A Krishnamacharya, Manju Jois and Richard Freeman inspired, Simon Borg-Olivier informed, slightly Vinyasa Krama modified, soft, slow, half Primary/half Second Series Ashtanga Yoga practice. Formally titled: Ashtanga Jump back... at Home.
Based on Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934), Yogasanagalu (Mysore 1941) Patabbhi Jois' Yoga Mala
and Krishnamacharya's later teaching as presented by Srivatsa Ramaswami's as Vinyasa Krama.
The Blog title poster above forms part of a series of posters I made up for a book, 'Krishnamacharya's original Ashtanga Yoga', based on the public domain translation from the Tamil edition of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934) . It's available for free on my Free Downloads page above. There is a print edition on Lulu.com ( Note: It's best to buy it in print from Lulu as I can reduce the price down almost to cost rather than on Amazon where I have less control of pricing.
How to meditate
DRISHTI: Ashtanga and Meditation. How should one meditate in 33 bullet points.
Download a pdf version of this whole post from my google docs page for later viewing
Posting this extended version of this earlier post as happily the question continues to come up... But first perhaps an encouraging thought... If we've been linking our breath to our movements in our practice. If we've been working on improving our employment of drishti (whether eyes open or closed, internal or external), then it's not a case of should we or shouldn't we consider a meditation practice... We've already begun a meditation practice, the Smayama, the meditation limbs of raja (ashtanga yoga) which include it's preparation.
Jump to the section that interests you
The Aranya commentary from yesterday focusing on the Drishti aspect.
My 33 point how to meditate 'manual'.
The Yoga 'meditation' Newsletter from Ramaswami.
The Ashtanga and Zen video following a Zen Monk who also practices Ashtanga.
Concentration: the sixteen vital points
The upper three limbs of Raja (Ashtanga)yoga
– concentration, one-pointedness of mind
– meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
– the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state
"The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as preparations. They are asanas and pranayama". Ramaswami from the newsletter below. At some point we can perhaps choose whether to look to the next pose and the next or look deeper within those that we have, explore them as asana (even as mudra ) rather than merely postures. Aranya's commentary on YS 22-49 that I posted yesterday as support for Krishnamacharya's employment of breath suspension in asana strikes me as an excellent place to begin.
Drishti (internal or external, eyes closed or open).
"That is, the object of concentration should be present in the mind during each act of inhalation and exhalation, or the inhalation and exhalation are to be looked upon as the predisposing causes bringing the thought of the object of concentration; thus union between the breath and the object of concentration has to be practiced. When this becomes habitual, then the suspension of the movement (of breath) has to be practiced." Aranya.
Look too at his use of the Yoga as union translation option, yoking the breath to the object of concentration .
"Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills". Ramaswami Nov. 2009
A couple of years ago I put together what I like to think of as a short Yoga Meditation Manual for my own personal use ( I don't think I ever posted it and can't find my original), it's based on Ramaswami's November 2009 newsletter Meditating on Meditation (below), it's pretty much a numbering of the sentences outlining practice in the newsletter. I'd wondered why it was that we turn to the yoga tradition for asana and perhaps pranayama but when it comes to meditation often turn to , Zen, Vippasana...... This then was an attempt to make yoga meditation a little more accessible.
There is of course a more in depth yoga meditation manual, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras,
I was watching a live television program in India some 30 years back when TV had just been introduced in India. It was a program in which an elderly yogi was pitted against a leading cardiologist. It was virtually a war. The yogi was trying to impress with some unusualposes which were dubbed as potentially dangerous by the doctor. Almost everything the yogi claimed was contested by the non-yogi and soon the dialogue degenerated. The yogi stressed that headstand will increase longevity by retaining the amrita in the sahasrara in the head and the medical expert countered it by saying that there was no scientific basis for such claims and dubbed it as a pose which was unnatural and dangerous and will lead to a stroke. The Yogi replied by saying that Yoga had stood the test of time for centuries; it had been in voguemuch before modern medicine became popular. Thank God it was a black and white program; else you would have seen blood splashed all over the screen.
Things have become more civil in these three decades. Now neti pot, asanas, yogic breathing exercises and yogic meditation have all become part of the medical vocabulary. There is a grudging appreciation of yoga within the medical profession. Many times doctors suggest a few yogic procedures, especially Meditation, in several conditions like hypertension, anxiety, depression and other psychosomatic ailments.
Ah! Meditation. The Yoga world is divided into two camps. On one side we have enthusiastic hatha yogis who specialize in asanas and the other group which believes fervently in meditation as a panacea for all the ills.
But how should one meditate? Many start meditation and give it up after a few days or weeks as they fail to see any appreciable benefit or perceivable progress. The drop out rate is quite high among meditators. The mind continues to be agitated and does not get into the meditating routine. Or quite often one tends to take petit naps while meditating. Why does this happen? It is due to lack of adequate preparation. Basically one has to prepare oneself properly for meditation.
The Yogis mention two sadhanas or two yogic procedures as preparations. They are asanas and pranayama. Asanas, as we have seen earlier, reduce rajas which manifests as restlessness of the mind, an inability to remain focused for an appreciable amount of time. But another guna, tamas also is not helpful during meditation, manifesting as laziness, lethargy and sloth and this also should be brought under control if one wants to meditate. Patanjali, Tirumular and several old Yogis advocate the practice of Pranayama to reduce the effects of Tamas. Patanjali says Pranayama helps to reduce avarana or Tamas. He along with conventional ashtanga yogis also mentions that Pranayama makes the mind capable of Dharana or the first stage of meditation.
