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."
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
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.
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."
"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."
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.
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.
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)
The aim is definitely to get rid of objects in order later even to get rid of subjects.
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:
Janakananda himself defines Pratyahara in this way:
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 experience of oneself is described by Janakananda in this way:
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".
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.
By means of the different positions of the body (asanas) the activity of the body is silenced.
By means of the control and finally the suspension of the breath (pranayama) the mental fluidity is stopped and the life-force is silenced
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.
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".
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".