Duryodhana planned to assassinate Pandavas by sending them to a distant land called ‘Varanavata’ and burning them alive in a house of lac. Dhritharashtra asked the Pandavas to go to that land promising a nice pleasure excursion. The wise Vidura came to know of Duryodhana’s ill intentions. He alerted Yudhistira timely in a cryptic language when they were about to set on their journey – “One who knows there are sharp weapons capable of cutting the body although not made of metal is not injured by them. He survives who understands that the consumer of wood and straw does not reach the dwellers of a hole in the forest. Always stay alert. One who keeps his senses under control can never be overcome by any enemy.”
Need for self-mastery
The efficiency and effectiveness of an instrument depends upon the degree of control we have on it. A smartphone offers a finer degree of control than a feature phone, therefore it is more effective and efficient. If we have an instrument that works unpredictably, a lot of time goes in trying to bring it in control rather than directing it for a definite purpose. Of all the instruments that matter most to us is our own body and psyche. Possessing a sustainable, greater and finer control on these facilities will make a lot of difference to our life. A finer control on physical body through exercise, yoga keep us fit and healthy. More important is the ability to control our mind. It enhances our ability to focus and our ability to be sharp and reflexive. Most important is the control on our desires and intentions. It happens with practically everyone. A controlled mind is our friend whereas an uncontrolled mind is our enemy (BG 6.5). A moment’s hesitation, a reckless remark, a slight distraction, a wrong intention – a heavy price. To the extent we can influence ourselves, to that extent we can influence others. Self-mastery is a vital aspect in our self-development and in enhancing our contribution to society. For instance, Ravana did not have self-mastery especially over his desires and intentions, committed mistake after mistake, leading to his defeat and death. Hanuman, on the other hand has self-mastery and contributed constructively to himself and others.
Does self-mastery make us invincible?
By default, none of us possess self-mastery. We get defined by our desires, words and actions rather we defining our actions, words and desires. We need to acquire self-mastery. The process of acquiring self-mastery involves knowing the right and wrong or healthy and unhealthy actions, words and desires. If we take healthy diet, our body becomes healthy and we will have finer degree of control on it. Likewise, if we cultivate healthy desires, words and actions, we will have finer degree of control on our desires, words and actions. In the course of cultivating these, we need to constantly monitor our desires, words and actions and rectify them by abstaining from unhealthy desires, words and actions. If we adopt healthy desires, words and actions, our enemies are those who are habituated to unhealthy desires, words and actions.
Owing to our self-mastery, we will have clear and complete understanding of what is healthy and what is unhealthy. One who has achieved self-mastery can observe himself well as well as others (BG 5.7). We can easily detect our enemies. We can easily assess their strengths, weaknesses. We can also understand our competencies and limitations. All this knowledge will help us timely decide whether to confront the enemy or defend ourselves and if so, then when and how to confront. For instance, Vibhishana has self-mastery whereas Ravana did not have self-mastery. Vibhishana could make out Ravana’s future. When Ravana and his party turned against Vibhishana, he wisely choose to join Lord Rama and avoided a direct confrontation with Ravana. Kumbhakarna did not have self-mastery and met his doom by siding with Ravana.
How to acquire self-mastery?
Every engineer manufactures an instrument for a particular purpose. Simailarly, our physique and psyche are fabricated for fulfilling a particular purpose. When we align with that purpose and use these facilities accordingly, we can develop self-mastery. The purpose as delineated in Bhagavad Gita is spiritual upliftment and selfless social contribution (BG 18.46). This can be implicitly ensured by cultivating wellness (BG 14.11) i.e. food habits, virtues, determination, happiness in mode of goodness as delineated in 17th and 18th chapters of Bhagavad Gita.