Yoga Practice



Man gains his knowledge of the outside world through his senses. And, consequently, many of us are in the habit of thinking of these senses as if _they_ did the sensing, instead of being merely carriers of the vibrations coming from the outside world, which are then presented to the Mind for examination. We shall speak of this at greater length a little later on in this lesson. Just now we wish to impress upon you the fact that it is the Mind that perceives, not the senses. And, consequently, a development of Perception is really a development of the Mind.

The Yogis put their students through a very arduous course of practice and exercises designed to develop their powers of perception. To many this would appear to be merely a development of the Senses, which might appear odd in view of the fact that the Yogis are constantly preaching the folly of being governed and ruled by the senses. But there is nothing paradoxical about all this, for the Yogis, while preaching the folly of sense life, and manifesting the teaching in their lives, nevertheless believe in any and all exercises calculated to "sharpen" the Mind, and develop it to a keen state and condition.

They see a great difference between having a sharpened perception, on the one hand, and being a slave to the senses on the other. For instance, what would be thought of a man who objected to acquiring a keen eyesight, for fear it would lead him away from higher things, by reason of his becoming attached to the beautiful things he might see. To realize the folly of this idea, one may look at its logical conclusion, which would be that one would then be much better off if all their senses were destroyed. The absurdity, not to say wickedness, of such an idea will be apparent to everyone, after a minute's consideration.

The secret of the Yogi theory and teachings regarding the development of the Mental powers, lies in the word "_Mastery_." The Yoga student accomplishes and attains this mastery in two ways. The first way is by subordinating all the feelings, sense-impressions, etc., to the Mastery of the "I," or Will, the Mastery being obtained in this way by the assertion of the dominancy of the "I" over the faculties and emotions, etc. The second step, or way, lies in the Yogi, once having asserted the mastery, beginning to develop and perfect the Mental instrument, so as to get better work and returns from it. In this way he increases his kingdom and is Master over a much larger territory.

In order for one to gain knowledge, it is necessary to use to the best advantage the mental instruments and tools that he finds at his disposal. And again, one must develop and improve such tools--put a keen edge upon them, etc. Not only does one gain a great benefit from a development of the faculties of perception, but he also acquires an additional benefit from the training of the whole mind arising from the mental discipline and training resulting from the former exercises, etc. In our previous lessons we have pointed out some of the means by which these faculties might be greatly improved, and their efficiency increased. In this lesson we shall point out certain directions in which the Perceptive faculties may be trained. We trust that the simplicity of the idea may not cause any of our students to lose interest in the work. If they only knew just what such development would lead to they would gladly follow our suggestions in the matter. Every one of the ideas and exercises given by us are intended to lead up to the strengthening of the Mind, and the attainment of powers and the unfoldment of faculties. There is no royal road to Raja Yoga, but the student will be well repaid for the work of climbing the hill of Attainment.

In view of the above, let us examine the question of The Senses. Through the doors of the senses Man receives all his information regarding the outside world. If he keeps these doors but half open, or crowded up with obstacles and rubbish, he may expect to receive but few messages from outside. But if he keeps his doorways clear, and clean, he will obtain the best that is passing his way.

If one were born without sense-organs--no matter how good a Mind he might have--he would be compelled to live his life in a dreamy plant-life stage of existence, with little or no consciousness. The Mind would be like a seed in the earth, that for some reason was prevented from growing.

One may object that the highest ideas do not come to us through the senses, but the reply is that the things obtained through the senses are the "raw material" upon which the mind works, and fashions the beautiful things that it is able to produce in its highest stages. Just as is the body dependent for growth upon the nourishment taken into it, so is the mind dependent for growth upon the impressions received from the Universe--and these impressions come largely through the senses. It may be objected to that we know many things that we have not received through our senses. But, does the objector include the impressions that came through his senses in some previous existence, and which have been impressed upon his instinctive mind, or soul-memory? It is true that there are higher senses than those usually recognized, but Nature insists upon one learning the lessons of the lower grades before attempting those of the higher.

Do not forget that all that we know we have "worked for." There is nothing that comes to the idler, or shirker. What we know is merely the result of "stored-up accumulations of previous experience," as Lewes has so well said.

