Meditation will have no meaning if you are not able to direct your mind positively and creatively. People who have been practising meditation for the last thirty or forty years are still unable to control their emotional reactions, their anger and jealousy. Despite meditation, they are not able to direct the activities of the mind in the right direction. Is the fault in the meditation, or in our preparation and understanding of the mental processes? The fault lies in our understanding of the process that transforms and sublimates the mind.
We are not masters of the mind; the mind is the master of our life. Therefore, we need to look at pratyahara and dharana in relation to bhakti, because although the mind and emotions are identified separately, they function in conjunction with each other. A thought carries a sentiment, an emotion and a feeling with it. A desire carries an emotion, a sentiment and a feeling. Logic carries with it a sentiment and a feeling. Logic and emotion are interrelated activities. In pratyahara and dharana, although we work with the mind, we also need to be aware of the emotional input.
The clearest definition of the influence of the senses on the mind is given in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Five thousand years ago, on the battlefield, Arjuna asked Krishna, “What can I do to control and guide my disturbed mind?” Krishna’s answer is a definition of pratyahara: “The mind is disturbed when it is unable to fulfil satisfaction and fulfil in its association with the sense objects and the world.” Therefore, in order to balance and tranquillize the mind, it is necessary to disconnect the mind from the senses and the material world. This disconnection is not rejection or renunciation of the connection, but having the wisdom to know when to connect and when to disconnect.
Krishna further tells Arjuna, “Just as a turtle withdraws its limbs into its shell when it encounters danger, in the same way, when we encounter danger, we should be able to withdraw our senses into our shell.” The biggest dangers we face in life are dissatisfaction and lack of fulfilment, because these states create a change in the human personality and perceptions. They create obsessions in the human mind, which restrict the vision of wisdom. When we lose our connection with wisdom, it is definitely the death of the human character.
Krishna further defined how the external associations can induce altered negative states in the mind. Association with the sense objects leads to attachment. Attachment gives birth to expectations and when those expectations are not fulfilled, frustration arises, which restricts the clarity of mind. Frustration gives birth to obsessions and we forget what is right and wrong. The desire becomes the focus and the fulfilment of that desire is the drive. In this drive towards fulfilment we ignore the existence of others, we ignore our interactions with others, and this leads to confusion. Confusion leads to the death of logic, which leads to death of the personality.
This is the sequence Krishna has defined in the second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna that we have to become aware of our connections in the world of the senses, and recognize which connection has a negative influence on our nature and which connection has a positive influence. Then we have to learn how to manage the negative influences. This is also the theory of pratyahara.
Pratyahara has been translated as withdrawing the senses from the sense objects. That is the definition, not the process. The process begins with becoming aware of the activities and interactions that occur at different levels of the mind, recognizing their usefulness, deciding if they are conducive to growth, then incorporating them into one’s life. But know that these influences exist within you. Pratyahara is managing our reactions. We are disturbed if there is a fight in the family, or if there is tension in the workplace and we are unable to attain our goal.
There is tension because we are living in a competitive society. There is tension because we seek security at all levels, social, financial, familial, personal and spiritual, and if we do not find it, we become disturbed. All these factors lead to mental disturbance. Now, what do we renounce, from what do we disconnect and to what do we stay connected? We do not disconnect from our social needs, our financial needs or our personal needs. In yoga there is no rejection of the material world anywhere in this approach. There is an understanding of what is needed and what is not needed. We need to recognize our real needs, and disconnect from needs that do not lead to personal fulfilment and a feeling of security.
This process of understanding begins with thought observation. You are familiar with the practice of antar mouna, inner silence. In the technique of antar mouna there are seven stages. First, we simply become aware of the thought processes as and when they manifest in the mind. In subsequent stages we follow the thoughts back to their source. When we find the root cause of the thought, we become aware of the expectation in that thought, the feeling in that thought, the emotion in that thought, the security or insecurity in that thought. That way we are able to know the connection between the logical expression of the mind and the sentimental expression of the heart. Together logic and emotion weave a tapestry, that is the dress we wear.
Through the pratyahara techniques, we try to go to the source of our mental and sensorial manifestations. Just as antar mouna is observation of the thoughts, antar darshan is observation of the interaction of human emotion with logic. Pratyahara is simply a discovery of the human nature and mind, recognition of the extent of the mind and its functions.
May 2001, Spain