Withdraw the senses

Withdraw the senses

Then, withdrawal of the senses. The classical example given is the tortoise; ‘As the tortoise, when frightened, withdraws its limbs into its shell, so the Yogi withdraw the senses.’ They no longer function.  Saint Theresa gives this example and she quotes it, but she doesn’t give a source. She quotes it, she said, “Whoever said this doubtless knew what he was talking about”.

The senses must be withdrawn and then there is a meditation where the senses no longer functioning, as in the case of a sleeping man. He can be roused but while he is asleep he is no longer aware of what is going on around him. In the way, in the meditation, the body and the senses should be forgotten.  Finally, if it is practised regularly, same time and place each day, and then there can be an intensification of the attention within.

The role of the teacher comes in, in another sense. We can read an account, an actual account of this in the Kena Upanishad where a pupil says, “I know it.” He has listened to the holy text and he has listened to the explanation given by the teacher. Now he says, “Yes, I know,” and the teacher says, “If you think ‘I know’, little indeed you know”.  The Shankara describes it as “Given a shake,” and the pupil is shaken. He goes into a solitary place and he sits, withdrawing the senses in Samadhi meditation and then, he presses the point. Generally these texts are presented, the individual, the essence of the individual is the universal Self, and there a tendency to just think, “No doubt about it”.  The point is not pressed. “I am Brahman,” and then something says, “Well, yes, not quite perhaps in the sense in which I can feel, I am here in the room but nevertheless, as an expression of ultimate truth.” The distinction between those two is left vague. The point is not pressed.

This disciple in the Kena Upanishad, “The point,” he said, “is pressed in the meditation.” Finally, the needle point of the meditation pierces through the, “I know.” It pierces through and comes to something far beyond the individual which said, “I know, I know”.  He goes back to the teacher, looks at him and the pupil says, “I do not think now, I know. But it is not that I do not know. I know and I do not know.” The Kena Upanishad confirms this with a verse, ‘known to him to whom it is unknown, unknown to him to whom it is known’.

We can say, “Well, what exactly does this mean?” The riddle has to transcend the thinking subject with its limitation. In the riddles which the Buddhist set in Japan and China, called a ‘Koan riddle,’ the riddle cannot be solved by the individual self. The solution, the passing of the riddle, is transpersonal. Anyone who thinks or says, “I have solved the Koan,” by that very thought shows that the Koan has not been solved. The solution is transpersonal in each case.  Unless this technique of presentation by the teacher, meditation, then perhaps a shaking by the teacher, then a further ultimate meditation where the point is pressed right through, unless this is done then the seeds of truth will remain simply seeds.

In many of the schools this happened. It happens that gradually the actual practice drops away and simply the truth is thought to be enough. It happened to the school, the Zen school of Shen-hui in China. They last for about three generations and then they become entirely theoretical.  As to why this happens, why the practice drops away in favour simply of declaration of the philosophical truth, there are ideas.  But one may be: a young, British abstract artist in an interview, he was asked, “Would you spell out for us why you have gone beyond all this representational art, with all its rule of perspective and so on?” He answered, “Couldn’t do it”.  Bukko says, “The ground must be prepared or the seeds will not strike.”

Well, there is one thing more that it says, “There has to be the purification,” and the role of the purification, as Shankara says, is done by Karma Yoga, by the action, done in evenness of mind, with energy but with evenness of mind and done by Samadhi practice.  But there is one thing that is added by the Yogis of the Far East in their pithy way which is, of course, well known in the Vedanta Yoga also, and it says that there has to be purification. To effect the purification you have to be able to see the dirt and clean it up.  But the phrase is, ‘you can see dirt everywhere and you can clean it up, but you cannot see the dirt on your own face.’  It’s not described in words, but the role of the teacher then is he sees the dirt on our face.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1: The Spiritual Teacher in the Gita

Part 2: Maya is a magical illusion

Part 3: The world is like a dream

Part 4: Withdraw the senses


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