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The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 82: The Effect of Dharana or Concentrating the Mind

At the very commencement of the Vibhuti Pada of this great work, the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali introduces us directly to the quintessential essence of the practice of yoga. In comparison with this attitude which is adopted in the Vibhuti Pada in such right earnest, everything that has been said and explained in the Sadhana Pada should be regarded as preparatory. In fact, this is exactly what the author feels. When we come to the point of concentration of mind, which is the subject with which the Vibhuti Pada begins, we are face to face with a tremendous atmosphere. It looks, as it were, that everything is up in arms against us, and every atom of creation becomes aware of our existence. What actually happens, and what one has to encounter at the time when one is ready for the concentration of the mind according to the techniques prescribed in yoga, is not clear to many people. This is because we have the commonplace notion of the concentration of the mind, such as the type that we have when we are solving a mathematical problem, or building a bridge across a river, or thinking deeply about some issue, and so on. These are types of concentration which are different from the type that we are concerned with in yoga. It is not a particular point in an isolated capacity that we are trying to think in concentration, while this appears to be the case ordinarily in the workaday world.

What actually happens in yogic concentration is that we exert a pressure at a particular point, which immediately communicates a message to everything else with which it is connected. This is very important, a feature which distinguishes yogic concentration from every other type of concentration. It is something like encountering a ringleader directly. When he is faced openly, we can imagine what he will do. He will immediately send a message to all his cronies that he is caught. There are ways and means of doing this, which is a subtle secret of nature. The activity of natural forces is different from the activity that we are accustomed to in the workaday world. Communications do not require any kind of physical medium in the case of the working of natural forces. There is no need for an electric wire or cable, or any such conceivable material medium. A reverberation of forces is automatically created on account of a disturbance felt at a particular point in space. Any pressure intensely felt at the bowels of the ocean will be communicated to the entire ocean. The manner in which it is done, the ocean only knows. We may say, in a sense, that this world is like a reverberating chamber where everything echoes in every corner, and not even the sound of a pin dropping can go unheard. Not only that, sometimes it seems that this pin-drop sound gets magnified in certain corners according to the circumstances of the case; and forces are alerted immediately to do the needful on account of this disturbance that has been created.

I am advisedly using the word 'disturbance' because of the peculiar reactions that are set up when concentration is commenced. Though ultimately, in the sense of the goal that is in view, it cannot be called a disturbance but a tendency to a readjustment of things, in the beginning it looks like a disturbance. Suppose there are a thousand soldiers standing in a chaotic manner – anyone is standing anywhere in any manner whatsoever, without any order or system – and the general issues an instruction that they be aligned in a particular manner; immediately they re-group themselves to stand, or sit, or do whatever it is, according to the instructions given. The harmony, adjustment, or alignment which the general wants to introduce into the group is the disturbance he causes in the order – or we may call it the disorder – which was there in the group of soldiers. Notwithstanding the fact that the readjustment – which must be called a disturbance of the existing order – is intended for a higher alignment, nevertheless it is a disturbance. A disturbance is anything which completely changes the existing condition, though it may be for a better valuation and experience of things. The aim is not what is to be considered here. It is what actually happens that is the point.

Likewise, though the intention is a rearrangement of things and a harmonisation of all the forces in a cosmic sense, this does not happen immediately. One soldier will run this way and another will run that way to be in a proper position according to the order issued. We can see that there is the same kind of disturbance taking place in the midst of people. We do not know what is happening, why they are running about hither and thither. They are doing it for the purpose of an alignment which is required of them. Likewise, forces will start rushing from point to point for the purpose of the order that they are expected to maintain according to the advice given at the point of concentration.

The effort at concentration of mind is the order issued by the general of the army, that the soldiers may be aligned, or ordered, or adjusted in a particular manner. The existing system is chaotic compared to this intention of the order. So there is a running of the forces in different directions – movements directed in various ways, like flies running from all corners. Bees begin to fly to the hive to place themselves in particular holes there, as they have a function to perform in the beehive. But when they fly, they fly higgledy-piggledy, in all places. When they come from different directions, we do not know from where they come, or in what manner they come. They appear to have no order, system, or anything of that sort, but the intention of their moving about is something which is order, system and method.

The danger that is possibly going to be faced by a meditator is the condition in which he will find himself at the time of this readjustment of forces. This is a very crucial point which one should not miss. We should not be too complacent or happy about the goal that is ahead and what we are going to realise in the end; that is not what is important. What is of consequence is the thing that is happening just now. It is possible that, due to the force of concentration, the forces connected with the personality of the individual may get stirred up into activity in a particular manner. Inasmuch as these forces are connected with the personality of the individual, they will have an impact upon the individual. It is this impact that is to be expected even before it comes. It is not possible to give an explanation of all these details because they are purely personal matters and vary from individual to individual according to the conditions of the mind, etc.

