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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book 2 - The Steps to Union
54. Abstraction (or Pratyahara) is the subjugation of the senses by the thinking principle and their withdrawal from that which has hitherto been their object.

This sutra summarizes for us the work done in the control of the psychic nature, and gives us the result achieved when the thinker, through the medium of the mind, the thinking principle, so dominates the senses that they have no independent expression of their own.

Before attention, meditation and contemplation, (the last three means of yoga) can be properly undertaken, not only must the outer conduct be corrected, not only must inner purity be arrived at, not only must the right attitude towards all things be cultivated and the life currents consequently controlled, but the capacity to subjugate the outgoing tendencies of the five senses must be worked at. So the aspirant is taught the right withdrawal or abstraction of the consciousness which is outgoing towards the world of [230] phenomena, and must learn to center his consciousness in the great central station in the head from whence energy can be consciously distributed as he participates in the great work, from whence he can make a contact with the realm of the soul and in which he can receive the messages and impressions which emanate from that realm. This is a definite stage of achievement and is not simply a symbolic way of expressing one-pointed interest.

The various avenues of sense perception are brought into a quiescent condition. The consciousness of the real man no longer surges outwards along its five avenues of contact. The five senses are dominated by the sixth sense, the mind and all the consciousness and the perceptive faculty of the aspirant is synthesized in the head, and turns inward and upward. The psychic nature is thereby subjugated and the mental plane becomes the field of man's activity. This withdrawal or abstracting process proceeds in stages:

  1. The withdrawal of the physical consciousness, or perception through hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. These modes of perception become temporarily dormant, and man's perception becomes simply mental and the brain consciousness is all that is active on the physical plane.
  2. The withdrawal of the consciousness into the region of the pineal gland, so that man's point of realization is centralized in the region between the middle of the forehead and the pineal gland.
  3. The next stage is that of abstracting the [231] consciousness into the head center, the thousand petalled lotus or sahasara, by knowingly withdrawing the consciousness out of the head. This can be done in full waking consciousness when certain rules are learned and certain work accomplished. These can obviously not be given in such a work as this. The majority of people have to master the first two stages and learn to control the avenues of perception, the five senses.
  4. The abstracting of the consciousness into the astral body and thus freeing it from the physical plane.
  5. A still further withdrawal into the mental body or the mind so that neither the physical nor the astral any longer limit or confine the man.
  6. When this can be done, true meditation and contemplation becomes possible.

Dvivedi says in his commentary on this sutra:

"Abstraction consists in the senses becoming entirely assimilated to, or controlled by the mind. They must be drawn away from their objects and fixed upon the mind and assimilated to it, so that by preventing the transformation of the thinking principle, the sense also will follow it and be immediately controlled. Not only this but they will be ever ready to contribute collectively toward the absorbing meditation of any given thing at any moment."

The result, therefore, of correct abstraction or withdrawal is briefly:

  1. The synthesis of the senses by the sixth sense, the mind. [232]
  2. The alignment of the threefold lower man so that the three bodies function as a coordinated unit.
  3. The freeing of the man from the limitations of the bodies.
  4. The consequent ability of the soul or ego to impress and illuminate the brain through the medium of the mind.
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