Awakening the Vijnanamaya Kosha (Part 2)

Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati. Satsang to Iranian yoga students at Rikhia, January 24, 2007

In the journey to awaken vijnanamaya kosha, first of all, you have to find out exactly where you are standing at this present moment. What exactly is your temperament? Are you tamasic, rajasic or sattwic? While it is true that each individual is a combination of these three gunas or qualities that belong to the realm of prakriti or nature, still one or the other is predominant in us. Are you by nature a procrastinator, lazy, dull and negligent in your duties and responsibilities; if you are, then you are tamasic by nature. Of course, we are all lazy at some time of the day, but tamasic individuals are unable to rise above these tendencies, no matter how hard they try. On the other hand, predominantly rajasic people are always on the go, trying to accomplish and achieve something, having a lot of desires and passions. Or are you sattwic, full of knowledge, peace and tranquillity? Is that the point where you are going to start your journey to the awakening of vijnanamaya kosha?

Preparing for the awakening

After discovering your temperament, you have to prepare the vehicle which is this body, annamaya kosha. The journey starts from the body because it is through this vehicle that you can reach that point of intuition. The next thing you have to gear up is the fuel to move this vehicle to higher states of experience which are beyond the gross and mundane. Just as you need refined high octane fuel to drive your Mercedes Benz, Bentley or Rolls Royce, in the same way you need high octane fuel to drive this body and mind out of the clutches of the sensorial experience into the state of meditation.

According to yoga, that fuel is known as prana. Prana is not oxygen, nor is it the breath. Prana is the energy which flows in the breath. It is the vital energy, the source of life. So first of all you have to prepare the vehicle, and you also have to see that the quantum of prana which is flowing in the body is sufficient to take you to that heightened state of awareness. If there is an insufficient flow of prana in the body, then you simply cannot meditate. You may be able to meditate for a short period, but again the awareness drops. But to awaken vijnanamaya kosha you have to have enough fuel to allow unhindered and uninterrupted meditation.

So you have to find ways to increase as well as conserve the quantum of prana which is being dissipated and lost in the myriad activities you engage yourself in throughout the day. Prana is depleted in the digestion of food; you also lose prana when you talk, sing or dance. In fact everything requires prana, from blinking the eyelids and sneezing to thinking and contemplating. A lot of prana is wasted when you are worried, anxious, frightened or upset, which means you have to also learn the mental disciplines of yoga so that you don’t waste prana in useless thoughts, but instead are able to conserve it for meditation. This means that along with the vehicle and the fuel, you also have to take care of the driver, which is the mind. You have to keep the mind in order if you want to dive into the experiences of vijnanamaya kosha. By mind, I mean the totality of mind which constitutes the conscious, subconscious and unconscious.

The path of yoga

Good health or a beautiful body is not the aim of yoga. Fitness, beauty and youth are a by-product or side effect of yoga, not its final goal. Just as modern medicines produce side effects - for example, long usage of aspirin results in peptic ulcers or some other drug results in night blindness or vertigo or stiff joints - yoga too has a side effect. The difference is that the side effects of yoga are not detrimental; instead, they always have a positive and beneficial influence on the body and mind. You derive good health and attain clarity and focus of mind. Your intellect and memory are sharpened and your capacity to take correct decisions improves. You acquire confidence, poise and grace. These are only some of the side effects of yoga, but they are certainly not the aim or purpose of yoga.

The purpose of yoga is far more sublime. It is to prepare you for that ultimate state of meditation or transcendental experience. Through the practice of asana you first of all purify the entire physical structure and organs which constitute the body. The heart, lungs, liver, kidney, endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems are purified and the body is brought to an optimum condition. Then through the practice of pranayama you increase the level of prana, which increases the flow of blood to all the organs of the body and also to the brain, which is the most vital organ for meditation.

When all the organs are functioning properly and the flow of prana is unobstructed, then calmness and a peace descend on you, which is essential for meditation. In fact, peace of mind is a prerequisite and not a consequence of meditation as we normally tend to think. Unless you have attained peace of mind you cannot ever meditate, because the distractions of mind will simply not allow you to reach that heightened state. Instead of concentration, the mind will be wandering everywhere.

Asana and pranayama are practised to induce a balance and harmony between the body and mind, or you may say the physical and mental activities. Asanas do not just influence the organs, they influence your emotions as well. Together they play an important part in regulating the turbulent emotions which influence your attitude, responses and perception of the events in your life.

Through the practices of asana and pranayama you can directly instigate an immediate influence on the quantum of prana which flows through 72,000 channels or nadis throughout your entire body. Although all the nadis are to be purified, for this there are three which are most important, known as ida, pingala and sushumna.

