“In the diseased condition of the senses there is too much engagement of the senses in increasing material needs. When one comes to see the disadvantage of aggravating the sense activities, one is called a jnani, and when one tries to stop the activities of the senses by the practice of yogic principles, he is called a yogi, but when one is fully aware of the transcendental senses of the Lord and tries to satisfy His senses, one is called a devotee of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.5.30 Purport)
“I can’t wait for the new device to come out. Sure, I like the current version that I own, but look at all the new features that are supposed to be included. I can’t wait to start playing around with those. Once I get that new device, I will have to get rid of my current one. I will also have to buy new accessories. Nevertheless, isn’t that what life is all about, excitement? Why should I be bored all day in a conservative life?”
Such a mindset is quite common, especially in an advanced age where technology improves at such a rapid pace that we have trouble keeping up. In actuality, such reliance creates artificial needs, wherein we think we require something when we really don’t. Deep down we know the truth, but since we’re not confident of the proper path in life, we have no choice but to choose in favor of the reliance. Otherwise, what would we do with our time? Wouldn’t we be bored? The key is to realize the senses of another, more powerful being. Only in that state are our own senses used properly.
What do our senses have to do with anything? We’re talking about playing with material things here. I don’t see what seeing, hearing, touching, feeling and tasting have to do with this.
Let’s take eating to see how the senses work and how their needs can be artificially increased. I need to eat to stay alive. It’s as simple as that. The food I eat gives me the energy I need to work. And without work I couldn’t eat, so it’s a symbiotic relationship.
But what do I need to eat? Also, how much food is required? Simple grains, milk and water are enough to keep me alive. This is a fact, though in a time when new stories on diet and nutrition are published daily, you will have so many people argue with you on this fact. We can look to recorded history, however, to see the truth in our claim. So many sages in India have lived for a long time surviving on minimal food intake. They were “healthy” in the sense that they lived long. They weren’t unhappy either; it’s just that they derived their happiness from someplace other than food.
I create artificial needs when I tell myself that I need to eat more than I should. “I’m in the mood for ice cream. I could sure go for a hot fudge sundae right now. Pizza would be perfect right before that. Let me go online and see which pizza places have the best reviews. Perhaps I can make this a regular thing; checking out new pizza places. I can create my own rating system in the process.” As a result, now I have a threshold for satisfaction in eating. If food is not up to par in taste, I will be unhappy. I also now need to spend more money than I should on something as basic as eating.
This entire sequence of events is driven by the senses; which in this instance is the sense of taste. The same principle applies to the other senses as well. The reliance on new technological gadgets creates artificial needs for the eyes and the ears. And we mention all of this because the increase in needs is not advantageous. Rather, the more one relies on external objects for their maintenance, the more inferior they become. If I can eat grains, milk and water, and perhaps some fruit every now and then, I’m in a position superior to someone who must have gourmet food every day. This is because my fare is readily available and I’m satisfied with basic quantities. Conversely, the person eating the gourmet meals must have the proper taste in order to feel even a little satisfaction. In addition, since they put so much stress on eating, they will not know the proper portions to eat, thereby causing lethargy after eating, which is the opposite of the intended effect.
When one realizes the disadvantage of artificially increasing the demands of the senses as a whole, they are called a jnani. The understanding is confirmed through study of Vedanta, which teaches the individual that they are spirit and not their body. The senses actually have nothing to do with us. It’s sort of like putting on an expensive suit and then constantly worrying if our tie is aligned properly and if there is the right crease in our pants. If we put so much stress on the clothes, we’re ignoring our own person, who has nothing to do with the clothes.
The jnani sees the entire material body as a set of clothes, with the soul forming the identity of the individual. The jnani is a philosopher in a sense, as they see but don't necessarily act. They are realized in mind, but when one takes the steps necessary to stop the activities of the senses, they are called a yogi. Think of retreating to a cave and sitting in meditation all day. Now you’re not enticed by food, sex, or material objects. Your senses are thus deprived of outside contact, thereby eliminating the disadvantage.
The devotee, however, is superior to both the jnani and the yogi because they realize the transcendental senses of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and then use their own senses to try to please Him. We have arms, legs, and a brain for a reason. We have the ability to speak and to hear, so why not use them for a higher cause? The jnani will say that these can only connect with maya, or illusion, and thereby cause agitation. But the senses of the Supreme Lord are not material. This means that using our own senses to please His senses will not entangle us. On the contrary, this endeavor trains the senses in such a way that one can live either renounced or fully engaged and still not be at a disadvantage.
The same desire for eating from before can be used to offer elaborate preparations to God and then eat the remnants. The same technological gadgets can be used to describe God’s pastimes and features and hear about the same from other devotees. In this practice, known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, why would there be a need for artificial renunciation? Why renounce something that brings me transcendental pleasure? Why give up something that is so good for me in the end? The devotee is neither materially detached nor renounced; they live in God consciousness.
Bhakti-yoga is elaborate and difficult to understand completely in the beginning, but through a little effort adopted under authorized guidelines, much progress can be made. Lord Chaitanya has authorized one process in particular in being the most effective for the people of this age, who are very materially attached due to the increased reliance on artificial needs. That process is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. It pleases the senses of the master of all senses, Hrishikesha, which is another name for God. To seek out His pleasure is the ideal use of our senses, making our human birth worthwhile.
If external engagement my desire feeds,
Temporary happiness made with artificial needs.
When the disadvantage I see,
Known am I as a jnani.
When from engagement I retreat,
As a yogi on ground I take my seat.
Devotee with real knowledge sees,
With their senses God they try to please.
As Hrishikesha of the senses God is master,
His devotees approach heavenly bliss much faster.