Antar mouna belongs to the fifth step of raja yoga. The fifth step of raja yoga is classically and academically called pratyahara, which literally means withdrawal or retreat. It is very interesting when we realize just how unscientific we are in our approach to spiritual knowledge, when we see how most of us would like to practise dhyana*1 immediately, without any proper understanding at all. We fail to understand that it is not possible to be in dhyana without the help of the senses and the mind. Unless we are able to withdraw our senses in a systematic manner without any touch of suppression, it will not be possible for us to go into dhyana. Therefore, antar mouna, being one of the practices of pratyahara, is a wonderful practice to learn.
By the practice of antar mouna you achieve mastery over a great part of your mind. Various other techniques are dangerous for some people. These people dive into concentration without having voluntary control over their mind. They have not mastered their mental functions sufficiently to be able to enter safely the state of consciousness they are not accustomed to. When they come to the point of concentration in meditation, they fall down unconscious as though struck by a peculiar kind of sickness. For example, I recall the time when I gave concentration exercises to a large gathering of people. Hundreds of them fell down unconscious. From this experience I can assure you that if you practise pratyahara first, you will be much better off. It is essential to master certain sense functions first and then certain functions of the brain up to a certain level before attempting higher practices.
Withdrawal of the senses is pratyahara. But what is withdrawal of the senses? There are five senses, five sense experiences and five sense objects. How is it possible to withdraw the senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching? First you close your eyes and become aware of the remaining sense experiences around you, however disturbing they may be. For example, there may be a sound in the next room. You must try to analyze the sound, understand it and grasp its significance. You must separate the sense from the sense experience and only become aware of the experience of sound vibration. To illustrate further: a bell is ringing. First we consider the ear, second the bell, and third the sound of the bell. You must be aware of the sound which is the sense experience. The bell, the sense object, belongs to the outer world. By realizing it, you accomplish the first step of sense withdrawal.
It is very important to realize that it is not an absent-minded comprehension, but a present-minded awareness of the objective reality that you are trying to grasp. You may take one experience and analyze it fully, or you may take many, one right after the other. But sooner or later you must come to the point where you are able to analyze and understand the perception. Then the experience alone remains devoid of the object, and later it is devoid of the subject as well. If you can achieve this, then you have perfected the first stage of antar mouna where you get rid of external experiences.
Now let us see how we practise the first stage of antar mouna. It is possible to practise the first stage anywhere. For instance, if you are a passenger in a car, you just close your eyes and try to remain outside of your experiences. Now, try to observe mentally what you feel, hear and smell. You will find that in a short time all external sounds and objects have disappeared from your mind. Your senses have become withdrawn, although of course not completely. This then is the first step of antar mouna which, as pratyahara, is the fifth limb of raja yoga. It is the first step in esoteric life and the first step to samadhi.*2
When the sense perception of which you have now become aware comes to you consciously without any feeling of disturbance, it means that you are able to understand it. If there is a disturbing sound and you practise awareness of it, it will become less and less disturbing. It will become little more than an ordinary sound. It will convey no meaning to you as to what is producing it, why, where, when, etc. Your mind will turn inward and become indifferent to the external sounds. After this, you must be aware of any spontaneous thought that may arise. You must have the awareness that you are thinking certain thoughts under compulsion and also that there are thoughts that are coming to you without your wanting them. The thoughts coming to the conscious level from the subconscious level are called samskaras.*3
If you sit for a while, a number of thoughts will come to you without any reference or context. For example, you may be eating a delicious dinner, and suddenly a thought comes to you that the previous night you did not have a good rest. This thought is irrelevant. While resting in bed various thoughts may suddenly come to you. These are called spontaneous thoughts. They are embedded in your personality and do not necessarily need any external stimuli. If you see a church and a pious or evil thought comes to you, it is not spontaneous. But if the thought of a mango comes instead, then it is a spontaneous thought, because it was not stimulated by the sight of the church. It is a voluntary expression of a certain part of your personality, which modern psychology terms subconscious. In Vedanta it is referred to as the sukshma sharira or subtle body.
Sukshma sharira, or the astral body in the doctrine of karma, is known as a samskara, the latent impression embedded in your life. Just as smoke comes out of a coal fire in a kitchen, in the same manner a few thoughts come out of all the accumulated thoughts. What we usually do the moment these thoughts come to us is take them up if they are good ones, and send them back if they are bad or painful. The bad thoughts that are sent back are not exhausted or used up unless, of course, you are a jnani or a viveki.*4
Practically all bad thoughts are sent back to the subconscious while most of the good ones are exhausted, the result being that the subconscious vessel is filled with bad thoughts and devoid of good ones. In the practice of antar mouna we concentrate on calming down the disturbances of the indriyas or senses (which is natural on account of your circumstances and environment) and become aware of spontaneous thoughts which arise from the subconscious. The best way to accomplish this is to make your mind aware that you are going to practise being aware of your thoughts. Say to yourself, I am trying to be aware of my thoughts.
