Antar Mouna

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati

Before discussing antar mouna and its relevance to pratyahara, it is important to have a basic theoretical background. Most of us come to these courses drawn by different needs and forces. We take techniques home and we need to consider what they are for and how they fit into the whole context.

At some point in our evolution we are born into this body. We find ourselves in a contracted state of awareness, trying to develop greater insight, understanding and knowledge of how to live a better life, find more happiness, more stability, less pain, less suffering, better relationships, a better quality of life. This contracted awareness takes us into a sensory based, egoic existence. We find that our knowledge and understanding of life is very dependent on external processes, on books or people. We look outside ourselves for answers, which creates a disconnection inside from parts of our own body and from life. This is a very painful condition.

Causes of suffering

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali describes this process of contraction under the heading of kleshas or causes of suffering. There are five kleshas. The first klesha is avidya, ignorance of self, ignorance of life, a shutting down of awareness which leads to the development of an egoic existence. Then the ego, asmita, moves into a battle between raga, likes and dwesha, dislikes. In this limited existence we want some things and not others. The last of the kleshas is the fear of death, abhinivesha. So ignorance leads to a contracted state which forms an ego. The ego is consumed by a process of constantly trying to obtain what it likes and pushing away the things it does not like. It tries to preserve its existence at all costs.

This concept is very important in antar mouna and pratyahara, because pratyahara is a process of internal development in which we disengage ourselves from a sensory, egoic existence and move towards a greater sense of true self. This journey requires techniques like antar mouna which is a vital process in the armoury of yoga. The contracted state is generally a non-accepting state. It is unaware, unconscious. Most of our responses from within this condition are impulsive or instinctive. These reactions tend to be repetitive, occurring time and again without conscious thought. They are usually inappropriate and generally get us into trouble.

Ignorance is a state of denial in which we do not want to know what is happening. This is not a conscious process, but an unconscious shutting off from within. When the state of like is contracted and causing suffering, it can be seen as a tenacious grabbing onto something and an unwillingness to let go. Usually this comes from a lack of awareness, a sense of insecurity and deprivation. We think that if we grab onto something we will be alright. Of course, grabbing on does not work because we become attached to the things we like. In the state of dislike we do not want to take responsibility or be committed. These are the three states that Patanjali says cause us suffering and from which we are trying to extricate ourselves by becoming more aware, more conscious and basically more yogic.

Transforming the negative states

We can use the process of pratyahara to take us along the path of evolution from an ignorant, contracted state into a more evolved one. Then that negative condition is transformed into a luminous or enlightened condition. The ignorant state becomes a state of full blown meditative awareness. This is a neutral position in which there is no action, no engagement and no movement; it is simply being, pure being.

The state of like transforms itself under the pressure of yoga, through the path of pratyahara, into dharana, concentration, and into dhyana, meditation, into a willingness to live life fully. It is the opposite of deprivation. In this state there is no longer a need to grab onto anything because you already have everything. The state of pushing away, of suppression, of not wanting to get involved, becomes a committed involvement to live in an appropriate and spontaneous manner. I think of this in terms of the martial arts. A samurai who is ready to engage in life is very relaxed until the moment of battle. At that moment he engages and then comes straight back to the most relaxed position, to that pure meditative awareness.

From oscillation to balance

So these three negative states have to be transformed. The process of transformation of the kleshas into more enlightened patterns of existence can take place through many paths and one of the best paths is yoga. In the process of transformation, the mind changes its state. Again in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras we find there are four or five different conditions that occur. Most people exist in a state of tamas or dullness, a post-lunch condition also known a Sunday-morningitis and, even worse, Monday-morningitis. These are all classical dull conditions. People also exist in the state of rajas or restlessness. There are degrees of dullness and degrees of restlessness. In the tamasic state there are different gradations from just plain dull right up really stupid or dumb.

In the restless state there are also many gradations. These are documented in the yogic texts and this is just my interpretation. We have restlessness and then the grosser state of monkey mind where the mind is jumping around like a monkey. Even worse is the drunken monkey mind which is close to a psychiatric condition. Then we have the drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion mind which is the truly restless state of mind, restlessness feeding on itself. Most of us go through these different conditions with moments of clarity.

So we move between this dull, tamasic state and this restless, rajasic state. What we are trying to do is develop sattwa, the luminous, balanced state, the state of purity and internal lightness. To reach that state we go through what is called oscillation, where we notice that we are going up and down, up and down, up and down. Some days we feel great, some days we feel horrible and we wonder what is going on. When we feel horrible we forget that we actually did feel quite good yesterday. We believe that horrible state may last forever and then when the good times come there is a sense of 'maybe this won't last'. So we grab onto that. We get into this messy dynamic with ourselves internally which is very difficult to deal with until we find a process which helps us to get out of it. Then we move out of oscillation into one-pointedness. Between dullness and restlessness and oscillation, we go through the state of pratyahara until we come to a one-pointed state of mind which is dharana. Dharana leads into luminosity which is dhyana. That is the path.

Why we need antar mouna

Antar mouna is required because this process of oscillation and extrication from the contracted state to the more benevolent state takes time. We forget and get lost along the way. We need a technique like antar mouna which will help us through this process. Antar mouna is the technique of inner silence, also known as witnessing. It is divided into six main stages which can be divided into three basic categories.

The first two categories are passive, where we sit and observe our mind and our process of evolution, of change in our inner nature, without engagement. We simply observe that tendency to suppress things and to grab onto things and to lose ourselves within our mental process. We do not try to change anything. We simply develop what is called a sense of self. While we are developing that, we have to maintain an awareness of the object of meditation. We also have to be aware of the whole process. This is important because we tend to get lost either in the object we are observing, a thought or an event, or we get lost in our own selves. It is very difficult to maintain the kind of equilibrium where we hold an awareness of self and of other at the same time.

Antar mouna is designed to allow us to do that because developing a sense of self is an antidote to the pain, to dealing with this kind of contracted and somehow distorted energetic process that goes on inside. A sense of self is very grounding and calming. We feel a greater sense of safety and trust the more we develop it. What we are trying to do is develop a greater stability in that experience, so that it becomes more available to us for longer periods of time. So the first stages of antar mouna are simply passive, learning to witness outside sounds or sensations, learning to witness thoughts without getting engaged in suppression of thoughts or involvement in the process. These are the two main states, grabbing onto a thought and pushing it away. Of course, the awareness is the antidote to ignorance.

Once we have that capacity, we go into the next two stages. These are active, to develop mental muscle, like doing mental push-ups. We consciously try to grab onto a thought, to exaggerate the process of grabbing. Then we consciously let it go. One stage is to create a thought, grab it and then throw it away, and the other state is to grab a spontaneous thought as it comes up and then throw it away. So we are developing this internal capacity to deal with our thoughts, feelings, emotions and inner states with greater clarity. In the third category, which is divided into two groups, we throw out any thought that comes into our mind, until we achieve shoonya or emptiness, a luminous emptiness. It is not a dark, tamasic emptiness; it is an emptiness which is full of peace and love.

Antar mouna is one of the most important techniques that we can learn in order to maintain the path, in order to maintain an awareness of duality and polarity, and to be able to hold the negative as well as the positive experiences.