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Yogic Meditation And Action - Johannes Aagaard

Yoga the art of deconditioning man

Mircea Eliade in his books on yoga gives a penetrating analysis of the ideology and praxis of yoga, going far beyond and contradicting the popular and misleading presentations, given by the different yoga-schools themselves. While they try to propagate their way of life as the maximum of creative existence and as the ideal therapeutic way of personal self-realization, Eliade clearly points to the fact that the factual aim of yoga is "death to the profane human condition, rebirth to a transcendent modality. The yogi endeavors totally to "reverse" normal behavior: he imposes on himself a petri­fied immobility of the body (asana), the cadencing and suspension of respiration (pranayama), the fixation of the psychomental flow (ekagrata), the immobility of thought, the stoppage of the semen. On all levels of human experience he does the opposite of what life calls, him .to do....The "reversal" of normal behaviour places the yogi outside life."

Yoga is - according to Eliade - a rejection of life. The real yogi has to "die" to this life and to "sacrifice" the personality born of temporality and created by hi­story.

Note: Patanjali and Yoga 1976 p. 197 ff.

This interpretation of yoga is born out of an intimate knowledge in yogic theory and praxis. Eliade has tried the yogic way of life under the supervision of guru Surendranath Dasgupta, and his knowledge as a scholar of the history of religions is uparallelled.

Note: See his Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, 1973, which is the book on yoga.

A similar but not identical interpretation is given by Arthur Koestler in his The Lotus and the Robot from 1960, in which he concludes that the aim of yoga is the anni­hilation of the self and that yoga as such is to be understood as the attempt to wrench the bodily reflexes devoted to survival and press them into the service of death. "The body must be at the peak of its form to be­come capable of annihilating itself, partially or totally, at the will's command."
Note: p. 130 f.

Theos Bernard, a young American put his body at the dis­posal of all possible yogic-experiments and wrote a clini­cal presentation of his findings. This book confirms with a wealth of detail the interpretation of yoga given by Eliade and Koestler.

Mircea Eliade defines Pratyahara as "a faculty of de­livering sensory activity from the control of external objects."

Note: Patanjali and Yoga, p. 82

The intellect (citta) normally gets its sensations and its content-matter from the world, the external world of sense-data. To verify means to confront and test ideas and opinions with "hard facts" in the external world.

For the yogic mind this external world however is not real and not true. It is conditioned by time and hi­story. Man is what history makes him. Man is as a human being a temporal and historical being and that means for the yogic mind that man is an unreal being, a being which is alienated from reality, caught up in the il­lusion that he lives a real life.

Note: Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, 1973 p. XVI f
Note: Hatha Yoga, a Report of a Personal Experience, 1950

Written by a Westerner this book gives all the information, which is also given by many gurus, but here all the pieces fit together and reveal a system of subjugation and suppres­sion - in the service of death.
His conclusion is very simple and clearout: Yoga is the reversal of all important processes of life. Note: I have described the relation between salvation and and death in the system of tantric yogi, Swami Narayanananda in Nordisk Nissions Tidsskrift, Nission 77, No. 1, I977.

In the context of this present article we are first of all interested in getting at that part of yoga which has the most immediate consequences for the yogic way of life, espe­cially as this way of life has social and political conse­quences. Many approaches are possible, but we have chosen first off all to analyse the concept of pratyahara and its  praxis.

This conditioning is an expression of the temporality of human beings. Man is in reality nothing but a series of "conditions". This fact is in Western philosophy and -theology turned against traditional ontological tendencies. In Indian thought this conditioning is first of all analyzed and interpreted in order to be able to de-condition man. "With a rigor unknown elsewhere, India has applied itself to analyzing the various conditio­nings of the human being..." in order first of all to see if "anything else exists beyond these conditionings."
Note: idem p. XVII

"What modern Western philosophy terms "being situated", "being constituted" by temporality and historicity" has its counterpart, in Indian philosophy in "existence in maya"...."maya is not only cosmic illusion but also, and above all, historicity; not only existence in the eternal cosmic becoming but above all existence in time and history." Note: idem p. XVII

The aim of yoga is to know things as they are, not as they seem to be, i.e. to know the essence and substance of life, not the phenomena and the external data. Instead of knowing through the medium of forms, (rupa) and mental states (cittavrita) the yogi directly contemplates the essence (tattva) of all objects."
Note: Patanjali and Yoga p. 83

In order to make that possible pratyahara is absolutely necessary. By it the sensory activity is withdrawn from the external objects and sense-experiences are freed from the confrontation with the "realities" of the world, all those elements of conditioning which alienate man from himself. To know things as they really are one has to detach oneself from things as they seem to be. In order to be able to contemplate or meditate autonomously one has to become independent of the world. First of all the "cessation of opposites" must be achieved. As long as human beings are created by experience of opposites no unity in essence is possible. But from the world nearly all experience comes into the body in the form of opposites: good or bad, hot or cold, ugly or beauti­ful, true or false etc. As long as the mind is created by such opposites, no liberation is possible. The first task is therefore to isolate consciousness from such opposites. Put briefly that is the task of pratyahara.
Note: Patanjali and Yoga p. 68

When asanas (positions), pranayama (breath-control) and ekagrata (concentration) combined with the conscious withdrawal of the mind from objects have been working on the human person for a long period, this is experienced as if the person becomes autonomous in relation to the world.