Usually it is different with each individual. Here are a few examples. You feel that you are sitting in a corner of your mind and looking at the inner space or chidakasha, constantly repeating the mantra*5 I want to see my thoughts. Which thought is passing through me? Am I thinking or am I not thinking? What am I thinking? Sometimes even while you are aware of the entire thought process, a thought slips by without your noticing it. Only when it has passed the area of your observation do you become aware of it. For example, I was thinking about a mango, but while I was thinking about it, I was not aware that I was thinking . . .
Sometimes there is momentary absent-mindedness. To correct this there is another practice. If you sit down on your veranda, for example, and look down the road and the road is clear, no one is on the road think that it is your consciousness. Then someone appears on the road. You see shadows moving. They are the shadows of your thoughts. That is the higher state of antar mouna. This will be possible only for those who are good at visualization. Then the road disappears and the shadows remain.
The third way is to act as a witness or sakshi as it is called in Vedanta.*6 We say, I am a witness and I want to know what thoughts are in my mind. Now, sit down and try to remain aware of your spontaneous thought process. You may experience that the whole chidakasha is empty and there is no thought. Then you should say to yourself, Now, no thoughts are coming, and I am only aware of the empty space. This practice becomes more and more inspiring and enlightening as you proceed further and further. If you practise this for about two months, you may even see yourself in the lap of your mother at the age of two. In this process the mind usually goes back into the past and never into the future. Women find this practice easier than men.
It is good to study Vibhooti Pada in Patanjalis Yoga Sutras*7 is good to study. It is a method by which a yogi is able to go back as far as his previous life. In our practice, we are able both to analyze our psyche and uncover our subconscious mind.
So, in the second stage of antar mouna, when you are supposed to witness carefully the spontaneous flow of your thoughts, you may be able to observe your thoughts either before they come to the conscious plane or while they are on the conscious plane or after they have left the conscious plane. It all depends on the careful observation and attitude of the mind. If you are very alert, you may be able to predict a thought before it comes to the conscious plane, but if you are absent-minded, you may not be able to detect the thought until the next day. An average person is not only able to think one thought at a time, but can think of many thoughts in the fraction of a second.
Outwardly we feel that we think, but actually the thinking takes place in the subconscious plane of the mind. It is like looking out at a crowd of people where you are able to see all the faces but not any one individually. You may, however, remember them the next day. A thought does not take much time, especially if it is spontaneous. A conscious thought takes longer. While practising this, an aspirant should be constantly alert, never moving the body, never scratching, never sleeping. One should be aware of whatever one does physically, mentally, subconsciously, voluntarily, and involuntarily, at all times.
This is the path of introspection. It is not a good experience for most of us. You must always remind yourself of this in advance. In practising introspection, the impurities come up. It is only in samadhi, and not in dhyana that all the purities such as peace, bliss and light appear. The practice of antar mouna expels negative thoughts because it is a kind of self-eliminator of the negative impurities. You will either enter a state of chidakasha where there are no thoughts, a vacuum state, in which you will only remember bad acts or see all the people who caused you pain or trouble. The longer you practise, the more experiences you will see. It only becomes clear in the end. Symbolic expressions come up. Things that your conscious mind hates to remember appear. This will only happen when you have stepped into the subconscious.
If you have these subconscious explosions during antar mouna the best method of eliminating them is to write them down in a diary or to tell someone whom you trust. That is very important. The most common experiences are snakes, good food, hundreds of people moving everywhere, jungles, swimming in water, the fear of being drowned and flight in space. We now have the conscious manifestation of all the thoughts, desires and experiences that we do not want to know. They must constantly be analyzed. For example, if you have the thought of fear of drowning, it is not sufficient to say that you just have a fear complex. Rather, it may be looked upon as a symbolic manifestation of some action or actions in the past which you do not want to remember. There must be interpretation of these thoughts.
The next questions are, When should we practise this and for how long should we continue? When should we proceed on to the next stage? The moment you find the subconscious manifestations becoming greater and greater, then you should go on to the next stage.
