Hamsa Dhyana

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The technique of hamsa dhyana takes us into another deeper aspect of pratyahara. What is hamsa dhyana? The principles and techniques of yoga have been mentioned in much of the different literature of Tantra, Vedanta and Samkhya. The technique of hamsa dhyana belongs to Vedanta yoga. There is a whole Upanishad devoted to the theory and concept of this meditative practice. The name of the Upanishad is Hamsa Upanishad, which is available in Sanskrit only, not English.

Developing awareness of being

The aim of the technique of hamsa dhyana as given in this Upanishad is to internalize the consciousness and to experience the true nature of life, being. I have already mentioned that there are two processes or levels of experience; one process is becoming and the other is being. We all go through the process of becoming. We have a goal, an aim, in front of us, and we set our sights on it and work towards its fulfilment. We become through sadhana, effort, determination, dedication, devotion and conviction.

The other state is being, in which we experience what we are. An understanding of this state develops after we have become that. The technique of hamsa dhyana aims at developing awareness of the state of being by taking us through a process of observation and awareness of the deeper ahamkara aspects of life.

We tend to forget that the yogic techniques aim at knowledge and harmony of the various koshas or dimensions. From the physical dimension, annamaya kosha, we move to the mental dimension, manomaya kosha, ignoring the pranic dimension, pranamaya kosha, and ignoring the deeper areas of the mind. In the system of pratyahara, each dimension, each kosha, has to be experienced and awakened.

Awakening the psychic personality

The aspect of our personality which we try to harmonize through the technique of hamsa dhyana is the ego, ahamkara. Ego identity, 'I' identity, is positive and also negative. When this 'I' identity manifests in the form of a negative energy or force, then we become bound to the manifest, sensory world. When the 'I' identity manifests in a positive way, then we become free from the bondage of the gross, material universe and discover the true nature of the ego.

The true nature of the ego is living with absolute awareness of actions and reactions, living without struggling with the three gunas, the three qualities or attributes, that govern our life, living in harmony with the cosmic energies. It is the realization of the positive aspect of ego which is the purpose and aim of hamsa dhyana.

The Hamsa Upanishad has described many techniques. One technique is very similar to the practice of ajapa japa, in which breath awareness with mantra is developed. Mantra or sound vibration has become the backbone of this technique. Through the use of mantra, we can awaken the dormant areas of our psychic personality, thus expanding the mind and freeing up the energies which are at present contracted and not fully active. So the first stage of hamsa dhyana is awakening the psychic personality.

The psychic personality and the manifest world

The second stage of hamsa dhyana is discovering the relationship of our psychic personality and the manifest world. The psychic personality is vijnanamaya kosha, the fourth dimension. The psychic personality interacts with the outer world in many different ways. These different ways are categorized into four groups: (i) strengths, qualities and abilities which we use in life to climb up the ladder; (ii) weaknesses, which are also an inherent part of our life and which restrict human creativity from manifesting fully; (iii) ambitions, the desires which guide us to experience fulfilment and satisfaction, even though they are transitory and temporary in the external, mundane life; (iv) needs, which we have to fulfil in order to experience absolute health, harmony and energization of the entire personality. The activities of our psychic personality fall into these categories.

Observation of the manifest strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and needs becomes the second part of hamsa dhyana. We call it the SWAN principle: Strength, Weakness, Ambition and Need. This principle adopts a different form and different experience in different situations and circumstances. Emotionally, the SWAN principle manifests in one way, socially in another way, in the family environment in another way, and in relation to our spiritual needs in another way. Spiritual strength is different to emotional strength and social strength. Spiritual ambition is different to material ambition. Spiritual need is different to material need. Spiritual weakness is different to mental weakness. There is a different reaction which happens at different levels.

Harmonizing the ego

The third aspect of hamsa dhyana is to develop awareness of these reactions, to go to the source of these reactions, which is the ego, and to harmonize the various aspects of ego. In this stage there is recognition and harmonization of the ego principle. According to Samkhya philosophy, the entire consciousness works in four planes: manas, buddhi, chitta and ahamkara.

Manas is the interacting mind. The interacting mind is the mundane mind, the gross mind, which uses its rationality, emotions and powers of intelligence to relate with and to function and survive in the manifest dimension. Buddhi is not only intellectual and analytical. Rather it also has components of non-linear, intuitive thinking and creative artistic abilities which manifest not only in the external, gross world, but which can also link normal human expression with transcendental experience.

Chitta also has its own intelligence, feelings and rationality. It is not only the state of observation or knowing or retaining impressions. Chitta is a complete unit. Not only chitta, but each aspect of this great consciousness combines aspects of the different levels and they function differently. Knowledge of chitta relates more with the psychic, unconsciousness experiences of life.

Ahamkara, the last aspect of consciousness, the ego principle, also has a combination of feelings, thoughts, awareness and memory. But it does not function in the manifest world; rather it functions more on a cosmic, transcendental, subtle plane. In the process of gradual withdrawal from the outer world and outer experiences to developing awareness of the inner world and inner experiences, we have to deal with ahamkara. How do we recognize and understand the nature, principle and function of ahamkara? By observing the SWAN principle which is manifesting at present in our life, and by making an attempt to go to the source which lies in the dimension of ego.

Awareness of instincts

In the next stage of hamsa dhyana, we become aware of the instincts that control and direct human performance and activity. Yoga says there are four major instincts. The first instinct is ahara, craving for satisfaction, food, nourishment, which is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The second instinct is nidra, absence of conscious awareness from the physical, sensorial, mental and emotional activities. The third instinct is bhaya, fear of the unknown, not letting go of the present conditions with which we identify, and fearing a change that could alter our personality and make us lose control of our being. The fourth instinct is maithuna, the sexual aspect, the primordial instinct, the urge to procreate, the urge to leave an impression in life which is recognized as mine, the urge to multiply, the urge to maintain some form of continuity.

Personality integration

Ultimately, through the practice of hamsa dhyana, a stage of integration is reached wherein the different levels of the personality, instinctive, emotional, mental and psychic, are able to function and coordinate harmoniously. The fragmented aspects of the human personality, which hinder and limit the creative potential, are gradually unified and reinforced, creating more positive channels of expression. In this way the practice unfolds a new vision of oneself and of one's life, an experience of internal unity and self-acceptance which is not affected by external changes or influences.