Message of Self-control
is the control of the mind and its desires, urges, emotions
and delusions. It is controlling the outgoing tendencies of
the mind and the senses and bringing them back to our Self
within. Self-control is the key to success in any field of
life and it is an indispensable necessity for Self-realization,
the goal of spiritual quest. Self-control is the message of
the sages and saints. It is the exhortation of the scriptures
and traditions, the foundation of all yogas and the very essence
of all spiritual austerities and disciplines. In his Vivekachudamani
Sri Shankaracharya says:
mental sheath is the (sacrificial) fire which, fed with
the fuel of numerous desires by the five sense-organs which
serve as priests, and set ablaze by the sense-objects which
act as the stream of oblations, brings about this phenomenal
is no ignorance (avidya) outside the mind. The mind
alone is avidya, the cause of the bondage of transmigration.
When that is destroyed, all else is destroyed, and when
it is manifested, everything else is manifested.(1)
unruly mind is our worst enemy. It is the root cause of all
turmoil and mental darkness. Bringing the mind under control
is the only way to inner peace and tranquillity. Control of
this mind is the highest yoga and the most vital aspect of
yoga practice. All spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation,
japa and pilgrimage lead to control of the mind. Sri Krishna
says in his last message:
the performance of one’s duty, the observance of vows, general
and particular, the hearing of the scriptures, meritorious
acts and all other works?all these culminate in the control
of the mind. The control of the mind is the highest Yoga.
of what use are charity and the rest to one whose mind is
controlled and pacified? Of what use, again, are this charity
and the rest to one whose mind is restless or lapsing into
View against Self-control
is a view upheld by a school of thought that any form of self-control
is repressive, inhibitive and reactive. It creates neurosis,
depression and fantasies that make a person experience so-called
spiritual emotions and ecstasies. According to this view,
a person’s desire to renounce the world and worldly pleasures
is often caused by the repression of his sense urges. This
view holds that self-control obstructs spontaneity, brings
personality disorders and forces a person to lead a false
life. Cravings for sense enjoyment are natural and normal;
when they are repressed, they go underground and create heightened
desire for the objects craved, making such objects appear
more real and alluring than they actually are. Self-control
nurtures pessimism and is a practice of gradual suicide. Self-expression,
not self-control, stands for freedom, authenticity and spontaneity.
View of Yoga and Vedanta
the seers of Yoga and Vedanta so-called ‘self-expression’
is unhealthy and reckless. It is a philosophy of living that
only brings dissipation, degradation and disintegration. Those
who run wild in the forest of sense pleasures are eventually
eaten up by the tiger that lives in that forest. As Sri Shankaracharya
so appropriately says, ‘In the forest tract of sense pleasures
there prowls a huge tiger called the mind. Let good people
who have a longing for liberation never go there.’(3)
of self-expression ask for giving free rein to all our thoughts,
urges and desires with no restraint whatsoever. According
to them, a human individual is driven by five basic urges:
self-preservation, self-expression or power, sex, gregariousness
and the knowledge of the world around him. They are of the
opinion that the sex urge is the master urge and that all
other urges are overt or covert expressions of that master
urge. The sex urge, they say, is the desire for reproduction
and is the most natural urge of life. It is this urge that
is behind all hormonal and glandular urges. When repressed,
it creates an unhealthy mental condition for a person and
gives him no rest or peace.
seers and sages of Yoga and Vedanta maintain that the human
individual is not a libido-driven creature and his brain is
not an appendage of his genital organ. The core of his being
is the divine Self, and his basic urges are three: immortality,
unbounded joy and unrestricted awareness. Of these three,
the master urge is unbounded joy. Life must have joy in some
form or other for its nourishment. The Upanishads tell us
that Self-knowledge brings the most intense and pure joy ever
imaginable. Sense enjoyment and sense gratification are the
most polluted and perverted forms of the pure joy of Self-knowledge.
