THE YOGA SYSTEM
By Sri Swami Krishnananda
A DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY PUBLICATION
Sixth Edition: 1997
World Wide Web (WWW) Edition : 1999
WWW site: HTTP://WWW.SHIVANANDADLSHQ.ORG/
This WWW reprint is for free distribution
© The Divine Life Trust Society
THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY
P.O. Shivanandanagar249 192
Distt. Tehri-Garhwal, Uttar Pradesh,
- PSYCHOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONSTHE
- THE AIM OF OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS
- THE SPIRITUAL REALITY
- DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY
- THE MORAL RESTRAINTS
- THE OBSERVANCES
- ASANA OR POSTURE
- PRANAYAMA OR REGULATION OF THE VITAL ENERGY
- PRATYAHARA OR ABSTRACTION
- PEACE OF MIND AND SELF-CONTROL
- DHARANA OR CONCENTRATION
- DHYANA OR MEDITATION
- SAMADHI OR SUPER-CONSCIOUSNESS
- A. Concentration on External Points:
- B. Concentration on Internal Points
- C. Concentration on the Universal
- Day-to-Day Practice
The present small book consists of lectures delivered by the author several years ago on
the essentials of the Yoga system as propounded by the Sage Patanjali. These lessons were
intended particularly for students who required a special clarity of this intricate subject, and the
approach has been streamlined accordingly on a form and style commensurate with the receptive
capacities of the students.
The section on Pratyahara is especially noteworthy and students of Yoga would do well to
go through it again and again as a help in internal training.
20th February, 1981 THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY
Dedicated To The Seekers of Truth
It is necessary, at the outset, to clear certain misconceptions in regard to Yoga, prevalent
especially among some sections in the West. Yoga is not magic or a feat of any kind, physical or
mental. Yoga is based on a sound philosophy and deep psychology. It is an educational process
by which the human mind is trained to become more and more natural and weaned from the
unnatural conditions of life. Yoga has particular concern with psychology, and, as a study of the
‘self’, it transcends both general and abnormal psychology, and leads one to the supernormal
level of life. In Yoga we study ourselves, while in our colleges we are told to study objects. Not
the study of things but a study of the very structure of the student is required by the system of
Yoga, for the known is not totally independent of the knower.
How do we know things at all? There is a mysterious process by which we come to know
the world, and life is an activity of such knowledge. A study of the mind is a study of its
relations to things. The instruction, ‘Know Thyself’, implies that when we know ourselves, we
know all things connected with ourselves, i.e., we know the universe. In this study we have to
proceed always from the lower to the higher, without making haste or working up the emotions.
The first thing we are aware of in experience is the world. There are certain processes
which take place in the mind, by which we come to know the existence of the world. There are
sensations, perceptions and cognitions, which fall under what is known as ‘direct perception’ or
‘direct knowledge’ (Pratyaksha) through which the world is known, valued and judged for
purpose of establishing relations. These relations constitute our social life.
A stimulation of the senses takes place by a vibration that proceeds from the object
outside. This happens in two ways: (1) by the very presence of the object and (2) by the light
rays, sound, etc., that emanate from the object, which affect the retina of the eyes, the drums of
the ears, or the other senses. We have five senses of knowledge and through them we receive all
the information concerning the world. If the five senses are not to act, we cannot know if there is
a world at all. We, thus, live in a sense-world. When sensory stimulation is produced by
vibrations received from outside, we become active. Sensory activity stimulates the mind
through the nervous system which connects the senses with the mind by means of the Prana or
vital energy. We may compare these nerve-channels to electric wires, through which the power
of the Prana flows. The Pranas are not the nerves, even as electricity is not the wires. The Prana
is an internal vibration which links the senses with the mind. Sensations, therefore, make the
mind active and the mind begins to feel that there is something outside. This may be called
indeterminate perception, where the mind has a featureless awareness of the object. When the
perception becomes clearer, it becomes determinate. This mental perception is usually called
Beyond the mind there is another faculty, called the intellect. It judges whether a thing is
good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, of this kind or that, etc. It decides upon the value of an
object, whether this judgment is positive or negative, moral, aesthetic or religious. One assesses
one’s situation in relation to the object. Some psychologists hold that the mind is an instrument
in the hands of the intellect. Manas is the Sanskrit word for mind, which is regarded as the
THE YOGA SYSTEM
Karana or instrument, while Buddhi is the Sanskrit term for intellect, which is the Karta or doer.
The intellect judges what is cognized by the mind, and makes a decision as to the nature of the
action that has to be taken in respect of the object in the given circumstances.
The intellect is associated with another principle within, called Ahamkara or ego. ‘Aham’
means ‘I’, and ‘kara’ is that which manifests, reveals or affirms. There is something in us, which
affirms ‘I am’. This affirmation is ego. No logic is necessary to prove the ego, for we do not
prove our own existence. This is an affirmation which requires no evidence, for all logic
proceeds from it. The ego is inseparable from individual intellection, like fire from its heat. The
intellect and ego exist inextricably, and human intellection is the function of the human ego. The
functions of the ego are manifold, and these form the subject of psychology.
There are certain ways in which the psychological instruments begin to function in
relation to objects. The ego, intellect and mind perform the functions of arrogation,
understanding and thinking of objects. There is also a fourth element, called Chitta, which is not
easily translatable into English. The term ‘subconscious’ is usually considered as its equivalent.
That which is at the base of the conscious mind and which retains memory etc., is Chitta or the
subconscious mind. But the Chitta in Yoga psychology includes also what is known as the
unconscious in psychoanalysis. All this functional apparatus, taken together, is the psyche or
Antahkarana, the internal instrument. The internal organ functions in various forms, and Yoga is
interested in a thorough study of these functions, because the methods of Yoga are intended to
take a serious step in regard to all these psychic functions, finally.
Now, how does the internal organ function? The psyche produces five reactions in
respect of the world outside, some of them being positive and others negative. These are the
themes of general psychology.
There are five modes into which the Antahkarana casts itself in performing its functions
of normal life. These modes are called Pramana, Viparyaya, Vikalpa, Nidra and Smriti.
Pramana or right knowledge is awareness of things as they are. This is the main subject
of the studies in logic. Perception, inference and verbal testimony are the three primary ways of
right knowledge. Some add comparison, presumption and non-apprehension to the usual
avenues of such knowledge. How do we know that there is an object in front of us? We acquire
this knowledge through direct sensory contact. This is perception. And when we see muddy
water in a river, we suppose that there must have been rains uphill. This knowledge we gather by
inference. The words of others in whom we have faith, also, convey to us true knowledge, as, for
example, when we believe that there is an elephant in the nearby city, on hearing of it from a
reliable friend, though we might not have actually seen it with our eyes. All these methods
together form what goes by the name of Pramana or direct proof of dependable knowledge.
Viparyaya is wrong perception, the mistaking of one thing for another, as, when we see a
long rope in twilight, we usually take it for a snake, or apprehend that a straight stick immersed
in water is bent. When we perceive anything which does not correspond to fact, the mental mode
is one of erroneous understanding.
Vikalpa is doubt. When we are not certain whether, for example, a thing we are seeing is
a person or a pole, whether something is moving or not moving, the perception not being clear,
or when we are in any dubious state of thinking, we are said to be in Vikalpa.
Nidra is sleep, which may be regarded as a negative condition, a withdrawal of mind
from all activity. Sleep is nevertheless a psychological condition, because, though it is not
positively connected with the objects of the world, it represents a latency of the impressions as
well as possibilities of objective thought. Nidra is the sleep of the Antahkarana.
Smriti is memory, the remembrance of past events, the retention in consciousness of the
impressions of experiences undergone previously.
All functions of the internal organ can be brought under one or other of these processes,
and subject of general psychology is an elaboration of these human ways of thinking,
understanding, willing or feeling. It does not mean, however, that we entertain only five kinds of
thoughts, but that all the hundreds of thoughts of the mind can be boiled down to these five
groups of function. The system of Yoga makes a close study of this inner structure of man and
envisages it in its relation to the universe.
As all thoughts can be reduced to five types of internal function, all objects can be
reduced to five Bhutas or elements. The five great elements are called Pancha-Maha-bhutas,
and they are (1) Ether (Akasa), (2) Air (Vayu), (3) Fire (agni), (4) Water (Apas) and (5) Earth
(Prithivi). The subtlety of these elements is in the ascending order of this arrangement, the
succeeding one being grosser than the preceding. Also the preceding element is the cause of the
succeeding, so that Ether may be regarded as containing all things in an unmanifested form. The
elements constitute the whole physical cosmos. These are the real objects of the senses, and all
the variety we see is made up of forms of these objects.
Our sensations are the five objects. We sense through the Indriyas or sense-organs. With
the sense of the ear we come in contact with Ether and hear sound which is a reverberation
produced by Ether. Touch is the property of Air, felt by us with the tactile sense. With the sense
of the eyes we contact light which is the property of Fire. With the palate we taste things, which
is the property of Water. With the nose we smell objects, and this is the property of Earth.
There is the vast universe, and we know it with our senses. We live in a world of fivefold
objects. The senses are incapable of knowing anything more than these element. The internal
organ, as informed and influenced by the objects, deals with them in certain manners, and this is
life. While our psychological reactions constitute our personal life, the adjustment we make with
others is our social life. The Yoga is primarily concerned with the personal life of man in
relation to the universe, and not the social life, for, in the social environment, one’s real
personality is rarely revealed. Yoga is essentially a study of self by self, which initially looks like
an individual affair, a process of Self-investigation (Atma-Vichara) and Self-realization (Atma-
Sakshatkara). But this is not the whole truth. The Self envisaged here is a consciousness of
gradual integration of reality, and it finally encompasses all experience and the whole universe in
While the psychology of Yoga comprises the functions of the internal organ, and its
physics is of the five great objects or Mahabhutas, the philosophy of Yoga transcends both these
stages of study. The Yoga metaphysics holds that the body is not all, and even the five elements
are not all. We do not see what is inside the body and also what is within the universe of five
elements. A different set of senses would be necessary for knowing these larger secrets. Yoga
finally leads us to this point. When we go deep into the body we would confront its roots; so also
in the case of the objects outside. When we set out on this adventure, we begin to converge
slowly at a single centre, like the two sides of a triangle that taper at one point. The so-called
wide base of the world on which we move does not disclose the truth of ourselves or of objects.
At this point of convergence of ourselves and of things, we need not look at objects, and here no
senses are necessary, for, in this experience, there are neither selves nor things. There is only one
Reality, where the universal object and the universal subject become a unitary existence. Neither
is that an experience of a subject nor an object, where is revealed a knowledge of the whole
cosmos, at once, not through the senses, mind or intellect,-for there are no objects,-and there is
only being that is consciousness. Yoga is, therefore, spiritual, superphysical or supermaterial,
because materiality is shed in its achievement, and consciousness reigns supreme. This is the
highest object of Yoga, where the individual and the universe do not stand apart as two entities
but come together in a fraternal embrace. The purpose of the Yoga way of analysis is an
overcoming of the limitations of both subjectivity and objectivity and a union of the deepest
within us with the deepest in the cosmos.
And what is this deepest? The physical body, being outside as a part of the physical
world, should be considered an object like the other things of the world, and it is constituted of
the five elements. This material body of five elements acts as a vehicle for certain powers that
work from within. Our actions are movements of these powers. There is an energy within the
body which is other than the elements. This energy is called Prana or vital force. The Prana has
many functions, which are responsible for the workings of the body. The organs of action, viz.,
speech (Vak), hands (Pani), feet (Pada), genitals (Upastha) and anus (Payu) are moved by the
motive power of the Prana. But the Prana is a blind energy and it needs to be directed properly.
We know we do not just do anything at any time, but act with some, method and intelligence.
There is a directing principle behind the Prana. We think before we act. The mind is, therefore,
internal to the Prana. But thought, again, is regulated by something else. We engage ourselves in
systematic thinking and follow a logical course in every form of contemplation and action. This
logical determinant of all functions in life is the intellect, which is the highest of human faculties,
and it is inseparable from the principle of the ego in man.
All these functions of the psychological apparatus are, however, confined to what is
called the waking state. The human being seems to be passing from this state to others, such as
dream and deep sleep. Though we have some sort of an awareness in dream, we are bereft of all
consciousness in deep sleep. Yet, we know that we do exist in the state of sleep. This means
that we can exist without doing anything, even without thinking. The condition of deep sleep is a
paradox for psychology and is the crux of the Yoga analysis. It is strange that in sleep we do not
know even our own selves, and still we know that we do exist then. An experience, pure and
simple, of the nature of consciousness alone, is the constituent of deep sleep, notwithstanding
that we are not aware of it due to a peculiar difficulty in which we seem to get involved there. In
deep sleep, we have consciousness not associated with objects, and hence we remain oblivious of
everything external. There is, at the same time, unconsciousness of even one’s own existence
due to there being the potentiality for objective perception. The result is, however, that the
deepest in the individual is consciousness, which is called by such names as the Atman, Purusha,
etc. This is the real Self.
Now, what is the deepest in the cosmos? We learnt that there are five elements. But this
is not the whole picture of creation. There are realities within the physical universe as they are
there within the individual body. If the Prana, mind, intellect, ego and finally consciousness are
internal to the bodily structure, there are also tremendous truths internal to the physical universe.
Within the five gross elements there are five forces which manifest the elements. These forces
are the universal causes of everything that is physical, and are called Tanmatras, a term which
signifies the essence of objects. There is such a force or power behind the elements of Ether, Air,
Fire, Water and Earth. Sabda or sound is the force behind Ether. But this sound is, different
from what we merely hear with our ears. It is the subtle principle behind the whole of Ether, on
account of which the ears are capable of hearing at all. This is sound as Tanmatra. Likewise,
there are the Tanmatras of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, called respectively Sparsa or touch, Rupa
or form, Rasa or taste and Gandha or smell. These powers are subtle energies immanent in the
elements constituting the physical universe.
Modern science seems to corroborate the presence of these, essences behind bodies. The
world was once said to be made up of molecules or chemical substances. Further investigation
revealed that molecules are not the last word and that they are made up of atoms. Research,
again, proved that even the atoms are formed of certain substances, which have the character of
both waves of energy and particles of force. They flow like waves and sometimes jump like
particles. A great physicist has therefore preferred to designate them as ‘wavicles’. These have
been named electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., according to their structure and function. Their
essence is force. There is nothing but force in the universe. There is only a continuum of energy
everywhere. The Tanmatras of the Yoga system, however, are subtler than the energy of the
scientist, even as the Prana is subtler than electricity.
Just as behind the Prana there is the mind, behind the Tanmatras there is the Cosmic
Mind. Beyond the Cosmic Mind are the Cosmic Ego and the Cosmic Intellect, the last
mentioned having a special name, Mahat. Beyond the Mahat is what is called Prakriti, in which
the whole universe exists as a tree in a seed, or as effect in its cause. Transcending Prakriti is the
Absolute-Consciousness, called Brahman, Paramatman and the like. So, whether we dive deep
here or there, within ourselves or within the cosmos, we find the same thing-Consciousness. And
the stages of manifestation in the individual correspond to those in the universe. The purpose of
Yoga is to effect a communion between the individual and cosmic structures and to realize the
ultimate Reality. The Yoga places before us the goal of a union wherein infinity and eternity
seem to come together. The aim of Yoga is to raise the status of the individual to the cosmic
level and to abolish the false difference between the individual and the cosmic. The cosmos
includes ourselves and things. The individual is a part of the cosmos. Then, why do we make a
separate reference to the individual? This is a mistake, which Yoga effectively corrects. To
regard the cosmos as an outer object would be to defy the very meaning of the cosmos. To
imagine ourselves to be subjects counterposed before an object called the cosmos would be to
stultify the comprehensiveness of the cosmos and to interfere with its harmony and working. The
Yoga rectifies this mistake and hereby the mortal becomes the Immortal. As the individual is a
part of the cosmos, this achievement should not be difficult. The individual is not separate from
the cosmic, but there seems to be some confusion in the mind of the individual which has caused
an artificial isolation of itself from the rest of the universe. This confusion is called Ajnana or
Avidya, which really means an absence or negation of true knowledge. Here we enter the realms
of depth psychology.
Avidya represents a condition in which one forgets reality and is unconscious of its
existence. We have somehow forgotten the real nature of our selves, viz. the universality of our
true being. This is the primary function of ignorance. But it has more serious consequences. For
it also makes one mistake the non-eternal (Anitya) for the eternal (Nitya), the impure (Asuchi) for
the pure (Suchi), pain (Duhkha) for pleasure (Sukha) and the not-Self (Anatman) for the Self
(Atman). It is obvious that the world with its contents is transient, and yet it is hugged as a real
entity. Even the so-called solidity or substantiality of things is challenged today by the
discoveries of modern science. The Theory of Relativity has put an end to such a thing as stable
matter or body and even a stable law or rule to work upon. Still the world is loved as reality.
This is one of the functions of Avidya. So, also, the impure body which stinks when deprived of
life or unattended to daily is loved and caressed as a pure substance. The itching of the nerves is
regarded as an incentive to pleasure and to scratch them for an imaginary satisfaction seems to be
the aim of all sense-contacts in life, whatever be their nature. The increase of desire (Parinama)
after every sensory indulgence, the anxiety (Tapa) consequent upon every attempt at fulfilment of
a desire, the undesirable effect in the form of psychic impressions (Samskara-duhkha) that follow
in the wake of all sense-enjoyments and the obstructing activity of the modes of the relativity of
things (the 3 Gunas) called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, which revolve like a wheel without rest
(Guna-vritti-virodha) point to the fact that worldly pleasure is a name given to pain, by the
ignorant. Also, objects are loved as one’s Self, while in fact they are not. All these are the
characteristics of Avidya or Ajnana, due to which there is a total distortion of reality into an
appearance called this universe of space, time and objects.
