The Practice of Trataka

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bombay 1962, originally printed in YOGA, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1963

Just as there are various branches of knowledge such as art, science, commerce, music, painting, technology, medicine, law, engineering and so on, in the same way there are many branches of yoga. Yoga covers different fields of sadhana. In the elementary stage of education, children are taught a variety of different subjects and in the elementary study of yoga, many sadhanas have to be learned to a greater of lesser extent. As one advances in yoga, like undertaking an MA degree, one has to adopt a special course of sadhana and master it. MA, MSc, MComm etc. are final degrees of equal status. Thus a yoga sadhaka may take up any sadhana and progress in it, and the experiences and knowledge acquired therefrom will be the same as others may acquire through a different sadhana.

The mind medium

The mind is a faculty of the soul. The power of the soul is manifested through the mind. The mind has its own attributes, functions and nature, but it is not able to function without association with the soul force. If all the components of a machine are in order, the machine can carry out a particular task, yet it cannot function by itself without being motivated by some form of power, like electricity. The mind is in the same position. Its direction and tendencies are separate from each other, but when associated with the soul force it becomes active and works according to its faculties. That is why, motivated by past tendencies, a person does good or bad acts, higher or mediocre acts.

Just as the mind acts with the help of the soul, similarly the senses function with the help of the mind. We have five organs of action and five organs of perception. The ears, eyes, skin, tongue and nose are the organs of perception. The speech, hands, feet, reproductive and excretory organs are the organs of action. Like the mind, which is not able to function by itself, the senses also are not able to function without association with the mind.

For reasons of simplification we have named that power of thought and knowledge through which the senses function as the mind. It is because of the mind that we are absorbed in the world. The mind has been said to be the cause of the bondage of the soul, and also of the experiences of happiness and misery. It should also be remembered that the mind is an instrument of self-elevation, the inspirer of emancipation. When the tendencies of the mind flow towards sources of enjoyment, it becomes the cause of our downfall and unhappiness. When the mind flies towards higher objects, it becomes the instrument for achieving efficiency in action and for developing intelligence, knowledge and liberation.

We are not concerned here with whether the mind is biological or psychological, but with the fact that it constitutes a medium for working in this world. It is also the instrument for acquiring knowledge and virtue, and also for the realization of God and the soul.

Trataka: sadhana for mind control and awakening

The first step on the path of spirituality is to control the mind and make it useful. The first sadhana of a sadhaka consists of understanding the mind, in knowing its direction and turning it upwards. The sadhana of trataka will help you a great deal in understanding the mind and making its unseen powers active, so as to prepare you for self-realization.

The practice of trataka is independent in its own way and is meant for aspirants of higher categories. Trataka is a very powerful sadhana. Gandhari had mastered trataka. Ramana Maharshi also practised trataka. Many sadhus in the mountains have practised this sadhana. Trataka shows us that the eyes are the instruments by which the mind and the soul are reached.

Trataka is of two kinds: internal and external. Internal trataka is called dharana or concentration because in this practice the eyes are closed and the mind concentrated upon some subtle element within. External trataka means fixing the eyes on some object outside. Trataka on any object can be performed during the day or night. In this practice one has to take into account the object, the place and the time. What is the object on which the eyes are to be fixed? Where is the object to be placed? At what time should it be practised?

The word trataka means to gaze steadily. Trataka is gazing without blinking at an object placed directly in front of the eyes. At the time of practising trataka, the eyeballs should remain steady and the eyelids should not flicker. No object except the one on which trataka is to be performed should be seen, and the mind should not wander hither and thither but be merged in observation of the object.

The impression of the object falls on the optic nerves. The shadow of the object falls on the eyes and then on the retina. The optic nerves of the retina are connected by the sensory nerves with the brain. The brain has several centres which are connected with the optic nerves. These centres receive information through the optic nerves and send out commands. Many of these centres are asleep or inactive. Trataka does not merely increase the function of perception. Through the medium of perception, the centres of the brain which remain inactive in an ordinary person are awakened. Man is capable of becoming a superman if he is able to awaken and activate those glands and nerve centres which in the natural course of evolution are in an inactive state.

A number of yogis in the Himalayas perform penances and attain siddhis. What practices do they perform? They perform sadhanas through which they develop the inner centres of the body, thus their senses are fully developed. These things are not impossible; they are natural, rational and intelligible, and form part of human evolution Anyone who can devote the time can practise them under the guidance of a guru.

