The Quiet Mind: Antar Mouna (Extract). A Method to Improve the Quality of Life

Swami Sivamurti, Founder and Acharya, Satyanandashram, Hellas, Greece

My subject is the 'quiet mind', one of my favourite techniques in the Satyananda Yoga tradition. Antar means inner, and mouna means silence, so the technique induces a state of pratyahara. Pratyahara is the fifth stage of raja yoga, the threshold between the external environment in which we live and witness, and the internal environment that we witness within the mind. Therefore, it is a very important threshold.

Yogic awareness

You will have heard the word 'awareness' often in yoga; we never really develop enough of our awareness. Awareness is the outcome and the way of yoga. When Swami Satyananda was visiting Greece, in one of his lecture tours around the country he gave a brilliant lecture in Patras, which is a town in the southern part of Greece. There were hundreds and hundreds of people attending that lecture and at the end, when we were walking out together, he turned to me and said, "Sivamurti, it doesn't matter whether anyone remembers anything I said in that whole lecture as long as they remember one word, and that word is 'awareness'. Then my lecture is a success." At that time the word 'awareness' to me was not terribly interesting. Actually, that was many years ago and I was far more interested in dharana and other subjects.

Most of Sri Swamiji's lectures were on awareness. He stressed that point. It seemed such a beautiful statement to my mind at that time, I have never forgotten it and it is only in the later years that I realized just how very important awareness is. Every branch and system of yoga stresses awareness. Awareness in the English language means 'I am aware that is a watch', but that is not what we mean by awareness in yoga. Awareness in yoga means 'I know that I know that it is a watch'.

Identifying with the inner witness

Awareness in yoga means that we find the ability to identify within us the principle that is witnessing, rather than identifying with an ego-orientated state of mind. We have the chance to become the witness and if we can do that, the awareness that we develop has an inherent intelligence and detachment. We can detach ourselves from what is going on in the world around us and inside of us, in the world of the mind.

Through that awareness and detachment we befriend the mind, we become impartial, and we can witness the mind without being identified with it. We start to observe it, observing thoughts, feelings, and emotions. We observe the six friends that Swami Niranjan has been talking about recently: arrogance, envy, passion, infatuation, aggression, greed. We take a distance from the mind and witness it. Before we develop awareness, we have all those emotions within, yet we do not realize it. It takes awareness to give us that perception and ability to actually see what is going on in the mind. So antar mouna is a technique to develop this awareness.

Developing the quiet mind

All of the Satyananda Yoga–Bihar Yoga techniques develop awareness, but antar mouna stresses the development of awareness in a very systematic, scientific way and it quietens the mind. When the mind is quiet, it can see the self. Our minds are full of turbulence, noise, all sorts of wants, desires, feelings, sentiments, worries, fears, guilt, passions. When the mind is like that, agitated and turbulent, we cannot see ourselves, we can only see what is going on in the mind.

Although it is not finished in its evolutionary process, our mind has evolved to a certain point today where a few beings can witness the mind. We can identify our thoughts and we can identify what emotions are going on in our mind, at least most of them. There is suffering and complex, painful emotions where we are still not sure exactly what may be going on. Generally speaking though, we can identify the emotions that we feel and we can identify the thoughts. Animals also have feelings and have their own way of thinking, but they do not know it. They are not aware of it; their minds have not evolved enough to know that they are happy. They are just happy. They do not know that they are happy. They do not know that they are sad; they are just sad or they are just happy. In contrast, as a human being we have the ability to know that we know that we are happy.

While I was in India when I first came and we were living in the old BSY, Sri Swamiji said the only difference between a man on the street and a yogi is the level of awareness. The only difference between a yogi and a guru is the level of awareness. The man on the street knows, the yogi knows that he knows, because he has that level of awareness, and the guru knows that he knows that he knows.

Sri Swamiji gave us three tips to develop the quiet mind. One was to disassociate ourselves from everything that affects the mind or agitates it in any way, for example, worry, fear, jealousy, envy, the different negative forces that agitate the mind. He invited us to withdraw ourselves from situations or from people who create that type of agitation in our mind. That was one method he gave us.

