautiful that we don’t want to take a U-turn. Regulating our senses is a thorny beginning of an ecstatic journey.  “That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” Bhagavad Gita, verse 18.37

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