The Mystery of Meditation
by Dinu Roman
The following is a synthesis of the traditional teachings about meditation. This is not a meditation technique but general rules to be followed for entering the meditation state.
Most people can successfully practice aerobics or body building, for instance, without knowing human anatomy or without understanding at all what they are doing or why. Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), this is not so with yoga and meditation. Without knowing exactly the nature of this process it is impossible to correctly realize it and therefore there can be no true meditation.
Meditation is the highest yoga practice (this doesn't mean it is difficult!). In fact, very few people can really meditate, and this for two main reasons:
Very few know exactly what meditation is
Even fewer are willing to comply with it (lack of motivation).
Not everybody that stays motionless with the eyes closed is meditating. Meditation is an accurate science, therefore it cannot be practiced in total ignorance. Only those who study it with a serious inner motivation can successfully practice it.
Keep in mind that meditation, especially in the first stages, must have an object. Without object to meditate upon, there is no meditation. The simplest object of meditation is a physical object (a pot, a drawing, a ball, etc.). In more advanced stages, the objects of meditation become ever more subtle: mental images created at will, a piece of information, a problem that needs a solution, a feeling, a thought, an idea, a subtle energy, a state of consciousness, etc. In this material the word "object" will refer to any of these.
An important point here is that the object of meditation has to be very well perceived by the subject. In other words, the object must have a clear objective or subjective reality. A very vaguely defined idea cannot function as an object of meditation. The subject (the practitioner of meditation) must be able to "take hold" of at least one of the major characteristics of the object, if not of all of them.
The steps of meditation
The ageless tradition of wisdom teaches that in order to enter the state of meditation, certain definite steps are to be followed. Nobody can enter meditation without passing through these steps. The steps are:
Dharana - mental concentration
Dhyana - meditation
Samadhi - blissful identification
In the Western Tradition, these three stages are called "consideratio" ("considering"), "contemplatio" ("contemplation") and "raptus" ("rapture").
Each step, when mastered, naturally leads to the following step.
Dharana - mental concentration
The mind can choose
The human mind continuously receives information about the outer world through the five "gates" of the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing. Among the data received through a certain sense, the mind can select only those that are of interest at a given time. This selection is realized through focusing the attention upon that particular data and ignoring the other unimportant data.
The more the attention is focused upon a certain sense, the more the amount of information received through that sense increases and the information coming from other senses becomes "less important" and can even be completely ignored by the mind.
A special characteristic of the human mind is the capacity of focusing the attention toward the inner world of feelings, thoughts and ideas. More than that, the human mind can be focused even upon itself -- this fact is of paramount importance, because it creates the possibility of controlling the mind.
This faculty of the human mind to modify at will the orientation of the conscious attention is the basic mechanism of mental concentration (dharana).
Defining the concept
"To concentrate" means to reunite into a center, to gather, to focus. Mental concentration (dharana) means to focus the mind upon a unique object without allowing it (the mind) to jump to another object for a determined period of time. The opposite of concentration is dispersion, scattering. In this case, the mind jumps uncontrolled from one object to another fixing itself to nothing. Unfortunately, this is the mental condition of most people nowadays.
The yoga theory of perception
When an outer object (artha) is perceived, the mind "takes the shape" of that object. This is called a vritti.
The mind as vritti is thus an inner representation of the outer object. The initial object is called the "gross object" and the mental impression is the "subtle object". But besides the object, there is an aspect of the mind which perceives.
It follows that the mind has two aspects: vritti (the cognized) and the perceiver (the cognizer).
Because the mind is thus "transformed" into the shape of the object perceived, the mind which meditates on a Deity, for example, is, at length, through continued concentration, transformed into the likeness of that Deity, becomes as pure and powerful as the Deity. This is a fundamental principle of worship.
Mind is movement
"Dharana" means "holding the mind." The Ageless Wisdom considers that "the mind", as we know it, is just a perpetual flow, according to definite laws, of psychic patterns (vritti-s). The train of psychic patterns has an undercurrent of emotions, doubled by a consequent physiological responses.
