by Swami Krishnananda
Sva-vishayasamprayoge chitta-svarurpanukara ivendriyanam pratyaharah: Such is the definition of Pratyahara given in a Sutra of Patanjali. Having detached themselves from their respective objects, and having assumed, as it were, the nature of the mind, when the senses stand in union with the psyche, it may be said that there is Pratyahara or an abstraction of the senses. The senses not only move towards their objects, but identify themselves with the same, assume the form of those objects, become the objects as it were, losing their own self-identity for the time being. The subject becomes the object for all practical purposes. A wrenching oneself away from this false identification with that which one is not and a return to one's own self – for the time being, the mind – is the process of Pratyahara. Pratyahara means the opposite process.
"Yada panchavatishtante jnanani manasa saha, buddhischa na vicheshtati tamahuh paramam gatim", says the Kathopanishad. The five senses and the intellect, together with the mind, stand steady, the intellect does not oscillate, and there is an integrated fixity of the total psyche, like the flame of a lamp which does not flicker in a windless place – such is the nature of this great achievement or attainment called Pratyahara.
The personality of the individual is distracted and weakened on account of the energy getting spent out by way of sensory perception and contact. When we divide our property among various persons, there is a diminution in the extent of the property, or rather, when we lend out to various persons in the world the wealth that we have, we are left with very little for ourselves. The economic strength of ours is diminished, because of the fact that we have lent out all our money or property to other people. But, suppose we get the money back, the property or the wealth that was lent out is received back, then, again we are in our original status. The economic strength of ours is re-established in its pristine completeness. Something like this happens when we cognise objects through the mind, perceive through the senses, and lose ourselves in this oceanic distraction of sense-perception. There is a tearing up of personality, as it were, when there is too much of attachment to things of the world, attachment working through the sense-organs and propelled by the force of the desires. Man loses himself and becomes another in every form of attachment. The whole principle of Yoga is this much – the return of the consciousness of the Purusha to its own self. The more the Purusha ramifies its rays towards objects or the forms of Prakriti externally, the less it remains as the Purusha and the more it appears to be the Prakriti, having imbibed the characteristics of Prakriti. Purusha becomes the Prakriti, as it were. The subject becomes the object. Consciousness becomes matter. What can be worse than this? But, this is the essence of what we call Samsara, the aberration or the movement of the Self, away from itself, in the direction of what it is not. How can one become what one is not? It is logically an indefensible position; yet this is what happens. That is why they call it Maya, a kind of delusive operation, an illusion that is cast before us, an appearance of that which cannot happen at all. Yet, this happens in some way. The whole thing is a mystery. This mystery is called Maya. How can the subject become the object? How can Purusha become Prakriti? How can consciousness become matter? How can one become another person? But it has happened. This should not happen, and the great art of the return of the Purusha to itself through the various stages of the entanglement of Purusha in Prakriti is the great Yoga, whether of Patanjali or of anybody else.
When the mind is very much agitated, disturbed for any reason, it is difficult for anyone to exercise discrimination. The reason fails when the emotions become wild. And to say that reason has to be exercised at that moment is to talk through the hat! It will not work, because the emotions become turbulent only when the reason fails. The reason has already failed, and if at that time one says. "Exercise reason", it is not possible. However, among many other techniques that we have to adopt to avoid this circumstance of failing utterly in this manner, Patanjali mentions that some sort of a Kumbhaka may be of advantage when we are too much upset or disturbed by emotions of any kind. We have seen what Kumbhaka is and what Patanjali means by Pranayama. There is one particular Sutra where he seems to tell us that distractions of the mind can be checked temporarily by the expulsion of the breath and retention of the same outside, though this is neither a remedy for the activity of the mind nor a solution to the problem – Pracchardana-vidharanabhyam va pranasya. By an expulsion of the breath and a retention of the same outside after expulsion, the violent activity of the mind can be subdued – a procedure which one can experiment with in one's own daily life. When the breath is expelled and held, the mind ceases to think for a few seconds. Tensions are not relieved, of course, but they are held in abeyance. Their further growth or movement is restrained, just as the forward movement of wild animals is to a large extent restrained when they are controlled by a set of reins, though the wildness of the animals is not remedied merely by a check exercised upon them. Patanjali's Sutra does not prescribe a medicine for this illness of the mind in the form of violent attachments, but suggests a kind of tentative application of a method which will, for the time being, hold the mind in check from moving further on into greater and greater forms of velocity.
Every type of Kumbhaka is a help in the control of the mind. Because, the retention of the breath in Kumbhaka has a direct impact upon the workings of the mind. Prana and mind are very intimately related to each other. That is why so much importance is given to Pranayama in the Yoga Sastra. As we have noted earlier, whenever we try to concentrate our mind on any important subject or theme or activity, we hold our breath unconsciously – because, the movement of the Prana and the movement of the mind are almost parallel, and they act like brothers born to a single parent. One is an internal mechanism of power, another is the external application of it in the direction of the objects outside. We have already observed that the control of the senses should not be attempted with any excessive application of the force of will upon the senses and the mind. The whole of Yoga is an educational process; and education is not a force that is applied upon the mind, but a gradual remedying procedure. It is a growth into a healthy state of mind, into perfection finally. Thus, the impulsion of the mind working through the Pranas and the senses has to be taken care of with great caution, by understanding and application of other methods, such as the study of scriptures and living with a group in an atmosphere which is comparatively free from unnecessary distractions.
