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    Indispensable Aids To The Practice Of Pratyahara

    Pratyahara is roughly translated as “withdrawal”. Withdrawal, it has already been seen, is an indispensable prerequisite to concentration. If you want to centralise the mind, first of all, it has to be interiorised. Because, if the mind is completely externalised and scattered over many things in this outer world of names and forms and human affairs, how can the question of concentration arise in such a mind? It is totally unequipped for centralising or focussing. It is not even inside. It is scattered over the seen world which is hundred per cent Prakriti or Maya as long as we perceive it through the senses. But the same outer world is seen by the illumined Brahma Jnani as Parabrahman through his Sakshatkara Anubhava, and so he says, “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma; Sarvam Vishnumayam Jagat”. For him, there is no Prakriti at all; there is Parabrahman only. The whole of the external universe is nothing but Parabrahman for him. “Sarvam Sivamayam” he says, “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma”. And the scriptures go on to say that there is nothing else besides Brahman—Neha Nanasti Kinchana. But that is a question of Sakshatkara. Whereas, our approach to this whole human situation of bondage and suffering is from the point of view of the Mumukshu, a Jijnasu who is in Ajnana.

    A Word of Caution

    The Mumukshu is not a liberated soul or a Jivanmukta Purusha. He is only a struggling soul, caught in the net of the bondage of Raga-Dvesha, of Asha-Trishna. So, we cannot apply the Sakshatkara principle to the actual situation of the Jivatma. And we cannot say that there is no Prakriti. We have to very much accept Prakriti. One little sight, one little sound upsets us, makes us completely forget our Self our real Svarupa, our Purushahood and makes us completely enslaved by passion, anger, greed, hatred, anxiety, fear, depression and dejection. We are subject to so many mental modifications, Chitta-Vrittis. So, in this situation, we cannot ride the high horse of Brahma-Jnana or Jivanmuktahood. We cannot truthfully say, “I am transcendental Purusha or Atman”. We may practise saying it for the purpose of ultimate realisation. Such practice is called Brahma-Abhyasa Brahma-Chintana. We may practise affirming our real nature and asserting it. But on the practical side, we have to behave with caution and commonsense. We cannot foolishly run into situations which will make us turn a somersault and have a terrible fall and weep. We have to be very, very careful in going about in our Vyavahara, because we are still very much in the grip of the original self-forgetfulness or non-awareness. We are very much in the grip of delusion, of Maya. So, Gurudev used to say, “It is all right to say that Brahman is beyond time, space and causation. There is no world for the Brahma-Jnanis. It is all right for them to say, ‘I am Brahman; I am Jnana-Svarupa’. But, so far as you are concerned, if someone calls you a fool, you are immediately thrown into a violent temper, you are ready to quarrel with him, you are ready to fight, even to raise your fist. Let alone that, supposing you go and stand before some person and he is occupied with some other work, and does not pay attention to you, you feel very humiliated. You feel insulted. You will begin to think, ‘Oh! This man is treating me like this’. So, let alone someone doing some harm to you, if someone fails to do something which you are expecting him to do, you feel very insulted. You salute someone and he does not return it, because he did not notice it perhaps, but you feel very bothered. Your whole mental mood changes. It is all fine for you to say that there is no world in the three periods of time, but if you find that someone has forgotten to put salt in your Dal, immediately you cannot eat your food; you become upset. You say, ‘What is this? You have not put salt’. Supposing someone gives you tea without sugar, your Brahmanhood is nowhere. You immediately become upset in the absence of sugar in your tea. You do not drink it as it is. You will demand sugar and ask for it and complain, ‘No sugar has been put in my tea, no salt has been put in my Dal’. So, do not imagine things. Try to know where you are and start your Sadhana from that place”. Gurudev used to say all this. You are surrounded by Prakriti; you are surrounded by various manifestations of Prakriti. And so the mind is externalised and scattered amongst the various names and forms and objects, and human situations and affairs, which constitute Prakriti. It is thus in a state of involvement with external Prakriti in all its various forms. And this situation is the very antithesis of the ultimate Yogic state that you are trying to reach.

