Chocolate and Pratyahara

Sanjeev Bhanot

16/05/2020

How your temptation for chocolate can become a door to your world within –
New perspectives on the concept of Pratyahara

We all have temptations. It can be sweets, different kinds of music or being drawn to beautiful sunsets. Our five senses let us experience our external life and the material world around us. At the same time, there is an internal life which we are mostly unaware of.

When I hold a cup of tea, the heat of the cup which is felt through my skin connects with something internally as well. My senses give me an idea of its temperature, taste, and smell. As we know hands or eyes or ears alone have no capacity to process all these experiences.

As per yogic understanding, the body is known as Jara which means the non-sentient part of our being. The non-sentient part does not process any sensory input unless there is a sentient part behind it. It is more like having a car fully functioning, fueled ready to drive for hundreds of miles but it will not move till there is a driver. So the car here is Jara, the non-sentient being and the driver’s consciousness is Chetna, the sentient being.

The bright lights and beautiful flowers, moving music, soft, silky skin and rough wood. The colors, the taste, the amazing smell of food. We are so seduced by this bewildering alluring world outside, to the extent that we are constantly lost in looking for sensory satisfaction, mostly unaware of the inner world.

As Lord Mahavira, (24th Tirthankara of Jainism) pointed out, there are three worlds. The outer world which everyone is aware of and familiar with, where our energy moves outwards. The other world is the inner world, where energy moves inwards – and beyond both worlds, is the one which we can call the eternal world, eternal existence, where energy is in perfect harmony.

Chocolate and Pratyahara

Your senses are your gateway to your inner world

Our five senses are the doorway to the outer world as our energy flows outwards. This has been often interpreted as an unhelpful waste of energy and obstruction in our spiritual practice, so it led us to think that we should be shutting these doors to the outer world.

Important here to understand is that these five channels of five senses are the same channel that connects us internally too.

Our senses are like five doors or gateways to Chetna, our sentient being or innermost awareness. The door of your house is the one through which you access the world outside. On the other hand, you can also turn around, inwards, to access your inner consciousness.

The flow of energy in all five senses is not equal, some are more energized than others. Whichever channel you have more flow in, is the channel that is more active. This means you will prefer or are more likely to be tempted on that active channel than the others.

  • How do we know which of these channels (senses) are more active in us?
  • Can there be more than one channel active in us?
  • Are there times or circumstances where one or the other channel is more active?

How do we know?

The answers to all these questions are: if you pay attention, you will notice that you have a preference for how you interact with the outer world.

In our hours of concentration, we will find that some of us prefer to be in a quiet place, some of us like to have a piece of background music or a guided meditation, some of us would like to have a fragrance or a visually calming place… or our favorite shawl.

And yes, some of us might find we need multiple channels to have a deeper experience. It is about being aware of the channel and the different combinations.

Although we have a natural preference for one or the other channel that may bring a certain sensory experience that is more intriguing than the other (depending on the circumstances and activities we are involved in), that does not mean that the other channels are not active or available.

For example:

  • when we are hungry, our sense of smell or taste will be more active, signaling the body to look for food
  • when we look through the window, we might see it´s a sunny day, but when we step out, our skin will signal: it´s cold!
  • in the dark, our ears will be more attuned and get more flow
  • underwater, our eyes will be more active than the ears

It is important to find out which of these doors are most active, whether it is our skin, ears, eyes, nose, or tongue. Through active channels, we experience our external world and the innermost world too – with the same ease.

The moment you become aware of that sound, taste, touch, or smell, follow the effects. Stay tuned to the sensations and its impressions. Now bring your awareness where it connects you inside: bringing the awareness inwards is called pratyahara.

We often misunderstand the concept of pratyahara and we get busy in controlling and suppressing our temptations – rather unsuccessfully with lots of effort. This can create a deep sense of guilt that then closes the channel – the same channel that gives us easy and direct access to both worlds.

Chocolate-and-Pratyahara3

A yogic perspective

You can choose to become aware of temptations as your own natural inclination and let that become your strength. The flow of energy through these channels needs to be studied, not controlled. We can face unpleasant consequences when we try to stop or block nature – or what is natural.

Temptations are powerful inner waves and a yogi can learn from a surfer – to study them and learn to ride them. Otherwise, these powerful waves can drown you and make you suffer.

For a yogi, the inner cravings of the external world are an opportunity rather than a threat. Once you discover that your senses help you to connect with your inner world, you will discover how the external, material world is only playing the role of a catalyst or a trigger.

In your inner realm, you will get to know that unstruck sound – the Anahata Nada: a voice without words, a vision without a view, a touch without textures, a scent without smell, and the taste of nectar without juice.

Do not close the doors of your home which allowed you to wander to faraway places – these are the same doors that will allow you to return.

How to practice Pratyahara

  1. Find out your preferred channel:
    • Hear
    • See
    • Taste
    • Touch
    • Smell
  2. Choose the most connected channel and incorporate it into your meditation practice:
    • Hear – Chant and listen to repetitive music
    • See – Find an object to focus on
    • Taste – Experience fruits and edibles mindfully
    • Touch – Use beads or a rosary, mudras
    • Smell – Use flowers and incense sticks

External temptations are not hazards – for a yogi they can be the bridge to the inner world, to rise towards the eternal world.

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