in the CHAPTER FIFTEEN The degree to which a person can do pratyahara successfully depends very much on his ability to sit in a comfortable asana for the duration of practice. If he feels continual physical discomfort, then of course his mind will be continually aware of stimuli from the sense organs giving information about pain, stiffness and so on. Pratyahara, and consequently meditation, will be out of
the question. It is therefore necessary that the practitioner trains the body so that it can maintain one position for a prolonged length of time, without any discomfort whatsoever.
Many of the techniques given in this book involve a systematic rotation of one’s awareness around different parts of the body, awareness of the breathing process, of sounds uttered either mentally or verbally, etc. This is used partly to concentrate the mind, but also to keep the mind engrossed internally, so that it automatically forgets the surroundings, thereby inducing a state of pratyahara. This satisfies the wandering tendency of the mind, but in a controlled manner, and avoids the problems encountered in the practice of pure one-pointed concentration, during which the untrained mind tends to rebel against the forced restraints and all progress may be lost.
Dharana or concentration
By the time one is ready to practise this stage all external disturbances to the mind should have been eliminated. However, the mind is still in a state of turmoil; it is still plagued by thoughts. These thoughts are not concerned with the present time, for all outside stimuli have been shut off. They can be classified into two groups: memories of the past and projections of future events. How can we remove these activities of the mind? The method of elimination is through dharana or concentration.
Concentration in this context means fixing the mind totally on one object to the exclusion of all others. When this is achieved then the mind automatically does not
think of other things or ideas. It becomes totally absorbed in the object of concentration. The object of concentration is usually an internal image kept in front of the closed eyes, though it can also be an external object. However, the mind tends to wander more easily if it is concentrating on an external object, but concentrating on an external object is very useful for those people who have difficulty in visualizing an internal object. If one concentrates on an external object (for example, in trataka,) for a reasonable length of time daily, it will eventually be possible to close the eyes and visualize the image of that object internally. Concentration on one idea to the exclusion of all other ideas can also be practised, but this is more difficult and is usually done when one has developed the powers of concentration to a very high level.
In yogic concentration the mind is not held completely rigid; the processes of the mind are not curtailed. The mind is held so that it is aware of one object, but it should move in the sense that it realizes deeper aspects of the object. It realizes aspects of the object that were not perceivable before when the mind was continually wandering from one object to the next. This may be compared to a person visiting an art gallery. If he quickly glances at each picture, he sees little of the fine detail. If, on the other hand, he spends half an hour studying one picture, the finer and more subtle points will be revealed.
Even people who think they have highly developed powers of concentration will find concentration on one object difficult. This is because concentration is normally of a wider type, where one concentrates on a train of ideas
while reading a book for example, or on a large number of objects. To hold your mind on one object is far more difficult and its benefits in the form of deeper insight into the object of concentration are also correspondingly greater. Concentration on one object is not impossible. It requires persistent practice and annihilation of all mental disturbances by the practice of the lower five stages of raja yoga, and when the mind has been completely purified by these basic practices, concentration will come by itself, naturally, without any special effort being required.
Dhyana or meditation
Dhyana is really an extension of dharana and has been defined by Patanjali as the uninterrupted flow of concentration of the mind on the object of meditation or concentration. There is a fine difference between dharana and dhyana. In dharana the mind continually tries to think of things other than the object, and the practitioner has to bring the awareness back to the object; distractions still exist in one form or another. In dhyana, however, the mind has been subjugated and is totally and continually absorbed in the object. It is in meditation that the deeper aspects of the object start to manifest themselves. The depth of concentration in dhyana is far greater than in dharana. It is through the regular and continual practice of concentration that dhyana spontaneously manifests itself.
Samadhi or illumined consciousness
Samadhi is the fullest extension of dhyana. It is the climax of meditation. It is divided into four stages, all of which must be transcended before one eventually reaches
the culmination of yoga and of life itself, self-realization or oneness with reality. These four stages will not be discussed in this book, for they are so far above normal experience that words are today inadequate to describe them. We would merely be playing with words, even more so than when we tried to describe meditation on the lower levels. Anyone, however, who is interested in the technical aspects of samadhi should refer to Swami Satyananda’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, called Four Chapters on Freedom.
Patanjali described samadhi as that state during meditation where there is only consciousness of the object and no concurrent consciousness of the mind. This needs some explanation. During lower states of meditation the object’s deeper reality slowly shows itself. Yet the ultimate essence does not show itself, something seems to prevent it revealing itself. This something is, in fact, the mind of the meditator. It acts as a screen between the object and consciousness. The self-conscious nature of the mind veils the reality of the object from consciousness. We can compare this to a person who is singing. If he is singing without awareness of himself, his singing will be much better than if he is self-conscious and aware that people are listening to him. One only needs to look at all great people to see that they have produced their greatest work when they have lost this element of self-consciousness. When the mind removes its impediment, higher inspiration can shine through. It is exactly the same in high states of meditation.
In samadhi the self-consciousness of the mind
disappears. The quality of object and perceiving subject disappears so that the object and subject become one. It is only under these circumstances that the ultimate essence of the object reveals itself, for if the object and subject are no longer different but the same, then the subject must know everything about the object, the object of perception, the person perceiving and the perception that takes place all become one entity. This situation is difficult to explain in words, for it transcends normal experience.
Let us take a very gross analogy. A man sees a large crowd of people from a distance. He feels that he is separate from the crowd and of course he is. This is like our normal relationship to the things around us. The crowd is discussing something but it is too far away for the man to hear. A large fence exists between him and the crowd, preventing him from discovering what is being talked about. The fence is the mind. It must be overcome or climbed if he wants to find out what the crowd is talking about. He climbs the fence, joins the crowd and finds out what it is talking about. In a crude sense the man becomes one with the crowd and also the knowledge that keeps the crowd together, the reason for the formation of the crowd. The viewer joins with the viewed and the point of view held by the viewed. They become one. It is the same in samadhi. Of course the unity obtained during samadhi is indescribable and far transcends any of our day-to-day experiences.
A person looking at a man in samadhi will have no comprehension of what that man is experiencing. The spectator might even feel that the man in samadhi is
asleep if he is in a sitting position, or else acting completely normally, with ‘normal’ thought processes if he is performing his daily duties. Not even the man in samadhi consciously knows the height of the experience he is undergoing. When he leaves the state of samadhi and returns to normal awareness, or perhaps we should say normal non-awareness, he maintains the deep wisdom and peace and expresses it in everyday activities. A man who has experienced samadhi even once is a completely changed man. He has raised himself above the average and he sees everything in a totally new light.
The stages from dharana to samadhi are really different names for different degrees of attainment. One automatically leads to the next when the aspirant has reached a certain level of development. They are not totally different practices as are the lower stages such as asanas, pranayama, for example. There is no abrupt change from one stage to the next. The progress of the aspirant in these realms is natural and spontaneous. It is at these stages that the guru is said to become an absolute necessity, for while the aspirant’s awareness is fully engrossed in the experiences he is passing through, only the guru can provide the guidance needed to carry him safely on the path to the goal.