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 that which appears real but is not, is perceived reality, often referred to as maya.

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

In every being, the brain sits silently in the skull and does not directly interface with the external world. It merely interprets the data the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin feed into it just as a computational device would. Whatever these organs perceive is translated into electrochemical signals by the brain’s dense network of almost 100 billion cells/neurons. Every second, each neuron fires tens or hundreds of electrical pulses to other neurons. The brain interprets the electrochemical patterns that emerge from neuronal signalling into our understanding of the world. This is how it simultaneously processes the signals received from different sensory organs as electrochemical patterns that allow us to define our worldview – our reality.

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

Animals also have receptors to sense the world around them, with capabilities varying across species. Some animals may lack one or more of the traditional five senses, while others can sense the world in a way 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. Therefore, each will have a different perspective of the world. Similar examples of nature go to show that our sensory inputs are constrained or limited by our biology.

Therefore, your perceived reality is more a 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 heightened 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 they did, he smiled back. This was his method of inciting abuse so that he could test his resilience. (PS: I am sharing this approach more as an observation rather than a recommendation).

By controlling his anger, Gurudev erased a strong emotion from his psyche. 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 had once mentioned that when evolved spiritualists die, during their onward journey, they arrive at a crossway from where one path leads to the beautiful lower dimensions (lokas) while the other path leads to plain-looking higher lokas. Since the pursuit of beauty can land a spirit in a lower realm, it is beneficial to steer away from the beauty trap!

For overcoming the sense of smell, Gurudev took a leaf out of Aghori 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 young 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 just took a few sips from their cups and wasted the rest. The girl had brewed the tea on a stove and so it smelt of kerosene and was unpalatable. Upon leaving the associate’s house, the mahaguru let his disciples have it! Imagine how unwise of them to disregard a cup of tea blessed by their guru, only because it smelt of kerosene!

Gurudev sips the tea made by a young devotee

In tracing Gurudev’s life journey, I have been able to notice how his habits and attitudes changed from the early years to when he evolved into a guru and then a mahaguru. To elucidate this point, let me talk about his views on food – the ultimate indulgence of the sense of taste.

On many nights, Gurudev slept without his last meal for the day. On being queried about it, he casually admitted, if any of his devotees slept without food on any night, then he would skip his meal too. Probably that was his way of mentally willing his meal to them using the power of intent. He also recommended fasting once a week as a detox so that the bodily secretions could augment the digestion of food left as stock ‘n’ trade in the body,

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 his friends, colleagues and disciples to being the last person in a gathering to eat, and to holding langar at the sthan for distributing food freely to people, the mahaguru treated ann or food with extreme respect.

Gurudev had controlled his sense of taste to the point that he neither craved food nor indulged excessively. Completely vegetarian and sattvic, he could easily subsist on liquids. On those afternoons that he cycled to a house near his office to meet with people who needed his help, his lunch was a glass of lassi (buttermilk). Most mornings, his breakfast was nimbu pani (lemonade). On occasions like Mahashivratri, he did not eat until he had met the last person in the queue, a process that took anywhere from three to four days. His daughter fondly remembers him telling her that he who learns to feed others before feeding himself, transcends the desire for food. The mahaguru viewed the seva of ann daan (food donation) as invaluable.

It is the sense of hearing that connects us to people, helping us communicate like no other sense can. Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, summed up the value of hearing in her statement, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people”. Since the response to what we hear is almost always communicated via speech, the one way to practice control on the sense of hearing is to develop the power of discernment; to intuitively hear the unsaid and be selective in responding to what is heard. Gurudev always told us not to believe anything we had not ourselves seen and heard. With this diktat, he discouraged loose talk or gossip.

There is a fascinating anecdote about Gurudev’s power of discernment. Once when a disciple seated in his presence started tooting his own horn and dismissed the mahaguru’s advice because he wanted to correct the “wrong” notions the guru entertained about him, he was confronted with the shock of his life. The understated guru who seldom displayed his powers pulled a number that left the others present in the room stupefied. He asked Bittuji to fetch the keys to his bedside cupboard. Bittuji was instructed to remove the sealed set of four blank audio cassettes from that cupboard’s locker. After removing the cassettes’ packaging, Bittuji was asked to play the third cassette from the lot. When he did so, those present in the room heard the verbatim first-person conversation of the disciple in question bragging about the same “mistake” he 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 was also fond of listening to music, particularly that of Mohammed Rafi. He liked tuning in to the radio during car-rides, but gradually over time, I saw his interest in music wane until it came to a point where he could appreciate good music but not get 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 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 physiologically change brain structure and improve its functionality, a capability referred to as neuroplasticity. Therefore, when the brain is deprived of input in one sensory modality, it can rewire itself to support and augment other senses.

Brain rewiring or reorganisation to compensate for the deprivation or loss of any sensory information ensures that the areas of the brain dedicated to handling the lost sense do not go unused but instead get remapped to process other senses. Such remapping can sometimes include the birth of new neurons besides the re-routing of existing neural pathways. As a result, over time, 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, even the remaining vice must be given up. Hidden in the mahaguru’s simple suggestion were the secrets of neuroplasticity. Let me explain this with 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 offsetting his senses was the simplest thing imaginable, for me, it’s still 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 is beyond what the senses reveal. If the brain is processing some information that is not input by the senses, then wherefrom does this additional information or data arise? This leads us to examine the term ‘sixth sense’ or ‘extra-sensory 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 extra-sensory information to the brain, allowing access to psychic abilities like intuition, telepathy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience clair empathy, psychokinesis, remote sensing, etc.

Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicists have delved into the nature of the human body. Their discoveries allude to the human body being composed of seven octillion atoms. These atoms are made of vortices of energy, constantly spinning and vibrating, each with distinct energy impressions. Therefore, nothing in the physical body is composed of solid matter. Quantum physics describes the universe as nothing more than vibrating strings of energy. Agreeable references are also available in the Indian scriptures that discourse on gyan yog.

As per the law of energy conservation, the total energy in existence has always been the same. However, the forms that energy takes are continually changing. At death, when the physical body self-destructs, the energy released travels with its spirit. The mind of the spirit then creates its energy impressions and manifests a new reality for itself.

Therefore, to change the state of your consciousness, you need to 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.