The second way he said was that in the ancient times the sages and the yogis of yore gave advice that we should endeavour to witness the mind, to watch the mind, to be impartial. One of the tests that we can give ourselves to see whether we actually have awareness or not is to see whether we are impartial. As long as we are not impartial, as long as there is a trace of criticism, aggression or worry when a certain thought, feeling or emotion comes into the mind, we are not witnessing, although we may think that we are. We pass the test when we can remain impartial. We can feel or experience the fears, witness the negative thoughts or anger, but to be impartial towards it, just watch it, not to interfere is the accomplishment. We always try to interfere with the mind, we cannot help it. The only way is to witness it.

The third tip was to befriend the mind, to accept what was there.

Levels of mind

Sri Swamiji used to give us the example of an iceberg floating in the sea. The waters around the iceberg come up to a certain point, so you can only see the tip of the iceberg, but underneath the water's surface is the vast mass of the iceberg. He used to say the tip of the iceberg can be likened to the conscious mind, that mind that is active on a daily level. If you were standing on the iceberg looking down into the sea, you will see the iceberg extending a few metres under water, then you cannot see any further. It is that aspect we cannot see that is the subconscious mind.

The subconscious mind is the mind that records everything that has happened to us. Everything that has been said, done, felt, or even what our mother felt or experienced when we were in her womb, has gone into the programming of the mind we have today. This contains the complete record of this particular lifetime and everything that has happened to us. It is likely to be responsible for the way we see and perceive, and for our personality today and how we project ourselves.

The vast amount of the iceberg, the force that moves the iceberg through the waters, could be likened to the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the realm of our archetypes, the complete record of all our past lives. It contains all the psychic powers that are within us in the chakras. It is said to contain the complete record of our evolutionary past and some say that it contains the complete record of our evolutionary future. It is this part of our mind that is really motivating us, though we are unaware of it and we find it very difficult to get into contact with. We can only really reach it through yantra, mantra and mandala, through some form of symbols, which is the language that it understands, a symbolic language which the conscious mind does not understand. That is one way of looking at the mind.

Another way of looking at the mind is from the perspective of Vedanta. Vedanta divides the mind into four qualities: manas, thought and counter thought; chitta or memory, where we store and record information; buddhi or intellect, the aspect of the mind that uses logic and reason, which rationalizes and analyses; and ahamkara, the ego, that which self-arrogates, that which we think we are.

In yoga, we have three selves: first, the self we think we are, the self that is ego-oriented; second, the self that others think we are, which is also ego-oriented; and third, the self that we actually are, which is the Self that is beyond the body, mind and senses, spoken about in the Upanishads and also talked about in the ancient Greek philosophies. Socrates said: "Know thy Self." Pythagoras said: "Know thy Self and you will know either of us and you will know God." When they spoke about their own Self they were talking about that Self which in reality we are, not the body, mind, or senses, but the Self beyond these. That Self we can experience when we quieten the mind. When the mind is turbulent, filled with its passions and worries, we cannot see the Self. We must find a way to quieten the mind. Sri Swamiji has also said we must calm the mind. If you can calm your mind then you can conquer the whole world. When you can be a master of yourself, you are a master of the world.

Preliminary preparation: five levels of pratyahara

Antar mouna is a technique that develops awareness. Swami Niranjan has classified pratyahara into five stages. It is a process, not just something wild, it is a systematic process.

Stage one, awareness of the senses and their effect. The first stage is when you become aware through which sense organ you are receiving the sense stimuli and the effect it has on your mind. For example, if someone says something and offends or insults you, you have to be aware that you are receiving that impression through the ears and how it is affecting your mind. You may try to ignore it, though you are agitated. Now insulted, you insult the other person back, due to the reaction in your mind. Witnessing such impressions and reactions is the first stage of pratyahara, which needs to be learned. You learn witnessing through antar mouna, not just through hearing but through all the senses except for sight, because antar mouna is classically practised with the eyes closed.

