Copyright Prabuddha Bharata
This is an extract from an article on mediation in Christianity & Sanatan Dharam. Editor.
Herein a humble attempt is made to throw some light on the concept of meditation in Hinduism.
We are living in a dynamic world, where every practice is in constant flux. We cannot imagine a state where there is no action or movement. Even the apparent state of inaction reveals intense activity when analysed scientifically. Still, there is an urge in man to be calm and silent without any activity, which induces him to go into the state of deep sleep every day. Meditation is an attempt to reach that state consciously, gradually reducing the number of thoughts and finally retaining only one thought in the mind.
Meditation is a special kind of concentration. In ordinary concentration, the mind is focused on one particular subject, and there can be many divergent thoughts related to that particular subject. Here the subject is one, but thoughts are many and dissimilar. For example, if one were reading a book on electricity and if his mind is concentrated, all his thoughts would center on electricity alone. But in meditation there should be one subject and one thought related to that. Regarding this special kind of concentration, Swami Yatiswarananda says:
It is important to know the difference between ordinary concentration and meditation. By the world ‘meditation’ we mean dhyana or contemplation. It is not just ordinary concentration. It is a special type of concentration. In the first place, meditation is a fully conscious process, an exercise of the will. Secondly, meditation means concentration on a spiritual idea which presupposes that the aspirant is capable of rising above worldly ideas. And finally, meditation is done usually at a particular center of consciousness. It is clear that true meditation is a fairly advanced state, attained after long practice. It is the result of long years of discipline.
If one is meditating on a particular divine form of Rama at a particular center of consciousness, say the heart, then there would be a continuous flow of the same thought representing the divine form of Rama, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, even the thoughts related to Rama’s qualities or his life. This continuous flow of one same thought is called meditation.
Normally there is a continuous flow of thoughts in our minds related to different objects, events and persons. If one thought represents one particular object, the subsequent one would be related to some other object or person. This state of mind is called sarvarthata in Yoga literature. In contrast to this, the flow of similar thoughts pertaining to our particular object of meditation is called ekagrata. As stated earlier this is a higher form of concentration in which there will be different but similar thoughts representing one and the same object. As a result of quick succession of these thoughts, the object of meditation appears to be steady and as the concentration deepens, the object becomes more vivid and bright. This is somewhat similar to the case when still pictures are taken and projected on the screen: the form on the screen appears to be one and steady though the images are different. This meditative state is described as taila dharavat, like a stream of oil’. According to Patanjali, Tatra pratyayaikatanata dhyanam; An unbroken flow of thoughts of that object (of meditation) is called dhyana.
This is similar to upasana spoken of in Vedanta. Sri Shankaracharya gives a vivid description of upasana in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita: ‘Upasana or meditation means approaching an object of meditation means approaching an object of meditation as presented by the scriptures making it an object of one’s own thought, and dwelling on it uninterruptedly for long by continuing the same current of thought with regard to it-like a stream of oil poured from one vessel to an-other.
The analogy of the stream of oil is very appropriate. When we pour oil from one vessel to another, there will be a constant flow of oil without any sound or splash. But when we pour water in similar fashion there is so much of noise and splash all around. If the current of thought flows towards the object of meditation in an uninterrupted stream without this kind of restlessness, that state is called meditation.
This state is reached only after one has passed through two other stages of meditation- pratyahara and dharana. Pratyahara consists in making the mind free from the clutches of the senses. The mind is always running after sense objects. When we see a particular object or hear a particular sound, the mind immediately grabs it and starts building a castle of thoughts. Same is the case when a particular thought arises in the mind. When we sit for meditation, the mind constantly goes away from the objects of meditation, drawn by the objects of the senses. We withdraw the mind from these and fix it on object of meditation. This withdrawal of the mind is called pratyahara. But the mind refuses to remain steady and starts wandering in the world of the senses. Again and again we withdraw it from the senses, and this struggle goes on for a long time after which the mind becomes more steady and we are able to fix it on the object of meditation. This stage is called dharana. The object of meditation can be the divine form of our chosen deity, or some sound like the pranava, or a particular center of consciousness like the heart or the region between the two eyebrows and so on. When the mind remains fixed on the object of meditation for a definite length of time, without being disturbed by any other thought, and the object of meditation becomes steady and vivid, then the mind is said to be in the state of meditation.
In this meditation state there are three things: the object of meditation, the process of meditation and the meditator. The meditator is aware of himself and the object, and there is self-direction too. But there is a still higher state of concentration called samadhi, in which the object alone shines so brightly that the meditator loses himself, as it were, being absorbed in the thought of the object and experiences ecstatic joy. Patanjali thus describes this state: ‘Tadeva arthamatranirbhasam svarupasunyamiva samadhih; In the same meditative state, when the meditator loses himself, as it were, and the object of meditation alone shines forth-that is called samadhi.
There is a still higher state of consciousness where even this single thought of the object of meditation is eliminated and the self is revealed in Its pristine purity without any qualification. Swami Vivekananda explains this with an appropriate illustration:
The bottom of a lake we cannot see, because its surface is covered with ripples. It is only possible for us to catch a glimpse of the bottom when the ripples have subsided, and the water is calm. If the water is muddy or is agitated all the time, the bottom will not be seen. If it is clear, and there are no waves, we shall seethe bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true self; the lake is the Chitta [mind] and the waves the Vrittis [thoughts].
The true purpose of meditation is to know our true nature, the bedrock of our personality, by removing the accretions that cover it. This is done in stages, first by holding on to one thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts, and finally letting go of even that single thought.
This brief description of meditation in the light of Vedanta and Yoga philosophies is only to highlight the main aspects of meditation, which may stimulate one to study the subject further.
1. Swami Yatiswarananda, Meditation and Spiritual life (Bangalore: Sri Ramakrishna Ashrama, 1983), 324.
2. Yoga sutras,3.2.
3. Shankaracharya’s commentary on Bhagavadgita, 12.3.
4. Yoga sutras,3.3.
5. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananada,9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama,1-8
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