Another result which spontaneously follows from Avidya is Asmita or the sense of being.
This sense is the consciousness of one’s individuality and personality, the ego, Ahamkara, or
self-affirmation. Forgetfulness of universality ends in an assertion of individuality. The wrong
notion that the individual is organically separated from the universe and the consequent selfassertion
(Asmita), the bifurcating attitude of likes and dislikes in regard to things (Raga-Dvesha)
and a longing to preserve one’s body by all means (Abhinivesa) are the graduated effects of
Avidya, which follow from it in a logical sequence. We do not know Universal Being. We
know only the particular and the individual. We love and hate objects. We cling to life and fear
death. The first mistake is to think, ‘I am not the Universal’; the second to affirm, ‘I am the
particular’; the third to like certain things and to dislike others; the fourth to strive for
perpetuating individuality by the instinct for self-preservation and self-reproduction. The error of
forgetfulness of universality has produced affirmation of individuality, which has caused love
and hate, or like and dislike, all which finally has led to desire for life and horror of death. This
is our present state. We have now to wake up from this muddled thinking and go back to the
truth of thinking universally. The union of the individual with the Universal is Yoga.
If Pramana, Viparyaya, Vikalpa, Nidra and Smriti may be called the painless functions of
the Antahkarana, which are studied in general psychology, the other functions, viz. Avidya,
Asmita, Raga, Dvesha and Abhinivesa may be regarded as the painful ones, because it is these
that cause the unhappiness of all beings, and these form the contents of abnormal psychology.
The painful functions create pain not only to oneself but to others as well, because we
have a tendency to transfer our pain to others. A personal affair becomes a social problem and
the personal ego becomes a social assertiveness. One’s likes and dislikes may seriously affect
others in society. The Yoga psychology takes this fact into consideration. Hence, before
contemplating any method to frees the mind from its painful functions, it has first to be weaned
from society and brought back home from its meanderings outside. Like a thief who is first
arrested and then suitably dealt with, the mind has to be made to turn away from the tangle of the
external world, and then analyzed thoroughly. Social suffering is the impact of these
psychological complexities mutually set up by the different individuals through various kinds of
interaction. Social tension is the collision produced by individualistic psychological
entanglements. This is the reason for everyone’s unhappiness in the world. No one is prepared
to sacrifice one’s ego, but everyone demands the sacrifice of the egos of others. Yoga has a
recipe for this malady of man in general, for this internal illness of humanity. It asks us to bring
the mind back to its source of activity, and if all persons are to do this, it would serve as a remedy
for social illness, also. Thus, though Yoga is primarily concerned with the individual, it offers a
solution for all social tensions and questions. Yoga alone can bring peace to the world, for it
dives into the depths of man. Yoga is, therefore, a means not only to personal salvation but also
to social solidarity.
The mind is to be brought to its source. Unfortunately, we cannot know where the mind
is unless it starts working, like the thief whose presence is known from his activities. The outer
problems are manifestations of the inner fivefold complexity. Ignorance is the first cause. But it
is a negative cause when one is merely ignorant or stupid. Man does not stop with this
acceptance. He wants to demonstrate his ignorance, and here is the root of all trouble.
Affirmation of egoism is the first demonstration. When one wants others to yield to the demands
of one’s ego which goes counter to the egos of others, there is clash of personalities and interests,
and this circumstance breeds unhappiness in family, in society, and in the world. Yoga makes an
analysis of this situation. Avidya affirming itself as Ahamkara and clashing with others produces
the context of Himsa or injury. As Himsa is an evil which begets social grief of different types,
Ahimsa or non-injury is a virtue. Ahimsa is akin to the Christian ethics which teaches us to
‘resist not evil.’ If even a single ego would withdraw itself, the friction in society would be less
in intensity to that extent. Himsa is born of Asmita, Raga and Dvesha, and hence Ahimsa is a
moral canon. Ahimsa, or the practice of non-violence, is not merely a rule of action but also of
thought and feeling. One should not even think harm of any kind. To contemplate evil is as bad
as committing it in action. Contemplation is not only a preparation for activity but is the seed of
the latter. ‘May there be friendliness instead of enmity, love instead of hate,’ is the motto of
Yoga. By love we attract things and by hatred we repel them. Love attracts love, and hatred
attracts hatred. This great rule of Yoga ethics extends from mere avoidance of doing harm to
positive unselfish love of all, with an impartial vision, love without attachment (Raga) or hatred
(Dvesha). Ahimsa has always been regarded as the king of virtues and every other canon of
morality is judged with reference to this supreme norm of character and conduct.
The ego tries to work out its likes and dislikes by various methods, one of them being the
uttering of falsehood in order to escape opposition from others. The insinuating of falsehood in
society is regarded as a vice. Satya or truthfulness is another virtue. Truthfulness mitigates
egoism to some extent. Dishonesty is an affirmation of the ego to succeed in its ways in the
world for its own good, though it may mean another’s harm. Truthfulness is correspondence to
fact. Yoga stresses the importance of the practice of truth in human life. There are dilemmas in
which we are placed when we find ourselves often in a difficult situation.
truthfulness may appear to lead one to trouble and one might be tempted to utter falsehood.
Scriptures give many answers to our questions on the issue. Truth that harms is considered equal
to untruth. We have to see the consequence of our conduct and behaviour before we can decide
whether it is virtuous or not. But, then, are we to utter untruth? A most outstanding instance on
the point is narrated in the Mahabharata. Arjuna and Karna were face to face in battle. Krishna
mentioned to Arjuna that Yudhishthira was very grieved because of his combat with Karna on
that day, on account of the severity of which he had to return to his camp, badly injured. Krishna
and Arjuna went to Yudhishthira and greeted him. Yudhishthira was happy to see Arjuna
particularly, because he thought that he had come after killing Karna in battle. He exclaimed his
joy over the good event, but when Arjuna revealed that Karna was not yet killed and that they
had only come to see him in the camp, Yudhishthira curtly told Arjuna that it would have been
better if his Gandiva bow had been given over to someone else. Arjuna drew out his sword.
Krishna caught hold of his hands and asked him what the matter was with him. Arjuna revealed
his secret vow according to which he would put to death anyone who insulted his bow. Krishna
expressed surprise at the foolishness of Arjuna and advised him that to speak unkind words to
one’s elders is equal to killing them and Arjuna would do well to abuse Yudhishthira in
irreverent terms rather than kill him and incur a heinous sin. Accordingly, Arjuna used insulting
words against Yudhishthira in a long chain. But Arjuna drew his sword again, and Krishna
demanded its meaning. Arjuna said that he was going to kill himself because he had another vow
that if he insulted an elder he would put an end to himself Krishna smiled at this behaviour of
Arjuna and told him that to praise oneself is equal to killing oneself and so he might resort to this
means rather than commit suicide. Arjuna, then, praised himself in a boastful language. One can
well imagine the consequence of putting Yudhishthira to the sword for keeping Arjuna’s
promise. Morality is not a rigid formula of mathematics. No standard of it can be laid down for
all times, and for all situations. Even legal experts like Bhishma could not answer the quandary
posed by Draupadi. If keeping a vow conforms to Satya, killing one’s brother in such a
predicament or committing suicide is contrary to Ahimsa. Scriptures hold that truthfulness
should not invoke injury. Manu, in his Smriti, observes that one must speak truth, but speak
sweetly, and one should not speak a truth which is unpleasant; nor should one speak untruth
because it is sweet. The general rule has been, however, that truth which causes hurt or injury, to
another’s feelings is to be regarded as untruth, though it looks like truth in its outer form. Our
actions and thoughts should have a relevance to the ultimate goal of life. Only then do they
become truths. There should be a harmony between the means and the end. ‘Has the conduct
any connection, directly or indirectly, with the goal of the universe?’ If the answer to this
question is in the affirmative, the step taken may be considered as one conforming to truth.
Brahmacharya, or continence, the other great rule, is as difficult to understand as Satya or
Ahimsa. In every case of moral judgment, common-sense and a comprehensive outlook are
necessary. Many students of Yoga think that Brahmacharya is celibacy or the living of an
unmarried life. Though this may be regarded as one definition of it, which has much meaning,
Yoga morality calls for Brahmacharya of the purest type, which has a deeper significance. Yoga
considers Brahmacharya from all points of view, and not merely in its sociological implication.
It requires a purification of all the senses. Oversleeping and gluttony, for instance, are breaks in
Brahmacharya. It breaks not merely by a married life, but by overindulgence of any kind, even in
an unmarried life, such as overeating, talkativeness and, above all, brooding upon sense-objects.
While one conserves energy from one side, it can leak out from another side. Oversleeping is a
trick played by the mind when we refuse to give it satisfaction. Overeating and overtalking are,
results of a bursting forth of untrained energy. Contemplation on objects of sense can continue
even when they are physically far from oneself. Brahmacharya is to conserve force for the
purpose of meditation. ‘Do you feel strong by the conservation of energy,’ is the question?
Brahmacharya is tested by the strength that one recognizes within. The virtue is not for parading
it outside, but for the utilization of the conserved power towards a higher purpose. Unnecessary
activity of the senses wastes energy. The Chandogya Upanishad says that in purity of the intake
of things there is purity of being. In the acts of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching,
we have to contact only pure things. Any single sense left uncontrolled may nullify the effects of
control over the other senses. As the Mahabharata points out, we become that with which we
associate ourselves, which we serve for a long time and which we want or wish to become, by
constant thinking. Brahmacharya is therefore an act of all-round self-control. The Brahmacharin
is always cautious. And no one should have the hardihood to imagine that he is wholly pure and
The practice of Brahmacharya as a vow of abstinence from all sense-indulgence,
particularly in its psychological aspect, and a rigid fixity in personal purity, generates a unison in
the vibratory functions of the body, nerves and mind, and the Brahmacharin achieves what he
may look upon as a marvel even to himself. Brahmacharya is often regarded as the king of
principles, which embodies in itself all other virtues or moral values. In its observance, care has,
however, to be taken to see that it comprises not merely avoiding of sense-indulgence and mental
reverie but also freedom from the complexes that may follow, as well as satisfactions which one
may resort to as a consequence of frustration of desire.
The Yoga system mentions two more important canons viz., Asteya or non-appropriation
of what does not lawfully belong to oneself, and Aparigraha or non-acceptance of what is not
necessary for one’s subsistence, which, in other words, would mean non-covetousness. These
may be considered to be two great social restraints imposed on man, apart from their value in
Yoga practice, and, when implemented, they become healthy substitutes for the irking regulations
invented in the social and political fields of life. Nature resents any outer compulsion, and this
explains the unhappiness of humanity in spite of its legal codes and courts of law. One cannot be
made to do what one does not want to. Law has to be born in one’s heart before it takes its seat
in the judiciary or the government. The Yoga morality as Asteya and Aparigraha acts both as a
personal cue for spiritual advancement and a social remedy for human greed and selfishness.
The Yoga student is asked to be simple. Simple living and high thinking are his mottoes. He
does not accumulate many things in his cottage or room. This is Aparigraha or non-acceptance.
In advanced stages, a whole-timed Sadhaka (aspirant) is not supposed to keep things even for the
morrow. One need not, of course, be told that one should not appropriate another’s property. It
is simple enough to understand, and this is Asteya or non-stealing. The student should not only
not take superfluities but also not accept service from others. Some hold that to keep for oneself
more than what is necessary is equal to theft. These are the fundamental virtues in the Yoga
ethics. That conduct which is not in conformity with the universal cannot, in the end, be good.
Yoga is search for Truth in its ultimate reaches and above its relative utility. Adequate
preparations have to be made for this adventure. We have to become honest before Truth, and
not merely in the eyes of our friends. This openness before the Absolute is the meaning behind
the observance of what Yoga calls Yamas, as a course of self-discipline which one imposes upon
oneself for attaining that moral nature consistent with the demands of Truth. Yoga morality is
deeper than social morality or even the religious morality of the masses. Our nature has to be in
conformity with the form of Truth. As Truth is universal, those characters which are
incongruous with this essential, should be abandoned by degrees. Any conduct which cannot be
in harmony with the universal cannot ultimately be moral, at least in the sense Yoga requires it.
Does the universal fight with others? No. Non-fighting and non-conflict, or Ahimsa, therefore,
is a virtue. injury to another is against morality. Does the universal have passions towards
anything? Will it steal another’s property? Does it hide facts? No, is the answer.
So, sensuality, stealth, falsehood are all immoral. By applying the universal standard, we
can ascertain what true morality is. Apply your conduct to the universal, and if it is so
applicable, it is moral. That which the universal would reject is contrary to Truth. Ahimsa,
Satya, Brahmacharya, Asteya and Aparigraha are the Yamas for freedom from cruelty,
falsehood, sensuality, covetousness and greed of every kind.
Lust and greed are the greatest hindrances in the practice of Yoga. These propensities
become anger when opposed. Hence this fivefold canon of Yoga may be regarded as the sum
total of all moral teaching.
Self-control needs much vigilance. When one persists in the control of the senses, they
can employ certain tactics and elude one’s grasp. One may fast, observe Mauna (silence), run
away from things to seclusion. But the senses are impetuous. Any extreme step taken might
cause reaction. Not to understand this aspect of the matter would be unwise. Reactions may be
set up against prolonged abstinence from the normal enjoyments. Hunger and lust, particularly,
take up arms in vengeance. It is not advisable to go to extremes in the subjugation of the senses,
for, in fact they are not to be subjugated but sublimated. After years of a secluded life, people
have been found in the same condition in which they were before, because of tactless means
employed in their practices. It is not that one is always deliberate in the suppression of one’s
desires, but this may happen without one’s knowing it. Caution in the pursuit of the ‘golden
mean’ or the ‘middle path’ has to be exercised at all times. As the Bhagavadgita warns us, Yoga
is neither for one who eats too much nor does not eat at all, neither for one who sleeps too much
nor does not sleep at all, neither for one who is always active nor does not do any work at all.
The senses should be brought under control, little by little, as in the taming of wild animals.
Give them their needs a little, but not too much. The next day, give them a little less. One day,
do not give them anything, and on another day give them a good treat. Finally, let them be
restrained fully and harnessed for direct meditation on Reality.
One of the methods of the senses is revolution, jumping back to the same point after
many years of silence. Another way they choose is to induce a state of stagnation of effort. One
will be in a neutral condition without any progress whatsoever. There may even be a fall, as the
ground is slippery. A third way by which one may be deceived is the raising of a situation
wherein one would be trying to do something while actually doing something else in a state of
misapprehension. The senses hoodwink the student, he is side-tracked and he may realize it
when it is too late. A fourth tactic used is frontal attack by threat. The Buddha had all these
experiences in his meditations. Temptation, opposition, stagnation and side-tracking are the four
main dangers of which students are to be wary. The Upanishad uses the term Apramatta, ‘nonheedless’,
to denote this state of perpetual caution. The student of Yoga watches every step, like
a person walking on a thin wire. A tremendous balance is required to be maintained in the
operation of one’s thoughts. No action is to be taken unless it is weighed carefully. The
direction of movement is to be well ascertained before starting on the arduous journey.
The Yamas are the moral restraints. If the moral nature of the student does not cooperate
with his efforts, there cannot be progress in Yoga, because morality is an insignia of one’s nature.
If we remain contrary to what we are seeking, there will be no achievement. To be moral is to
establish a concord between our own nature and the nature of that which we seek in life. Yoga is
our interview with the Supreme Being, and here our nature corresponds to its highest reaches.
Morality is not dull-wittedness or incapacity; it is vigilance and all-sidedness of
approach. It is not sluggish movement but active advancement. The moral nature also implies
subtle memory and buoyancy of spirit.
Apart from the Yamas, there is another set of prescriptions of Yoga to every student, and
these are the Niyamas, personal observances or vows. We should not, as far as possible, allow
ourselves to fall ill, physically or mentally, because illness is a hindrance to Yoga. Saucha or
purity of conduct, internally and externally, is a Niyama. The lesson supposed to be imparted by
the images of the three monkeys, one of them closing the eyes, another the ears and the third the
mouth, is to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. One should not even convey evil by way
of news, because this is to become the vehicle of the movement of evil from place to place. One
should not commit evil even by giving expression to it in speech, by seeing it or thinking it. All
this is internal purity. But external purity is not unimportant. People there are who think that
Yogis remain unclean in body. It is wrong to imagine that in advanced stages of Yoga one
should not put on clothes or take bath. That in conditions of meditation where one rises above
body-consciousness one may not pay attention to bath, etc. is a different picture altogether. It is a
consequence of spiritual expansion. Merely not to bathe or to be nude in the initial stage itself
would be to put the cart before the horse. Health is as important as the power of concentration,
for ill-health is a disturbance to mental concentration. Saucha also implies non-contact with
those objects which communicate impurity or exert an unhealthy influence. One should avoid
undesirable company; keep good company, or else, have no company.
A Yoga student is always happy, and is never worried or vexed. Yoga prescribes
Santosha or contentment in whatever condition one is placed. Many of our illnesses are due to
discontent. Contentment follows as a result of the acceptance of the wisdom of God. If God is
wise, there is nothing to worry about, because in His wisdom He keeps us in the best of
circumstances. Many changes have taken place in our lives, and many more may take place in
the future. We have to be prepared. God’s omniscience permits of no complaint. Man should
be contented with what he has, though he may be discontented with what he is. Honestly felt
needs will be provided where contentment and intelligent effort go together.
