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“But I know it when I see it…”

BG 2.58 yadā sanharate chāyaṁ kūrmo ’ṅgānīva sarvaśhaḥ indriyāṇīndriyārthebhyas tasya prajñā pratiṣhṭhitā

One who is able to withdraw the five senses from external objects, just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell, is established in divine wisdom. – Austin Sanderson

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…..” – Justice Potter Stewart, United States Supreme Court

Have you ever given much thought to the term “pornography”? Funny, without asking you, I know the kind of images and thoughts that your mind shifts too. But is pornography solely of a sexual nature? According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition of pornography is:

1. : the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2. : material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3. : the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction

It is understood that when a word is defined, the first meaning is the most prevalent definition in the world. Pornography by all accounts refers to images or writing of a sexual nature that is intended to arouse the viewer in a sexual manner, but in today’s world of social media, one could argue that the more accurate definition of pornography would be “an external stimulation with the goal of quickly arousing an intense emotional reaction in the viewer.” Just think for a moment on how you respond to social media feeds whether on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit or Tick-Tock just to name a few. Many of these social media feeds are even commonly called, “food-porn,” “yoga-porn,” “loss-porn,” “fitness-porn,” “travel destination-porn,” “luxury-porn,” “fashionista-porn,” “inspiration- porn,” “religious dogma-porn” “marketing-porn” and of course “political-porn”. Just think about how effectively social media feeds can catch you in their web of seduction.

Yoga from its very beginnings understands that the five senses were weak and vulnerable to external stimulations. In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna calls the five senses that are under the controlled by the buddhi, intellect or mind, “indriyani”. Indriyani is a term the refers to Indra the Vedic king of the gods, who’s flaw was he could not control his senses and was always seeking external pleasures. Indra would lose control of his five senses and that would lead to him losing control over his mind. Taste, touch, hearing, smell, and sight are all controlled by stimuli from each of the sensing organs in the body and then relay information to different parts of the brain through various pathways. Sensory information is transmitted from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system triggering responses to the stimuli. Indra was addicted to the rush of the irrational quick intense emotional reactions that the external stimuli feed him. To be blunt, Indra was addicted to sensory pornography. Therefore, the uncontrolled senses are named after him.

Indriya-arthebhyaḥ is to withdraw from the senses from the objects that can harm the mind. Shri Krishna draws upon the metaphor of a turtle, that draws its limbs, tail and head into its shell for protection from external attack and perceived danger. The limbs and tail represent the five senses but the head of the turtle is the mind. In the Ashtanga Yoga System of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, sensory withdraw is called Pratyahara a Sanskrit word that is a combination of two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara. Prati means "about or around" and ahara means to “withdrawal” or withdrawing from the things around you.

The mind has its own sensory preferences, for some people listening to gossip is more stimulating than touching a sensual object. For others eating rich food is more overpowering then talking on the phone. Still others prefer voyeurism and allow the eyes to feast on images as they scroll through Instagram. If we only shut down our weakest indulgence, another will rush in and take its place. This is why all five sensory organs have to be drawn inward or those that are left out become twice as vulnerable to stimulation. Finally, the mind itself, the control central is withdrawn, and like the turtle in our inner shell, we are protected for the external sensory tantalization.

Social Media is not going to go away but we have the ability to restrict it and take back the control over our senses. First, stop feeling like you are missing out, yoga is a state of being where you are missing out on nothing. Second, be selective in what you follow, if a media feed makes you experience all sorts of negative emotions – envy, worry, depression, angry, or fear you can rest assured that stirring up your emotions is the goal of that feed and you should refrain from that engagement. Third, set time limits, social media can become your mind’s “baby sitter”, entertaining you until something better comes along. Remember, you are the creator of something better. Fourth, don’t be fooled, social media is not reality, when seeing friends’ pictures of where they’ve travelled, new houses they’ve bought and how well their children are doing, it’s important to understand that posts can be misleading because they represent only a partial view of other peoples’ lives. Fifth, and most important, make time for meditation, so that you can develop the skills to draw the senses inward like the turtle.

An enlightened sadhu intelligently masters the senses and the mind. Training the mind not to depend on the emotional climaxes it gets from the external sensory organs, is done by establishing one’s self to the Infinite Wisdom within. It is this Wisdom that we are all seeking in the practice. After the danger passes, the turtle again extracts its limbs, tail and head and continues on its way. Like the turtle, the enlightened soul possesses similar control over the mind and senses and can retract and extract them according to the demands of the situation.

~ Austin Sanderson Urban Sadhu Yoga


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