Pranayama is an important prerequisite of meditation.There is evidence that pranayama has a salutary effect on the whole system. In an earlier article I had explained the beneficial effects of deep pranayama on the heart and the circulatory system. Further, when it is done correctly, it helps to draw in anywhere between 3 to 4 liters of atmospheric air compared to just about ½ liter of air during normal breathing. This helps to stretch the air sacs of the lungs affording an excellent exchange of oxygen and gaseous waste products. These waste products are proactively thrown out of the system by deep pranayama, which yogis refer to as reduction of tamas. Thus soon after pranayama, the yogi feels refreshed and calm andbecomes fit for the first stage of meditation which is called Dharana.
What should one meditate on? Several works talk about meditating on cakras, mantras, auspicious icons, various tatwas and on the spirit/soul etc. But, the method of meditating, only a few works detail. Perhaps the most precise is that of Patanjali in Yoga Sutras. Patanjali details not only a step by step methodology of meditation but also the various objects of prakriti and ultimately the spirit within to meditate on. Hence his work may be considered as the most detailed, complete and rigorous on meditation
For a start Patanjali would like the abhyasi to get the technique right. So he does not initially specify the object but merely says that the Yogi after the preliminary practices of asana, pranayama and pratyahara, should sit down in a comfortable yogasana and start the meditation. Tying the mind to a spot is dharana. Which spot? Vyasa in his commentary suggests going by tradition, a few spots, firstly inside the body, like the chakras as the Kundalini Yogi would do,, or the heart lotus as the bhakti yogi would do, or the mid-brows as a sidhha yogi would do or even an icon outside as a kriya yogi would do.
The icon should be an auspicious object like the image of one’s favorite deity. Many find it easier to choose a mantra and focus attention on that. Thousands everyday meditate on the Gayatri mantra visualizing the sun in the middle of the eyebrows or the heart as part of their daily Sandhyavandana** routine. It is also an ancient practice followed even today to meditate on the breath with or without using the Pranayama Mantra.
(** Namarupa published my article “Sandhyavandanam-Ritualistic Gayatri Meditation” with all the routines, mantras, meanings, about 40 pictures, and also an audio with the chanting of the mantras in theSep/Oct 2008 issue).
What of the technique? The Yogabhyasi starts the antaranga sadhana or the internal practice by bringing the mind to the same object again and again even as the mind tends to move away from the chosen object of meditation. The active, repeated attempts to bring the mind back to the simple, single object again and again is the first stage of meditation (samyama) called dharana. Even though one has done everything possible to make the body/mind system more satwic, because of the accumulated samskaras or habits, the mind continues to drift away from the object chosen for meditation. The mind starts with the focus on the object but within a short time it swiftly drifts to another related thought then a third one and within a short time this train of thoughts leads to a stage which has no connection whatsoever with the object one started with.
Then suddenly the meditator remembers that one is drifting and soon brings the mind back to the object and resumes remaining with the “object”. This process repeats over and over again. This repeated attempts to coax and bring the mind to the same object is dharana. At the end of the session lasting for about 15 minutes, the meditator may (may means must) take a short time to review the quality of meditation. How often was the mind drifting away from the object and how long on an average the mind wandered? And further what were the kinds of interfering thoughts? The meditator takes note of these. If they are recurrent and strong then one may take efforts to sort out the problem that interferes with the meditation repeatedly or at least decide to accept and endure the situation but may decide to take efforts to keep those thoughts away at least during the time one meditates.
If during the dharana period, the mind gets distracted too often and this does not change over days of practice, perhaps it may indicate that the rajas is still dominant and one may want to reduce the systemic rajas by doing more asanas in the practice. On the other hand if the rajas is due to influences from outside, one may take special efforts to adhere to the yamaniyamas more scrupulously. Perhaps every night before going to sleep one may review the day’s activities and see if one had willfully violated the tenets of yamaniyamas like “did I hurt someone by deed, word or derive satisfaction at the expense of others’ pain”. Or did I say untruths and so on. On the other hand if one tends to go to sleep during the meditation minutes, one may consider increasing the pranayama practice and also consider reducing tamasic interactions, foods etc.
Then one may continue the practice daily and also review the progress on a daily basis and also make the necessary adjustments in practice and interactions with the outside world. Theoretically and practically when this practice is continued diligently and regularly, slowly the practitioner of dharana will find that the frequency and duration of these extraneous interferences start reducing and one day, the abhyasi may find that for the entire duration one stayed with the object. When this takes place, when the mind is completely with the object moment after moment in a continuous flow of attention, then one may say that the abhyasi has graduated into the next stage of meditation known as dhyana. Many meditators are happy to have reached this stage. Then one has to continue with the practice so that the dhyana habits or samskaras get strengthened. The following day may not be as interruption free, but Patanjali says conscious practice will make it more successful. “dhyana heyat tad vrittayah”. If one continues with this practice for sufficiently long time meditating on the same object diligently, one would hopefully reach the next stage of meditation called Samadhi.
