After you have practised the first three stages of antar mouna you will find that after the third stage, before you are able to pose a thought, thoughts will spontaneously come to your mind. Their frequency, that is, the number of thoughts coming one after another, will create so much pressure that you will find it difficult to pose any thought at all. It is at this stage that the fourth stage should come in.
In the fourth stage you must learn to become a witness of the spontaneous thoughts. Sometimes you do not know which thoughts you have seen and which thoughts you have not. There are so many thoughts, you do not know whether you are thinking or not. At this time you should just remain an impartial witness to all the confusion. It is something like shankhaprakshalana. In the beginning, undigested food comes out and later the mixed material comes. You do not know which is rice, bread, fruit, etc. This is what the psychic confusion should be like at the end of the third stage and at the beginning of the fourth stage of your practice. You are aware that you are thinking, but you do not know what you are thinking of.
Suddenly, during all this psychic confusion a very clear and prominent thought arises from nowhere. It is so clear that you are able to pick it up easily. You must follow this thought. It is a projection of your deeper consciousness. It arises from the deepest sphere of the subconscious. Unfortunately, this thought that arises is almost always related to a bad event or experience. Because it comes from the deepest sphere of the subconscious it may be a thought from the past, or perhaps a future thought. It is a precognitive thought and is therefore spontaneous and as such, it must be got rid of. This thought should not be recognized; it should not be accepted. It is a very clear thought, but it is somewhere beyond thought dimensions.
So, in the fourth exercise we must become aware of the spontaneous thought and then dispose of it immediately. The emergence of a spontaneous thought from the confusion and pandemonium of many thoughts is in many cases precognitive and premonitory. We can safely attribute this particular thought which has arisen from the confusing system of thinking to the deeper layers of the subconscious mind. As you probably know, the deeper you penetrate your subconscious personality, the clearer and more realistic are the thoughts that appear. But the intellectual and emotional levels of your thought will become impractical. They are idealistic and not always true.
These thoughts which come up from the deeper layers of the subconscious belong to the dimensions of truth, vision and the lower class or a lower quality of prophecy. It is in this context that you should look upon and understand the psychological background of the different kinds of prophecies made by occultists, astrologers and fortune-tellers. These people have at their disposal their own method of reaching into the subconscious mind.
When you develop such clear spontaneous thoughts in the beginning of the fourth exercise, you will find that it always informs you of an imminent accident or of some difficulties that you will encounter shortly. Aspirants who want to go still further in this practice should immediately dispose of these thoughts at will. But those who wish to immerse themselves in such spontaneous thoughts and keep on thinking about them for a longer period will find their spontaneous thoughts coming through unknown areas of the past. They will be surprised. But with that the depth of the experience will end and they will have to begin their practice all over again.
For instance, the spontaneous thought of a snake arises, and it comes into your room to bite you. It is the type of thought that will make you wonder, Did the snake bite me or did it escape? If you keep on thinking about this, you may be able to know more details of the thought, but you may not be able to find the meaning for yourself. In due course you will find that your psychic system is disturbed. You must then start the practice from the beginning.
Therefore, I can tell you that at this stage the awareness of spontaneous thoughts, however precognitive or premonitory, and however prophetic, will only prove to be an obstacle. I have seen many psychic mediums and psychic individuals stranded at this point, unable to go beyond. If you are able to wait and resist these temptations I can assure you that you will be able to go deeper and deeper into your subconscious mind. You will go deeper within the self.
Now, there will come a stage where the spontaneous thoughts will cease; there will be no more thoughts. There is a state of mental vacuum. In the case of the aspirants who can get rid of the previously mentioned temptations, this state of vacuum will come. While in this vacuum state you should have the constant awareness that I am practising antar mouna. You are aware of yourself ahamkara, ego remains and there is the feeling and perception of external things from time to time. You become so quiet internally that you are unable to see any thought and at the same time you hear, for example, a train passing, the clock chiming and then you may not hear them. It is an off and on type of experience. It is a state when sometimes your faculties of perception are turned inward and sometimes turned outward. It is similar to what is experienced during the first part of sleep. You call it drowsiness, when you are aware of everything and then for a few moments you lose the awareness of what has happened around you. Certain types of experiences come to you and others are blocked.
You might be awake at three in the morning just lying in bed thinking about something. You must have experienced this condition. You may be thinking about anything, spiritual or non-spiritual. While you are thinking, a train, car, etc. may pass and you do not hear them even though you are not sleeping. Then, simultaneously, there is a bell ringing off in the distance and someone is banging your door you hear the bell but you do not hear the banging. In Sanskrit, this condition is called antar mukha vritti. It means modification of internal mind when the mind is looking inside. It is inert or dead to some of the experiences of the senses but is capable or receiving certain sensations.