Trataka and sleep

Generally before going to bed people lie down and read a book. Why? By lying down on the bed, the optic nerves are pressed and this pressure makes the eyelids heavy. Due to heaviness the eyelids begin to close. The pressure on the optic nerves causes pressure on the brain too and therefore the instruments of the body, tired from the day’s activities, fall asleep in order to remove fatigue and refresh themselves with new energy.

The mind also goes within at the time of sleep, but it does not sleep. The mind which was active in the external world through the senses goes inside during sleep and sees the pictures of its inner experiences and impressions. This is also exactly what is experienced through the medium of trataka. The only difference is that the eyes remain open. There is no sleep, but all the tendencies are turned inward.

Power of the eyes

In daily life trataka has many uses related to the power of healing and clairvoyance. Trataka can be utilized for curing eye diseases, spiritual healing, acquiring knowledge of certain events, detection of thieves, murderers, etc., acquiring knowledge of the future, tracing lost individuals and so on. Clairvoyance is a mysterious faculty that can be developed by the practices of trataka. Yogis who have attained this state are able to see things with the eyes open or closed which a normal person is not able to see. Clairvoyance means psychic vision and such vision was given by Vyasa to Sanjaya. There are other great people who have developed this faculty through trataka. Ramana Maharshi had practised a sadhana related to it. C. W. Leadbeater of the Theosophical Society may also have acquired the power of clairvoyance by means of inner trataka.

Trataka plays an important role in yoga. Parvati practised shambhavi mudra, which forms an integral part if inner trataka. Trataka is practised even in hypnotism. The eyes possess the power to act as a reservoir of energy as well as a transmitter. Through the medium of the eyes, we are able to express many things. We are able to express sorrow, joy, anger, displeasure, cheerfulness, malice, etc. Through trataka we can acquire great power.

Methods of trataka

There are many methods of trataka which can be utilized by sadhakas according to choice and situation.

On a leaf: Take a large betel leaf. Prepare a collyrium (paste) with castor oil and make a black dot on the betel leaf. The dot should be the size of a pea or a little smaller. Fix this leaf onto cardboard. Place a light, a lamp or a candle behind you. Practise trataka on that dot in the morning and evening. Go on gazing at the dot continually for five or ten minutes without moving your eyelids. Do this for six months and then consult your guru.

Candle flame: Light a candle in the darkness and fix your eyes on the flame for five or ten minutes without blinking. Perform this practice in the morning and evening. There should be no break even for a day in this sadhana. It should continue as long as the eyes cannot fix themselves steadily on the flame. People with eye defects should practise this sadhana. Even children who suffer from eye defects should be encouraged to practise this technique.

Darkness: Sit by yourself in the dark and practise trataka on the darkness. The eyes should be open fully. Continue to see in the darkness without any light. Sit there daily and practise it steadily and firmly.

Blue sky: Sit in an open place or on a terrace at the end of the day and gaze at the blue sky without blinking. Try to feel that you have become like the sky or that the sky has come nearer to you. In due course the consciousness of the practitioner becomes so transformed that even though the object is in front of your eyes, you are not aware of it. The consciousness which separates the seer and the seen does not remain separate, but identifies with the object.

Photograph: Have a small photograph of your chosen deity. Take a sheet of blank paper, the size of a book, and cut out a circle two inches in diameter, so that there is a round open space in the paper. Now place the photo of your deity behind the paper, fixing it in such a manner that you can only see the face through the hole, and frame it under glass. During the day practise trataka on the photo. The photo should be straight in front of the eyes at a distance of one and a half feet. Try not to take your vision outside the round circle.

Havan: Perform havan daily and in the sacrificial fire put scented objects. When the fire has ignited and has burned steadily for some time, repeat a prayer to the fire god Jataveda and perform trataka on the flame. Try to think of the divine being in the flame while doing trataka.

Crystal: If you happen to have a crystal, practise trataka on it. This is an independent and important sadhana.

Shivalinga: Worship a shivalinga daily with great devotion. Concentrate on the water being poured on it. The shivalinga must be a black stone. If it is a really black stone, make a sandalwood mark on it and steady your eyes on the mark. Otherwise try to concentrate on the entire black linga.

