Our entire life is spent in going towards what we like and think will give us joy (pravṛtti) and away from what we dislike and think will result in sorrow (nivṛtti). Our mind and senses are used to seeking and revelling in what they like. Do we need to and can we prevent this compulsive and habitual activity of the mind and senses? To what purpose? Can this be used as a method to meditate? Read on.
विषयेष्वात्मतां दृष्ट्वा मनसश्चिति मज्जनम् प्रत्याहारः स विज्ञेयोऽभ्यसनीयो मुमुक्षुभिः॥ १२१॥viṣayeşvātmatām dṛṣṭvā manasaściti majjanam, pratyāhāraḥ sa vijñeyo ‘bhyasaniyo mumukṣubhiḥ.
विषयेषु – in all objects; आत्मताम्- the Self; दृष्ट्वा – realising; मनसः – of the mind; चिति – in the supreme Consciousness; मज्जनम् absorption; (इति – this); प्रत्याहार:- pratyāhāra; सः that; विज्ञेयः is to be known; अभ्यसनीयः should be practised; : – by those desiring Liberation
The absorption of the mind in the supreme Consciousness by realising the Self in all objects is known as pratyāhāra (withdrawal of the mind), which should be practised by those desiring Liberation.
Just as the stomach feeds on food, the senses feed on the sense objects. Each sense organ has its own special food and a special taste for it. For example, the eye treats itself to its own favourite colour and form, the tongue gorges on what it likes and so on. In the process of enjoyment, the mind gets bound to the sense objects. This bondage is in the form of craving for more, fear of loss, dependency, slavery to habits, and so on. The ignorant suffers after being bound. The discriminative person understands the calamitous nature of all pleasures and withdraws from them. This is pratyāhāra.
If we eat an ice-cream everyday for a month, it becomes a habit. The tongue then craves for the ice-cream. To break these habits of the senses is pratyahāra. Some people fast once a fortnight, go on a fruit diet once a week, abstain from watching television for a week and so on, to break their dependence on certain things.
A person is sitting quietly in a room. Either his inner restlessness and desires or a call from someone outside stirs him into activity. If his mind is calm and he does not yield to the call, he remains happy with himself. The sense objects, through the sense organs attract, distract and agitate the mind. To refuse to yield to their attraction, not to engage in any dialogue with them is pratyāhāra. For example, the objects outside are captured by the camera through the aperture and lenses. However, when the shutter is closed, no image is registered even upon clicking.
A skill is acquired through learning and practice, by repeating the action again and again. Through a lifetime of practice, the senses are now adept at sense indulgence. They automatically gravitate towards sense objects. The skill to withdraw them at will too needs learning and practice. Acquiring this skill is called pratyāhāra. The tortoise effortlessly withdraws its limbs into its shell when faced with danger or an unconducive environment. Similarly the wise man withdraws his senses.
The senses remaining one with the mind, not being attracted by the sense objects, is called pratyāhāra – withdrawal of the senses.
The world we perceive (sense objects) is made up of the tāmasika (inertia) aspect of the five grossified elements. Each sense organ is made up of the sāttvika aspect of one subtle element. For example, the ability to hear is made from the sāttvika aspect of space. The mind is made up of the sāttvika aspect of all the five subtle elements. Hence, by their very nature the mind and the senses are sāttvika and the sense objects tāmasika. When a sense object enters the sāttvika mind through the sense organs, it agitates and excites the mind, making it rājasika. Not allowing the object to enter the mind and pollute it, by withdrawing the sense organs within, is called pratyāhāra.
The sense objects can be categorised as sāttvika (prakāśanīya), rājasika (rañjanīya) and tāmasika (mohanīya). The sāttvika objects give knowledge, the rājasika entertain and the tāmasika delude. Initially one can practise pratyāhāra by withdrawing from tāmasika and rājasika objects and pursuing sāttvika objects. For example, one cuts out late nights, drinking and partying, and gets up early to exercise and study. The Vaidika prayer says, ‘May I hear auspicious sounds through the ears and see auspicious objects with my eyes…’. Once we are well established in sāttvika pursuits, we realise the bondage even in sāttvika pleasures. To withdraw all the senses totally from all pursuits is total pratyāhāra. Without that it is impossible to meditate. Once, in a spiritual camp, a delegate sat down to meditate on a quiet afternoon. Hearing the tea-gong, his wife silently moved towards the door, so as not to disturb him. The husband, without even opening his eyes said, “Please bring me also a cup of tea!” The steadiness of the senses is considered to be yoga. One well established in pratyāhāra has full control over all the senses.
‘Every object has five aspects – Existence, Consciousness, Bliss, name and form (with qualities). The first three are the Self or Truth (substratum) and the latter two are the world (superimposition).’
When we negate the superimposition (name, form and qualities) we can see all objects as the Self alone. The mind takes the form of the object it perceives. As all objects are seen to be the Truth alone, the mind takes the form of Truth (brahmākāra vṛtti). The sense organs and mind naturally become steady. That is true Knowledge. To practise this is ‘pratyāhāra meditation’. As we look more closely at the superimposed snake on the rope with the eye of knowledge, we experience the substratum, the rope. The snake vision gets negated and the thoughts take the form of the rope (rajjvākāra vṛtti).