When your mind becomes free from any kind of thought and when it is aware of only some sense experiences, then pratyahara is completed. The fifth limb of raja yoga known as pratyahara ends here. After this it becomes dharana. And so, the fourth stage of antar mouna, which is the practice of pratyahara, opens the door to dharana.
The fifth practice of antar mouna does not require much effort on your part. It becomes an automatic development of your consciousness which was prepared by the practices of the four previous stages. You cannot practise the fifth stage without having perfected the first four. Each stage must lead into the other; each must prepare you for the next.
You will have the experience similar to that of fainting. You will have the experience of soaring between the consciousness, sub-consciousness and small parts of the unconsciousness. You will be in the unconsciousness for a short while, in the consciousness for a short while, but you will be in the subconsciousness for a greater period of time. Your chitta vrittis*1 keep on floating simultaneously from this end to that end. The stage of unconsciousness becomes stronger and more permanent. The spontaneity of thought has been checked by cutting the link in the chain of thoughts.
You will now find yourself in a thoughtless and thought-free state, where you are sometimes aware of external affairs and at other times not. You will find that for a short while you are conscious, for a longer while subconscious, and for a very short time unconscious. The time you spend in the unconscious increases as you progress in this stage.
If proper methods are not followed in the fifth stage, you will find that within a few weeks you will be landing yourself in a state of mind where you become more non-conscious, less subconscious and still less conscious. You may find yourself non-conscious for about half an hour. For example, when you are practising you are aware of your surroundings and then you go to the different planes of your psyche. Then you find that you have been non-conscious for half an hour. You do not know how to check this. What will happen then? I can tell you that if it is not counter-attacked within a few weeks, you will enter into jada samadhi. Jada means inert, dead or lifeless. You develop jada samadhi in which your consciousness enters into an unmanifested state, avyakta. There are hundreds of spiritual aspirants practising this jada samadhi, never realizing that they have made a mistake. The practice of jada samadhi only leads them astray from the spiritual path and into the kingdom of tamas.*2
We are coming to the last stage of antar mouna now the stage where prominent spontaneous thoughts arose from the depths of the subconsciousness. They were of a precognitive and premonitory nature. You were allowing them to arise from the subconsciousness and merely observing them, no matter how many came. You will find that within a few days they will cease. You are experiencing a state of vacuum, of thought-freeness.
In this stage you will find it very difficult to pose a thought or even see the manifestation of any thought. This state is known as nirvichara, and it means no thought, no contemplation, and no thinking process at all. But it remains only for a short time. It is always followed by a short period of non-consciousness lasting five to ten minutes. When this happens, you must develop an awareness of the three stages of consciousness. How will this be done? Through the sixth and final stage of antar mouna.
How do we develop the awareness of the three states of consciousness? Much depends on the individual. But I will give you my example. When I sit for kriya*3 number five, I sometimes find the thought process becoming suspended and I am always entering into a state of semi-sleep or drowsiness. When this happens, I immediately direct my awareness away from the spontaneous thought-freeness of kriya number five and at once become aware of the sleep consciousness. I should become aware that I am sleeping. I should think, The sleep consciousness is manifesting in me. I should recognize these symptoms: lightness of body or heaviness of the body, loss of memory and losing all sense of the surroundings.
All kinds of symptoms may be present; physical, mental or psychic. I must then physically follow the descent of the consciousness. After all, sleep removes consciousness. It is not a startling event, but it is something usual. How does it take place? Why, for instance, when my thought process is suspended, do I see visions and then become non-conscious for a few moments? You must remain alert and keep yourself so conscious that the whole process of sleeping becomes clear.
Sleep is a mental condition where the contents of knowledge, which contain the objects of experience and thinking, are locked away from the mind. It is when the mind is free from any object or knowledge that sleep comes. It is a condition of non-objective awareness. It should be closely followed through an alert attitude of awareness. If you blink for a moment you have lost the awareness for the time it took you to blink.
If you break the continuity of consciousness for one second, it will take you 15 to 20 minutes to come to your senses. It is like a person going down into a deep well with the help of a strong rope. As long as he has hold of the rope he can go into the deepest and the darkest well without any fear or danger. He is always sure of coming back up. But suppose he loses his grip on the rope, even for a second? He will of course fall into the deepest depths. The same conditions apply to an aspirant. It is very easy to hold a symbol but to maintain an awareness of it in the sleep state is very difficult and this is the ultimate state of antar mouna: inner silence.
When the inner disturbance and modifications caused by chitta vritti are quietened, sleep comes. But we must also control sleep. In antar mouna as in dhyana, the sleep state of consciousness is not to be eliminated, but the sleep consciousness should be checked and controlled by the awareness of sleep. You do not have to escape from yourself in order to find a method by which you can control sleep. You must be able to maintain sleep under perfect control of your consciousness. It is known as a sleepless state or sleep awareness. Therefore, we have two events taking place simultaneously: sleep and awareness of sleep.
