Ch 2 VERSE 14
मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदुःखदाः ।
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत ॥१४॥
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
mātrā—sensuous; sparśāḥ—perception; tu—only; kaunteya—O son of Kuntī; śīta—winter; uṣṇa—summer; sukha—happiness; duḥkha-daḥ—giving pain; āgama—appearing; apāyinaḥ—disappearing; anityāḥ—nonpermanent; tān—all of them; titikṣasva—just try to tolerate; bhārata—O descendant of the Bhārata dynasty.
O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
So, we have a situation where Arjuna was practically refusing to act, meaning to perform his duty, due to the experience of grief or distress. This response that, in this verse, may seem to someone, that it is maybe a bit callous, or not respecting someone else’s feelings—and that’s actually precisely what the verse is pointing to.
You see, there are two ways of looking at the world. There is the philosophy of materialism, and there is the acceptance of spirituality. A lot of people in the world, they have this idea that, yeah, materialism is not good, it’s better to be more spiritual in your life; but there is not really an understanding of what that means, what is materialism, what it actually means to be more spiritual.
From the Vedic perspective materialism is founded upon the idea that I am material, that this body, and my mind, and my feelings, and everything that’s going on in my mind, is me. But that idea, or notion, is actually very far from the reality. Real spirituality is based upon the understanding that I am an eternal spiritual being. And what we’re going to see in discussing this verse is the ramifications of accepting one of those philosophical ideas and making that the found—or making that foundational to your life, as opposed to how one needs to act, and live, and to think, if they want to engage in a spiritual life that leads to a spiritual outcome.
As we discussed previously, in a previous verse, where it mentioned transmigration of the soul, it was understood that if one is simply engrossed in the body, thinking it to be the self, and one’s entire life is just centred around the experiences, and the sensations, and the feelings, and everything associated with that body, if that’s your focus, then what it leads to is the perpetual transmigration of the soul, caught up in the material existence, transmigrating from one body to another, in what was considered an endless journey of unhappiness; and that if one wanted to, instead, recognize the reality of my spiritual being, my spiritual existence, then I need to shift the way that I am living, the way I’m thinking and dealing with stuff.
So the foundational principle, which we discussed in the last verse, was this understanding that I, and you, we are eternal spiritual beings having a temporary material experience, being caught up in this body, thinking this to be me. The problem with materialism, or the idea that the body is the self, it will definitely promote, or lead to, the adoption of fundamentally what is called, in philosophical terms, hedonism. Hedonism is defined as the doctrine where sensual pleasure, which people refer to as happiness, is the sole and chief good in life. The more so-called pleasure I can experience through sensual stimulation, and the more I can avoid unhappiness, then the better off I’m going to be. But this is actually a false notion, a false idea.
And once again I have my go-to guy, Russell Brand. When he spoke in a very enlightened way about addiction and his experience with addiction, addiction to heroin and cocaine, and unlimited and copious amounts of sexual experience if required, he said, he learned that while he was generating pleasurable sensation in the body and mind, he was fundamentally, at the core of his being, unhappy and entertaining suicidal thoughts.
And that’s an extraordinary idea, that you can be in a situation where you have the money, the resources, the good looks, the youth, the vigour, and you can be engaged in endlessly stimulating the bodily senses but yet be profoundly unhappy at the core of your being, because that form of lifestyle neglects the actual soul itself. You, the spiritual being, you are left untouched by all these things, feeling empty and unfulfilled.
So, there was a British documentarian, Adam Curtis, he’s done a brilliant documentary on—for the BBC, a four-part documentary, quite some years back, called The Century of The Self, and it really explores what, he says,
“was the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual’s feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
So that, of course, is completely untrue. It’s not our highest priority. It’s not only not in our interest, but it’s counter—it runs counter to our interest, from a spiritual perspective.
And so this instruction that Sri Krishna is giving to Arjuna basically is dealing with—although He’s not speaking directly about the subject now, but it is framed within, the idea of duty, that one needs to perform their duty or responsibility, and do it regardless of happiness and distress. Whether one likes doing it or doesn’t like doing it, there are things that actually need to be done for one’s personal welfare and the welfare of society as a whole.
So just to expound on that for a moment: In the Vedic culture they had what was called the varnashrama system. This is not castism as it is seen today, which is actually a perversion of a greater spiritual reality. And in this varnashrama system there this word varnashrama is—there are two words, varna which means one’s occupational work, and ashrama the stages of life.