To be satisfied with the minimum of necessities for a healthy living is Tapas or austerity.
One should not ask for more. Austerity is that discipline by which one feels internally contented
with the barest of facilities in life. The practice of the ‘golden mean’ in everything is Tapas.
Etymologically, Tapas is what produces heat. It stirs energy or power within the Yogin. The
practice of Brahmacharya and of the Yamas in general stimulates supernatural power. The
Yamas themselves constitute an intense Tapas. In a broad sense, moderateness in life may be
said to constitute Tapas. Sense-control is Tapas. To speak sweetly, and not hurtingly, is Tapas.
To eat a little is Tapas. To sleep less is Tapas. Not to exhibit animal qualities is Tapas. To be
humane is Tapas. To be good and to do good is Tapas. Tapas is mental, verbal or physical.
Calmness of mind and subdued emotions form mental Tapas. Sweet but truthful speech is verbal
Tapas. Unselfish service to others is physical Tapas.
Svadhyaya or sacred study is the fourth Niyama. Svadhyaya is principally a disciplined
study of such texts as deal with the way of the salvation of the soul. This Niyama helps the
student in maintaining a psychic contact with the masters who have given these holy writings.
When one reads the Bhagavadgita, for example, not merely does one gather knowledge of a high
order, but one also establishes an inner contact with Bhagavan Sri Krishna and Maharshi Vyasa.
Svadhyaya is continued persistence in study of a scripture of Yoga. Study is a kind of negative
Satsanga, when the positive company of a sage is not available. Svadhyaya is a help in
meditation, because the student thinks here in terms of the thought of the scripture or of the
author of the text. Japa of a Mantra is also included under Svadhyaya. Japa and study are both
means to holy association and divine communion. Svadhyaya, however, means repeated study of
a selected set of books on the subject of the Higher Life, and does not connote random readings
in a library.
The last of the Niyamas is Ishvara-pranidhana or surrender of oneself to God. Whatever
the commander orders, the army follows. Each one in the army does not start commanding
things independently. Seekers of Truth take Ishvara as the Supreme Commander, and once they
decide to abide by his will, their lives become the pattern of righteousness. Surrender to God
implies acceptance of the divine ordinance and an abolition of one’s own initiative to the extent
that the seeker does not think individually but resigns himself to those circumstances which take
place around him, without interfering with their occurrence. In advanced stages, the devotee is
accustomed to all circumstances, and does not desire a change in their set-up. He does nothing
with the notion of personality, but bears what comes. He does not wish to alter conditions, but
tolerates everything. He allows things to happen, and does not wish to modify existence. To
him, God is all. This is the essence of self-surrender in Yoga. The Yoga discipline requires that
a student should score at least the minimum marks in the test of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Students often commit the error of neglecting these fundamental observances in Yoga and going
to Asana and meditation directly. Many even begin to think that they are already established in
the Yamas and Niyamas, while they have not mastered even one among them.
Meditation is the seventh stage in Yoga. It is like striking a match which produces the
flame. The flame must be there if the striking is properly done, and the matchstick is dry. But
the manufacture of the match is a long process, and it takes time, though the striking of it is a
second’s work. That the effort of meditation does not bring satisfaction in many cases should
show that the preparation is not sufficient. Meditation is a flow of consciousness, not a jump, a
pull or push of consciousness. A calm river flows on its inclined bed, without effort. So does
meditation flow if the previous steps are well laid. The foundation is never seen when the
building on it is seen. But we know how important the foundation is for the building. The
invisible power which the Yamas and Niyamas exert is the foundation of Yoga, and no one
should have the hardihood to think that one is fully established in them. Caution is watchword in
The Yamas and Niyamas are the beginnings, which really last till the end of Yoga. Even
as education in the primary school level is important, since it paves the way for one’s further
mental build, the Yamas and Niyamas are the rock-bottom of Yoga. The student enters the
practical field of meditation after being built up by the tonic of Yamas and Niyamas, which
provide the power and courage needed to face all obstacles. Meditation is not difficult to achieve
if the necessary preparations are made earlier. The Yama-Niyama process constitutes the
instructions in Yoga psychology, which should give us sufficient warning on the path and make
us vigilant pilgrims on the journey spiritual. With this, we place ourselves on the first step in
practical Yoga, viz., Asana.
Asana is the third rung in the ladder of the practice of Yoga. If the Yamas and Niyamas
are the foundation of Yoga, Asana may be regarded as its threshold. ‘Asana’, literally, means a
seat. Here ‘seat’ does not mean a cushion or some such thing that is spread on the ground.
Asana is a pose of the body or the posture which it assumes at the commencement of the practice.
It is called a ‘seat’, because it is a posture of sitting and not standing. While there exist many
Asanas, such as the ‘Sirsha’, etc., there is only one set of postures which can be taken as aids in
meditation. A sitting posture is Asana, because to stand and meditate may lead to a falling down
of the body, and lying down may induce sleep. The sitting posture is therefore the most
conducive to concentration of mind. That there are many other Asanas like Sirsha, Sarvanga,
etc., need not deter us from a choice of the Asana for meditation. The Hatha Yoga prescribes
several postures for different purposes. These Asanas of the Hatha Yoga are coupled with
certain other practices, called Bandhas, Mudras and Kriyas, in addition to Pranayama. While
Asana is a pose, Bandha is a lock of the limbs of the body intended to direct the Prana in a
particular channel and centring it in a given location. Mudra is a symbol. It also means a seal or
fixing up of the limbs. The two types of Mudras are those which seal up the Prana and which
symbolise meaning by a gesture. Kriya is a process of purification, so that the body may be fit
for Asana and the others. The purpose is to make the body healthy and free from inertia as much
as possible. Neti or cleansing the nostrils, Basti or washing the colon, Dhauti or cleaning the
stomach, Nauli or churning the abdomen, Trataka or gazing for training the eyes by
concentration, and Kapalabhati or chastening the brain and the skull are the main Kriyas in
Hatha Yoga. The physical body is characterised by dullness, torpidity, etc., which bring about
sluggishness and sleep, in which condition meditation cannot supervene. The Bandhas etc. free
the body from Tamas, make it flexible, easily adjustable and healthy. This is the general effect
produced by Asanas, Bandhas and Mudras. All these are the preliminary exercises, and Hatha
Yoga is a preparation for Raja Yoga. While there are many Asanas in Hatha Yoga, there are only
a few in Raja Yoga, and finally we come to a single Asana. This final Asana is called Dhyana-
Asana or the meditative pose.
How does Asana help one in meditation? The relation between the individual and the
universal has to be brought to mind in this connection. There is an organic tie between the
individual and its environment, and the purpose of Yoga is to rouse to consciousness this
inherent harmony. This is to be brought about in successive stages. Whatever one is, and
whatever one has, should be set in tune with the universal. This is Yoga, ultimately. When the
personal individuality is attuned to universal being, it is the condition of Yoga. The individual
begins with the body, but there are many things within the body, as there are in the physical
cosmos. There are Prana, senses, mind, intellect, etc., encased in the body. All these things
within have to be in gradual union with the universal. The mind cannot be so attuned when the
body is in revolt. Yoga requires union of everything in the personality with the universal. Asana
is the initial step in Yoga, whereby the bodily structure is set in unison with the cosmos. When
an individual thinks in terms of the ego, which is self-affirmation, with a selfish attitude towards
the things of the world, there is internal disharmony. The more is one unselfish, the more also is
one concordant with reality, and the more is the selfishness, the more also is the discordant note
struck in one’s life. Yoga is a systematized process of establishing permanent friendship with
Nature in all its levels,-friendship in the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and spiritual levels.
It is all love and friendship, and no enmity anywhere. This is Yoga. The Yoga system is an
exact science which takes into consideration every aspect of life, in a slow process of
unfoldment. The lowest manifestation is the physical or the bodily personality.
The Asana should be firm and easy. It should be steady and not cause discomfort of any
kind. It should not make the student conscious of the body through tightness, tension, etc. It
should be a normal posture in which he can sit for a long time. The Yoga prescribes certain
minimum requirements in Asana, though a long rope is given when it is merely said that it is the
firm and comfortable. Within the limits of the rule, one may have freedom in Asana. What are
the limits? The extremities of the body should be locked, and the head, neck and spine should be
in a straight line. These extremities are the fingers and the toes. If they are left exposed, the
electric current generated in meditation may leak into space. Also, one should not sit on the bare
ground, because the earth is a conductor of electricity and the energy may thereby leak again. A
non-conductor of electricity is prescribed as good material to spread on the ground. In olden
days a dry grass mat was used, called the Kusa Asana over which a deer-skin, and a cloth, both
non-conductors of electricity, were spread. The Gita prescribes that the seat should not be too
high or too low. The student may fall down if the seat is very high, and if it is too low, there is
the likelihood of insects and reptiles creeping into the seat. The spine, too, should be kept
straight. It should be at right angles to the base. One should not be leaning against any support
or be bending forward. The reason is that if the spine is straight the nerves get relaxed and no
part of the body exerts influence on another part. The flow of the Prana through the nerves is
smoothened. If the body is twisted, the Prana has to make effort to flow through the limbs.
There is a free movement of energy in the body when the whole system is in a state of relaxation.
Apart from the spine being straight, and the extremities being locked, the legs are to be
bent in three or four ways. There are Padma-Asana, Siddha-Asana, Svastika-Asana and Sukha-
Asana. One can choose any of these postures for meditation. The purpose of a fixed Asana is to
enable the mind to slowly forget that there is a body at all. The body will attract attention,
somehow. But the mind cannot, in meditation, afford to remain conscious of the body. The
student gradually loses sensation of the limbs. He forgets that he is seated, that he has a body or
the limbs. The first sign of successful practice in Asana is a sense of levitation. The body is felt
to be so light that it may appear to be ready for a rise. This sensation comes when there is a
thorough fixity of posture. This is the test. One will begin to feel a creeping sensation as if ants
are crawling over the body. That should show the student’s readiness for a rise above bodyconsciousness.
Together with these sensations, he will also realize a kind of satisfaction, a
happiness, a delight that comes due to lightness of the body in Asana. If one sits thus for two to
three hours, one may not have any feeling even if someone touches the body. The Prana is so
harmonious that it does not create sensation in the body. It is disharmony that creates sensations
of things. When the highest harmony is reached, there will be no external sensation. With
extremities locked; with fingers kept one over the other, or locked; with spine straight; head,
neck and spine in one line, and at right angles to the base of the body; the Asana is perfect.
The Asana should be effortless. There should be no effort not only in the body but also in
the mind. Absolute ease of relaxation is the sign of perfected Asana. The student should be in a
most natural condition in which he is not conscious even of his breathing. If there is pain, jerk,
or a pinching sensation, it should mean that the Asana is not properly fixed. There is a
prescription given by Patanjali to quicken fixity of posture. And that is ‘attention on the
infinite’. Steadiness is nowhere to be found in the world. There is only oscillation and fleeting
of things everywhere. Fixity is unknown, as it is all motion in the world. There is only one thing
that is fixed, viz., the infinite. All finites move and change. If the student can concentrate his
mind on the infinite, he would imbibe certain qualities from it, the first being fixity.
Here concentration is to think nothing in particular but all things at once. Though no one
can think of the infinite as it is, one can think everything in the sense of inclusion of everything
that comes to the mind. This is the psychological infinite. The imagined infinite created in the
mind helps the student in fixing himself in an Asana and in stabilizing his emotions.
Contemplation on the infinite is thus a means to perfection in Asana.
When this bodily control is achieved, there comes freedom from the onslaught of what
are called the ‘pairs of opposites’, such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst, joy and grief, and so
on. Anything that creates a tension in one’s system is a pair of opposites. These are overcome
by a perfected practice of Asana. The pairs of opposites become active in our system when the
Prana becomes restless. The restlessness of the Prana causes hunger and thirst. When the Prana
is poised, there is a lessening of the feeling of the pairs of opposites. The Prana is calmed not
only by the practice of Pranayama but also by Asana. When the body remains in a state of
balance, the Prana too tends to be harmonious, even as the mind becomes tranquil when the
sensations are harmonized. Distracted sensations disharmonize the thoughts. What the senses
are to the mind, the body is to the Prana. As harmonized sensations create a harmonious set of
thoughts, the harmonized body ushers harmony of the Prana. There is always a connection
between the outer and the inner.
Also, we are asked to face the East or the North in meditation, because of certain
magnetic currents produced from these directions, due to sunrise and to the effect of the pole of
the North. The place selected, too, should be free from distracting noise, from gnats and
mosquitoes, etc., and from the chirping of birds, and the like. A temperate climate is desirable
(which means to say that one cannot engage oneself in the practice when it is too hot or too cold,
because of chances of increase in body-consciousness thereby). When the student is seated in
Asana, with a harmonious flow of the Prana through the nerve-channels, he has already entered
the gates of meditation. Asana has a spiritual import. One knocks at the door of the palace of the
immortal, here. While in Yama and Niyama one is in preparation, in Asana the gates of Reality
are reached, though they are yet to be opened. The soul is there ready to meet the Sovereign of
the universe. This is the first step in actual Yoga.
The Yoga prescribes at least three hours of daily practice in a steady posture, when one is
supposed to have mastered Asana (Asana-Jaya). The body is the vehicle of the nerves, the
nerves are the channels of the Prana, the Prana is an expression of the mind, and the mind it is
which practices meditation, in the end. There is this long linkage, and so the moment a
harmonious posture is assumed, the mind receives an intimation thereof. The body is at once
calmed down in its metabolic process, and hunger and thirst are lessened. The forces of hunger
and thirst are symptoms of an agitation of the Prana, and when the Prana is set in harmony, the
agitation should come to a minimum. Hence, the student’s hunger and thirst are reduced to the
least. The cells of the body find more time to construct themselves rather than deplete energy
and make progress through mellowed emotion. Even emotions can be subdued by Asana, for
here one inhales and exhales calmly, and so the cellulary activity of the body comes down, the
nerve-channels are opened up for a rhythmic flow of the Prana, and a rhythm sets in everywhere.
Yoga is rhythm. Asana is therefore the beginning of Yoga, wherein one starts relating oneself to
the cosmic order.
Simultaneously with the practice of Asanas, there should be effort towards the regulation
of the Prana. So, Asana and Pranayama go together. There is an intimate relation between the
activity of the physical body and that of the Prana. The Prana is the total energy which pervades
the entire physical system and acts as a medium between the body and mind. The Prana is
subtler than the body but grosser than the mind. The Prana can act but cannot think. The Prana
is not merely the breath. The breathing process,-inhalation, exhalation and retention-does not
constitute the Prana by itself, but is an indication that the Prana is working. We cannot see the
Prana; it is not any physical object. But we can infer its existence by the processes of respiration.
Air is taken in and thrown out by a particular action of the Prana. Some hold that there are many
Pranas and others think it is one. The Prana is really a single energy, but appears to be diverse
when viewed from the standpoints of its different functions. When we breathe out, the Prana
operates in one of its functional forms. When we breathe in, the Apana functions. The ingoing
breath is the effect of the activity of the Apana. The centre of the Prana is in the heart, that of the
Apana in the anus.
There is a third kind of function called Samana, the equalising force. Its centre is the
navel. It digests food by creating fire in the body and it also equalises the remaining functions in
the system. The fourth function of the Prana is called Udana.. Its seat is in the throat. It
prompts speech and, on death, separates the system of the Prana from the body. The fifth
function is called Vyana, a force which pervades the whole body and maintains the continuity of
the circulation of blood throughout the system.
This fivefold function of the Prana is its principal form. It has also many other functions
such as belching, opening and closing of the eyelids, causing hunger, yawning and nourishing the
body. When it does these five secondary functions, it goes by the names of Naga, Kurma,
Krikara, Devadatta and Dhananjaya, respectively. The essence of the Prana is activity. It is the
Prana that makes the heart beat, the lungs function and the stomach secrete juices. Hence,
neither breathing nor lung-function ceases till death. The Prana never goes to sleep, just as the
heart never stops beating. The Prana is regarded as the watchman of the body.
The Prana is characterized by the property of Rajas or restlessness. One cannot make it
keep quiet even with effort. The body which is of the nature of Tamas is made to move by the
Rajas of the Prana. The Prana incites the senses to activity. Because of its Rajasic nature, it does
not allow either the body or the mind to remain in peace. Such a distractedness is definitely not
desirable, and Yoga requires stability and fixity in Sattva. So, something has to be done with the
Prana; else, it would become a hindrance to internal tranquillity. The Yoga system has evolved a
technique by which the Prana is made to assist in the practice of Yoga, and this is called
Pranayama. As is the case with Asanas, the methods of Pranayama in Hatha Yoga are manifold.
But the Yoga of meditation does not require one to practice many forms of Pranayama.
Just as there is one Dhyana-Asana, there is one method of Pranayama, by which to purify the
Nadis or nerve-channels and to regulate the Prana in Yoga. The Prana has to be purged of all
dross in the form of Rajas as well as Tamas.
The Prana runs in various channels of the bodily system. It is intensely busy. Its agitated
functions disturb the mind and do not allow it to get concentrated on anything. The Rajas of the
Prana also stimulates the senses, and indirectly desire. Any attempt to stop its activity would be
tantamount to killing the body. One has to employ a careful means of lessening its activity, of
making it move slowly rather than with heaves and jerks. When we run a long distance, climb
steps, or get angry, the Prana loses its harmony and remains in a stimulated condition. It gets into
a state of tension and makes the person restless. So the student of Yoga should not engage
himself in excessive physical activity causing fatigue. Steady should be the posture of sitting,
free from emotions of mind, and slow should be the practice of Pranayama. The breathing
should be mild, so that it does not produce any sound. One should not sit for Pranayama in an
unhappy condition of mind, because a grieved mind creates unrhythmic breathing. No
Pranayama should be practiced when one is hungry or tired or is in a state of emotional
disturbance. When everything is calm, then one may start the Pranayama. Be seated in the pose
In the beginning stages of Pranayama, there should be no retention of the breath, but only
deep inhalation and exhalation. The Prana has first to be brought to accept the conditions that are
going to be imposed on it, and hence any attempt to practice retention should be avoided. In
place of the quick breathing that we do daily, a slow breathing should be substituted, and instead
of the usually shallow breathing, deep breathing should be practiced, gradually. Vexed minds
breathe with an unsymmetrical flow. Submerged worries are likely to disturb Pranayama. One
may be doing one’s functions like office-going, daily, and yet be calm in mind. But another may
do nothing and be highly nervous, worried and sunk in sorrow. One should be careful to see that
the mind is amenable to the practice.
In breathing for health, the chest should be forward during inhalation. We feel a joy
when we take a long breath with the chest expanded to the full. Deep intakes of fresh air daily
are essential for the maintenance of sound health. An open air life for not less than two hours a
day should be compulsory. Pranayama is a method not only of harmonizing the breath but also
the senses and the mind. Be seated in a well-ventilated room and take in a deep breath. Then,
exhale slowly. This practice should continue for sometime, say, a month. Afterwards, the
regular Pranayama with proportion in respiration may be commenced. The technical kind of
breathing which, in Yoga, generally goes by the name of Pranayama is done in two stages:
Exhale with a slow and deep breath. Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale
slowly through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the right ring finger and removing the
right thumb from the right nostril, exhale very slowly through the right nostril. Then, reverse the
process commencing with inhalation through the right nostril. This is the intermediary stage of
Pranayama without retention of breath and with only alternate inhalation and exhalation. This
practice may be continued for another one month. In the third month, the perfected Pranayama
may be started: Inhale, as before, through the left nostril; retain the breath until you repeat your
Ishta Mantra once; and then exhale slowly. The proportion of inhalation, retention and
exhalation is supposed to be 1:4:2. If you take one second to inhale, you take 4 seconds to retain,
and two seconds to exhale. Generally, the counting of this proportion is done by what is called a
Matra, which is, roughly, about 3 seconds, or the time taken to chant OM thrice, neither very
quickly nor very slowly. You inhale for one Matra, retain for four Matras, and exhale for two
Matras. There should be no haste in increasing the time of retention. Whether you are
comfortable during retention or not is the test for the duration of retention. There should be no
feeling of suffocation in retention. The rule applicable to Asana is valid to Pranayama, also.
Sthira and Sukha, easy and comfortable, without strain or pain of any kind, are both Asana and
Pranayama to be in a practice which is a slow and gradual progression of the process.
The length of time of Pranayama depends on individual condition of the body, the type of
Sadhana one does and the kind of life one leads. All these are important factors which have to be
taken into consideration. The normal variety of Pranayama in Yoga is the one described above,
and it is termed ‘Sukhapuraka’ (easy of practice). The other types of Pranayama such as the
Bhastrika, Sitali, etc., are only auxiliaries and not essential to the Yoga of meditation. There are
many details discussed in Hatha Yoga concerning Pranayama. One of them, for instance, is that
in retention a threefold lock (Bandhatraya) consisting of Mulabandha, Uddiyanabandha and
Jalandharabandha is preferable. But these are all not directly related to the aim of Yoga.
Pranayama is not the goal of Yoga but only a means to it. Ultimately, it is the mind which has to
be subdued and Pranayama, etc. are the preparations. When one has to meet a great authority,
many hurdles have to be overcome, and many lesser levels have to be satisfied with one’s
credentials. Likewise, we have these guardians of the bodily system, the Pranas, and they cannot
be bypassed easily. They have to be given their dues. We have to do something with the body
and the Pranas, befitting their status and function. We have our social problems and there are
also personal problems. Social situations have to be tackled by the practice of the Yamas, and
the system has to be calmed by the Niyamas. The Prana is a purely personal affair and its
regulation is a precondition to higher discipline. A higher step is not to be attempted unless the
lower need is attended to properly. There are no jumps but there is always a gradual progress
through every one of the steps, though a step may be comparatively insignificant. By the practice
of Pranayama, in this manner, is prepared the ground for a rhythm of the body, mind, nerves and
senses. The Prana actually rings the bell to wake up everything in the system. The powers get
roused when the Prana is activated.
The different Yoga scriptures detail the methods of Pranayama in lesser or greater
emphasis. The Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika, the most important text in Hatha Yoga, stresses
Pranayama more than the practice of Asana. What we are physically depends much on how our
Pranas work. Healthy Pranas ensure a healthy body. We are not supposed to take in anything
which will irritate the nervous system. The Yoga prohibits all extremes in practice. The Pranas
are to be kept even throughout the year, in all weather conditions and mental states. The texts
also enjoin great caution upon the Yoga practitioners.
There was a Sannyasin who read books on Pranayama, and thought it was all very good.
In spite of instructions to the contrary by elders, the Swami went on practicing Pranayama,
concentrating his mind on the point between the two eye-brows, which should not be resorted to
in the beginning stages without an expert guide by one’s side. Once, he was at his practice inside
his room for three days, and was found missing by others around him. After a search, it was
found that his room was bolted from within and he was inside. No shouting by people could
wake him and the door had then to be broken open.’ Even shaking of his body by others could
not bring him to consciousness; probably his Pranas were locked up in a centre and could not
move up or down. His Guru came and keeping his palm on the forehead of the student, he
uttered OM, thrice. The practitioner came to his consciousness. People thought he had attained
Samadhi, but, to everyone’s surprise, he was the same old person, with all his negative qualities,
and exhibited no signs of one who had tasted Samadhi. Later, on his death, his body got so
decomposed and melted that it could not be lifted and had to be swept. The student had no
spiritual illumination, but only got into a knot through wrong Pranayama and spoiled his health
in the end. Hence the insistent warning given in all scriptures of Yoga. The Prana should not be
forced to get concentrated in any part of the body. One should not concentrate on any spot of the
body above the neck, especially in the initial stages. Concentration on parts in the head directs
the Prana to that centre, the blood supply gets speeded up to the area and it is then that generally
people complain of headache, shooting pains, and the like. No meditative technique should be
wholeheartedly resorted to without proper initiation. Also, one should not be under the
impression that one can heal others by passing the Prana over their bodies. Beginners should not
try these methods. One may pray to God for the health or prosperity of any person to whom one
wishes good-will, but one should not place one’s palm or pass the Prana over another in the
earlier stages of practice; else one would be a loser. What little one has gained through Sadhana
might get depleted by such interferences. Out of enthusiasm, one is likely to exhaust one’s Tapas
in these ways. In advanced stages, where one is full with power, there is, of course, no such
danger, for one cannot exhaust the ocean by taking any amount of water from it; only if the
reservoir is a small well, there is fear of its being emptied. This is the reason why many seekers
do not allow people to prostrate themselves before them and touch their feet. This rule does not
apply to advanced souls, but Sadhakas should definitely be careful. The gravitational pull of the
earth draws the Prana down and it tends to pass through the extremities of the body.
Brahmacharins and, sometimes, also Sannyasins are often seen putting on wooden sandals, which
are non-conductors of electricity, as a protection against this natural occurrence. If someone
touches the feet of a student, the Prana which he has conserved may pass on to the other, by
means of the contact. The Prana can be drained off by misdirection and overstrain. Let the
Pranayama continue slowly, and let no one be quick in the practice.
The Pranayama is not to be done after one’s meal. It is better done before food, on empty
stomach. No sound should be produced during inhalation and exhalation. In sitting, facing the
East or the North is beneficial. There are certain signs which indicate one’s success in
Pranayama. These signs, no doubt, cannot be seen in persons who practice the technique for a
short while alone. A lustre in the body, new energy, unusual strength which cannot be easily
diminished by fatigue, and absence of heaviness in the body, are some of the indications of
progress in Pranayama.
We are still in the outer court of Yoga. Asana and Pranayama form the exterior of Yoga
proper. The internal limbs are further onwards, which form its inner court. Pratyahara or the
withdrawal of the sense-powers is where this inner circle begins. As Asana is a help in
Pranayama, so is Pranayama a help in Pratyahara. Asana is steady physical posture; Pranayama
is the harmony or regularization of the energy within by proper manipulation of the breath.
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the powers of the senses from their respective objects.
Pratyahara means ‘abstraction’ or ‘bringing back’. As the rider on a horse would control its
movements by operating the reins which he holds in his hands, the Yogi controls the senses by
the practice of Pratyahara. To gain an understanding of the reason behind Pratyahara, we have to
go back to our first lesson in Yoga. Why should we restrain the senses at all, would be the
question. Yoga is the technique of the realization of the universal. The individual is to be
attuned to the cosmic, and this is the aim of Yoga in essence. The senses act as obstructions in
this effort. While the individual tries to unite itself with the universal, the senses try to separate it
therefrom by diversification of interest. The main activity of the senses is to provide a proof that
there is a world outside, while the Yoga analysis affirms that there is really nothing outside the
universal. When we try to think as the universal would think the senses prevent us from thinking
that way and make us feel and act in terms of manifoldness and variety. This is where most
people find a difficulty in meditation. The senses do not keep quiet when there is an attempt at
meditation. They rather distract the powers in the system within and retard focussing of
consciousness. The senses release the energy along different channels of activity, the main
courses being the functions of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting. As long as we see
the particular, we cannot believe in the universal. No one would believe in the existence of
universality, because no one has seen it. The senses seem to be bent on creating a difference
between the seer and the seen. The fact, however, is that there is no difference between the
individual and the universal. The apparent difference has been created by the senses. One is
hypnotized by them into an erroneous recognition. While one is omnipotent, they hypnotize one
into the feeling of being impotent and one is made to undergo the pains of individuality. A
millionaire can undergo the pains of penury in a dream. After a sumptuous meal, one may feel
hungry in the dream-world. We have experience in dream of an expansive space, while we are
confined within the four walls of a room. While we are in our own locality, we dream that we
have flown to a distant land. A circumstance psychologically created becomes the cause of the
difference in experience. Place, time and circumstances can be changed when the mind enters a
different realm of consciousness. The senses in the dreaming state produce the illusion of an
external world which is not there ‘outside’. This means that we can see things even if they are
not. It is not necessary that there should be a real world outside for us to see it. Dream makes
the one individual appear as many. So two truths come to relief here: the one can become the
many; and we can see a world which is not there.
This is exactly what is happening to us even in the waking state-the same law, the same
rule of perception, the same experiential structure. That we see a world does not mean that it
should really exist, though it has the reality of ‘being perceived’. Only when we wake up from
dream we learn what happened to us in dream, and not when we are in dream. Just as the senses
of the dream-condition entangle us in an experience of the dream-world, the senses of the waking
state do the same thing to us. When the dream-senses are withdrawn, we awake from dream;
when the waking senses are withdrawn, we enter the universal reality. This is the reason why
Pratyahara is to be achieved in Yoga, which is the way to the realization of universality. If we do
not restrain the senses, we would be in the dream of the world. When we bring the senses back
to their source, the bubble of individuality bursts into the ocean of the Absolute. We do not
partake of the nature of the world even as we are not anything that we see in dream. Pratyahara
is essential to wake up man from the long dream of world-perception. These are subtle truths to
be meditated upon, which are purifying even to listen. Even if one hears these truths, one’s sins
will be destroyed. This is the necessity for the practice of sense-control. As long as the senses
cling to their objects, we are in a world. Yoga rises above mere world-perception to universal
consciousness. There are many methods of Pratyahara. The texts hold these means as great
secrets. No one should seek to do meditation without purity of heart. One is not to enter the path
unless the preconditions are fulfilled. One should not merely force the mind into meditation
without purified feelings. Desires frustrated are great dangers. To approach Yoga with lurking
desires would be like touching a bursting dynamite. Let the heart be free, for it is the heart that
has to meditate and not merely the brain. Thought can achieve nothing when the heart is
elsewhere and the feelings are directed to a different goal.
Pratyahara may be said to constitute the frontiers of Yoga. When one practices
Pratyahara one is almost on the borderland of the Infinite, and here one has superphysical
sensations. Here it is that the need for a Guru is mostly felt. Here again does one experience
tremor of body, flitting of mind, sleepiness and overactivity of the senses. When we attempt
Pratyahara, the senses become more acute. More hunger, more passion, more susceptibility to
irritation, oversensitiveness, are some of the early consequences of this practice in Yoga. To
illustrate this condition we may give an example: if we touch our body with a, stick or even an
iron rod, we do not feel it. But our eyes cannot bear the touch of even a silken fibre, because of
the subtlety of the structure of the eyeballs. So subtle does the mind become that it remains
susceptible to the slightest provocation, impact or exposure. In the stage of Pratyahara we
remain in a condition where we directly come into grips with the senses, as the police would
come into a face-to-face confrontation with dacoits who were hiding themselves in ambush
before and now fight with the police not even minding death. In a fight to death the strength of
the fighting powers increases and gets redoubled at a pitch. If a snake, about to die in a struggle,
bites a person, there is said to be no remedy, because its venom then becomes intensified in rage.
The flame shoots up before passing out. Even so the senses, when they are grappled in
Pratyahara, become overactive, sensitive and tremendously powerful. Here the unwary student
may have a fall. What is one to do when the senses become thus active and fierce? One cannot
bear the sight of sense-objects in this condition and here it is that one should not be in the
vicinity of these objects. While one lives a normal social life, nothing might appear specially
tempting. But now, at the Pratyahara stage, one becomes so sensitive that the senses may yield
any moment. It is like walking on a razor’s edge, sharp and cutting, fine and difficult to perceive.
A little carelessness here might mean dangerous consequences. Subtle is the path of Yoga,
invisible to the eyes and hard to tread. The Yamas and Niyamas practiced earlier will be a help
in this state. The great discipline one has undergone in the Yamas and Niyamas will guard one
against the onslaught of the senses. Because of the student’s honesty, God will help him out of
the situation. This is the Mahabharata-war of practice, where one has to fight the sense-powers
inclining to objects and enjoyments.
Pratyahara should also go side by side with Vichara or a careful investigation of every
psychological condition in the process. The senses easily mistake one thing for another.
Samsara or world-existence is nothing but a medley of misjudgment of values. The senses
cannot see Truth. Not only this; they see untruth. They mistake, says Patanjali, the non-eternal
for the eternal, the impure for the pure, pain for pleasure and the non-Self for the Self. This is the
fourfold blunder committed by the mind and the senses. There is nothing permanent in this
world. Everything is passing, a truth that we all know very well. Everyone knows that the next
moment is uncertain and yet we can see how much faith people repose in the future and what
preparations they make even for fifty years ahead. There can be nothing stable in the world
because of the impermanence of the whole cosmos caught up in the process of evolution. Yet
man takes things as permanent entities. The senses cannot exactly see what is happening in front
of them. They are like blindfolded persons who do not know what is kept before them. It was
the Buddha who made it his central doctrine of proclamation that everything is transient, and yet,
to the senses, everything seems to be permanent, which means that they cannot see reality. There
is not the same water in a flowing river at any given spot. There is no continuous existence of a
burning flame of fire. It is all motion of parts, jump of particles. Every cell of the body changes.
Every atom of matter vibrates. Everything tends to something else. There is change alone
everywhere. But to the senses there is no change anywhere and all things are solid. Wedded to
this theory of the senses, man is not prepared to accept even his own impending death. So much
is the credit for the wisdom of the senses.
The senses also take the impure for the pure. We think that this body of ours is beautiful
and dear and other bodies connected with it are also dear. We hug things as beautiful formations
not knowing that there is an essential impurity underlying their apparent beauty. To maintain the
so-called beauty and purity of the body we engage ourselves daily in many routines like bathing,
applying soap, cosmetics, etc., and when these are not done, we would see what the body is,
really. The true nature of the body gets revealed if one does not attend to it for some days. This
is the case with everything else, also, in the world. All things manifest their natures when no
attention is paid to them. When the body is sick and starved it shows its true form. In old age,
its real nature is visible. Such is the beauty of the body-borrowed, artificial, deceptive. Why do
we not see the same beauty in the body affected with a deadly disease, or when it is dead? Where
does our affection for the loved body go then? There is a confusion in the mind which sees
things where they are not, and constructs values out of its imagination. There is an underlying
ugliness which puts on the contour of beauty by exploiting it from some other source, and passes
for a beautiful substance, just as a mirror shines by borrowing lustre from a light-it is light that
shines and not the mirror, though we usually say that the mirror shines. We mistake one thing for
another thing. The beauty does not belong to the body. It really belongs to something else which
the senses and mind cannot visualize or understand. The Yoga scriptures thus describe how this
body is impure. From where has the body come? Go to its origin and you will realize how pure
that place is. What happens to it when it is unattended to, when it is seriously ill, and when it is
robbed of its Pranas? Where is the beauty in the body from which the Pranas have departed?
Why do we not see beauty in a corpse? What was it that attracted us in the living body? The
reports of the senses cannot be trusted.
We also mistake pain for pleasure. When we are suffering, we are made to think that we
are enjoying pleasures. In psychoanalytic terms, this is comparable to a condition of masochism,
wherein one enjoys suffering. One is so much in sorrow that the sorrowful condition itself
appears as a satisfaction. Man never has known what is true bliss, what happiness is, what joy is.
He is born in sorrow, lives in sorrow and dies in sorrow. This grievous state he mistakes for a
natural condition. “On account of the consequence that follows satisfaction of a desire, the
anxiety attending upon the wish to perpetuate it, the impressions produced by enjoyment, and the
perpetual flux of the Gunas of Prakriti, everything is painful”, say Patanjali. It is only the
discriminative mind that discovers the defects inherent in the structure of the world.
The consequence of enjoyment is the generation of further desire to repeat the enjoyment.
Desire is a conflagration of fire which, when fed, wants more and more of fuel. The desire
expands itself. ‘Never is desire extinguished by the fulfilment of it’, is a great truth reiterated in
the Yoga texts. The effect of the satisfaction of a desire is not pleasure, though one is made to
think so; the effect is further desire. One cannot say how long one would continue enjoying; for
it has no end. Man does not want to die, because to die to this world is equivalent to losing the
centres of pleasure. The mind receives a shock when it hears news of death that is near. Desire
is the cause of the fear of death. The consequence of the satisfaction of a desire should therefore
teach a lesson to everyone.
Also, when we are possessed of the object of desire, we are not really happy at core.
There is a worry to preserve it. One does not sleep well when there is plenty of satisfying things.
Wealthy men are not happy. Their relatives may rob them of the wealth, dacoits may snatch it
away, and the government may appropriate it. Just because we have our object of desire, it does
not mean that we can be happy. One was unhappy when one did not have the object, and there is
now again unhappiness because of its possession.
There is another cause of dissatisfaction. Unwittingly we create psychic impressions
subtly in our subconscious mind through the satisfaction of a desire. Just as when one speaks or
sings before a microphone, grooves are formed on the plate of a gramophone, and the sound can
be relayed any number of times; so also when one has the experience of the enjoyment of an
object, impressions are formed in the subconscious level and they can be relayed any number of
times even if one might have forgotten them, though many births might have been passed
through and even when one does not want them any more. The impressions created by an act of
enjoyment are for one’s sorrow in the future.
There is a fourth reason: the rotation of the wheel of the Gunas of Prakriti. Prakriti is the
name that we give to the matrix of all substance, constituted of the properties called Sattva, Rajas
and Tamas. Sattva is transparency, purity and balance of force. Rajas is distraction, division and
bifurcation of one thing from another. Tamas is inertia, neither light nor activity. These are the
three modes of Prakriti and our experiences are nothing but our union with these modes. We are
dull when Tamas operates in us, we are grieved when Rajas functions, and we are happy when
Sattva preponderates. We can be happy only when Sattva is ascendant, not otherwise. And we
cannot always be happy, because Sattva will not rise at all times. The wheel of Prakriti revolves
and is never at rest. Sattva occasionally comes up and then goes down. When it comes up we
feel happy and when it goes down we are unhappy. In a moving wheel, no spoke can be fixed or
be in the same position always. Happiness in this world, thus, is impermanent; it comes and
goes. All this world, constituted physically and psychologically in this manner, is a source of
pain to the discriminative mind. Even the transient joy of the world is found only to be the result
of a release of biological tension, a titillation of nerves and a delusion of the uninformed mind.
We also mistake the not-Self for the Self, a very serious error we all commit daily. When
we love anything, we transfer the Self to the not-Self and infuse the not-Self with the characters
of the Self. The Self is that which knows, sees and experiences. It is the consciousness in us.
That which is seen or experienced and that which we regard as an object, is the not-Self. The
object is not-Self because it has no consciousness. That a being like man has consciousness is no
argument against his being an object, for what is seen is the human form and not consciousness.
The ‘objectivity’ in things is what makes them objects. It is not the objects that know the world;
it is unbroken consciousness which knows it. It is not the world that feels a world, but the
knowing subject. The consciousness becomes aware of the presence of an object by a mysterious
activity that takes place psychologically. How does one become aware of a mountain, for
example? It is a little difficult to understand this simple phenomenon, though it is one that
occurs almost daily. The mountain which is in front does not enter the perceiver’s eyes or mind.
It is far and yet the mind seems to be aware of its existence. It is not that the eyes come in
contact with the object; the object does not touch the subject physically. How, then, does it know
the object? One may say that the light rays that emanate from the object impinge on the retina of
the eyes of the subject and the latter knows, then, the object. But neither has the object any
consciousness nor do the light rays have it, and an inert activity cannot produce a conscious
effect. How is, then, an object known? The secret of the relation between the subject and the
object seems to be hidden beneath its outer form. It is the senses that tell us of our having had
the knowledge of an object by means of light rays. The eyes alone cannot see, and the light rays
alone cannot reveal the object. The light rays may be there, and the object may be there, but if
the mind is elsewhere, one cannot see it. Other than the instrumental factors, something seems to
be necessary in perception. The mind plays an important role here. Now, is the mind a
substance, an object? Or is it intelligent? The minimum that could be expected in perception is
intelligence. We may suppose that the mind is intelligent, as we may say that a mirror shines.
Even as the mirror is not what really shines, the mind is not intelligence. As it is the light that
shines and not the mirror, it is some transcendent consciousness which illumines even the mind.
It is not easy to understand the nature of this consciousness as it is itself the understander. Who
can explain that which is behind all explanation? It is the knowledge behind all understanding.
Who is to understand understanding? It is the mysterious reality which is in us, by which we
know everything, but which cannot be known by anyone else. This intelligence, or
consciousness, acts on the mind even as light on a mirror. The mind reflects itself on the object
even as a wall can be illumined by the reflection in the mirror. The object is located by the
activity of the mind and the intelligence in it perceives the object. Intelligence does not directly
act; it is focused through the medium of the mind. A ray of intelligence passes through the lens
of the mind and confronts the object. Intelligence beholds the object through the instrumentality
of the mind.
How does intelligence come in contact with unconscious matter, which we know as the
object? How can consciousness know an object unless there is a kinship between them?
Granting that there has to be such a kinship, it cannot be said to be a material relation, as certain
philosophies of materialism may hold, for matter has no understanding. It has no eyes, and no
intelligence. Who, then, sees matter? Matter cannot see matter, as it is blind. Intelligence,
without which everything becomes bereft of meaning, is different from matter. It is intelligence
that knows even the existence of matter. How does it come in contact with matter unless the
latter has a nature akin to it? Materiality cannot be the link between the two, for matter cannot be
linked with consciousness. Unless consciousness is hidden in matter, consciousness cannot
know matter. Matter, in the end, should be essentially conscious, if perception is to have any
acceptable significance. There should be Self even in not-Self, consciousness should be
universal, if perception is to be possible. But the senses cannot see the universal consciousness.
They only see objectiveness, externality, localized thinghood. They falsely project a phantom of
‘outsideness’ and create an ‘object’ out of the universal reality. The object is artificially linked
with the subject. When the senses visualize an object outside, which appears as a material
something, there is a transference of values taking place between the subject and the object. The
Self within, which is universal consciousness, affirms its kinship with the object, but, as it does
this through the mind, there is love for the object. All love is the affinity which the universal
feels with itself in creation. This universal love gets distorted when it is transmitted to objects
through the senses. Instead of loving all things equally, we love only certain things, to the
exclusion of others. This is the mistake of the mind, the error in affection when conveyed
through the senses, without a knowledge of its universal background. While spiritual love is
universal, sensory love is particular and breeds hatred and anger. Individual desire brings
bondage in its train.
The Self is mistaken for the not-Self, and vice versa, in the sense that the universal is
forgotten and gets localized in certain objects and the senses commit the blunder of taking the
non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure and pain for pleasure. Pratyahara is greatly
helped by this analysis, for the senses, by this understanding, refrain from clinging to things. The
entanglement of the senses in their respective objects and their organic connection with the
objects is so deep and strong that it is not easy to extricate consciousness from matter. Just as
one cannot remove one’s skin from one’s body, it is difficult to wean the senses from things.
The organic contact artificially created between the senses and objects should be snapped by
Vichara or philosophic investigation. This is a stage in Vairagya or dispassion for what is not
It is not necessary that in a state of Pratyahara the senses should always be active. Many a
time they appear to lie down quietly and yet cause great disturbance to the student. When they
are positively active, the student becomes conscious of them, but, when they resort to
subterfuges, it is difficult to perceive them. The activities of the senses have stages or forms of
manifestation. A mischief-maker might be maintaining silence, but thereby it does not mean that
he is inactive, because he might be scheming over a course of action in which he wishes to
engage himself at a proper time. At times, his activities might get thinned out due to the work of
the police and when he is harassed from many sides. When he is overworked, he might get
fatigued and in this condition, again, he may not do anything. Yet, it does not follow that he is
free from his subtle intentions or that he is really free from activity. Sometimes, it might also
happen that he suspends his activity for other reasons like the marriage of his daughter or the
sickness of his son. This suspension of action does not also mean a closure of his plans. When
all circumstances become conducive, he will resume his work in full vigour.
This is also the way of working of the desires. They may be asleep, attenuated,
interrupted or actively operative. When we sleep, the desires also sleep; they regain strength for
further activity on the following day. They also get tired and then cease from work for a while.
They lie dormant (Prasupta) when there is frustration due to the operation of the laws of society,
the absence of means for fulfilment, or the presence of something obstructing satisfaction. In
frustration, the activity is temporarily stopped. When one is in an environment which is not
conducive to the expression of desire, one suppresses it by will, and here it is in a condition of
induced sleep. In cosmic Pralaya or the final dissolution, when all individuals get wound up in a
causal state of the universe, the senses with their desires lie latent; they remain in a seed form.
The desires are not wholly blind, because they know how to create circumstances for their
expansion and fulfilment. Even instinct has intelligence. Sometimes intelligence gets stifled by
instinct. Intelligence often justifies instinct and accentuates its work.
Though this may be one of the conditions of desire in ordinary persons, it gets thinned out
and becomes thread-like in the case of students of Yoga. Sadhana attenuates desire, makes it
feeble, though it is not easily destroyed. The desire loses some strength in the presence of the
spiritual Guru, inside a temple or place of worship, because it is not the atmosphere for its
exhibition. This is another condition of desire, where it remains feeble or thin (Tanu).
There is a third state of desire, where it may be occasionally interrupted (Vichhinna) in its
activities. One may have love for one’s son, but for a mistake committed or an unpleasant
behaviour of his, one may get angry with him. Here the love for the son has not vanished but is
temporarily suspended in a state brought about by passing circumstances. This frequently
happens between husbands and wives. Love is suppressed by hate and hate by love due to
situations that may arise now and then in society. For the time being, the object of affection may
look like one of hatred. We see, among monkeys, the mother-monkey will not allow her baby to
eat and she may even snatch away from its mouth the piece of bread it has. This does not mean
that the monkey hates the baby and we can also observe the extent of attachment the mothermonkey
has for her baby. Love and hate are mysterious psychological conditions and we cannot
know where we stand at a given time until we are strongly opposed by contrary forces.
Sometimes one feels depressed and at other times one is in a mood of joy. There is often
dejection and melancholy. Small unhappy events easily put out people, though all the while they
might have been happy. Suddenly, also, they may be elated due to some joyful news conveyed to
them. These are waves which arise in the lake of the mind due to the movement of the wind of
desire in different directions. The mind dances to the tune of the senses.
There have been instances where seekers, for a long time, appeared to be sense-controlled
persons and then began to indulge in unwanted activity. Sometimes, when no progress is
tangible, one may think that one’s efforts have all gone waste; but then suddenly one may realize
also a great joy. This happened in the case of the Buddha. He lost hopes even on the day
previous to that of his illumination. He had decided that his end had come. But the bubble burst
the next day, and light dawned. Seekers may go down or go up on the path winding like a hillroad,
with many descents and ascents. The student of Yoga should be vigilant and should not
make decisions or pass judgments by looking at the moods of the mind day by day. Things may
appear all-right for a time; but there may also be a cyclone of emotions subsequently, shattering
one’s hopes and expectations. This is the guerilla warfare that the desireful senses wage when
one tries to control them or restrict their activity. When we constantly watch the senses, they
show resentment and react and want to jump upon us. None tolerates restriction on one’s
Whatever be the condition of desire,-sleep, attenuation or interruption-it is still there, and
has not gone. It can gain strength at a convenient time. We may go on pouring water over fire
with a view to extinguish it, but if a spark is left, though the large fire is put out, it may create a
huge conflagration again. This happens often in forests, with a small log of wood smouldering in
a corner. The spark that is left manifests itself in an opportune moment. Though the desire may
be thin, it is not destroyed, and becomes powerful when suitable circumstances present
Desire, when it is placed wholly in favourable circumstances, becomes fully active
(Udara) and then one cannot do anything with it, as with the wild forest fire. The raging flames
cannot be put out with a bucketful of water. The student’s little discrimination will get
extinguished due to the might of desire. The whole world is fire, said the Buddha. Experience is
the fire of desire; the eyes are this fire burning, the ears and the other senses are burning with
desire. The mind and the faculties have been caught up in this fire. The world is a burning pit of
live coal, according to the Buddha. The four conditions mentioned are only a broad division of
the working of desire. But it has many other forms in which it may lie concealed or act. The
mind creates certain mechanisms within itself for its defence against attack from Yoga. It runs
away from the spot where it can be observed and the student might miss his aim. And it can
follow any of the four techniques mentioned already. It can divert its activity along another
channel altogether. This is one of the defence-mechanisms of the mind. If the student in a higher
state of mind observes that the lower mind is attached to an object, there will naturally be
vigilance kept over it. But it employs a shrewd device of giving up that object and deftly
clinging to something else, thus creating an appearance that the attachment has gone. Loves are
shifted from one centre to another. The student might find himself in a fool’s paradise, if proper
caution is not exercised here. He might think that the affection has been snapped, while it is as
hard as before, only fixed in another centre. The river has taken a different course and is
inundating another village. When a tiger is being pursued, one does not know on whom it will
The mind also can resort to another method, different from this common technique. If
one is persistent in spotting out the desire wherever it goes, it might stop going to any outer
object, but be internally contemplating on the desired end. There can be enjoyment of an object
within, if all other avenues are obstructed. One can imagine the objects and acquire a
psychological satisfaction when all other channels are blocked. If the best is not available, the
mind gets satisfaction in the next best, and if nothing is given, it will enjoy its object in thinking.
If the vigilance goes to the extent of observing even this, the mind will try to manipulate itself by
projecting its negative characters on certain persons or objects. If a small monkey is pursued by a
bigger one, the former will make a chirping noise and draw the attention and support of the other
monkeys to someone nearby, and then the whole group will jointly offer an attack on the third
party, so that the original skirmish is forgotten by displacement of attention. There are people
who try to become virtuous by pointing out the defects of others. Small persons become great by
casting aspersions on noble souls. Wonderful is the trickery of the mind. The desireful condition
will find an evil spot in someone or something, to the dissatisfaction and disgust of the vigilant
mind, and thus side-track the activity of the latter. One might here become more conscious of the
defects of the outer environment than of what is happening inside. In the meantime the lower
mind works its way. Dreams, phantasies, building of castles in the air, seeing defects outside, are
some of the defence-mechanisms which elude the grasp of the vigilant intelligence. Whatever be
one’s efforts at subduing the mind, the same will never be too much before the impetuosity of the
senses. The Bhagavadgita gives a warning when it says that the force of the senses may sweep
over like a whirlwind and carry away one’s understanding. The Manusmriti says that the senses
have such power that they can drag away even a wise man’s mind from the right course. The
Devimahatmya says that Maya can pull by force even the minds of those with much knowledge.
In Pratyahara, reactions are often set up and the student may get frightened about what is
happening. Patanjali, in his Sutra, details out the difficulties. Apart from the positive hazards
mentioned above, there are certain other negative types of problems that come on the way.
Illness (Vyadhi) may come upon one due to indiscriminate eating, pressure exerted on the Pranas
in one’s practice, undue exposure, over-exertion, etc. Sickness is a great obstacle in Yoga.
Sickness may be physical or psychological, engendered by one’s disobedience to Nature or by
reactions to one’s practice. It can so happen that the student gets fed up with everything after
years of practice and concludes that all things are useless. He gets into a mood of despondency
(Styana). He may start thinking that he is alone and there is no one to help him. This thought
may become so intense that he may not be able to think of the ideal before him. Outwardly, there
may be weakness, recurring head-ache and sleeplessness. He may not get sleep for days together.
There may develop pain in the body and absence of appetite for food. The stomach may lose the
strength to digest anything. These are temporary reactions from the Prana and the mind under the
process of control. These are passing phases of which one need not be alarmed. Due to
concentration of mind on a particular line (not spiritual concentration but concentrated attention
on a particular effort) one may have occasional irksome feelings. These are outer symptoms
which may annoy the student for a considerable time. Pratyahara is, in a way, a tussle between
the inner and the outer nature. This should explain the reason behind reactions. The inner war is
as complicated as the outer and there are as many manoeuvres employed inside as in wars
outside. The inner battles are more difficult to win than the outer ones, because in the outer
several persons and tools can be employed, while in the inner no such things are available. The
inner war is perpetual, without rest. A truce seems to be declared only in sleep, swoon and death.
There may come about a languishing state of the body wherein one cannot sit even in an Asana.
The student feels tired even of meditation. Dullness that sets in may make all things slow and
one starts taking things easy without the enthusiasm and vigour with which the practice
commenced. This happens after a few years of effort. Styana is a condition of sluggishness of
the body and mind. Also a kind of doubt (Samsaya) may start harassing the mind because of
there being no palpable progress in Sadhana. One does not know how far the destination lies.
The student trudges on but does not know the distance covered. There is no guide-map to
indicate the distance yet remaining. The inability to know where one is standing creates
uncertainty in the mind. Doubts may also creep in by study of too many books of a variegated
nature written by different authors, each one saying something different from the other. It is with
difficulty that one becomes a good judge of the multitude of ideas served through conflicting
literature. Absence of a proper understanding of one’s true position is a cause of doubt, on
account of which one changes the place of residence, changes one’s Guru, changes one’s Mantra,
changes the mode of meditation, etc. These changes are done with the hope that some sizable
result will follow from them. But in the changed condition one finds oneself where one was and
feels a necessity to make a further change. It is not easy to realize where the real mistake lies.
Such a dubitable character is an obstacle in Yoga. The reactions that the mind and senses
produce take many forms and the instability of the mind whereby one does not stick to any one
thing or place is an instance. Stickability to one thing is also a great concentration of attention
and hence the difficulty in its practice. The mind gets bored with seeing the same people, same
place and the same things. There is desire for variety due to disgust for monotony. This is the
outcome of doubting, due to which the student gets lost in the wilderness of life. The state of
mind wherein it is unsettled and is confused by heedlessness (Pramada) is another obstacle.
Doubts arise on account of carelessness in thinking. The student has allowed the enemy an entry
while in sleep and he wakes up when the enemy has already taken possession of him. Because of
want of vigilance, the calamity has befallen him. Once we are convinced of the validity of the
practice and the competency of the Guru, what need be there for a change? How did this
happen? It occurred because one had no conviction even before. A faith that can be shaken up
cannot be called a conviction; it is only a temporary acceptance without proper judgment. No
success in any walk of life is possible without a correct assessment of values. It would be foolish
to go headlong without considering a situation from all sides, with its pros and cons. It is not
good to jump into a mood of emotion in Yoga, for Yoga is not a mood of the mind. Yoga is
steadfast practice in which one’s whole being dedicated. The student should be firm in his views
and substantial in the core of his personality. He should not reduce himself to a silly person who
can be changed by the empty logic of people. The student’s understanding has to be powerful
enough to withstand and overcome the argumentation of the senses. Once he listens to the plea
of the senses, he will believe in the reality of outer circumstances rather than the inner
significance of Yoga. Pramada, or carelessness, is verily death, says Sanatkumara, the sage, to
Dhritarashtra. Heedlessness is death; vigilance is life. This is more true in the case of spiritual
seekers. A kind of lethargy (Alasya) in the whole system, bodily and mental, sets in as another
obstacle. One will not be doing any meditation but only drooping heavy with idleness. This is
the Mohana-Astra or the delusive weapon cast against the seeking mind in its war with desire.
Lethargy paralyses the action of the mind to such an extent that the mind cannot even think in
this state. The thinking power goes away, Tamas creeps in, and one becomes torpid in nature.
The Yogavasistha says: ‘If it were not for idleness, the great catastrophe, who would not be
successful in the earning of wealth or learning?’ Lethargy puts a stop to onward progress. Again,
this lethargic condition is not to be mistaken for a mere inactivity of the body and mind. It is
rather a preparation for a contrary activity that is to take place after a time, and it is comparable
to the cloudy sky, looking dull and silent, before the outbreak of thunder and lightning. Just as
lack of appetite is only an indicator that the body is going to fall sick, lethargy is an indication
that something adverse is going to happen. Keeping quiet, saying nothing, doing nothing, is
dangerous to the student of Yoga. One does not know when the bomb will burst. Torpidity is a
breeding ground for the mischief of the senses and their coterie. They first paralyze the person
by lethargy and then give him a blow by sensual excitement (Avirati). It is easier to kill a person
when he is unconscious. The student is put to sleep by Tamas, and then there is a violent activity
of the senses. The cyclonic wind has risen from the dusty weather. The mind jumps into
indulgence of various sorts and this is what they call a ‘fall’ in Yoga. Having fallen into this
condition, to mistake it for an achievement in Yoga is, indeed, worse. Such mistaking of
delusion for success is the other obstacle, the illusion (Bhrantidarsana) by which one thinks one
is progressing higher while falling down. The senses whip one to dance to their tunes and one
also gets induced to a hypnosis by the senses. Even if, by chance, one recovers consciousness
from this unwanted condition into which one has been led, it is not easy to regain the ground that
has been once lost. Losing the ground (Alabdhabhumikatva) is a further obstacle in Yoga. One
cannot start one’s practice again with ease, due to the Samskaras created by the ravaging work of
the senses during the state of gratification. The lack of ability to find out the point of
concentration (Anavasthitatva), even if the ground is to be gained with difficulty, is a serious
The nine conditions mentioned above are some of the major obstacles in Yoga, in
addition to the psychological complexities to which reference has been made already. They
cause the tossing of the mind and its drifting from the path. Here the student has to be cautious.
But there are certain other minor obstacles, of which at least five may be named as the chief ones.
One of them is pain (Duhkha) which takes possession of the seeker. There is a sense of internal
grief annoying him constantly. ‘Where am I, and what am I doing’, is his silent sorrow. It is all
darkness and there is no light visible in the horizon. This brings in an emotional depression
(Daurmanasya) and one becomes melancholy. One sees no good in anything and no meaning or
value in life. Life loses its purpose and it is all a wild-goose chase. This becomes the conclusion
after so much of effort in the practice of Yoga. This is the point at which the seeker reaches at
times, a condition well described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita. ‘It is all hopeless’
seems to be the cry of Arjuna. This is also the cry of every Arjuna in the world, of every man,
every woman and everyone who rotates through the wheel of life. While one attempts at
regaining strength by picking up one’s courage, there sets in nervousness
(Angamejayatva). The body trembles and one cannot sit for meditation. The student is nervous
about someone saying something about him, and so on. There is also an incapacity to tolerate
anything that happens in the world. One develops sensitiveness to such an extent that even a
small event looks mountainous in importance. There is tremor and uneven flow of the Prana.
Irregular and unrhythmic inhalation and exhalation (Svasa-prasvasa) disturbs the nervous system
and, indirectly, the mind.
What are we to do when we are in the midst of these opposing forces? Many methods are
prescribed, but the first one mentioned in the Yoga texts is what the patient does when he falls
ill. He does not start analyzing his body, but goes to the doctor. It is better for the student to go
to the Guru and take the advice of his superior wisdom. Ekatattva-Abhyasa is a famous recipe of
Patanjali. Ekatattva means ‘one reality’, ‘one objective’, ‘one target’. Abhyasa is ‘practice’. So,
his prescription is repeated resort to one concept, one truth. In practice, the student is to take
only one item at a time. This term, Ekatattva-Abhyasa, is a broad one, meaning many things.
What is the one reality? Teachers have given many definitions. Patanjali does not offer to define
it. Let not the one reality come first. It is better that the Guru comes instead. Concentration on
reality comes later, because it is like the taking of the medicine, and the medicine is yet to be
prescribed. Let no one define reality for oneself, for the definition may be a wrong one and one
may go to extremes in an emotional enthusiasm. Discretion, they say, is the better part of valour.
The ‘practice of the one reality’, taken in its simplest meaning, from the point of view of the
uninitiated novice, may be regarded as a kind of concentration on any given object or one
thought. This is, in short, what they call Trataka in Yoga. Trataka is the fixing of one’s gaze,
either externally or internally, on a point of attention. Together with this process, a breathing
exercise may have to be practiced to calm disturbances in the mind. Patanjali asks us to expel
breath (Prachhardana) and retain it (Vidharana). Some think that this is instruction for
inhalation and retention. A deep inhalation and retention may be an immediate remedy, but not a
final one. It is not a medicine but a first aid treatment provided, tentatively. The needed remedy
will be prescribed later on. Expel breath and hold on, and with this, think of one thing alone, is
the teaching. Trataka is external or internal, the latter being a little more difficult than the
former. While external Trataka may take the help of the vision of the eyes, the internal one has
to employ the mind solely. Hence, external Trataka is advised as the first step. Here, the student
may gaze at a point or a dot. It is difficult for most people to stick on to this practice, because
they do not have a long-standing regard for a dot;-they cannot love it. However, the
psychological part of Trataka is to focus the mind on one point, and this is done even by
habituation to a dot. But it can be made more interesting by placing a picture of one’s Ishta-
Devata (chosen deity) in the front. Krishna, Rama, Devi, Siva, Vishnu, Buddha, Christ, or any
other ideal which is to one’s satisfaction may be the object of Trataka. Gaze at the picture. Look
at the divine face and draw inspiration from the mighty source, and offer prayers. This outer
gaze or visualization may be practiced for a considerable time. Later, the gaze has to be fixed
mentally on an internal picture. This method will be more appealing than looking at a dot or a
point, though the latter, too, is effective enough, if one accustoms oneself to it. There are also
persons who prefer to concentrate on certain Chakras (psychic centres) in the body, and this may
be called a sort of internal Trataka. A Chakra of the body, picture of the Ishta-Devata, dot, point,
etc., are objects in the lower forms of Ekatattva-Abhyasa. There are finer ones which will lead to
meditation proper in a higher sense.
These practices bring a temporary peace to the disturbed mind,-expulsion and retention of
breath, and attention on one thing to the exclusion of others. But Patanjali has certain other
psychological exercises to assure peace to the mind. While Ekatattva-Abhyasa is a personal
attempt that the student makes from his own side, without concern to society, there comes a call
from difficulties of a social nature. Whatever be the student’s effort to carry on his practice
internally, there are occasional happenings from outside which cause concern and sometimes
agitation. Something has to be done with these sources of trouble and methods have to be
adopted for dealing with people. The achievement is to be such that there should be no reaction
from persons in regard to oneself. To the extent there is reaction, there is also disturbance.
Patanjali is of opinion that these reactions are due to one’s weaknesses and an incapacity for selfadjustment
with others. Here I am reminded of a philosopher’s saying, which exhausts the
teaching on social conduct for the acquisition of mental peace: ‘Give me the will to change what
I can, the power to bear what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ If you can
change a thing, there is no anxiety. If you cannot change a thing, there should, again, be no
anxiety, for there is no point in worrying about what cannot be done. Anxiety comes in when
you try to do a thing which you really cannot do. This is lack of ‘wisdom to know the difference’
between the ‘can be’ and the ‘cannot be.’ There are the ‘good’ people, ‘bad’ people, ‘happy’
people and the ‘unhappy’ people. We have daily to deal with these persons when we come in
contact with them. What should be our attitude when we meet a good person? Not one of
jealousy, for that will not bring peace to the mind. We have to be happy (Mudita). There is the
story of an ancient philosopher who saw a well-dressed and beautifully ornamented graceful
person, and exclaimed, ‘how happy I am’! When the latter asked him why he should be happy on
seeing another’s prosperity, he replied, ‘it does not matter whether you have it or I have it. I am
satisfied that it is.’ The limited mind wants to own things for itself. In existence there is really no
such thing as ‘belonging’. Things are. ‘To belong’ is not part of the law of the universe. If we
see a good person we should be pleased that goodness exists in the world and not be intolerant
because it is seen in another person.
There are also the bad and the wicked ones who do harm to others and delight in others’
pain. Though the various laws prescribe different reactions towards these people, Patanjali is
mainly concerned with the attitude of a student of Yoga in regard to them. He suggests
indifference (Upeksha) towards undesirable elements. We may ignore the very existence of such
a person and by that we get freed from having to deal with evil. It simply does not concern us;
our reaction should be such that there will not be any counter-reaction from others, and for this
we have to keep a balance of mental attitude. It is not always necessary that we should be
judging or passing remarks on people even if we may regard them as a nuisance. Noninterference
will obviate many of our troubles in life.
To the happy we should show kindliness (Maitri) and to the grieved we should show pity
(Karuna). This fourfold attitude is meant to avoid mental disturbance due to external causes or
the presence of certain persons and things which require of us some sort of relationship with
them. Where, however, we have absolutely no relations of any kind, the difficulty does not arise.
Side by side, there is a necessity for the development of dispassion (Vairagya) and for
continued practice (Abhyasa), which two, when carried to perfection, are the whole process of
Yoga. The student should not do anything which will excite the senses. Pratyahara is not
possible without a detached consciousness. Dispassion is not any force exercised by the will,
but, rather, an understanding. The Yoga texts say that there are various stages of dispassion and
one cannot suddenly jump to its pinnacle. The first stage is called Yatamana-Samjna, or the
consciousness of effort necessary towards the attainment of dispassion. ‘I am fed up, and I want
to be free’, is such consciousness, an attempt towards the achievement of success in the chosen
direction. The second stage is Vyatireka-Samjna or the consciousness of separating the essentials
from nonessentials in the effort. Here, the student sifts the situation of his life, whereby the
necessary and the unnecessary are discriminated and the true target of effort properly fixed.
What really causes attachment, worry and anxiety has to be clearly known and diligently avoided.
It is not that the whole world troubles a person always; only certain things seem to be needing
attention. In the beginning, one might think that the whole world is bad, but slowly one realizes
that a few situations alone are one’s troubles. There comes the third stage where one confronts
the actual point of the trouble and a single cause is detected from among the several suspected
ones. This is Ekendriya-Samjna, or the consciousness of the ‘one sense’ which is the sole cause
of the difficulty on the way. The student thought once that the tongue was troubling him or the
eyes were the trouble, etc. All the senses were held under suspicion and watched, as the police
would make an initial arrest of all those whose bona fide is doubted in a case on hand. When the
guilty one is found out after examination, the others are released. First, all the senses are rounded
up; and then it is discovered that the mind alone is the mischief-maker. Here, in the third stage,
the culprit is caught red-handed. The fourth state is Vasikara-Samjna or the consciousness of
mastery on account of absence of longing for all things, whether seen or heard. Nothing that is
seen in this world, and none of the joys of heaven which are only heard, can now attract the
student of Yoga. It is not so much a physical isolation of oneself from objects as freedom from
craving (Trishna) for them. The ‘will-to-pleasure’ is the evil, not the objects which are made its
instruments. It is immaterial where one is placed; one cannot run away from the world, for it is
everywhere. Desirelessness (Vaitrishnya) is supreme control (Vasikara). Distance from objects
is not dispassion, for ‘while the objects go, the longing does not go’, says the Gita. One is not in
physical contact with objects in dream, and yet one enjoys them there. Pleasure is excited even
when objects are not physically present. Contrariwise, there is no pleasure even if there be
objects in one’s proximity, if only the mind is detached from them. Thinking of objects is the
first stage of desire. By thought one brings oneself near to them. Complete mastery is that
condition in which the senses do not long for and the mind does not think of objects. When these
do not function at all in relation to objects, that is said to be the highest dispassion and the zenith
To enable self-control, we can effectively take help from the symbol given in the
Kathopanishad, wherein the senses are compared to horses, the body to the vehicle which they
drag, the sense-objects to the roads along which the vehicle moves, the intellect to the driver, the
mind to the reins controlling the horses and the individual soul to the rider in the vehicle. The
driver directs the horses by means of the reins, the leather-strap or rope which he holds in his
hands. This body of ours is the vehicle pulled by the horses of senses. The analogy, in a slightly
different form, comes also in Plato, who, perhaps, never knew the existence of the Upanishads.
The significance of the symbol is how we have to conduct ourselves in order to be successful in
life. The entire life of a human being has to be one of Pratyahara in varying degrees. The driver
is always cautious that the horses do not hurl the chariot into a ditch, and cannot afford to lose
hold of the reins at any time. Vigilance is life, and life is Yoga. A good life is one of perpetual
effort in the control of the senses, the passions of the appetitive self. The restive horses run
amuck if they are not properly directed, and the vehicle may not reach its destination. They are
usually wild and bent upon going their own way. When they tend to go out of direction, hither
and thither, the driver tries to bring them back by pulling the reins. Even so has one to bring the
senses to the point of control. The Upanishad exhorts that the senses are extrovert in their
activity and can never look within. Rare indeed is that person who, in the midst of the ravaging
senses, finds time to behold the light inside. The senses live in a world of objects, of Samsara or
earthly existence, and the need for Pratyahara therefore is on account of the necessity to rise
from the mortal to the immortal. The Upanishad prayer is: ‘Lead me from the unreal to the real,
from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality.’ This is the aim of self-restraint, of
Pratyahara in Yoga.
Abhyasa is steadfastness in assiduous practice conducted with patience, unremittingly.
The practice is not merely to be regular but also attended with a deep love (Satkara) for it. It
should be carried on for a protracted period (Dirghakala) and without break (Nairantarya). The
continuity of practice should be full with devotion, for, when it is merely forced on the mind
without its liking, it will not lead to success. Even a baby does not like to be controlled by force;
it craves for affection. The mind has to be made to understand where its blessedness lies. Unless
there is understanding there cannot be love, and without love there is no effort. One cannot
blindly be thrust into something and made to have a liking for it. Vairagya and Abhyasa are both
results of a great understanding (Viveka), a discriminative grasp which is the basis of Yoga. The
appreciation necessary is not merely an opinion that one holds, but a firm conviction. To fix
oneself in a perpetual attitude, and not to have varying moods, constantly changing, is Abhyasa.
There should be a uniformity of conduct on account of perception of a harmony in things. People
change their opinions because their judgments are not correct. Sufferings in life are partly due to
one’s slavishness to moods and hasty judgments which one makes of persons and things.
Spiritual practice is effort at fixity of consciousness. Ekatattva-Abhyasa, mentioned earlier, is
such steadfastness in one reality, a concentration of oneself on a chosen ideal or a given mode of
conduct. It is not easy either to cultivate Vairagya or be steady in Abhyasa. Hard labour is
necessary. To keep oneself balanced in the midst of the tumult of the world is not a simple task.
The process of Pratyahara will reveal that life is a battle, a struggle for existence.
The mind becomes steady by conservation of energy through these efforts at self-control.
When the powers of the senses get attuned to the mind, so that they have no existence of their
own apart from the mind which is their source, there is Pratyahara. The prodigal sons now
return home. After a life of long dissipation, the senses come back to their resting place. There
is now no flickering of mind but only a steady flame of illumination. It is fully concentrated and
moves not from the thought of its goal.
Now comes Yoga in its essential essence, and now also “begins the last stroke that the
Yogi deals, which decides his fate. This is the stage of Dharana or concentration of the whole of
one’s psychic being (Chitta). A perennial flow of Dharana is called Dhyana or meditation. If
Dharana is the drop,. Dhyana is the river. Many concentrations make a meditation.
Qualitatively they are non-different, but functionally there is a distinction between them. In his
work, ‘Concentration and Meditation’, Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has explained the subject
in great detail.
Different schools prescribe different methods of concentration. The Buddhists have their
own method, and the Jains another. The orthodox systems in India have various techniques of
their own. The way in which one concentrates one’s mind determines to some extent what kind
of person one is and what Samskaras or psychic impressions are within oneself. The nature of
the target one chooses also is a clue to one’s inner make. When the student enters into Dharana,
he can know something of his personal structure. He becomes an observer of himself and an
object of his study.
The rationale behind the practice of Dharana has been earlier explained under the context
of Pratyahara. The reason behind the effort at concentration of mind is the same as that
underlying the need for Pratyahara. It is a psychological necessity with a deep philosophical
background. Unless the ‘why’ of concentration is properly answered, one will not have
satisfaction within and hence cannot take to the practice wholeheartedly. Many students desire to
practice concentration. If they are asked ‘why’, they have no good reply. There should be clarity
first, for it is the index of conviction and an absence of it is a lack of any settled ideal before
oneself. Concentration is the channelizing of the Chitta or the psychic structure within towards
universality of being. This goal is achieved by many stages, with a graduated movement of the
finite to the infinite.
It was pointed out that worry and grief constitute an obstacle in the practice of Yoga. As
a matter of fact, Patanjali specially mentions these as some of the central opposing powers in the
field of Yoga. Unfortunately, life is always beset with sorrow and if we are to search for a man
free from vexation of every kind, we would, perhaps, not find one. Yet, Yoga cannot be
successful if mental stress is to pursue man like a hound, wherever he goes. It is necessary for
one, before any attempt at Pratyahara, Dharana or Dhyana, to extricate oneself from these
tormenting forces of the world. And the student may, from the point of view of this situation, be
able to understand what an amount of effort is necessary on the path to keep the mind in balance;
for balance is said to be Yoga. It is only when the balance is upset, due to some factor in life,
that worry sets in. Hence, the first step in Yoga is not Pratyahara or Dharana, but a psychological
disentanglement, or a stock-taking as people do in business, and a striking of the balance-sheet of
the inner world. One has to find out where one stands. How can one do concentration or
meditation if pains are to eat into one’s vitals? There are many problems that are brought upon
oneself through economic situations, social circumstances, family conditions, etc., as also
personal health and mental stability. These are important aspects that have to be taken into
consideration. Supposing that the student is deeply annoyed with someone, will he be able to sit
for concentration at that time? No. Because the mind is already engaged in something else and is
not prepared for concentration. It has already been given some work and it is trying to reconcile
itself with negative conditions that have been thrust upon it. Yoga is a positive state, different
from all moods of the day. There is nothing of the negative in the Yoga way of life, neither in the
mind nor in the perspective of one’s vision. Misgivings about Yoga are due to a want of proper
understanding of its meaning. All anguish is to be set right. How to do this is a personal
problem. It has to be dealt with on an individual consideration, as the answer varies from person
to person. Just as a physician does not treat patients collectively but pays them all individual
attention, each question has to be taken separately and solved, unless they are all of a similar
It need not be emphasized that a Guru is necessary, and also one should be capable of
practicing sense-control, especially sex-control. The student cannot desire the things of the
world and also the beatitude of Yoga. Again, treading the path of Yoga always implies some loss
in the eyes of the sense-world. The student should decide what he wants. Does he want comfort,
praise, name and fame, etc., or is he honest in pursuing the way of self-restraint and
concentration of mind? The attempt at Yoga can be shaken up in the earlier stages by such
pressures as hunger, heat, cold and the need for a proper place to live. There should be no other
necessity of a student. It is necessary to minimize desires. When one takes to Yoga, one has to
be honest with it. There cannot be any joke in Yoga or an experimenting with it to see if some
miracle comes out of it. The entire being of the student goes to Yoga and not merely a part of his
personality. therefore, self-analysis is of paramount importance here, and he alone can answer
his questions finally, for these are so personal that they are related to his own thinking and he
alone can solve them. Many of our problems arise not from conditions outside but from our own
thinking. We expect some events to take place in the world. But they do not occur. What are
we to do, then? Are we to change the world? If we try to change external conditions, we often
become victims of disappointment, the reason being that the world is not wholly outside us. We
have either to adjust the world to ourselves or ourselves to the world. Many have attempted the
former alternative, but they all have gone the way they came. First of all, we have to learn to
live; otherwise, we would be the losers and no one will hear out cries. This is the way of selfanalysis,
whereby the student understands his current condition. The analysis of bodily and
social relations should also be carried further into moral and spiritual questions, for only then can
there be concentration and meditation of the mind. There should be balance of powers not only
in the social and economic levels, but also in the mind and soul. There should be contentment
with the creation of God. Here the student is truly pleased, and this pleasure itself is an act of
concentration. As concentration of mind has much to do with inner satisfaction, there cannot be
concentration of mind when there is unhappiness. An unhappy man cannot be a student of Yoga.
We do not go to Yoga because people do not want us in the world, but because there is
something substantial and positive in Yoga.
Psychological contentment brought about by self-analysis is a great help in concentration.
Sometimes, when one is affected too much by thoughts of the contrary, thoughts pertaining to
things and conditions opposed to or different from the aim of Yoga, Patanjali says that one has to
practice thinking or the feeling of the opposite (Pratipaksha-Bhavana). This is to affirm the
opposite of what is happening. If a particular sense-organ is troubling the student, he gives
intense work to the other organs so that the energy will be drawn by them, and the troublesome
element is divested of strength. If one is sexually agitated one might think of Hanuman or
Bhishma. Let the mind think how Hanuman acquired his powers, his character and his glory, or
the prowess of Bhishma, and meditate on them. The desire would slowly wane because of the
higher thought occurring to the mind by continued contemplation. If one is prone to be angry,
one might think of the Buddha. What a calm personality,-poised, kind, sympathetic, sober,
unagitated by events taking place outside, a veritable pacific of understanding and affection.
Then the anger goes away. When anger overpowers the mind, such thoughts would not naturally
come to it. But a daily practice will create in the mind Samskaras or impressions which will in
course of time prevent the rise of such negative thoughts and, even if they come, they will not be
vehement or powerful enough to disturb internal peace. This is the method of ‘substitution’ in
The three methods which the mind employs usually are repression, substitution and
sublimation. Sublimation is the proper course to adopt, but it cannot always be done for obvious
reasons. People repress desires into the subconscious due to social taboo, but later on this causes
complexities. Repression is not a remedy. When one cannot fulfil one’s desires, one swallows
them, which, in the long run, become complexes that may turn into illness of various kinds. The
moods of people are nothing but the occasional eruption of repressed emotions and attitudes.
Repression is not the method prescribed by Patanjaii, though he suggests substitution as a middle
course leading to sublimation by Yoga.
The point of concentration may be external, internal or universal. The student may think
something outwardly, inwardly or not either way but an invisible something. Any means may be
chosen for the purpose of concentration. The outer thinking may be regarded as the beginning,
the inner thought as the middling state and the thought of the universal as the last stage. One
begins with the outer, goes to the inner and reaches the universal. We see the world outside and
we always think of it, because we feel it is real. The thought of the world cannot be set aside
because reality cannot be ignored. If the mind perceives reality in the world, it cannot be
abandoned because reality is never an ‘other’ to oneself. We artificially bring about a
concentration in our mind when it is otherwise engaged in what it regards as real. Here, we
naturally become failures. So, before starting the practice of concentration, the student has to
establish a proper relation with the world and society by the practice of the Yamas and Niyamas.
If the world is up in arms and cudgels, one cannot practice Yoga by being in it. For peace with
the world and peace with oneself, Patanjali prescribes the Yamas and Niyamas, respectively.
Asana and Pranayama are intended for establishing peace and harmonious relations with the
muscles, nerves and the vital force. Pratyahara establishes peace with the mind. Yoga is the
science of peace. The world outside having been properly coordinated with our personality by
the Yamas and our having come to proper understanding of ourselves by the Niyamas and by
Vichara or self-analysis, having also achieved some sort of control over the muscles by Asana,
the nerves and Prana by Pranayama, having brought compromise within by Pratyahara, the
student is face to face with the problem of concentration.
What is one to concentrate upon? First of all, the point of concentration has to be
external, so that one may concentrate with greater ease, because the mind has always a tendency
to go outward. But this need not mean going senseward. We may give the mind some freedom,
of course, but it should be within a limited circle. The ambit of the activity of the mind should
gradually become smaller and smaller. One moves, but in more and more limited circles. The
circle of the mind’s work becomes smaller as it rises to higher states of concentration. In the
most initial stage, the student can concentrate on any one point. A wide margin is given in the
beginning as is done with a child or a wild animal under training.
Satsanga and Svadhyaya are some of the methods which one can adopt in limiting the
activity of the mind to smaller circles. Instead of going to any place at leisure, one attends
Satsangas or visits holy places or shrines. And instead of browsing through all sorts of literature
at random, one reads philosophical and elevating scriptures. All this is an achievement in the
concentration of mind by way of limitation of the circle of its activity. Instead of chatting with
persons at any time, one restricts speech only to a necessity. The long rope has been cut short.
The radius has been reduced in length. This practice is the beginning of a true religious life.
Having lived a life of religiousness rather than that of worldliness one further tries to limit the
circle of the mind in Yoga. And now, the stage has come when, instead of going to holy places,
one settles down in one place for a spiritual way of living, and one has pinned the mind to a still
smaller circle. Having settled in a particular place, one chalks out a daily programme which
should be such that it will not contain any item that is not directly connected with the practice of
Yoga. Occasionally, a few may be indirectly related, which, however, are to be slowly snapped
later by gradual effort and only the direct connections with Yoga be maintained. The programme
of the day which the student chalks out for himself depends entirely upon the aim of Yoga, which
is the determining factor in the day’s programme. What he will do during the whole day will
depend on what he wishes to make of his entire life, for many days put together constitute life.
The daily programme should therefore correspond to the life’s programme. Nothing nonspiritual
may engage the attention of the student on any occasion. In the programme of the day,
certain items should be essential, such as study of scriptures (which one cannot dispense with
until one gets so absorbed in the mind that there is no need for any study). Sacred study is
necessary because in such study one keeps oneself open to higher thoughts, ennobling one’s
character. Simultaneously with this practice, there should be recourse to Japa (repetition) of the
Mantra (mystic formula). Japa is directly connected with Dhyana. The relation between
Svadhyaya, Japa and Dhyana is sequential and very significant and they form a complete course
of Yoga. Japa is a more intensive Sadhana than Svadhyaya and Dhyana more intensive than
Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are considered as the internal and true Yoga, while
everything else is an external accessory to it. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara
constitute the external (Bahiranga) Yoga, while Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the internal
(Antaranga) Yoga. The internal Yoga is a pure activity of the mind-stuff (Antahkarana),
independent of the senses. While the senses had a part to play in Pratyahara, they do not operate
in Dharana, any further. We have come nearly to the innermost point of the personality and the
outer activities as well as relations are given up. The mind has become powerful because now it
does not waste energy through sensory activity. Most people complain that the mind is weak,
that the will has no strength, because much of the energy leaks out through the channels of the
senses. The senses are factors of dissipation of the centralized energy in the human system and
until this channelization of energy by way of sensory activity is stopped, the will would remain
naturally weak and this is why so much emphasis is laid on the control of senses. The mind
which conserves energy in itself becomes more powerful than it appeared earlier. It is now ready
to gird up its loins for the ultimate steps in Yoga, concentration and meditation. It has nothing to
vex it, because it has severed all its connections outside by an inner withdrawal. Concentration
Concentration does not come suddenly, in spite of all efforts on the part of a student. The
mind has been habituated to think in terms of diversity and to turn it away from
multitudinousness and to bring it to a point is really hard to achieve. The mind does not accept
it. In the beginning, there is repulsion and later on there arises difficulty in the practice of
concentration. But if the practice goes on with proper self-analysis and understanding, the mind
will be able to appreciate what it is for and what it is expected to do. Any unintelligent activity is
not easily taken in by the mind because thought is logically constructed. Before making
preparations for chalking out a programme one should try to be methodical and logical in
thinking, for the mind will not accept chaotic ideas. It appreciates only system, symmetry,
harmony, beauty, order, etc. The mind dislikes any thing thrown pell-mell, because it is made in
an orderly fashion. Without knowing the why of it one does not like anything spontaneously.
The way in which the mind functions is what is known as logic. One should not hastily move to
things and jump into any conclusion. Many people suffer from this travesty, because they cannot
take all aspects of the matter into their judgements. All persons cannot consider every side of an
issue, and this pinches the mind from various directions. A programme that one may have to
change constantly is not a well-thought-out programme. Let there be no need to change what one
has decided to do. Let it be thought and arranged well, even if it would take many days to make
the decision. Let there be beauty in thinking, as there is beauty in the outer world. The more is
one logical, the more is also one’s happiness. Hence, it is necessary to prepare the ground with a
thorough-going analysis of the situation of one’s personality. ‘I want God’, should not be the
student’s sudden answer when he is asked what he is up to achieve. One cannot say one wants
God unless one has also an idea as to what God means. Many people have the notion that
wanting God is preparing to meet a big person with mighty powers. Many would like to seek
God so that they may have a tremendous authority to wield over others and may parade their
knowledge over the world. If God is Perfection, it is surprising that He should be identified with
a personality like that of man.
Logical thinking is, therefore, a help in bringing about concentration of mind. The test of
logicality in thought is that one feels a delight the moment one arranges one’s thoughts in a
method. One feels a comfort within because of the completeness introduced by the system of
logic in the mind. Logicality is a form of psychological perfection, and all perfection is joy.
After having properly thought out the programme for life and for the day, the programme
of one’s Sadhana has to be considered. ‘What is my Sadhana going to be?’ Thus may the
student of Yoga cogitate seriously. Merely because one has heard a lecture on Yoga, it does not
mean one has a clear path set before oneself. After much hearing, there may still remain some
fundamental difficulty, that of choosing a proper method of practice and coming to facts, not
merely doctrines. When one touches the practical side, an unforeseen problem arises. This is an
individual difficulty and cannot be cleared in a public lecture. It is, therefore, necessary to find
out one’s temperament, first, and decide upon the nature of one’s case. In as much as every mind
is special in its constitution, proclivity and temperament certain details peculiar to one’s mind
have to be thought out clearly for oneself. Though it is true that concentration is the purpose of
all Sadhana, the kind of preparation for this concentration varies in different types of Yoga.
Concentration is an impersonal action of the mind, because, in this inner adventure, the mind
attempts gradually to shed its personality by accommodating itself, stage by stage, with the
requirements of the law that determines the universe. The individual, being veritably a part of
the cosmos, cannot help owing an allegiance in some way, at some time, to the organism of the
cosmos, and concentration, in the language of Yoga, is just this much, viz., the acceptance on the
part of the mind that it belongs to a larger dominion, call it the Kingdom of God, or the Empire
of the Universe.
Patanjali, in his aphorisms on Yoga, has suggested varieties of concentration of the mind
on points which can be external, internal or universal. A protracted and intensified form of
concentration is called meditation.
