A summary of my notes taken from a lecture given by Prashant Iyengar in June 2020
Our senses cannot be understood mechanically. We cannot have a mechanical view of our senses. How our eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin function depend not just on the external object but on our subjective understanding.
A camera will pick up everything in the frame. An audio device will pick up everything with no reservations or discriminations. But how do we have a visual act? If we look at something beautiful or not, our eyes will function differently, unlike a camera. Our ears as well; we listen and hear differently depending on the sound.
So don’t think the senses are very technical. There is no formal understanding of the sensely acts like your asana or pranayama practice.
Therefore we have to have observation. Patanjali dedicated 1 limb of 8 to deal with the senses. This is pratyahara,
The word is so fascinating, so apt, that we have to investigate it: Prati – opposite, – ahara – food.
Vision and form(rupa) is the food for the eyes
Sound (sabha) is the food for the ears
Taste (rasa) is the food for the tongue
Touch (sparsa) is the food for the skin
Smell (gandha) is the food for the nose
When the five senses are feeding, they gravitate towards external objects and are called visheindriyas. This is their role in the business plane of daily activity, But, western understanding sees them as cognitive organs or jnanendriyas – organs of knowledge. How do the senses go for knowledge? How much do they go for objects?
How are your senses involved with spiritual processes? Do you send your senses somewhere? Ears somewhere? Eyes somewhere? Of course – we send them within. But they do not function in the same way.
The eyes are not going inwards to feed on sight
The ears are not going inwards to feed on sound
The tongue is not going inwards to feed on taste
The nose is not going inwards to feed on smell
The skin is not going inwards to feed on touch
Instead, you go for wisdom. It is then that the senses become organs of knowledge (jnanendriyas). When we are eating mangoes we don’t bother to have any knowledge of the mango. We just want to relish the taste, not the knowledge of the mango. The eyes don’t necessarily look at something for knowledge, but for gratification, ears listen to gratify, not to gain knowledge etc. In this realm, it is not right to call the senses jnanendriyas when they are grazing in the field of sense objects. They graze to get gratified and that is their food.
If you take the food away, then what do they become?
-ahara is food.
Atyahara is overeating
Upahara is grazing or munching
Alpahara is undereating
Anahara is fasting
Then we can understand pratyahara. Pratyahara is a kind of food. The senses are not fasting. The senses are taken inward and there is an experience. You don’t go for a sensory deprivation condition where you are unconscious. The senses are merely disengaged from external objects but engaged within, for knowledge. When this happens, the roles of the 5 senses become one – wisdom alone.
It is not like the turtle withdrawing it’s limbs. A tortoise does this out of fear not due to yoga. It is a defense mechanism for protection. We do the same – we shut our eyes, block our ears and nose etc. to protect our senses.
Pratyahara is not drawing the senses inwards. Pratyahara is pratyahara. It cannot be translated in technical terms. The senses go inwards for a spiritual purpose, not fasting or starving. They have an engagement and become spiritual wisdom organs and they become absorbed from five to one.
(these are my notes, therefore any and all misunderstandings of Prashant’s teachings are mine.)