Pratyahara (Con’t) – The Sense Organs
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The Indriyas – the Sense Organs
By its nature, the mind is in permanent motion and is affected in every moment by images, sounds and other messages, which it perceives through the senses.
According to yoga, the indriyas, or sense organs are 11 in number — comprised of 5 jnanendriyas, 5 karmendriyas, and manas (mind).
Jnanendriya comes from the roots jnana (wisdom), and Indra who was the God of the ‘sensory’ heaven in Hinduism. These are the 5 lower sense organs — those which allows one to perceive the world around them. They are:
- Shotra — ears
- Chakshu — eyes
- Grahna — nose
- Jivha — tongue
- Tvak — skin
Literally translated, karmendriya means ‘organ of action’ – that which facilitates our sensory contact with the outer world — or that which enables us to interact with the material objects of the world. These 5 organs of action are:
- Pada (feet) — for locomotion
- Pani (hands) — for dexterity
- Payu (rectum) — for excretion
- Upastha (genitals) — for reproduction
- Vak (mouth) — for speech
The Practice of Pratyahara
Control of the sense organs can, to a certain extent, be achieved relatively easily with a certain degree of effort and attention.
… Sight can easily be restrained by closing the eyes.
… The sense of smell can be tapered by slow and controlled breathing, whereby the air/odour does not reach the upper nasal passages which contain the olfactory sensors.
… Taste can be inhibited by cleaning the mouth and keeping it closed while breathing.
… and the tactile sense of touch can be muted by settling oneself into a comfortable and steady position.
… Even the faculty of hearing can be greatly mitigated by preparing a quiet place, free as much as possible from external sounds.
Likewise, the karmendriyas can be controlled:
… Employment of hasta mudras helps to bring conscious control over the hands.
… Asanas which lock up the legs, such as padma asana, or certain other sitting positions restrain the urge to move the feet (to wander).
… The practice of mauna, or silence restrains the speech.
… and ongoing cultivation of a healthy, restrained diet, and avoidance of alcohol, smoking, junk food and other indulgences can ease the cravings of the karmendriyas from mouth to anus.
… To a certain extent, the control of the sexual urge can be also be attained by removing oneself from sexual stimulating external factors. For instance, retreating into nature, practicing within a spiritual centre or community, or creating a special place/room within your abode that is reserved only for spiritual practice and thus becomes infused with pure energies.
Pratyahara relies solely on the development of the ‘Higher Mind’, to which the control of the sense organs must ultimately be elevated. As Swami Gitananda states:
… “It is in the sensory surrender to the ‘Higher Nature’ that the power of pratyahara exists.”
In Hindu mythology, the imagery of the warrior and the battlefield are used to represent the mind and its struggles with the overwhelming impressions from the sensorial world.
… The BHAGAVAD GITA, the dialogue between Lord Krishna and the leader of the Pandava army, Arjuna, at the commencement of the great battle at Kurukshetra, is the supreme metaphorical exposition of this inherent struggle of man. The battlefield represents the world in all its turbulence. Arjuna is the individual ‘Self’, confused and overwhelmed by it.
Doubtful that he has the ability to win the war himself, Arjuna gives the reins of his chariot to Lord Krishna and says: “You drive my war chariot for me. Let me sit quietly behind you and do what you tell me to do.”
Thus, when Krishna becomes his charioteer, Arjuna becomes more steadfast and calm… and able to perform his worldly tasks with precision, effectiveness and grace.
This allegory illustrates that when the senses are controlled via the Higher Mind, then the ‘Self’ can proceed with clarity and confidence that its will is a reflection of the ‘Divine will’.
… and so the fundamental lesson of yoga inherent in the concept of pratyahara is the relinquishing of the ‘lower mind’ to the dictates of the ‘Higher Self’.
Many wonderful insights into the role of the senses in the spiritual life are given in the BHAGAVAD GITA:
“The illuminated One has learned to deftly withdraw the senses from the attractions of the world, just as the turtle naturally pulls in its limbs to protect itself.”
~ Chapter 2, V. 58
“… Even those minds that know the path can be dragged away from it by unruly senses.”
~ Chapter 2, V. 60
“The delights that are contact-born [of the senses] are verily the wombs of pain; they have, oh son of Kunti, a beginning and no end. No wise man rejoices in them.”
~ Chapter 5, V. 22
The sense organs should not merely be ‘dulled’ in order to avoid being stimulated by them — which could simply be achieved by mechanical measures (such as plugging the ears or nose, or binding the feet and hands). It is wrong to think that we can merely ‘kill the senses’ and achieve a higher state of consciousness as a result.
Many practices in yoga have elements inherent within them related to pratyahara, such as the jnana yoga kriyas. For instance, the nishpanda jnana kriya can help to lead one into a certain level of pratyahara by stimulating a deep state of relaxation, while the prana jnana kriya, the surya jnana kriya and the Om japa kriya turn the attention to one faculty of perception and hence achieve withdrawal from all others.
There are also several more specific practices for training in pratyahara (and the control of the sense organs), such as the shabda kriya and shabda pratyahara techniques that can be introduced at various stages of yoga practice for the refinement and control of the senses.
These practices are explored in more detail, in their proper context, in the step by step yoga training provided through www.theyogatutor.com.
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