yada samharate cayam kurmo nganiva sarvasah
indiryanindiryarthebhyastasya prajna pratisthita
yada – when
ca – and
ayam – this person
kurmah – turtle
angani – limbs
iva – like
indiryarthebhyah – from sense objects
indriyani – sense organs
sarvasah – completely
samharate – is able to withdraw
tasya – his
pragna – knowledge
pratisthita – is steady
When, like the turtle that withdraws its limbs, this person is able to completely withdraw the sense organs from their objects, his knowledge is steady.
In this verse, the capacity of the wise person’s to manage his or her mind and senses is discussed. A person may be gyani but the person should be able to withdraw the sense organs from the sense pursuits at will. Although the senses themselves are not harmful, they are referred as villains in the shastram. For e.g. We make such statements as ‘ I am OK, but my sense organs take me for a ride’. ‘I am in their hands and I cannot control it’. ‘My senses are doing the mischief and I am not doing it’. These statements seem familiar to us and we sometimes say it.
The sense organs are not to blame at all. They are just reporters and do not ask you to do anything. Reporting is their job and the eyes tell you what is there. If it is a sentence you are reading, the eyes help you read it. If it is a color they help you see it. The eyes, ears, hands etc. are sense organs and they only do what your senses tell them to do. So your mind is the cause and your mind tells the sense organs to do certain things. Can the sense organs function by themselves if the mind was not there? In deep sleep state, your organs of action are completely at rest, because the mind is also at rest. So there is no work for the sense organs.
The verse talks about the wise person who does not get carried away by what his mind thinks but channels his mind to do what is the rightful thing and not let it go. An example of this can be like a chariot containing 5 horses and you are the sarathi. The chariot is the body and the 5 senses are your power of seeing, hearing, touch, smell and taste. The sarathi is you the mind and you are riding the chariot. Now if your mind wanders and is not focused on the road, do you think the chariot will be on course? No. We have a saying in Tamil called ‘Manam oru kudirai’. The mind is like a horse and if it goes everywhere, the chariot will not take you to the right destination.
But can anyone withdraw the senses? The person we are discussing here is a sthithapragya and we already saw who is a sthithapragya. Krishna uses the example of a turtle (kurmaha) here with reference to the sense organs. A turtle is able to withdraw its limbs at will and then send them out again. Because the turtle cannot move quickly it is given protection. It has to the capacity to withdraw its neck, legs and tail in under its thick shell whenever it sees danger. This is the bhagavan’s gift to the turtle. Bhagavan could have given everyone 4 legs to flee when seeing danger. But what here happens is that the turtle is slow yet he can survive by withdrawing itself into its shell for protection.
Similar to the turtle, the human being is not helpless in the hands of the senses because the person has a shell into which he or she can withdraw. If it is a fancy, it becomes a fancy and it goes away. It is only when you want something to do with the fancy then the problem arises.
In summary, the person who already has knowledge about the limitations of each of the desire, raga, dvesas and he is not disturbed, such a person can withdraw his senses anytime if his mind gets distracted. For people who are not yet ready for this, the preparation is the key i.e antha karana shuddhi by performing karma yoga.