In this state only the object remains occupying the mind and the abhyasi even forgets herself/himself. Naturally if one continues the meditation practice one would master the technique of meditation. Almost every time the yagabhasi gets into meditation practice, one would get into Samadhi. Once one gets this capability one is a yogi—a technically competent yogi– and one may be able to use the skill on any other yoga worthy object and make further progress in Yoga. (tatra bhumishu viniyogah)
The consummate yogi could make a further refinement. An object has a name and one has a memory of the object, apart from the object itself (sabda, artha gnyana). If a Yogi is able to further refine the meditation by focusing attention on one aspect like the name of the object such a meditation is considered superior. For instance when the sound ‘gow” is heard (gow is cow ), if the meditiator intently maintains the word ‘gow’ alone in his mind without bringing the impression(form) of a cow in his mind then that is considered a refined meditation. Or when he sees the cow, he does not bring the name ‘gow’ in the meditation process, it is a refined meditation.
The next aspect-after mastering meditation— one may consider is, what should be the object one should meditate upon. For Bhakti Yogis it is the Lord one should meditate upon. According to my teacher, a great Bhakti Yogi, there is only one dhyana or meditation and that is bhagavat dhyana or meditating upon the Lord. There is a difference between a religious person and a devotee. A devotee loves the Lord and meditates on the Lord, all through life. The Vedas refer to the Pararmatman or the Supreme Lord and bhakti yogis meditate on the Lord.
The Vedas also refer to several gods and some may meditate on these as well. By meditating on the Lord one may transcend the cycle of transmigration. At the end of the bhakti yogi’s life one reaches the same world of the Lord (saloka), the heaven. Some attain the same form as the Lord. Some stay in the proximity of the Lord and some merge with the Lord. The Puranas which are the later creation of poet seers personify the Lord and the vedic gods. Thus we have several puranas as Agni purana, Vayu purana and then those of the Lord Himself like the Bhagavata Purana , Siva Purana , Vishnu Purana. Running to thousands of slokas and pages the puranic age helped to worship the Lord more easily as these stories helped to visualize the Lord as a person, which was rather difficult to do from the Vedas. Later on Agamas made the Lord more accessible by allowing idols to be made of the Lord and divine beings and consecrating them in temples. Thus these various methods helped the general populace remain rooted to religion and religious worship. So meditating upon the charming idol/icon of theLord made it possible for many to worship and meditate .
Of course many traditional Brahmins belonging to the vedic practices stuck to the vedic fire rituals, frowned upon and refrained from any ‘form worship’, but millions of others found form worship a great boon.
Meditating on the form of the chosen deity either in a temple or at one’s own home has made it possible to sidestep the intermediate priestly class to a great extent. One can become responsible for one’s own religious practice, including meditation. The ultimate reality is meditated on in different forms, in any form as Siva Vishnu etc or as Father, Mother, Preceptor or even a Friend. Some idol meditators define meditating on the whole form as dharana, then meditating on each aspect of the form as the toe or head or the arms or the bewitching eyes as dhyana and thus giving a different interpretation to meditation. Some, after meditating on the icon, close the eyes and meditate on the form in their mind’s eye (manasika).
Darshanas like Samkhya and Yoga which do not subscribe to the theory of a Creator commended ‘the understanding of one’s own Self’ as a means of liberation. The Self which is non-changing is pure consciousness and by deep unwavering meditation after getting the technique right, one can realize the nature of oneself and be liberated. Following this approach, the Samkhyas commend meditating on each and every of the 24 aspects of prakriti in the body-mind complex of oneself and transcend them to directly know the true nature of oneself, and that will be Freedom or Kaivalya. Similarly the Yogis would say that the true nature of the self is known when the mind transcends(nirodha) the five types of its activities called vrittis to reach kaivalya, by a process of subtler and subtler meditation.
The Upanishads on the other hand while agreeing with the other Nivritti sastras like Yoga and Samkhya in so far as the nature of the self is concerned, indicate that the individual and the Supreme Being are one and the same and meditating on this identity leads to liberation. They would like the spiritual aspirant to first follow a disciplined life to get an unwavering satwic state of the mind. Then one would study the upanishadic texts (sravana), by analysis (manana) understand them and realize the nature of the self through several step by step meditation approaches (nidhidhyasana). The Vedas, for the sake of the spiritual aspirant, have several Upanishad vidyas to study and understand it from several viewpoints. For instance, the panchkosa vidya indicates that the real self is beyond (or within) the five koshas (sheaths). It could also be considered as the pure consciousness which is beyond the three states of awareness (avasta) of waking, dream and deep sleep, as the Pranava(Om) vidya would indicate. The understanding and conviction that Self and the Supreme Self are one and the same is what one needs to get, before doing Upanishadic meditation following the advaitic interpretation.
Summarizing one may say that traditional meditation warrants proper preparation so that the mind becomes irrevocably satwic and thus fit for and capable of meditation. Secondly it requires practice on a simple object until the meditation technique is mastered and such meditatin samskaras developed. Then the Yogi should set the goal of meditation based on the conviction of a solid philosophy—bhakti, samkhya, yoga, vedanta, kundalini (or if comfortable, nirvana) or whatever.
