PHILOSOPHY & PRACTICES
Beyond the Senses

Gurudev suggested that we manage our senses so that our sense of self is not starkly different from the cosmic-self/param-aatma but instead more aligned.

To understand the self as it is, you must first understand what is not real. And what appears to be real but is not is referred to as perceived reality or maya.

Perception is explained as the ability to see, hear, feel, or become aware of something through the senses – the faculties through which the body perceives external stimuli. In humans, these faculties (senses) are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. While these faculties seem to function independently, they do have a close correlation with each other as they enable the brain to make sense of the world around us.

The brain in every being sits silently in the skull and has no direct interface with the outside world. It simply interprets the data fed into it by the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin in the same way that a computational device would. The brain’s dense network of nearly 100 billion cells/neurons translates whatever these organs perceive into electrochemical signals. Each neuron sends tens or hundreds of electrical pulses to other neurons every second. The electrochemical patterns that emerge from neuronal signalling are interpreted by the brain into our understanding of the world. This is how it simultaneously processes signals from various sensory organs as electrochemical patterns, allowing us to define our worldview – our reality.

The fact is that your brain doesn’t know or care from where it gets its information. It merely interprets the data it receives, leading us to recognise that what we see is an internal model of our personal world and not what is out there!

Animals, like humans, have receptors that allow them to sense their surroundings. The capabilities of these receptors vary by species. Some animals may be missing one or more of the traditional five senses, while others can perceive the world in ways that humans cannot. Some species can sense electrical and magnetic fields and detect water pressure and currents. For example, a dragonfly has binocular vision, bees can see UV light, and snakes can see thermal radiation at night. As a result, each will have a different and unique perspective about the world. Similar examples from nature show that our sensory inputs are constrained or limited by our biology.

Therefore, your perceived reality is a more personalised view of reality and not the cosmic reality. To align with the cosmic perspective, you must overcome the limitations of a personalised worldview.

MANAGING THE SENSES

History is witness to the anger of many powerful spiritualists. The high temper is possibly attributable to the uprisen fire element in their bodies owing to increased tapasya.

Gurudev learnt to control reactionary speech and temper by inducing anger. In the early years of his job at IARI, he would sit in the corridor outside his office, abusing passers-by. He awaited their retaliation, and when it came, he smiled back. This was his method of inciting abuse to test his resilience. (PS: I am sharing this approach more as an observation than a recommendation).

The mahaguru erased a strong emotion from his psyche by controlling his anger. Lesser the emotion, more the stability of the mind.

From being a youth who wanted to become a movie star to someone who stayed away from the limelight, Gurudev had a long history of practising disengagement from the senses.

While indulgence in the sense of sight leads to attraction, lust is the construct of the sense of touch. The mahaguru’s formula for dealing with the opposite gender was simple. He suggested we imagine every attractive woman in her gudiya (child) and budiya (aged) forms, to accurately evaluate how attracted we were to her. I ventured further in visualising every woman I met as a skeleton. And soon, this practice not only diminished any untoward desire but also made me realise that beauty was literally in the mind of the beholder!

The mahaguru once stated that when evolved spiritualists die, their spirits arrive at a crossway, from where one path leads to the lovely lower lokas and the other path leads to the plainer-looking higher lokas. Given that the pursuit of beauty can land a spirit in a lower realm, it is prudent to avoid falling for the beauty trap!

For overcoming the sense of smell, Gurudev took a leaf out of Aghor vidya, instructing us to develop an indifference to stench if we were to cultivate an indifference to incense. I wish I had learned this trick earlier while studying at Ajmer because my school’s toilets were the perfect spots to practice this technique. Eventually, as I practised tolerance and nonchalance to unpleasant smells and odours, I also gave up on colognes and perfumes.

Sensory management ensures that good, bad, right, wrong, and other notions of duality are ripped apart.

Once Gurudev visited the home of an associate along with a few disciples. Since the associate and his wife were not at home, their eight-year-old daughter offered to make them tea. Conscious of her sentiment, Gurudev agreed. When she was ready to serve the tea, he blessed it and handed the teacups to his disciples. While he sipped the tea and made conversation with the kid, some of the accompanying disciples drank only a few sips and left the rest. The tea smelled of kerosene and was unpalatable since the girl had brewed it on a stove. The mahaguru let his disciples have it upon leaving the associate’s house! Imagine how unwise of them to disregard a cup of tea blessed by their guru only because it smelled of kerosene!

Gurudev sips the tea made by a young devotee

Tracing Gurudev’s life journey has allowed me to notice how his habits and attitudes changed from his early years to when he became a guru and then a mahaguru. Let me elaborate on this point by discussing his thoughts on food – the ultimate indulgence of the sense of taste. Gurudev slept many nights without eating his last meal of the day. When questioned about it, he casually admitted that if any of his devotees slept without food on any given night, he would also skip his meal. That was probably his way of using the power of intent to mentally will his meal to them. He also recommended fasting once a week as a detox to allow bodily secretions to aid in the digestion of food left in the body as stock ‘n’ trade.

From being a foodie in his youth to living on dal, roti, dahi, and occasional pakoras as a newly recruited soil surveyor, to often cooking meals for friends, colleagues, and disciples, to being the last person in a gathering to eat, to holding langar for free distribution of food, the mahaguru treated ann or food with extreme respect.

