The Yoga-Vasishtha says that Pranas are distracted in various forms. And when they are highly distracted, it is not safe to resort to Pranayama, especially with retention. There should be an appreciable calmness in emotions, and in the mind particularly, before any effort is made in Pranayama. The Pranas are very distracted, and sometimes very forceful in a particular direction, due to intense desire, worry, anxiety and emotional disturbances of various types. Where there is any waxing problem sitting in the mind, it would be dangerous to close the breath or do Pranayama, because the mind and the Pranas are related in an inseparable manner. Any kind of nervous or psychological frustration must be treated first, and the tension released to the extent necessary, before the breathing process is resorted to.
In the earliest of stages, the technical Pranayama of the Yoga system will not be practicable. Only deep inhalation and deep exhalation will be possible. Most of us do not breathe in the proper manner. We breathe in and breathe out in a shallow way. There is no intensity either in inhalation or in exhalation. There is no sufficient intake of breath. The intake is not as much as is necessary for the health of the system. So, it would be proper to practise deep inhalation and deep exhalation. And this should be done in a well-ventilated place, and not in a closed room, because fresh air is necessary. Fresh air does not mean a cold blast, but a comfortable breeze. A little movement of air is necessary to derive the benefit of this breathing exercise-deep inhalation and deep exhalation. This inhalation and exhalation itself is very conducive, not only to physical health, but also to mental peace.
Exhalation, Inhalation and Retention
There are varieties of Pranayama in the Hatha Yoga Sastra. But, all of them, as in the case of the Asanas in the Hatha Yoga system, are only contributory in their effects; they are not the main intention behind the practice. The various methods of breathing known as Pranayama are finally directed to a kind of mastery over the breathing process in an appreciable measure. The standard type of breathing is known as Sukha Purvaka Pranayama. Perhaps this is what is in the mind of Patanjali when he speaks of Pranayama, though he does not use this word Sukha Purvaka. Exhalation, inhalation and retention - Rechaka, Puraka and Kumbhaka - are the three types of the Pranayama process.
In the beginning, there should be an expulsion of breath. The Sukha Purvaka describes that the right nostril should be closed with the thumb of the right hand, and then through the left nostril the breath should be let out. There should be a very slow, gradual, but deep exhalation, and then a calm, deep indrawn breath in the form of inhalation through the left nostril. There is no need of retention in the beginning. After the inhalation, the breath should be let out through the right nostril by releasing the thumb and holding the left nostril with the ring finger; and the same process should be continued in a reverse process once again, by inhalation through the right nostril, and then exhalation through the left, and so on and so forth continuously. This is a more advanced form of breathing than the mere inhalation and exhalation through both the nostrils without holding the nostrils with the fingers. So, this may be said to be the second stage of the attempt. In the earlier stages, we do not hold the nostrils. We simply breathe in and breathe out slowly as an ordinary physical exercise. We may breathe through both the nostrils, or through one, as the case may be; but in the second stage, this improvement is made by alternate breathing without retention.
Then, in the third stage, we can consider the extent of the necessity to hold the breath, which holding is called Kumbhaka. This should be done with great caution, and one should not jump into extremes, because while Yoga prescribes the retention of breath as a necessary prelude to the higher techniques, it is not the whole of Yoga, and to spend the whole of one's life in mere breathing processes would be like spending the whole of one's life in studying the grammar only, and not going further to literature and the purpose behind it. We may say that Pranayama is the grammar of Yoga, but that is not the whole of Yoga. Pranayama is an essential thing, but not the entire thing.
Three Pranayamas are mentioned by Patanjali, and these are the Rechaka, the Puraka and the Kumbhaka. The expulsion also is a Pranayama process, the inhalation also is a process of the same kind, and retention is also that. But, the author of the Yoga Sutra seems to prefer a fourth type as we can gather from the way he speaks in his Sutra. This type of Pranayama is called the Kevala-Kumbhaka, a sudden retention of the breath without attention being paid either to inhalation or to exhalation, as it happens for instance, when we do something which requires concentration of the mind. When we lift a heavy weight, for instance, the breath stops immediately. Or when we walk on a narrow bridge or a precipice, we walk with great caution lest we should fall, and we instinctively hold the breath for a while, and we do not think of the breath at that time.
