Pranayama: Bridge to Divine Consciousness

Sri Daya Mata giving talk

By Sri Daya Mata

Excerpts from talks given in satsangas at Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters

From the time of my first meeting with Paramahansa Yogananda many years ago, his teaching of yoga meditation so deeply inspired me. He never asked his students to believe blindly, as do dogmatic religions. Yoga is scientific. It needn’t even be thought of as a religion (in the narrow denominational sense); though in truth, real religion is science. The scientific facts of yoga are based on universal laws. Its truths can be proven by anyone who will apply those laws. That is why yoga thrills me so much. It appeals not only to my heart, but to my sense of reason, because I see it truly is a science.

When Guruji talked about God, I would think, “All right, if God is love, if He is peace, if He is bliss that will satisfy all desires of heart and soul eternally — as every great saint tells us — then I must be able to prove this through my own experience. I cannot be satisfied with mere beliefs about God.” But I realized that I could never find the truth for myself unless I were willing to investigate. To me, that investigation means the willingness and the zeal to devote my life to the divine search. I reasoned that one little lifetime is nothing; I have all of eternity in which to pursue any other goals if I want to — let me use this incarnation to seek God.

I say this to you because sometimes devotees get discouraged and rationalize: “I’ve been meditating for so many hours, over so many years, and still I don’t feel I am getting closer to God.” Well, what of it? Guruji often quoted: “The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that the saint never gave up.” How dare we try to impose upon God our limitations of how much time we are willing to devote to Him, and then give up if He does not respond according to our timetable? That is ridiculous. Many persons spend their whole life madly pursuing some particular ambition — to be a great artist or scientist, or build a business empire. Those who would find God must have that same undaunted zeal, tremendous strength of mind and determination — if necessary until the end of life. If you ask me what has been most helpful to me in this endeavor, it is this: I made up my mind in the very beginning that my attitude would be, “Lord, in this life I will let nothing deter me from seeking You wholeheartedly, because I know that is the only way to prove to myself the truth of what Christ, Krishna, Buddha, and all the great saints have said.”

The science of yoga bestows that proof. Most of you know, as taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, that the path is eightfold. First come yama and niyama, the do’s and don’ts that must be observed for spiritual progress. Next is asana, mastering the proper posture for sitting in meditation with a straight spine and complete physical relaxation. Then we are ready to practice pranayama, life force control — which leads to pratyahara, interiorization of the mind, and the higher states of concentration, meditation, and ecstatic God-union: dharana, dhyana, samadhi.

 

Let me say a little about pranayama, because this is one of the most important milestones on the path to Self-realization. Some yoga books and instructors teach that it only means breathing exercises. No. It is much deeper than that. Prana means life energy; ayama means control. Pranayama, Guruji taught, works with the breath, mind, and subtle life energies in the body to bring the nervous system and senses and attention under your conscious control.

In ordinary consciousness, one’s energy, mind, and concentration are externalized, pouring outward through the senses and other instruments of the physical self. When one is so identified with the world and with the flesh that the mind is always absorbed in desires, moods, physical activities, habits, he really does not know himself, his true nature as a soul. The soul is all-wise, the soul is all-blissful, the soul is all-loving. But, as Guruji used to say to us: “So long as you keep your mind on the surface of life, so long you will never know what it is to enjoy that blissful state of the soul.” It is only when you go deep within, in meditation, that you suddenly realize how completely you had forgotten what you really are. You will be astonished to find what a tremendous gap there is between ordinary consciousness, which is of the world, and that consciousness in which you feel that just behind the restless mind, just behind the limited physical awareness, is a vast realm of divine awareness, of divine bliss.

Pranayama is the bridge that one must pass over to get from physical consciousness to this divine awareness within. Remembering our years of practice of meditation with Master, and remembering the many informal talks he gave to us, I cannot stress sufficiently to you the importance of your daily practice of Hong-Sau and the other techniques of mastering the breath, mind, and life energy.*

  
“It is only when you go deep within, in meditation, that you suddenly realize how completely you had forgotten what you really are.”

