Pratyahara Kriyas: Contemplating the Senses

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Kriya yoga begins with a simple principle, indicated in the first group of kriyas known as pratyahara kriyas. Many people believe that pratyahara in raja yoga is meditation. However, from the kriya yoga perspective, pratyahara is not seen as a meditative state but a contemplative state. You contemplate on a procedure. You contemplate on the links created by an experience, whereas meditation is a fixed visualization.

Antar mouna, for example, leads to the stopping of thoughts. When the thoughts stop, then meditation begins. You begin with mental blankness in meditation, not with mental chatter. Dhyana is the absence of chatter, and that to an ordinary person would be perceived as blankness of mind. That blankness does not indicate absence; only instead of speaking loudly or screaming your thoughts, you are whispering them. Thoughts are there, but it is as if they are dispersed in the wind. Right now they are loud speeches in your mind, and at that time they are dispersed whispers in the wind. You don’t even hear them, you have to try hard to pick on a thought; their frequency, intensity and potency is so low. Instead of high peaks, there are more fat lines on the graph. The activity goes on, yet the intensity and the dissipation is reduced by ninety or ninety-five percent. Something has to remain for the body to survive, but the lessening of dissipation opens the possibility for the anandamaya experience to filter through.

Pratyahara, in the context of the kriyas, is continuity of a sequence, contemplating on each procedure, each step. Generally, the meditative state is: ‘I am there’, fixed, ‘I am being’, ‘I have become the experience’. The contemplative practices are: ‘I am aware of the process of becoming’, ‘I am aware of how I become’, ‘I am aware of the steps that I take’.

Pratyahara kriyas: exploring the subtle aspects of the senses

If you observe how your senses gradually withdraw in pratyahara, then you will find that the whole process follows a sequence. Kriya yoga defines this sequence, these stages and steps of sense withdrawal. In the first group of kriyas, the pratyahara kriyas, all the senses are engaged, yet the practices lead you to experience their subtle nature.

Eyes and vision

In the first two practices, you close your eyes to induce a certain level of introversion. Introversion here means lessening of the visual inputs to the brain. When you shut your eyes, at least seventy-five percent of the visual inputs going into the brain through the eyes are cut down. Only twenty-five percent remains active. Imagine a torch light which can be turned on to shine in its full potency and which also has the possibility of being dimmed. When you close the eyes, it is similar; you don’t need as much brain battery and introversion takes place.

The eyes are closed in the first two kriyas. In the next seven they are partially open and different mudras are practised with the eyes open. Unmani mudra is one of these; it blanks the mind from any conscious activity, as you instantly move into a blank space. It is the same with shambhavi and other mudras of the eyes; they all induce a still behaviour in the mind.

Ears and hearing

The auditory senses are also engaged fully in practices like shabda sanchalana. One is encouraged to hear the inner sounds. Yoga perceives sounds from different perspectives: the sensorial, the mental, the psychic, the spiritual. Sensorial sounds come in through the ears, from zero decibel to the highest level of sound that you can hear. Mental sounds can be memories. You are talking to your friend in your mind; you are articulating sounds in your mind, your friend is articulating sounds in your mind. They are part of the sound-memory. Other impressions, like the noise of a bomb, may also be imprinted on the memory. Everything that you have heard in the past is imprinted on your memory, and therefore even when the outer senses are inactive, even when you plug your ears, the inner chatter continues.

The psychic sounds are beyond the mind, and are known as anahata sounds. Non-psychic sounds are known as hata or struck sounds, which means two objects coming together to create sound, like the lips come together to make the sound of ‘p’, or the tongue and the upper palate come together when you say ‘two’. Speaking combines physical, sensorial and mental memory. The third level of sound, anahata, unstruck, is something that is already there. It has not come into the bank of information in your brain and mind due to any external factor. A person who has no awareness of music suddenly begins to hear music. Such abilities and skills that surface from the psychic dimension represent psychic sounds. In deep meditation sometimes you hear music, you hear the sound of a flute or bells or conch. These are all psychic sounds.

The highest level of sound is spiritual sounds; they represent an experience where words and sentences appear in your inner perception to guide your progress on your path.

In kriya yoga, when you follow and then shut the sensorial and the mental levels, the psychic sounds begin to develop. The catch is that you may be able to practise physical restraint up to a point but mental restraint is difficult to attain, therefore most people are not able to reach the level of psychic sounds. Any mental chatter is part of a vritti, so you have to revert back to raja yoga to overcome the mental chatter and then you can experience the purpose of kriya yoga.

Nose and the sense of smell

When you practise mudras such as the manduki mudra in kriya yoga, they sensitize the nose and you are able to experience subtle smells. In your meditative practices you might have come across an experience where suddenly there is a smell; you are not burning any incense yet there is a smell of incense, or there is nothing rotten near you yet there is a putrid smell. These are called astral smells.

The nose functions at two levels: one as a sense organ to pick up outer smells, and two as a subtle perceiver where the same sense of smell is so refined and sharpened that you can even identify something or someone merely through smell, like animals do. A sniffer dog can smell a cloth and locate its owner five kilometres away by following the trail. It has the ability to experience smell like you see colours; its nose can sense smell like your eyes can see colours. This ability cannot be compared to your faculty of smell; it is another faculty altogether where the sense is sharpened to a high degree.

The sense of smell is also experienced at another level, where nothing is destroyed. In the physical or sensorial level, all smells can be destroyed; however, at the astral level no smell can be destroyed. The purpose of kriya yoga is to access that level.

Tongue and taste

For the sense organ of tongue, the practice is that of khechari mudra. Its purpose is to refine the taste so you are able to taste amrita, nectar. Even the sense of taste is refined in kriya; it is not the sensorial taste but something inner. Those who have experienced that taste say that it is intoxicating. That indicates perfection of khechari mudra, which, according to the yogic texts, leads to freedom from all diseases and to longevity.

Karmendriyas

If you analyse the pratyahara kriyas further, you will find that all the karmendriyas – the excretory organs, the sexual organs, the feet, the hands, the organ of speech – are also engaged in the practices. Along with this, you also explore the chakras and the psychic passages, which deepens the awareness by focusing your attention to non-sensorial, specific inner experiences. This combination of sensorial engagement and inner exploration leads to the experience of the subtle or psychic dimension of the senses.

—Kriya Yoga – Module 1, 7 November 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger