Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 126 - Relationship of Pratyahara, Intellect and Bhakti
Date: Mon Feb 23, 2004 2:36pm
Q: Philo of Alexandria wrote about this matter of withdrawing from the senses in Egypt in the first century. His comments strike me as mostly of historical interest, as showing that not only Indian but also Egyptian practitioners were interested in this. His remarks are confusing to me, but he seems to suggest that one should begin with an exquisite attention to the senses, then withdraw from them afterward so as to reside entirely in the intellectual nature. The mind was thought by these mystics to be divine in origin, and therefore the point of contact between the mystic and whatever there is in the universe that is divine.
A: Yes, the mind is the main connection with the divine, as we all can experience when we meditate. So, things haven’t changed since ancient times on that score. However, the way the mind connects us to the divine is not through the intellect. It is through its ability to come to stillness. This is the great secret of the mind’s divine connection. As it says in the old testament of the Bible, “Be still, and know I am God.”
As you know, I take a different approach from the popular definition of pratyahara being, “withdrawal from the senses.” I think it is an over-simplification that can be taken to be a kind of mortification, and I am not for that. In reality, we become less interested in stuffing the physical senses with pleasures as our sensuality expands into the divine realms, which are even more pleasurable. Eventually, the physical senses catch up as our inner divine experience comes back out into every day life. I don’t think this process has much to do with the intellect, other than it is through the intellect that we choose to make the journey of yoga practices.
A great Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, said that the intellect has only one useful purpose, and that is to continually ask the question, “Who am I?” Oddly enough, though Ramana was considered a very high jnani (one enlightened via the intellect), his perpetual question, “Who am I?” is a pure form of bhakti. If one is only interested in answering that question, life becomes pure bhakti/desire for truth. So, if the intellect is used in the right way, it merges with the heart’s deepest longing for divine truth. That is how the intellect can help us make spiritual progress.
If the intellect is not brought beyond reason to the stage of simple divine inquiry (“Who am I? Is there more than this?”), then it is little more than a machine that is prone to build too many castles in the air. The intellect can be very seductive that way. From our inner silence the intellect can be channelled usefully. When it is, it merges with bhakti.
The guru is in you.