So it will be seen that the Yogi idea that one should develop all parts of the Mind is strictly correct, if one will take the trouble to examine into the matter. A man sees and knows but very little of what is going on about him. His limitations are great. His powers of vision report only a few vibrations of light, while below and above the scale lie an infinity of vibrations unknown to him. The same is true of the powers of hearing, for only a comparatively small portion of the sound-waves reach the Mind of Man--even some of the animals hear more than he does.

If a man had only one sense he would obtain but a one-sense idea of the outside world. If another sense is added his knowledge is doubled. And so on. The best proof of the relation between increased sense perception and development is had in the study of the evolution of animal forms. In the early stages of life the organism has only the sense of feeling--and very dim at that--and a faint sense of taste. Then developed smell, hearing and sight, each marking a distinct advance in the scale of life, for a new world has been opened out to the advancing forms of life. And, when man develops new senses--and this is before the race--he will be a much wiser and greater being.

Carpenter, many years ago, voiced a thought that will be familiar to those who are acquainted with the Yogi teachings regarding the unfoldment of new senses. He said: "It does not seem at all improbable that there are properties of matter of which none of our senses can take immediate cognizance, and which other beings might be formed to perceive in the same manner as we are sensible to light, sound, etc."

And Isaac Taylor said: "It may be that within the field observed by the visible and ponderable universe there is existing and moving another element fraught with another species of life--corporeal, indeed, and various in its orders, but not open to cognizance of those who are confined to the conditions of animal organization. Is it to be thought that the eye of man is the measure of the Creator's power?--and that He created nothing but that which he has exposed to our present senses? The contrary seems much more than barely possible; ought we not to think it almost certain?"

Another writer. Prof. Masson, has said: "If a new sense or two were added to the present normal number, in man, that which is now the phenomenal world for all of us might, for all that we know, burst into something amazingly different and wider, in consequence of the additional revelations of these new senses."

But not only is this true, but Man may increase his powers of knowledge and experience if he will but develop the senses he has to a higher degree of efficiency, instead of allowing them to remain comparatively atrophied. And toward this end, this lesson is written.

The Mind obtains its impressions of objects of the outside world by means of the brain and sense organs. The sensory organs are the instruments of the Mind, as is also the brain and the entire nervous system. By means of the nerves, and the brain, the Mind makes use of the sensory organs in order that it may obtain information regarding external objects.

The senses are usually said to consist of five different forms, _viz._, sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

The Yogis teach that there are higher senses, undeveloped, or comparatively so, in the majority of the race, but toward the unfoldment of which the race is tending. But we shall not touch upon these latent senses in this lesson, as they belong to another phase of the subject. In addition to the five senses above enumerated, some physiologists and psychologists have held that there were several others in evidence. For instance, the sense by which the inner organs revealed their presence and condition, The muscular system reports to the mind through some sense that is not that of "touch," although closely allied to it. And the feelings of hunger, thirst, etc., seem to come to us through an unnamed sense.

Bernstein has distinguished between the five senses and the one just referred to as follows: "The characteristic distinction between these common sensations and the sensations of the senses is that by the latter we gain knowledge of the occurrences and objects which belong to the external world (and which sensations we refer to external objects), whilst by the former we only feel conditions of our own body."

A sensation is the internal, mental conception, resulting from an external object or fact exciting the sense organs and nerves, and the brain, thus making the mind "aware" of the external object or fact. As Bain has said, it is the "mental impression, feeling, or conscious state, resulting from the action of external things on some part of the body, called on that account, sensitive."

Each channel of sense impressions has an organ, or organs, peculiarly adapted for the excitation of its substance by the particular kind of vibrations through which it receives impressions. The eye is most cunningly and carefully designed to receive the light-waves; and sound-waves produce no effect upon it. And, likewise, the delicate mechanism of the ear responds only to sound-waves; light-waves failing to register upon it. Each set of sensations is entirely different, and the organs and nerves designed to register each particular set are peculiarly adapted to their own special work. The organs of sense, including their special nervous systems, may be compared to a delicate instrument that the mind has fashioned for itself, that it may investigate, examine and obtain reports from the outside world.

We have become so accustomed to the workings of the senses that we take them as a "matter of course," and fail to recognize them as the delicate and wonderful instruments that they are--designed and perfected by the mind for its own use. If we will think of the soul as designing, manufacturing and using these instruments, we may begin to understand their true relations to our lives, and, accordingly treat them with more respect and consideration.