He is no longer troubled by outer tensions (having in fact gone beyond opposites)... he is no longer projected out towards the objects of the senses, but is going into himself, thereby becoming invulnerable.
Note: Patanjali and Yoga p. 82

It is important to understand that this does not mean that the sensory activities stop, on the contrary sensory activities are freed from the limitations of this world. They become endless as the mind is endless, for they happen in the mind only, as extra-sensory perceptions.

The internal experiences which are made possible in this way seem to be "fantastic" in the real sense of this word. The lights, the sounds, the tunes, the tastes are beyond similar experiences of this immanent and limited world for they are transcending all human forms.

In order to achieve this state of mind asanas, pranayama, ekagrata and pratyahara are necessary means, but so are the use of mantras and yantras, specific vibrations and peculiar "images" in order to arrest the eyes, if they are not arrested by being closed.

Note: Mantras and yantras are not dealt with in this connection. See Up-Date No. 1 p. 3 - 14.

The way in which pratyahara is used by present gurus is a vivid illustration to what has been said up till now. Swami Satyananda Saraswati, the guru of the Bihar School of Yoga, Monghyr, has described the way of pratyahara in different ways.

Note: Satyananda is quite influential as one of the major disciples of the famous Swami Shivananda from Rishikesh.

Satyanandas understanding can be summarized in this sen­tence: "He who performs Pratyahara is as if he was dead to the world."

Note: Det frigjorte menneske p. 10

In his book "Antar Mouna" he introduces Antar Mouna (inner silence) Note: 1968 as an important part of pratyahara. He first instructs his readers to exterio­rize their minds and consciousness to connect their senses with the exterior objects and not to withdraw their minds or senses. They have to remain extrovert. In this way the meditator has to learn how things function in order then to shift policy, for this is an exercise in order to prepare for the real thing. From p. 10 a real change happens, for now no spontaneity is allowed and a real suppression takes place (see also p. 19 f). Also for Satyananda the task is to separate the senses from the experience of the senses in order only to be conscious of the experience of soundvibration (mantra)
Note: Antar Mouna p. 2

The aim is definitely to get rid of objects in order later even to get rid of subjects.
The school of Satyananda is represented at its best in the Scandinavian countries by "Scandinavian Yoga" headed by the interesting figure of Swami Janakananda. He has-together with his disciples - published an illuminated volume - in Danish, Swedish and English – describing the main lines of the Shivananda-Satyananda-system.
Note: "Yoga, Tantra and Meditation", 1976.

In the index and glossary of this book (p. 109 f) he defines Pratyahara like this: "unaffected by disturbances, that is, abstraction, withdrawal of the senses from ob­jects."

Janakananda cites Patanjalis famous definiton in this way: "When the mind is withdrawn from sense-objects, the sense organs also withdraw themselves from their respective objects and thus are said to imitate the mind. This is known as Pratyahara... Thence arises complete mastery over the senses".

Note: From Yoga Sutras Book two, sutra 54 and 55. And Janakananda cites Gheranda Samhita in this way:
"Pull your mind back if it attaches itself to either a pleasant or an unpleasant smell. Try to keep it under you control by practicing Pratyahara... If your mind is affected by sweet, sour, hot, cold or any other taste, draw it back with Pratyahara and hold it in your control".

Janakananda himself defines Pratyahara in this way:
"Pratyahara is an ancient method that really means abstracting, backing off, leaving something, distancing and letting go. So we could also call it the withdrawal of the mind". "Abstracting backing off, leaving something, distancing and letting go.." these modern phrases aptly describe the pratyahara of today's meditation-schools. And he continues: "In Pratyahara you constantly ly observe this process of discovery and its effects. No other effort is involved. You don't try to change anything, you just go on observing the smell and its effects on your mind, as an alert, interested observer".
Note: Yoga, Tantra & Meditation, 1976 p.87 f.

Janakananda's way is - in continuation of Shivananda's and Satyananda's teaching - to surrender to any experience and saturate the mind with it.. for what the mind has totally ex­perienced no longer interests it.. the satisfied mind turns to something else.. the mind lets go.."

The attitude of "letting go" is essential to the majority of gurus, and that is also what creates problems for some of the meditators. Obviously there is a positive possibility implied in the letting go practice. One can get rid of fixations and irritations and possibly also some agressions. But at the same time "letting go" may mean "dropping out", loosing contact with the real stimuli by withdrawing the senses from all objects. This can in fact create a situation in which the meditator gradually looses contact with the external world, including all other human beings and turns inward, goes into herself or him­self.

That is why Janakananda warns: "But remember, you cannot use Pratyahara if you keep away from activity and trouble; go on living as you do, meet life, meet problems." The point howevet, is that Pratyahara can be used to keep away from activity and trouble and problems, and the fact is that quite a lot of people are using pratyahara exactly for that purpose. "Through Pratyahara the mind looses interest in outer disturbances and turns inward".

Note: Janakananda in the above mentioned book p. 97.

Everything can function as an outer disturbance, and to "go in", "to turn inward", "to go into" or "to transcend" is quickly done but not always so quickly undone. To turn such persons inside out is not always easy. Such meditators may end up in a psychotic state from which they may not return voluntarily. To remain in that state is made a matter of faith, for that state is seen as the state of reality, far away from the world of illusions, i.e. reality.
The pratyahara most certainly works and it often works very effectively. It is able to take people out of reality and put them on a journey of transcendental meditation, which for some is an experience of mental freedom, for others an experience of mental disease.

The experience of oneself is described by Janakananda in this way:
"And while you sit this way, say to yourself:
I am the one who is experiencing all this
this is all around me, in my body
and in my thoughts - but way deep within me
I am the one who experiences this, I have my
own life
and I experience that".
But this positive experience is exploited by the guru when
he continues in this way:
"You experience yourself sitting and experiencing:
your thoughts, your emotions, preconceptions,
as an impartial observer, who doesn't get
who is alert and interested...
Go on, steadily and without interference,
experience your own inner life -let it happen, relax, accept it, experience.
I am not the one who thinks;
I am the one who sees the thought.. But to experience: I see that
the mind thinks - it thinks in me, Lt is the source of it all...
See the mind and all its contents, experience yourself as an observer..
When you sit here you might as well learn
to accept everything you're full of anyway
you have to let all these contradictions surface
don't anxiously sort good (which you grab hold of) from bad (which you suppress)
no, every thing is there just the same
so acknowledge it.
Experience it as an observer liberate your mind
let it go of
its tensions.
There are no "good" thoughts There are no "bad" thoughts nothing that must be influenced I let it all happen
and just experience it."

It is allright that Janakananda warns the meditators: "But watch out that you don't get turned inward, that's not the point..." for it is not the point for Janakananda. But how can Janakananda tell that it is not the point for the meditator? Why is it a "bad" thought to wish to turn inward? When there are no "bad" thoughts? When the main aim is to avoid judging, just experiencing, observing, letting come and letting go, how on earth can Janakananda then warn against the longing to turn inward and to leave the world of struggle and problems behind?

Now the dictum of Eliade about Yoga as enstasis can be under­stood. He states: "Yoga is not a technique of ecstacy; on the contrary, it makes every effort to achieve absolute con­centration in order to attain enstasis".
Note: Patanjali and Yoga, 1976 p. 197.


Ecstasis is an explosion, an expansion, a turning inside out, a festival, a jubilance, is expression of life at its height. Enstasis is the opposite. In it a human being goes on a voyage into the interior and gives up all external expressions in order to get the richer impressions from within.

This going into the self is made possible by the different techniques, mentioned above, whereby a systematic sensory  deprivation takes place.
Note: About sensory deprivation in this connection see Encyclopedia of Esoteric Man, by Benjamin Walker, 1977 p 258f

By means of the different positions of the body (asanas) the activity of the body is silenced.
Note: Formulated like this by Satyananda, see Suryanamaskar og Yogasanas p. 31.

By means of the control and finally the suspension of the breath (pranayama) the mental fluidity is stopped and the life-force is silenced
Note: Patanjali and Yoga p. 69.

Prana is identical with the life-force and is also called the shakti or the kundalini, that is the female Nan,r of life and the coiled-one, the Serpent power.
Note: We are not in this article describing the whole tantric  pattern behind the yogic way of life. But it is there, as we described it in Up-date Vol. I 3-4, 1977 p. 4-33.
Knowledge about prana (prana-vidya) is knowledge about everything. What should one know in order to know everything and not just something: prana. Pranayama is therefore a necessary part of pratyahara. Satyananda expresses this necessity with the foll­owing words:
"Pranayama exercises are performed in order to expand the vital power in the human system. Prana is like a wild elephant, - if it is trained well it can be of great help, if the op­posite happens it brings death and decay."
Note: Bandhas, Mudras and Pranayama p. 12ff.

And about especially one type of pranayama - Moorchcha Prana­yama - Satyananda writes: "Moorchcha helps to reach the psychic situation, in which external sensations as hearing and feeling stops. Performed before the meditation it can give the "push" into "interiorization" which is necessary, if the mind is difficult to direct to the interior by means of other spiritual methods. The effects of narcotics, stimulating methods are the same".
Note: Idem p. Nudras

The last reference is interesting, for it is obviously true. The same interiorizing effect can in fact be achieved by using LSD and similar "opiates".