Methods for Quieting and Focusing the Mind in Raja Yoga

Sri Aurobindo describes the traditional practices recommended in Raja Yoga for attaining the one-pointed indrawn, concentrated status called “Samadhi”: “Rajayogic concentration is divided into four stages; it commences with the drawing both of the mind and senses from outward things, proceeds to the holding of the one object of concentration to the exclusion of all other ideas and mental activities, then to the prolonged absorption of the mind in this object, finally, to the complete ingoing of the consciousness by which it is lost to all outward mental activity in the oneness of Samadhi.” This step-by-step progression of the movement of the awareness inward is intended to separate the mind from the outer, transitory details of existence and focus it on a status of divine realization.

For a being based in the outer world of the senses and the active, interactive life, the end-result does not come immediately or without some intervening steps. In order to pull the mind away from the sense impressions and reactions, Raja Yoga utilizes one or more techniques, including the use of Mantra, which creates its own “master wave” within the mind-stuff, drowning out all the smaller waves of sense-impressions, emotions, desires, reactions, and thoughts. There are of course other techniques available such as Tratak (concentration on one point of light) or, as we see in some of the Buddhist systems, an elaborate visualization schema that occupies the mind and fills it with one image at the end, held in exquisite detail, and thus, superseding every other form or movement. “By this concentration on the idea the mind enters from the idea into its reality, into which it sinks silent, absorbed, unified.”

Sri Aurobindo observes that there are alternative methods which, although not generally taught in classical Raja Yoga, nevertheless have a similar basis and result: “Some of them are directed rather to the quiescence of the mind than to its immediate absorption, as the discipline by which the mind is simply watched and allowed to exhaust its habit of vagrant thought in a purposeless running from which it feels all sanction, purpose and interest withdrawn, and that, more strenuous and rapidly effective, by which all outward-going thought is excluded and the mind forced to sink into itself where in its absolute quietude it can only reflect the pure Being or pass away into its superconscient existence.”

Elsewhere Sri Aurobindo has described his own experience of achieving what he called the “silent mind”. The method described there more or less fits into the description of excluding the outward-going thought and forcing the mind into a state of pure, silent awareness of Being.

Each of these methods has its adherents, based on the individual development and capacities of the seeker. The specific method is not as important as the end result, obviously.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 28, Rajayoga, pp. 518-519

Samadhi and the Paths of Yoga

Since Yoga aims to achieve realization of union with the Divine in a higher status of consciousness, not just an intellectual conviction or emotional attachment to a specific form or religious belief, it must necessarily involve methods for developing the consciousness on the higher levels. We have seen that Samadhi is a powerful tool for the individual to experience the higher planes and for some forms of Yoga, attainment of Samadhi is tantamount to success in the practice, as it achieves the Oneness that the seeker is trying to achieve.

The status of the yogic trance however can be achieved through all the paths of Yoga, not solely through the practices known under the general rubric of the Yoga of knowledge, although clearly it occupies a central role in that yogic path. There can be the ecstatic trance of the devotional paths, for instance. And there are the paths involving psycho-physical practices that can lead to Samadhi as well. The most well-known of these are called Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “…for in spite of the wide difference of their methods from that of the path of knowledge, they have this same principle as their final justification. At the same time, it will not be necessary for us to do more than regard the spirit of their gradations in passing; for in a synthetic and integral Yoga they take a secondary importance; their aims have indeed to be included, but their methods can either altogether be dispensed with or used only for a preliminary or else a casual assistance.”

The integral Yoga may, at various stages, utilize the techniques or practices of any of the paths of Yoga, but it is not bound to them. The seeker will deal with the various complex aspects of his nature using whatever tools are necessary, while keeping his focus on the end goal of union with the Divine and the transformation of his life and action in the world. The intense and all-consuming concentration required for ultimate success in the practice of Hatha Yoga cannot be more than a brief interlude in this wider aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 27, Hathayoga, pp. 506-507

The Role of Samadhi in the Integral Yoga

It is the stated goal of the Integral Yoga to shift the standpoint of consciousness to the divine standpoint, and to have the knowledge, power and bliss of this higher consciousness permeate and transform the outer life in the world. Whereas in the traditional Yoga of knowledge, there is considerable focus on achieving the higher consciousness, it is frequently tied to an abandonment of the outer life. Samadhi is the mechanism by which the direct experience of these higher states of awareness can most easily be accessed, and thus, for both the integral Yoga and the Yoga of knowledge, Samadhi, the yogic trance, is an important tool of leverage.

