Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - August 2012  

Like a Tortoise Withdrawing His Limbs

by Swami Rama

An excerpt from Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama, published 1985 by the Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A. (Pandit Usharbudh Arya provided the translation of the Sanskrit text.)

2.58 When, like a tortoise withdrawing his limbs, one withdraws each and all of the senses from their objects, his wisdom is established.

When one gives up his desires, a whole new horizon of awareness opens to him. But those who hold on to their desires are not able to experience the higher dimensions of life. Fulfilling desires gives birth to many more desires, and there is no end to that cycle. When one learns to give up desires, however, he is elevated to the next step of experience. There is a mental law that if you give up what you have, you receive something new. That principle sustains life. If we do not give up the carbon dioxide and used up gases by exhaling, we cannot survive at all; we must exhale in order to inhale. In order to survive and to receive, we have to give up. Give up first; only then will you receive. This law continues to help one until the last breath of life. The student is always afraid and hesitant about giving up, for he is attached to all the things that he thinks belong to him. His false sense of possessiveness is a great enemy on the path of unfoldment. One must learn to have courage and give up what he has in order to receive that which is glorious and beautiful, limitless and infinite.

One of the most important things to be given up is attachment to sensory experience. Withdrawal of the mind from the senses (pratyahara) is given a great deal of importance in the path of meditation, but no book specifically describes this process. Students think it is something that will make them passive, but that is incorrect. It is a skill to have complete control and command over the senses, which are employed by the mind to go to the external world and perceive things. The senses create a serious disturbance, for it is their inherent nature to jump from one object to another, compelled by the charms and temptations of the external world. The mind is disturbed and dissipated by such input and is unable to conceive of things as they are. Furthermore the perceived objects are a source of distraction and dissipation; they create serious obstacles and obstructions for the sadhaka in his attempts to fathom higher levels of consciousness. Therefore it is important to withdraw one’s senses from the world of objects. This is not withdrawal from the world or from one’s duties. It is learning to gather one’s scattered energy. Withdrawal of the senses is an essential part of sadhana.

There is a very serious problem with the habitual way of perception; the senses have no capacity or ability to know things as they are. They can only have a partial glimpse of an object. That partial view of the object is charming and compelling, and it disorganizes and distorts the human mind. It only gives an inkling of delight and is not able to provide long lasting joy because the senses have limited powers to know objects as they are.

There are three serious obstacles that interfere with one’s ability to have a comprehensive view of the objects of the world: (1) the mind remains clouded; (2) the clouded mind uses incompetent senses to know the objects of the world; (3) the objects of the world change continually. These three problems lead to self-delusion, and one’s ignorance regarding the objects of the world is not dispelled. There is an inborn desire in the human mind and heart to know what is real and what is illusory. But ordinarily the mind does not know how to do that. No matter how much training is given to the senses, the senses do not have the capacity to see things as they are. With the desire to experience the whole as it really is, the mind searches for a different approach, one that does not rely on the senses. It is only with pure reason that the mind can know the nature of the objects of the world, for due to their shallow nature, the senses can never peep into the secrets of the unknown side of the objects. No matter how powerful are the instruments used to see the objects, they fail, for they have no power to reveal the true nature of the objects of the world.

There is a systematic method that one can apply to purify the mind so that there is clarity in his knowing. One can focus the mind on one single object – it can be concrete or abstract, large or small – so that the mind withdraws itself from the senses. When the mind is voluntarily isolated and under perfect control, it attains one-pointedness. And if that one-pointedness is turned inward, it becomes a useful means on one’s inward journey to another way of knowing. The human being is a miniature world, so by turning inward and examining himself, one can examine the nature of the universe. The natural tendency of the senses is to lead the mind to the objects of the world. The method that we are explaining is a very beneficial and useful voluntary effort that enables one to see, examine, and verify the nature of the objects of the world. And at the same time it makes one realize that the objects of the world do not hold any quality to charm and tempt the mind, for temptations and charms are created by the false input of the limited senses.

The concentrated power of the mind has the ability to know without the help of the senses. In the inner world, the mind does not even need the help of the brain. The brain is only a medium for the energy called mind. It is a powerhouse, not the power; it is a distribution center but not the energy. Many modern physicists do not accept this theory, for they know only one method: applying sophisticated instruments to amplify sensory experiences. When one uses such instruments to study mental functions, they fail, for these instruments can only measure the superficial workings of the brain. Those who follow this method nevertheless contend that the brain is the mind, and that if they can develop the instruments to study the brain’s functioning they will be able to understand the mind. They are like the blind man who holds the tail of the elephant and contends that an elephant is like a snake because its tail feels like one.

Modern technology and scientific knowledge are valid as far as the external world is concerned. But there is another exact science that helps one know the unknown dimensions of life. The Samkhya system of philosophy has given birth to yogic science. It is far more advanced and methodical that modern technology and the scientific method that is being used to probe into the microscopic and macroscopic levels of the physical universe.

Because of the limited nature of the senses and the foibles of the mind, one builds his own concepts, which offer a distorted picture of the world. The mind is a huge catalog of conceptions, and it uses these to create a philosophy that is neither reliable nor trustworthy. In order to avoid self-delusion, the sadhaka should understand the importance of voluntary withdrawal of the senses, and then he should make the mind one-pointed and turn it inward. There he will find a higher knowledge that is not contaminated by either the senses or the distracted and dissipated mind.

According to yoga philosophy and psychology, the human being goes through two distinct stages in his journey to Self-awakening. The first stage is traditionally referred to as evolution. In this process consciousness travels from its subtlemost aspect through ever more gross aspects of existence, obscuring all awareness of oneself as pure Consciousness. In the second stage, which is traditionally referred to involution, one reverses direction: he turns inward and commences a journey in which he rediscovers and experiences ever more subtle aspects of his being, finally coming to relize himself as pure Consciousness. Sensory withdrawal is one of the first important steps in the process of involutions, a voluntary withdrawal in which the human mind is turned within. The sadhaka goes against the process of evolution and that is like going against the currents of a river. One needs to be well equipped for such an undertaking, for his habits and past experiences continually pull the mind outward. A method of concentration must be carefully devised that leads one to a meditative state and then finally to the source and center of consciousness. The withdrawal of the senses is a step forward in the path of meditation. Without it, the unknown part of life cannot be revealed to the human being. One-half is already known, but only the knowledge of the glorious missing half makes one’s knowledge complete and perfect.

Editor’s Note:

Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama can be purchased through

It is also available at other book sellers and is available in Kindle, Nook, and some other e-books.
Through used bookstores, you may be fortunate enough to find an edition printed in 1985.