This essays explores the practice of dhyana or meditation in Hinduism, from a historical perspective, based on the Hindu scriptures such as the Veda Samhitas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Tantra shastras, with a brief analysis of meditation practices of Jainism and Buddhism
The purpose of meditation or dhyana is to become consciously aware of or investigate into one's own mind and body to know oneself. It is essentially an exclusive as well as an inclusive process, in which one withdraws one's mind and senses from the distractions of the world and contemplates upon a chosen object or idea with concentration. It is focused thinking with or without the exercise of individual will, in which the mind and the body has to be brought together to function as one harmonious whole. With the help of meditation we can overcome our mental blocks, negative thinking, debilitating fears, stress and anxiety by knowing their cause and dealing with them. In dhyana we gain insightful awareness whereby we can control over our responses and reactions. Through its regular practice, we come to understand the nature of things, the impermanence of our corporeal existence, the fluctuations of our minds, the source of our own suffering and its possible resolution. The difference between meditation and contemplation is mostly academic. According to, some meditation is an insightful observation and contemplation a concentrated reflection, with detachment being the common factor between the two. In this essay both the words are used interchangeably to convey the same meaning as dhayna.
Dhyana is a Sanskrit word. "Dhi" means receptacle or the mind and "yana" means moving or going. Dhyana means journey or movement of the mind. It is a mental activity of the mind (dhi). In Hindu philosophy, the mind (manas) is viewed as a receptacle (dhi) into which thoughts pour back and forth from the universal pool of thought forms. According to Hindu tradition, the human mind has the creative potency of God. You become what you think. You are a sum total of your thoughts and desires, not only of this life but also of your past lives. What you think and desire grows upon you, becomes part of your latent impressions (samskaras) and influence the course of your life here and here after. These samskaras determine the future course of your lives as they accompany you to the next world. All your mental actions are part of your karma as much as any physical action. Even the animals have the ability to evolve into higher being through their mental focus1.
Meditation is observing the inward and outward movement of thoughts that are coming and going out of the mind, with silence (maunam), stability (dhiram) and detachment (vairagyam). According to Hindu theories of creation, all the beings and worlds emanated from God (mentioned as Brahma in some scriptures and Brahman in others) through meditation only. Its mysteries and its dimensions can be comprehended in transcendental states of self-absorption which is possible through meditation only. Since each individual is a carbon copy of the universe, by understanding ourselves we canunderstand the manifest universe. Thus our ancient rishis practiced meditation and contemplation to discover the truths concerning themselves and the world around them. In their deep meditative states they envisioned the Vedic wisdom and Universal Self. Since the knowledge poured forth into their receptive and stabilized minds from the universal consciousness, on its own, without any egoistic intention or selfishness on their part, it is considered as not man made (apaurusheya), but divine and truthful (pramana).
All thoughts and knowledge exist in the universe. We do not create thoughts, although we erroneously believe so, just as we are not the real doers of our actions, as declared in the Bhagavadgita, but mere instruments in the hands of God. We can only receive them and make meaning out of them according to the flow of our inclinations, intentions, intellect and attitudes. The most exalted spiritual truths are revealed to us in our moments of reverential silence, when our minds are focused, the senses and the self-sense are asleep and the desires are extinguished. The six Hindu schools of philosophy are so called darshanas (visions) because they are products of such receptive process in which knowledge was envisioned (darsanam) in the pit of the human mind that was untainted by the impurities of worldly life. While the followers of respective schools may argue or quarrel about the merits and demerits of their respective systems of philosophy, from a spiritual perspective, we hold them to be different standpoints of the same universal knowledge revealed to man at different points of time in history, and like any other standpoint they represent a particular view of the reality and do not wholly represent the universal reality itself, which is well rounded, eternal, infinite and absolute in itself without divisions, grades and contradictions.
The Vedic seers did not use the word dhyana in the early Vedic theology. But through their own personal experience, they were aware of the importance of the mind and its ability to manifest things. They viewed creation as the mental manifestation of the Isvara or Brahman, the universal Self and they believe through austerities and penances man could acquire similar potencies. The creation of an alternate heaven(trisanku) by sage Viswamitra is a case in point. According to Jenine Miller, a British scholar, the Vedic prayer was a form of dhyana in which the two sense functions, "vision and sound, seership and singing are intimately connected."2
The Vedic concept of dhayna or meditation seems to have evolved gradually with the emergence of Upanishadic thought and the idea that man personified the entire universe within himself and by himself and that hidden deep within him was an eternal principle that was Universal Self in its individual aspect. Either man (purusha) was a projection of the universe in its own mode or the universe was a projection of the individual self (purusha) in its own form. Both views enjoyed patronage of scholarly minds. If the former was true, our existence was ephemeral and part of a much larger dream, and If the latter was true, then the universe might be an illusion. In either case the world seemed to be unreal or illusory, a view that caught the attention of Hindu scholars for centuries and found its way into the monistic (advauta) philosophy of Shankara.
Miller proposed the view that in the beginning the Vedic seers held Brahman to be a meditative state, not a universal entity. She suggested that the Vedic seers practiced three different types of meditation and were familiar with three states of transcendental reality, which they identified with Brahman. In addition they were also familiar with the forth state although it was not explicitly mentioned in the early Vedic hymns. They are:
Mantric meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
Visual meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought,
Absorption in mind and heart or meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart.
Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya)..
