We all like to think and believe that we are not slave to our senses!
- ਪੰਚੇ ਰੁੰਨੇ ਦੁਖਿ ਭਰੇ ਬਿਨਸੇ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਇ ॥੧॥: Panche runne dukh bhare binse doojai bhaai ||1||: The five relatives (the five senses of perception) weep and wail painfully, and waste away through the love of duality ||1|| (sggs 19).
But the senses are not so easily tamed, controlled or conquered.
This is seen from the story of Bhai Joga Singh who was a great devotee of the Guru Sahib from his young age. Many of us heard this story of him – during his journey from Peshawar to Anandpur – how one night at a resting place overwhelmed by lust, he started towards the house of a prostitute.
This can also be seen from the story of Ajamal (pronounced Ajaamal) whose name is mentioned several times in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. It’s a long story, however, a very small segment of Ajaamal’s story may help us understand how if we allow our senses even a moment to act loosely, they are capable of bringing about a downfall of any Spiritual aspirant. From the very childhood, Ajaamal strictly followed regulative principles of Spiritual discipline. He was married to a virtuous woman. One day he came in contact with a prostitute. He became attracted to her and later begotten children with her. When a person abandons Spiritual discipline, abominable habits such as illicit sex, gambling, intoxication, eating uneatable, cruelty and unfeeling towards other beings, and so on, automatically follow. Like the prostitute, Ajaamal also became indulged in these demoniac activities. He left his wife and forgot his Spiritual life. In order to support his bad habits, the prostitute and his many children from her, he became engaged in corruption, fraud, falsehood, larceny, swindling, bribery, cheating, plundering, stealing, begging, borrowing, falsely arresting and terrorizing people. Thus, owing to a few moments of association with this prostitute, Ajaamal became degraded and fell down into illusory life, or Maya.
In other examples, the Gurbani states that the deer (sound), elephant (touch), moth (vision), fish (taste) and the black bee (smell) meet their death because of only one of the five senses. For example, those who want to catch a deer entice it by the sweet notes of a flute. An elephant is enticed by tempting it with the touch of a she-elephant. A moth dies by getting lured to a flame without knowing it will scorch it, while a fish can be baited by a piece of flesh. In the case of the black bee it gets attracted by the perfume of a flower and meets its end in the process.
But remember that in man all five senses are active!
What then needs to be said of man? A human being, therefore, becomes a slave to all his five senses which pull him in all directions. One can then imagine his predicament and what an awesome task it is to control his senses. Thus, even a great devotee can become a slave to his senses if he allows them to act loosely.
- ਉਰਝਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਰਸ ਪ੍ਰੇਰਿਓ ਬਿਖੈ ਠਗਉਰੀ ਖਾਵਤ ਹੇ ॥੧॥: Urjh rahio indree ras prerio bikhai thagouree khavat hai ||1||: (Man) lures in the pleasures of the senses is eating poison (of Bikaars, sense-objects, etc., ||1|| (sggs 821).
So to safeguard against temptation, the Gurbani time and again reminds us that we must not be complacent. But we must keep our minds focused on Truth.
Senses are liken to venomous serpents. Like snakes, the senses do not like to be restricted. Rather, they like to act not only loosely but also without any control. A Spiritual seeker needs to be very strong to control these serpents — like a snake charmer, who never allows his snakes to act on their own. Such person is called the “Gurmukh” in the Gurbani.
- ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਕੋਈ ਗਾਰੜੂ ਤਿਨਿ ਮਲਿ ਦਲਿ ਲਾਈ ਪਾਇ ॥: Gurmukh koee gaararroo tini mali dali laaee paae: The Gurmukh, Spiritual Being, is a snake-charmer; he has trampled her (Maya) and thrown her down, and crushed her underfoot (sggs 510).
- ਦਸਨ ਬਿਹੂਨ ਭੁਯੰਗੰ ਮੰਤ੍ਰੰ ਗਾਰੁੜੀ ਨਿਵਾਰੰ ॥: Dasan bihoon bhuyangam mantram gaarurree nivaaram: The snake-charmer, by his spell, neutralizes the poison and leaves the snake without fangs (sggs 1361).
- ਬਿਨੁ ਸਿਮਰਨ ਜੈਸੇ ਸਰਪ ਆਰਜਾਰੀ ॥ ਤਿਉ ਜੀਵਹਿ ਸਾਕਤ ਨਾਮੁ ਬਿਸਾਰੀ ॥੧॥: Bin simran jaise sarap arjaaree. Tiou jeevahi saakat naam bisaaree ||1||: Without God’s meditation, (mortal’s life is) like that of a snake. This is how the faithless cynic lives, forgetting the Naam, the Name of the Lord ||1|| (sggs 239).
- ਆਸ ਅਨਿਤ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਮਿਟੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਅਰੋਗ ॥੧॥: Aas anit Gurmukh mitai Nanak naam arog ||1||: Hopes and desires for transitory things are erased for who has become the Gurmukh; O Nanak; the Name alone keeps (him) free of the disease (of desires etc.) ||1|| (sggs 254).
In nutshell, the senses are said to be harmful, disadvantageous, etc., only to caution a seeker of Truth to be always on the alert to the enticements of his senses, and to develop non-attachment towards the sensory objects in order to progress spiritually so that we don’t end up squandering this human birth (which is said to be rare and precious) in sensory pursuits.