One of the beauties of antar mouna is that you can practise it at any time. Once you learn the technique, you can practise it now, while you are listening to me or I can practise it now while I am talking to you. You can practise in your home on a telephone call, while you are eating or having a bath. There is no place where you cannot practise it, since all you have to be able to do is to disconnect, disidentify from what is happening in your mind and become a witness.

Stage two, managing internal reactions. The second stage of pratyahara completes the first stage and involves managing the reactions. Using the same example, say someone insults you, they tell you they do not like you, the way you look, what you said, who you are or whatever it is, and there is a reaction in your mind. The second stage of pratyahara is that, despite the reaction and turmoil you feel in your mind, you do not show it on your face. You keep a blank expression. You do not let the other person see how much it affects you. It is a conscious choice. It is not that you are suppressing it, for you do not suppress anything.

As long as we are aware of what we are doing we are not suppressing the reaction. If we are not aware then we do suppress these things. This is a practice where we are learning awareness. So we are aware that we are being uncomfortable, insecure, insulted, ashamed or sad about what the person has said, yet we do not show it.

Stage three, identifying deeper associations. In the third stage of pratyahara, again you are aware from which sense organ you are receiving the impression, of how the interaction is and you try to see how you can trigger off the deeper memories associated with the sense experience. For example, in the instance of the person who has insulted you, it might trigger off a memory of an insult that you had ten years ago that you have never really worked out; you have never really integrated it into your personality, you have never really come to terms with it.

In this stage, we watch for such situations where something deeper is triggered off in the subconscious mind, or even from the unconscious mind, through an experience that comes through the senses and turned into a reaction.

Stage four, immunity. Using the same analogy, the fourth stage of pratyahara is when a thought arises, but this time there is no inner reaction, you do not feel a reaction any more, it just passes through one ear and out the other. You acknowledge what the person has said and you consider if what the person said is correct. You may have to judge your behaviour, and improve it by making a correction, but it does not create a ripple or leave a trace in your mind to disturb you in any way.

Swami Niranjan calls this the stage of immunity, when we become immune to what people say and do to us. We become immune to external situations; we become immune to what is going on internally in our mind.

Stage five, thoughtlessness. The fifth stage of pratyahara is called shoonya, thoughtlessness, void.

Stages of antar mouna

The technique of antar mouna in itself has six stages.

  • Stage one: The first stage is becoming aware of the sensory impressions, the impressions we receive through the senses, whether it is through the ears, the nose, the mouth, or the eyes, since we can do antar mouna also with the eyes open.
  • Stage two: The second stage of antar mouna is becoming aware of our spontaneous thought processes, witnessing the mind without interfering, without judgment, without criticism. It is not a stage where we judge, blame, criticize or condemn our mind, we just witness that we are not the thought. At the same time, if we are not the thought we are not the mind.
    We are learning how to witness the mind and that makes us aware of the negative part of the mind that we all have, the shadow. We all have this inside us. The shadow is that part that we have not really come to terms with, that part of us that we are ashamed of, that part of our experience that we are putting away somewhere. This comes out in antar mouna. At the same time, the instruction from the teacher is always, "You are not the mind, become aware that you are witnessing the mind. Do not judge the mind, be impartial."
  • Stage three: The third stage of antar mouna is the creation and disposal of thoughts at will. We learn how to create a particular thought, observe it, study it from all points of view and then flick it off at will. Just like that. Then create another thought, focus on that and again flick it off.
  • Stage four: This stage is again about spontaneous thoughts in the mind and removing them at will.
  • Stage five: The fifth stage is thoughtlessness, no thoughts, shoonya, the void; the stage of no thoughts.
  • Stage six: The sixth stage is focusing on your psychic symbol, and allowing that symbol to light your way, to go into deeper and deeper aspects of the mind and more of the mind than you have ever seen before.

That is antar mouna in a nutshell.

Hari Om

—Workshop, 23 October 2013, Ganga Darshan