As discussed in the post Taming the Monkey Mind, the mind in contemplation can focus its awareness on many different objects – be they gross or subtle, within the body or without. In this post, we will cover one more method called Videha Dharana(fixing the awareness outside the body) which has been briefly mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and elaborated by Sri Anirvan in his book Inner Yoga. As we see below, what is noteworthy is that Sri Anirvan’s description of the transformation bears resemblance to some changes in body consciousness that were noted in exchanges between Sri Aurobindo and his disciples.
Outline of the Method
Sri Anirvan begins his description of videha dharana as follows
There is another kind of dharana, which Patanjali calls videha dharana, fixation outside the body. It belongs to the Jnana yogins, those who practice the Yoga of Knowledge. The essential idea behind it is to convert the five physical elements into their nonphysical yogic qualities. To do this nonphysical dharana, it is necessary to have knowledge of two things first: first, a clear understanding of the physical elements or qualities (bhutas); second, a thorough knowledge, gained through self-observation, of the developments and changes that occur in the body-consciousness (deha-bodha). 
He is referring to the following verse on bhutajaya (mastery over elements) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
(sthula svarupa suksma anvaya arthavattva samyamad bhuta-jayah)
By samyama on the five forms of the elements (bhutas), which are gross form, essence, subtleness, interconnectedness, and its purpose, then mastery over those bhutas is attained.
The basic outline of this method is that one imagines that the body has become solid like the earth (i.e. imagine that the microcosm has become like the macrocosm, hence the name Videha Dharana or fixing the mind on externals). With progress in contemplation, the body begins to feel fluid like water, then heated like fire and at the end, it becomes expansive like the air. In the final stage of what is traditionally called liberation or enlightenment, the body feels void as the ether. The description which follows is relevant to what is called the Spiritual Transformation in Sri Aurobindo’s terminology.
Similarity between descriptions of changes in consciousness
In what follows, we will juxtapose passages from Sri Anirvan’s description with Sri Aurobindo’s descriptions of the transformation. One can identity the following correspondence between the two.
- Sri Anirvan’s Earth body corresponds to Sri Aurobindo’s description of the body becoming rigid due to withdrawal of consciousness from the surface personality.
- Sri Anirvan’s Water body corresponds to Sri Aurobindo’s description of the body feeling void after general emptying of the superficial movements of worldly life.
- Sri Anirvan’s Fire body corresponds to Sri Aurobindo’s description of the awakening of the Kundalini which heats up the body.
- Sri Anirvan’s Air body corresponds to Sri Aurobindo’s description of the body expanding into cosmic consciousness.
This is Sri Anirvan’s description
While sitting in an asana(yoga posture), I begin by imagining that my body has solidified and turned to stone. My body has become one with the earth upon which I am sitting; it is like an anthill or a hump of earth. When this feeling develops, the sensation is one of utter stability and stillness in the body. This is the yogic counterpart of solidity or firmness. When it appears in the body consciousness, the finer, subtler qualities of that consciousness can be felt; at a certain point one even loses awareness of the gross body and feels as if another body has come into existence within oneself. 
And this is Sri Aurobindo’s description of a similar transformation which occurs when consciousness starts to withdraw within and the body begins to feel rigid like the earth.
This inward movement takes place in many different ways and there is sometimes a complex experience combining all the signs of the complete plunge. There is a sense of going in or deep down, a feeling of the movement towards inner depths; there is often a stillness, a pleasant numbness, a stiffness of the limbs. This is the sign of the consciousness retiring from the body inwards under the pressure of a force from above, – that pressure stabilising the body into an immobile support of the inner life, in a kind of strong and still spontaneous Àsana.
The feeling of coldness of the body in the first is one of the signs – like the immobility and stiffness of Y’s experience – that the consciousness is withdrawing from the outer or physical sheath and retiring inside. The crystallisation was the form in which he felt the organisation of an inner consciousness which could receive at once firmly and freely from above. The crystals at once indicate organised formation and a firm transparence in which the greater vision and experience descending from the higher planes could be clearly reflected.
This is Sri Anirvan’s description of the body becoming fluid after attaining rigidity.