Actually, the mind is movement. Mind is like the wind: the wind is air movement; when this movement stops, the air is still there, but the wind disappeared. The mental-stuff that remains after the psychic patterns (vritti-s) have been stopped is called citta. When the mental patterns (vritti-s) are stopped, the mind disappears: we enter the no-mind state. No-Mind (which actually means "beyond the mind") is the state of highest creativity and spiritual intuition.
Patanjali defined yoga as follows: yoga [is] citta vritti nirodha.
Yoga Sutra, I, 1
That is, yoga is the gradual stoppage (nirodha) of the vritti-s (mental patterns) of citta.
This sutra contains the essence of the whole yoga Science and the secret of mental concentration.
Maybe ignorance and prejudices make you believe that you cannot concentrate your mind. This is not true! Everybody can concentrate, even deeply, upon an object that is highly interesting for that person. The question is: is this type of concentration the yoga concentration? Even though it can give you helpful hints about the real state of dharana (mental concentration), this is not what yoga understands by concentration.
Dharana means to be able to focus at will the mind and to maintain it focused for long periods of time upon any object, even if this object does not spontaneously catch our curiosity.
Don't force it!
For training yourself in dharana, the most important rule is: do not force the mind to stay focused. The mind is like a crazy monkey: the more you try to calm it by force and to make it stay on a definite place, the more it will refuse to do that, doing exactly the opposite: jumping even more crazily form one place to another. Therefore start focusing the mind very softly upon the chosen object and when it jumps to another object just bring it back calmly and patiently, with humor and compassion at your lack of discipline. If you get angry about this continuous mental jumping, this will only increase the mind's tendency to disperse.
The ideal state
Perfect mental concentration implies to focus completely the whole potential of attention -- without using any force or mental / nervous tension -- upon the chosen object for a definite period of time, allowing no dispersion at all. This state is analogous to the phenomenon of focusing sunlight through a lens: the light rays are gathered in a small point, thus enormously increasing their power. Here, the time element is very important: if the light is perfectly concentrated but this state lasts a very short time, nothing can happen. The point of focused light must be maintained continuously a certain time - only after that the effects can appear (for instance, the lighting of a piece of wood). In a similar way, dharana must be maintained a certain period of time: only after that concentration starts the process of resonance with the corresponding cosmic energy and the consequent transfer of that energy into your being. The energy carries feelings and information related to the object of concentration.
How to start
Sit in a comfortable posture with the spine and neck kept straight and vertical. Close your eyes and pass through the following steps:
Relax quickly and deeply from bottom to top. Let your attention swiftly scan your body and release all tensions.
Let your breathing become calm and peaceful.
Turn the attention inward (introversive gaze) and disconnect yourself from the outer disturbing factors (noises, etc.); begin to withdraw the mind from any thoughts that arise (as a result of the activity of the senses) by making a brief but detetrmined effort to stop the discursive thinking
Concentrate the mind (dharana) upon the object of your choice.
Let's examine in greater detail dharana. Empty your mind of all thoughts. Then bring the chosen object before your inner mind's eye. Don't allow the mind to jump to another object or thought. If this happens, calmly and patiently bring your mind back to your object. This is the only thing you are supposed to do during dharana: to keep the mind focused upon the object. Beware of force or tension! Be calm, open and favorably inclined to concentrate. ;
Mental concentration is a static process: during concentration the mind is "frozen", the thinking is stopped, the mental activity is suspended. The only mental movement should be to bring gently the mind back to the chosen object when it jumps away. Mental concentration can be described as "doing nothing". You understand now that it is not laziness, but "just sitting" with a purpose. During dharana, the mind is like a mirror: the only activity is to reflect the object.
"During Concentration (dharana), the mind is like a pure crystal that takes the color of the object upon which it is placed."
Learn to perceive
Consider carefully the object of concentration: approach it with astonishment and childlike curiosity as if you don't know anything about it (do we really know something important about the objects of the outer world?). Do NOT approach the object rationally and/or intellectually, but grasp its essence with your feelings alone or even solely by instinct. Explore the object non-verbally, in a state of alert passivity, purposeless and unconcerned waiting, child-like curiosity and sheer astonishment. There is only you and the object: nothing is expected from you, everything is expected from the object. Therefore sit in a state of continuously euphoric expectation, in the highest state of readiness. This is very important. Let yourself be absorbed into, and by, the object. Do not try to define, to judge or to understand, just consider the object with curiosity as if you see it for the very first time. The very fact that you cannot define exactly the object and do not understand it rationally, opens you toward the object and creates the state of mental receptivity in which intuition ("no-mind" or "superconsciousness", as it is also called) can start to function. By doing so, you will soon discover that the objects of the surrounding world have thousand meanings (that come in flashes). We normally overlook these meanings. Every thing is thus full of a sheer wonder and fascinating mystery that you will start to grasp gradually, everything is sustained by an invisible energy that you will start to feel and effortlessly control.
Mental concentration (dharana) is a modality of starting a process of resonance and attuning with the subtle cosmic energies of which the object of concentration is just a visible manifestation. Don't try to speed up this process: let it start by itself when the time comes.
In this approach, knowledge comes from the object, NOT from the subject (the practitioner). Concentration is lying in wait, watching hyperattentively, like a cat that waits for the mouse to get out from its hiding place: the unforeseen can happen any split second.
Every beginning is difficult
At the beginning, you probably will discover that this exercise fails lamentably. Accept this fact as being perfectly normal. Keep in mind that in yoga there is no lost effort, in other words every effort will bring a result eventually. None of your failed efforts is wasted labor. As the wise saying goes: "The mud is as valuable as the lotus flower that it nourishes."
Every failed try is in fact a step toward success because mental concentration, the same as meditation, has a cumulative effect that comes not only from doing it "well," but also from working consistently on it.
Taming the mind
At the beginning, the mind has very little stability; you find the object and then very swiftly you lose it. The mind wanders elsewhere. After a certain period of practice, sufficient stability arise in mind so that the attention will remain uninterruptedly focused on the object for short periods of time (ten-fifteen seconds, maybe more). Further on, the degree of mental stability becomes even greater than before; the mind can stay constantly focused upon the object with a reasonably good degree of stability and yet, occasionally, it will wander off. Then it will come a stage in which the mind no longer loses the object, because the power of concentration has come to completion. Now, a sustained effort to increase the clarity of mind has to be done. After this, the mind will have a tremendous power. With just the slightest bit of effort, it becomes focused upon the object and continues to abide effortlessly in it for as long as you want. Once you have attained this state, the mind has become an extremely fine instrument for any type of meditation you want to engage in.
It is like you want to ride a wild horse. The first attempts will certainly throw you down. If you persevere enough, you will succeed eventually, and after some time the horse will became a close friend and will obey even your unspoken orders. In this analogy, the wild horse is your mind and concentration is like taming and training the horse. In this respect, continuity is important.
Dhyana - the state of meditation
"Dhyana (meditation per se) is the continuous flow of the mental processes toward the object (of meditation)."
" Dhyana is the continuous flow of reflection [i.e., "mirroring"] with respect to the essential reality of the object (of meditation)."
Ratnatika, a tantric text
The mental laser
Dhyana is an effortless flow of the mind spontaneously directed toward the object. Dhyana (meditation) is a dynamic process: during it, the mental processes (thoughts, ideas, etc.) are turning around the object of meditation, making free associations (for example) related to that particular object only. During meditation, the activity of the mind reaches a tremendously dynamic intensity and eventually becomes a laser-beam-like stream of concentrated thinking.
"An unflinching intellect, an impassive mind which cannot be dispersed by anything and which is free of any discursive thinking -- this is the state of dhyana. This adoration is identical with the absorption (in Shiva) born out of mystic ardor."
