All meditational practices aim initially at establishing concentration of mind as a prelude to meditation. To attain this state, various different methods are adopted. One of the most direct, simple and yet at the same time effective, is the technique of trataka. The mechanics of the practice are easy to learn and understand. It can be practised by everyone and the benefits are enormous. Even beginners, with a little effort and persistence, can gain much from it in a short period of time with some kind of noticeable experience. And most importantly it can lead directly to meditation.
In this lesson and the following two lessons we will introduce the three main stages of trataka, progressing from the simpler form to the more advanced forms1. The word trataka means 'steady gazing'. The practice of trataka involves gazing at a point or object without blinking the eyes. It is a method of focussing the eyes and in turn the mind on one point to the exclusion of all others. The object can be either external to the body, in which case the practice is called bahir trataka (outer gazing), or the object of awareness can be internal, in which case it is called antar trataka (inner gazing). Through this method, all the attention and power of the mind is channelled into one continuous stream. This allows the latent potential within the mind to spontaneously arise.
Trataka as a world wide method Trataka is described in numerous scriptures, although it is usually known by other names and varies according to traditions. In the classical hatha yoga text, Gherand Samhita, it is classified as one of the shatkarmas2. Because the other five practices of the shatkarmas (neti, dhauti, etc.) are concerned only with cleansing the body, trataka seems to be completely out of place - an anomaly in fact. However, it is regarded as the last of the shatkarmas and is included in this group for a good reason, namely to act as the stepping stone between physically oriented practices and mental practices that lead to higher awareness. In a sense, trataka acts as the bridge between hatha yoga and raja yoga.
Tantra, probably the most all inclusive spiritual system ever developed and the root of yoga, utilizes trataka on a wide scale in its many practices, whether using symbolic diagrams, deities or objects as a focus of worship or awareness. Trataka in one form or another is utilized by almost every religious and spiritual system, though often heavily disguised. In Hinduism, an integral part ofthe religious practice is to sit in front of a picture or a statue of Krishna, Rama, Shiva, the symbol Aum and so on. Though many will regard this as a form of worship, and of course it can be if the worshipper is sincere, it is actually a form of trataka for the aim is to concentrate the mind on the external deity. From this comes mental peace and a meditative state. Furthermore, many Hindus have the ability to create at will internal visualizations of the outer objects and perform inner trataka.
In Christianity the same thing is done, though in a less obvious manner. In a church there are idols of Christ, there are candles and there is always the symbolic cross. These objects act as focal points for trataka, though of course it is not known by this name. All of these forms have a deep-rooted symbolic meaning which generally acts below the level of normal awareness. In other words, these symbols correlate with and stimulate experiences and memory that is contained in what Jung called the collective unconscious. Therefore these objects of awareness invoke experiences and knowledge of which you are normally unaware.
In Tibetan Buddhism, trataka is often done on various deities, on Buddha and various geometrical figures known as yantras or mandalas. Even Zen Buddhism utilizes trataka, though possibly of a more abstract type, such as staring at a blank wall. The practice of trataka is not confined to yoga. It is universal and has been used throughout the ages as a method of transcending normal experience. Trataka is simple, yet very powerful and this is the reason why so many different systems and religions have used it in one form or another as a means for spiritual upliftment
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