The early Vedic hymns may not mention the word dhyana or dharana explicitly, but we have indications in the scriptures to believe that the Rigvedic seers were familiar with contemplative and meditative methods of self-enquiry. The Upanishads are not speculative works of human imagination, but revelatory scriptures envisioned by the Seers as they were exploring the riddles of human existence. Similarly the Vedic hymns, constituting the samhitas, were transmitted to them in deep meditative states.
Apart from the Seers and Rishs, the Vedic texts mention many types of ascetics, including kesins,3 the long haired ones, who appear to have practiced some kind of breath control, with elements of shamanism, mantra and tantra yoga, and had the ability to display some siddhis (perfectiosn) such as levitation. Vratyas were another group of ascetics, outside the pale of Vedic society, who seem to have been treated rather unfairly by the Vedic scholars and who practiced austerities and esoteric rituals, some of which found their way into Hinduism possibly through Saivism.
Descriptions of meditation practice in the Upanishads
In the Upanishads words such as dhaya, dhvai, manta, drsti, mati are used to denote meditation4. Tapas was a more popular spiritual practice in which meditation formed part of a set of austerities and penances that were aimed to generate bodily heat or inner fire to burn away the impurities of the mind and the body. Tapas was rooted in Vedic tradition, a system by itself, having its own body of practices, which thrived prior to the emergence of the classical yoga as a standard spiritual practice. It was practiced by many seers and sages of the Vedic and epic age, who believed that tapas was the source of the creative potency even in case of gods. According to the Rigveda, the word emanated from the primordial Being by the great heat of austerity (tapas)5 Another word that is used in the Upanishads frequently to denote meditation is "upasana", a meditative practice that seems to have gradually evolved into dhyana. Compared to upasana, dhayana is a more concentrated and meditative practice without the outward ritual component and the devotional fervor. The word upansana is used in the Upanishads in a boarder sense to denotes ritual worship or service, with or without the employment of udgita (Aum), ritual chants or sacrificial mantras. The practice seems to have developed with the evolution of the Vedic thought, as is evident in the Briahdaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earliest Upanishads, which led to the identification of the human body with the cosomos6, internalization of Vedic ritual and internal worship, through contemplation, of various divinities such as the vital breaths, fire, water, speech, mind, the eyes, the body and the consciousness, each representing a particular aspect of the manifest creation. In this progressive form of meditation, which proceeded from the outer to the inner, worshipping the inmost Self or Brahman was considered to be the best7.
These early ideas gradually gave way to more advanced forms of meditation which sought to control the mind and the body for experiencing various transcendental states of consciousness. The knowledge of these states was kept confidential and expressed mostly in symbolic terms. Brahman was now recognized as the highest and supreme Reality rather than mere meditative state. The realization that beyond all divinities existed the resplendent and inmost Self and that it could be attained by withdrawing the outgoing senses, stabilizing the mind and concentrating upon the inmost Self, gave way to the emergence of dhyana as an essential and useful contemplative technique. In this process, silence (mauna) and renunciation of worldly life were the contributing or facilitating factors 8.
The Chandogya Upanishad
The Chandogya Upanishad reflects this progressive development in the Vedic thought. The Upanishad views meditation or contemplation (dhyna) as a journey into oneself till one reaches the reality that is permanent, reliable and beyond which there is nothing else to be found or realized. It explains the various ways in which one can meditate upon Aum (udgita). In a conversation between Narada and Sanatkumara, which is recorded in the Upanishad, the latter explains the progressive forms of meditation (upasana) upon the various aspects of the mind and the body, from the outer to the inner, in order to overcome suffering and realize the true nature of Brahman. He begins by saying that one should meditate (upasana) upon the name (nama) as Brahman, then the speech (vak), then the mind (manas), then the cit consciousness (citta), then contemplation (dhyana), then intelligence (vijnanam), then strength (balam), then food (annam), then water, then heat, then ether and so on. Each of these methods of meditations said to result in some specific benefit.
The following verse from the Upanishad9 envisions the whole universe and its constituent parts being in a state of deep meditation.
"Contemplation is assuredly greater than thought. The earth contemplates as it were. The atmosphere contemplates as it were. The heaven contemplates as it were. The waters contemplate as it were, the mountains contemplate as it were. Gods and men contemplate as it were. Therefore he among men here attains greatness, he seems to have obtained a share of (the reward of) contemplation. Now the small people of quarrelsome, abusive and slandering, the superior men have obtained a share of (the reward of) contemplation. Meditate on contemplation."
The verse identifies stability or firmness as the outcome of contemplation (dhyana), a concept that became the focal point in the subsequent scriptures such as the Yogasutra and the Bhagavadgita. According to the Upanishad, contemplation is better than routine thinking because the former leads to stability while the latter leads to disturbances. The earth and the mountains are firm and stable because they are forever immersed in meditation. So men too can achieve greatness and firmness through contemplation. Ordinary people have no control on their minds so they speak carelessly. But superior men control their thoughts and speech because of contemplation.
The Katha Upanishad
The Katha Upanishad10 also suggests a similar approach by emphasizing the need to stabilize the mind through the practice of self-contemplation (adhyatma yoga) to overcome both joy and sorrow and realize Brahman who is difficult to be seen (durdasam), deeply hidden (gudham), inside a cave (guhatitam) and dwells in the deep (gahvarestham).
Realizing through self-contemplation that primal God, difficult to be seen, deeply hidden, set in the cave (of the heart), dwelling in the deep, the wise man leaves behind both joy and sorrow.
