Lessons from a tortoise

Lessons from a tortoise

One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness.

It’s amazing how many lessons we can learn from nature; in fact, the bhakti texts are rich with beautiful descriptions and analogies.

One can learn to be humble like a blade of grass which never protests or demands recognition and learn the art of tolerance from a tree that weathers all types of inconveniences.

Gita Chapter 2 verse 58 gives a beautiful description of a tortoise. What’s arguably is the reason that prompts a tortoise to withdraw its limbs within its shell? If you said fear, you’re right! The tortoise is intelligent enough to perceive a threat to its well being and therefore retreats inside.

In fact, this is the symptom of the yogi who is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness. What do I mean…well let’s start off with the basics. The yoga process begins when one practices yama and niyama.

The yamas and niyamas are the step-by-step path towards the realization of yoga, as described in the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. They relate directly to how you behave outwardly in the world and inwardly toward yourself. That means adopting those practices which help one progress on the path of yoga and simultaneously giving up those things which detract one.

In life we progress by adopting practices that help us understand that we are eternal, blissful souls and we set aside those habits that only serve to reinforce the illusion that we are these material bodies.

So how does one go about doing it. We seek pleasure through our senses. By constantly feeding the appetites of the senses we can get addicted. For example, if you are a total sweet junkie then it would be difficult to give up sugar for a month. Even though you know white sugar is bad it takes a lot of determination and self control to give up.

Remember that you should not eliminate all sweets. Instead of eating items with white sugar, eat fruits which have natural sugars. This is the key – it is not about eliminating sweets completely but eating those that are good for you as opposed to that which is not.

This is exactly what the Gita is proposing. Since our senses can get us into trouble, it is recommended that like the tortoise we withdraw them in. However, one cannot do that artificially. It’s impossible to simply ignore our senses. The goal is instead of being a slave to our senses, we instead use them properly.

The best way we can engage our senses properly is to perform our actions in the spirit of gratitude. When we act in that spirit of gratitude and not with the expectation of “enjoying the results for myself”, the senses naturally become purified. Instead of acting against us, they can actually help us in our journey of self-discovery.

Contributed by Col. Prakash Tewari

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