In the CHAPTER FOURTEEN Self-study should also extend to your meditations, however deep, so that you progressively understand more about yourself. In other words, if you see visions in your meditations, let them come. Don’t suppress them for they will tell you more about the things that are embedded in your subconscious mind, your memories, your deep-rooted problems and other things, many of which are causing persistent tension in the mind, in many cases without your knowledge. It is only when you know them that you start to remove them and further improve your ability to experience deeper meditations, which these deep-rooted tensions hamper.
Ishwara pranidhana (self-surrender): This means to surrender your actions to God, the supreme consciousness, existence, or whatever name you have for that which drives you through life. Your every action should be a dedication of worship. You should try, by constant practice, to lose your individuality, your ego, and realize that your actions are nothing but a manifestation of the supreme consciousness. Remember, it is our ego that causes much
of our emotional and mental problems. It is our ego that makes us hate, fight, become attached to objects and so on. If we reduce our ego a little, our mind becomes correspondingly less disturbed and more tranquil. If we can totally lose our ego, which is not easy, then our meditations will automatically take us to reality. Karma and bhakti yoga, selfless action and divine devotion respectively, are a great help in this respect.
Yamas and niyamas – a summary
An objection might be raised that perhaps it is a person’s true nature to be dishonest, untruthful, etc., and so therefore any attempt to practise the yamas or niyamas could be contrary to his nature and could therefore cause more mental problems instead of reducing them. This is of course a controversial and philosophical question. However, all the great sages have emphasized that the intrinsic nature of all human beings is to be truthful, honest, to do good and so on. Anything done to the contrary, though appearing to be a manifestation of the individual’s true nature, is therefore really a shield or an act which has arisen through circumstances in life, poverty, mistreatment by other people and so on. Consciously the individual may feel he is only doing what comes naturally, but subconsciously it is a different story. Conflict occurs in the subconscious realms and these cause mental disturbances of the type that the individual feels consciously but does not know what the cause is. It is in this form that most mental problems occur in our modern society. There is a conflict between what one actually does and what the subconscious really wants to do.
The yamas and niyamas are therefore applicable to everyone without distinction. The reader may find these yamas and niyamas a little impractical, perhaps even a little ‘heavy’. But remember, your aim is transcendence and the path to perfection. Even if you abide by them to the slightest extent this is a definite step in the right direction. Even a small step will be helpful. Don’t aim further than you are able, tread slowly and gently.
Asanas or yogic postures
In traditional raja yoga, as enumerated by Patanjali, asanas are briefly mentioned as suitable sitting poses which give a steady and comfortable position of the body. This enables one to practise concentration and meditation without physical disturbance. In view of the close relationship between mind and body, this is a most essential part of every meditative session. Any position of the body which is even slightly uncomfortable will prevent any serious progress in meditation, for the mind will be preoccupied with the body to the exclusion of all else.
However, as the reader is probably aware, there are numerous other asanas which are not generally suitable for meditation practice. These we will call therapeutic asanas, as opposed to meditational asanas. The therapeutic asanas, sirshasana, halasana, etc., are nevertheless very useful in allowing the aspirant to gain success in meditation. These asanas, if performed regularly, remove and prevent diseases of the body and mind. They loosen up the muscles and tone the nervous system. They help to induce tranquillity of mind. In this respect, they encourage
successful meditation by eliminating a large number of factors which tend to prevent meditation. They also allow one to perform one’s daily duties with more zest and less emotional upsets, which greatly helps one to meditate.
These asanas are discussed in a wide selection of books on yoga (such as Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, published by Yoga Publications Trust). The reader is sincerely advised to refer to one of these books for details of their practice and benefits and to do them on a daily basis. He should particularly refer to the chapter on meditative poses in this book.
Pranayama or vital energy control
The word prana is often used in yoga, yet it is not well understood by the majority of people. It can be defined as vital or bioenergy. The reader is referred to the section on pranayama for full details. It is the medium through which matter and mind are linked to consciousness. Without this vital medium, consciousness could not express itself in the external world through the mind. It therefore seems logical that control of the flow of prana helps to control the mind and therefore leads one along the path to meditation. It is this control that the many techniques of pranayama attempt to achieve.
Many people, especially those new to yoga, assume that pranayama is not more than regulation of breath. This is partly true, for breath is indeed modified during the practice of pranayama. Yet this is only half the story and it is not the prime motive of pranayama. The aim of pranayama is control over the flow of prana, which is
intimately related to the breathing process. So close is this relationship, that any manipulation of the breath will automatically cause manipulation of the prana.
One can meditate without doing pranayama, but its regular practice is a great help in achieving success in meditation. For example, the stage before dhyana (meditation) in raja yoga is dharana (concentration). Without being able to concentrate on one object for some time, dhyana is impossible. The usual method is to visualize an internal object with closed eyes. This in itself is not so simple, for any mental image is either blurred or fades from view within a short time.
Pranayama is extremely useful in encouraging the appearance of clear mental images which remain visible for longer periods of time. This is caused by redistribution of prana in the body, which renders the mind more able to perceive and control the images. Pranayama and its techniques have been discussed in depth in Prana, Pranayama, Prana Vidya and the reader is advised to refer to this Yoga Publications Trust publication for more information.
Pratyahara or sense withdrawal
Most of us spend the majority of our waking life with our mind externalized. In other words, our mind is predominantly concerned with events which occur outside the body. To gain any success in meditational techniques, we need to withdraw the mind from association with the outside world, and forget this external environment. This is easier said than done, for the mind has been habituated
since birth to looking outside, and like all habits it is difficult to overcome. Most people find it difficult to close their eyes and forget the outside world, even for a minute or so. During meditation lessons we ask the practitioners to try and keep their eyes closed for the duration of the practice. We tell them that they should resist the temptation to open their eyes by asking themselves the question, “What is outside that can possibly interest me? I am in a room and certainly nothing is happening outside.” All of us have this conditioned reflex always to think of external things. Our awareness is drawn outside in the same way as iron is attracted to a magnet.
The biggest problem is that our mind is continually receiving data about the outside world via the sense organs: the ears, the eyes, etc. Our mind can not really dissociate itself from the outside world until it is trained or encouraged to ignore this never-ending stream of stimuli from the sense organs. This is a natural process, for the mind does not assimilate or take note of all the messages it receives from the sense organs. If it did, it would be unable to make decisions or obtain knowledge of the outside world, for it would be inundated with so much information that it would be powerless to act. The situation would be similar to having fifty radios in a room emitting fifty different radio stations with equal intensity. Sitting in the middle of the room, one would be unable to perceive any one station and comprehend any one program. The mind selects some of the data and then makes decisions.
What we must do is to reduce the selection of sense impressions which are communicated to the mind to zero.
Actually we do this more that we think. If we are absorbed in an interesting book we automatically lose awareness of the surroundings; we forget the sound of the clock or the voices of people in another room or the crackling of a fire in the room. What we must try to do in meditation, concentration and pratyahara is to lose awareness of our environment, but without the help of an exciting book or any other external object that absorbs the intellectual faculties of the mind. The mind should be absorbed; one should be concentrated, but without intellectualization.
The mind is like a naughty child; it does the opposite of what you want it to do. So if you try to shut out sense impressions, the mind automatically makes them more intense. If, on the other hand, you force the mind to think of external things while the eyes are closed, it will after some time tend to lose interest in the external sounds, etc., and will not associate with sense impressions. This state of mind, called pratyahara, is exactly what we want for meditation. This idiosyncrasy of the mind is utilized in the yogic process called antar mouna, which is an excellent method of attaining pratyahara and preparing for meditation. This method is described in the section on meditational practices.