Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 14
By Sri Arunagirinathar
Desires the greatest obstacle in attaining Anubhuthi
Desires, says Arunagirinathar, stand in the way of our attaining Anubhuthi (spiritual experience). They dissipate one's personality in various directions and destroy one's peace and happiness. Desire is the greatest obstacle in the path to liberation. Hence, the exhortation to the mind to give up desires. The necessity for it is so much that Arunagirinathar repeats it twice, saying, "Give up, O mind! Give up desires that project themselves through the senses."
Why desire is an obstacle?
The reason why desires are obstacles and are to be given up is given so impliedly in the verse that it is likely to go unnoticed. Desires activate and agitate the senses, project themselves through the sense, and thus, externalize the consciousness. This is the bane of spiritual seeking.
The tendency of desires to externalize the inner personality (the Consciousness) to have contact with the world outside and thus, not allow it to rest in itself is the cause of our unhappiness. The resting of Consciousness, they say, in itself is true happiness, a glimpse of which is experienced, though negatively, by everyone, daily, in deep sleep.
Deep sleep a glimpse of resting consciousness
In deep sleep, there are no objects, no contact with them, no sensory or mental function and yet one is so happy. One longs for it for the happiness it gives. One may have physical ailments or mental worries, but they vanish in sleep. Sleep gives the needed happiness and comfort, which cannot be had from any other source. Wherefrom does it come?
Internal to the body, internal to the senses, internal to the mind, is the Self or Consciousness (Atman or God) which is an embodiment of happiness. When the mind projects itself through the senses, it goes away from this source and thus is deprived of happiness. When it returns to its source, it enjoys the bliss of the Self.
In sleep, there is a thin veil of ignorance preventing the merger of the mind in the Self and so one experiences the bliss negatively and returns to misery again. But in spiritual communion aka Realization, the veil is rent asunder once and forever, and true happiness aka bliss is experienced, which is the aim of all Sadhana and for which this verse directs the mind.
Why desires have to be given up?
Why should desires be given up to seek spiritual experience? Why not have the bliss of the Self and the gratification of the senses also? Well, there is no harm! But, is it possible, is the question. No. The two cannot go together for obvious reasons. They are diametrically opposite and cannot co-exist, just as darkness and light, or day and night cannot go together.
If we cannot have both, then can we not have fulfillment of desires and be satisfied? No; it cannot be, because desires cannot be fulfilled. This is the uniform declaration of the scriptures as also the experience of all persons. Sense enjoyment aggravates desire for further enjoyment, like ghee poured over fire which flames up and wants more. There is no one whose desires are fulfilled by enjoyment and could say that he has no more desires. Further fulfillment of desires is attended with various defects and also sin. Thus, the desires can neither be fulfilled nor is this fulfillment desirable. Nor can the desires be suppressed for along time. It would be like keeping a powerful spring under check, which would only come back to its original position the moment the pressure is relaxed a bit and we know that the pressure cannot always be kept exerted, due to our own weaknesses.
Desires cannot be fulfilled nor suppressed
only given up or sublimated
A force cannot be checked without being utilized elsewhere. If the waters of a river are harnessed by a big dam, they have to be diverted in some other direction and properly utilized, otherwise the damn will soon be washed away by the force of the water. Hence, a force or a power cannot be merely restrained without being utilized in some way. Thus, desires can neither be fulfilled finally nor suppressed nor checked for ever. They have only to be given up or sublimated.
Desires are not easy to get rid of
But, in spite of knowing all this, desires are not easy to be got rid of. Desires do not seem to leave us like that, for our mere saying, "get away." They clamour for satisfaction. Why? A little probing into the very texture of desires is necessary to understand this. We have to go a little deeper and find out the reason for the existence of desires, as to what a desire is or why there is desire at all? A deeper analysis will disclose that desires are not of the body or senses or even the mind, which are only channels of expression of a force which is called desire. This force is, ultimately, of the Atman that indwells the body. The Jivatman which has separated itself, as it were, from God, longs for reunion with its Source. Though this restless aspiration of the Jiva to unite itself with God is genuine and praiseworthy, when it gets misdirected with an outward tendency to contact objects outside through the mind and senses it comes to be called desire. What it requires, therefore, is only a redirection, a turning within. Just as a person who has moved away from the center and wishes to get back to it has only to trace his steps back and not stray away further, the soul-force (called desire when expressed through the senses) has to turn back from its wanderings in the sense-world and withdraw itself into the source, the Atman, which process is called sublimation of desire. It should not stray out further through the externalizing activity through the senses. Hence, the instruction to the mind to abstain from projecting the desires through the senses.