Flower: Take a red, white or yellow flower. It should preferably be a dark coloured flower. If it is a red rose, keep it in the light and practise trataka on it. If it is a white or yellow flower, then practise in a dark room.

Flower on cloth: Take a black or dark green cloth, two feet wide and three feet long. Hang it on the wall in front of you and in the centre of it pin a yellow, white or pink rose. Now sit in front of the flower in a semi-dark room and practise trataka on it.

Metal object: Take any small article made of bright metal, like vessels that shine when polished. It may be of brass, copper, silver or gold, for instance, an incense burner, a small jug, or a panchapatra. It should be no more than two inches in height. Practise trataka on that bright object in half light.

Your shadow: In the morning, stand with your back to the sun and practise trataka on the shadow of your neck.

Tea: Take a glass full of tea. Practise trataka on the decoction of tea.

Elements: In order to attain mastery over the elements, draw them in their proper form and colour on paper or have them engraved on metal and perform trataka on it.

Moon: Practise trataka on the full moon or when the moon rises at night.

Water: Sit down on a riverbank or raised ground where you can see the current of water for a long distance. Practise trataka on the water. The eyes should remain steadily fixed on one spot; they should not move along the waves.

Changing scenes: While you are travelling in a train, open the window, keep the eyes open and watch distant scenes, without any emotion at all. The eyelids should not flicker, inspite of the changing scenes. The eyeballs should be completely steady and the mind devoid of any feeling. Thus you can also do spiritual practices while travelling.

Needle: Keep a needle hanging on the wall and practise trataka on it. At the time of performing trataka, ensure that no other object is visible and that no other thought comes to the mind.

Guidelines for success in trataka

Trataka is a simple practice, but in this sadhana one has to be very careful and alert as one’s vision and mental processes have to be watched. If the mind is slightly active, the vision wanders away from the object. At the time of gazing the eyes should not be opened very wide. In the first stage, trataka is practised on an object without thinking of its form, steadily and devoid of any mental changes.

Beginners should practise trataka in such a way that the eyes are not strained. If gazing is done in a natural state of mind, strain will be avoided. It is difficult to explain this, but by practice this technique can be acquired automatically. When the gaze becomes fixed in a natural manner and the aspirant has success in practising trataka continually for fifteen to twenty minutes, without any feeling of fatigue, for a few days, then another technique should be taken up.

The practice of ‘looking into’

We can divide the sadhana of trataka into two stages. The first is the elementary practice of gazing without flickering the eyelids. In the second stage it is to be practised with the eyes fixed as if they are searching for something. Here the process is as if you are carefully observing an object or trying to find something small inside something big. The eyeballs should be steady. There should be no strain, but at the same time your gazing should be with a purpose. Continual practice will lead you to this experience.

The second stage is the practice of ‘looking into’. It is current in south India. By this method crimes and thefts can be detected, but no one should practise it without the instruction of a guru because it can prove dangerous to one’s life. Nature is trying to hide many things from us, which is why these faculties are not available to all.

When an aspirant has some success in this sadhana, he first of all comes to know about certain undesirable deeds, characteristics or events. Unless he has attained complete dispassion, however, he is unable to tolerate the negative things that he sees in his loved ones and nearest relatives An ordinary person is unable to tolerate slander, sorrow and separation. How then will he bear foreknowledge of undesirable events? Often such people have nervous breakdowns and even go mad. Even if the science of trataka is practised for the sake of others, there is every possibility that the practitioner may come to harm through it. Therefore, this sadhana should not be practised in order to attain siddhis.

Even today many magic tricks are current in the villages and the practice of trataka is their basis. Often people practise trataka on a dot of ink put on the thumbnail of the hand and thus find out the whereabouts of hidden treasure, stolen goods and past or future events. This is indeed a science, but it is a subjective science, not a physical science. Its practice and attainments have no relation to external things.

The vision of purushas and dreams

When the practice of looking into is perfected, the third stage is reached in trataka. This is called the vision of the divine being. Several forms manifest themselves when one’s concentration is perfected on the rays of light which fall on the particular object, whether a crystal, decoction of tea or whatever. These forms are called purushas. They are of two types, bright and dark. The dark types are shadow figures which give knowledge of past and future events.

