The Sanskrit word pratyahara is made up of two root words: prati and ahara. These root words have the following meanings: prati ‘opposite’, ‘in opposition to’; ahara – ‘to fetch’, ‘bring back’, also ‘to take food’. Therefore, the literal meaning ofpratyahara is ‘to oppose the bringing back’ or ‘to oppose the taking of rood’. In yoga, the word has a specific meaning in conjunction with sense perception. It means that sense perception is opposed. We are continuously receiving impressions and data from the external world through the medium of the senses: eyes, ears, etc. These impressions are the food of the mind. They keep the mind in a continual state of agitation and extroversion. Pratvahara implies that this bringing back of sense data is opposed. The taking of ‘food’ for the senses is prevented. Pratyahara means that inner perception is cut off, disconnected from the senses. This is usually called sense withdrawal’.
In most of our waking life, perception is directed towards the outside world via the senses. by inducing pratyahara and preventing external perception, our perception remains inside the mind. This allows perception of the different layers of the mind. This cutting off of external perception is the purpose of the first stage of antar mouna. It is worthwhile pointing out that we perceive the subconscious layers of the mind during dreams. This is similar to the state to be attained in stage 2 of antar mouna. However, there is one big difference: in dreams and sleep, the level of awareness is slight or nil; in antar mouna and other meditative practices the aim is to maintain a high level of awareness. This is the difference. Actually dreams are themselves the means for releasing tensions from the mind. They act as the safety valve for the mind. Without dreaming, the average person would explode with the pressure of mental tensions. However, this process of confronting mental tension is heightened when there is awareness. Dreams generally lack awareness. Therefore, antar mouna, especially stage 2. is essentially a process of ‘conscious dreaming’. This leads to a speeded-up process of removing tensions from the mind. Pratvahara does not only mean cutting off external sense perception; in fact, this is only the first stage. Pratyahara in the real sense of the word means the state where one’s perception is completely cut off from the thought processes. So, perfected pratyahara implies that both external sense perception and the thought processes are transcended. When this state is achieved then dharana (concentration) will arise and eventually the state of dhyana (meditation).
The entire process of antar mouna is concerned with inducing pratyahara as a means to meditation. Without pratyahara, meditation is impossible, and pratyahara itself is not easy. This is why so few people actually experience the higher state of meditation, but if one approaches one’s mind systematically, then meditation will arise. If the approach is incorrect then meditation is unlikely to occur even if you practise twenty-four hours a day for twenty years. Antar mouna is one such systematic method.
So remember the order carefully: firstly pratyahara, then dharana and then dhyana. If you follow the stages of antar mouna in the correct sequence and perfect each stage, then you will automatically tread the right path.