The body is meant for neither gratification nor mortification, but for utilization
We often assume that our body is meant for gratification. The world leads us to believe that by indulging in our bodily senses, we will get pleasure.
But the same body that is the source of sensual delight is also the arena for disease, deterioration and destruction – all of which are distressful, hugely distressful. Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (05.22) cautions that sensual gratification ends in tribulation.
Despite such tribulation and caution, the bodily senses drive us towards indulgence repeatedly and forcefully, thereby inviting misery. Recognizing that bodily urges breed suffering, some people try to extinguish such urges by subjecting the body to stimuli opposite to its cravings. So, they may expose it to extreme heat or extreme cold or self-flagellation. By thus subjecting it to mortification, they hope to extinguish its urges.
Significantly, the Gita (17.06) considers bodily mortification to be ungodly. It highlights that such abuse of the bodily elements causes distress to the Supersoul, who doesn’t want his children to suffer unnecessarily.
Gita wisdom offers a balanced vision of the body as a tool for spiritual realization. For gaining such realizations, active forms of yoga, unlike their contemplative counterparts, engage all of our faculties – not just mental and intellectual, but also physical and sensual (05.11). This same mood of utilizing the body is taken to its summit in bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional action and intention. Therein we see the body as belonging to our beloved Lord, Krishna, and meant for being used in his service.
Moreover, bhakti-yoga offers us multiple sensory pathways to the divine. These include beholding the Deities with the eyes, chanting the holy names with the tongue and hearing spiritual wisdom with the ears. Such spiritual utilization redefines the body: it doesn’t remain the cause of bondage, but becomes the means to liberation.
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