Slave of the Senses

Out of ten physical senses, the five sense-organs are of knowledge or perception (Giaan Indriyas — eyes, years, nose, tongue and skin), and the five sense-organs of action (Karam Indriyas — the genital, anus, mouth, hands and legs). Man engages in the world of gross objects with his sensory faculties and the pleasures they afford only make him desire for more and more. But it’s not possible to satisfy desires. Accordingly, we are repeatedly asked by the Gurbani to learn to control them.

We all like to think and believe that we are not slave of our senses!

Under the influence of Maya, however, the deluded mind nurses the defiled senses. The deluded mind is like a mirage. When the mind rests in delusion, the conditioned consciousness reflects through the defiled senses.

  • ਪੰਚੇ ਰੁੰਨੇ ਦੁਖਿ ਭਰੇ ਬਿਨਸੇ ਦੂਜੈ ਭਾਇ ॥੧॥: The five relatives (the five senses of perception) weep and wail painfully, and waste away through the love of duality ||1|| (sggs 19).
  • ਅਖੀ ਦੇਖਿ ਨ ਰਜੀਆ ਗੁਣ ਗਾਹਕ ਇਕ ਵੰਨ ॥: The eyes are not sated with what they see. All senses are enticed towards their respective sensory objects. (sggs 147).

But the senses are not so easily tamed, controlled or conquered.

  • ਨਉਮੀ ਨਵੇ ਛਿਦ੍ਰ ਅਪਵੀਤ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਨ ਜਪਹਿ ਕਰਤ ਬਿਪਰੀਤਿ ॥: Naoumee (denotes the ninth day of the lunar cycle): The nine holes of the body (sense organs) are defiled. (They) do not try to understand the Naam (Giaan or Wisdom…) and act contrary (to the Naam). (sggs 298).

The Gurbani has cited many examples in this context.

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 or fire 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.

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.

But, the Gurbani wants us humans to 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.

  • ਮ੍ਰਿਗ ਮੀਨ ਭ੍ਰਿੰਗ ਪਤੰਗ ਕੁੰਚਰ ਏਕ ਦੋਖ ਬਿਨਾਸ ॥ ਪੰਚ ਦੋਖ ਅਸਾਧ ਜਾ ਮਹਿ ਤਾ ਕੀ ਕੇਤਕ ਆਸ ॥੧॥: The deer, the fish, the bumble bee, the moth and the elephant are destroyed, each for a single defect [ardent desire to hear sound (deer); fish: desire of tongue or taste (fish); desire for smell (bumble bee); desire for seeing (moth); desire of lust (elephant)]. So the (mortal) who is filled with the five incurable defects (i.e., lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride) – what hope is there for him? ||1|| (sggs 468).

One can then imagine his predicament and what an awesome task it is to control his senses. Thus, even a great Bhagat can become a slave to his senses IF he allows his senses to act loosely.

  • ਉਰਝਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਰਸ ਪ੍ਰੇਰਿਓ ਬਿਖੈ ਠਗਉਰੀ ਖਾਵਤ ਹੇ ॥੧॥: (Man) lures in the pleasures of the senses is eating poison (of Bikaars, sense-objects, etc., ||1|| (sggs 821).

So to safeguard against temptations of the senses, the Gurbani time and again reminds us that we must not be complacent. Instead, we need to be alert and keep our mind 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 of senses — 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 ॥: 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 ॥: 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॥: Without remembering (Naam, 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॥: Hopes and desires for transitory things are erased for who has become the Gurmukh; O Nanak; the Naam alone keeps (him) free of the disease (of desires etc.) ||1|| (sggs 254).

In nutshell, defiled senses are said to be harmful or disadvantageous to caution learners (i.e., Sikhs-ਸਿਖਿਆਰਥੀ) 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.

  • ਆਜੁ ਮਿਲਾਵਾ ਸੇਖ ਫਰੀਦ ਟਾਕਿਮ ਕੂੰਜੜੀਆ ਮਨਹੁ ਮਚਿੰਦੜੀਆ ॥: O Sheikh Farid! Here and now (Rabb) can be realized, (so) control the senses that stir the mind. (sggs 488).

In other words, the Gurbani does not want us to succumb to the ceaseless demands of the defiled senses — the Gurbani wants us to become the Gurmukh.

  • ਆਸ ਅਨਿਤ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਮਿਟੈ ਨਾਨਕ ਨਾਮ ਅਰੋਗ ॥੧॥: Desires for transitory things (ਨਾਸ-ਵੰਤ ਪਦਾਰਥਾਂ ਦੀ ਆਸ) are effaced for (the person) who has become the Gurmukh; O Nanak; Naam alone keeps (that person) free of the disease (of desires etc.) ||1|| (sggs 254).

At the same time, the Gurbani does not want us to starve either, or stop drinking water or breathing air etc.!

In short, the Gurbani challenges us to be engaged in this world, but with a detached attitude and with Wisdom (ਅਕਲ, ਬਿਬੇਕ-ਬੁੱਧ, keen understanding, discerning intelligence) — be in the word, but not of the world!

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਖਾਏ ਬੂਝੈ ਨਹੀ ਭੂਖ ॥: Without eating, hunger is not satisfied. (sggs 1149).
  • ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤਿਗੁਰਿ ਭੇਟਿਐ ਪੂਰੀ ਹੋਵੈ ਜੁਗਤਿ ॥ ਹਸੰਦਿਆ ਖੇਲੰਦਿਆ ਪੈਨੰਦਿਆ ਖਾਵੰਦਿਆ ਵਿਚੇ ਹੋਵੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ॥: O Nanak! Meeting the Satigur (Knowledge of Truth – ਸਚ ਦਾ ਗਿਆਨ), one comes to know the Perfect Way of life (thus). While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, become liberated (Freedom from Bikaar: lust, anger, greed, etc.). (sggs 522).

Thus, the Gurbani asks us to make the senses widow!

  • ਦਸ ਨਾਰੀ ਮੈ ਕਰੀ ਦੁਹਾਗਨਿ ॥ ਗੁਰਿ ਕਹਿਆ ਏਹ ਰਸਹਿ ਬਿਖਾਗਨਿ ॥ ਇਨ ਸਨਬੰਧੀ ਰਸਾਤਲਿ ਜਾਇ ॥ ਹਮ ਗੁਰਿ ਰਾਖੇ ਹਰਿ ਲਿਵ ਲਾਇ ॥੫॥: I have made widows of the ten sensory organs (I don’t engage in sense-gratification anymore). The Guru has told (i.e., the Gurbani’s Giaan or Wisdom has revealed to me) that pleasures (sense-gratifications) are the poison-fire (that brings death to the spiritual life: ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ). Those who associate with them fall into lower region (of consciousness, degradation or downfall of Spiritual Life – spiritual death, ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ, ਅਧੋਗਤਿ…). By attuning me to the Lord, the Guru (i.e, the Gur-Giaan or Wisdom) has saved me (from the sense pleasures) ||5|| (sggs 1347).

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