    Pratyahara—Start of the Return Journey to the Absolute

    The metaphysical thesis and the philosophical background of Patanjali’s Yoga Darshana says that you have to separate yourself completely from Prakriti and once again regain your splendid isolation as the independent Purusha, untouched by Prakriti and beyond all afflictions, supreme and in a state of perfection. Now you are involved in Prakriti; your mind is externalised, scattered amidst the various objects and experiences and affairs that constitute Prakriti. And there is the other experience awaiting you towards which you have to work, slowly and diligently, perseveringly. Your present situation and the situation you are aiming at are two extremes and therefore the need for Pratyahara. There is the need to practise Pratyahara. If you want to change your present situation which is the very opposite or contradiction of the ultimate state you are trying to reach through Samadhi and superconsciousness, you have to make a start somewhere. And so, the very commencement of the metaphysical transformation you are aiming to bring about is Pratyahara. In the Kathopanishad, this deplorable state of man is clearly mentioned when Yama tries to make Nachiketas understand that Brahma, the Creator, made the mind outgoing at the very time of creation. So, by its very innate tendencies, the mind is outgoing, because Rajo-Guna is present in it in considerable measure. Therefore, the Jivatma beholds only the outer universe and not the inner Self; and beholding only the outer universe, the Jivatma is subject to change, decay, modification and destruction. The Jivatma finds no happiness; he weeps. And once a person recognises the situation, the cause of one’s suffering, the cause of one’s weeping, the cause of one’s disappointment and frustration in trying to get happiness out of the external universe, the cause of one’s disillusionment, once a person realises the situation he is in, if he has got real stuff in him, he makes up his mind about it all. “No, no” he says, “Happiness does not lie outside. I have made a great mistake, I have committed a great blunder. I shall reverse this state of affairs”. Thus making a firm Sankalpa and determination, that exceptional being, that exceptional person, tries to reverse this process by making the mind go inward, by closing the doors of the senses, because he aspires to find true happiness, and he has understood now through Sruti-Vakya, Apta-Vakya and his own experience that real happiness and satisfaction is found in the Atman and not in the outer world of change and modification and decay. So he turns the gaze away from the outside and directs the vision inside. This is Pratyahara—turning the gaze away from the external and directing it towards the inner Self.

    Some rare exceptional person, with stuff, with determination, with courage of conviction, with firm faith in the scriptures, in the words of the Guru, in the words of the elders, he it is that turns his gaze within. He turns his gaze within. Why? Because he desires to attain the indwelling Self. The rest of the masses, the majority of people that is, the great flock, they see only the external universe, they do nothing to change the situation; they do nothing to reverse the natural tendency of the mind. They allow it to flow through the senses towards the objective universe because they think that the objective universe is the only reality that exists. There is no other Reality. For them, seeing is believing. What they perceive through the five senses, that is all there is. There is nothing else beyond. They cannot conceive of anything else beyond. So, foolishly thinking in this irrational short-sighted way, like children lacking proper vision and higher understanding, they make their life an entire affair of allowing their mind to flow through the senses and perceive only the external objects, and thus allowing, they get caught in the widespread net of Maya. And they come again and again into this world. There is no end to their wheel of birth and death. “Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam Punarapi Jananee Jatare Sayanam”. There is no end to this wheel. Again and again they go and come back, and weep and wail and laugh, and again go and come back. This ever-recurring wheel of death and rebirth, and death and rebirth, goes on for those small-minded ones, lacking understanding, thinking like children. Instead of thinking and acting like mature wise people, they think like children. So they come again and again into this world. Whereas, the Mumukshu is a Dheera, the Jijnasu is a Dheera, like Markandeya, like Nachiketas, like Dhruva, like Prahlada, Satyakama and Svetaketu. They are Dheeras; they are people with the exceptional stuff. They have got inner strength, courage to follow their beliefs, and faith, and so they make all the effort that is necessary and turn the gaze away. They reverse the process of the natural tendency of the mind and try to take it inward towards the Eka or the One, instead of towards the Aneka or the many that lie outside. They try to take the mind towards the Sattva instead of towards the Nama-Rupa. They try to take the mind towards the Nitya instead of towards the Anitya. That is Pratyahara. And, from the purely psychological point of view, the purely scientific point of view, as a technique, you cannot do Dharana unless you have got Pratyahara. Pratyahara is an Abhyasa or a technique or a process that is indispensable if you have to carry out Dharana. If you must concentrate the mind, first of all the mind must be brought in, the mind must be made to come together; it must be turned inward. And this needs also sense-control. Unless you have got sense-control, you cannot do Pratyahara. If the senses are turbulent and always bounding towards the Vishaya-Vastu or the worldly objects, you cannot do Pratyahara. So, it requires Brahmacharya to do Pratyahara successfully.

