Trataka is one of the most direct, simple and effective techniques for attaining concentration of mind. It can be practiced by everyone and its benefits are enormous. The word trataka means ‘steady gazing’. The practice of trataka involves gazing at a point or object without winking or blinking the eyes. It is a method of focusing the eyes, and in turn the mind, on one point and forgetting everything else. The object can be either external, in which case the practice is called bahir trataka (outer gazing) or internal, in which case the practice is called antar trataka (inner gazing).
Through this method all the attention and power of the mind is channeled into one continuous stream, allowing the latent potential to arise spontaneously.
The practice of trataka is used in one form or another by almost every religious and spiritual system. In Hinduism it is an integral part of the religious practice to sit in front of a picture or statue of the deity and concentrate upon it.
Although this is regarded as a form of worship, it is actually a form of trataka, for the aim is to concentrate the mind on the external deity. From this practice the devotee obtains mental peace and a meditative state. Furthermore, the ability to create internal visualizations at will is developed.
In Christianity the same thing is done, although in a less obvious manner. In every church there are idols of Christ, candles and the symbolic cross. These objects act as focal points for trataka. In Tibetan Buddhism, trataka is often done on various deities, yantras and mandalas. Even Zen Buddhism utilizes trataka in the form of staring at a blank wall. So, the practice of trataka is universal and has been used throughout the ages as a method of transcending normal experience. It is very simple yet very powerful, and this is why it has been utilized by so many different systems as a means of spiritual up liftment.
Minimizing visual distraction
In the classical hatha yoga texts, trataka is described as one of the six shatkarma, or cleansing techniques. Here it acts as a stepping stone between the physically oriented and mentally oriented techniques which lead to higher awareness. In this sense trataka forms a bridge between hatha yoga and raja yoga. When you practice until your tears roll down then it is part of hatha yoga, but when you practice with inner visualization then it is part of raja yoga.
The eye is the most powerful indriya or sensory organ in this manifest world. The range of vision extends beyond all kinds of physical dimensions. One can see for miles and miles. One can perceive what is happening many miles away without actually being there. It is the vision that is focused in the practice of trataka. The visual distractions which affect our concentration and awareness must be minimized, and this can be achieved through the practice of trataka, steady gazing.
Through the practice of trataka one can develop the ability to focus the mind at any time. This is necessary in the higher practices of yoga. There is a very deep meaning behind the practice of trataka also. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras declare that even in the highest state of samadhi or meditation, there are certain impressions, ideas or experiences which remain in our consciousness. Those ideas or impressions can also be experienced in the state of samadhi, and thus they disturb the concentration of mind. These deep impressions or ideas are known as pratyaya.
When the mind has not been taught to concentrate, and meditation has been practiced only superficially, then in deep meditation states the pull or attraction of these pratyaya is very powerful, because there is no means of balance. Therefore, the ability that is gained through trataka becomes useful at that moment. When the visual distraction is stopped, we are able to experience a frame of mind that is quiet like a still pond or lake. The different forms of trataka also help to channel or focus the pranic energies.
Physiological and mental functions
Physiologically trataka relieves eye ailments such as eyestrain and headache, myopia, astigmatism and even early stages of cataract. The eyes become clear and bright, able to see the reality beyond appearances. Trataka benefits not only the eyes, but a whole range of physiological and mental functions. It is therapeutic in depression, insomnia, allergy, anxiety and postural problems. Its most important effect is on ajna chakra and the brain. Trataka unlocks the inherent energy of the mind and channelizes it in the dormant areas of consciousness. Further results of one-point of mind are strong willpower, improved memory and concentration.
Trataka is a process of concentrating the mind and curbing its oscillating tendencies. The purpose is to make the mind completely one-pointed and to arouse inner vision. One-pointed concentration of mind is called ekagrata. There are numerous distractions which obstruct ekagrata. In fact distraction only occurs when the senses are tuned to the external world, which means an energy leakage is occurring. Association and identification through the eyes are major contributing factors to this leakage.
Furthermore, the eyes constantly move either in large movement cascades, or tremors. Even when the eyes are focused on an external object, the view perceived is always fluctuating because of these spontaneous movements. When the same object is constantly seen, the brain becomes accustomed or habituated and soon stops registering that object. Habituation coincides with an increase of alpha waves indicating diminished visual attention to the external world. When alpha waves are produced, particular areas of the brain cease functioning.
Vision depends not only on the eyes, but upon the entire optic tracts. The lens of the eye is only the medium of external visual perception. Via the lens, an image is projected onto the retina. This is a stimulus which excites the retina to fire impulses back to the visual cortex of the brain where an inner image is mapped out.
If you close your eyes and gently push and release them, you will also see flashes of light, not because light is entering the eyes, but because the optic nerve has been stimulated. When the image of an external object is stabilized on the retina, after a period of time, perception of the image will completely disappear and a suspension of the mental processes will occur.
In fact, if there is absolutely no visual stimulus, for example, if you sit in a pitch dark room or cover the eyes with opaque cups, then after some time the mind will turn off just as in sleep. Therefore, during the practice of trataka it is essential to maintain inner awareness so that when the mind is suspended all that remains is the awareness. This is not only in relation to trataka but in any practice of concentration. When the awareness is restricted to an unchanging sensory stimulus, like touch or sound, the mind is turned off. Complete absorption in a single perception induces withdrawal of contact with the external world.
In trataka, the result is a blanking out of visual perception and in the wake of this suspension; the central nervous system begins to function in isolation. This experience is known by yogis as sushumna awakening. When the brain is isolated from the sense modalities and the associated mental processes, ideas, memories, etc. triggered by these thought impressions, the spiritual consciousness emerges. The higher mind, liberated from time and space, is experienced. Sushumna is awakened.
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