A tantric text
Dhyana (meditation) is superimposed upon dharana (mental concentration). In other words, mental concentration lasts permanently during the whole period of meditation. The purpose of mental concentration is to "keep the object before the mind's eye" so to speak, and it is a static process. Meditation takes place at a higher level of mind and implies mental dynamics.
The basic principle
There is a law of mind that says that if a thought / idea prevails in mind, all the other thoughts / ideas gradually have the tendency to submit to the prevailing thought / idea. This is the basic principle of meditation. The prevailing thought is created by concentration and the movement of the mind around that particular thought is meditation.
One leads to another
Concentration and meditation, even if they seem very close, are nevertheless distinct phenomena. If you realize a good concentration, this will lead automatically to meditation, because in yoga every step, when perfectly realized, gives the key to the next step. Do not force or do not try to accelerate the process of passing from concentration to meditation. Let it come naturally: this will certainly happen after a certain period of practice. Remember: genius is an infinite patience. Be therefore patient and you will become a genius through the practice of meditation.
Analogically speaking, the mind is like a man in deep sleep. Concentration is starting to awake him, and meditation is to awake him fully and to put him to work.
How to start
1. The first step in dhyana (meditation) is dharana (mental concentration).
For some time, this might be the only step you will be able to make for meditation. Through patience and tireless practice, you will gradually discover through personal experience how to start/release the next step. Keep this in mind: at a deep level, nobody can really teach you to meditate, except yourself, applying the traditional information exposed in this material.
2. The next step is this: while keeping the dharana (concentration) state of mind, let go of it, allow your thoughts to move freely, to make connections, associations. Don't you think that you have to do something for this: just be mentally alert and realize the spontaneous and effortless transition from the motionless reflection (dharana) to the dynamic thinking (dhyana). You will discover that now your mind will not jump any more at random but, on a lower level, dharana (concentration) will be sustained almost effortlessly and, on a higher level, the thoughts will start to move, to revolve around the object only. This is dhyana (meditation).
At the beginning, the movement of your mind around the object will probably not last long. The thoughts will start to revolve around the object in flashes, then will stop, leaving you with concentration only. After a while, other flashes of thought movement occur, then stop, and so on. This is normal at the beginning. This means your sleeping mind starts to awake and then falls asleep again. After some time of practice, the periods of thought movement will become longer and longer, ending eventually in a continuous thought movement. Then you reach the true state of meditation (dhyana).
It is necessary here to realize that "movement", in this context, has a rather special connotation. Generally speaking, when we think about something that moves, we picture this movement as taking place in time. This is not true in the case of meditative thought movement: what really occurs is a flash of awareness which does not take place in time, because it is a manifestation of the timelessness simultaneity of consciousness.
Meditation is the living of HERE and NOW; it is a tremendous experience with limitless power, which can change your life completely and can give a new course to your destiny. Meditation is a superior state of consciousness and therefore cannot be fully understood unless experienced.
The real purpose
Keep in mind this important thing: meditation is not meant to relax the body, to cure illnesses or to get rid of fatigue and stress, as some "meditators" believe. It is perfectly true that meditation can do these things and even much more, beyond the wildest imagination, but as a secondary effect only. The authentic purpose of meditation is to attain knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The genuine goal is gnosis (in Greek, "knowledge"), which is not merely a knowledge of things but mainly a spiritual insight into their essential nature.
Samadhi - blissful identification
We saw that dhyana (meditation) is the continuous flow of mental processes toward the object of meditation. This process leads gradually to a blissful identification (co-penetration of the object of meditation with the practitioner's own being). This is the highest state, called samadhi. In samadhi the mind, continuously and to the exclusion of all other objects, assumes the nature and becomes one with the object.
In samadhi, only the object awareness remains, as if the consciousness of individuality disappears. Actually, the individuality of the practitioner does not disappear (it would be impossible !), but the practitioner's consciousness blissfully identifies with the object of meditation. In samadhi, the mind and consciousness of the yogin become one with the object. There is no more awareness of mental functioning (the mind apparently enters into a state of void, emptiness). There is no more awareness of personal individuality as being separate form the object. Now, the practitioner feels that there is no more difference between "object" and "me." This dichotomy is now impossible.