    Brahmacharya and Pratyahara

    Brahmacharya means that pattern of conduct, that lifestyle, which leads to ultimate Brahma-Jnana. So, Brahmacharya is a comprehensive term. That is why Patanjali has laid it down in his Niyama. Brahmacharya means self-control. Tapasya includes self-control. Therefore arises the necessity of Tapasya in relation to Pratyahara, of Brahmacharya in relation to Pratyahara. Unless you have self-control, self-restraint, you cannot have Pratyahara. The mind will continue to be bothered by the uncontrolled and turbulent senses. The senses have to be kept in check. The senses have to be disciplined. The senses have to be trained, have to be subdued; and therefore, Yama and Niyama are to be practised throughout the entire course of your Yogic ascent right up to the point of Samadhi. Otherwise, if you do not keep up Yama and Niyama always with you, even after attaining the state of Dhyana, you can have a downfall. Even a Yogi can have a great downfall. So, you can never underestimate the importance of Yama and Niyama. You can never understate the need to keep them along with you right up till the last stages of the Yogic ascent.

    Vairagya and Pratyahara

    Secondly, if Pratyahara is to be successful, you must have Vairagya. What is it that drives the mind outside seeking sense satisfaction and sensual enjoyment? What is it that drives the mind outside? It is desire. It is Asha and Trishna. It is the thirst for sense enjoyment. It is Raga. Unless you develop dispassion towards the external world, towards objective enjoyment and objective possessions, unless you say, “No, I do not want anything”, you cannot engage in successful Pratyahara. And unless you practise Pratyahara, you cannot get established in Vairagya or dispassion. So they are both interdependent. Pratyahara helps in becoming more and more well grounded in Vairagya. Vairagya helps in succeeding in the process of Pratyahara. Without Vairagya you cannot have Pratyahara and Pratyahara is necessary to become well established in Vairagya.

    Now, ask yourself a question. Why is it that the Jivatma has so many desires, so many cravings? “I must enjoy this. I must possess this. I must come into contact with this.” Why all this craving? Vedanta tells you that it is due to a basic Avichara, a basic lack of proper philosophical enquiry. You do not keep up this enquiry continuously—this enquiry into the real nature of things, this enquiry into the real nature of the so-called sensual enjoyment. If you make a right enquiry, philosophy will tell you that this is not enjoyment, but this is suffering. What you think to be happiness is actually suffering. It is the cause of further suffering. Because, you go towards enjoyment and you become enslaved by it. You become addicted to it. If you do not find it you suffer. So, what you think to be enjoyment is actually suffering. These enjoyments that come due to the contact between the senses and the respective sense-objects—they are a source of sorrow, a source of suffering. Now a little bit of enjoyment, but afterwards suffering. “Ye Hi Samsparsaja Bhoga Duhkha Yonaya Eva Te” Who says this? Lord Krishna Himself. So, there is no real happiness here. Misery is mistaken for happiness, pain is mistaken for pleasure, because this happiness increases your craving. It makes it all the more. By satisfying your desire, you intensify your desire, and when you intensify your desire, it becomes a source of great agitation and mental restlessness. The more the desire, the more the restlessness. And where there is such restlessness in the mind, there cannot be happiness. When there is Ashanti in the Manas, in the Chitta, how can there be happiness? Ashantasya Kutah Sukham? There cannot be real happiness where there is constant agitation, constant restlessness in the mind due to countless desires and cravings. They are all together and you do not realise it, because you do not carry on Vichara. Where there is proper Vichara and Viveka, Vairagya is possible. Where there is no Vichara and Viveka, Vairagya is not sustained, Vairagya is not Pucca, it is not ripe, it is Kachcha. Sometimes it will help you, and at other times, at the time of need, it will abandon you. Vairagya will vanish, and you will be foolish, and to use an English expression, you will find yourself in a soup. You will get into hot waters. Why? Because of temporary abandonment of Vairagya. And you will commit some very foolish thing. Then, afterwards, Vairagya will come again. Afterwards, you will remember Vairagya. So they say that it is better to avoid getting into a wrong situation rather than get into a wrong situation, repent, open one’s eyes, and afterwards try to correct oneself. Be wise. Arise, awake. Be wise. Understand that discrimination and enquiry are very, very important in order to become established in Vairagya, by which alone successful and effective Pratyahara is possible.