The first inner body to appear is the apya sharira, the liquid, fluid or, literally, the water body. It feels like the body of an adolescent boy. This fresh young body, says a Vaishnava poet, has a grace that seems to be flowing through the sky. When this water body appears, rasa chetana arises, a deep enjoyment and felicity of consciousness. The quality of suppleness also arises, and the body loses its rigidity. The mind too seems to melt and flow; as a result one can easily enter into and experience the feelings of others. This condition may be called the melting movement of the mind. Yet even in the melting condition, the earth principle of solidity is maintained. One has a feeling as of waves playing upon a rock. It is not really so difficult to have this feeling while sitting in an asana. On the one hand the body is stable and motionless, on the other it is relaxed and at ease; the feelings of firmness and fluidity are experienced together at the same time. Note, however, that it is important to retain the feeling of firmness, for otherwise, with the appearance of the fluid body there may be a pervasion of the enjoyment in the consciousness. The Upanishad speaks of the earth as the foundation: “The earth is my footing”; this secure foundation or pillar must never be allowed to loosen. Indeed, all the qualities of the elements must be kept in control. They will appear and develop their play, but always one must remain an unmoved witness. Keep this in mind at all times. 
And this is Sri Aurobindo’s description of the body beginning to feel empty when the surface movements have been tranquilized. This is a preparatory stage before the awakening of the Kundalini.
Emptiness usually comes as a clearance of the consciousness or some part of it. The consciousness or part becomes like an empty cup into which something new can be poured. The highest emptiness is the pure existence of the self in which all manifestation can take place.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – VI
Emptiness is a state of quietude of the mental or vital or all the consciousness not visited by any mind or vital movements, but open to the Pure Existence and ready or tending to be that or already that but not yet realised in its full power of being. Which of these conditions it happens to be depends on the particular case. The Self state or the state of pure existence is sometimes also called emptiness, but only in the sense that it is a state of sheer static rest of being without any contacts of mobile Nature.
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – II: Experiences and Realisations – VI
This is Sri Anirvan’s description
If this witness consciousness is maintained, then after the water body, the taijasa sharira or fire body will appear. The water will, as it were, catch fire. This has been described by a vedic rishi as the appearance of fire out of water. “Whence,” he says, “has appeared this child of light on the bosoms of the water maidens? This child of light is indeed the Youth!” When this fiery body appears, the mind seems to be radiant, blazing; the body seems to be filled with Yoga-fire. The domain of the earth, the realm of form, extends up to this point. 
This is an exchange between Sri Aurobindo and his disciple Nagin Doshi on the Kundalini fire (Yogagni) which pulses through the body.
Nagin: The Fire around the body continues. It has enveloped the being like an armour. But what is its effect in the body? – a fiery intensity in the cells and the pores. Can ‘this be true? The mind refuses to believe it.
Sri Aurobindo: It can very well be true. 
This is Sri Anirvan’s description of the body becoming as air.
Beyond it, through the expansion of the fire body, the vayavya sharira or air body appears. As a vedic rishi says, the fire in the individual becomes universal. It is this aerial body which is the vehicle, the container, and the carrier of the cosmic consciousness. Here form becomes formless, and all that remains is an all-pervading sense of conscious energy (shakti). Afterward, this energy becomes still and motionless; then air is transformed into ether (akasha), energy into being, body into the bodiless. Patanjali calls this condition mahavideha dharana; in it the mind is fixed in the ether and there is no awareness of body. 
Patanjali refers to Mahavideha Dharana in the Yoga Sutras 3:44
bahih akalpita vrittih maha-videha tatah prakasha avarana ksayah
When the formless thought patterns of mind are projected outside of the body, it is called maha-videha, a great disincarnate one. By samyama(concentration) on that outward projection, the veil over the spiritual light is removed.
Corresponding to this, we have the following exchange between Sri Aurobindo and his disciple Nagin Doshi on the mind, vital and physical expanding into cosmic consciousness.
Nagin: It also happens that when the experience is of a voidness I feel the whole body to be as light as cotton-wool.
Sri Aurobindo: Yes. it becomes like that. In the end you feel as if you had no body but were spread out in the vastness of space as an infinite consciousness and existence – or as if the body were only a dot in that consciousness. 
- Sri Anirvan, Inner Yoga, pp 27-31
- Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, p 58
- Nagin Doshi, Guidance from Sri Aurobindo, p 64