Perhaps we are not even aware that the breath is being held. We neither breathe in nor breathe out; we suddenly stop it. And this happens whenever we do anything which requires attention or concentration. So, Kevala Kumbhaka seems to be that method whereby an automatic holding up of the breath takes place, due to the attention of the mind getting fixed on one particular object.
In the commentaries on the Yoga system, great details are mentioned - details such as the period of time for which we have to sit for the purpose of Pranayama, the counting process for recording time for Kumbhaka, Rechaka and Puraka, and so on. These detailed instructions are not necessary for the beginner wanting to practice elementary exercises in Pranayama. They relate to highly technical Pranayama exercises, which are neither practicable nor necessary for students in the beginning stage. However, we have to bear in mind that Prana is a very important item and that we cannot ignore its existence. Our health, our strength, and to some extent, our peace of mind also, is dependent upon the nature of the Prana's movements inside. Our strength is due to the harmonious movement of the Pranas and our weakness is due to their distracted movement or chaotic activity.
Prana and Mind
Many times there has been a controversy as to whether Prana influences the mind or the mind influences the Prana. This is a futile controversy, because both are interdependent. We cannot say which influences what. They influence each other mutually. When the Pranas are disturbed, the mind is also disturbed, and vice versa. So, it would be good and wise on our part to take into account the thinking process as well as the breathing process simultaneously. Raja Yogins have said that the calming down of the mind, especially in its emotional aspect, is more important than the holding of the breath merely. Calming down of the mind is of primary importance, because the mind is the internal mechanism behind the movement of the breath outside.
Therefore, it is necessary to pay more attention to the mental processes than their outward expression in the form of the movement of the Pranas. When the mind is steadied, the Prana settles down of its own accord in a proper manner. But, if the mind is unsteady and is disturbed for any reason, any amount of holding of breath may not help, though it may contribute somewhat towards the achievement of mental control. So, Pranayama and Pratyahara are twins, as it were, in this internal Yoga technique of self-control.
The Pressure of Unfulfilled Desires
Regulation of the breath is necessary not only for purposes of mental concentration, but also for maintaining physical health. For the practice of Yoga, we should not be too much sick, though all of us, as human beings, are prone to illness of various kinds. While the health of the Prana means the health of the body and the entire organism, the other factors which go to contribute to our ill-health should also be taken into account, and we should not place ourselves in such circumstances where we are likely to be drawn to ill-health in spite of our efforts. An unsanitary atmosphere, bad social conditions, and other types of tension of a similar nature may be factors which tend to ill-health. Physical ill-health is the first obstacle that harasses us in our attempt to practise Yoga. We wish to lie down and take rest. We have either headache or neck pain or joint pain; sometimes even temperature. We suffer from disturbances of this type caused by hundreds of ailments, all of which have to be taken into account in some manner.
The Yoga-Vasishtha has it that while the Pranas are no doubt disturbed by physical or physiological disorders or chemical disturbances in the stomach, more properly they are disturbed by unfulfilled desires. It is dangerous to practise Yoga with desires inside, because they will burst forth like dynamite. It is true that there cannot be a human being with no desires at all in his mind. Such a thing is not possible; such a thing is unheard of. But, there should not be such desires as will violently disturb us. There should not be a gusto of internal impulse in any direction. Mild, normal desires are present in every person. No one can be free from it. But, they are not harmful, because many a time we are not even aware that they are there, except when they actually manifest themselves in a grosser form, in a direction of fulfilment.
