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The Yoga System
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 11: Dharana or Concentration

Now comes yoga in its essential essence, and now also begins the last stroke that the Yogi deals, which decides his fate. This is the stage of dharana or concentration of the whole of one's psychic being (chitta). A perennial flow of dharana is called dhyana or meditation. If dharana is the drop, dhyana is the river. Many concentrations make a meditation. Qualitatively they are non-different, but functionally there is a distinction between them. In his work, 'Concentration and Meditation', Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj has explained the subject in great detail.

Different schools prescribe different methods of concentration. The Buddhists have their own method, and the Jains another. The orthodox systems in India have various techniques of their own. The way in which one concentrates one's mind determines to some extent what kind of person one is and what samskaras or psychic impressions are within oneself. The nature of the target one chooses also is a clue to one's inner make. When the student enters into dharana, he can know something of his personal structure. He becomes an observer of himself and an object of his study.

The rationale behind the practice of dharana has been earlier explained under the context of pratyahara. The reason behind the effort at concentration of mind is the same as that underlying the need for pratyahara. It is a psychological necessity with a deep philosophical background. Unless the 'why' of concentration is properly answered, one will not have satisfaction within and hence cannot take to the practice wholeheartedly. Many students desire to practice concentration. If they are asked 'why', they have no good reply. There should be clarity first, for it is the index of conviction and an absence of it is a lack of any settled ideal before oneself. Concentration is the channelizing of the chitta or the psychic structure within towards universality of being. This goal is achieved by many stages, with a graduated movement of the finite to the infinite.

It was pointed out that worry and grief constitute an obstacle in the practice of yoga. As a matter of fact, Patanjali specially mentions these as some of the central opposing powers in the field of yoga. Unfortunately, life is always beset with sorrow and if we are to search for a man free from vexation of every kind, we would, perhaps, not find one. Yet, yoga cannot be successful if mental stress is to pursue man like a hound, wherever he goes. It is necessary for one, before any attempt at pratyahara, dharana or dhyana, to extricate oneself from these tormenting forces of the world. And the student may, from the point of view of this situation, be able to understand what an amount of effort is necessary on the path to keep the mind in balance; for balance is said to be yoga. It is only when the balance is upset, due to some factor in life, that worry sets in. Hence, the first step in yoga is not pratyahara or dharana, but a psychological disentanglement, or a stock-taking as people do in business, and a striking of the balance-sheet of the inner world. One has to find out where one stands. How can one do concentration or meditation if pains are to eat into one's vitals? There are many problems that are brought upon oneself through economic situations, social circumstances, family conditions, etc., as also personal health and mental stability. These are important aspects that have to be taken into consideration. Supposing that the student is deeply annoyed with someone, will he be able to sit for concentration at that time? No. Because the mind is already engaged in something else and is not prepared for concentration. It has already been given some work and it is trying to reconcile itself with negative conditions that have been thrust upon it. Yoga is a positive state, different from all moods of the day. There is nothing of the negative in the yoga way of life, neither in the mind nor in the perspective of one's vision. Misgivings about yoga are due to a want of proper understanding of its meaning. All anguish is to be set right. How to do this is a personal problem. It has to be dealt with on an individual consideration, as the answer varies from person to person. Just as a physician does not treat patients collectively but pays them all individual attention, each question has to be taken separately and solved, unless they are all of a similar character.

It need not be emphasized that a Guru is necessary, and also one should be capable of practicing sense-control, especially sex-control. The student cannot desire the things of the world and also the beatitude of yoga. Again, treading the path of yoga always implies some loss in the eyes of the sense-world. The student should decide what he wants. Does he want comfort, praise, name and fame, etc., or is he honest in pursuing the way of self-restraint and concentration of mind? The attempt at yoga can be shaken up in the earlier stages by such pressures as hunger, heat, cold and the need for a proper place to live. There should be no other necessity of a student. It is necessary to minimize desires. When one takes to yoga, one has to be honest with it. There cannot be any joke in yoga or an experimenting with it to see if some miracle comes out of it. The entire being of the student goes to yoga and not merely a part of his personality. Therefore, self-analysis is of paramount importance here, and he alone can answer his questions finally, for these are so personal that they are related to his own thinking and he alone can solve them. Many of our problems arise not from conditions outside but from our own thinking. We expect some events to take place in the world. But they do not occur. What are we to do, then? Are we to change the world? If we try to change external conditions, we often become victims of disappointment, the reason being that the world is not wholly outside us. We have either to adjust the world to ourselves or ourselves to the world. Many have attempted the former alternative, but they all have gone the way they came. First of all, we have to learn to live; otherwise, we would be the losers and no one will hear our cries. This is the way of self-analysis, whereby the student understands his current condition. The analysis of bodily and social relations should also be carried further into moral and spiritual questions, for only then can there be concentration and meditation of the mind. There should be balance of powers not only in the social and economic levels, but also in the mind and soul. There should be contentment with the creation of God. Here the student is truly pleased, and this pleasure itself is an act of concentration. As concentration of mind has much to do with inner satisfaction, there cannot be concentration of mind when there is unhappiness. An unhappy man cannot be a student of yoga. We do not go to yoga because people do not want us in the world, but because there is something substantial and positive in yoga.

