“Then what do you depend on? My own internal reactions. I read myself, not the person in front of me. I always know a lie because I want to turn my back on the liar.”
Frank Herbert

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Religiousness in Yoga Part 11: Antaraṅga, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, Samādhi


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part 1: Antaraṅga

… We have discussed the first four aṅgas, yama and niyama as attitudes and āsanas and prāṇāyāma as two limbs we can practice. The remaining four aṅgas are called antaraṅga sādhana, meaning “certain things we really cannot practice, rather they just happen.” All we can do is prepare ourselves for them to happen.

Part 2: Pratyāhāra

Let us discuss pratyāhāra, the fifth aṅga that involves the senses … The word āhāra means “food.” Pratyāhāra means “withdrawing from that on which we are feeding.” … when the senses refrain from “feeding” on their objects. If there is a beautiful sunset, our eyes are drawn to look at it. That is the normal way the senses function. It is possible, when we are completely absorbed in something, that even though the beautiful sunset is there, we won’t be seeing it … Normally … the senses register an object and the mind relates to that object … For example, it we are completely absorbed in the breath in prāṇāyāma, automatically there is pratyāhāra … The senses are capable of action but do not act because they are uninfluenced by their objects. They are withdrawn.

Pratyāhāra does not mean we look at an object and say “We are not going to look at that object.” The moment we focus upon the object we are going to look at it … If I see something and say, “I don’t want it,” that is not pratyāhāra. In this one part of the mind says, “come, let’s have it,” and the other part says, “No.”

Part 3: Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, Samādhi

The sixth aṅga is dhāraṇā … comes from the root dhṛ, “to hold.” Suppose there is a tank of water with channels extending from each side. If the channels are of the same depth, the water will flow equally in them all. If we dig one of the channels deeper, more water will flow in that one. That is an example dhāraṇā … when we create a condition so that the mind, going in a hundred different directions, is directed towards one point. We encourage a particular action of the mind and as this action becomes more intense, the other movements gradually subside … It is a state of mind where the mind orients itself towards one point and nowhere else …

… it is a step leading towards dhyāna. In dhyāna, when we become involved with a particular thing and we begin to investigate it, there is a link between myself and this thing … there is a perceptual and continuous communication between my mind and the object. If there is this communication, it is called dhyāna. Dhāraṇā must happen before dhyānaDhāraṇā is the contact. Dhyāna is the communication. Further, when we become so involved in an object that our mind completely merges with it, that is called samādhi. In Samādhi we are almost absent, we become one with that object. We lose our personal identity in the sense of name, job, family … there is no mental gap between us and the object. They merge. That is samādhi.

Remember, we don’t practice dhyāna. In the Yoga Sūtra the whole subject of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi is not explained in the chapter that describes practice. It has been placed in the third chapter where the effects of Yoga are discusses … perhaps I can create conditions that encourage something like dhāraṇā. Asana and prāṇāyāma can, according to the Yoga Sūtra, create a condition where the mind is fit for dhāraṇā. We can’t be returning from a lot of shopping and say we are going to do meditation. Little by little we have to allow the hundreds of things going on in the mind to subside. If they are too powerful dhāraṇā cannot happen. And if we try to do dhāraṇā while various things are happening in the mind there will be conflict.

Pratyāhāra is a result of a state of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi. It is put before dhāraṇā in the Yoga Sūtra, not because it occurs first but because it deals with the senses rather than the mind and is therefore a little more external than dhāraṇā.

… to facilitate the beginner getting a feeling of dhāraṇā … it is always best to start with the easiest thing, a comfortable seated posture, and an object that is pleasant – something that we like … Finally the object does not matter. However, it is important that it does not bring conflict and prevent us from focusing in one direction.

… It should not be mistaken that in the state of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi the senses are dead … They only act in relation to the direction of the mind and not against that direction. These actions of the senses perpetuate the state of dhyāna … they do function but just to serve the mind.

… In dhyāna there is a medium for communication which could be thinking. In samādhi there is not even this thinking. There is a sort of thinking because there is understanding, but it is very minor.

… The first chapter of the Yoga Sūtra explains how samādhi happens. First we reason … this is what we call vitarka and it uses much logic. Then vitarka stops because we can’t go on back and forth. So we reflect. That is called vicāra … As this reflection is refined, asmitā samādhi occurs … the feeling “I am with it.” Then we understand. At that moment we feel a state of blissful happiness. That is ānanda.

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