All desires do not seek fulfilment at the same time. One by one they come, or one or two come at different times, according to the circumstance of each case. We have mild desires which have to be fulfilled because of the very nature of the body and the life we live in the world. But, there are tensions caused by other kinds of urges which are hard to fulfil, and the fulfilment of which may not be helpful also. Such emotions may rise due to physiological causes, or the social atmosphere in which we live, or reading literature of a type which may disturb the mind, or going to movies as it is the case these days. These emotions can upset the mind completely for days together, and it would be hard to bring this restless horse of a mind back to its resting place. So, if we are to be sincere in our efforts at the practice of true Yoga, we have to be socially sober and harmonised, and internally alert by means of Yama and Niyama, the canons of discipline.
The intention behind the practice of the process called Pranayama is the restraint of the senses. The senses are the instruments by which the Prana operates, in the direction of any particular object or goal in one's outward life, which is a means of satisfaction of the mind. The mind is the dynamo inside that generates the energy passing through the Prana, which moves through the avenues of the senses, in the direction of particular objects of sense. That is why we have the wise instruction in the third chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, where we are told that the senses cannot be controlled unless the mind is controlled, and the mind cannot be controlled unless the intellect is disciplined, and the intellect cannot be restrained unless it is rooted in the heart. "Indriyani paranyahur-indriyebhyah param manah, manasastu para buddhiryo buddheh paratastusah."
In the Kathopanishad, the instruction goes inio greater detail: "Manasastu para buddhih buddheratma mahan parah; mahatah paramavyaktam avyaktat purushah parah; purushan na param kinchit-sa kashtha sa para gatih." We will enter into the meaning of this verse further on, when we discuss the nature of meditation. So, it comes to this that the senses have to be restrained in their unnecessary activities, by a control exerted over the Prana, which again has to be achieved by subduing the mind to some extent. We cannot subdue the mind at one stroke. That is an attainment which comes to us in deep meditation, and not before. But, a preliminary attempt can be made as in medical treatment, where we employ certain methods to help improve the health, though the health is not improved wholly.
Necessity for the Guiding Hand of the Guru
Each student of Yoga should be honest to himself or herself. Oftentimes, we cannot reveal our hearts to other people. Many times we cannot reveal our hearts to our Guru himself, because of diffidence, and sometimes because of the shame that we feel, or a weakness of a different type altogether which we cannot control, but of which we ourselves are afraid. Social circumstances in the world are such that many times we are forcefully converted into derelicts psychologically. There is something to say about the social condition in which we are living. It has not always been a helpful master. Many a time it has punished people unjustly, due to its own laws not understanding human psychology. But, Yoga is not a social discipline. It is a psychological discipline, and more primarily, a spiritual discipline.
A Guru is one to whom we can open our heart wholly, and there should be no kind of hesitation or reservation in his case. This is because the Guru is not just a person in the world; he is a superior individual who has risen over individuality to some extent, and therefore, he can accommodate any kind of psychological repercussions through which a student has to pass, because he himself has passed through all those stages, and they would not be repellent to him. No disease is repulsive to a doctor, because he is a person who is acquainted with all diseases, contagious, infectious, repulsive, whatever they may be. So is the case with mental tensions and impulses and desires.
We are many a time fired up with a love for God, for which reason we feel like renouncing the world in a formal manner. This happens when some light is shed on our mind, due to certain peculiar circumstances in our life, when we are awakened to a higher reality. But it does not mean that this flash of insight, which has created in us a spring of the spirit of renunciation, is the same as a control over our mind. When a large flood overwhelms the little streams that flow in their natural course, their very existence is not seen, but when the flood subsides, we can see these little streams in their true colours. Likewise, when a flood of inspiration overwhelms us in the form of a spirit of renunciation or God-love, we may not be aware at all that we have any desire in our minds, because we are possessed at that time.
And any person possessed by something cannot know what he is. But, the possession does not continue for long. No one can be possessed by anything throughout one's life. So, when the possession is no more, we are normal persons once again, and we then know what we are in our true colours.
