Pratyahara, The Practice Of
सुमरित सुरत जगाय कर, मुख के कछु न बोल ।।
बाहर का पट बन्द कर, अन्दर का पट खोल ॥
[Awaken the continuous beat of inner remembrance, don’t speak anymore
Close your mind to the outer world, open the inner door ||]
Slowly with patience, we walk the path. In this manner when we have learnt to steady the body and are able to attain “Kaya-Sthairyam”, then we can easily begin to work on our mind with a little more advanced practices like the one called ‘Pratyahara’.
Pratyahara or sense-withdrawal is an important stage in Meditation, Dhyana. In fact it is not possible to do meditation unless we have learnt pratyahara or withdrawal of senses from their concerns. In the Ashtanga Yoga of Sage Patanjali, Pratyahara comes before Dhyana or meditation in the sequence of practices leading to self evolution. The eight practice-steps in Ashtanga Yoga are Yama (Social rules), Niyama (Personal rules), Asana (Physical posture), Pranayma (Breath expansion), Pratyahara (Sense-withdrawal), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation) and Samadhi (supreme state of oneness). Each of these steps has its own significance on the ladder of self evolution.
This month let us take the subject of Pratyahara or Sense- withdrawal. The word “Pratyahara” consists of “Prati” which means ‘counter/opposite’ and “Ahara” which means ‘food/intake. Hence, “Pratyahara” is a practice of cutting the flow of intake through senses. During most of our waking time, our senses feed themselves on their respective objects. When our senses are active, the flow of energy is from inside to outside. The senses use or burn up a lot of our energy to dwell and hog on their respective objects. This is often unnecessary and exhaustive. In Pratyahara, the seeker/ meditator cuts this flow of intake through senses. This is effected by pulling the senses inward and by shutting out their objects from them.
There are many techniques of Pratyahara which can be used to silence the senses and to alter the flow of energy. Most common practice is to close the eyes. The sense of vision is the most active sense and we waste a huge amount of energy by constantly keeping our eyes open. However, there are some techniques where the eyes remain open and are directed to focus at one point. This channels the energy flow. This is called Trataka. It is most famous practice of fixing the gaze at something. Trataka can be done on a chosen object like a star, a candle flame, a crystal, or full moon etc. Practice of Trataka effects quick Pratyahara. However, this should be learnt from a competent teacher.
A practice which is most easy and which all of us can do is just sitting and watching our thoughts because when we watch our thoughts - coming and going - on our mental space, we feel an initial rush of thoughts into this space but slowly we realise that the thoughts have become less and less. Finally, they are completely silenced and we are left with pure energy and peace.
Lord Krishna is referring to the same practice in the following verse.
Yato yato nishcharati manashchanchalamasthiram |
Tatastato niyamyaitadatmanyeva vasham nayet ||
[To wherever and whatever this restless and unsteady mind wanders
From there it should be restrained (quickly) and should be brought under the dictates of the self alone].
This verse indicates that we should have a strong will power as well as a strong dedication to our practice because Lord Krishna is talking about bringing back the wandering mind as soon as it wanders. Therefore as a seeker, we just cannot allow any free space or free time to our mind. We can not let it wander. We have to keep watching it very carefully so that we can pull it as soon as it tries to run away.
In this context, we must understand the difference between watching the thoughts and controlling the thoughts. These are two different things and we can either practice them separately or we can combine the two. In fact, when we start to watch our thoughts, the waves of thoughts become less and less aggressive and thoughts start to fade. When the flow of thoughts has reduced to a great extent and we get one or two thoughts in a long space of time then at this point we can use deliberate force to suppress these one or two thoughts. When there are no thoughts then the state of Samadhi is easily stained .
On the eighth day of the receding moon cycle in the month of Bhadrapad, we celebrate the birthday of our beloved God Krishna. Krishna is the eight avatar of Vishnu. All over India this day is celebrated with great devotion and joy. The whole land becomes a sacred space where life of Krishna is played out in almost all habitable spaces of the Indian subcontinent. Janmashtami falls on the 5th September this year. May we learn from the playfulness of Lord Krishna’s character and begin to see the life as a perfectly structured play and become a good witness of this theatre!