We are in the habit of thinking that we are aware of all the sensations received by our mind. But this is very far from being correct. The unconscious regions of the mind are incomparably larger than the small conscious area that we generally think of when we say "my mind." In future lessons we shall proceed to consider this wonderful area, and examine what is to be found there. Taine has well said, "There is going on within us a subterranean process of infinite extent; its products alone are known to us, and are only known to us in the mass. As to elements, and their elements, consciousness does not attain to them. They are to sensations what secondary molecules and primitive molecules are to bodies. We get a glance here and there at obscure and infinite worlds extending beneath our distinct sensations. These are compounds and wholes. For their elements to be perceptible to consciousness, it is necessary for them to be added together, and so to acquire a certain bulk and to occupy a certain time, for if the group does not attain this bulk, and does not last this time, we observe no changes in our state. Nevertheless, though it escapes us, there is one."

But we must postpone our consideration of this more than interesting phase of the subject, until some future lesson, when we shall take a trip into the regions of Mind, under and above Consciousness. And a most wonderful trip many of us will find it, too.

For the present, we must pay our attention to the channels by which the material for knowledge and thought enter our minds. For these sense impressions, coming to us from without, are indeed "material" upon which the mind works in order to manufacture the product called "Thought."

This material we obtain through the channels of the senses, and then store in that wonderful storehouse, the Memory, from whence we bring out material from time to time, which we proceed to weave into the fabric of Thought. The skill of the worker depends upon his training, and his ability to select and combine the proper materials. And the acquiring of good materials to be stored up is an important part of the work.

A mind without stored-up material of impressions and experiences would be like a factory without material. The machinery would have nothing upon which to work, and the shop would be idle. As Helmholtz has said, "Apprehension by the senses supplies directly or indirectly, the material of all human knowledge, or at least the stimulus necessary to develop every inborn faculty of the mind." And Herbert Spencer, has this to say of this phase of the subject, "It is almost a truism to say that in proportion to the numerousness of the objects that can be distinguished, and in proportion to the variety of coexistences and sequences that can be severally responded to, must be the number and rapidity and variety of the changes within the organism--must be the amount of vitality."

A little reflection upon this subject will show us that the greater degree of exercise and training given the senses, the greater the degree of mental power and capability. As we store our mental storehouse with the materials to be manufactured into thought, so is the quality and quantity of the fabric produced.

It therefore behooves us to awaken from our "lazy" condition of mind, and to proceed to develop our organs of sense, and their attendant mechanism, as by doing so we increase our capacity for thought and knowledge.

Before passing to the exercises, however, it may be well to give a hasty passing glance at the several senses, and their peculiarities.

The sense of Touch is the simplest and primal sense. Long before the lower forms of life had developed the higher senses, they had evidenced the sense of Touch or Feeling. Without this sense they would have been unable to have found their food, or to receive and respond to outside impressions. In the early forms of life it was exercised equally by all parts of the body, although in the higher forms this sense has become somewhat localized, as certain parts of the body are far more sensitive than are others. The skin is the seat of the sense of Touch, and its nerves are distributed over the entire area of the skin. The hand, and particularly the fingers, and their tips, are the principal organs of this sense.

The acuteness of Touch varies materially in different parts of the body. Experiments have shown that a pair of compasses would register impressions as a very slight distance apart when applied to the tip of the tongue. The distance at which the two points could be distinguished from one point, on the tip of the tongue, was called "one line." Using this "line" as a standard, it was found that the palmar surface of the third finger registered 2 lines; the surface of the lips 4 lines, and the skin of the back, and on the middle of the arm or thigh, as high as 60 lines The degree of sensitiveness to Touch varies greatly with different individuals, some having a very fine sense of touch in their fingers, while others manifested a very much lower degree.

In the same way, there is a great difference in the response of the fingers to weight--a great difference in the ability to distinguish the difference of the weight of objects. It has been found that some people can distinguish differences in weight down to very small fractions of an ounce. Fine distinctions in the differences in temperature have also been noticed.