For the integral Yoga, Sri Aurobindo’s suggestion that once established, the consciousness achieved in Samadhi can, through training and repetitive practice, become accessible to the waking consciousness, is an important point, as it maintains the significant role of Samadhi, yet does not require abandonment of the outer life as the goal or end-point of the process.

Sri Aurobindo observes in this regard: “But still there are certain heights of spiritual and psychic experience of which the direct as opposed to a reflecting experience can only be acquired deeply and in its fullness by means of the Yogic trance. And even for that which can be otherwise acquired, it offers a ready means, a facility which becomes more helpful, if not indispensable, the higher and more difficult of access become the planes on which the heightened spiritual experience is sought.”

He turns then to the integration process: “Once attained there, it has to be brought as much as possible into the waking consciousness. For in a Yoga which embraces all life completely and without reserve, the full use of Samadhi comes only when its gains can be made the normal possession and experience for an integral waking of the embodied soul in the human being.”

The evolutionary progression shows that consciousness systematically rises to new levels, and the instruments of perception, response and action take on a new character as the new level begins to express itself. This same progression leads to the planes beyond our current limitations at the mental level and show that Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint is aligned with the progression of the evolution of consciousness in the universal manifestation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pg. 505

The Characteristics and Nature of the “Sleep-State” of Samadhi

Sri Aurobindo reminds us that the use of the terminology of “dream-state” and “sleep-state” for the stages of the trance of Samadhi is symbolic in nature, so that we can try to relate it to some experience we have in our normal human consciousness; however, it is important to remember that this is symbolic language only and not a precise description of the experience. Just as the “dream-state” accesses the inner vital and mental planes, the “sleep-state” accesses higher planes of awareness that are not normally accessible to the mental waking consciousness. Thus, when entering into these higher states, the transcription of the mind is of deep, dreamless sleep. Sri Aurobindo clarifies however that this is not really a “sleep” experience: “It is not the truth that the Self in the third status called perfect sleep, susupti, is in a state of slumber. The sleep self is on the contrary described as Prajna, the Master of Wisdom and Knowledge, Self of the Gnosis, and as Ishwara, the Lord of being. To the physical mind a sleep, it is to our wider and subtler consciousness a greater waking.”

When the consciousness exceeds the boundaries within which the physical consciousness can perceive and respond to it, there is appearance of a blank or emptiness that seems to be sleep. Through training, the mind can extend the reach of the normal waking awareness to a certain extent. “This border-line varies with the power of the individual consciousness, with the degree and height of its enlightenment and awakening. The line may be pushed up higher and higher until it may pass even beyond the mind. Normally indeed the human mind cannot be awake even with the inner waking of trance, on the supramental levels; but this disability can be overcome. Awake on these levels the soul becomes master of the ranges of gnostic thought, gnostic will, gnostic delight, and if it can do this in Samadhi, it may carry its memory of experience and its power of experience over into the waking state. Even on the yet higher level open to us, that of the Ananda, the awakened soul may become similarly possessed of the Bliss-Self both in its concentration and in its cosmic comprehension. But still there may be ranges above from which it can bring back no memory except that which says, “somehow, indescribably, I was in bliss,” the bliss of an unconditioned existence beyond al potentiality of expression by thought or description by image or feature.”

These ranges beyond the ability of the waking consciousness to partake in any direct way are what can be called the “sleep-state” of Samadhi.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pp. 504-505

Integrating the Dream-State of Samadhi and the Waking Consciousness

For those who pursue the traditional Yoga of knowledge with the goal of abandoning the outer life, it is not of much concern that there is a break between the inner consciousness of the dream-state of Samadhi and the outer consciousness of the physical mind and the senses dealing with the outer world. For the practitioner of the integral Yoga, however, this gap in consciousness is not acceptable as a permanent obstacle.

Sri Aurobindo observes that in fact, the gulf can be bridged and the consciousness of the inner mind and vital can be integrated with the outer consciousness and their powers brought to bear on the life of the world: “But this gulf, this break is not inevitable. In the first place, it is only in the untrained psychic being that the experiences of the trance are a blank to the waking mind; as it becomes the master of its Samadhi, it is able to pass without any gulf of oblivion from the inner to the outer waking. Secondly, when this has been once done, what is attained in the inner state, becomes easier to acquire by the waking consciousness and to turn into the normal experience, powers, mental status of the waking life. The subtle mind which is normally eclipsed by the insistence of the physical being, becomes powerful even in the waking state, until even there the enlarging man is able to live in his several subtle bodies as well as in his physical body, to be aware of them and in them, to use their senses, faculties, powers, to dwell in possession of supra-physical truth, consciousness and experience.”