The Svetasvatara Upanishad
The Svetasvatara Upanishad, with its definitive leanings towards Saivism, mentions the word "dhyana- yoga" in one verse11 and "dhyana" in two verses suggestive of the changing times and the systematization of the knowledge of yoga. It declares that those who practiced dhayna-yoga saw the self power of the divine (devatma sakti) hidden in His own qualities (sva gunair nigudham) as the first cause (karanam) of creation, which they understood in their contemplative mode12 as a rotating wheel having fifty spokes (energies), three tires (qualities) and one hub (Isvara or God). In creation there is perishable matter (pradhana) and imperishable Lord (Hara). By meditating upon Him, uniting with him and reflecting upon Him one is freed from illusion of the world (maya nivrittih)13.
The Upanishad also explains how meditation should be performed. It is by using the body as the lower friction stick (arani) and the syllable aum (pranava) as the upper friction stick one may see hidden God (devam) in meditation. This effort has to be accompanied by truthfulness (satyam) and austerity (tapas). According to the Upanishad, yoga of which dhyana is an important component, is a cleansing process. Just as a mirror covered with dust is able to reflect well when it is cleaned, when through yoga we overcome the illusion and ignorance we have about ourselves and our existence, we are able to discern the Universal Self hidden in all as the source of all and transcend death.
According to Maitri Upanishad, Prajapati Brahma, the creator god, being alone and unhappy, meditated upon himself (atmanam abhdhyat) and differentiated himself into diverse beings. When he found them to be lifeless and inert like stone, he entered into them and divided himself into five breaths and the internal fire (vaisvanara). Then, residing in the heart, he pierced five openings in each body and through them began enjoying things using the five senses as his reigns. The Upanishad further states that when the soul resides in the body and mind which is made up of the elements, it is known as the elemental-self (bhutatma). The elemental-self does not remember its highest state (parama padam) because of ignorance. It becomes free from such an evil existence (papam) only when it gains the knowledge of Brahman (Brahma vidya) through the triad, namely knowledge (vidya), austerity (tapas) and meditation (cinta). The Upanishad distinguishes two types of Brahman, the one with form and the other without form. Of the two, the formless Brahman is real, upon whom one should meditate as Aum to become united with Him.
The Six fold Yoga
Apart from the three fold practice mentioned above, the Maitri Upanishad prescribes six fold yoga (sadanga yoga) for the liberation of the elemental soul from both good and evil. It consists of control of breath (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), meditation (dhyanam), dharana (concentration), logical enquiry (tarka) and self-absoprtion (samadhi). In contrast to the classical yoga of Patanjali, in this yoga, concentration (dharana) comes after dhyana. Probably in this system dhyana means passive meditation and tarka means concentrated meditation. According to S.Radhakrishnan, it is contemplative enquiry or reflective self-absorption (savitarka samadhi ). "It may also mean an enquiry whether the mind has become transformed or not into object of meditation or investigation
into the hindrances of concentration caused by the inferior powers acquired by meditation."15. The Upanishad mentions a higher concentration technique (parasya dharana) of seeing Brahman through contemplative thought (tarka), known as lumbika-yoga. It consists of holding the tip of the tongue down the palate, restraining the speech, the mind and the breath and seeing the (shining) self through the (elemental or impure ) self.
The Paingala Upanishad
The Paingala Upanishad distinguishes four kinds of spiritual practice to attain Brahman and explains the purport of each. They are hearing (sravanam), reflection (mananam), meditation (nidhidhaysanam) and self realization (atma darsana). Investigation into the meaning and purpose (vakyartha vicara) of the Vedic mantras such as "Thou art That," and "I am Brahman," constitute hearing (sravanam). Paying undivided attention to what is being being heard is reflection. Concentrating the thought solely on what has been understood through hearing and reflection is meditation. When the distinction between the subject and the object disappears in the heightened state
of concentration, it is called cognition of the self (atma darsana). With it all the karmas become destroyed and one experiences a shower of supreme bliss coming from thousand directions. The wise call such a state as dharma megha samadhi (self-absorption of the virtuous kind). As all the impurities are removed and the past and present karmas are neutralized, the knower of Brahman becomes a liberated being (jivan mukta). When the time of his departure from this world comes, he leaves his embodied state and enters into the supreme state of non-movement (aspandatam), which is eternal, devoid of sensations, constant, alone and perfect.
The Kaivalya Upanishad
The Kaivalya Upanishad emphasizes the importance of devotion in the practice of yoga and meditation. It identifies faith (sraddha), devotion (bhakti), meditation (dhyana) and concentration as the means to know Brahman who is equated with Siva. One should meditate upon the lotus of the heart which is pure, without passion, where in lies the source of Brahma who is eternal. blue throated and companion of Uma.
In the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna touches upon the subject of dhyana on many occasions during the course of his long conversation with Arjuna. Verses 10 to 16 in the 6th chapter entitled, Dhayana Yoga, explain how and in what conditions a yogi should subdue his mind through concentration. Living alone in solitude, in a clean place covered with kusa grass, a deer skin and a cloth, one over the other, on a firm seat, a yogi, who is pure and self-controlled, without desires and free from possessions, should sit with his body, head and neck erect and concentrate his mind upon the tip of the nose. With concentration and subdued mind, he eventually attains lasting peace. So although the chapter is entitled the yoga of meditation (dhyana yoga), it basically speaks about the practice of concentration to control the mind and the senses. The same chapter defines yoga as disconnection from union with
pain16. In Chapter 12 meditation is described to be superior to knowledge and renunciation of the fruit of action better than meditation from which peace follows immediately17. In Chapter 13 it is said that through dhyana one can see the Self in the Self by the Self18.