There are things in this world which are not absolutely essential for our lives, and there are things which are unavoidable. The unavoidables follow us wherever we go, and it should not be very difficult for any seeker or student of Yoga to free himself from involvement in things which are not essential. The first and foremost thing that we have to do is to find out what are the essentials and the non-essentials in life. This is not an easy thing to do, though it may look very simple. Because the mind is a trickster, it is very cunning in its actions, and it knows how to manipulate its longings. Every desire, every longing, every passion appears to be a necessary thing when it takes the upper hand. But, Viveka Sakti or the power of discrimination, when it is properly applied, will tell us what are the things that are really essential and most unavoidable. Those things that are even indirectly connected with our Yoga practice, and our minimum form of existence in the world, may be regarded as unavoidable. We cannot exist without them. Or, they are necessary in some way – socially, physically or psychologically – for helping us, aiding us for the time being, in the present state of affairs in our Yoga practices, though at a future date those so-called necessary things may become unnecessary. I may require a coat in winter. It does not mean that I require it always. Certain things are necessary under certain conditions and they are not necessary always. And we should not cling to them with greed. Often, we cannot distinguish between a luxury and a necessity. Every luxury looks like a necessity, because of the peculiar proclivity of the mind that is saturated with greed and covetousness of various types. That is why we come back once again to the point of the need for a good guide in Yoga. Because, without such a guide or a Guru, an immature man cannot know what is a luxury and what is a necessity; and he cannot know where he is side-tracked and led along the wrong way and given a false instruction that the path is the right one.
So, at the earliest stages of Yoga practice, if the student is sincere in his aspiration for Yoga, it is necessary that to the extent practicable under the conditions of his life, he should be away from such atmosphere which directly affects his peace of mind. Sometimes it will not be easy to apply this technique. Because a person who is working in an office, where he is subjected to severe harassment by his boss, may like to leave that place and go elsewhere. This is easily said and done. But then, while it is true that this gentleman can move away from the troublesome place of his office, it is quite possible that he may be moving from the frying pan into the fire. Because, even while he may gain something, he may lose something else. Circumstances of this type are galore in our life. We are not living under situations which are capable of compartmentalisation into airtight sections. Everything seeps into everything else. One thing seems to be connected with the other. And often it appears that we cannot take a bath in the ocean, after the waves subside. So, broadly speaking, these instructions are given to us that we may be away from things which are distracting and which are likely to cause emotional upheaval, create tension in the nerves and create social conflict. This is a very good admonition that is given to us by the elders. We should take the admonition seriously, though it may be hard when we actually try to live up to the advice, because life is not a straight-line movement along a beaten track. Oftentimes the movement called life is a winding process, with zigzag paths and blind alleys, various ups and downs, and with forces on the way which may directly oppose our further march. Difficult is life; it is not honey and milk. But, a sincerity in our heart, an honest longing to achieve the higher perfection in life, a love for God, we may say, has its own effect in spite of all the turmoils of life. Sincerity always pays and it never suffers. Where our heart is wedded solemnly to this noble practice, this sublime endeavour of Yoga, we are sure to receive blessings from the quarters of the world, from the angels in heaven, why, from God Himself.
The mind of man is sunk so deep in the forms of the objects of sense that it cannot awaken itself to a faith in the existence of God and the capacity of the angels in heaven to help man in his need. The whole world is a friend and it is a beautiful organisation of compassion and merciful forces. A good man never suffers, though often it is said that he only suffers. It looks as if it is so, but it is not so. There is, in the earlier stages, an appearance of the thriving of evil in the world, but it is an appearance only. In the long stretch of duration called eternity, these few years of our suffering are like the wisp of a second. So, we are likely to convert a mole into a mountain, and a little sorrow that has descended upon our heads, in the form of the powers of nature impinging upon ourselves, into a veritable hell. All our sufferings in life are, to a large extent, the repercussions produced by what we have done in the past. So, we should not be taken aback by these little sorrows of life. We should always remember that these are processes of purgation, of purification, and that we shall not be in this condition always. Finally, the world is very just and the law of the universe is exceptionally friendly.
That is why at some place Patanjali himself mentions that one of the best means of training the mind, of controlling the Vrittis, is contemplation on Isvara, Japa of the Mantra with a connotation of God's existence – Tajjapas tad-artha-bhavanam. But, apart from this inward affiliation of the seeking spirit with the higher powers of nature, a constant watch upon the disciple by a Guru is necessary. Our intellect may fail one day or the other if we try to stand on our own legs, because the world is too big for a little individual.