We will not find these described in any book on earth, except perhaps in rare mystical volumes. Even there we cannot find every minute detail. Each one is peculiar to each individual because the reactions that follow and the experiences which one passes through at these moments of concentration depend upon the type of personality one has, and the strength of will that one has, as well as the intensity of the karma that one has to work up through one's individuality. When the concentration is mild, we will feel nothing. It looks as if nothing is happening. It will be like pouring water on a rock – it will not percolate, and the rock will not even feel the water falling on it. This is what one would feel even after some months of concentration, because months of effort may produce no result, for reasons which are very peculiar and are very guarded secrets of nature. Nature will not reveal her treasures like that, at one stroke, merely at the call. But when the effort becomes insistent and we persist in our concentration irrespective of the results that follow, not bothering about what happens – “results or no results, I will continue and persist” – if this is our attitude, then some miracle will take place.

That miracle will be, in the beginning, a torture. It will not be a pleasant thing that comes, because we are trying to reconstitute the existing set-up of things. We can imagine the difficulty that has to be faced by a pioneer in any field, whether it is in the political field, or the social field, or any kind of work. The pioneer has to work very hard because he has to rearrange everything that is already there, from the standpoint of the idea that is in his mind, according to the goal which he visualises – the ultimate aim of his endeavours. In the beginning, the reactions would be such that it would be difficult to understand what is happening. In rare cases one can know what is happening. In some cases, it is not possible to know what is happening – though we will feel that something is happening. When people are running about from place to place, we may not know why they are running about. Are they happy or unhappy? Is something wrong or is something right? What is the matter with these people? Why are they running back and forth? We do not understand this merely by looking at their movements. But if we have a foreknowledge of the circumstances in which they are living, the atmosphere which they are in, we will have an idea as to what is happening. Similarly is the case with these psychological conditions that arise at the time of intense concentration of mind.

As I mentioned, concentration is a pressure that is exerted in a particular manner at a particular point. The point is not isolated; it has a subtle inward relationship with many other things in this world. It is like a social group, if we would like to designate it thus. A society of individuals which introduces a sympathetic character or quality of a uniform nature among the individuals which constitute it will naturally tell upon each individual when its order is interfered with. The Indian nation, for example, is such a social group. When we interfere with the national character of the country, we are interfering with the character or the position of every individual, because each individual is connected with that character. Likewise, there is a social group of forces, we may say. They may be called 'social' in the sense that kindred forces group themselves into a particular pattern in respect of a particular individual. The way in which this kind of grouping is done depends entirely upon the structure of the individual personality and the subtle relationships it has with the external atmosphere on the basis of its own needs and desires, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled. It is this peculiar atmospheric condition, or the psychological environment, which I designate as the social group of forces subtly working around the individual, that the psychoanalysts – especially Jung, etc. – call the collective unconscious. It is not really unconscious, as they call it. Well, we may call it unconscious in the sense that it cannot be probed into directly by an individual intellect. But it is not unconscious, because it is alert, it is active, it can work, and it can have an effect upon us. So how can we call it unconscious? It is not unconscious; but for practical purposes of individual psychological investigation, we call it unconscious. Whatever it is, conscious or unconscious, such a group exists, and this collective force is what is disturbed at the time of the concentration of the mind.

What it is that we are disturbing is a very interesting point to recollect at the present moment. We are interfering with those silent forces which have been, up to this time, lying dormant, inactive, on account of unfavourable circumstances for germinating into conscious experience. We are now compelling the fruit to ripen under conditions that we are introducing by the power of concentration, so the latent energies, which would not have otherwise woken up into activity, are made to wake up. This is what we call the waking up of sleeping dogs; and we do not know what the dog will do when it wakes up. It can go the other way, or it can attack us. Hence, we have to be very cautious, first of all. What would we do when these forces are stirred? It is not very wise for an untutored mind to stir up forces like that in an act of concentration. It is not merely concentration of mind that is expected of us; we must also know what we are in our deposits, at the bottom.

When we wake up all these forces that are deposited within, we must be able to face them. In the concentration process, the forces that are awakened are nothing but those things which are within us and everything that is sympathetically connected with the external atmosphere. The affections that are deep-rooted inside – the deposited potencies of likes, etc. – stir up the corresponding objects outside in the world. And so there is an awakening of forces within as well as without when we concentrate the mind. If we are wise enough, if we are discriminative enough, we can understand what is inside us, and we can also understand what we will awaken, because the things that will wake up are those counterparts of the deposits of potencies that are psychologically buried inside. That is why Patanjali has been so cautious to give us a detailed analysis of the psychological functions of the mind, not only in the Samadhi Pada but also at the commencement of the Sadhana Pada. A wise understanding and probing into one's inward constitution is necessary before one takes up the work or function of concentration of mind.