So I’ll speak of the stages, the spiritual stages of life. The first was considered, called brahmacharya where one enters a school run by a spiritual teacher, a guru.This school was called the gurukula, and one was educated in spiritual understanding, foundational understanding, to guide one’s life. And in addition to this, according to one’s own nature and the type of work that they would be inclined to engage in, they were also schooled in the sciences connected with those different varnas, or different responsibilities. Then you had what was called grihasta. Grihasta was considered household life, where one takes a partner in life, a committed partner, where one lives in this life, where one has family, and one has duties and things connected with that.
Then there was what was called vanaprastha. In vanaprastha it was understood that life, as we know it in this body, comes to an end. It doesn’t go on. And the great event of one’s life is one’s death. And what one needs to do is live their life in such a way that their death is not a shocking or terrible experience, that it is the doorway to a higher spiritual experience or liberation; and so one needs to prepare themself for this. So having lived a dutiful and pious life one needs then to retire from their occupational duties and the duties associated with being like a head of a family and directing others, and now become completely focused on one’s spiritual welfare, and now assume a different role of being like a guide to one’s family where one is simply living a spiritually focused life.
And then the third of the—or the fourth ashrama was called sannyasa. Sannyasa is the acceptance of a renounced order of life. Somebody may do this after being a brahmacharya, or they may do it after being a grihastha, or after being vanaprastha, any of these situations, where they would now leave aside all connection with mundane society and live a life that was completely as a wandering mendicant, where one was simply living for the service of others, offering spiritual direction and enlightenment to others.
And of course, there was a duty attached to each one of these four ashramas.
The varnas were brahmana, ksatriya, vaisha, sudra. So the brahmanas were considered the heads of society. These were the priests, the educators, the intellectuals, and they were meant to be guided purely by deeply spiritual principles and offer the direction and guidance. So they were likened to the head on a body.
The ksatriyas were the warriors, the administrators of society, so what’s currently like the political class. And they had a particular duty towards the protection of all the other classes of people and to create both a peaceful atmosphere, an atmosphere that was conducive for spiritual cultivation, if a person was inclined to do that.
Then you had the vaisha, who were engaged in business and agriculture, and the sudra. The sudra were engaged in working for others. That was their position in life. And so in each one of these roles there was a different idea of duty.
Arjuna was required as a warrior prince, a ksatriya, to actually engage in this battle. His cousin brothers sought to usurp the kingdom and to—they were going to be leading society in a wrong and non-spiritual direction. And so according to the ancient law books a spiritual warrior they call—they refer to them as raja rishi. Raja means king and rishi was like a saintly person, and it seems like a strange combination, but there was this requirement that they act for the well-being and the welfare of society.
And Arjuna had been prepared to do battle, to fight, but seeing now who he was facing, he was suddenly struck with this reality that he was going to be doing battle with those intimately connected to him, and that it was going to result in enormous amount of grief. And that thought, that idea, completely overwhelmed him, and he was now considering the abandonment of what would have been his duty, in order to placate his mind and emotions.
And this direction of Sri Krishna—and I’ll just read the verse once again:
“O son of Kunti, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress and their disappearance in due course are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception of sky, O Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
So he is being now advised that one must learn to actually tolerate the things that cause disturbance, perhaps to the mind, or to the body. When one undertakes a spiritual life, one is always going to be guided by principles that keep you—they serve as like guard rails, to keep you on a particular pathway, a particular direction, and to prevent you from going off track and reverting back to the old consciousness, the old ideas that only perpetuate suffering and unhappiness for the living being. But, in order to accept such guidance, one will experience difficulty, like the Vedic tradition was that one should, upon rising, which was usually done before dawn, one should immediately bathe. The idea of taking a bath during winter time where they didn’t have hot showers, they did it with cold water, was considered like, “Oh my God, that’s almost painful!”
I—when I lived as a monk in India, we used to bathe in the rivers in North India during winter, and it was like, you go down to the river, and it’s freezing cold, and there’s—you can see the steam coming up off the water because the water’s so much warmer than the air. And you plunge into the water, which is an initial shock, and then it feels quite good to be in there, but then when you come out, of course, there’s a huge discomfort from the cold.
And this example was actually used by one of our param gurus, from our spiritual teachers from ancient time, that just because of discomfort one should not abandon duty. One should continue to follow the directions that one needs to adopt, that produce a spiritual outcome in life. So this idea now, of tolerance, of tolerating, not relinquishing duty, but tolerating unhappiness, is an extraordinary idea.
