Transience and Duality in the Mortal World

Krishna's Teachings

by Jayaram V


Chapter 2, Verse 14

14. O Kunti's son, contacts of the senses and their objects give rise to the feelings of heat and cold, pleasure and pain etc. They are transitory and fleeting. Therefore, Bharata (Arjuna) endure them.

This verse is about the transient nature of perceptual experience. The world itself is transient. Therefore, all our experience of it will be transient and fleeting. When we cling to the things that are perishable by nature we are bound to experience suffering and disappointment. We all cling to one thing or another. Some of our attachments are so deep that we cannot easily get rid of them. Even a simple thing like a cup of coffee or tea can cause you misery if they are missing for long time in your life. The solution to the problem is we must learn to endure the losses in our lives, knowing that they are transitory.

We are continuously disturbed by the objects with which we form relationships or attachment. They can be people or the things that you deeply love and cherish. When you hoard a large number of them in your mind, you are bound to be frequently disturbed by them. For example, when you throw a stone into the placid waters of a lake, it creates ripples on the surface and leaves the lake disturbed. It remains disturbed until the ripples or the waves weaken and disappear. However, imagine what would happen if stones are thrown continuously into the lake by an external agent. Imagine further the state of the lake if many stones are simultaneously thrown into it from different directions.

The state of our consciousness will be similar to the lake when a number of sense objects hit it from different directions and keep it disturbed. The senses are chiefly responsible for the restlessness and mental modifications of our minds. We experience them even in sleep as dreams and dream objects and in passive states as memories and reflections. Since the senses continuously bring a variety of impressions into the mind, which are retained in memory, it remains continuously disturbed by the perceptions or their memories. If the mind is weaker, easily distracted, lacks discipline or driven by innumerable desires and evil thoughts, the disturbance will be even more.

If you are suffering due to any cause, it is better to focus your attention upon the causes rather than the effect. Acknowledge your suffering, but at the same time try to understand its cause. This little diversion can take you out of the emotional turmoil caused by the suffering and put you into a rational mode. Krishna precisely was doing this to draw Arjuna’s attention to the cause of his suffering, so that he would refocus and think about it rather than suffer from it.

In this verse, we learn another important point, which is the duality we experience in wakeful state. The senses do not just leave impressions of the sense objects in our minds. They create feelings of attraction and aversion to sense objects, whereby we differently experience the pairs of opposites such as pleasure or pain, heat or cold, etc., as pleasant or unpleasant. This is duality, which we all experience, and why we experience a range of positive and negative emotions. Usually, due to desires and attachments we do not equally respond to the pairs of opposites. We like them or hate them. We desire to have them or escape from them, depending upon how we perceive them or what drives our thoughts and actions.

Here, it is also important to remember that by itself the mind is not the cause of duality, disturbance and restlessness. There are other players in the fray, who make the mind their playground. They are the triple gunas, the ego and intelligence. It is the ego's perception of the incoming information, as filtered by the gunas and intelligence which causes the ripples (feelings and emotions) and keeps the mind disturbed. We are disturbed by our own thoughts, emotions and feelings according to our inherent nature or the predominance of the gunas in response to our perceptions and interpretation. It is not what we perceive, but our interpretation of it, which leads to the disturbance. That interpretation is heavily colored by our desires, inclinations and inherent modes of thinking.

The ego interferes with the incoming information. It adds its own footnote to each impression as desirable or undesirable and classifies it into a meaningful category by grouping it with similar perceptions. Sometimes, it also colors the information according to knowledge, desires and attachments. It is this tendency of the ego to interfere with the incoming information and seeing it as categories, classes and divisions, instead of an indivisible reality, which give rise to the feelings of opposites. It makes the mind home to the play of its ignorant troop namely the myriad instincts, impulses, desires, feelings, hopes, passions.

The aim of spiritual life is to understand these movements of the senses, the working of the mind and the nature and activities of the ego so that we become aware of their movements, accept them for what they are and achieve freedom from their tyranny and monotony. Suffering cannot entirely be removed or mitigated from life. The transience of life is both a curse and a blessing. While it is responsible for our suffering, it also provides us with the hope that whatever suffering we are enduring will not last forever. That in itself is a blessing. Whenever you experience suffering, know that it is temporary and will not last forever. Remembering the transience of phenomenal existence, one can also cultivate detachment and humility so that you can respond with wisdom and right awareness to both pleasure and pain or heat and cold.

Note : These commentaries are not part of the Bhagavadgita Complete Translation.

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