In the CHAPTER THIRTEEN Outside distractions such as sounds which cause mental disturbance. How can we possibly perform the inner techniques when our mind is absorbed and continually distracted by the outside environment? Pratyahara (stage 5 in raja yoga) eliminates this source of disturbance by disconnecting the association of the sense organs, eyes, ears, nose, etc., from external happenings. The outer occurrences are still there, of course, but the sense organs no longer send messages to the mind, or if they do the mind does not become aware of them.
The reader should now realize how important Patanjali’s first five stages are in order to successfully practise the higher stages. Though the first five stages have been systematically explained in other books on this subject, we will briefly deal with them here.
Yamas or self-restraints
These are five in number, and the reader on first impression may wonder what these seemingly socially inclined codes have to do with yoga. They are closely connected with higher yoga, however, for as has already been explained, these rules seek to remove all emotional disorders from the individual. It does not take much thought to realize that these topics cause most of our guilty feelings, inner conflicts and general mental disturbances. The way to tackle the symptom is to root out the cause. In this way the mind will be rendered more peaceful and ready for the higher practices.
Patanjali actually was an idealist and intended the practices of raja yoga for people who devoted their life to seeking realization and who probably isolated themselves from society. This becomes obvious when he writes in one of his sutras (verses) that they are inviolable and should be followed no matter what circumstances arise, even if the result is serious injury to oneself or others. This, of course, is not practical for the modern person in society, for sexual relations are a natural part of life, and sometimes one needs to tell a lie under certain circumstances, perhaps to safeguard another person from undesirable knowledge.
We therefore ask the yoga practitioner to exercise his own discretion with regard to the yamas. However, we must point out that the more the yamas are followed, within capacity and individual circumstances, the more likely it is that the mind will be calm and stable. This only occurs when there is no conflict between one’s conscience and one’s actions or thoughts. The five yamas are as
Ahimsa (non-violence): Non-violence should be practised as far as it is possible. This does not only mean physically, but also in thought and words. Of course, if someone causes you trouble and you have to fight, then do so, but without hatred or malice if it is possible. Just accept it as something that you must do. As one evolves and practises the higher stages of meditation, etc., the less one wants to hurt anyone, and the more one will feel compassion towards everything and everyone, including so-called enemies. Yet at the same time a highly evolved person will do his duty (dharma) even if it means harm to others.
Satya (truth): One should be as truthful as is possible, for lies and the covering up of lies involves much mental strain. Most people who tell lies are also under a constant fear, perhaps unconsciously, that their lie will be revealed to others. This subject covers various forms of lies such as pretending to be more than you are, richer than you are, hiding facts by only telling half the truth and so on. A further point is that we will eventually practise meditation to seek truth. How can we do this if we are not truthful to ourselves and our dealings with life?
Asteya (honesty and non-theft): Little explanation is required here regarding this rule of conduct. There are very few people, especially those who are inclined to do yoga, who will not feel mental or emotional disturbances, manifest or unmanifest, as a result of dishonesty.
Brahmacharya (sexual control): This is a code which
people do not take very seriously in this reasonably liberated modern world. “Why shouldn’t we have sexual relations?” most people will say. “It’s natural, isn’t it?” Yes, it surely is, and in fact more people have suffered emotionally throughout history by suppressing their natural desires, often in response to strict rulings proclaimed by various religions which have forgotten the real reason why the rule was originally made. People of today should interpret this rule to mean that they should reduce their sexual activity as much as possible, after fulfilling obligations to partners, if they want to have great success in meditational practices, real success that is. Why? What is the relationship between sex and meditation? The need for sexual intercourse is nothing but the build-up of energy, vital energy. When one completes the sexual act the body is drained of this vital force. Energy can manifest in different ways, and sexual energy is no exception to the rule. If this energy is redirected towards spiritual or meditational experiences, they will be highlighted and expanded. The reader must, however, find this out for himself.
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness): The idea here is that you can have belongings, but you must try not to be attached to them. Think of the unhappiness in your life that has been caused by the loss or damage of a prized possession. Consider also the continual fear you have that you might lose or damage your possessions. The overall result is that your mind is continually plagued by some kind of tension, perhaps consciously, though probably subconsciously. You can be a very rich person, yet if you
have this attitude of non-attachment you will be unburdened of many worries and tensions of the mind.
Niyamas or observances
These, like the yamas, are five in number. They are more concerned with the personal discipline of the practitioner. They are intended to prepare the spiritual aspirant for the arduous yogic path that lies ahead. Like the yamas (which are ethically inclined), the niyamas reduce mental and emotional conflicts and render the individual’s mind tranquil for concentration and meditation.
Shaucha (purity): This rule needs little explanation. One should keep the body as pure as possible by regular bathing and also by eating food that is as pure and nutritious as possible. If you don’t, then you will be more susceptible to diseases both internal and external and this is a great hindrance to meditational practices, for how is it possible to direct the mind inwards to the deeper realms when one’s attention is continually distracted by indigestion or any other ailment?
There is also another factor. One’s meditational capacity is related very much to the type of food one eats. If one eats impure and coarse food, then the mind is unlikely to be sensitive enough to respond to the subtle vibrations and experiences of meditation. The subtle states of meditation need a clear and pure mind in which to manifest. This rule also applies to the purification of the mind from disturbing thoughts and emotions. Since this is the whole reason for the yamas and niyamas, it implies
that yamas and niyamas must be practised.
Santosha (contentment): It is essential to develop the ability to withstand daily problems without being deeply affected, to be contented no matter what circumstances beset one. Most people have a continually changing mood because of the ups and downs of life. One moment they are happy, then something occurs and they suddenly become very unhappy. A mind that is continually fluctuating in this way is not suitable for meditation. For this reason contentment is of the utmost importance. Not external contentment to impress other people, but inner contentment. Easier said than done, you might say. This is true, but by continual development of the other yamas and niyamas and a conscious effort to accept what comes to you, no matter what, this contentment will surely come.
Tapas (austerity): This is intended to strengthen the willpower, by undergoing small austerities such as fasting, maintaining a vow of silence for a few hours and so on. This can help to discipline the mind. This tapas should not, however, involve suppression of the mind for this can do more harm than good. Willpower is absolutely necessary in yoga, for the mind is like a kitten which wanders here and there without purpose. It will try to make you do things you don’t want to do. In this way, it will bring more disturbances to the mind and thereby hamper your meditational practices. Willpower is the only way to bring it under control.
Swadhyaya (self-study): This has various interpretations, the most likely being that you should continually watch your actions and reactions with more awareness. See how you react to different situations and why you become happy in one situation and unhappy in another situation. If you become angry, ask yourself, “Why did I become angry?” If you are attached to certain things, ask yourself why you are attached to that thing and so on. By this continual self-analysis you will gradually find out how your mind works, at least on a superficial level, and you will become more aware of the things that disturb your mind.