Self-control as foundation of dharma


By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 7

In the last six parts, we dealt with various tenets of dharma (duty/righteousness) that a person must practice in his life for his own development, as well as for the welfare of his society.

2015-08-16_1809But, any action, be it an adharmic (unrighteous) action or be it dharmic action, involves the body, senses and the mind of the person. These faculties using which one perceives the universe, communicates with it and performs actions in it are called as “Indriyas” (usually translated as senses).

For any performance of dharma, it is vital to have a control over one’s senses and the mind. Only such a control over the mind and actions can enable one to decide what is right and what is wrong and act accordingly. Therefore, Self-control or the control over the mind and the senses called as “Indriya Nigraha” forms the very foundation of dharmic practices.

What are Indriyas?

Indriyas, as mentioned above, are the faculties with which a person interacts with the outside universe. Manu Smriti (2.89-92) lists 11 Indriyas: The five faculties of hearing, smelling, sight, touch and taste; the five faculties of arms, legs, phallus, anus and speech; and the mind.

It must be noted that Indriyas does not refer to the physical organs mentioned above, but to the corresponding subtle organs in the subtle body (sukshma sharira) from which the physical organs derive their ability to function. And the mind controls the entire function of various faculties. It is the mind that empowers the physical brains to act.
Hence, our knowledge of our surroundings, of this entire objective universe is rooted in the interactions of our mind and the senses with the objects of the universe.

Why should the Indriyas be controlled?

It is the nature of the Indriyas to project outside and grasp the universe. Hence, we always feel attracted towards various objects and get attached to various people. For example, many people have a craze for clothing items, be it shoes, shirts or skirts. Some have a deep drive in collecting antique items. Some other may have more liking towards purchasing sarees.

In all these examples, it can be seen that through the interactions of the Indriyas with the external objects, the mind develops attraction and then attachment to those objects. A desire arises in the mind to possess and derive pleasure from those objects. This desire will slowly lead to addiction and madness towards various objects, which will turn a person completely materialistic. He would be always running from one object to another in order to derive pleasure from possessing them. Ultimately, his madness would become so extreme that he would not even care about his family and friends. His desire will make him blind and he will opt for unrighteousness means to obtain his objects. He may cheat, steal, maim or kill as well.

Therefore, the desire, which arose out of an unrestrained interaction of Indriyas with objects, will eventually lead a person towards adharma and result in sorrow and suffering in a long run. It is for this reason, Lord Krishna in Gita (2.62-63) says:

dhyāyato viṣayān puḿsaḥ sańgas teṣūpajāyate
sańgāt sañjāyate kāmaḥ kāmāt krodho ‘bhijāyate ||
krodhād bhavati sammohaḥ sammohāt smṛti-vibhramaḥ
smṛti-bhraḿśād buddhi-nāśo buddhi-nāśāt praṇaśyati ||

In the case of a person who dwells on objects, there arises attachment for them. From attachment grows desire, from desire springs anger. From anger follows delusion; from delusion, failure of memory; from failure of memory, the loss of intellect; from the loss of intellect, he perishes.

How should the Indriyas be controlled?

Regarding the controlling and restraining of the Indriyas, Manu Smriti (2.88) says that just as a horseman restrains his horses, a person must restrain his Indriyas. A good horseman is one who understands the horse and shares a harmonious relationship with the horse. He neither indulges the horse by allowing it to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, nor does it place severe and violent restrictions such that it becomes harmful to the horse itself.
Similarly, Indriyas cannot be restrained by giving them a free run. If Indriyas are allowed to do whatever they like, they will keep running behind one object after another. There will be no end to the desires. Such a man will ultimately end in frustration and sorrow as explained in the previous section. For this reason, Manu (2.94) compares this uncontrolled indulges of Indriyas with pouring of ghee to the fire that will only increase the intensity of the fire and does not result in its extinction. 2015-08-16_1813

At the same time, forceful control of desires, for example through forceful abstinence from sex that is associated with guilt, anger etc. are of no value as well. These forceful methods will only suppress the desires and not transcend them. Therefore, neither gratification nor suppression of the desires are helpful in Indriya Nigraha.

Manu (2.96) says that a restraint of Indriyas is only possible through a firm understanding about the adverse effects of the Indriyas. That is, only when a person develops vivekam (discrimination) between what is useful and what is harmful, between what is eternal and what is temporary, will he be able to realize that worldly objects cannot give permanent happiness and bliss. This understanding must be then used to develop detachment and dispassion towards worldly objects and pleasures. And through this process alone a person will be able to completely control his Indriyas.

Therefore, a person must develop strong discrimination and dispassion and use them to practice Self-control. Only such a path will lead a person to material welfare, as well as spiritual upliftment.

More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6