One who has not yet tasted this highest joy cannot think of
any other joy except the pleasures of the senses, and so he
lives on those pleasures that are like nectar at first but
like poison in the end.
fulfilment of this urge for unbounded joy, a human individual
looks for a new body, a new place, new possessions, new thrills
of sense enjoyment and a new environment; but nowhere in the
universe, or in any sense enjoyment, does he find fulfilment.
Finally, he realizes that appeasing the mind is not the way
to peace and happiness, because sense desires are insatiable
and sense enjoyments deplete the vigour of the mind. He then
begins to control his thoughts and sense desires in search
of his true Self, which is immortal, all-pervading, and the
one source of all joy. Success in this quest is possible only
through self-control. Emphasizing the need of self-control,
Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘Why is it that people do not see God?
It is because of the barrier of “woman and gold” [lust and
greed].’*(4) ‘The obstacle to yoga is “woman and gold”. Yoga
is possible when the mind becomes pure. The seat of the mind
is between the eyebrows; but its look is fixed on the navel
and the organs of generation and evacuation, that is to say,
on “woman and gold”. But through spiritual discipline the
same mind looks upward.’(5)
Bhagavadgita says, ‘He who is able to withstand the
force of lust and anger even before he quits the body?he is
a yogi, he is a happy man. Those who are free from lust and
anger, who have subdued their minds and realized the Self?those
sannyasis, both here and hereafter, attain freedom in Brahman.’(6)
Upanishad says: ‘The goal which all the Vedas declare, which
all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead
the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is Om.
This syllable Om is indeed Brahman. This syllable is the Highest.
Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires.’(7)
his poem ‘Song of the Sannyasin’ Swami Vivekananda writes:
never comes where
and fame and greed
gain reside. No man who thinks of woman
his wife can ever perfect be;
he who owns the least of things, nor he
anger chains, can ever pass
give these up, Sannyasin bold! Say,
Tat Sat, Om!’(8)
says, ‘For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth,
and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men and
there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the
sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this,
let him receive it.’(9)
of self-control is most purifying because self-control transforms
the quality of our mind. By controlling his crude and raw
impulses and emotions, a human individual develops reason
and by controlling reason, he develops intuition, which is
the purified form of reason. Self-control is the mark of a
pure mind. It is this purity of mind that distinguishes a
saint from a worldly person. While a worldly person is guided
by instincts of self-love and self-preservation, a saint finds
his connection with the entire universe and is guided by the
spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of others. Self-control
is asserting our higher Self over our lower self. Life is
a rebellion against the laws of nature. Submission to them
would leave us at the mercy of the whims of our mind. Such
submission is natural for an animal, but not for a human being.
seers of Yoga and Vedanta speak of sublimation of urges and
desires, not of their repression. Sublimation is spiritualizing
all our urges and desires by channelling them towards the
attainment of Self-knowledge, in which all desires and urges
find their supreme fulfilment. Self-knowledge is not just
cessation of suffering and attainment of peace, but intense
bliss. When a person advances toward this Knowledge, he begins
to taste the bliss of the Self and finds sense enjoyments
increasingly tasteless and insipid.
self-expression is the expression of our higher Self, and
this calls for both freedom and control. In order to express
our true self in every phase of our life, we must recover
it first by exercising self-control. A slave of passion cannot
express anything?he only follows the dictates of his urges
and impulses. He does not enjoy sense pleasures, but is addicted
to them. Self-expression is always preceded by self-conquest.
True self-expression is never a riotous living of licence
and whimsicality driven by endless sense desires. Those who
uphold the view of so-called ‘self-expression’ equate promiscuity
with affection and infatuation with love, and look upon violence,
greed and questionable morals as natural. Such living is the
surest way to doom and destruction. In the words of Swami
Vivekananda, those who uphold this view advocate living with
the morals of a tomcat:
[Swami Vivekananda] held purity to be for the householder
as well as for the monk, and laid great stress on that point.
‘The other day, a young Hindu came to see me,’ he said.
