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Pratyahara - part 1
Pratyahara(pronounced Pratyāhāra) literally means gathering together or in common parlance focusing. The steps in Ashtaanga Yoga we discussed so far in the preceding articles should lead one to this stage having attained the balance of attitude and poise practicing pranayama niyama and yama.
The practice of yoga demands of one the steadfastness in setting personal goals. Pratyāhāra is the stage where you learn and practice to come to grips with the sensory systems in the body. We all know the system is made up of a sophisticated integrated network of sensory and motor mechanisms sustained by effective metabolism and robust bio-electric balances.
The attraction of yoga and its various fascinations does promote propensities in people for attaining instant success. History is awash with stories and tragedies of people misled by half bakes yogis who style themselves as healers and use dubious methods to provide the yogic experience as it were, essentially duping them. Mere hypnotism and true yoga have to be separated. It is possible for a hypnotist to individually or en mass exercise mental control over other people through suggestive means, some use objects while others use more subtle methods such as music. Many use charisma and elaborate 'mind blowing' paraphernalia basically to dupe the masses convincing them that 'this is it'.
The personal goals you set for yourself should be as serious as your life itself, if you want success in spiritual yoga. Swami Vivekananda likens the need and want to a level of madness if you want good focus. Everyone knows that we are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the world. They exert great influences on us by way of interacting and interlacing with the sensory systems equipped on us. One can say that human life is an array of intricate interactions between the external world and the internal world, the sensory mechanisms acting as the intermediate 'bus' between the objects external and the brain-mind-stuff internal.
Prior to a better understanding of Pratyahara it is better to establish a track of how the external world actually gets through to us. We mentioned earlier that we live amidst the 'din and bustle'. It is well nigh impossible for ordinary folk to deny the din and make a forced withdrawal inward. Sadly the sheer demand and need for people craving for the so called “peace of mind” fall easy prey for a large segment of manipulators specialized as shrinks or pseudo yogis who promise and superficially dole out experiences that are nothing but hypnotic trances. Strangely many of them are well meaning people who have built strong reputations as schools of Peace. The word Shanthi in Sanskrit has deeper meanings beyond peace. T.S.Eliot ends his Nobel clinching work The Waste Land with the word made into a phrase by repetition thrice. He also translated the word making it closer to the real intent of the yogis – Peace that passeth understanding!
If true shanthi is part of your spiritual yogic goals, it is also good to understand why the word has become a chant phrase repeated three times in almost all vedic prayers. The interaction of the human being with the external world is both voluntary and involuntary. Repetition being an essential tool for emphasis if, you repeat shanthih – shanthih – shanthih it does convey three significant clues as to how varied our interactions with the external world are and how multi dimensionally tactile they react on us! For a better understanding of the three kinds of shanthi let me introduce three Sanskrit terms, adhibhautika, adhidaivika, adhyātmika.
The three words respectively mean: pertaining to the bhuta or living beings; pertaining to the daiva or fate, unseen forces or 'gods'; pertaining to the atma or the body-mind equipage. So the repetition of 'shanthi' goes much beyond the pale shallowness of a mere hypnotic hint. Without elaborating on the details of these terms suffice it to know that everyone of us is in constant continual interaction with our surrounding living forms, the unseen but vividly present forces we call fate or the gods, as also atma the inevitable third party completing the reactionary aspect of life! Interacting with all the three aspects gives us joys, sorrows, thralldom, pleasure and pain. For the sake of brevity and justice to our theme of Pratyāhāra let us agree with the rishis ancient and modern that in order to each the goal of true shanthi and spiritual yoga, one has to overcome sickness caused by all the three aforementioned aspects or reactants.
To fully 'live the life' at the same time remain unaffected by the three sick states, while not falling a prey to the short-cut hypnotiques, is a prerequisite to Pratyahara. Is the yogic experience exclusive to the monks? Can ordinary folks dream of it?
Beyond doubt the rishis even guarantee that it is within the reach of everyone. With guidance and prudence all can be privy to the experience the greatest of great Yogis sought and found! Swami Vivekananda assures that six months of true focus is what you need to become a true Yogi.
We will continue with Pratyāhāra with more content next week.
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