Dhyana in the Bhagavadgita
Dhyana is an important limb of the eightfold (ashtanga) yoga of Patanajali, whose work the Yogasutra, considered to be the most authoritative ancient treatise on Yoga, presents the practice of Yoga in a systematic and orderly manner. The eight limbs of yoga are inter related and are not meant to be practiced in isolation. The purpose of yoga is to control the fluctuations of the citta and facilitate its stability by cultivating purity (sattva) through a cleansing process so that one can become absorbed in oneself and realize his true identity. Of the eightfold yoga, meditation (dhyana) is penultimate limb, preceded by yama, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, asana, dharana and followed by samadhi. All the limbs are important and complimentary. In other words success in meditation depends upon the
progress achieved in other areas, especially the ones preceding it in the order. So is the case with samadhi, which is not possible unless there is perfection in all the other areas of yoga. Dhyana is an important component of classical yoga. According to Patanjali stability of the mind can be achieved by practsing meditation of objects that are pleasing to us (Yatabhimata dhyanat va)19. In the third section of the Yogasutra he defines dhyana as the steady (pratyata) and continuous flow of awareness (ekantata) towards the same point20.
The Puranas and the symbolism
The epics and the Puranas are replete with the stories of seers, sages and gods practicing yoga, tapas and other forms of spiritual practices. Some of the stories have deep symbolism, such as the story of the churning of the oceans (sagara manthanam) in which gods and demons come together to churn the ocean to extract the elixir (amrita)21. The story symbolically represents various yogic practices which culminate in immortality. In the story the ocean represents the citta (often referred as the mind stuff or cit consciousness) which is subject to mental fluctuations (citta vrittis). The gods and demons represents the pure and impure thoughts and energies of the mind and the body (the physical realm). the serpent Vasuki represent desire or the vaisvanara fire. The mount mandhara represents concentration (dharana) of the mind (manas). The churning represents the reflective or contemplative process in search of immortality. The poison that emerged during the churning represent the pain and suffering generated from the practice of austerities (tapas). Lord Siva represents the teacher who takes upon himself the suffering of his sincere disciples. The various magical objects that came out of the ocean during the churning represent the various perfections (siddhis) or supernatural powers described in the Yogasutra. Dharana (concentration) is focused bare attention and dhayana is focused meditation.
Dhyana and tantra
Saivism has many sects and each has its own set of techniques and theories of yoga, rooted in the theoretical and philosophical aspects of Saiva religious texts (Agama) and tantras some of which are left handed (vamachara) and some right handed (sadacara). The former use the mind and body, intoxicants, sexual intercourse and socially reprehensible behavior as a part of their self-cleansing process to achieve self-realization. All sects of Saivism and Shaktism worship Siva or shakti or both and aim to achieve union with them through various practices of which meditation or dhyana is an important component. Symbols and images of Shiva and shakti and various mystica diagrams (yantras) used religious worship, meditation and concentration, apart from proper conduct and devotion to keep the mind pure and elevated. The yoga traditions of Saivims go by different names such as hatha yoga, tantra yoga and kundalini yoga. According to Kularnava Tantra, one of the well known texts of Kaula tradtion composed during the medieval period, meditation is of two type coarse (sthula) and subtle (sukshma). The former is meditation on form, usually an object, image or symbol and the latter meditation on the formless, usually an abstract concept or state of Siva as pure and resplendent light, bliss. In both types of meditation, the mind has to become stable or immobile and the distinction between the subject and object shoulld disappear to achieve the ectasic state of self- absorption (samadhi).
Meditation in hatha yoga
Hatha yoga is an important offshoot of Tantrism, which aims to develop the human body, through various ascetic and yogic practices, into a strong diamond (vajra) like and divine body that would be strong and pure enough to house the splendor of Siva or Shakti. When the body is transmuted and filled with light and the higher spiritual energies it becomes a fit vehicle for enlightenment and possession extraordinary powers and abilities (siddhis) such as the will to assume any form and live in the subtle regions in the subtle body at will. Hatha yoga is followed by many traditions of Saivism but it was made popular by the natha tradition established by Gorakshanath who probably lived between 10th and 11th century C.E. Hatha yoga has many features common with the classical yoga but differ from the latter with regard to the intensity and intent of such practices. Hatha yoga used more painful and austere physical posture and cleansing processes to perfect the mind and body and make it fit transcendental experiences. Gheranda Samhita, prescribes six acts of purification for this purpose of which meditation (dhyana) is one. According to it, the postures (asana) make the body strong, the gestures (mudras) make it stable, sense withdrawal (pratyahara) leads to calmmess, breath control (pranayama) brings lightness, dhyana leads to the perception of the self and with samadhi comes the ecstasic union. Dhauli, basti, neti, lauli, trataka and kapala-bhati are the important and more specific techniques suggested by the scripture for cleansing the variuos part of the mind and the body. It also mentions three types of dhyana:
Visualization of coarse objects (sthula dhyana), considered to be the least effective of all Contemplation of Absolute being as the light (tejo dhyana) which is said to be a hundred times better than the above.
