Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati: When you sharpen the lead of a pencil into a fine point, what happens? Although it is sharp, the thickness has reduced to a single micro-point. Its span has reduced, whereas awareness has to be like the torchlight in which the light can be enlarged. You know, one of those focus torch lights: you shine the torch and then shift the lens to enlarge the projection of light. The more you enlarge the projection, the more you see. With one laser point you can’t see all the items in a pitch dark room. With a torchlight, you can see many more items in the room. That is the type of awareness that has to be cultivated. Concentration has to be a natural part of awareness.
Concentration does not mean fixation; it means knowing the identity and the presence, and keeping that in check. If your thoughts run wild, you have to concentrate, and by concentration you can stop them from running wild. However, before you do that, you have to be aware that your mind is running wild. Your mind runs wild the whole day long, yet you are not aware of that. By the time you walk from the kitchen to the pandal, your mind has gone to many destinations and back. You are not aware of these journeys of the mind, you are only aware of the journey of your legs from the kitchen to the pandal. You are observing your legs, not your mind. You are observing the tension in your legs, the tiredness, the heat and the sweat in your legs, but never the tension of the mind, the tiredness, the heat and the sweat of the mind. That awareness is not there. You go on living your life without awareness.
Having vision does not mean awareness, having buddhi does not mean awareness. Awareness is a natural faculty of the mind which sees everything and can focus on anything. Therefore awareness and concentration go hand in hand. You cannot separate the two. Don’t try to concentrate, try to become aware, and you will find that concentration becomes easier. Try it today and see. Usually when you try to concentrate intently, you go cross-eyed, your forehead creases into a frown and all the muscles of the face contract. More tension is being created in this process. Where is the relaxation that should take place? That is why awareness and concentration have to happen together.
Another point: if you keep your eyes closed in pratyahara, there can be too much self-absorption and obsession with the internal world. That is why you are told in kriya yoga to reach the state of pratyahara with eyes open, whereas in other meditations you are told to close your eyes. By following this path, you attain pratyahara at three levels: pratyahara or mastery over ida, pratyahara or mastery over pingala, and pratyahara or mastery over sushumna.
You have heard of Babaji. Babaji is a practitioner of kriya yoga, as taught by his guru. Due to his sincerity, dedication and sadhana he attained what he had to attain through kriya yoga.
People say that his siddhi is to be ever-youthful. People who recognize Babaji always see him as a sixteen-year-old boy. They say he never ages. That is the effect of kriya yoga. Babaji taught this kriya yoga to Lahiri Mahashay, Sri Yukteshwar and Paramahamsa Yogananda, and the tradition goes on. The kriya yoga of Babaji which renews his cells and does not allow him to die, is pingala pratyahara. He is able to harness the prana shakti flowing in the pingala nadi so that his cells don't die and he is able to remain ever-youthful.
Another example. You might have heard the story of Adiguru Shankaracharya, of how he was able to transmit his soul to another body. Just as people are able to transmit their thoughts if they are proficient in the art of telepathy, in the same way it is possible to transmit one’s soul to another body and then come back. Adi Shankaracharya did that. He transmitted his soul from his body to another body, for whatever purpose. When the time was over, the soul re-entered his original body. Adiguru Shankaracharya was a practitioner of kriya yoga, and he perfected ida pratyahara, mental pratyahara, where he could tell the mind, ‘Stop the control of the body’, tell the spirit, ‘Go to that body,’ guide the spirit back into his body, tell the mind to become active again. That is ida pratyahara.
Lord Shiva is always in the state of sushumna pratyahara, where you have to hold and contain the energies of the chakras and kundalini. If those energies are let out, then he does the tandava nritya, the dance of destruction. Therefore he has to contain and hold them back. Shiva remains in the state of sushumna pratyahara all the time.
From this perspective, kriya yoga pratyahara techniques should lead you to relaxation and awareness. The dharana techniques should lead you to awareness and concentration. The dhyana technique should lead you from concentration to illumination. Thus, relaxation, awareness, concentration, illumination, these are the four rungs of kriya yoga. The whole system is a sequential process which allows you to easily move through all these states of consciousness.