From Pratyahara to Dharana

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

Antar darshan is a practice of pratyahara. Pratya comes from the word pratyaya. Pratyaya are the internal seeds, the basic tendencies in our nature which are there from birth to death. They are the basis of our personality. The word ahara means food or nutrition. Normally in our day-to-day lives, we are concentrated and extroverted in the outside world, so the mind, the senses and the pratyaya, these internal tendencies and seeds of consciousness, are receiving nutrition from outside, from objects, events, situations and interactions in the external world. So, pratyahara means a practice which internalizes the senses and the mind so that the mind begins to receive its nutrition from within. The pratyaya begin to receive nutrition from within. This is said to be the first stage in mental training, when we can learn to internalize the senses and the mind at will.

When we can master this process then we will have developed this stage of meditation. It is a very important stage. Here we are dealing mainly with the thoughts and emotions which arise from our interactions in daily life. There is a kind of digestive process that must go on when we have interactions, especially strong ones. We have to mull over them, we have to bring them up inside, we have to release certain emotions and things which were created by those interactions. If we do not get time to internalize these interactions, to go over them mentally and work them out internally, they will build up inside, becoming a source of tension, anxiety and internal disease, and we will not feel comfortable inside ourselves.

Pratyahara is not just one practice but a series of practices which aid the mind to complete this process and to be able to internalize at will. Perhaps at some point we will be able to internalize and externalize at the same time. This is total perfection of this stage, where we are aware internally and externally at the same time. Right now, however, we are only aware outside, and when we are aware outside then we are not aware inside. Sometimes we shut it all off, we go into a room and put on some music, or we sit in a chair, close our eyes, relax and go inside. Then we become aware inside, depending on the degree to which we have developed. That is how we have been living and practising until now.

Pratyahara means to go inside but to keep the awareness at the conscious level, around the level of manas. In the stage of pratyahara we are not attempting to go deep. Only when we have mastered pratyahara will we begin to dip into chitta, the subconscious mind. Dipping into the subconscious mind while we are still awake is actually an achievement. Normally we go into the subconscious mind when we sleep, or at best when we daydream or fantasize. Usually we are not aware of exactly what we are daydreaming or fantasizing about; it is just occurring on the periphery and we are not really conscious of it.

When we practise meditation techniques, beginning with pratyahara, we gain the ability to go into this subconscious dimension consciously. This will come only in the last stages of pratyahara, not in the beginning. In the early stages we try to work on developing our internal conscious state and becoming aware of what is happening in manas. Watching the thoughts, watching the emotions, seeing how they interrelate, how a thought engenders an emotion and how that emotion engenders another emotion.

Antar darshan

This is the stage where the practice of antar darshan comes in. Antar darshan is not a kind of rebirthing technique where you go very deep into your subconscious and unconscious emotions and try to bring them up. That practice comes later when we have mastered and understood exactly what is happening at the conscious level. We have to clean out the area where we live – our bedroom, the living room, the sadhana room, the workplace. We do not try to clean out the attic or the cellar first; we have to start where we are. This all takes place within the area of manas, through the practices of pratyahara.

In the practice of antar darshan we can expect to look at the more conscious feelings and emotions. We should not try to have intense experiences during this practice. If an intense experience arises, that is fine and we can just experience it, but that is not the aim of this practice. It is important to understand the development of the process. It is like learning to swim. First you go to the beach, enter the water and stay in the shallows. You walk in up to your knees, then up to your waist, then up to your shoulders and then you submerge yourself in the water. You submerge in the mind, and you start to swim in this shallow area. If at any time you feel a bit uneasy or unsafe, you can just put your feet down and touch the bottom and find your stability there.

When we go out of pratyahara and into the next stages of dharana and dhyana, it is like going out of the shallow water into the depths. Dharana is like the first depths where you go in maybe ten to twelve feet over your head. When you go into dhyana you go deeper, maybe twenty-five or thirty feet. In order to swim in the depths you must be a good swimmer, you must be confident that you can swim, otherwise it is not safe.

Training the mind

The same thing applies to the mind. You must first train your mind in the different stages and practices of pratyahara. You must develop a strong mind. A strong mind is a mind that is not afraid of itself, that can face the experiences that arise within without becoming unbalanced. In this way it is a mind which remains serene and balanced in all situations in life. If you are suddenly faced with a death in the family, the loss of a job, or a tremendous rejection from somebody that you love, what will happen to your mind then? What often happens is that we go out of control and we become weak suddenly because we are not able to face that situation. We are not able to face those emotions with equanimity. A strong mind is a mind that has been trained for years, or even a lifetime, to face itself in every situation. As the mind gets stronger this happens by itself, and even without practising concentration the mind becomes concentrated. As the mind becomes concentrated we become able to swim out into deep water and we are able to have more intense experiences in meditation.

If intense experiences arise with a weak and untrained mind then mental problems arise. Sometimes psychiatric treatment becomes necessary. That is what happens when people who are not prepared have a spiritual awakening. We call it the 'kundalini crack-up syndrome'. It is very difficult to help such people because they have gone out into the depths without knowing how to swim and they have not been strong enough to cope with the currents and whirls, which keep pulling them under. Somehow they manage to surface and ask for help, but nobody is strong enough to swim out and rescue them. If I try to swim out there and rescue them I will drown, because I am not strong enough. It requires somebody of great strength, but these people do not wait to get a guide of great strength before they go dashing out into the depths. That is why it is necessary to start at the beginning. Stay in the shallow waters until you have become a good swimmer, until you are strong and you have some knowledge of the depths and currents out there and how to manage in them. This is the process of internal training, in-depth meditation.

Understanding our emotions

The practice of antar darshan is not an in-depth practice. It is a practice of pratyahara where we are learners, we are in the shallows. We need to take a better look at our emotions, the feelings we have about ourselves. If you decide to practise this meditation, this should be one of the first points of focus. Try to spend a session where you just experience the different feelings that you have engendered from your early life about yourself, which were engendered by your family, by your friends, by your education. How do you feel about yourself and how do you feel with yourself? These are important emotions to understand. This will help us to understand ourselves much better and also to deal with many of our personal problems. Many personal problems arise because we do not understand the emotions and we do not understand our reactions, which are often very emotional. Therefore, we are not able to behave in a balanced way and that creates problems in life.

The next thing we have to deal with is our feelings about our peers. How do we feel about the people with whom we associate, the people with whom we live, the people with whom we work? We need to sort out these feelings, then we need to take further sessions in this practice on our feelings in relation to our work and our workplace. How do we feel about the work we are doing? Some people are extremely satisfied, fulfilled, happy and inspired by their work. Some people are not. We need to sort these things out to get our life straight.

Last of all we need to sort out the feelings we have in relation to our ideals, our aspirations and our goals in life. We need to look at how we feel we are progressing, as sometimes we do not feel good about our progress and at other times we feel very happy with it. We have to look at all these areas in which we live. We can then consider that we have started to get our life and what is around us in order. At that time we can think about proceeding further.

Hridayakasha dharana

The development of this practice of antar darshan is the practice of hridayakasha dharana. Although hridayakasha dharana has been taught in the past, it is not the first practice that we need to do. The first practice is antar darshan. The perfection of antar darshan will lead us to hridaya-kasha dharana. Hridayakasha dharana comes when the mind and the emotions have become stable and steady, and when we have attained some degree of mastery within and without ourselves.

We need to look at the meaning of dharana to understand the practice better. Dharana means 'to bind, to focus, to hold the mind at one point'. It comes from the word dhri, which means 'foundation' or 'basis'. The foundation of the mind must be stable. Right now none of us has that stable base. Just as the earth shakes during an earthquake, in the same way we are also shaking like that much of the time. The practice of dharana comes when we have become steady, stable and unshakeable. We are unshakeable because we understand ourselves. We understand our mind, our emotions and our thoughts. We have come to terms with them so we are unshakeable. Whatever faces us and whatever situation arises we can manage it without being affected. Dharana is a higher stage, not just in meditation but in life.

The word akasha means space. The practice of hriday-akasha implies that we are going to find a steady base within the element of space. We can think of space like the sky, like the openness in a room. There is space and then there are things within the space. Mentally this space symbolizes the aspect of consciousness. Within the consciousness the mind exists and the emotions exist. The different aspects of the mind exist, the ego exists, all the experiences in life exist, but they are not the space. The space is just space like the sky is open.

Hridayakasha dharana means that we are going to become stable. We are going to practise steadiness within this space and we are going to localize that space within the heart. Hridaya means heart. Hridayakasha dharana means to find a stable base within the space of the heart. When we are able to find a stable base, when the mind is able to function in a focused, one-pointed manner within this space, then we will begin to have intense emotional experiences and we will be able to handle them. Things will come with great intensity but because our mind is trained and we are focused and have developed strength of mind, we can face them without becoming unbalanced and unhinged. This is the development of and the result of antar darshan. Antar darshan will lead to the further stage of hridayakasha dharana.