When should we give up the second stage and go on to the next? Thoughts come and go; that is the second stage. Next, visions appear and you cannot understand them; you are afraid of them, and conscious thoughts become less and less. Now is the time for the yogi to go on immediately to the third stage. The reason why the yogi does not continue on and on with the second stage is because he knows that all his thoughts can never be exhausted. To a certain extent you have to manifest them and then you must check them.
While you were practising the second stage of antar mouna, you visualized shadows in the form of visions or dreams. If these shadows come to you in a horrible way, that is, if they are very bad experiences, it is time to proceed to the third stage of antar mouna.
It will not be difficult for you to understand the third stage, because you do the exact opposite of the second stage. You may say that it is a counter-pose. Unlike everything being spontaneous in the second stage, in the third stage everything is done at will. You should not allow any spontaneous thought to arise unless you want it. If a spontaneous thought does come, then you should immediately try to dispose of it. Do not allow it to occupy your mind. This is very important.
How do you get rid of a spontaneous thought? Close your eyes and start thinking about some theme. It must consist of a sequence of events that were thought by you in a conscious manner. For example, you might say, I have misplaced my notes. Now, where did I see them last? At home? No, I remember that I took them from home in the morning. You see, you must invite a thought and then expand it in a definite way. But do not let a thought come of its own accord. If, for instance, a thought comes and says, Please think about me, you should reply, No, I do not want you, I want only thoughts that I will think of.
This is an exercise to develop a conscious thought and then to eliminate it. If any conscious thought or experience that has taken place in your life is not eliminated, or at least not immediately analyzed, it will proceed directly to the subconscious mind. Once it enters your subconscious, it becomes a samskara and is a behind the scenes influencing factor in life.
Therefore, in spiritual life you must be able to recall at will all the past experiences of your life. And if you are looking at impulses, you must give all the thoughts to them. The whole thing should be clear before you. For example, you should be able to see nervous excitement when you see yourself in a mob attacking someones home. You just cut off your mind and say get out. This is how we eliminate the conscious thought. Psychology also accepts the idea that if any conscious experience is properly analyzed, it loses its force, and that is the purpose of this exercise.
I feel that when you are given the freedom to express any thought of your choice, you should select a bad thought rather than a good one, because it is very easy to think of good thoughts and it is also very easy to get rid of them. But it is very difficult to get rid of bad thoughts. Therefore, we should try to develop a method or technique by which we are able to throw out the negative thoughts from our mind.
For example, a good thought comes to you about a certain person, and you start to think that he is a good man, a wonderful friend, etc., and then you think one very bad thought about him and it destroys all the good thoughts. Now, you wish to throw off this bad thought and resume all the good thoughts, but you find that you cannot. It usually happens this way and people spend sleepless nights and restless days worrying about the bad thought. They have probably tried several ways of getting rid of the bad thought, but almost always fail.
Therefore, I have used this third exercise in antar mouna in which we invite a bad thought or at least a thought that we consider as bad. We dwell on the thought for a while and become one with it, then we give our mind a jerk and throw the thought out. A stage of vacuum should arise in the place of the thought; that is, there should be no thought in the mind.
At this time you should invite another new thought to your mind and start the exercise again. When the bad thought comes, think it over, dwell on it for a while and then throw it out. I must remind you again that it is no use thinking of good thoughts during this exercise. You must only think of those thoughts that have a destructive influence on your mind.
In spiritual life, eliminating bad thoughts is a very useful practice. This is the only way that you can know the fundamental nature of a thought. If this practice is continued for fifteen or more days, you can develop a spontaneous psychological conditioning with which you will be able to set aside any thought at will. At least you will not spend any sleepless nights or restless days. You will know how to set aside the bad thoughts.
I can tell you of my personal experience. I can bring any thought to my mind and then at will I can get rid of it. I can throw out the most important and burdensome thought. It does not even take me a second. I just perceive it and then throw it away. I do not have to think, Oh, this thought is coming and I do not want it. If it is not something new, I do not share the thought with my will. It is something that is given to the mind when you practise this third stage. But you must practise it many times. You must remember one important thing while you are practising, which is that you are practising antar mouna and not just merely thinking.
There are also thoughts that have no form. They do not have any particular dimension. You will not have any trouble disposing of them. I am only concerned about good and bad thoughts, divine and undivine. The formless thought such as I must take a bath or I must go to the toilet etc. are called nitya karma or routine thoughts. They do not create a samskara. You must not concern yourself about these thoughts. You must always take thoughts of a very heavy dimension. A typical thought would be I have an enemy who has been troubling me for so many years. Whenever I am conscious of him I feel terrible and want to kill him. This is the type of thought you must dwell on and then dispose of at will, quickly.
