maatraasparshaastu kaunteya sheetoshnasukhaduhkadaaha |
aagamaapaayinoonityaastaanstitikshasva bhaarata || 14 ||

Contact with material objects will only give joy and sorrow, heat and cold. These are transitory – they appear and disappear, so endure them bravely, O Bhaarata.

maatraasparshaaha : contact with material objects
tu : only
kaunteya : Kaunteya
sheeta : cold
ushna : heat
sukha : joy
duhka : sorrow
daaha: give
aagama : appear
apaayina : disappear
anityaaha :  transitory
taan : those
titikshasva : endure them bravely
bhaarata : O Bhaarata

The last verse gave a hint of what is this thing called the eternal essence. But since none of us have ever seen it, or experienced it, we would now like to know how can we make that happen. This verse gives us a preparatory step in that regard. It advises us to develop the capability of titiskha, or brave endurance against joy and sorrow.

Let’s examine each aspect of this verse. The first part of this verse makes the assertion that contact with material objects, or more specifically, contact of our senses with material objects, causes us to experience heat and cold.

How does this work? The senses react to external stimuli and send an input signal to the mind. The mind processes these sensory inputs and labels some as “ joy” and some as “sorrow”.  A hot coffee when it is freezing weather outside gives us joy, for sure. But the same cup of hot coffee in boiling hot summer will probably not give us joy, in fact it would probably give us sorrow.

More broadly, heat and cold in this verse represent polar opposites of stimuli received by all of our sense organs. If we take the organ of sight, then heat and cold represent beauty and ugliness. If we take the organ of touch, then heat and cold represent soft and hard.

Taking this even further, we can include words as well. If someone praises us, our ego-centred mind gets a boost, and we experience pleasure at that point. But if someone insults us, or criticizes us, our ego-centered mind feels threatened and we experience sorrow at that point.

So to summarize, our sense organs and our ego can get affected by external stimuli. But, instead of labelling each external stimulus as joy or sorrow, what if we remained steady through each of them? Instead of labelling these stimuli as “joy” and “sorrow”, could we begin to label them differently?

Let’s say your boss gave you a mouthful of criticism after your sales presentation at work. His words came through your ears, the ears sent a signal to your mind, and the mind took this criticism and labelled it as “sorrowful” or “painful”. Instead, what would happen if we labelled this as something neutral e.g. “useful information”, and used it to improve our next presentation? And if the words were not really criticism, but were veiled or direct insults, what would happen if we labelled them as “irrelevant” or “noise” or “chatter”?

Now you may say, yes, that sounds good in theory, but how do we do it in practice? The second part of the verse gives a clue in this regard. It says that any contact with material objects is temporary, it will appear and then disappear, and it has a beginning and an end. Therefore, if we know that something has an end, why should we let it bother us? Or conversely, if we know that a pleasant situation has ended, if the child’s bubble has burst, why should we grieve about it?

Again, you may say that developing this titiksha, this brave endurance, would still be difficult. Just like losing weight is not something that happens overnight, developing titiksha will also not happen overnight. You need to follow a structured, disciplined technique to do so, and the Gita will go into this topic in depth.

So then, what is the benefit of developing this titiksha? We shall see very soon.