So, again, we are in this peculiar situation where we need a guide. To imagine that we are masters is a foolhardy attitude. Not one can be so sure that he will be able to plant his feet firmly on the ground of the spirit. A day comes when we totter. So, guidance is necessary. In the restraint of the senses which is Pratyahara, the withdrawal of the energies of the sense-activity, we have to be psychologically guarded and intellectually alert, though at the same time we may be spiritually aspiring. God's grace is the greatest strength, and there can be no greater strength than that. We will finally find that we have not got that strength to control the senses or to control the mind. At a stage, we feel helpless. In the beginning, we seem to have great powers. We can perform great feats of self-control. We can fast, we can observe vigil, and do Japa and meditation, and do Svadhyaya and everything. All seems to go well, until we are faced with that terrific whirlwind of counter-action from the powers of Nature which we will not be able to face, and here God only is our help. Who can face this world? It is a mighty demoness and our puny efforts will not stand the fury of the forces of the world.
Prayer - A Sure Source of Strength
So, again we come to a point of importance we discussed earlier, namely, prayer. We must be in a prayerful mood of humble submission to the Almighty every moment of time. Let no one be under the impression that he is a Raja Yogi, and therefore not in need of God. That is a mistake. One cannot perform this feat of Yoga practice alone. God's grace is necessary. The greatest Yogis were humble and submissive in their attitude. Prayer works miracles, wonders; and a humility of attitude on our side will be a great asset to us. Everyday we have to offer our prayers to the great Master, our Guru, and to the great Almighty who is our great benefactor and friend. And, by the sincere prayers that we offer to God, we invoke His benedictions, and God's actions are instantaneous. He will do the Sadhana for us; in fact, He does the Sadhana. All our activities are God's activities, finally speaking. We are like small children imagining that we are doing many things, while all these things are being done by somebody else for our sake. He is a kind parent. We should not forget His existence. Prayer to God everyday is a sure source of strength to us in this arduous, adventurous task of the practice of Yoga, especially sense-control. So goes the technique.
Physical Isolation - Not a Solution to the Problem of Attraction
The senses have to be withdrawn. The Yoga scriptures tell us that there are various stages of Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. In the earlier stages, it may appear that Pratyahara or sense-control means the cutting off of the sense-organs from the respective objects. We place ourselves in a different atmosphere altogether, where the objects are not present. We go away from Cape Comorin to the Himalayas, because of the fact that the objects that disturb our mind are in Cape Comorin. So, this is one stage, good enough, and perhaps necessary. We do not place ourselves physically in an atmosphere of disturbance. Any place that causes a vacillation of the mind, or a disturbance of the emotions, may be avoided by cleanly moving away from that place, and being away somewhere until the time this disturbance subsides. Because the presence of an object is sure to create a vibration in the senses, the Pranas and the mind.
This moving away is not, however, a remedy for the difficulty of the senses. Because, the Bhagavad Gita has already warned us: Vishaya yinivartante niraharasya dehinah, rasavarjam rasopyasya param drishtva nivartate. When we are physically away from the objects of attraction, we are abstemious and starving, and in that sense we may say that we are self-controlled, but the taste for the objects has not left us, and it cannot go. Physical isolation of oneself from the location of an attraction is not a solution to the problem of that attraction, because one will have a liking for it in the mind, and one will wish it were there if it could be possible; and the mind is not happy that it has been severed physically from its loved object. While this physical isolation is a necessary process and a very beneficial one, it is not enough; and if one resorts to this practice only and to no other higher method in the sublimation of the desires, there can be a violent tumult from inside, and it can lead to any kind of aberration, nervous and psychological.
Thus, sense-control, while it is an absolutely essential technique of practice, is also a very, very dangerous handling of things. Because, desires are not in the senses, they are in the mind. So sense-control means, at the same time, a sort of mental control. The mind is not outside us. To control the mind means to control one's own self. Mental control and sense-control finally mean self-control.