Visualization of subtle objects (sukshma dhayna) such as the essence of the Self, which is said to be the greatest of all and hundred time better than the meditation on light.
The Goraksha Paddathi 22 describes meditation as two fold, "composite (sakala) and impartite (nishkala). It is composite owing to differences in performance, and impartite owing to differences in performance," which is also devoid of qualities (nirguna). Meditation has to be practiced by visualizing the various chakras in detail concentrating with focus on the serpent (kunadlini) starting from the base (muladhara) and gradually moving upward to the top of the head (ajna-cakra). "Anus, penis, navel, lotus, the one above that (i.e., the throat), the bell, the place of 'hanger' (i.e.the Uuvula), the spot between the eyebrows, and the space cavity (at the crown of the head)," are the nine locations (sthana) of the body for focusing the mind and practicing visual meditation. It is important to remember that these techniques should not be followed in isolation but in conjunction with the remaining five acts of purification described above.
Our knowledge of Jain yoga comes to us mainly from the work of writes like Haribhadra Suri ( 8th century C.E). Jain yoga shares some common features with the yoga traditions of Hinduism and probably derived some of the concepts and practices from the classical yoga of Patanjali. has two components: a preparatory course (purva seva) meant for the lay followers who have become dissolutioned with their worldly lifes and embarked upon a journey of liberation (apunar bandhaka)
and the yoga proper meant for the more advanced practitioners, who have advanced on the path and have achieved some degree of right or mixed vision (samyag drishti).
Yoga for the lay followers consists of ritual worship (pujana), proper conduct (sadacara), austerities (tapas), and no negative feelings towards liberation (mukti advesha). Five levels of practice is suggested for the advanced followers: centering in the self (adhyatma yoga), contemplation (bhavana), meditation (dhyana), equanimity (samata), cessation of the modifications (vritii samskhaya) of the consciousness. Dhayna or meditation is to be practiced everyday one or more times, but at least once for 48 minutes, by all followers of Jainism as per the techniques prescribed in their tradition.
Dhyana in Buddhism
The purpose of yoga in Buddhism to cultivate right attentiveness of the mind and the body and control the movements of the mind so that we can experience peace and equanimity (samatha). Buddhism does not believe in the existence of soul. So unlike in classical yoga or in Hinduism, annihilation of the ego-sense or the ephemeral and aggregate personality rather than realization of the self is the ultimate goal of Buddhist yoga. Through meditation practitioners of Buddhism aim to develop insight into themselves, how they think and act motivated by various desires and subject themselves to suffering in numerous ways. Thus, understanding and awareness or insight and mindfulness are the two important elements of Buddhist dhyana. Balance or the middle approach is another important aspect of this practice so that we will neither over indulge nor neglect our duty to meditate regularly. As regards to the postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama ), with drawl of the senses (pratyahara), methods and meditation and states of self-absorption, there is a correlating between the yogic practices of Buddhism and Hinduism. But as we have already said, the difference lies mainly in the intent and the ultimate purpose of all of the practices.
In truth, in Buddhism, every aspect of the mundane life, every activity and movement of the mind and the body can be an object of meditation. Various techniques are followed to cultivate insightful awareness and end suffering, such as tranquility (samatha) meditation, insightful (vipassana) meditation In samatha meditation a meditator sits in a quietly place, closing his eyes and calmly and rather passively lets go of his thoughts and desires with detachment, with his attention focused on his breathing. Whenever his attention is strayed, he brings it back to his breath. Regular practice of this meditation said to result in calmness of the mind (samatha). Insight meditation,. also known as vipassana meditation, involves a deep exploration of all the movements that arise in the consciousness with mindfulness and detachment. When a mediator becomes mindful of the contents of his mind, he develops a deep understanding of the source of his suffering and the impermanence of the world and eventually experiences peace. Sitting meditation and walking meditation are other popular forms of meditation in Buddhism.
There is an attempt on the part of some scholars to disassociate yoga and its practices like meditation from Hinduism and paint them either as non-religious or secular in nature. Yoga and its various practices have been part of Hindu tradition since the early Vedic times, long before Patanajali systematized them in his Yogasutra and the followers of Buddhism followed their meditation techniques. One should not overlook the fact that even Zen Buddhism came to China and Japan from India through Bodhidharma and the word "Zen" originated from the word "dhyana,23" which was a Sanskrit word of Hindu origin. Many ascetic traditions, including those of Jainism and Buddhism followed different versions of Yoga practiced in India since ancient times. They originated essentially from the Hindu traditions, both Vedic and non-Vedic, starting from the munis and rishis who received the knowledge of the Veda Samhitas and the Upanishads and groups like the Vratyas and the Kapalikas who were outside the pale of Vedic society. Dhyana is not meant to be practiced in isolation but as a part of various other practices which are meant to prepare the mind and the body to experience altered states of consciousness and assimilate higher forms of energy without side effects.
Suggested Further Reading Footnotes
1. Kaluarnava Tantra - 9:16
2. Jenine Miller
3. Rigveda 10.139
4. Brihad 4.4.21
5. Rigveda 10.129
6. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 1 and Chapter 2
from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.
"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.
"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta