Swami Sivamurti Saraswati

I would like to relate pratyahara to mouna or silence. Mouna plays a very important part in helping us to find within ourselves the ability to withdraw the mind from the sensory experiences. The mind is constantly extrovert, so much so that most of the time it gives us very little opportunity to really see what is going on in the inner mind. The mind only truly evolves when it is separated from the senses, when we can practise the system of pratyahara. We need to find a way through which our mind can disconnect from the ordinary sensory input, so that we can become more introverted and actually see what is going on inside.

My introduction to mouna with Paramahamsaji was slightly different to the mouna now being practised in the ashrams where we follow strict rules. Before I took sannyasa I was quite talkative, so at every opportunity I would go and talk to Paramahamsaji. He was always available and there were ample opportunities to go and speak with him. As the time came close for my sannyasa initiation, I remember asking him, “Will my relationship with you change after taking sannyasa, because I like it the way it is.' He said, “Yes, it will change, it will deepen.”

I knew I had no choice, so after the initiation I went to speak with Paramahamsaji as I had been doing in the past. I said, “Swamiji, I know you have a lot on your mind just at this moment, but could I bring your attention to this particular subject?” He replied, “I have nothing in my mind.” The conversation was cut. It created a feeling of mouna within me; I could not speak. Nothing in his mind! I did not know how to relate to that. It took me a few days to recover from this experience.

Then I went to Paramahamsaji, on a very hot day, and said, “Swamiji, do you want some water now?” His reply was, “I want nothing.” Again the conversation was cut. So in little instances like that, he trained me in a system of mouna. My extroverted mind had to turn inside and start to really see what was going on, how I was really thinking, how I was structuring sentences and how I was using words. This was a very powerful period of time for me.

There are many levels in mouna. There is a level where you do not have any verbal communication. There is another level where there is no written communication. There is another level where there is no facial expression or signals to get your message across. There is another level where there is no eye contact. Each level that we practise in mouna takes us a little more into the introverted state of mind and separates the mind from the senses. This is the state of pratyahara, which enables our mind to evolve and become very awake, aware and alert. Our awareness develops because when we become centred more in the inner life than the external life, we become very aware of what is going on in our mind at any particular time. When you have experienced the technique of mouna in the ashram, then you can practise it outside in your everyday life.

Mouna gives us the ability to be a witness to what is going on in our mind, which brings about a feeling of non-attachment. We become less attached to what is happening around us. This does not mean that we have no feeling for what is going on around us, because the feeling actually deepens; it is just that the attachment is not there. Then we are able to see and understand things in our own mind and in the minds of other people a lot more clearly. We are able to solve most of our problems and not offload them onto other people. We develop that ability through non-attachment, with that awareness that develops through mouna and pratyahara. Because the mind is separated from the senses and there is no essential input to disturb our understanding of what is going on in the deeper levels, we are in a much better position to be of service to our guru, his mission and tradition.

We use a tremendous amount of energy in talking, we waste a lot of time and say a lot of unnecessary things. We talk, talk, talk – we do not really speak. There is a difference between talking and speaking. We talk without awareness, but speaking implies that we are aware of what we are saying and its consequences. The same applies to hearing which also develops through mouna, because as we are not so intent on getting our own message across, we have the opportunity to become better listeners. We start to listen, not just hear what is going on. We hear sounds without really comprehending them, so when we start to practise mouna at a more serious level we can become much better listeners. We listen and comprehend at the same time. Of course, this gives us a much better opportunity to be of use and service to our guru.

All the techniques of pratyahara, but mouna in particular, prepare us for our relationship with our guru because, after all, the most important thing in the disciples's life is the relationship with the guru. We can practise any sadhana or technique, but it can not give us the benefits unless it has the grace of guru or the grace of the master behind it. I think every disciple realizes this, when we are working more with an inner than an externalized awareness.

I found that my experience in India with Paramahamsaji, where he cut the communication with me, created in my mind a whole new way of having to speak and communicate. After all, he is the guru, he does not need to think. The consciousness works through him, so my language was crude. “Do you think this is a good idea Swamiji?” – “I don't think.” “Do you want this?” – “I don't want.” After all, what does the guru want? He does not want anything from us except the ego, because the ego is the foundation stone of the mind. It is the ego that blocks our relationship with our guru and prevents us from feeling a greater unity with the guru.

The ego blocks our connection with God. What does God want from his disciple? God wants devotion from his disciple. Guru wants devotion from his disciple – not the sticky type of love that is personalized and lacks a deeper understanding, but the unconditional kind. By developing pratyahara through mouna and the many other techniques, we become more receptive to the methods that the guru uses with us without taking offence, understanding that whatever tool he is applying is the next stepping stone in developing our mind and emotions, in make us a better receptacle for the truth that is being developed and expressed through us. God wants nothing from his devotees except the ego, because the ego blocks the devotion and that blocks the expression of the heart. Ditto for the guru.