We live in a time where society suffers tremendously from a lack of impulse control. the whole society is directed and geared towards the idea of completely giving in to all desires, all wishes, all fantasies, no matter what, to not exercise any control. And if somebody suggests I should learn to control myself, or they’d say, “No, that’s not good for you.” then I consider them almost like an enemy.
And this is all part of the conditioning that we’ve been subjected to, particularly over the last hundred years. The Nike slogan, “Just do it!” that to act impulsively is considered in our best interest. And of course, that messaging was simply developed by people who want to sell us things. It’s not developed for our best interest at all. And so convincing us that we need to adopt that idea is only in their economic interest. It’s not in the interest of our well-being, mentally, physically, spiritually.
But the idea and the need for impulse control is actually very central to being able to live a more peaceful and meaningful life, so tolerance was considered a really important spiritual principle that one needed to adopt and really cultivate in their life. And one of our ancient spiritual masters from over 500 years ago, Srila Rupa Goswami, he, in one of his works, he used a very ancient definition of tolerance as being ”to patiently endure unhappiness.” We are going to face things in life. Everything’s not going to supposedly go our way, and we need to be more focused on what’s really in our interest, and to learn to actually practice tolerance. This speaks to this larger spiritual principle—well I’ll go to that in a minute, but I’ll just use this example.
I’ve seen situations where kids are out playing in the evening. They’ve been playing, and they’re all having so much fun, little kids, and they’re just like going for it. But then it’s starting to get dark, and mum or dad’s calling the kids, “Okay, it’s time to stop playing. You have to come in. It’s getting dark.” And then there is just this outcry and protest, “Oh, it’s not fair. We’re having fun. Why do we have to stop now? It’s not fair,” and crying and going on about things, from the point of, “You’re ruining my life. I was having so much fun.” And the parent, who has a much more mature perspective, they know, “Yes, the sun is going down. Now it’s dark. It’s time to come inside. Don’t worry. The sun will come up again tomorrow morning, and you will have the opportunity to continue,” but the child can’t possibly think like that. They are so overwhelmed by the idea of the importance of what I want to do now and the desires of my mind, that I am just terribly upset, inconsolably upset at having to stop what it is that I’m doing.
But when you look at the big picture, when you look back on things, you realize, “Aaa, it’s not that big a deal. Things work in these cycles of day and night. Things will come around again.” So learning to tolerate is actually a significant and important part of one’s leading a more spiritual life.
So the deeper point that’s being raised is that the embodied state is not a permanent reality. Krishna had formerly said to Arjuna that—and I mentioned this in the introduction,
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future will any of us cease to be.”
That’s a spiritual reality. We may transfer to another body, another type of experience, but I do continue, and it’s incredibly important to realize that, and for that to be an underpinning of my life. And so the experience that I have—I mean there’s a deeper philosophical idea here, that in this particular life I have relationships that are founded on my body: my brothers, my sisters, my parents, my children, my family, my friends, I use these terminologies, but in reality, in my previous life, and lives, I have had so many parents, I have had so many children, I have had so many husbands or wives, I have had so many friends. And where are they now in my life?
Just because of the experience of what’s called death I have completely forgotten them. I have completely abandoned them, even though I was so deeply attached, and my life was a little bit of an emotional roller coaster, feeling happiness and distress all tied to these relationships, and I was thinking that this is everything, this is everything! And yet at the instant of death, it’s gone, and I’ve moved on and become deeply absorbed in another set of relationships, thinking these to be everything.
And this is part of the illusory condition of material life, and of losing the plot, losing the perspective, only being absorbed in that which is temporary and passing, as if it were eternal, and being oblivious to that which is actually real and that which is actually eternal. And so, from a spiritual perspective the distress that Arjuna is experiencing, the great grief that he’s experiencing, arises from something that is temporary and will be passing. And I should not abandon my higher spiritual well-being for that which is temporary and that which is passing. I need to develop a deeper sense and a deeper understanding of things.
And so the verse speaks to this higher principle. I must learn to act for what is my higher good, for my— meaning my spiritual being—my actual self-realization, and I should not act to perpetuate my material entanglement. And so in this verse, and I’ll draw your attention to the first two words in it; it says matra sparsah, so matra sparsah is actually a very profound idea, and it’s referencing, matra means the senses, not the sense organs but the sense of perception, being able to smell, to see, to touch, to taste. He’s—Krishna’s telling Arjuna that the—and I’ll just read it once again, and please look at it and think of it in this term.