The sense of touch, and its development has meant much for Man. It is the one sense in which Man surpasses the animals in the matter of degree and acuteness. The animal may have a keener smell, taste, hearing and sight, but its sense of Touch is far beneath that of Man. Anaxagoras is quoted as saying that "if the animals had hands and fingers, they would be like men."

In developing the sense of Touch, the student must remember that Attention is the key to success. The greater the amount of Attention the greater the degree of development possible in the case of any sense. When the Attention is concentrated upon any particular sense, the latter becomes quickened and more acute, and repeated exercise, under the stimulus of Attention, will work wonders in the case of any particular sense. And on the other hand, the sense of touch may be almost, or completely inhibited, by firmly fixing the Attention upon something else. As an extreme proof of this latter fact, the student is asked to remember the fact that men have been known to suffer excruciating torture, apparently without feeling, owing to the mind being intently riveted upon some idea or thought. As Wyld has said, "The martyr borne above sensuous impressions, is not only able to endure tortures, but is able to endure and quench them. The pinching and cutting of the flesh only added energy to the death song of the American Indian, and even the slave under the lash is sustained by the indignant sense of his wrongs."

In the cases of persons engaged in occupations requiring a fine degree of Touch, the development is marvelous. The engraver passes his hand over the plate, and is able to distinguish the slightest imperfection. And the handler of cloth and fabrics is able to distinguish the finest differences, simply by the sense of touch. Wool sorters also exercise a wonderfully high degree of fineness of touch. And the blind are able to make up for the loss of sight by their greatly increased sense of Touch, cases being recorded where the blind have been able to distinguish _color_ by the different "feel" of the material.

The sense of Taste is closely allied to that of Touch--in fact some authorities have considered Taste as a very highly developed sense of Touch in certain surfaces of the body, the tongue notably. It will be remembered that the tongue has the finest sense of Touch, and it also has the sense of Taste developed to perfection. In Taste and Touch the object must be brought in direct contact with the organ of sense, which is not the case in Smell, Hearing, or Sight. And, be it remembered, that the latter senses have special nerves, while Taste is compelled to fall back upon the ordinary nerves of Touch. It is true that Taste is confined to a very small part of the surface of the body, while Touch is general. But this only indicates a special development of the special area. The sense of Taste also depends to a great extent upon the presence of fluids, and only substances that are soluble make their presence known through the organs and sense of Taste.

Physiologists report that the sense of Taste in some persons is so acute that one part of strychnine in one million parts of water has been distinguished. There are certain occupations, such as that of wine-tasters, tea-tasters, etc., the followers of which manifest a degree of fineness of Taste almost incredible.

The sense of Smell is closely connected with the sense of Taste, and often acts in connection therewith, as the tiny particles of the substance in the mouth arise to the organs of Smell, by means of the opening or means of communication situated in the back part of the mouth. Besides which the nose usually detects the odor of substances before they enter the mouth. The sense of Smell operates by reason of the tiny particles or the object being carried to the mucous membrane of the interior of the nose, by means of the air. The membrane, being moist, seizes and holds these particles for a moment, and the fine nervous organism reports differences and qualities and the Mind is thus informed of the nature of the object.

The sense of Smell is very highly developed among animals, who are compelled to rely upon it to a considerable extent. And many occupations among men require the development of this sense, for instance, the tobacconist, the wine dealer, the perfumers, the chemist, etc. It is related that in the cases of certain blind people, it has been observed that they could distinguish persons in this manner.

The sense of Hearing is a more complex one than in the case of Taste, Touch and Smell. In the latter three the objects to be sensed must be brought in close contact with the sense-organs, while in Hearing the object may be far removed, the impressions being carried by the vibrations of the air, which are caught up and reported upon by the nervous organism of the sense of Hearing. The internal mechanism of the ear is most wonderfully intricate and complex, and excites to wonder the person examining it. It cannot be described here for want of space, but the student is advised to inquire into it if he has access to any library containing books on the subject. It is a wonderful illustration of the work of the mind in building up for itself instruments with which to work--to acquire knowledge.

The ear records vibrations in the air from 20 or 32 per second, the rate of the lowest audible note, to those of 38,000 per second, the rate of the highest audible note. There is a great difference in individuals in regard to the fineness of the sense of Hearing. But all may develop this sense by the application of Attention. The animals and savages have wonderfully acute senses of Hearing developed only along the lines of distinctness, however--on the other hand musicians have developed the sense along different lines.

The sense of Sight is generally conceded to be the highest and most complex of all the senses of Man. It deals with a far larger number of objects--at longer distances--and gives a far greater variety of reports to the mind than any of its associate senses. It is the sense of Touch magnified many times. As Wilson says of it, "Our sight may be considered as a more delicate and diffusive kind of touch that spreads itself over an infinite number of bodies; comprehends the largest figures, and brings into our reach some of the most remote parts of the universe."

The sense of Sight receives its impressions from the outside world by means of waves that travel from body to body--from sun to earth, and from lamp to eye. These waves of light arise from vibrations in substance, of an almost incredible degree of rapidity. The lowest light vibration is about 450,000,000,000,000 per second, while the highest is about 750,000,000,000,000 per second. These figures deal only with the vibrations recognizable by the eye as light. Above and below these figures of the scale are countless other degrees invisible to the eye, although some of them may be recorded by instruments. The different sensations of color, depend upon the rate of the vibrations, red being the limit of the lowest, and violet the limit of the highest visible vibrations--orange, yellow, green, blue, and indigo being the intermediate rates or colors.

The cultivation of the sense of Sight, under the aid of Attention is most important to ail persons. By being able to clearly see and distinguish the parts of an object, a degree of knowledge regarding it is obtained that one may not acquire without the said exercise of the faculty. We have spoken of this under the subject of Attention, in a previous lesson, to which lesson we again refer the student. The fixing of the eye upon an object has the power of concentrating the thoughts and preventing them from wandering. The eye has other properties and qualities that will be dwelt upon in future lessons. It has other uses than seeing. The influence of the eye is a marvelous thing, and may be cultivated and developed.

We trust that what we have said will bring the student to a realization of the importance of developing the powers of Perception. The senses have been developed by the mind during a long period of evolution and effort that surely would not have been given unless the object in view was worth it all. The "I" insists upon obtaining knowledge of the Universe, and much of this knowledge may be obtained only through the senses. The Yogi student must be "wide awake" and possessed of developed senses and powers of Perception. The senses of Sight and Hearing, the two latest in the scale of Evolutionary growth and unfoldment, must receive a particular degree of attention. The student must make himself "aware" of what is going on about and around him, so that he may "catch" the best vibrations.

It would surprise many Westerners if they could come in contact with a highly developed Yogi, and witness the marvelously finely developed senses he possesses. He is able to distinguish the finest differences in things, and his mind is so trained that, in thought, he may draw conclusions from what he has perceived, in a manner that seems almost "second-sight" to the uninitiated. _In fact, a certain degree of second-sight is possible to one who develops his sense of Sight, under the urge of Attention._ A new world is opened out to such a person. One must learn to master the senses, not only in the direction of being independent of and superior to their urgings, but also in the matter of developing them to a high degree. The development of the physical senses, also has much to do with the development of the "Astral Senses," of which we have spoken in our "Fourteen Lessons," and of which we may have more to say in the present series. The idea of _Raja Yoga_ is to render the student the possessor of a highly developed Mind, with highly developed instruments with which the mind may work.

In our future lessons we shall give the student many illustrations, directions, and exercises calculated to develop the different faculties of the mind--not only the ordinary faculties of everyday use, but others hidden behind these familiar faculties and senses. Commencing with the next lesson, we shall present a system of exercises, drills, etc., the purpose of which will be the above mentioned development of the faculties of the Mind.

In this lesson we shall not attempt to give specific exercises, but will content ourselves with calling the attention of the student to a few general rules underlying the development of Perception.


The first thing to remember in acquiring the art of Perception is that one should not attempt to perceive the whole of a complex thing or object at the same time, or at once. One should consider the object in detail, and then, by grouping the details, he will find that he has considered the whole. Let us take the face of a person as a familiar object. If one tries to perceive a face as a whole, he will find that he will meet with a certain degree of failure, the impression being indistinct and cloudy, it following, also, that the memory of that face will correspond with the original perception.

But let the observer consider the face in detail, first the eyes, then the nose, then the mouth, then the chin, then the hair, then the outline of the face, the complexion, etc., and he will find that he will have acquired a clear and distinct impression or perception of the whole face.

The same rule may be applied to any subject or object. Let us take another familiar illustration. You wish to observe a building. If you simply get a general perception of the building as a whole, you will be able to remember very little about it, except its general outlines, shape, size, color, etc. And a description will prove to be very disappointing. But if you have noted, _in detail_, the material used, the shape of the doors, chimney, roof, porches, decorations, trimmings, ornamentation, size and number of the window-panes etc., etc., the shape and angles of the roof, etc., you will have an _intelligent_ idea of the building, in the place of a mere general outline or impression of such as might be acquired by an animal in passing.

We will conclude this lesson with an anecdote of the methods of that famous naturalist Agassiz, in his training of his pupils. His pupils became renowned for their close powers of observation and perception, and their consequent ability to "think" about the things they had seen. Many of them rose to eminent positions, and claimed that this was largely by reason of their careful training.

The tale runs that a new student presented himself to Agassiz one day, asking to be set to work. The naturalist took a fish from a jar in which it had been preserved, and laying it before the young student bade him observe it carefully, and be ready to report upon what he had noticed about the fish. The student was then left alone with the fish. There was nothing especially interesting about that fish--it was like many other fishes that he had seen before. He noticed that it had fins and scales, and a mouth and eyes, yes, and a tail. In a half hour he felt certain that he had observed all about that fish that there was to be perceived. But the naturalist remained away.

The time rolled on, and the youth, having nothing else to do, began to grow restless and weary. He started out to hunt up the teacher, but he failed to find him, and so had to return and gaze again at that wearisome fish. Several hours had passed, and he knew but little more about the fish than he did in the first place.

He went out to lunch and when he returned it was still a case of watching the fish. He felt disgusted and discouraged, and wished he had never come to Agassiz, whom, it seemed, was a stupid old man after all,--one away behind the times. Then, in order to kill time, he began to count the scales. This completed he counted the spines of the fins. Then he began to draw a picture of the fish. In drawing the picture he noticed that the fish had no eyelids. He thus made the discovery that as his teacher had expressed it often, in lectures, "a pencil is the best of eyes." Shortly after the teacher returned, and after ascertaining what the youth had observed, he left rather disappointed, telling the boy to keep on looking and maybe he would see something.

This put the boy on his mettle, and he began to work with his pencil, putting down little details that had escaped him before, but which now seemed very plain to him. He began to catch the secret of observation. Little by little he brought to light new objects of interest about the fish. But this did not suffice his teacher, who kept him at work on the same fish for three whole days. At the end of that time the student really knew something about the fish, and, better than all, had acquired the "knack" and habit of careful observation and perception in detail.

Years after, the student, then attained to eminence, is reported as saying: "That was the best zoological lesson I ever had--a lesson whose influence has extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy that the professor left to me, as he left to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, and with which we cannot part."

Apart from the value to the student of the particular information obtained, was the quickening of the perceptive faculties that enabled him to observe the important points in a subject or object, and, consequently to deduce important information from that which was observed. The Mind is hungry for knowledge, and it has by years of weary evolution and effort built up a series of sense systems in order to yield it that knowledge and it is still building. The men and women in the world who have arrived at the point of success have availed themselves of these wonderful channels of information, and by directing them under the guidance of Will and Attention, have attained wonderful results. These things are of importance, and we beg of our students not to pass by this portion of the subject as uninteresting. Cultivate a spirit of wide-awakeness and perception, and the "knowing" that will come to you will surprise you.

No only do you develop the existing senses by such practice and use, _but you help in the unfoldment of the latent powers and senses that are striving for unfoldment_. By using and exercising the faculties that we have, we help to unfold those for the coming of which we have been dreaming.


I am a Soul, possessed of channels of communication with the outer world. I will use these channels, and thereby acquire the information and knowledge necessary for my mental development. I will exercise and develop my organs of sense, knowing that in so doing I shall cause to unfold the higher senses, of which they are but forerunners and symbols. I will be "_wide-awake_" and open to the inflow of knowledge and information. The Universe is my Home--I will explore it.

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Source: A Series of Lessons in Raja Yoga, by Yogi Ramacharaka( 1862-1932). This text is in public domain and reproduced and reformatted by Jayaram V for While we have made every effort to reproduce the text correctly we do not accept any responsibility for any errors or omissions or inaccuracies in the reproduction of this text.