In the sutra which begins the Vibhuti Pada, deśa bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā (III.1), Patanjali gives us a definition of concentration. The binding, or fixing, or tethering of one's attention at a particular point is called concentration. This is not a joke. We cannot do it easily, because we cannot think of one thing continuously for a long time. The reason is that the mind has not been accustomed to it; we have always been taught to think a hundred things at a time. Even when it appears that we are concentrating on one particular point, there is a subconscious distraction of attention towards other things. An officer at work may be concentrating his mind on the task on hand, but it does not mean that subconsciously he is forgetting his family. He is thinking of his family also at the same time. It may not be on the conscious level, but subconsciously it is there. His wife may be at home, ill. How can he forget that, when he is working in the office? So there is another side-activity going on in the mind, together with the issue that is directly on hand. Or he may be a judge in the court; it does not matter. He may be passing a judgement, but he cannot forget his child who is seriously ill at home. That is a subconscious activity that is going on as an undercurrent, together with this directly adopted attitude of conscious concentration on the particular work on hand.

Likewise, we will find that in concentration an undercurrent of thought may be there, which is subconsciously working in a different direction. That is called distraction. Hence, in dharana, or concentration, a wholesale and thoroughgoing fixing of the attention will not be possible at the very outset. That takes place at a later stage. What happens at this point is that we undertake a kind of activity in the mind which, together with its endeavour to allow a continuous flow of thought on a particular point, tries at the same time to eliminate certain other thoughts which are adverse or derogatory to the issue on hand. When we want to think of 'A' in concentration, we also feel a necessity to eliminate all thoughts which are concerned with 'B', 'C' or 'D'. We do not want 'B', 'C' or 'D' to interfere with the idea of 'A', which we are trying to entertain in our mind. Thus in dharana, or concentration, there is a double activity.

This is what is known in Sanskrit as vijatiya vritti nirodha and sajatiya vritti pravaha. Vijatiya vritti nirodha is the inhibition or the restricting of all those psychoses which are connected with things unrelated to the point of concentration, and sajatiya vritti pravaha is the allowing in of only those ideas or thoughts which are in consonance with the object of meditation. Both these activities are taking place simultaneously. On the one hand we do not allow certain things to enter, and on the other hand we allow certain things to enter – just as on a railway platform the ticket collector may be allowing in those people with tickets and not allowing in those people without tickets. He does both things at the same time – stops some and allows some. This process continues in the stage of what is known as dharana, or concentration. It is not merely this. Something else is happening there. We will be aware of ourselves, we will be aware of the object, we will be aware that we are thinking, and we will also be aware that there are things to be eliminated. So there are four factors, at least, involved at the point known as dharana: we do not want to think something, and we are aware of three things: ourselves, the process of thought, and the object that is to be concentrated upon.

Desa bandha means the tying of the mind to a particular point. What is this point, or desa? What is the point which we are trying to concentrate upon? This is a great subject by itself, on which volumes have been written. What are we going to think of? What are we going to meditate upon? What is the purpose behind meditation? If we answer these questions, we will also know what object to choose for concentration. Why are we concentrating the mind? What is the intention? What do we want to gain out of it? The purpose that is behind our effort in concentration will give us an idea as to what it is that we have to concentrate upon, because the act of concentration of the mind on an object is the effort of the mind to achieve idealisation, actualisation and realisation of that object. We want to get that thing and become one with that thing, if possible. That is the thing that we are concentrating upon. So, what is it that we want to achieve? On that we concentrate. The purpose of concentration of the mind is the achievement of a result. But first the result must be clear in the mind. What is it that we require? What consequence do we want to follow? On that we fix our attention. This 'point' that the sutra mentions has various meanings, according to our concept of a point.

Generally, when we speak of a point, we think of a geometrical location. This is what an ordinary schoolboy will define 'point' as – it is a point in space. This is the crudest definition of a point that can be given. A dot, a full stop, is a kind of point. The centre of a circle is a point, and so on. Inasmuch as it is a geometrical point that we are conceiving, naturally it has to be in space. Because every point is a point in space, and because space is outside as well as inside, this point can be outside as well as inside. Wherever space is, there the point also is, because a point is nothing but a part of space. Where is the point of concentration? It is outside, or it is inside.