“The non-permanent” I mean that’s already a really critical word, “The non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress…” so that’s the very nature of material happiness and distress, it’s non-permanent. “… and their disappearance in due course are just like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”
So this is a really profound idea, and we are speaking about this verse and looking at it in a—not the deepest way possible, there are many even deeper understandings that one can draw from this verse, but I would like to reference a commentary of one of the great spiritual preceptors in our lineage. His name was Madhva Acharya. The lineage to which I belong, it is called the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya, and these words, these names, they actually trace the principal personalities in this lineage. So one of them being Madhva Acharya. Madhva Acharya I think was around about 11 to 1200 AD, and he was a profoundly—a great spiritual personality who had a tremendous influence on large parts of India. And in his commentary on this particular verse he states,
“The experience of sorrow does not affect the individual consciousness by itself.”
So we’ll just pause there for a second. What does he mean by the, “it does not affect the individual consciousness by itself”? Well, he’s using this term, this consciousness, in the deepest way. Consciousness is a quality of the soul, of the atma itself; and when the atma, or the self, the soul, is embodied, it lends this consciousness to the body, so the body becomes conscious. It becomes aware, and acts like a person, but actually one’s personhood, one’s awareness, it is arising from the soul itself. And what he is referring to here is that this sorrow, which is being experienced in the mind and connected to these bodily designations, which are all temporary and passing, that that experience of sorrow actually does not touch the actual soul itself. What it is, is a mental state.
So reading again:
“The experience of sorrow does not affect the individual consciousness by itself. And why is this? Because it appears and disappears. If these contacts of the senses were factually within the individual consciousness, [meaning part of the soul] then they would also exist in the state of deep sleep.”
So, just pausing there for a second. You’ll see in all of the yogic literature there is quite a profound analysis of different mental states. And in the effort to come to understand my true and eternal spiritual nature, I need to distinguish between what is arising from the body and mind and the subtle coverings of the soul, and what is the actual nature and experience of the soul itself on a spiritual platform.
So they speak of having—it’s possible for the mind and intelligence to exist in three types of mental states, and I’ll just read from the Yoga Sutra, in the first pada, or chapter, the tenth shloka, it says:
“Deep sleep is the mental state where there is neither thoughts, as in the three previously mentioned mental states, nor dreams, nor memories.”
So they recognize that a person can go to sleep at night and experience dreaming, where the mind is remaining very active, and one can fantasize and experience all kinds of things, even being put into distressful situations, or happy situations, or extraordinary situations. So while the body is fundamentally inactive, the mind remains highly active in that state. But in the state of deep sleep, where the mind is no longer being active, a person can—you can go to sleep, and wake up and have an awareness that, “Oh my Gods! I was in such a deep sleep,” and you’re aware that you weren’t dreaming. There is—you’re aware of that reality, which they say points to this appreciation that the underlying consciousness is not actually generated by the body and the mind, and when the body and mind are in a suspended state, one’s consciousness is actually still continuing.
And so the point that he’s making is that, “If these contacts of the senses were factually within the individual consciousness, then they would also exist in the state of deep sleep.” And so I think a good way to understand what he’s saying, it’s like if a person has experienced the death of someone very close to them, and they’re in a state of really grieving, and I mean, they’re just—it’s heart-wrenching sadness, and they lie down in this state of grief and end up going to sleep, that it is possible to go into a deep state of sleep where one becomes utterly forgetful of this experience and this grief, and can lie there in a fully rested state. And then waking up from a state of dreamless sleep, gradually one becomes more aware of their situation, and then there is the sudden remembrance of what has been experienced, and one is again plunged into this experience of tremendous grief and lamentation.
And the point that he’s making is that if the soul itself was having this experience, then it would not break at the time of deep sleep, of dreamless sleep, that one would continue to experience this. There wouldn’t be suddenly a waking up, and then all of a sudden, the experience beginning to dawn again gradually and then take over.
So continuing to read,
“And therefore, since it is evident that contact with the senses is experienced only in the waking state and not in any other state the summation is clear, that only when there is contact with the physical body, which includes the mind, is there an effect, and this proves that the individual consciousness itself is not affected.”
And of course, the point being that when we become absorbed in the external world, in the temporary material condition, and this is what overwhelms us, and this is what absorbs us, then we cannot exist simultaneously in a state of self-realization. And the result of living this life of material absorption is it just leads to an ongoing cycle of repeated birth and death. So the idea of, in this very life, learning to tolerate the happiness and distress which are impermanent and arise because of contact of the senses with the sense objects, learning to tolerate that, is really an important part of a spiritual practice, or living a more spiritual life so that we can progress in this great journey of God realization and self-realization.
Thank you very much.