Ida nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your mental activity, and pingala nadi, which corresponds to the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for your physical activity. Originating at the root of the spine, they wind their way upwards, intersecting at a few junction points from where they send offshoots to all the different parts of the body, conveying prana right from your head down to your toes. An imbalance in the flow of these two nadis not only results in physical or mental sickness, but also obstructs awakening of the third nadi, sushumna, which corresponds to the autonomic nervous system.

The practices of yoga are intended to create a balance between the flow of these two nadis, which carry physical and mental energy to every part of the body, as that paves the way for the grand awakening of sushumna. Because it is only with the awakening of sushumna that experiences of vijnanamaya kosha begin to take place. Unless and until you are able to awaken sushumna through the balance of ida and pingala, you will not have the experience of vijnanamaya kosha. That is the sum and substance of what you have to do for awakening of vijnanamaya kosha.

Stages of awakening

This awakening takes place in three stages, which yoga terms as pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. As you become proficient in the practices of asana and pranayama and attain a balance in the flow of ida and pingala, you will find your mind becoming more and more introverted and that suddenly it is easier for you to withdraw your awareness from the external to the internal. That awareness, which is deeply attracted by the sense perception of sound, taste, smell, sight and touch, is able to transcend the influence of the senses and turn inwards. In other words, you are able to shut off the external world for some time and enter into the inner dimension. This is known as pratyahara and mastery of this state is essential before you can progress any further to the next stage. There are several ways prescribed to induce pratyahara, but pranayama is one of the most effective ways to perfect it, no matter whether you are temperamentally tamasic, rajasic or sattwic.

In the brief moments when you find that you are able to achieve this enormously difficult feat of sense withdrawal or pratyahara, you will need to fix that awareness on an inner point so that the concentrated energy that you are directing inwards does not dissipate, scatter or diminish. This inner focus or fixed concentration on a point is known as dharana. As you build your proficiency in these two practices with regular practice, the third stage of dhyana or meditation occurs. There are no rigid barriers between pratyahara, dharana and dhyana. Perfection of one spontaneously leads to the other.

When you do the practices of asana and pranayama, particularly pranayama, you may at any time spontaneously experience the state of pratyahara. If this state of pratyahara continues for some time, the mental energy will automatically become concentrated and dharana will occur. And as soon as the mind is concentrated, the internal state of dhyana or meditation simply happens, which is none other than the experience of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, and glimpses of the experience of bliss and ecstasy related to anandamaya kosha begin to filter through.

Experiencing vijnanamaya kosha

The most important thing you have to know is that vijnanamaya kosha is the realm of your unconscious mind or psyche. It is a world of signs and symbols, colours and lights. And your unconscious is a part of the collective unconscious. It is directly linked to the collective unconsciousness or hiranyagarbha, the cosmic womb, that holds everything that has ever come into existence or is waiting to come into existence. It is the cosmic storehouse to which the unconscious mind of each and every individual is linked. That is why when you have experience of vijnanamaya kosha you become intuitive, because you begin to perceive things which belong to the four dimensions of time, the past, present, future and beyond that to eternity.

When your mental frequencies transcend time, space and object to attain a heightened frequency, that knowledge becomes available to you. The collective unconscious is a definite reality, where everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that will happen is stored. You can say it is a bank of unlimited knowledge. For example, it does not have the limitation of country. It is not Indian knowledge, nor is it American knowledge. Nor does it have the limitation of religion, because religions are man-made. This knowledge is universal. It is the knowledge of existence. It is not restricted to time and space.

Therefore, if you want to enter this realm of your being which is mystical and psychic, it is important that you should try to know a bit about your past: what is your ancestry, where do you come from, what is your heritage? Each one of us has a lineage, a heritage and a tribe from which we have descended. I may be an Indian, but that is not my tribe. That may be my national identity, but it does not indicate my tribe. The identity each one of us holds dear to ourselves of nation, religion and sect is fabricated or stitched so neatly around us that ultimately we are reduced to that and cease to be nothing more than that.

Eventually we fit into that mould, but undoubtedly there is something more to us than that. So each one of us has to go through this process of self-discovery which will take us beyond the confines of caste, country and religion back to our origins from where we descended. Who were those people from whom you descended? What was their tribe? What were their beliefs? Which rituals did they follow? What mantras did they chant? What methods did they employ to alter the consciousness?

You may be American by birth, but you may belong to a tribe that has its roots in India. From the North Pole to the South Pole, from Peru to Alaska, there are many, many thousands of tribes that have existed since time immemorial, who later congregated in different countries, different sects, different beliefs and different religions. In the course of time, they lost that tribal identity, but that does not alter the fact nor change the reality that those tribal influences will remain embedded in their psyche.

