Don’t let self-control fuel the illusion of the self as the controller
Self-control is a valuable virtue on the spiritual path. It helps us resist worldly pleasures and focus on higher purposes.
But that very self-control may reinforce our illusion that we are the controllers. The more we control our senses, the more we may expect others to control their senses according to our conceptions of self-control. When they fail to live up to our expectations, we may become angry, with our anger being fuelled by the self-righteousness coming from our self-control. Pertinently, the Puranas feature cautionary tales of renounced sages such as Durvasa succumbing to bouts of irrational, disproportionate anger.
Undoubtedly, we need to control our senses, but self-control is meant to deepen our hold on the reality that we are cooperators, not increase our illusion that we are controllers. The Gita (15.07) indicates that we are parts of God who are meant to lovingly harmonize with him. Such service attitude often necessitates that we accept others where they are in their spiritual evolution and gently help them take small steps forward without imposing our standards on them.
Moreover, remembering that we are meant to be cooperators, not controllers, can help us recover faster whenever we slip in our efforts to control our senses. When our self-worth comes from our self-control, we see such falls as life-destroying disasters, indulge in excessive self-recrimination and end up disheartened. But when we identify ourselves as servants of Krishna, we see such falls positively, as timely reminders of our indispensable need for Krishna’s shelter. Seeking that shelter, we intensify our devotional practices. Becoming purified, we progress towards full liberation, which, the Gita (05.26) indicates, involves freedom from not just desire but also anger.
In essence, self-control is meant to help the self connect with the supreme controller in a bond of loving service.
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