When the senses become withdrawn from their objects, as a tortoise’s limbs are drawn into its shell, one’s wisdom stands firm. — Bhagavad Gita, chapter two, verse 58
If you have been to an Indian temple you may have noticed a tortoise facing the door. If you have read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, you will have come across pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga. If you have read the Shiva Samhita or similar yogic texts, you will have encountered a chapter on mudra. These three, tortoise, pratyahara, and mudra, are related.
The tortoise represents pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses from their objects, as the doorway to meditation and samadhi, the temple. The tortoise has five appendages that can be withdrawn. You have five senses that can be withdrawn. To enter the temple of deep meditation, you must pass Kurma the tortoise—you must pass through the door of pratyahara. In later stages, mudra, the advanced form of pratyahara, closes the door behind you.
- The second incarnation of Vishnu, the Sustainer of Life, is in the form of a tortoise.
- Kurma is the name of one of the forms of prana that causes the closing of the eyes.
- Kurma represents pratyahara (sense withdrawal).
- Kurma is the name of a mudra (seal).
Only by passing Kurma can you enter
the temple of true meditation.
If you have not had pratyahara, you have not experienced true meditation. Kurma’s presence in this verse reminds us that we must be like him to progress to this stage.
The mind becomes inactive when the senses are inactive. The inactivity of the senses is accomplished by their withdrawal and introversion. No data is thus being acquired by them so nothing enters the mind; the mind becomes extraordinarily peaceful and your five powers of perception become disengaged from their corresponding organs—they separate, and there is only the darkness of nothing.
The mind can become inactive only when
the senses are inactive.
When pratyahara first presents, you are so surprised that you are thrown right out of it from shear wonder and amazement. But you are so inspired that you will never give up your practice from that time onward. And this is a good thing, for you are headed for true meditation where you discover for yourself that it has its own aim: samadhi. As you progress, you go to places where everything shines of its own light, and the illusion of this world is revealed for the mirage that it really is: a world that can only be seen by indirect, reflected light. And it took complete darkness to get here.
Why is this mentioned after all the talk about indifference in any circumstance, not chasing happiness and having desires, not being subject to anger or fear, being ‘contented in the self by the self’ … and so on? Because all of these begin with pratyahara—it is pratyahara that gets you there.
Now you will want to know how to get this to happen to you. There are two ways. You can either use a meditation technique, or you can surrender yourself to God/Truth and let it happen in its own time.
Using a Technique
It doesn’t really matter what technique you use. All techniques require the use of the will. Apply your technique and do not stop. Don’t give up, stay with it at all costs. You may have to do this for a very long time or you may get results more quickly, but this will be dependent on how effectively you are able to get and keep your attention 100% engaged, and whether you can maintain this without wavering until pratyahara kicks in.
In Surrender Meditation the will is not employed. One surrenders oneself to God and takes what comes without trying to control things in any way. This approach is effortless, but you cannot make anything, such as pratyahara, happen. However, because you have surrendered yourself to Truth, It responds accordingly and pratyahara comes quickly. And because you are surrendered, you will spontaneously go into deep meditation and samadhi.
PRATYAHARA and MEDITATION
Many people ‘meditate’, but hardly anyone knows what meditation really is, or even that there is anything to know about meditation, that there is something that must take place before meditation can even begin, and that there is something that comes after it.
Meditation isn’t what you think.
There are also things that come before one can attain pratyahara. Achieving pratyahara is no small thing. It is not something that occurs casually. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga, meditation is the seventh. To achieve pratyahara, one must have a regular practice that will allow it to present itself. We can call this practice ‘meditation’ because this is what we hope to achieve, or we can call it yoga (union) because this is what we hope to achieve. But it’s the same in the end, because yoga samadhi is the aim of true meditation.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yoga samadhi is the aim of true meditation
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