Psychological contentment brought about by self-analysis is a great help in concentration. Sometimes, when one is affected too much by thoughts of the contrary, thoughts pertaining to things and conditions opposed to or different from the aim of yoga, Patanjali says that one has to practice thinking or the feeling of the opposite (pratipaksha-bhavana). This is to affirm the opposite of what is happening. If a particular sense-organ is troubling the student, he gives intense work to the other organs so that the energy will be drawn by them, and the troublesome element is divested of strength. If one is sexually agitated one might think of Hanuman or Bhishma. Let the mind think how Hanuman acquired his powers, his character and his glory, or the prowess of Bhishma, and meditate on them. The desire would slowly wane because of the higher thought occurring to the mind by continued contemplation. If one is prone to be angry, one might think of the Buddha. What a calm personality - poised, kind, sympathetic, sober, unagitated by events taking place outside, a veritable pacific of understanding and affection. Then the anger goes away. When anger overpowers the mind, such thoughts would not naturally come to it. But a daily practice will create in the mind samskaras or impressions which will in course of time prevent the rise of such negative thoughts and, even if they come, they will not be vehement or powerful enough to disturb internal peace. This is the method of 'substitution' in psychoanalysis.

The three methods which the mind employs usually are repression, substitution and sublimation. Sublimation is the proper course to adopt, but it cannot always be done for obvious reasons. People repress desires into the subconscious due to social taboo, but later on this causes complexities. Repression is not a remedy. When one cannot fulfil one's desires, one swallows them, which, in the long run, become complexes that may turn into illness of various kinds. The moods of people are nothing but the occasional eruption of repressed emotions and attitudes. Repression is not the method prescribed by Patanjali, though he suggests substitution as a middle course leading to sublimation by yoga.

The point of concentration may be external, internal or universal. The student may think something outwardly, inwardly or not either way but an invisible something. Any means may be chosen for the purpose of concentration. The outer thinking may be regarded as the beginning, the inner thought as the middling state and the thought of the universal as the last stage. One begins with the outer, goes to the inner and reaches the universal. We see the world outside and we always think of it, because we feel it is real. The thought of the world cannot be set aside because reality cannot be ignored. If the mind perceives reality in the world, it cannot be abandoned because reality is never an 'other' to oneself. We artificially bring about a concentration in our mind when it is otherwise engaged in what it regards as real. Here, we naturally become failures. So, before starting the practice of concentration, the student has to establish a proper relation with the world and society by the practice of the yamas and niyamas. If the world is up in arms and cudgels, one cannot practice yoga by being in it. For peace with the world and peace with oneself, Patanjali prescribes the yamas and niyamas, respectively. Asana and pranayama are intended for establishing peace and harmonious relations with the muscles, nerves and the vital force. Pratyahara establishes peace with the mind. Yoga is the science of peace. The world outside having been properly coordinated with our personality by the yamas and our having come to proper understanding of ourselves by the niyamas and by vichara or self-analysis, having also achieved some sort of control over the muscles by asana, the nerves and prana by pranayama, having brought compromise within by pratyahara, the student is face to face with the problem of concentration.

What is one to concentrate upon? First of all, the point of concentration has to be external, so that one may concentrate with greater ease, because the mind has always a tendency to go outward. But this need not mean going senseward. We may give the mind some freedom, of course, but it should be within a limited circle. The ambit of the activity of the mind should gradually become smaller and smaller. One moves, but in more and more limited circles. The circle of the mind's work becomes smaller as it rises to higher states of concentration. In the most initial stage, the student can concentrate on any one point. A wide margin is given in the beginning as is done with a child or a wild animal under training.

Satsanga and svadhyaya are some of the methods which one can adopt in limiting the activity of the mind to smaller circles. Instead of going to any place at leisure, one attends Satsangas or visits holy places or shrines. And instead of browsing through all sorts of literature at random, one reads philosophical and elevating scriptures. All this is an achievement in the concentration of mind by way of limitation of the circle of its activity. Instead of chatting with persons at any time, one restricts speech only to a necessity. The long rope has been cut short. The radius has been reduced in length. This practice is the beginning of a true religious life. Having lived a life of religiousness rather than that of worldliness one further tries to limit the circle of the mind in yoga. And now, the stage has come when, instead of going to holy places, one settles down in one place for a spiritual way of living, and one has pinned the mind to a still smaller circle. Having settled in a particular place, one chalks out a daily programme which should be such that it will not contain any item that is not directly connected with the practice of yoga. Occasionally, a few may be indirectly related, which, however, are to be slowly snapped later by gradual effort and only the direct connections with yoga be maintained. The programme of the day which the student chalks out for himself depends entirely upon the aim of yoga, which is the determining factor in the day's programme. What he will do during the whole day will depend on what he wishes to make of his entire life, for many days put together constitute life. The daily programme should therefore correspond to the life's programme. Nothing non-spiritual may engage the attention of the student on any occasion. In the programme of the day, certain items should be essential, such as study of scriptures (which one cannot dispense with until one gets so absorbed in the mind that there is no need for any study). Sacred study is necessary because in such study one keeps oneself open to higher thoughts, ennobling one's character. Simultaneously with this practice, there should be recourse to japa (repetition) of the mantra (mystic formula). Japa is directly connected with dhyana. The relation between svadhyaya, japa and dhyana is sequential and very significant and they form a complete course of yoga. Japa is a more intensive sadhana than svadhyaya and dhyana more intensive than japa.

Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are considered as the internal and true yoga, while everything else is an external accessory to it. Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara constitute the external (bahiranga) yoga, while dharana, dhyana and samadhi are the internal (antaranga) yoga. The internal yoga is a pure activity of the mind-stuff (antahkarana), independent of the senses. While the senses had a part to play in pratyahara, they do not operate in dharana, any further. We have come nearly to the innermost point of the personality and the outer activities as well as relations are given up. The mind has become powerful because now it does not waste energy through sensory activity. Most people complain that the mind is weak, that the will has no strength, because much of the energy leaks out through the channels of the senses. The senses are factors of dissipation of the centralized energy in the human system and until this channelization of energy by way of sensory activity is stopped, the will would remain naturally weak and this is why so much emphasis is laid on the control of senses. The mind which conserves energy in itself becomes more powerful than it appeared earlier. It is now ready to gird up its loins for the ultimate steps in yoga, concentration and meditation. It has nothing to vex it, because it has severed all its connections outside by an inner withdrawal. Concentration now begins.

Concentration does not come suddenly, in spite of all efforts on the part of a student. The mind has been habituated to think in terms of diversity and to turn it away from multitudinousness and to bring it to a point is really hard to achieve. The mind does not accept it. In the beginning, there is repulsion and later on there arises difficulty in the practice of concentration. But if the practice goes on with proper self-analysis and understanding, the mind will be able to appreciate what it is for and what it is expected to do. Any unintelligent activity is not easily taken in by the mind because thought is logically constructed. Before making preparations for chalking out a programme one should try to be methodical and logical in thinking, for the mind will not accept chaotic ideas. It appreciates only system, symmetry, harmony, beauty, order, etc. The mind dislikes any thing thrown pell-mell, because it is made in an orderly fashion. Without knowing the why of it one does not like anything spontaneously. The way in which the mind functions is what is known as logic. One should not hastily move to things and jump into any conclusion. Many people suffer from this travesty, because they cannot take all aspects of the matter into their judgements. All persons cannot consider every side of an issue, and this pinches the mind from various directions. A programme that one may have to change constantly is not a well-thought-out programme. Let there be no need to change what one has decided to do. Let it be thought and arranged well, even if it would take many days to make the decision. Let there be beauty in thinking, as there is beauty in the outer world. The more is one logical, the more is also one's happiness. Hence, it is necessary to prepare the ground with a thorough-going analysis of the situation of one's personality. 'I want God', should not be the student's sudden answer when he is asked what he is up to achieve. One cannot say one wants God unless one has also an idea as to what God means. Many people have the notion that wanting God is preparing to meet a big person with mighty powers. Many would like to seek God so that they may have a tremendous authority to wield over others and may parade their knowledge over the world. If God is Perfection, it is surprising that He should be identified with a personality like that of man.

Logical thinking is, therefore, a help in bringing about concentration of mind. The test of logicality in thought is that one feels a delight the moment one arranges one's thoughts in a method. One feels a comfort within because of the completeness introduced by the system of logic in the mind. Logicality is a form of psychological perfection, and all perfection is joy.

After having properly thought out the programme for life and for the day, the programme of one's sadhana has to be considered. 'What is my sadhana going to be?' Thus may the student of yoga cogitate seriously. Merely because one has heard a lecture on yoga, it does not mean one has a clear path set before oneself. After much hearing, there may still remain some fundamental difficulty, that of choosing a proper method of practice and coming to facts, not merely doctrines. When one touches the practical side, an unforeseen problem arises. This is an individual difficulty and cannot be cleared in a public lecture. It is, therefore, necessary to find out one's temperament, first, and decide upon the nature of one's case. In as much as every mind is special in its constitution, proclivity and temperament certain details peculiar to one's mind have to be thought out clearly for oneself. Though it is true that concentration is the purpose of all sadhana, the kind of preparation for this concentration varies in different types of yoga. Concentration is an impersonal action of the mind, because, in this inner adventure, the mind attempts gradually to shed its personality by accommodating itself, stage by stage, with the requirements of the law that determines the universe. The individual, being veritably a part of the cosmos, cannot help owing an allegiance in some way, at some time, to the organism of the cosmos, and concentration, in the language of yoga, is just this much, viz., the acceptance on the part of the mind that it belongs to a larger dominion, call it the Kingdom of God, or the Empire of the Universe.

Patanjali, in his aphorisms on yoga, has suggested varieties of concentration of the mind on points which can be external, internal or universal. A protracted and intensified form of concentration is called meditation.