The first practice of internalization that is taught in pratyahara is yoga nidra. Even during this preliminary practice people are not able to control their mental states. How can such people move into the higher levels of meditation? The teacher instructs, “Don’t sleep,” and no sooner are the words uttered than the student is snoring. In the early days when I used to give classes, I would find that despite my instructions, people would go to sleep in yoga nidra. I tried many tricks.
Once in Colombia, I said, “Today we are going to practise yoga nidra standing up.” That was a mistake because about thirty people stood up in a line and the last one went to sleep and fell. It had a domino effect! I realized that people do not have any control over their mental states. If somebody can go to sleep standing up and then fall, I don’t think that person can ever practise meditation. Anyhow, yoga nidra is the first practice of pratyahara in which de-stressing takes place.
After de-stressing in yoga nidra, to go into the deeper mind, different practices have to be adopted. One of the most important among them is antar mouna. The expressions and behaviours of ahamkara, chitta and buddhi first manifest in manas, the playground for the three. In antar mouna, when you begin to observe the inner states and see something, a thought or an experience, you hold on to it and go to its source. You use the thought as a string to go in. Sometimes you go to buddhi because the thought has come from buddhi. Sometimes you go to chitta because the experience has come from chitta. Sometimes you go to ahamkara because instinct has influenced the behaviour of manas. Through antar mouna you can access buddhi, chitta or manas according to the thought in the mind.
This is what makes antar mouna such an important practice. People think that antar mouna is only a practice of inner silence where one has to observe the thoughts, but that is only its first stage. It is because you have not progressed beyond the first stage that you have not been told about the second stage.
Very few take that next step because everybody thinks of the practice in terms of ‘observe the thoughts, accept them and then let them go; keep your mind blank’. Nobody progresses beyond this stage. It is a practice which can be the most direct method of accessing buddhi, chitta or ahamkara, if done properly. Therefore, one aspect of the mind is dealt with through antar mouna. We are discussing only a few practices which are simple and known to everybody, but you have to understand their importance.
When you come to the conclusion that buddhi is attaching you to an object or person, that an attachment is being created, then buddhi, as intellect, plays another role. It begins to analyse: this is good for me, this is not good for me, this is acceptable, this is not acceptable. You ascribe an identity, a form and a shape to your attachments. When attachment becomes strong, there is identification with the object of attachment as if you own it – the feeling of ‘It is mine’. When this idea comes in, it is difficult to become the observer, drashta, of the experience.
The first rule of yoga is: cultivate your awareness to such a degree that you can become the observer of everything that occurs around you or within you. The Yoga Sutras state (1:3):
Tada drashtu swaroope avasthanam.
The seer, the observer, the individual has to establish himself or herself in the state of mind where nothing escapes the internal vision. Everything is observed. Nothing occurs in a subtle way or any other way. Every event, thought and moment is observed. This happens in a very natural and spontaneous way. You don’t have to create tension, repeating to yourself, “I have to be aware.” When it happens spontaneously, with ease, you can be the observer all the time.
When you struggle with yourself, the observer state is experienced only for a few moments while you are struggling. There must not be struggle in yoga, only cultivation of awareness. With cultivation of awareness, you analyse your attachments while they are being created. “Is it infatuation? Is it need? Why am I associating with this person? Why do I desire this object? Is it need or infatuation?” Eighty percent of the time you will discover that it is not your need, just an infatuation, a selfish, desire to possess something.
Analyse buddhi by using the SWAN principle: Strength, Weakness, Ambition, Need. What are the strengths of your mind and what are its weaknesses? What are its aspirations? What are your actual needs in life? If you are able to classify your expectations and desires in these four categories and understand yourself in the light of your strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and needs, you can be free from the bondage of attachment.
People say, “I have to be detached.” How can you be detached? There is no need to be detached from anything. Just try to analyse and realize the value of things in relation to your need and ambition. If your attachment is based on need, it is valid. If your attachment is due to ambition, you will have to rethink it, because it will not bring you satisfaction. It will not provide you with fulfilment. Rather, ambitions and infatuations will only give rise to more ambitions and infatuations. In this way, using the SWAN principle, you can cultivate awareness and manage the behaviour of buddhi.
Chitta is the storehouse of impressions, samskaras and karmas. Chitta is one aspect of the mind to which you do not have easy access to. It is very difficult to know what your samskaras are. It is difficult to know what the karmas are that you are living. It is difficult to know what your future expectations are according to the samskaras and vasanas that exist in chitta. Chitta can be accessed by using another practice of pratyahara and dharana: ajapa japa. Ajapa japa is the practice of mantra with breath awareness. Sit down quietly, and observe the breath moving from the navel to the eyebrow centre. When you inhale, feel the breath come up from the navel to the eyebrow centre; when you exhale, observe the breath going down from the eyebrow centre to the navel. Then add a mantra to the movement of the breath: So-Ham. It is the mantra of the breath.
As you continue with the practice, you will gradually feel drowsy, as nervous tensions are released by breath regulation. When nervous tensions are released, cerebral tensions also ease. When cerebral tensions ease, the mind becomes introverted. When the mind becomes introverted, the connection with the senses is cut off. When the connections are cut off, you feel drowsy. At that moment, you still have one tool with you to help you remain alert and awake. That is awareness of the mantra.
When you keep on repeating the mantra with the breath, So-Ham, So-Ham, So-Ham, for fifteen minutes or twenty minutes, the mind moves into a state which is similar to, let us say, a catatonic state. It is a state where nothing moves, you become still. In that stillness, impressions and memories of the past come to the surface. I will give you an example of a true incident to indicate how ajapa works.
Many years ago, an asthmatic person came to the ashram. He had tried every kind of therapy to find relief from his asthma. Bronchial dilators did not work, inhalers did not work, no other medicine worked, and the intensity of his asthma was strong. Sri Swamiji was in the ashram at that time. He said to the young man, “Practise ajapa meditation and stop taking all medication. If these medicines have not worked on you until now, they are not going to work for the next few weeks. Stop the medication and practise ajapa meditation.” This man started the practice as instructed, as he had trust in the words of the guru.
He stopped the medication and started the meditation. After about a month or so, he had a vision in his meditation related to his childhood. It was something that he had forgotten about completely and, during meditation, that distant memory came to the surface. From that moment onwards he was free of asthma. Since that day, that person has not had a single attack of asthma, and this incident took place about twenty-five years ago.
When the person went back to his country, he underwent a test to check whether he was actually cured of asthma or not, the Ventolin Challenge Test. It indicated that he was in the clear. Where medication did not work, meditation did work. It worked because the process was able to bring up a memory which had been the cause of the problem. After acknowledging that memory, acknowledging the suffering and pain in that memory, the person was freed.
Ajapa japa is a good practice for drawing out the memories, impressions and samskaras which are affecting your external behaviour. Ajapa japa also centres you in your own spirit, heart and mind. It is a practice which has been eulogized in the vedic and upanishadic literatures. It has been given the most prominent place in the spiritual scriptures because of its ability to clear the inherent and latent impressions, samskaras and karmas.
October 2010, Ganga Darshan