The ultimate goal of the methods is same for all yogis. It may be antar mouna, kriya yoga, chidakasha vidya, yoga nidra*4 or anything. The inner awareness is to be evolved and the outer awareness dissolved. There is to be involution of outer consciousness and evolution of inner consciousness. That is the way of yoga. You must find a method which you are able to maintain in order to control sleep. It is not avoiding sleep. The sleep should continue. It is a condition where you sleep and remain awake. This must be practised.
Usually aspirants of meditation do not want to practise this. They want to develop concentration but do not know how. They have quite a particular notion about concentration, and become very nervous and disappointed when sleep comes. Some of them complain bitterly that when they sit for meditation, sleep comes. It is very difficult for me to make them understand that at this time they can sleep and that this sleep is necessary. If I tell them that the sleep consciousness is a necessary condition for the development of the inner awareness, perhaps they would spend all of their time sleeping! I must make it very clear that unless you know how to sleep and unless you know how to remain awake during sleep (but not without sleep), it will not be possible for you to attain the higher states of yoga.
We shall now review the whole practice of antar mouna. First we silence the senses and make a gradual attack on the mind. We give it complete freedom in spontaneous thinking. Then we gradually come to control only one part of the mind. Ultimately, we allow the mind to think whatever it wants, precognitive or premonitory, etc. Next comes the fifth stage and the controlling of the mental process. After the fifth stage comes the dangerous stage of the sleep condition.
Now we will discuss some of the methods of developing sleep awareness. When sleep comes during the highest stage of meditation, choose a symbol for yourself. This is very important. It should be your own symbol and it should not change. If you change it, it will not come during the moment of sleep consciousness. Your mental faculties will become so weak that you will not have enough memory to think of different symbols. The symbol should come spontaneously. The moment sleep comes the symbol should also come.
As long as the symbol is there you will not enter into the state of laya*5. Laya means total suspension of consciousness. It is a very dangerous state for spiritual aspirants. This laya samadhi is a very wonderful samadhi. You can remain in this state for many hours. The body metabolism soon stops and the breathing may either continue or you may suspend it. The heart and the circulatory system go into a state of inactivity. It is all under voluntary control.
It is very easy for some yogis to stop their hearts, but as far as spiritual awareness is concerned it is not wanted, because once you come out of this laya samadhi you will be the same person as before. You will be the same type of person with the same raga-dwesha*6. There will be no spiritual change.
However, once you overcome laya samadhi and get into the chaitanya samadhi *5, when you come out you will be a polished person. Many of the samskaras of your previous lives will have dissolved. It is said by almost all sannyasins and yogis that laya samadhi does not create any change in the individuals mental, psychic or spiritual life. And so, this experience of laya samadhi is to be avoided. There are also many physical reasons why you should not practise it. The heart becomes very weak, the lungs suffer and because of the cessation of the metabolism, toxins are assimilated in the body instead of being eliminated. These toxins cause premature death to the yogi. He suffers heavily and thus pays a great penalty.
It is at this stage that we come to know that it is necessary to have a concrete object for meditation. I agree that God has no form, but for this stage of meditation form is a must. At this stage, when sleep is descending, it is a must to have a symbol. It must remain fixed and shining brightly in your psyche when sleep comes. It should be distinct from the black colour. The psychic colour during sleep is black. It is a dense black. You must find out the colour of your symbol; whether it is yellow, green, brown, etc. You must find it out yourself. The symbol must not be an intellectual choice. It must come from the unconscious. The symbols have mostly been put forth by great seers. Your guru may give it to you or you may see it in a dream. The symbol is also given by tradition. It is then called a hereditary symbol. For example, the same family has the same symbol passed on to it from generation to generation.
How do you know that you slept and for how long? In sleep the conception of time is lost. Of this you should be careful. The symbol should be kept during this sixth kriya and as long as the illumined symbol is before you, you will remain conscious of sleep. But, if during a certain period of sleep the symbol is switched off, then you have slept.
This completes the practice of antar mouna. For those who are keen to pursue meditation to the extent of realization of samadhi, it is necessary to continue their sadhana under the guidance of a guru. Only a guru can lead a disciple from one practice to the higher one.
*1. Chitta vrittis are patterns of the mental processes.
*2. Tamas literally means darkness, inertia. It is one of the three gunas (inherent characteristics) of prakriti (material substance of the world).
*3. Kriya means an action. Usually the last three niyamas (second limb of raja yoga) are called kriyas. Here it means particular technique.
*4. Kriya yoga, chidakasha vidya, yoga nidra, etc. are different techniques of meditation. Some are only taught by word of mouth from guru to disciple. They are only for personal practice and never become subject to any discussion whatsoever.
*5. Laya is a state of non-consciousness. Not to be confused with laya yoga.
*6. Raga-dwesha like and dislike are attitudes full of passions.
*7. Chaitanya samadhi is full of life. It is just the opposite of jada samadhi.