Gita Metaphors 2 – Wind 1 – A Boat Amidst a Storm
The Gita uses the metaphor of the wind for the first time in its second chapter (02.67): Just as a wind can sweep away a boat on water, so too can even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses sweep away the intelligence. Gita 02.55-72 is a response to Arjuna’s question in 2.54 about the characteristics of the enlightened. In his answer Krishna states that one of their essential characteristics is their sense-control. While describing this characteristic of the seers, he as a bonus also gives some guidelines about how we seekers can control our senses – which is the point that this metaphor makes by illustrating the converse: how the senses can take control of us and lead us astray.
The specific points of comparison, though, require some thought to figure out. Just as the boat is swept away, so, it might be inferred, are we swept away. However, the verse compares the boat not to us, but to our intelligence. This is a subtle but significant difference, a difference that underscores the critical role of our intelligence. In our confrontation with sensual temptation, our intelligence is our last line of defense, as has been hinted at four verses earlier (02.63): while describing the sequence of how we fall for sense objects, the Gita mentions that the second-last thing to fall is the intelligence – once our intelligence falls, we too fall. So, given that our and our intelligence’s fate are usually tied together, at least with respect to the challenge of controlling the senses, the Gita (02.67) comparison of the boat with our intelligence can be extended to included our intelligence and us. That is, just as a boat is swept away, our intelligence and we are swept away.
What the Gita compares the wind to is not explicit in the verse. But it can be inferred from the context. The wind is compared to the material desire that is generated when the mind focuses on any of the roaming senses. The implicitness of the object of comparison points to the process for protecting ourselves. We may not be able to control the wind that starts flowing in a water body, but we can control desire from blowing forcefully, like a wind, in our consciousness. How? By carefully refusing to focus on the roaming senses. We can best prevent our senses from roaming by keeping ourselves absorbed in constructive activity, or we can at least be alert enough to avoid focusing when any of the senses perceives an alluring sense object. Just as the wind can come from any direction on a water body, so too can the wind of desire, which we could call alliteratively the gust of lust, come from any of the senses into our consciousness.
Extending the analogy, just as a boat in a water body is always vulnerable to storms so too are we always vulnerable while in material existence, which is also often compared to a water body, an ocean. In fact, that comparison is so common that it has spawned a metaphorical compound word bhavasagar, usually translated as “the ocean of material existence.” As long as we are in the ocean of material existence, we are always vulnerable to being swept away by the gust of lust.
But this metaphor while making us aware of our danger also conveys the power we have: we can prevent the gust of lust from being generated if we avoid contemplating on the sense objects. And the most effective preventive method is focusing on the most positive object for contemplation: Krishna, the all-attractive, all-loving Supreme Person, the source of all pleasure. Fixing our consciousness on Krishna is a theme that the Gita has pointed to earlier (02.61) and will repeat frequently throughout.