The mind is that impulse which arises from every part of our organism. When a river which is flowing has been blocked in its movement by a barrage or dam, it seeks an expression or outlet with a wholeness of its energy, and it is not just a part of the waters of the river that has this urge. The entire body of water is seeking expression, if possible and practicable, and if the dam bursts, there would be a wholesale devastating movement of the river from every part of it, and not from only one side of it. So it is what we call desire. Desire does not arise from any part of the body, and even when it looks that some sense organ has a particular desire, it is only one avenue of expression of a total impulsion from the whole of our organism, just as one little outlet of the dammed river may let out the waters in one direction only, notwithstanding the fact that the whole river is at its back with its push to force itself out through the aperture. So, even when it appears that it is only one sense organ that is active and the others are silent, we should not be under the false notion that the other senses are keeping quiet.
The senses are like experts in military science. In a battle, it is not as if all the soldiers will attack at the forefront at one stroke. There is a technique of attack. A part of the regiment will be active and the others will be quiet for a very important reason. It does not mean that the latter are sleeping. Likewise, when one sense is active and the other senses are inactive, it does not mean that the latter are sleeping and that we have nothing to do with them. They are inactive for a very important reason, as some soldiers in the battlefield may be inactive for reasons they only know. So, one should be cautious about all the sense organs, though it may appear that there is nothing wrong with some of them.
Though we may be troubled by one or two sense organs only, in truth, every sense organ is turbulent. Because of the wisdom that is there. in the senses, they practise a technique of individualised channelisation of themselves, and not a wholesale attack, which they know will not succeed. But, whatever be the sense organ that works at a particular moment of time, the desire that propels it arises from the whole organism of the body. The whole system is desireful. It does not mean that only the eye has a desire or only the ear has a desire. It is not so. Whatever we are in our totality wells up with a desire for something. And that whole urge within us in the form of a desire, is leaked out through a particular aperture called the sense organ. Sometimes, all organs can also act at the same time. So, we are a bundle of desires, and we should not think that we are outside the desires. We should not imagine that the desires are concentrated only in the mind that is outside us or in the senses that are external.
The mind is not outside us. It is nothing perceptible as an object externally. The mind is only a name that we give to the externalised urge of ourselves in a wholesale fashion. Our own movement or impulsion externally is called the mind, and therefore, we are the mind. So, when it is said that the mind has desires, it is we who have the desires, it is I who have the desires. And the 'I' is not a dot in my personality. It is the whole thing that I am, from head to foot, in every fibre of my being and in every cell of my body. So, man is mind and mind is desire. And thus, the Pratyahara process becomes a larger adventure on our part than a little effort that we think would be required to control our sense organs.
Relative Intensity of Various Desires and How to Meet Their Challenge
If the question be asked of any person, "What desire do you have?", he will perhaps say, "Nothing". This is not true. The desires cannot manifest themselves when they need not manifest themselves. This is very important to remember. When they do not manifest themselves, it does not mean that they are not there. Why do they not manifest themselves? Because there is no necessity, for reasons of their own. Why should a person speak when he has no necessity to speak? He keeps quiet. He speaks only when it is necessary. Because a person does not speak, it does not mean that he is incapable of speaking. He speaks when it is required.
So is the case with the senses. Why should they express themselves always, when they have other satisfactions in life? When one's whole personality is engrossed in a particular type of satisfaction, there is no necessity to seek another kind of satisfaction; unless the particular kind of satisfaction in which one is engrossed finally turns out to be dissatisfying and not up to the mark. When a person has some kind of fulfilment in life and is happy about it, the other urges in him do not reveal themselves. Why should they? But, when the fulfilment which is appearing to satisfy him now does not come up to the mark, and turn out to be not really satisfying or not wholly satisfying, and some lacuna is found in it, he will slowly begin to have a vision of the presence of other avenues of satisfaction. And he will see a new light altogether, of the way in which satisfaction can be projected out in the world of space and time, by other techniques of approach.
So, every student of Yoga should be a great psychologist of his own mind. He must understand all these techniques of the mind and he must know how to deal with the mind at different times. When the mind is violent, what should be done? When it is sensible and reasonable in its asking, how to deal with it? And when it says nothing and is sleeping, what is one expected to do? There are three stages of desire. First, there is a very violent, tumultuous uproar and damaging clamour. At that time, what is one to do? It should be thought over. At other times, when the mind is very sensible and its requirement is justified, what is to be one's answer? In the third instance, the mind will say nothing. It will go to sleep. What is to be done then? These things are mentioned by Patanjali in a Sutra where he says that the desires may be sleepy, they may manifest themselves alternately like a current of electricity, not coming always in the same way, or they may be violent.
