The Stages of Pratyáhára Yoga
As I mentioned previously, Ananda Marga has harmoniously blended the Shákta, Vaeśńava and Shaeva sádhanás. Of the three, the Shákta sádhaná is the most important, because it is the initial stage of the microcosm’s journey towards the Macrocosm. Progress on this journey is made through pratyáhára yoga. As all spiritual aspirants are aware, the goal of pratyáhára, dhárańá, and dhyána is the attainment of samádhi.6) Pratyáhára is the conscious endeavour to withdraw the mind from mundane qualities and attractions – easier said than done! The process of varńárghyádán7) is in most cases very difficult to perform properly.
Pratyáhára has four stages: yatamána, vyatireka, ekendriya and vashiikára. Yatamána is a conscious effort to transcend the negative influence of the propensities. Suppose you see one of your colleagues taking a bribe, and think, “Had I not been an Ananda Margi I could have also earned some extra money in this way.” This shows that your propensity of greed is not fully controlled, but as you are keen to control it, you have adopted the Ananda Marga way of life. For this conscious effort on your part, you deserve the appellation yatamána.
In vyatireka, the second stage, some propensities may be controlled at one time, but uncontrolled at another time. Or a person may control physical desire, but suffer from an increase in anger; or may become free from greed for money but will develop a strong desire for name and fame. After delivering an eloquent lecture he or she will say, “All the credit goes to Brahma. It is only by His grace that I could deliver such a lecture,” but in his or her heart will think, “What an excellent speech I gave today.” This is called vyatireka.
8) If even one indriya remains uncontrolled, it should be concluded that there is still a worm in the flower of the mind; and a worm-eaten flower cannot be offered to the Lord. Only when all the indriyas are fully controlled can it be said that the mind is under the complete control of the átman [unit consciousness]. This is real pratyáhára, or vashiikára siddhi, for it means Prakrti has merged into the Supreme Cognitive Principle. This is called Krśńasharańa [taking the shelter of Krśńa] in devotional psychology.
The importance of pratyáhára sádhaná is immense, because it involves a harmonious blending of knowledge, devotion and action. In this sádhaná, the Shákta bháva finds its consummation, and the latent devotion starts sprouting. This sprout ultimately develops into the highest Vaeśńava bháva. Shaeva bháva is the path of knowledge. So in social life there is a great need for Sháktas and Vaeśńavas. The pratyáhára yoga with which a Shákta starts rendering service to the world reaches its consummation in the perfect and total service of the Vaeśńava. Pratyáhára begins with vigorous action and culminates in selfless devotion.
Vashiikára siddhi is only attained by devotees. Even Shankaracharya [the great protagonist of jiṋána] admitted, Mokśakárana samagryáḿ bhaktireva gariyasii – “Of all the ways to attain salvation the way of bhakti or devotion is the greatest.”
If knowledge is likened to the elder brother of a family, devotion is his younger sister, happily holding her brother’s hand as she walks beside him. The little sister cannot walk alone, nor would it be safe for her to do so, but when she walks merrily along with her brother, people look lovingly at her and speak sweet words to her. They will probably ask that elder brother, “Is she your little sister?”