‘He has been living in this country for about two years,
and suffering from ill-health for some time. In the course
of our talk, he said that the theory of chastity must be
all wrong because the doctors in this country had advised
him against it. They told him that it was against the law
of nature. I told him to go back to India, where he belonged,
and to listen to the teachings of his ancestors, who had
practised chastity for thousands of years.’ Then turning
a face puckered into an expression of unutterable disgust,
he thundered: ‘You doctors in this country, who hold that
chastity is against the law of nature, don’t know what you
are talking about. You don’t know the meaning of the word
purity. You are beasts! beasts! I say, with the morals of
a tomcat, if that is the best you have to say on that subject!’
Here he glanced defiantly over the audience, challenging
opposition by his very glance. No voice was raised, though
there were several physicians present.(10)
Views on Self-control
both Yoga and Vedanta regard self-control as the key to success
in a spiritual quest, the two schools of thought have differing
views on the subject.
Yoga view: The Yoga methodology of self-control is based
on the philosophy and psychology of Patanjali’s Yoga way.
The Yoga way says that all our pain and suffering are due
to loss of contact with our true Self, our true identity.
Because of this loss, the Self becomes entangled in the world
of matter and is subject to the laws of the material world
that is plagued by the pairs of opposites, such as pain and
pleasure, birth and death. The goal of the Yoga way is to
establish contact with our true Self. Only this contact can
put an end to all the maladies of life. But this contact is
not possible without controlling the mind. The first aphorism
of Patanjali states, ‘Yoga is suppression of the thoughts
of the mind.’ Suppression is different from repression. Suppression
is positive; it is suppression of the mind’s lower urges for
the sake of the greater goal of Self-realization. In contrast,
not having any such goal, repression proves to be negative
and reactive. According to the Yoga system, there is no yoga
without self-control, and such selfcontrol must be forcible.
logic of the Yoga way says that the mind is material and its
conditionings of impurities are mechanical. It is most difficult
to know the nature, depth and extent of these impurities.
All we know is that the mind is restless and that restlessness
is manifesting itself in our restless body movement, unevenness
of breath and changes in biochemistry. This restlessness
is more than disturbing thought. Thoughts when repeated become
ingrained and turn into deep-seated habits and tendencies.
These do not go away by themselves. Passage of time and change
of environment are of no help. Old age cannot lessen their
fury and distance cannot obliterate them. Habits and tendencies
are to be overcome by cultivating counter-thoughts and habits
of tranquillity, and for that purpose we must hasten our steps.
The reason for hastening is clear. Life is short and full
of distractions; much of it is spent in sleep and daydreams.
Hence control of the mind must be effortful and forcible,
and to that end the Yoga system prescribes an eightfold practice:
Yama: Five restraints: non-killing, truthfulness,
non-stealing, continence and nonreceiving of gifts.
Niyama: Five observances: internal and external purification,
contentment, mortification, study and worship of God. (Internal
purification is obtained through having friendship for all,
being merciful towards those that are miserable, being happy
with those that are happy, and being indifferent to the wicked.)
Asana: Posture that is firm and pleasant.
Pranayama: Control of the motion of exhalation and
inhalation. (Controlling the breath is the easiest way of
getting control of prana or the cosmic energy.)
Pratyahara: Drawing in of the organs. (Preventing the
organs from taking the forms of external objects, and making
them remain one with the mind stuff.)
Dharana: Concentration, or holding the mind to some
Dhyana: Meditation, or an unbroken flow of knowledge
about that object.
Samadhi: Complete absorption in meditation. (The state
of meditation when the form is given up and only the internal
sensations, or the meaning, is perceived.)
first five are external practices, the last three internal
Yoga system asks a seeker to make relentless conscious efforts
to overcome his mind, and to have unwavering determination
and will power to reach the goal of Self-realization. Reason,
it says, is too weak to overcome the perverted mind. Devotion
to God is most often passive; true prayer and worship call
for strong faith in God, which many are not endowed with.
Educating the mind to give up its old ways is a slow process.
Auspicious desires are not always forthcoming. The goal is
never attained unless we make an all-out effort for it. The
Yoga system reminds us that the ocean of the mind is always
turbulent. If you want to take a dip in such an ocean, you
cannot wait for the weather to improve and the ocean to become
calm. You must plunge right into the ocean by learning how
to handle the waves.
Yoga system relies mainly on rigorous and wilful self-control,
as distinguished from persuading the mind to give up its old
ways by cultivating dispassion. Patanjali refers to dispassion
as a complementary means for controlling the mind. The main
focus of the Yoga system is on the training and exercise of
will power for the development of reason and discrimination.
The Yoga system seeks to modify our subconscious mind indirectly
with the help of regulation of breath, posture and diet. Modern
psychology explains how our conscious thoughts and actions
are heavily influenced by the deep-seated desires and urges
of our subconscious mind. But the Yoga system further shows
us how we can modify our subconscious mind by the efforts
of our conscious mind, how repeated exercises of the will
on the conscious level can influence the subconscious depths
and modify them permanently. By controlling the manifested
effects of impurities, the Yoga system seeks to eliminate
the source of the impurities and regain contact with the true
The Yoga system says that to achieve the goal of Self-realization
the seeker must have full awakening of his mind, which is
in deep slumber at the base of his spine. His mind must be
made to rise to the upper centres of consciousness, and for
that purpose the blockage of impurities in the sushumna canal,
through which it has to travel upward, must be cleared. The
Yoga system prefers ‘dredging of the canal’, rather than ‘dissolving
the blockage’, which is the Vedanta method. Posture, diet
and pranayama (breath control) are the means to dredge.
Conversion of physical energy into ojas (spiritual energy)
through the practices of continence, concentration and meditation
provides the seeker with the sustained strength to dredge.
The manifestation of yoga powers on the way generates confidence
in the mind of the seeker regarding the infallibility of yoga,
and thus encourages him in his task of attaining the goal.
The Yoga system is for those in whom reason has not yet established
its natural supremacy.
Vedanta view: The second view is that of Vedanta. The
goal of life, according to Vedanta, is Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge
guarantees all fulfilment, whether material, mental, or spiritual;
but Self-knowledge is never possible without self-control.
Self-control endows a seeker with a steel-frame foundation
of mind, on which the structure of spirituality is raised.
Self-control is essentially the control of the libidinal urges
for sense gratification, the withstanding of the impacts of
lust and greed. Through self-control a seeker converts his
raw libidinal energy into spiritual energy. Without self-control
prayer, meditation and the desire for Self-knowledge are empty
dreams. Conversely, self-control is impossible and often dangerous
without the desire for Self-knowledge. But the Vedanta system
advises gradual control of mind, rather than its forcible
maintains that the impure mind cannot be made pure by posture,
diet and breath control. Thoughts and urges cannot be overcome
by such physical means. Vedanta seeks to control the gross,
that is, the body and bodily habits and urges, by controlling
the subtle, which is thought. Vedanta seeks to educate and
discipline the intellect (the discriminating faculty of mind)
in order to overcome the mind and the body, instead of disciplining
the mind and the body for the purpose of educating the intellect.
Vedanta relies mainly on the practice of dispassion and believes
that the master urge in all of us is the need to move towards
the Divine and experience unbounded joy. Spiritual longing,
it says, cannot be generated by mechanical means. Withdrawal
of the mind is not possible unless the mind cooperates in
the process. Forcible control can rouse the mind untimely,
before spiritual longing has matured and spiritual motivation
has become sufficiently strong. A roused mind without much
longing for the goal can be self-destructive. Through spiritual
practices of prayer, meditation and worship, we build supporting
spiritual platforms as the mind begins to move upward. These
platforms keep the mind from falling headlong into the lower
centres of consciousness. Vedanta believes in gradual control
so that the mind does not rebel and react violently. Its process
is the way of least resistance. Maybe it is slow, but it is
sure and tested.
control of the mind, Jivan-mukti-viveka, a Vedanta
of the knowledge of the supreme Self, association with the
good, total renunciation of desires, control of vital energy—these
are, as is well known, the perfect means to conquer the
who apply hathayoga to control the mind while such
effective means are available, resemble them who, abandoning
the lamp, apply magic ointment to their eyes to dispel darkness.
deluded who attempt to control the mind by force, they, as
it were, bind the large, frantic elephant by lotus-fibres.
(Laghu Yoga Vasistha, 28.128-31)
is of two kinds: violent control and gradual control. The
first of them is done by blockading the knowledge-organs such
as the eye, ear, etc and the action-organs such as the larynx,
hands, etc at their respective seats by force. A deluded man,
by this instance, wrongly thinks that in this manner he shall
control the mind also. But the mind cannot be controlled in
that way, since its centre - the lotus-like heart - is impossible
to control. Therefore gradual control is justified.
means to gradual control are the study of the knowledge
of the Self and others. The science of the Self gives rise
to the conviction of the unreality of all knowable things
and of the Knower as the self-evident Reality. Having been
convinced thus, the mind finds [that] knowable things that
are within its purview are useless, and realizes that the
Knower, although a useful thing (Reality), is beyond its
grasp, and dissolves of its own, like fire without fuel.(11)
interprets the practices of Yoga differently. Yama (self-control)
of Vedanta is restraint of all the senses by thinking ‘all
this is Brahman (the Supreme Self).’ The continuous flow of
this one kind of thought is called yama. Giving up of the
illusory universe of multiplicity by knowing it as Brahman
is true renunciation. Practice of silence is not a restraint
of speech, but dwelling on Brahman. Solitude is interior,
not external. Real posture is that in which the mind flows
towards Brahman spontaneously. The blessed vision is directing
the mind to the Knowledge of Brahman, not fixing the mind
on the tip of the nose. Rechaka of pranayama is breathing
out the thought that is not Brahman; puraka is breathing in
the thought of Brahman; and steadiness of thought thereafter
is called kumbhaka. Those who do not know this only torture
of the mind in Brahman, knowing that It alone abides, is called
true withdrawal. Steadiness in dwelling on Brahman is concentration.
Constant awareness of the fact that ‘my true Self is verily
Brahman’ is called meditation. All obstacles on the way are
overcome only by dissolving the mind in the ocean of infinite
Brahman. By thinking of an object the mind gets identified
with it; by thinking of void it becomes blank. But by thinking
of Brahman it attains to perfection. Those who give up this
supremely purifying thought of Brahman and put their minds
on sense objects live in vain. Those who try to control the
mind through posture, breath, diet and other physical means,
are like those who hope to empty the ocean drop by drop with
a blade of kusha grass.
goal of Self-knowledge in Vedanta is not just release from
the world of matter, but realization of the fact that all
beings and things that are visible and perceptible are nothing
but Brahman. To attain Self-knowledge, what is needed is to
remove ignorance, the root cause, and not to fight against
the habits, tendencies and desires, all of which are numerous
branches shooting forth from that root. Vedanta asks the aspirant
to go to the very root of the matter and remove ignorance.
is the preferred way to achieve self-control? The arguments
in support of forcible control of the Yoga system and those
in support of gradual control of the Vedanta system are equally
strong. The two ways are equally time-honoured and proven.
However, spiritual seekers are not all of the same calibre
and temperament. The way that is beneficial to one may not
be beneficial to another. The fitness to pursue one way or
the other depends upon the competence of the individual seeker.
Shankaracharya, Vivekachudamani, vv. 168-9, trans.
Swami Madhavananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1970), 65.
Uddhava Gita, vv. 18.46-47, trans. Swami Madhavananda
(Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1971), 282.
Vivekachudamani, v. 176, 68.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1985), 130.
The Bhagavad Gita, 5.23 and 26, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1992), 157-8.
Katha Upanishad, 1.2.15-6, in The Upanishads, trans. Swami
Nikhilananda, 4 vols. (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center,
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 4.394.
His Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekananda,
2 vols. (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 1, 2000; 2, 2001), 2.518.
Swami Vidyaranya, Jivan-mukti-viveka, trans. Swami
Mokshadananda (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1996), 186-7.