"As salt being dissolved in water becomes one with it, so when atma (the Supreme Self) and Mind become one, it is called samadhi."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, IV, 5
"The equality and oneness of the Essential Self (atma) and the Cosmic Self (param atma) is called samadhi, to describe which is beyond the power of speech, being known by self-experience alone."
Hatha Yoga Pradipika, IV, 7, 32
"[Samadhi is] that form of dhyana in which it is neither 'here' nor 'not here', in which there is illumination and stillness as of some great ocean, and which is the Great Void (shunya) Itself."
Kularnava Tantra, IX, 9
The triangle of meditation
During dhyana (meditation), there is awareness about the knower (the practitioner of meditation), the known (the object of meditation) and the knowledge that arises in mind about the object of meditation. These three are distinct:
The triangle absorbed in a point
In samadhi, knower, known and knowledge fuse, merge one into another, become one.
Samadhi is an intuitive cognition referring to what is directly present, it is he immediacy of the replicative experience, the non-intermediateness of perception. This means that here perception is realized somehow without using any of the intermediary channels (like, for example, the senses, the mind, the intellect, etc.), and this is why this experience is perceived as identity.
Samadhi is a state of undifferentiated identity with the object to be known, a self-detaching immersion into its meaning. In this state, the yogin experiences that state of consciousness in which he perceives the undifferentiatedly unique substratum of all things, creatures and worlds. The part is discovered to be the whole, every unit is present in any other units, everything is a part of the fullness of which the experiencer represents an epitome. The yogin who has brought this process to its completion is able to recognize the underlying and essentially unconcealed reality of the Cosmic Consciousness that composes the most intimate status of every apparently finite objects. Here the triad of knower, known and the process of knowing has been transcended. The knower (the yogin in samadhi) turns away from the object and doubles back on himself. In so doing, he creates a situation in which the object of knowing is the knower himself, and the process of knowing is also simply the knower himself. This state is sometimes described as "void" or "emptiness" (shunya) because of the contrast with the apparent fullness of objectivity (represented by the duality object-subject) that precedes it. It is a process of progressively stripping away the outer attributes and characteristics of the object of meditation until the yogin is simply left with the sheer existential essence of that object.
This process of rediscovery of the undifferentiated unique substratum of everything that exists is a major feature of the attainment of liberation and spiritual enlightenment. No longer do finite objects appear as separate and limited structures; rather, the Consciousness out of which all things are composed surfaces and becomes visible as the true Reality of perceived objects.
"He, who has this understanding (viz., that the Universe is identical with the Self), regards the whole world as a play (of the Divine), and thus being ever united (with the Universal Consciousness) is, without doubt, liberated when alive (jivanmukta)."
Spanda Karika II, 5
A radical transformation of the perception of the external world follows. The content of the conscious entrance into samadhi is ananda -- unspeakable bliss. The practitioner comes into identity with the most interiorized consciousness of the Supreme. The reality of samadhi must be personally experienced. It is not enough to be told about it or to attempt to imagine it (it would be impossible, anyway!). The truth of this statement without the direct experimentation of it is only a quarter of truth.
Samyama - the absorptive meditation
Samyama means to simultaneously perform dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (identification).
"By mastering samyama, the light of superconsciousness rises."
Dharana is the stationing of the mind at one spot. Dhyana is the continuously gradual absorption of the mind into the object. Samadhi is the complete immersion of the mind into that object. The three are inseparably linked: from dharana to samadhi there is a continuous process, whose purpose is the assimilation of the object, just as one assimilates the food one eats. In samyama, one enters the object and becomes aware of its essence in a knowledge by identity (prajna).
An effortless expansion of consciousness takes place in samyama. In this state we learn to spread ourselves out into a sky-like expanse of peace and tranquillity, and then, on the background of that expanse, to allow the knowledge of our object of concentration to rise up by itself, as if we would be that object.