The desires that project themselves through all the five avenues (of senses) are to be given up, is the instruction of the saint. Arunagirinathar's instruction is complete. It is not mere control of one sense only. Control of this or that sense alone will not do, because when one sense is controlled, energy will leak out through another, since desire, as seen earlier, is a force that tries to express itself wherever possible through the sense, if not possible through a second, a third, and so on. Hence, an all-round conservation of energy is advocated. If any one sense is left uncontrolled, it will take a heavy toll and play havoc anytime. Only when the energy is totally preserved, can it be utilized for the higher purpose of meditation on the Lord.
How to give up desire?
Arunagirinathar does not stop with saying, "O mind, give up desires," but also shows it the method of saving itself, by obtaining the Feet of the Lord. This again is a complete instruction. The mind that wants to give up desires must have something else to hold on to. If the mind leaves one object, it will think of another, because that is its natural tendency (dharma). To think is the function of the mind. So, if the mind is made to give up desires for one set of objects, it will have attachment to another set, since it cannot but think, which is equally bad. Hence, if the mind has to give up all desires for all objects it has to think of something else whose character is dissimilar to that of objects. It is therefore advised to think of God.
Now, how is the thought of God different from that of an object? God is not an object. While objects are particularized existence, God is universal existence. To think of God is therefore to think of the universal, which at once puts an end to all thought of particulars, because to the universal, there is nothing external; the universal includes and transcends all particulars.
Mind the key to liberation
God-thought is, therefore, an antidote to thought of objects; the former is called Bhagavat-chintana and the latter Vishaya-chintana; the former leads to liberation, the latter to bondage and misery. Not only that the mind cannot but think, it cannot also think of more than one thing at a time. This is a great secret to be understood and properly utilized by seekers. Either it can think of God and thus, be saved or it can think of objects and land itself in endless misery. The mind is therefore said to be the cause of one's liberation as well as one's bondage.
The mind is fickle by nature. It cannot steadily hold on to one thing for a long time; even for a minute it cannot wholly fix itself on one thing only. So unsteady is the mind and to steady it, the only way is to make it think of the Lord.
To wean the mind from dwelling upon objects, it has to be given a more attractive, more pleasing, and more absorbing think the best being God, Himself. Hence, the saint advises the mind to take refuge in the lotus-feet of Lord Murugan, who has the shining Vel in His hand.
O Mind, contemplate on Murugan and His Vel!
The Vel is referred to as shining Vel. It is considered as pure Consciousness and in the higher stages of meditation on Skanda, men of experience say, only the Vel remains, which represents Wisdom or Pure Intelligence. Intelligence is to be differentiated from the intellect, which is a finite instrument a medium of expression of the Intelligence. The Vel is Intelligence itself and is referred to as Sakthi-Vel and Jnana-Vel. The Vel is often identified with Murugan. Hence, thinking of or meditation on Murugan is tantamount to meditation on the Vel or Pure Intelligence or the innermost Self within, all which are of the nature of pure Consciousness. The sense-energies that are withdrawn by giving up of desires give the needed power for the mind to concentrate itself on the Self within (Lord Murugan). And this is the way to salvation Arunagirinathar advises the mind.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[On return to his original state form that temporary spiritual awareness that was "given" to him by the Guru, the Sadhaka now aspires to "attain" that experience through Sadhana. Hence, the instruction to the mind to give up all desires and resort to the Lord.
Here, the desires are not for this or that object, not for particular things, but desire as such; i.e., the mind longs to somehow project itself through any of the senses and contact objects. Therefore, is the instruction to restrain all the five senses and give up all the desires, because they will try to externalize themselves through that sense which may be weak. The mind is then to be fixed on the Lord or the Self within. When the Lord's Feet manifest themselves or are granted, Maya takes to its heels.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.