For instance, an Indian belonging to the Santhali tribe of Jharkhand will have a different psychic influence to an Indian belonging to the Toda tribe of the Niligiris. To reach the roots of your ancestry is important if you want to delve into mystic practices, because knowledge of that will help in ascertaining the practices that will yield quick results for you. This is because every tribe has its own set of mystic practices that are peculiar to them. Some tribes used mantras and mystic sounds to reach that mystical state, others used fire rituals, still others had knowledge of herbs or music and dance.

There is not one but thousands of rituals practised by different tribes, which they preserved as long as they maintained their tribal identity. Once they lost that identity, these rituals may have gradually ceased to exist in the conscious mind, but they would certainly have retained their roots somewhere in the unconscious as memory. It is this unconscious memory in the form of symbols and sounds, colours, lights and visions that comes to the fore in mystical practices and generates an altered state of consciousness.

As long as you want to develop the mind, intellect and intelligence, it is perfectly in order that you resort to the knowledge which is available according to the place where you live and your surroundings. But if you want to delve into the mystic practices that will awaken vijnanamaya kosha and develop your intuition, you will need to correlate yourself with your primitive and instinctive origins. That will give you very good results.

Instinct and intellect

Although instinct and intuition are very similar in expression, they are not the same. However, even though they are not the same, they are deeply linked and you may say that they are two sides of the same coin. At one level the consciousness expresses itself as instinct, as it does in the animal kingdom, and at the other end it expresses itself as intuition in humans.

If you observe birds and animals closely, you will find that they know of natural calamities in advance. Is that instinct or intuition? Not only that, they can know of distant events; leave some tasty meat outside in your courtyard and see the swarm of birds and animals that descend there in just a matter of seconds. This is the instinct of survival which perhaps we have inherited from them, which in the course of time can evolve to intuition if we know how to transform it. The difficulty we face is that we have lost sight of our instincts because we rely solely on our intellect and intelligence to survive. The intellect and intelligence is so highly developed in us that it has simply erased the innate instinctive responses and reactions that are still alive in animals. You have to restore that connection with your primeval past if you want to transform your instinct into intuition. Unfortunately, you have sacrificed your instinct at the hands of intelligence and intellect, which in a sense has corrupted your natural responses and led you away from your inner self.

That self, which becomes apparent as there is awakening in vijnanamaya kosha, cannot be realized through the mind. This mind which is responsible for your present experiences has to be separated and thrown out of its present field or range of experience. It is not this mind that illumines your experiences beyond manomaya kosha, but the self that illumines your path.

Intuition is born when the mind is transcended. So long as you function in this mental state of logic, reason and intellect, your intuition will not reveal itself to you. Intuition has no logic, it is pure feeling. It comes to you with amazing clarity as if that event is occurring right before you. For example, once a lady had come to meet my guru and as she entered the room I saw her in a white sari, although she was wearing a bright red one. It was just a flash of a vision and I did not give it much importance until I learnt a few days later that she had become a widow due to a tragic accident. Imagine my amazement when, two weeks after her visit, she again returned for my guru’s blessings, this time in the white sari which I had seen her in. That was intuition working.

This is an important point as well, for intuition first of all reveals calamities, destruction, fatal events, sickness, tragedy and all that is negative. This why the sage Patanjali in ‘Vibhooti Pada’ of the Raja Yoga Sutras has clearly warned against the use, or should I say misuse, of siddhis that arise as a consequence of awakening in vijnanamaya kosha. In fact, he has called them obstacles in the path of yoga – Te samaadhavupasarga vyutthane siddhayah (3:38). To an ordinary person they are a welcome achievement, one that he can boast about and maybe use to earn money, name and fame, but for a serious aspirant they act as hindrances. For if he begins to use them, in time they will disappear and leave him bankrupt. Even if you do not want the siddhis, they will come to you as you progress on the path of yoga, because awakening of vijnanamaya kosha grants vibhootis (divine attainments) and brings out the inherent pratibha (inner light, intuition) in an individual.

Beyond the mind

To awaken vijnanamaya you have to transcend the influence of mind and intellect. The easiest and quickest way to influence the analytical mind and logical intellect is to provide it with a set of practices that defy all logic. Amazingly, according to yoga and tantra, this really works. Mystic practices, involving mantras, rituals, worship, music as well as dance as in the case of the whirling dervishes and Sufi traditions which have been utilized since time immemorial by millions of races and tribes throughout the world, are a very important heritage which we can delve into. Of course, if you don’t have knowledge of your ancestral past, you can still use the practices of yoga. Because, as I said at the very beginning, yoga is universal, it belongs to mankind. And all mystic practices, all practices dealing with the esoteric, have some link with yoga. So you can easily use the practices of yoga, such as asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, mantra, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, to awaken vijnanamaya kosha.