Watch the movie
To understand samyama easier, let's make an analogy with a motion-picture film.
Let's suppose you can stop the film on a certain frame (a single exposure) that shows the main protagonist. Thus you can study as long as you want the motionless frame. This stage corresponds to dharana (concentration).
Then you let the movement of the movie start again. You are able now to follow the image you have studied during the stopping of the film, to see the links of that image with the action of the movie, to integrate that image into a continuous flow of action. This stage corresponds to dhyana (meditation).
Following the action of the movie, you participate emotionally, you identify yourself with what happens (you feel sad if it is a tragedy, you laugh if it is a comedy, etc.). This identification corresponds to the beginning of samadhi.
A new way of knowing
In samyama, the practitioner discovers that the stream of his thoughts is charged with a harmonious and beatific emotion. The yogin not only "sees" the object of his samyama, but also "feels" it with a strange intensity, as if he absorbed now that object and the object absorbed him. The yogin merges, at a subtle level, into the reality of that object, as if the object"s identity has blended with his own. This is samyama, which is the most complete method of intuitive knowledge ("intuitive" means "to enter, to place oneself inside").
Here are a few hints about the state of samyama:
Naivety - leading to selfless identification with the object, through absorption.
Aspiration to reach the Reality that is beyond the limitations of personal ego; you become the channel of manifestation of that Reality. Allow it to speak for itself, without interrupting. Become "transparent" to it.
Samyama is leading to understanding by becoming, not by thinking.
Dwelling upon only one topic or idea at a time (so, it is the very opposite of "thinking about") and the absorption of the practitioner into the idea upon which he dwells.
The process of knowledge is released by the object, not by the subject. This is non-verbal, non-conceptual knowledge.
In samyama the mind is like a mirror: it grasps nothing, it refuses nothing, it receives but does not keep, it adds nothing.
Don't "translate" into spoken language what you experience during samyama; this is a new kind of experience, gained outside the usual ways.
Samyama is a new way of being into the world, a new way of perceiving and relating to the Reality through shifting to a higher state of consciousness. It is seeing the Reality the way it is, finding it in a thoughtless state of mind rather than inventing or imagining it with the aid of discursive thinking.
Find your pleasure in doing samyama every day, and forget about the results: think that there is no real purpose in meditation; this attitude will greatly accelerate your success.
Meditation in Relationship to everyday Life
Sitting with the eyes closed is the most convenient way for beginners to control their wandering minds. However, when you get to know, even to a small extent, how to exercise this control while sitting quietly in meditation, you must continue to do so while walking, standing or performing any of the everyday life activities.
This is realized by splitting your attention in two, and using one part of it for your inner meditation and the other part for your daily activity. You will discover that, contrary to the appearances, your daily activity will become much more meaningful and highly efficient. The meditation that goes on inwardly and the subsequent state of tranquility provides an energetic support and gives meaning to your outward activity.
If meditation bears no relationship to everyday life, what good is it? A meditation that ignores the society is meaningless and not good to anybody. Meditation in the midst of activity means bringing the whole world into your meditation. The true practice of meditation has nothing to do with whether one sits in a quiet place or not, closes his eyes or not, is in solitude or not.
Meditation in the midst of activity is immeasurably superior to the quietistic approach. This kind of meditation really produces significant inner transformation and enlightenment. Of course, meditating in the midst of distractions is initially much more difficult -- with fewer short-term rewards -- than sitting quietly alone. However, if you want to make the heightened awareness of meditation a part of your life, then you must meditate in daily life continuously, you must remain inwardly in meditation no matter what you do outwardly.
Frequently you may feel that you are getting nowhere with the practice of meditation in the midst of activity, whereas the quietistic approach brings unexpected and quick results. Yet rest assured that those who use the quietistic approach only can never hope to enter meditation in the midst of activity, which is the true meaning of meditation.Dinu Roman is the author of numerous essays on diverse subject matter and contributes to NATHA (Nordic Centre of Spiritual Development) in Denmark. More of his articles are available at www.natha.dk