The pinnacle of Yoga is the absorption of the mind in the object of its concentration. The
whole technique borders upon an attunement of the subjective consciousness, in its wholeness, to
the structure of the object of concentration. Normally, the object is severed from consciousness
so that it exists as an independent, material something, totally incapable of reconciliation with the
nature of consciousness. However, under the scheme of the Samkhya, it does not appear that in
the perception of an object the consciousness stands entirely independent of the influence exerted
by the object upon itself or, on the other hand, the attachment and the relationship which it
wishes to project, for some extraneous reason, in regard to the object itself. According to the
Samkhya system, the object is totally independent of the subject which is consciousness, the
object being a mode of Prakriti and the consciousness being the Purusha manifest through an
individuality when it is engaged in an act of cognition or perception. However, the Purusha,
according to the Samkhya, is infinite in its nature and hence its assumption of the role of a
percipient locally placed as a finite entity in respect of the object of its knowledge is
unimaginable. This involvement of the infinite Purusha in an association with finitude
consequent upon its relationship to Prakriti’s modes is its bondage. The freedom of the Purusha
is its return to its original status of infinitude by way of abstraction of its relations with every
form of objectivity, which is Prakriti in some degree of its manifestation. The Yoga system of
Patanjali is, in the end, a gospel on the necessity of severing all relationships on the part of
consciousness in respect of every type of involvement in externality or objectivity, beginning
with social relationships, involvement in the physiological organism of the body, the psychic
structure of the Antahkarana, or the internal organ, the causal body of ignorance, and ending in
the very impulsion to enter into any mode of finitude, whatsoever. Yama, Niyama, Asana,
Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are these stages of the gradual
withdrawal of consciousness from outward contact and a simultaneous rising into wider and
wider dimensions of itself, culminating in infinitude which is its quintessential essence. While
the dissociation of consciousness from relations with society, body, mind and intellect, etc. is
achieved through the practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana and
Dhyana, which are intelligible to the seeker of Yoga to some extent, the higher attunement
known as Samadhi at which we have only meagre hints in the Sutras of Patanjali, is more
difficult of comprehension and may appear humanly impossible for minds which are socially
involved and sunk deep in body-consciousness to the exclusion of the awareness of any other
While concentration is defined as the tethering of the mind to a point of attention,
whether external, internal or universal, meditation is described as a flow which is continuous, as
a movement from the meditating subject to the object of meditation. There are four factors
involved in Dharana, or concentration, namely, the exclusion of extraneous thoughts which are
irreconcilable with the thoughts of the object of concentration, the thought of one’s own
subjectivity as a concentrating principle, the process of concentration, and the object on which
the concentration is practiced. But in Dhayana, or meditation, there are only three processes and
the question of excluding extraneous thoughts does not arise here, since the thought in meditation
has deepened itself to such an extent that it can have no awareness of anything outside the
purview of the object of meditation.
Though the higher reaches of meditation are inseparable from what are known as
Samapattis or Samadhis in the language of Patanjali, a logical distinction can be made between
the two in the sense that Dhyana or meditation is constituted of the threefold process mentioned,
and in Samadhi the whole process gets united with the object, comparable in some way to the
entry of a river into the ocean, in which condition the river ceases to be what it was and becomes
the ocean itself. Here Patanjali has an interesting thing to tell us, viz., that in this condition the
percipient, the object and the medium or the process of perception stand parallel to one another,
on an equal status, as if three lakes or tanks of water merge into one another, mingling one with
the other, with water in every one filled to the same level on the surface. The three have become
one, and one cannot know which is the subject, which the object and which the process of
The act of meditation leads to the attainments known as Samapattis. While the object
chosen for purpose of meditation can be any particular unit or entity, whether perceptual or
conceptual, the final requirement is an absorption of consciousness in the structure of the cosmos
itself, which is constituted of the five great elements or Mahabhutas,-earth, water, fire, air and
Patanjali speaks Of Vitarka, Vichara, Ananda and Asmita stages in these attainments,
which are again sub-divided into the stages known as Savitarka, Nirvitarka, Savichara,
Nirvichara, Sananda and Sasmita. These Samapattis are the graduated attunements of the
meditating consciousness with the cosmological categories enumerated in the Samkhya
philosophy. The lowest forms of the manifestation of Prakriti are the five elements mentioned,
which in their gross form enter into every minor form of the world, constituting the diversity of
the objects of sense perception and mental cognition.
Patanjali has a specific recipe to enable the mind to contemplate upon the object as such
in its pure form, divested of the phenomenal associations it is involved in as an object of sensory
perception. When we speak of an object, for instance, we mean thereby a blend of an idea and a
descriptive characteristic going together with the thing-in-itself, which cannot be known except
as clothed in the idea of it and the form in which it is perceived. Here we are reminded of a
similar enunciation by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant who ruled out the possibility of
knowing things-in-themselves apart from phenomena conditioned by space, time and what he
called the categories of the understanding, such as quantity, quality, relation and modality. This
is the reason, perhaps, why he did not conceive of it being practicable even to have a metaphysic
of reality, because all knowledge is phenomenal, limited to space, time and the categories. Kant
held that the ideas of God, freedom and immortality act merely as regulative principles working
through the reason but cannot become objects of the reason since its operations are limited to
phenomena. Here the Indian sage scores a mark which the philosopher of the Critique could not
envisage, viz., that it is possible, nay, it is necessary, that the thing-in-itself has to be known, not
merely by actual contact in a process of knowledge, but in union with it, which is Yoga proper.
The words which Patanjali uses to designate the phenomenal categories are Sabda and Jnana,
and the thing-in-itself is Artha. The aim of Yoga is to unite consciousness with the thing-initself,
i.e., with Artha. Though, under normal conditions, it is not possible to contact the object
as such because of the interference of space and time and the logical categories of the mind, there
is a way unknown to logical philosophy, by which the subject and the object can become one,
attain Yoga or union, which is the perfection of experience.
In the Savitarka Samapatti the object or Artha is contemplated upon as involved in Sabda
and Jnana, its name and idea. But this is a different kind of awareness from that which obtains
in ordinary perception of things, for, in a Samapatti there is an absorption of consciousness in the
contemplated object, and the form does not any more remain as an external object to be contacted
by sensory activity even in this state of a threefold involvement. In the higher stage known as
Nirvitarka Samapatti, the physical form of the object, independent of Sabda and Jnana, is the
object of absorption. Here the object may be taken as the whole physical universe of five
elements, or any particular object chosen for the purpose of meditation. In the cosmological
enumeration of the categories of the Samkhya, the evolutes which are higher than the five
physical elements are the five Tanmatras, or subtle potentials of these elements, known as
Sabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha, which mean respectively sound, touch, form, taste, and
smell, as the objects of experience. When these Tanmatras become the objects of meditation, or
rather, absorption, as envisaged in terms of space and time, the attainment is known as Savichara
Samapatti. When the same become objects of absorption independent of and transcendent to
space and time, the experience is called Nirvichara Samapatti. By the time this stage is reached
by the Yogin, a complete mastery is attained over the elements and the forces of Nature, and a
perfection ensues which brings immense joy, not born of contact with anything, but following as
a result of the attainment of freedom by union with the Cosmic Ahamkara, and Mahat, which are
the omniscient and omnipresent Ground of the whole universe. This joy is an attainment know
as Sananda Samapatti, when the experience reaches its heights and the entire universe is known
as One’s own Body and not as an object of perception any more, when there is no such thing as a
universe, but a pure Cosmic Experience-Whole in which the Cosmic Subject is in union with the
Cosmic Object. There is a realization of the Absolute-‘I’. This Universal Self-Experience is
known as Sasmita Samapatti.
All the six stages of Samapatti stated above come under what is known as Sabija
Samadhi or union with the remnant of a seed of Self-Consciousness though of a Universal
Nature. When even this Self-Consciousness is transcended and only the Absolute reigns
supreme in experience par excellence, there is Nirbija Samadhi, or the seedless attainment of
Supreme Independence. The Final Attainment thus experienced is Kaivalya Moksha, or utter
Freedom in the Absolute Reality.
I shall give you some practical hints, in stages, to attain the state of Meditation.
Otherwise, the mind will jump from one object to another, because it is used to think of objects
only. To bring the mind to this state of awareness of meditation, stability or harmony has to be
practiced in every walk of life. Harmony is of various grades.
1. You must be harmonious in your relationship with other people in the world. You should be
friendly; you should have no hatred towards anyone. You should not harm or deceive
anyone. You should not steal or appropriate what does not belong to you. You should have
no disgust for any person or thing; you should have affection for all persons and things. All
this constitutes harmony in outer relationship with the society and the world. You should not
take from the world more than what you have given to it by your service.
2. You must be harmonious within your own personality. The human individual is often out of
balance with himself. You should take care of the minimal needs of the body: e.g.
cleanliness, a bath regularly, to eat only when you are hungry - i.e. eat only if your tongue
waters when you see a dish of food. Treat your body as your friend. Live in ventilated
places; breathe fresh air; spend at least two hours a day in open air. Adopt simple living and
3. You must have harmony of muscles and the nervous system. We are generally in a state of
restless activity and agitation. So we are asked to practice Asanas or physical postures, for
the stability of the body. Though for the health of the body you may practice many Asanas,
you should sit in one Asana alone for meditation. By staying in one, single, steady,
comfortable posture, you bring about a harmony in the nervous system and the muscles.
Why is this posture prescribed? Because some energy, you may call it electric power, is
generated in the body when the mind is concentrated in meditation. Now, if the extremities
of the body are left open, the electricity that is produced in meditation will leak out. So, the
purpose of posture is to lock up the fingers and the toes so that there is a circulation of energy
throughout the body, and there is no leakage of energy outside. Also, to prevent leakage, you
are asked to sit on some nonconductor of electricity, e.g. deer skin or mat, not an iron seat
(that will give you a shock). Sit there, locking the fingers and toes, and keeping the spine,
neck and head erect, in one straight line. If you cannot sit straight in the beginning, sit
straight leaning your back against a wall.
4. Bring the breathing process, Prana, into harmony. Pranayama is a normal state of breathing.
Usually we are not in a normal state of breathing. And we are not happy when we breathe
dis-harmoniously. The Pranas are disturbed because you long for objects in the world. And
5. to desire an object is to be out of tune with the law of the universe, because the object is not
outside the law of the universe; the object is an integral, vital part of the cosmos. So, when
you imagine anything is outside, consciousness is disturbed, agitated, unhappy. So, this
harmony is achieved not merely by control of breathing through the nose, but by reduction of
desires. If you entertain too many desires in your mind, Pranayama will be useless, or may be
even harmful. A person with no control over desires should not practice Pranayama. First,
you must be ethical and moral in your conduct.
In the beginning, do not practice technical methods (like alternate breathing); just practice
normal inhalation and exhalation. Take in a slow, full, deep breath and exhale slowly.
Generally, you do not take a slow, deep breath, you take a fast, shallow breath.
The purpose of Pranayama is to reduce the rate of breathing. And, when the Prana becomes
calm by this process of slow breathing, the mind also becomes calm. The Prana is connected
with the mind. When the Prana is reduced in its activity, the mind is also reduced in its
activity. Between the Prana and the mind are the senses. The senses are the meeting point
between the Prana and the mind. The senses become active, whether the Prana works or the
5. So, the fifth harmony is the control of the activity of the senses. The senses cannot be
controlled so long as you live in the midst of attractive objects. So, in the beginning stages of
Yoga practice, you should try to live for at least some time in a year in such places where
objects are not tempting to the senses. This is the reason why seekers of Truth try to live in
Ashramas, monasteries or secluded places. When you try gradually to abstain from sense
indulgence, by living in such holy atmospheres, the senses get automatically subdued. As the
senses are in contact with the mind, control of the senses also involves a little control of the
When the mind is accustomed to a life of seclusion and solitariness, and the senses do not ask
for tempting objects, you are ready for concentration and meditation. This is really the field
of Yoga. All the stages earlier are only preparatory. From concentration onwards is proper
6. Now, concentration is of three forms:
The mind is accustomed to think of external objects only; so, it would be dangerous to
suddenly cut off the mind from external objects. You should not try to concentrate on internal
centres in the beginning of your practice.
You must pick an external object that you have an interest in, that you have a love for.
Believers in God usually try to concentrate on an external picture or symbol of God. You may
keep a portrait of Lord Krishna or Jesus Christ in front of you, and gaze at the picture with open
eyes. Where the eyes are, there the mind also is. You are not looking merely at a painted picture,
but at a symbol of a living personality. So, when you gaze at a picture of Christ or Krishna, you
immediately feel in your mind the qualities that these personalities were endowed with.
After three or four minutes of gazing at the picture, close your eyes and mentally imagine
the picture. Concentrate on the form you saw. Continue this internal concentration as long as
your mind is not disturbed. If, after a few minutes of closed-eyes meditation, you feel that the
mind is wandering, then again open the eyes and look at the picture. After, again, gazing the
picture for a few minutes, close the eyes again to habituate the mind to internal meditation.
Practice this process for a few months until you can concentrate without a picture. When
you can concentrate, merely by closing the yes, on the form of the portrait, without the external
support of a painted picture, you have achieved the first success in meditation.
Feel that this internal picture is not merely in one place, but is in every place. When you
begin to feel a uniform presence in all places, the mind ceases from all distraction. The other
method to bring about this harmony of mental perception is to think of the vast space. Inasmuch
as space is everywhere, you try to concentrate on all directions at one time. You can also
concentrate on the light of the sun pervading the whole space. Or you can concentrate on the vast
ocean which is everywhere. You can gaze at the flame of a candle or a dot on the wall.
When you gain success in this, you can change your object of concentration; you will
have such mastery of mind that you can concentrate on any object. The purpose of this
concentration is to make the mind think only of one thing, and not think anything else. So,
ultimately, it matters little what object you choose for concentration if the purpose is served, i.e.
to think only of that thing and nothing else.
When you are accustomed to this external meditation, you can turn to internal meditation.
Internal meditation means concentration on certain centres (Chakras) of the body. The
most important and most favourable Chakras (for beginners) in meditation are the Chakra
between the eyebrows, and the Chakra in the heart.
In the waking state, the mind functions in the brain, in the dream state it works near the
throat, and in deep sleep it goes to the heart. In deep, objectless meditation also the mind goes to
the heart. So, the ultimate purpose of internal meditation is to bring the mind to the heart. This
is done in three stages: the mind comes from the external object to the head (i.e. the centre
between the eyebrows), then the mind comes to the heart. Meditation on the point between the
eyebrows is in two stages :
(1) external gaze at the centre of eyebrows, and
(2) to close the eyes and think of the spot alone (as a spot of light). Slowly, you begin to feel
that the mind descends from the head through the throat to the heart. When you do this,
you will fall asleep if you are careless. You must do this with caution and alertness;
otherwise you will sleep and mistake it for meditation.
The other method of internal meditation is to directly meditate on the heart. You can
imagine a blossoming lotus in the heart, or the light of the rising sun in the heart. The best form
of meditation on the heart is to feet consciousness as seated there. From this internal point of
meditation on consciousness in the heart, you can slowly proceed to the universal.
Just as Consciousness is in your heart, it is in the heart of everybody. Try to meditate on
this Consciousness as present everywhere, in everything (outside and inside) uniformly. This is
the absolute form of meditation, i.e., the Supreme State.
To help achieve this Universal of Meditation, you can chant Om (Pranava) in a
methodical manner. There are three types of OM chanting :
(1) short - about one second, i.e. 30 in 30 seconds;
(2) middle - each chant for five seconds, i.e. 6 chants in 30 seconds;
(3) long - each chant for fifteen seconds, i.e. 2 chants in 30 seconds.
The elongated process is the best form of chanting. It makes the cells of the body subside
in their activities; the nervous system becomes calm. You need not take any tranquilizers. If you
are disturbed, chant this elongated way for fifteen minutes. The whole system will become calm
and quiet. When you chant like this, feel also that you are expanding slowly into the Cosmos.
OM is not merely a sound that we make, but a symbol of a Universal Vibration. This is
really the Vibration that was made at the beginning of the creation of the world. This Universal
Vibration (of creation) is the controlling force behind everything in the world. So, when you
chant OM and create this Vibration in your system, you set yourself in tune with the Vibration of
the Cosmos. The Forces of the Universe begin to enter into your body; you will feel strong and
energetic; your hunger and thirst will decrease; you will feel absolute happiness even if you have
nothing (i.e. no material possessions) and are absolutely alone, unknown and unseen by people.
You will have no desire for anything in the world, because you have become one with all things.
When you become the friend of the Universal Forces, then the world will take care of you
in times of difficulty, and you will have no fear from anywhere. Then it is that you become a
Saint or a Sage. In this state, if you have any desire, it will be immediately fulfilled, because you
have become the friend of all Forces in the world. In this state of Ecstasy of Bliss, great Saints
sing and dance (because they possess everything in the world). Here it is that you will realize
that you are a Child of God. God Himself will perpetually take care of you and you will have no
fear, just as the son of a King has no fear because the King protects him always and everywhere
in the kingdom.
This is almost a complete outline of the essentials of the practice of Yoga. But, when you
actually begin to practice it, you will find it is very difficult. So, you have to be very honest in
your pursuit. Swami Sivananda taught us that Sadhana has three prongs, like a Trisula (trident):
1. A Daily Routine of Practice. Have a fixed procedure of practice every day. One must keep
fixed hours and discipline his personality. In daily routine, three items should be very
(a) JAPA - chanting some Mantra over and over to maintain the same consciousness (this is
often useful when meditation is difficult);
(b) STUDY - reading scriptures or texts on Yoga, e.g. Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, The
Sermon on the Mount, The Imitation of Christ;
(c) MEDITATION - should be performed at a fixed time and in a fixed place every day (you
should not change the place); face the same direction daily (either the East or the North)
and sit in the same Asana (i.e. posture) every day.
2. An Annual Resolve. Vow to give up bad habits like harming or hurting others, telling lies,
and incontinence; these three must be given up (slowly) by degrees. Ahimsa, Satya,
Brahmacharya are to be practiced. If you break this resolve, you should fast one day.
Because of the fear of fasting, you will be careful not to break the vow.
3. A Spiritual Diary. When you go to bed every night you should review what you have done
since morning. This diary may consist of questions you may ask yourself, e.g. “How many
times have I forgotten God today?” “Did I get angry today?” etc.
With these methods, you can take to serious Sadhana, or practice of Yoga. And when your
efforts are followed with earnestness of purpose, you shall achieve success in this very life.