Hatha Yoga practices are alchemical practices, which can transform an ordinary body into a shining, diamond, light body. The transformation is one of perception.
There are six important preliminary practices of purification, which are referred to as the six actions, or shat karmas. These practices purify the body and prepare it to be strengthened by the practice of asana, stabilized through the practice of mudras, made calm through pratyahara, lightened through pranayama, cleared through dhyana and liberated through samadhi. The ultimate aim, Samadhi, must not be lost sight of, even while engaged in the purification practices of the shat karmas.
Trataka is practiced to purify vision, external as well as internal. Trataka develops profound concentration; the ability to hold and fix our attention on an object as well as to make the object disappear. Without this skill, deep meditation and ecstatic samadhi are difficult to realize.
The body is made of our past actions, or karmas. In Hatha Yoga the term “purify” means to cleanse of ignorance, or avidya, which is the dirt that obscures the true perception of reality. True reality is not limited by external time and space bound objects. Yoga practices such as trataka provide the methods to transcend the limits of three dimensional space and linear time.
The Hatha Yoga practitioner uses the purified and tuned instrument of the body in order to gain true perception of reality. Swami Muktibodhananda writes in the Bihar School commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika* that vision depends not only on the organs of the eyes, which are lenses or mediums for external perception but on the entire optic tracks. When you look at something, an image is projected onto the retina via the eyes, which stimulates the retina to fire impulses back to the visual cortex of the brain where an inner image is mapped out. When the image of the external object is stabilized on the retina, and held there for some time, without wavering, then the image will completely disappear and along with it a suspension of normal mental processes; in other words the mind will be turned off. Complete absorption in a single object induces withdrawal from contact with the external world. In the wake of this suspension, the central nervous system begins to function in isolation, meaning without the associated mental processes of memories, ideas and intellectual concepts.
The higher brain becomes liberated from the experience of time and space. This is the awakening of sushumna – now the path toward Samadhi is illuminated and you can really see where you are going!
The gazing practice of Trataka is of two types: external (bahiranga) and internal (antaranga). External Trataka is performed by steadily gazing, without blinking at a small object. A candle flame is good for this practice.
Sit down and place a lighted candle about two feet in front of you with the flame at eye level. Gaze at the middle of the flame until your eyes water, internal Trataka can then be performed, by closing the eyes and allowing the image of the flame to appear. Try to keep the image clear and unwavering. Repeat the process until you can hold the image externally without blinking as well as internally, without wavering.
Physiologically, Trataka cures diseases of the eye such as eyestrain, headache, astigmatism, and myopia. The eyes become clear and bright and able to see the reality beyond external appearances.
Psychologically, Trataka develops clairvoyance, telepathy, and telekinesis as well as strong will power and ekagrata, meaning single pointedness, without which concentration and meditation are not possible.
Spiritually, Trataka prepares one to achieve early success in shambhavi mudra, where the physical eyes gracefully roll back and up into the head, gazing, not merely seeing, into the third eye. This is where shunyata or emptiness, arises, where one becomes delightfully enraptured in the ultimate state of Shambhu/Shiva/Cosmic Self, the transcendent reality.
Through the regular practice of Trataka the sadhaka can break the chains of visual dominance and be freed from the grip of the “seeing is believing” myth, which has bound our consciousness for thousands of lifetimes.
NOTE: References to the practice of Trataka can be found in two important scriptures: *The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (chapter 2. 32-33) and the Gheranda-Samhita (chapter 1. 52-53) both of which outline the practices (sadhanas) of Hatha Yoga and include instruction on shatkarmas, asanas, mudras, pranayama, dhyana, and samadhi.