“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
“You’re not really sick, man. It’s all in your head. You’re not really cold or hot, either. You should be able to get over this. Just tell yourself that there’s no pain. Then you can fight through it.” Perhaps we’ve heard this advice from one of our friends. Seems a little silly when you have a fever, a runny nose, and a nagging cough. It’s hard to take stock in these words when it’s below the freezing point outside and we can see our breath as we walk to our car. It’s especially difficult to understand this when we are feeling fatigued, when we desperately want to take some rest.
“I can’t function without my morning coffee. Until I have my first cup, I won’t be truly awake.” We know that this is a common sentiment based on how much coffee is sold in convenience stores in the morning. The mind thinks that it can’t do this or that without a specific chemical, but the “mind over matter” concept does have some truth to it. Not that fatigue is part of our imagination, but there are ways to get through it. And these ways don’t have to involve chemical stimulants. Both personal experience and the Bhagavad-gita confirm this.
We’ve heard of the mother who can suddenly lift a car to save her baby. Again, this seems a little ridiculous, but there have certainly been times in our lives where we did amazing things when suddenly called into action. The first time we opened our new smartphone or tablet we likely played with it for hours. Despite staying awake into hours we normally would be tired, we remained active, charged by the enthusiasm. Just hearing some good news can do the same. If someone informs us of something that gets us excited, we suddenly don’t feel the outside conditions so much. We may be extremely tired in the morning, but if we’re afraid of missing our train to work, we’re able to wake up.
Devotion to the Supreme Lord brings this capability all the time. Serving God in a loving way is known by many terms, with bhakti-yoga being one of them. Bhakti-yoga is the discipline of uniting the individual soul with the Supreme Lord through love especially. This love cannot be checked and it is not motivated. What we normally consider love lacks both of these features. Love of anyone else is checked by at least the time factor. Love is also motivated by the reciprocation we hope to receive.
When you remove the motivation and the impediments, you get something that makes you happy all the time. You are able to get that warm feeling inside at any moment, during even times of trouble. One person who is always in bhakti-yoga is Arjuna. One time, through divine arrangement, he shows ignorance so that the Supreme Lord can offer sound words of advice. Arjuna’s questioning of Krishna is also bhakti-yoga, as it is an act of love. Krishna then addresses Arjuna by so many different names, with Gudakesha being one of them.
“Gudaka means sleep, and one who conquers sleep is called gudakesha. Sleep also means ignorance. So Arjuna conquered both sleep and ignorance because of his friendship with Krishna. As a great devotee of Krishna, he could not forget Krishna even for a moment, because that is the nature of a devotee. Either in waking or in sleep, a devotee of the Lord can never be free from thinking of Krishna’s name, form, quality and pastimes.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.24 Purport)
Gudakesha means that Arjuna is the conqueror of sleep. He doesn’t have to sleep if he doesn’t want to. Not that he’s trying to win a contest, he simply forgets about it since he is engaged in devotional service. His primary means of service is courageously fighting against enemy forces on a battlefield. Arjuna serves as the lead warrior for a particular side in the greatest war in history. To fight valiantly requires one to be alert. Those trained in the military are not shown how to sleep long hours throughout the day. Instead, they are trained to go off little sleep, for that toughens them up for the difficult situations they will face.
War is indeed difficult, but it is the devotion which allows those like Arjuna to conquer sleep. In one of the many instructions offered to Arjuna, Krishna says that happiness and distress come and go like the winter and summer seasons. The recipient feels them due to sense perception only. Krishna does not say that the happiness and distress are fake. He does not say that one should pretend that they don’t exist. He advises Arjuna to tolerate them without being disturbed. This means “carry out your duty despite the outside conditions.”
This is another way of describing how devotional service is unmotivated and uninterrupted. The happiness of a temporary victory should not dampen one’s enthusiasm to serve God going forward. The same goes for a devastating defeat. Arjuna would indeed face both of these, and though he accepted both, he did not let them disturb his fixed concentration on following Krishna’s orders.
Hearing about Krishna, who is the personal aspect of God, the origin to the material creation, the spiritual world, the concept of an all-powerful being, and the highest philosophy presented in scriptural texts, brings a natural high. One can hear of Him by simply chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Hearing and chanting are the foundation of devotional service, and they bring such joy that the devoted soul is no longer disturbed by outside influences. They can easily stay away from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, since these are not necessary to make it through life. The child goes through the early part of life just fine without these things, so why should there be addictions to them in adult life?
And what if the chemicals are not around on a specific day? What if there is a strike of workers that leads to a shortage of coffee? What if there is no beer at the local supermarket? What if there is no money to purchase expensive meats? The human being can survive just fine without these things, and that survival is made much easier when there is the natural high of devotion. Arjuna experiences it all the time, and through hearing what he heard, so can we.
Heat and cold conditions to find,
Matter only, make strong the mind.
Information from Bhagavad-gita received,
That such states only from senses perceived.
Consider how when joyous news heard,
Conquering fatigue into action spurred.
By chemicals not in work inspired,
For devotion all that Arjuna requires.