Master said: “If you would know God, you must practice pranayama.” When you sit to meditate and do not practice pranayama, inevitably you will find that your mind is wandering in a million different directions. That is why the Hong‑Sau Technique is so essential. By the practice of this technique you develop such power of concentration that when you attempt to draw your mind within, it obeys you. It does not remain on the surface, running everywhere, occupied with physical sensations and restless thoughts. When Hong-Sau is practiced rightly, it takes the scattered attention and life force, which is wasted upon useless thoughts and useless activities and fleshly desires, and focuses or centralizes all of that attention and energy in one direction. Eventually you have such command over your mind that the moment you direct it toward God, like a plummet it dives deep into the ocean of awareness of His peace, bliss, and love. If I could just pass that perception on to you, which I see so clearly! It is not that suddenly some great power comes from heaven and manifests to you. That power, that peace, that blissful Being is already present at this moment. The mind feels a separation from God only because it is busy with the senses and their perceptions, and with thoughts and feelings related to them.

You cannot think your way into God’s presence. You have to experience your way into God’s presence. Merely thinking about God or reading books about higher states of consciousness can never give you the personal experience of divine ecstasy. You can come to that state only through application of the psychophysical laws that govern man’s consciousness. Yoga teaches you step-by-step how to free the mind from the constant distractions of sensations and from the restless thoughts roused by sensations. You learn to calm the breath and heart. When the heart is made calm, then sensations will disappear of themselves.

When Guruji was explaining this, he would say, “Let me illustrate this point to you. As soon as I concentrate on my heart, immediately the pulse calms down and the mind is disconnected from the senses. I look straight at you and I can see you. But now I withdraw my life force” — and we would see him directing his attention upward to the Christ Center between the eyebrows — ”and I do not see you. In just this short time my mind is completely cut off from outer sensations. You may feel my pulse, and you will see that it is hardly beating at all. You could put a piece of ice in my hand, but I would not feel it in this state.”

That is why Guruji says: “Apply not only the mental approach to God, but the pranayama approach to God....Then you can disengage the mind from the senses and race toward God.”

 

I used to marvel when I would see Master hounded by so many things in connection with the work — concerns about people, projects, finances, and so forth. But he had the ability instantly to turn his attention away from all of this and go into meditation. We might be engaged in discussing organizational matters, and then from one moment to the next his mind would completely shift. He would shut off the telephones of the senses that are constantly transmitting information about the outside world, and would be immediately with God — his mind absorbed in that Divine Bliss, that Divine Love. I was in awe of that: “How is it possible for him to throw so quickly all those troubles out of his mind — those problems that I found so very distressing! I once said to him, “Master, how do you do it?”

He replied: “It comes through meditation. Do your Hong-Sau, practice the Aum Technique, and then do your Kriya. And after your Kriya, don’t get up, don’t leave your meditation. When your attention is withdrawn from the world and focused within, that is the time you have made contact with God. That is the time to sit long and converse silently with God in the language of your heart.”



“ ‘Apply not only the mental approach to God, but the pranayama approach to God....Then you can disengage the mind from the senses and race toward God.’­”
      

By following his counsel, I saw that one does develop that same freedom, that same power to shut off worries and problems. Now I find that the moment I sit to meditate, nothing else exists for me. The world, the work, everything fades away. But it is because of Hong-Sau. After all of these years of practicing it, I see that no matter how distressed my mind is, no matter how my thoughts are wrapped up in the duties and responsibilities of the organization, the moment I concentrate my mind on that technique, I am with God. With just a few moments of practice, the sensations in my body and the restlessness in the mind are almost instantly calmed down. Now, you will say, “Well, you are different from us — you have been practicing it and the other techniques for so many years.” That’s true, it is because I have been practicing for so many years, and because I never gave up. That is why I’m encouraging you to persevere in making the same deep effort.

Practice the techniques regularly, morning and evening, and practice Hong-Sau whenever you have a little time to spare during the day. When we used to travel in the car between Encinitas and Mt. Washington and the desert with Master, he didn’t let us talk much with him or with each other, unless he himself initiated the conversation. His training was: Utilize every moment in the practice of inner God-communion. If we started talking, he would say: “Why don’t you practice Hong-Sau? Why don’t you meditate?” That was marvelous training he gave us. When you are on the train, or in an airplane, or traveling in a car (but not driving!), you can always practice this interiorization. By teaching your mind to go within in this way, utilizing your spare time, or as much of it as you can, in the practice of spiritual exercises, you spiritualize your thinking, you spiritualize your actions, you bring the breath and mind under control.