Gurudev had mastered his sense of taste to the point where he no longer craved food or overindulged. He could easily survive on liquids because he was entirely vegetarian and sattvic. Some afternoons, he made do with a glass of lassi (buttermilk) for lunch. Most mornings, his breakfast was nimbu pani (lemonade). On special occasions, such as Mahashivratri, he did not eat until he had met the last person in the queue, a process that could take three to four days. His daughter recalls him telling her that he who learns to feed others before feeding himself transcends the desire for food. The mahaguru regarded ann daan (food donation) as an invaluable seva.

The sense of hearing connects us to others, allowing us to communicate in ways that no other sense can. Helen Keller, blind and deaf, summed up the importance of hearing when she said, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people”. Considering that our response to what we hear is almost always communicated through speech, the only way to practise control over the sense of hearing is to develop the power of discernment; to intuitively hear the unsaid and to be selective in responding to what is heard. Gurudev always told us not to believe anything we hadn’t seen or heard for ourselves. He discouraged idle talk and gossip with this edict.

There is a fascinating anecdote about Gurudev’s power of discernment. When a disciple in his presence began tooting his own horn and dismissing the mahaguru’s advice because he wanted to correct the ‘wrong’ notions his guru entertained about him, he received the shock of his life! The understated guru, who rarely displayed his powers, pulled a number that stunned the others in the room. He tasked Bittu ji to fetch the keys of his bedside cabinet, unlock it and remove the sealed set of four blank audio cassettes from its in-built locker. Then Bittu ji was asked to play the third blank cassette from the lot. When he did so, those seated in the room heard the verbatim first-person conversation of the disciple in question, bragging about the same ‘mistake’ he had vehemently denied in front of his guru! Touché!

Gurudev asks Bittuji to play a blank audio cassette.

During Gurudev’s time, cassette players and radios were contraptions of delight for music lovers. The great guru also enjoyed listening to music, particularly Mohammed Rafi. He liked listening to the radio in the car, but his interest in music waned over time to the point where he could appreciate it but not be drawn to it or drown in its melody.

Multiple senses working together give rise
to a series of emotions leading to a range of actions.

Gurudev learned to manage his senses not by suppressing them but by observing his reactions as they played out. In this manner, he became an observer of the sensory play rather than the actor who indulged in them. By being an observer, the mahaguru immediately created a template for controlling and manipulating his senses as per his will, a practice that held him in great stead as he went about his life, role-playing his emotions rather than experiencing them.

BRAIN PLASTICITY

Brain research has shown that we can change its physiological structure and improve its functionality, a capability termed neuroplasticity. As a result, when the brain is denied input in one sensory modality, it can rewire itself to support and augment other senses. Brain rewiring or reorganisation to compensate for sensory deprivation or loss ensures that the areas of the brain dedicated to handling the lost sense do not go unused but are instead remapped to process other senses. In addition to re-routing existing neural pathways, such remapping can sometimes include the birth of new neurons. Consequently, the loss of one sense can heighten another.

Once while travelling through Dehradun, Gurudev instructed me to open a school for the deaf in that city someday. Almost a decade later, I did. Working with the deaf has taught me their culture and inducted me into their world. I have noticed how deft they are with their hands and other manual skills. Their concentration levels are very high because they are seldom distracted by sound. The loss of hearing has dramatically enhanced their sense of touch.

The mahaguru suggested we let one vice remain till we manage to control or offset the others. Ultimately, we must give up even the remaining vice. Hidden in the mahaguru’s simple suggestion were the secrets of neuroplasticity. Let me share my example. As I have gone about practising sensory control, the weak link which I intend to give up last is not merely a habit but, in fact, the sense of taste. Over the years, there has been a gradual tempering of this sense despite my employment in the hospitality trade. But on any typical day, chocolates and cheese still get the better of me! Unlike Gurudev, for whom managing his senses was the simplest thing imaginable, for me, it’s still a work in progress.

The brain’s unique transformative ability is not only due to inputs from external stimuli but also internal ones. For example, prolonged mantra recitation enhances your power of intent and changes your brain physically.

THE MIND

The brain is a multisensory organ that constantly blends information from various senses. However, some people’s brains provide them with information that goes beyond what the senses reveal. If the brain is processing information not input by the senses, then from where does this extra information or data arise? This leads us to examine sixth sense or extrasensory perception.

The answer to the mystery lies in the mind. While the brain is the reality-interpreter of the physical body, the mind is its spirit and causal body counterpart. It provides extrasensory information to the brain, allowing access to psychic abilities like intuition, telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, clairempathy, psychokinesis, remote sensing, and so on.

Nobel Prize winning quantum physicists have delved into the nature of the human body. Their findings suggest that the human body is made of seven octillion atoms. These atoms are made up of energy vortices, constantly spinning and vibrating, each with a distinct energy impression. Therefore, the physical body is not solid matter, and the universe is nothing more than vibrating strings of energy. There are also agreeable references to this in the Indian scriptures that discourse on gyan yog.

According to the law of energy conservation, the total energy in existence has always been the same. However, the forms that energy takes are constantly changing. At death, when the physical body self-destructs, the energy released travels with its spirit. The spirit’s mind then generates energy impressions and manifests a new reality.

Therefore, to change the state of your consciousness, you must change the level of your mind. Higher the level of your mind, lesser is its movement, and greater is your awareness. When the mind is stiller, it reflects the supreme self or param-aatma in a greater degree than otherwise.

IN A NUTSHELL

The form exists in the seeing.
The sound exists in the hearing.
The feel exists in the touching.
The taste exists in the tasting.
The smell exists in the smelling.

If a person can diminish the experience of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling, then there isn’t much to experience. At this stage, the experiencer begins to experience himself. In that experience of himself, he grasps his limitlessness and realises, as is he, so is the experience.