This is a general definition of the location of an object of concentration. But we have to say something more about this point. Are we meditating on a point in the sense of a dot or an ink spot? Or is it something else? This point is not merely a dot. It is a figurative term used to designate an ideal which is in the mind. It is not a physical dot in the sense of a full stop that we put when we write a sentence. It is a metaphorical expression intended to give the characteristics of what we ought to think in our mind for the purpose of achieving our result. So, before we actually sit for meditation or concentration, we have to have some idea in our mind: “What is the matter with me? What do I want?” What is it that we want? It is not uniform to every person. It varies from one individual to another.

Therefore comes the necessity for initiation. We cannot have a wholesale mass-initiation given by a Guru to thousands of people. That is not possible because the needs of individuals vary from one to another. We cannot announce through the broadcasting station: “Let all take this medicine.” This is not possible, because how can we prescribe a single medicine to masses of people, not knowing what diseases they are suffering from? It would be a foolish broadcast. Likewise, we cannot give a mass initiation. Each individual is a specific character by himself or herself. Thus, when we come to this point in the practice of sadhana, we come to an individual issue – and that is the need felt for initiation by a Guru. What is it that we need? What are our requirements? Why are we concentrating the mind? This will reveal many other things also, simultaneously. The method that we have to adopt in meditation also varies.

There are hundreds and thousands of methods of concentrating the mind, according to the way in which the mind works at a particular given moment of time. It is not one single method. Also, the method of concentration has to be accompanied by many other accessories, such as a particular physical posture. A single posture cannot be prescribed for everybody. There are various other moods of the mind that have to be adopted, as well as the type of atmosphere in which one has to find oneself. Many other things have to be considered. Hence, we are here at a stage when personal guidance is necessary. It is not easy to give a public lecture on this subject, nor can we find this information in textbooks, because it is all general information that books give. A very detailed analysis of the individual situation cannot be found in any textbook, and it is not possible to listen to it in a lecture. But this is the crucial point and most important thing to be remembered and taken into consideration. The objective of meditation is ultimately the realisation of the Supreme Being – God-realisation, the realisation of the Absolute. This is known to everybody, and this is perhaps the aim and objective of everyone born in this world.

So far, it is general information that is given to people. But we know this Absolute is a terrific Reality, and we cannot conceive it in the mind. Who can conceive the Absolute? Thus, we have to approach it in an appropriate manner, on the basis of the level of mind that we are in at this moment. Though the Absolute is the Supreme Reality, omnipresent and transcendent, it is also immanently present in the very level of thought which we are capable of entertaining in our mind. Hence, we can spot out this Absolute and put our finger upon it at every condition of the mind, because every condition of the mind reflects the Absolute in a particular way, though in a very inadequate manner. We must, first of all, find out the condition of the mind in which we are, and the way in which we can contact the Absolute from the point of view of that particular condition of the mind in which we are. We should not idealise things too much. “Oh, I want the All-pervading Father of the Universe.” This kind of talk is useless. It is all simply nebulous because it is only a theoretical way of speaking of things, whereas our condition is different. We are hard-pressed by certain inward tensions, and it is well known that these tensions will not allow us to think of or contemplate on universal realities. So it is useless to merely divert the mind to theoretical abstractions, even if it be in the name of the Absolute.

We have to take hard realities on their bare connotation – as they appear. Though Reality is our intention ultimately, appearance cannot be completely brushed aside, because we have to pierce through appearance for the sake of contacting Reality. So, we first of all bestow some thought upon the nature of the mind which is our dear possession, which is inseparable from us, through which alone we have to do the concentration. When we probe into the structure of our own mind, we will find that it is constituted of various layers of ideas and ideals, some of which have come up to the conscious level, and some of which are deeply buried inside. Our duty it is to bring up to the surface of consciousness these deep-seated ideas and ideals.

Many of the things that we thought as children may be lying deep-seated at the bottom, not having found an opportunity to express themselves. When we were small children, we must have thought very seriously about some things, and we could not fulfil those ideas for various reasons. Now we have become different people altogether due to the pressure of circumstances, etc. But those ideas have not gone – they are there. They may be in a mild form or an intense form, they may be in an interrupted form or they may be in an expressed form. Whatever the form is, they have to be brought to the surface of consciousness.

There should be a total awakening of the personality to the conscious level before one takes up yoga practice. There should be nothing hidden inside. If we start hiding things to our own selves, we are fools of the first water. We cannot hide things like that. Hence, the first thing that is required of a meditator is to bring every subconscious urge into the conscious level, and see them face to face – openly to their face – and try to find out what is to be done with them. They have to be dealt with in an appropriate manner, according to the circumstances of the case. Then we will find what methods we have to adopt in eliminating the undesirables and allowing in the desirables for the purpose of concentration.