 

Be patient, and persevere. Before you can reach the state of complete mental focus in which the mind is absolutely riveted on the technique, there is a long preparatory period when you are just practicing. Sometimes it takes years of regular practice, sometimes not so long — depending on your determination and your past-life karma — until you develop that power of single-pointed concentration. It is like trying to saw a piece of wood. At first the saw will tend to slip one way or another from the line you are trying to cut. But eventually it will start to make a groove, and then it will go deeper and deeper into that one groove. Similarly with the Hong‑Sau Technique: In the beginning, the mind just slips around; it cannot seem to build that groove. But as you keep bringing the mind back to the technique again and again, suddenly one day you will see that your whole attention, just like that saw, is going in that channel. And after perhaps just a few moments of this, you begin to feel the nature of your real Self, the soul.

In the interiorized state that comes from successful practice of pranayama, one feels first a tremendous peace, which is so satisfying. The soul that has felt so parched for so long suddenly feels, oh! such satisfaction, such fulfillment — ”the peace that surpasseth all understanding” that the Bible speaks of. And then from that peace comes a sense of expansion, because you have withdrawn your energy from the senses that make you identify with the finite body. You feel expanded beyond the body; your consciousness is no longer restricted to this little cage of flesh that has for so long confined the soul.

  

“The moment you pray to God to reveal Himself, you are immersed in the experience of one of His intoxicating qualities—bliss or peace or a comforting, unshakable security.”

Then comes the next step, which is so beautiful and which thrills me so much. Because the attention is freed from the restlessness-producing sensations of the body, you are able to hold your mind on one thought. And when that one thought you are holding is of God, then begins meditation. Up till then you have been practicing concentration, but then begins real meditation. The moment you put that concentrated, interiorized mind exclusively on God, oh, I don’t know how to describe it! There is such a tangible response, which seems to be coming from some source deep within yourself. The moment you speak to God in terms of love, you feel that response of love welling up within you. The moment you pray to God to reveal Himself, you are immersed in the experience of one of His intoxicating qualities — bliss or peace or a comforting, unshakable security. The moment you speak to God seeking wisdom, you feel an understanding opening up within you: “Oh, now I see! I have the answers to what was troubling me.”

God is present in all these ways right within your soul. By pranayama meditation, what you are actually doing is pulling away the obscuring veil of maya, so that you realize yourself as the soul. In that state there is no consciousness of the little ego. Ego is tied to the flesh, to mundane desires — fame and glory, name and position, and so on. But in soul consciousness all those cravings vanish. You see yourself as a reflection of the Divine Spirit, complete and perfect and whole. And you naturally feel great love and reverence for all other beings, for you perceive that what is divine within yourself is also within every living thing.

What more can I say? How can you want anything else? Hong-Sau is a bridge that will take you from ordinary consciousness to that divine consciousness. If you use it every day, you will understand what I am saying, what our blessed Master spoke of — not through your intellect, but through your own direct experience. Practice it faithfully. You have a key that will open up infinity, if you will use it. You will come to the point where after just a little bit of Hong-Sau, if you turn the mind to the Divine Beloved, instantly you are in that sweet, sweet awareness — that divine communion. And you will say, “How could I crave anything else? How could I ever have allowed myself to be dragged down by attachment to the body, by anger, by these coarse senses?” You want only to continue forever drinking deep of that inexpressible sweetness, which can never be found through anything in this finite world.

One should not indiscriminately speak of one’s inner experiences, lest they leave and are lost; but I have such desire to awaken within each one of you deeper faith in God, deeper love for Him, deeper understanding of the way that leads to Him. That is why I speak this way. Believe this — if you never believe anything else from Daya Mata, believe this: If you steadfastly follow this path, regularly and faithfully practicing the techniques with love and longing for God, you will find for yourself what an incomparable treasure Master has given you through these teachings. You will find God.

Self-Realization Fellowship - Paramahansa Yogananda Biography of a Yogi

 

* Taught to students of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lessons. The Hong-Sau Technique of Concentration and the Aum Technique of Meditation are preparatory to receiving Kriya Yoga, the highest technique of pranayama meditation taught by the Self-Realization Fellowship line of Gurus.

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