This is then the missing link between the trance state and the waking state, and it provides the underlying foundation and the mechanism for the inner yogic practice to eventually take control over and transform the outer being. It also provides a basis for action in the world that is directed from this inner consciousness and is thus not bound by the limitations of the outer desire-driven physical-vital existence.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pp. 503-504

The Greatest Value of the Dream-State of Samadhi

The psychic powers that can develop as a result of entering into the inner realms of the vital and mental planes in the trance of Samadhi are useful for results in the outer world, but are distractions, more than anything else, for the seeker of the Supreme. The integral Yoga does not exclude the possibility of the use of these powers for any work in the outer world, but the seeker certainly should not allow them to divert the attention or miss the more important aspects of the development of consciousness that the Yoga seeks.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The greatest value of the dream-state of Samadhi lies, however, not in these more outward things, but in its power to open up easily higher ranges and powers of thought, emotion, will by which the soul grows in height, range and self-mastery. Especially, withdrawing from the distraction of sensible things, it can, in a perfect power of concentrated self-seclusion, prepare itself by a free reasoning, thought, discrimination or more intimately, more finally, by an ever deeper vision and identification, for access to the Divine, the supreme Self, the transcendent Truth, both in its principles and powers and manifestations and in its highest original Being. Or it can by an absorbed inner joy and emotion, as in a sealed and secluded chamber of the soul, prepare itself for the delight of union with the divine Beloved, the Master of all bliss, rapture and Ananda.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pg. 503

Powers of Consciousness in the Dream-State of Samadhi

There has been over the centuries much debate (and excitement) about the possibility of special powers of consciousness being available to the human individual who either is born with, or gains through a specific discipline or practice, entry into these states of awareness. Many of these have been called “psychic powers” and it seems they are highly sought after by many. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, precognition, aura reading, and out of body travel experience are just a few of these powers. There are many who simply disavow the existence or possibility of these powers, or who treat all those who claim to possess them to any degree as charlatans or frauds. There are others who have attempted to find scientific methods of proving the existence or non-existence of these powers; and there are even those in various military commands around the world who have set up “psychic units” to systematically find those who are capable of anything in this regard, support and train them, and deploy them for their military purposes.

Many people have seemingly had experiences that would fit into these categories, and thus, it is impossible to dismiss them, and their credibility outright in its entirety. Sri Aurobindo provides us insight to the origin and development of these powers of consciousness:

“…for these phenomena are only the exception admission of the waking mentality into a limited sensitiveness to what might be called the image memory of the subtle ether, by which not only the signs of all things past and present, but even those of things future can be seized; for things future are already accomplished to knowledge and vision on higher planes of mind and their images can be reflected upon mind in the present. But these things which are exceptional to the waking mentality, difficult and to be perceived only by the possession of a special power or else after assiduous training, are natural to the dream-state of trance consciousness in which the subliminal mind is free. And that mind can also take cognizance of things on various planes not only by these sensible images, but by a species of thought perception or of thought reception and impression analogous to that phenomenon of consciousness which in modern psychical science has been given the name of telepathy. But the powers of the dream-state do not end here. It can by a sort of projection of ourselves, in a subtle form of the mental or vital body, actually enter into other planes and worlds or into distant places and scenes of this world, move among them with a sort of bodily presence and bring back the direct experience of their scenes and truths and occurrences. it may even project actually the mental or vital body in a profoundest trance without sign of life until its return.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pp. 502-503

Experiences of the Mind in Samadhi

The Yogic state of Samadhi which liberates the mind from its dependence on and attachment to the physical sensations brings one first of all to the inner vital and mental consciousness. Those who experience this state report that there is a much freer and more flexible action of the consciousness, and a range that allows perceptions on the physical, subtle-physical, vital and mental planes. Because the physical senses are not the means of interaction with the world, there can be a much finer and subtler sense of perception at work that impinges directly on the mind.

Sri Aurobindo explains: “It is able first to take cognizance of all things whether in the material world or upon other planes by aid of perceptible images, not only images of things visible, but of sounds, touch, smell, taste, movement, action, of all that makes itself sensible to the mind and its organs. For the mind in Samadhi has access to the inner space called sometimes the cidakasha, to depths of more and more subtle ether which are heavily curtained from the physical sense by the grosser ether of the material universe, and all things sensible, whether in the material world or any other, create reconstituting vibrations, sensible echoes, reproductions, recurrent images of themselves which that subtler ether receives and retains.”