The mind becomes very steady while performing trataka and when it is concentrated, a person sees visions. Many have had this experience when in a state of stupor. So long as one remains awake, the mental tendencies become involved in many external objects, but at the time of sleep they turn inwards and become centrifugal. In this stage people dream, these dreams being the formations of their past impressions. During the practice of trataka the mind becomes concentrated, and the aspirant begins to see dreams which correspond to the predominant thought or mental attitude.

The dreams follow the mental patterns of the aspirant and reveal themselves as a reality or as symbols. A tamasic sadhaka has perverse dreams which indicate a different meaning. A rajasic sadhaka sees symbolic dreams, while a sattwic aspirant sees true visions. This is possible only when there is intensified awareness and concentrated consciousness.

The proper use of trataka

A little practice of trataka is of great use in removing eye disorders. Those who have weak eyesight and wear spectacles should practise trataka for five minutes daily on a dot on the wall. They should also wash the eyes with triphala every morning and evening. Practise for fifteen days or a month and then have your eyes examined by a doctor. There are other types of eye diseases. Certain people have double vision due to detachment of the retina. Some cannot focus their eyes properly. These disorders can be removed by performing trataka on the flame of a lamp.

During the practice of trataka the breathing must be slow, rhythmic and deep. This will bring steadiness to the breathing process, making the body and mind steady also. One can always control the onslaught of desire or anger by practising the elementary stage of trataka when excited. When any emotional shock is experienced, the practice of trataka is as beneficial as the practice of kumbhaka. Trataka opens up a storehouse of energy.

Trataka makes the mind steady and helps it to concentrate. Therefore, when an individual does any intellectual work, listens carefully to something or thinks about something, the eyes remain steady without a flicker, and thus a natural state of trataka is attained. This faculty can be applied consciously whenever necessary.

Trataka should definitely be practised for at least five minutes before beginning any sadhana. When one wants the mind to be concentrated, trataka should be performed on any object for some time, or inner trataka may be practised. Students especially should practise trataka. Its daily practice will help them to develop concentration and memory power as well as improve their eyesight.

Pain can be eliminated through trataka. Many diseases and afflictions are also cured. The poison of a scorpion bite can be eliminated by trataka on the affected area. In the same way trataka can be performed on a diseased part of the body. In this case, the eyes become the medium for the transmission of healing power.

The inner power can be transmitted through the eyes. The eyes and the science of trataka constitute the medium for accomplishing vashikaran, maran, uchchatan and stambhan, acquiring powers over other people. Trataka is also practised when water, flowers, linseed and cloves charged with mystic power are offered to someone. When trataka is perfected, any person can be called and given orders to do any type of work. For this end, trataka should be performed at two o’clock in the morning.

Of course, it is not proper for a sadhaka to go in for these things. One should not waste one’s inner power, time and sadhana for the achievement of such insignificant things, but should use them as an aid for self-realization. This power should be used for the benefit of mankind, otherwise the aspirant hurts himself and also others. Reactions may take place later in a person on whom trataka is practised. Moreover, one has to perform great austerities to acquire siddhis. These siddhis are automatically exhausted after a certain time. Trataka belongs to a high order of sadhana and deserves to be practised to increase one’s mental power and to attain self-realization.

Difficulties in trataka

There are certain difficulties which are encountered in the practice of trataka. It is difficult to keep the eyes steady because drooping of the eyelids is a natural tendency and it is difficult to keep them from drooping, even with effort, for a long time. It is also difficult to gaze steadily at one central point continuously in the beginning.

Another difficulty is that the eyes water every now and then. Those who are not used to sitting in one posture for a long time encounter further difficulties. Continuous gazing at one object makes the object appear as if it is two. Sometimes the black dot appears white and vice versa. Finally, the sadhaka is often overcome by uncontrollable sleep during the practice of trataka.

A sadhaka has to overcome these difficulties, but it is not difficult if one is alert and firmly fixed on one’s ideal. For people of firm determination, the difficulties are surmountable. The practice should be increased gradually and slowly. A concentrated mind is a great help to an aspirant. Everything becomes easy for one who practises with devotion, steadiness and sincerity.

Now you can practise this sadhana yourself. Select any of the above mentioned methods of trataka, according to your choice. By regular practice you will achieve knowledge of yoga through your own experience. There is nothing higher than self-experience and there is no joy greater than practising sadhana.