At every one of these stages we have to find a method to be adopted, proper to the occasion. The sleeping enemy is sometimes more dangerous than the working enemy, because the former, in his sleep, is rejuvenated into further activity. The so-called impulse in us, called desire, is an intelligent urge. It is not a stupid impulse. Every desire is intelligent and knows how to fulfil itself by hook or by crook, by the adoption of various means. Now, every desire is not a devil, though every desire is capable of turning into a dangerous weapon when it can completely defeat our purpose.
Hence, the necessary means of overcoming desires in different stages have to be thought over in the beginning itself: when a particular technique is adopted by the enemy, what is going to be my reaction to it? The student of Yoga must be a master of warfare, in a sense. He should know all the methods that he has to employ and others can also employ. When a particular weapon is wielded by the enemy, how to counteract it? We find various Astras or missiles mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. There is the Narayanastra, there is Brahmastra, there is Varunastra, there is Mohanastra, and so many others. And, when a particular missile is launched by the enemy, we must know what is coming. We should not be under the impression that some friend is coming, and by timely detection of the nature of the thing that comes towards us, we will be in a position to counteract it and neutralise it with our own counter-missile. Otherwise, if we are not alert, if we are wool-gathering, we will not know what is happening.
The Philosophy of Desires and Desire Fulfilment
To some extent, we are required to know the structure of our mind. A philosophical education is necessary before a psychological education. The practice of Yoga comes afterwards. So, before the practice of Yoga begins, there is the need for psychological knowledge founded on a philosophical discipline. We should not suddenly jump into practice. Desires arise in the mind due to the very nature of our existence in the world, on account of the very circumstance of our life, and the relationship we bear to things outside. All desires are our longings for the lost spirit of ourselves. We are actually asking for our own selves. We are not asking for things.
It may be asked: "What is the meaning of saying, 'We are asking for ourselves'? It is very clear that we are asking for something else". This so-called something that we are asking for is only an instrument that we employ to rouse a kind of mood in our mind that will reflect a form of satisfaction in our own selves. This is a rather difficult idea to grasp. The world is visualised by us as a tool for our satisfaction; the world itself is not the source of our satisfaction. We cannot rouse ourselves into a mood of happiness merely in our own selves without the instrumentality of objects outside. The universal Self is the ultimate source of happiness for everyone. All joy is in this Being that is all-pervading.
The almighty Absolute is the source of happiness, the embodiment of bliss; the thing that we are seeking, and that which drags us in the direction of the so-called objects of sense. When we are asking for objects of sense, we are asking for God finally; a thing which we will not be able to appreciate at present in the psychological circumstance in which we are placed. Everywhere, God is speaking through every object. Perhaps, that is why the Kathopanishad tells us somewhere in one verse that the roads along which the chariot of this body is to be driven towards the goal are the objects of sense. The Upanishad tells us only this without giving much of a commentary thereon. The objects of the world are the roads along which we have to drive our organism for the attainment of Vishnu-Loka: Tad-vishnoh paramam padam (Abode of the Lord).
The world is neither a friend nor an enemy; it is what it is. We have to understand this and not exploit this. The great source of joy is the Selfhood that is universal, but the universal Self has become an individualised self. That which is the infinite Purusha has become a finite Jiva. So, when one asks for the fulfilment of a particular wish or longing, one is asking for the infinitude of one's own self that is the Purustra. The Jiva, the localised individuality, seeks expression through the objects of sense for the establishment of its own self in the Purushahood of itself. It is the infinitude of the Purusha that everyone is asking for, not the objects of the world. But, because infinitude is imperceptible and the world alone is perceptible, people run to that which is visible to the senses, and in the process, the invisible supernal urge for infinitude is completely ignored, and people know not if such an urge is really there at all!
