A few days ago I read an article that touched on the nature of the senses but I can’t find it anymore. It didn’t look very authoritative but it did refer to Srila Prabhupada’s quotes on the key point – the subtlety of our senses.
We know our ABCs – there are five knowledge gathering senses and there are five “action” senses and it’s through these senses that we interact with the world. That’s how we enjoy perceiving it and how we enjoy controlling it.
These senses are right in front of our eyes, so to speak. Legs, genitals or stomach to act on the world and eyes and ears to receive world’s feedback. We see these senses as made of five gross elements, or made of skin, muscles, cells, membranes etc, depending which classification we use, Vedic or “scientific”.
What we miss, however, is the subtle nature of the senses that isn’t obvious to anyone looking at himself in a mirror.
First of all, senses are not made of five gross elements, they are complimentary to ether, air, fire, water, and earth, which is not the same thing. This isn’t important to my point today but it deserves to be corrected nevertheless. Ether, air etc are not like atoms and molecules at all. We can say that eyes have special cells that produce little amounts of electricity when light falls on them and that electricity is transferred to the brain where images are reproduced like gifs on computer screens but that would be a completely different description to how eyes work according to sankhya classification.
This brings me to the next point – Vedic eye is not the same thing we call eye we see in a mirror or can touch with our fingers. Vedic eye is a subtle organ, imperceptible to touch or any kind of measurement with material instruments. Gross eye (and yes, eyes are gross when taken out of eye sockets) is just a vehicle for the subtle sense organ to enable us to function in the “real” world. Same is true for all other senses, too.
Subtle senses are always with the conditioned living entity. You can cut a leg off but the subtle leg would still be there. Deaf people still have their subtle ears, too, and eunuchs still have genitals. Apparently, these subtle sense organs travel with the living entity from one body to the next, always present, always there, ready to interact with the material nature.
The ability to do that, however, depends on presiding deities of the senses. Without their facilitation senses just won’t work, there’d be limited input or limited output or none at all. When our hearing becomes weak with age it’s not just the material ears that go numb to the sounds, it’s demigods’ way of telling us our karma is near its expiration, that the amount of pleasure we are allowed to derive from hearing is near its limit.
One could say that we don’t need demigods to explain that – bad ears lead to bad hearing, but sometimes the opposite is true, like when Beethoven went deaf but still composed a lot of very beautiful music. He could hear it just fine even if his ears were junk. All sense activity is possible only by the grace of demigods, gross senses are not the cause, just one of the components of enjoyment. Think of ghosts who are hungry but can’t eat, or think of yogis and rishis who can travel all over the universe while their gross bodies stay in one place and appear to be in terrible conditions.
So, subtle senses, controlling deities, karma – that’s what determines whether we’ll enjoy or suffer our experience here.
When we see it that way, the subject of “sense control” should look in an entirely new light, too. Just as at first we think that we can touch our ears with our fingers we also assume that controlling our tongues or our genitals means controlling the activities of the gross sense organs. This is not entirely true. It’s true in the sense that gross and subtle senses are, under normal circumstances, intimately connected and by observing actions of one you can guess the state of the other but we need more subtlety than that.
What we need to control is our subtle, real senses. We can temporarily force our gross bodies into some sort of tapasya but that doesn’t do anything for developing devotional service. Tapasya and austerities are for impersonalists, not for devotees. Our goal is yukta vairagya, engaging our senses in the service, not stopping them from acting.
An easy example – you won’t become sannyasi by neutering yourself. If you undergo some sort of chemical castration you’ll lose your gross working genital but the subtle sense will still be there and it will be still as hungry for action as ever, it just won’t manifest in the gross body for the time being, that’s all. If it hasn’t been purified by engaging in devotional service, which is procreation and offering fruits of your loins to the guru, it will keep forcing you to take birth after birth after birth, for it’s our attraction to the subtle senses that keeps us bound to this world, not the temporary state of our gross bodies.
So, it’s important to see our senses for what they are and see our attraction to sensual experience where it actually lies. We need to separate our desires to control or to perceive things from the activities of our gross bodies, and when we want to take control of the senses we should learn to identify them properly, see them when they want to act, recognize their driving force where it really is – in our subtle bodies.
Another example – you go on the internet and you chat with someone, leave comments here and there, or go into a big fight on some hot discussion board. You can spend whole day doing this while being completely alone in your room, without saying a word to anyone. Does it equal to controlling your tongue, as in controlling your speech? Of course not.
Every time we want to impress our thoughts on the world we use our tongue, the subtle one, even if on a gross level all these expressions come through our fingers. That’s what we want to control – the desire to communicate, to tell things to others, make them know what our opinions are.
Same thing with hearing – it’s not just the sounds that come into our ears. Reading is a type of hearing even though it comes to us through our eyes. Sense of hearing is searching for other people’s thoughts and opinions, not hearing per se.
I don’t want to visualize what subtle sex might look like, I’ll just say that it’s not always of explicitly sexual nature. Flirting is sex, internet dating is sex, judging someone’s hotness is sex, observing other people’s sex is sex, seeing other people flirting is sex, any kind of male-female relationships is sex, as soon as we see it that way, as male-female interaction, we are engaging our subtle genitals. That’s what needs to be controlled, not just morning boners, pardon my French.
This, btw, makes it easy to understand the perverted nature of gay, bisexual etc relationships. External gender characteristics don’t matter at all, it’s the subtle sex that is being enjoyed, with men, women, or animals – doesn’t matter. It matters only when we want to use our subtle sex organ in the service of the Lord, which for us, as aspiring devotees, should be always.
When Christians puzzle themselves about gay rights it’s of no concern to us, it’s like arguing whether blonds or brunettes make better sexual partners, it’s irrelevant to self-realization and irrelevant to developing devotional service.
It’s a journey of discovery (not sex, the subtle nature of the senses) and I just found that there’s a journey to take, so I’ll stop preaching and learn something myself first.