Just as the physical scientists work to extend the range of perception of the physical world through the development of enhancements and tools such as microscopes, telescopes, etc., the scientists of consciousness can work to gain greater abilities to perceive and respond than the mind trapped in the physical consciousness can wield. These new powers help to bring a new understanding of the universal manifestation, the Oneness and the interaction of all beings, forms and forces in one coordinated whole.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pg. 502

Two Necessities to Gain Possession of the Powers of the Dream-State

Sri Aurobindo has described the dream-state of consciousness as the symbolic expression for the inner vital-mental consciousness that functions independently of the physical senses. It is possible to gain possession of the powers of these inner and more subtle levels of awareness, but this requires two distinct steps to be completed. First, we can recognize that as long as we are tied to the physical senses and react to their impulsions, we cannot move the focus inward effectively. The mind continues to follow the sense impressions and gets pulled out to the sights, sounds, smells and sensations delivered by the sense organs. The first requirement therefore is to disassociate the mind from the distracting influence of the sense organs. This does not necessarily means one becomes oblivious to the outer world, however, as the subtle senses that are part of the inner consciousness may still perceive, but in a different form and manner from the physical sensations.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is quite possible indeed to be aware in the dream-trance of the outer physical world through the subtle senses which belong to the subtle body; one may be aware of them just so far as one chooses and on a much wider scale than in the waking condition: for the subtle senses have a far more powerful range than the gross physical organs, a range which may be made practically unlimited.”

“In Yoga various devices are used to seal up the doors of the physical sense, some of them physical devices; but the one all-sufficient means is a force of concentration by which the mind is drawn inward to depths where the call of physical things can no longer easily attain to it.”

An example of a physical device is used to achieve this inward state is called tratak. This is a focusing of the gaze intensely on a candle or other illuminated object to such an extent that the viewer becomes one with the candle flame and loses the sense of separateness, and enters into a trance-state as a result.

“A second necessity is to get rid of the intervention of physical sleep. The ordinary habit of the mind when it goes in away from contact with physical things is to fall into the torpor of sleep or its dreams, and therefore when called in for the purposes of Samadhi, it gives or tends to give, at the first chance, by sheer force of habit, not the response demanded, but its usual response of physical slumber. This habit of the mind has to be got rid of; the mind has to learn to be awake in the dream-state, in possession of itself, not with the outgoing, but with an ingathered wakefulness in which, though immersed in itself, it exercises all its powers.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pp. 501-502

The Yogic Dream-State and the Ordinary Dream-State

Much work has been done, particularly in Western psychology, to develop a coherent capability of interpreting dreams. This work focuses entirely on the ordinary dream-state experienced by human beings while they are sleeping. During the period of REM sleep, the mind is basically disconnected from conscious participation in the outer world, but is active with what we call dreams. Making sense out of these dreams is difficult due to the confused and disorganized way most of them are presented to the mind’s eye. It is important to recognize, that despite the coincidence in the terminology, this ordinary dream-state is not comparable to the “dream-state” that can take place through the process of the Yogic trance.

Sri Aurobindo compares the Yogic trance with the ordinary dream experience: “The latter belongs to the physical mind; in the former the mind proper and subtle is at work liberated from the immixture of the physical mentality. The dreams of the physical mind are an incoherent jumble made up partly of responses to vague touches from the physical world round which the lower mind-faculties disconnected from the will and reason, the buddhi, weave a web of wandering phantasy, partly of disordered associations from the brain-memory, partly of reflections from the soul travelling on the mental plane, reflections which are, ordinarily, received without intelligence or coordination, wildly distorted in the reception and mixed up confusedly with the other dream elements, with brain-memories and fantastic responses to any sensory touch from the physical world. In the Yogic dream-state, on the other hand, the mind is in clear possession of itself, though not of the physical world, works coherently and is able to use either its ordinary will and intelligence with a concentrated power or else the higher will and intelligence of the more exalted planes of mind. It withdraws from experience of the outer world, it puts its seals upon the physical senses and their doors of communication with material things; but everything that is proper to itself, thought, reasoning, reflection, vision, it can continue to execute with an increased purity and power of sovereign concentration free from the distractions and unsteadiness of the waking mind. It can use too its will and produce upon itself or upon its environment mental, moral and even physical effects which may continue and have their after-consequences on the waking state subsequent to the cessation of the trance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 26, Samadhi, pp. 500-501