I believe that if you think of more than three thoughts in one practice, it will be too much for you. But you must complete one whole theme, and the theme must be of your own planning. By this I do not mean that you should complete the theme right up to the present that is, think up to a certain extent and then cut it off.
Do not repeat the same thought twice, because that is known as brooding. When you think about a certain place in one thought scheme and then the place returns in a later thought, you should say, What is the use of this same thought again? The mind has a certain brooding tendency it likes to return to the same thought again and again. This tendency is very dangerous as far as the development of neurosis is concerned. When modern psychology analyzes the causes of neurosis, it finds that this brooding over the same point over and over again is one cause. When you become aware that this brooding over one point again and again is the nature of the mind, you should be especially aware of it in your practice of antar mouna.
When you finish a theme you must tell yourself, Yes, now this thought is finished, this will not be thought of again. If you like the topic very much, you will not stop thinking about it completely. Then you must say, I am going to think about this topic again, and so on. There will come a certain movement in your thinking process and your mind will say, Enough, and the thinking about the topic will be finished. Possibly some portion of the thought will remain. There may be a mild suppression of the topic, but it will be only mild because most of the topic will have been analyzed. Part of the topic will again return to you. But why should there even be a mild suppression? You should analyze it thoroughly by the method of being the impartial witness, witnessing at will. The thought does not come up on its own, you must bring it up.
This third exercise will help you a little later in the future planning of things because, after all, future thinking and the materialization of your future thoughts depend upon your present correct thinking. You should be able to fulfil any future plan within a few months or years after practising this third exercise. It depends on the individual. But future planning should be controlled; it should not be spontaneous. You must form a definite pattern to follow. The point is that you should only include the item of the future planning after you have gained a certain control over your psychic dimensions. Then the mind will lead you to the right point. You cannot practise this without having attained perfection in the previous exercises; they are interdependent.
The first stage is to be practised until an undisturbed attitude to outer objects has developed. The second stage should be practised until the horrible dimensions of the psyche have appeared. Then and only then should you proceed to the third stage.
The third stage is very important. It is one of the meditations that can be found in a differently expressed way in Buddhist meditation. It is constant self-analysis; we call it atma vichara. This third exercise is the preliminary stage of atma vichara. Modern psychology has something similar, but I believe that when this particular technique is introduced into the psychological field, it will be much better. Some scholars from both the East and the West have assimilated some of it, but of course not in toto.
This method is only helpful for those having an independent psychic system; that is, having their psyche and thinking system under their control. It is not for those who are unable to think or are suffering from neurosis. It is only when you have developed the power of imagination and become aware of your difficulties and when you come to know that there must be a method that will help you, that this practice will help you. Diary writing is an important method that can be added to this practice.
Again, you should pose a thought, dwell on it for some time and then get rid of it. This process must be strictly followed. If any other thought spontaneously comes to you, it is your duty to reject it immediately. After this you should practise a state of thoughtlessness for a few moments before you take up another thought.
Sometimes you will find (if you are realistic, of course) that you are thinking about a thought that came spontaneously. The spontaneous thought gets mixed up with your conscious posing of thoughts. Therefore, it is better if you choose more than one thought and then pick out a certain thought with which you will develop a theme. In this manner you will make sure that you will not select a spontaneous thought. For instance, you may say mentally, Now I am going to think about this trip or that trip or my friend, etc. You must also remember that you must choose the thought that is the most difficult for you to get rid of. It is no use choosing an easy thought.
During the practice of antar mouna you will find yourself, for a short time, engrossed in a state of momentary depression because the mind revolts against analysis. Every mind does not like to be analyzed. The more you try to practise the more resistance you will meet. Minds that are attached to worldly pleasures do not like to be analyzed. Therefore, it is best if you practise this exercise simply and as naturally as you can.
You will also come across the experience of rejecting a thought without completely analyzing it. This may take place for any number of reasons, depending on what your thought was about. Here part of the thought becomes suppressed. It will remain unexpressed in your subconscious mind. You will not be able to help it, as you know that vasanas*8 are endless. If you think that you should think of a thought completely, you can be sure that you can never finish it in this life. There is no end to it; one thought leads to another and that thought to another and so on. What I am trying to explain is that it is better to think a thought two-thirds through and then get rid of it, rather than brood over the same thing day in and out.
If you continue brooding, the thought will only embed itself further and further or deeper and deeper in your subconscious. You must think then that a thought must be checked at a particular stage and not be allowed to continue further. The third practice of antar mouna is now over.
Part 2 will appear in the next issue.