Difficulty of Sense-control and the Need for God's Grace
A little bit of understanding has to be exercised in the control of the senses. Philosophical discipline is necessary to train ourselves in the direction of this understanding. We should not be under the impression that it is easy to control the senses. Nobody has done it and it is not easy to do it. The senses are very terrible. We cannot control the senses by force of will. But they can be subdued to some extent, in the same way as a chronic illness can be controlled to some extent. Such illness cannot be eradicated totally, but it can be checked in its vehemence to some extent. The senses, too, can be subdued somewhat, but they can be completely conquered only in deep meditation, in Samyama, in Samadhi, and finally, in Kaivalya Moksha. Not before that.
As per the Pratyahara technique mentioned in the Yoga Sastras, the withdrawal of the senses is attempted in many ways. The earliest and the grossest form of it is a physical isolation of oneself from tempting things. Then, having placed oneself in a suitable atmosphere, one has to ruminate or muse over the circumstances of perfect control over even the desire for sense objects and not merely over a perception of them. Even the taste for sense objects has to go.
Vairagya or abandonment, relinquishment or renunciation, is an absence of desire. Vairagya or Viraga means absence of Raga. That means freedom from longing. Freedom from longing internally is called Vairagya or renunciation. Vairagya is not just a physical dissociation from objects. But, how can we be free from longing for a thing, when we know that it can satisfy us in some way? We are muddled in our heads; and therefore, we are under the impression that objects can satisfy us.
So, intellectual education is necessary once again; a rational investigation is called for. We cannot subdue our desires unless we are assured that the desires are wholly fulfilled, either by actual extinguishing of them by providing them with their demands, or a sublimation of them by deep understanding. Here, God's grace is vitally important. God only can help us, not anybody else. Daivi hyesha gunamayi mama maya duratyaya, mameva ye prapadyante mayametam taranti te. It is God's force or Sakti which manifests itself as desire. Who can stand before it? Not all our strength can be of any avail before God's Sakti. Hercules cannot stand before God's Sakti. The only way out for the spiritual seeker is to surrender himself to Him and say, "O God! Help me, I am helpless", and He will take care of the seeker.
Pratyahara in Patanjali's Yoga
Patanjali does not go into larger details of the Pratyahara process, but he gives us a very important definition. He says that Pratyahara is that state where the senses appear to be one with the mind. They are no more outside the mind; they have become the mind itself as it were. The rays have been withdrawn by the sun and nothing emanates from him afterwards. The senses have assumed the Svarupa or the form of the mind itself, as it were. That is Indriya Pratyahara.
The mind becomes weak, when a part of it goes out, just as the electric powerhouse can become weak in its content of voltage, if there are too many electric connections given beyond the permissible limit. Likewise, the mind can become weak by connecting itself too much with things outside. But, when all the connections are cut off, the powerhouse meter shows a rise in voltage at once. Likewise, one can realise a rise in the voltage of strength in the mind, the moment the connections of the Indriyas with sense objects are severed completely. Just as in the case of a river whose movements are blocked by a dam, there is an immediate rise in the level of water, the level of energy rises in the mind, when the avenues of expression in the form of the senses are closed.
This is the information available regarding Pratyahara in Patanjali's Yoga, but the commentators go into some more details. One of the Rishis is supposed to have said that the highest form of sense-control is that state of mind when one is not able to see at all anything that is in front of him. A person in that state is not able to see anything even if he keeps his eyes open. Sometimes, it happens to us in ordinary life also. If our mind is engaged deeply in thinking something, we may be keeping our eyes open, but nonetheless will see nothing, even if a motorcar speeds by; and we will hear nothing, even if a gun-shot is fired nearby.This is because of the deep absorption of the mind in some particular thing. So, the highest achievement in Pratyahara is that stage where, even when the senses are active, we are not able to visualise anything in front of us. This is the pinnacle of Pratyahara, but to achieve this state, we have to keep proceeding by degrees.