12 Pillars of Dharma - Self-Restraint

It's not that we need to fight our mind in an all-out war. It takes some small battles, for sure. But what really allows us to engage in a loving relationship with God is to be able to calm the mind enough to redirect it towards something beyond—towards something better, more beneficial, desirable, and more rewarding.

Paramahamsa Vishwananda meditating

Written by: Aksharananda

When people think of the spiritual path, they may often think of abstaining from certain circumstances, actions, foods, drinks and so on. We form opinions on the spiritual path even before stepping onto it. Even myself before I started my journey this life, I saw the lives of monks and nuns so pointless. Particularly, I judged the idea that they restrict themselves from enjoying the pleasantries of life. I felt like if I pursued the spiritual path, I’d be missing out on everything the world has to offer! In reality, I just didn’t understand what spirituality was in the first place.

I turned out to be so wrong. So many of my opinions were out of place and lacking proper knowledge. It came only with a little experience and some education. I see that my perspective of enjoyment, fulfilment, joy, and so on have changed. Having started to purify my mind, I have now the opportunity to really pursue the spiritual path. Essentially, righteous living became a priority in my life.

Dharma is all about this righteousness, this duty that we have been speaking about in these posts. Our ultimate duty, the reason why we are here is to engage in devotion to God. This devotion though, shouldn't be every once and a while, where we think of God only on Sundays. It takes a mind that's immersed in this spiritual life, in God Himself. This seems for so many of us to be a difficult venture, for we know how crazy and chaotic our mind and our lives can be. Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad Gita confirms Arjuna's struggle when describing the nature of the mind. 

Lord Krishna says:
The mind is undoubtedly chaotic and hard to subdue, O Arjuna. But by repeated practice and renunciation it can be brought under control. In my opinion, it is hard for a person with an unrestrained mind to take up this path. However, it can be done through proper means by one who strives for it with a subdued mind.

Bhagavad Gita, 6.35-36

It's not that we need to fight our mind in an all-out war. It takes some small battles, for sure. But what really allows us to engage in a loving relationship with God is to be able to calm the mind enough to redirect it towards something beyond—towards something better, more beneficial, desirable, and more rewarding. This takes us to back to understanding the principle of spirituality, of bhakti itself. That is, to be immersed in that which is beyond the material—the atma.

As we know, meditation, spirituality, realisation—all these things are dependent on our ability to have single-pointed focus. It takes a mind that is calm enough to be redirected. A mind that is calm means the senses are not running rampant. They aren’t jumping from object to object. It does require some discipline, some practice. If our goal is to move beyond the mind and realise ourselves, realise our divinity, and attain God, then we must be able to immerse our mind in that process, in that goal itself. It helps to somehow retract our senses from those things that are keeping us away from that goal. That’s where sadhana, a spiritual practice like japa and Atma Kriya Yoga come in. They are designed to immerse the mind in that goal, that relationship with God itself.

Refraining from creating more attachments with this world helps with that. In this way, our mind turns from focusing outwards and begins to focus inwards. Self-restraint—restraining our senses is one of those important steps on that journey.

Effectively, what restraining our senses does is to limit the mind's ability to become dependent and attached to the physical reality. Constantly aiming to satisfy our senses, whatever they may be satisfied by, is only a short-term venture. This bears only temporary and very conditional happiness. We get used to these sensory experiences and end up wanting more. Unfortunately, we can never have exactly the same experience as we had the time before. We tend to chase those moments that have come to pass. Like this, we ultimately never really get what we want—unconditional and eternal Love.

Only something infinite and eternal can truly satisfy our never-ending craving for excitement, love, happiness, joy, fulfillment, peace, contentment and entertainment. What that comes down to are the three eternal principles—our soul (atma), God (Paramatma), and our eternal relationship.