    Svadhyaya and Pratyahara

    Also understand the relevance of Svadhyaya to Pratyahara, because it is through Svadhyaya that the Yogi is able to keep his Vichara and Viveka fresh and alive or active. With daily Svadhyaya, you begin to get a deeper and deeper understanding into the real nature of the world and things. Svadhyaya brings you wisdom. Svadhyaya brings you awakening. Svadhyaya keeps your Vichara and Viveka keen and sharp. That is the value of Svadhyaya and that is the connection between Svadhyaya and Pratyahara. And thus, with the help of Brahmacharya, with the help of Tapascharya, with the help of Svadhyaya, if you have your senses under control, and if you keep your Viveka and Vichara keen and active, then gradually, becoming an Avruta-Chakshu Jijnasu, becoming endowed with an internalised gaze, with the mind turned away from the external outside, you are able to gradually prepare yourself for the higher stage of Dharana or concentration. This withdrawal of Pratyahara should be supported by Brahmacharya, supported by Tapasya, supported by Svadhyaya, and supported by the Vichara and Viveka developed through Svadhyaya, and it should be always bolstered by Vairagya. Vairagya is very, very important if you must successfully practise Pratyahara. And in this process of Pratyahara, gradually you begin to progress and advance in keeping your mind always internalised, not moving towards the senses but moving towards the Self, the inner focal point within. And as you progress in this practice of Pratyahara, a stage comes when the senses gradually begin to change their nature, begin to give up their Vishayonmukha Svabhava, their innate tendency of always going towards the external objects, of always going towards their respective sense-objects. That nature they gradually begin to give up, having understood through Viveka, through Vichara, through Svadhyaya, through Satsanga, the foolishness of moving towards the external objects, having understood that the external world is an empty chimera, that there is no pleasure there, that there is no happiness there, that there is only pain there. By going towards fire, you will only get burnt. A child is attracted towards the brightness, the brilliance, of fire. And if it touches the fire, it will get burnt. In the same way, the moth goes towards its destruction by plunging towards a bright flame. The Sadhaka begins to understand that, likewise, in the glittering external world, there lies only harm or injury, unhappiness, sorrow, lamentation.

    Once this idea is firmly implanted in the mind, the senses come under the influence of this new knowledge. Formerly there was a situation when the mind was constantly being influenced by the senses, powered by the senses, dragged by the senses. And now, a certain change has come over the mind. The whole situation is now reversed. Now, the senses, instead of influencing the mind, become influenced by the mind, because the mind has become established in Vichara and Viveka and Vairagya, and has become well-grounded in its new attitude to the external world. So it says, “No, my welfare does not lie there. My happiness lies inside”. The mind becomes well established in this conviction and determines not to go outside but to go inside. What happens then? This new determination of the mind has its impact upon the senses, and in this new situation the mind begins to influence the senses. And the senses now decide: “No, we will not drag the leader. We will follow the leader. The mind is our leader. We will do as he says”. So the senses stay put; they no longer bound towards the sense-objects, but they acquire a state of repose. They consent to stay where they are and they give up their old habitual, innate tendency of going outward. So, the senses attain a state of Dama. The senses become subdued, they become docile, and they decide to follow the mind. So, they also become internalised. They stay in their centres. They do not bother the Yogi any more. They no longer present themselves as factors which distract the mind and agitate the mind. So, the problem gets overcome. Instead of the mind being dragged out by the senses, the senses now consent to be brought inside by the mind. They follow the new tendencies of the awakened mind dominated by Vichara and Viveka, dominated by Vairagya, dominated by a higher discrimination. Such a situation becomes most suitable and helpful for the Yoga practitioner to take up the actual process of concentration or Dharana.

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