The practice of meditation in yoga is mysterious. Through meditation, the mind can connect with the Spirit within. Simply put, meditation is an experience of delight in one’s own being.
“Meditation can transform a person’s character, conduct, and behavior. Through the practice of meditation, lost energy is replenished, memory is improved, intellect is sharpened, and intuition is developed. Meditation removes all worries and tensions of the mind.” (from the author’s book, Building a Noble World)
Meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit) is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In the realm of Yoga, Patanjali is the most famous name. The eight limbs of yoga are: yama (social discipline), niyama (personal discipline), aasana (body posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahar (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (trance).
Although the Sanskrit word “dhyana” is commonly translated as meditation, it really has no English equivalent.
Yoga is, in essence, a science, not a religion. Like science, yoga has nothing to do with belief. Yoga is an experience, much like science is an experiment. Actually, experiment and experience are the same, but they go in different directions. Experimenting is outside; experiencing is inside.
Purpose of Meditation
Meditation gives you peace of mind and helps you love and care for others. Just as in sleep you find new freshness, vigor, and peace, so also you find even greater peace in meditation. The main purpose of meditation is to experience one’s own true Self — the source of profound peace.
You may be wondering: well, what exactly is the true Self? Swami Muktananda (1908–1982), regarded as the Guru’s Guru, explained: “Through meditation, you can know your own inner Self. That one who understands the most secret things inside you is the Self. For example, when you are in sleep there is someone who watches everything, who witnesses everything, who understands everything even though you are asleep. And then when you wake up, that being tells you what you have seen in your dream. That being is the Self, so meditate on the Self.”
In his book, Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) has illustrated the true Self: “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 see the bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self; the lake is the chitta [mind], the waves are the vrittis [tendencies].”
Once you realize your true Self, you’ll identify yourself with that true Self – and not with your physical body and mind.
Meditation enables you to be happy even when you are unhappy.
Technique of Meditation
Meditation is the practice of being a witness. Whether you call it witnessing, consciousness, or awareness, it is your nature. Thinking belongs to your mind; witnessing belongs to your nature.
Witnessing is not a mental activity; thinking is a mental activity. Your mind thinks. Your thought is the mind. Witnessing is the clear sky behind the thinking mind. You can either think or witness. You cannot think and witness at the same time just as you cannot run and sit at the same time. Thinking is a function of the mind, whereas witnessing is a non-function of the mind, just as running is the function of the legs and sitting is a non-function of the legs.
Thinking is an action of the mind, just like walking is an action of the body. If you cease walking, walking ceases to exist. Likewise, if one ceases to think, there is no longer any thinking.
In his book, Sankhya Darshan, Sage Kapil defines meditation as a state devoid of thought. The Sanskrit term for meditation, Dhyana, means to transcend the mind. Meditation is the state of having no thoughts; it entails absolute silence.
When a thought arises during meditation, simply witness it without thinking about it. You’re no longer a witness if you think about it.
Self-awareness is as separate from thought (mind) as a coat is from a body. Remember the universal principle that anything that can be watched is not you. For example, you cannot be hand if you can watch your hand. Therefore, you can watch your thoughts.
Remember, you are completely separate from your body and mind. You exist in both your body and your mind, yet you are neither body nor mind. Your body is your exterior shell, and your mind is your inner shell, but you are beyond both.
Consider: Am I the Mind? The mind, called Antahkarana in Sanskrit, is comprised of four psychic faculties – manas (conscious mind), chitta (unconscious mind), buddhi (intellect), and ahankara (ego that identifies with body, mind, and senses). Just as a microphone is an instrument, the mind is an inner instrument that you use. Truly, the mind is yours, you are not the mind.
When you say “my mind,” you are referring to your mind as an internal tool that exists independently of “I-awareness.” For instance, a man undergoing surgery under anesthesia feels no pain when his stomach is cut open with a knife. Despite the patient’s mind slipping into unconsciousness during surgery, the patient’s deepest Self continues to sustain his physical body. Consequently, it follows logically that “I-awareness” exists independently of the mind.
In meditation, the mind connects with its source, the innermost Self (atman in Sanskrit) or pure consciousness.
What do you meditate upon? Always, meditate on the source of your mind, not your mind itself. The source of your mind is your innermost Self (atman).
When you try to go after your thoughts during meditation, it is actually mentation, not meditation. Meditation is going beyond your mind (thoughts).
The best technique of meditation is natural, effortless, and automatic. Meditation can be achieved by listening to the sound of your in-breath and out-breath; it is called the Hamsa technique of meditation. The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra is an ancient treatise on Self-realization. Vijnana Bhairava Tantra verse 24 describes the Hamsa technique as follows:
ऊर्ध्वे प्राणो ह्यधो जीवो, विसर्गात्मा परोच्चरेत् ।
उत्पत्तिद्वितयस्थाने, भरणाद्भरिता स्थितिः ॥२४॥
ūrdhve prāṇo hyadho jīvo, visargātmā paroccaret
utpattidvitayasthāne, bharaṇādbharītā sthitiḥ ॥24॥
Meaning: “The exhaling breath (prana) should ascend, and the inhaling breath (jiva) should descend, (both) forming a visarga (consisting of two points). By fixing the mind on either of the two spaces between the breaths, one can experience the state of fullness of Bhairava [meditation state].”
You are asleep, unconscious, or in a coma, but you’re still breathing. Your breath connects your body to “no-body” or Spirit. Breath moves from body to “no-body” and back.
Your breath is a simple, natural technique that you can always use to easily reach the meditation state. During meditation, be aware of these four steps involved in your breathing: 1. breathing in, 2. a gap, 3. breathing out, and 4. a gap. The gap or retention of breath is most significant. It is total stillness, the goal of meditation.
The gap between your in-breath and your out-breath is your inner space, whereas the gap between your out-breath and your in-breath is your outer space. Under the Hamsa technique, the deepest meditation can be experienced by focusing on either of these two tranquil, empty spaces (called sandhi in Sanskrit), during which breathing ceases. In this gap between two breaths, you are a pure being. If you can settle with full awareness inside this gap, you’re in meditation on your true Self – the state of perfect stillness of the mind. You can learn more about the Hamsa meditation technique by reading this author’s book, Building a Noble World
Experience the fourth, the eternal principle
Remember, the meditation state is neither the waking state, nor the dream state, nor the deep sleep state — the three states of your mind. During meditation, you go beyond the three states of your mind to experience the fourth (turiya in Sanskrit). To clarify, just like clouds come and go in the sky, the said three states of your mind come and go in the fourth. The fourth is not really a state but is pure awareness. The turiya, which is not a mental state, is analogous to the thread that runs through the 108-bead necklace (mala). Turiya is the witness of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. When you reach Turiya, you have attained true meditation.
Difference between Happiness and Bliss
Bliss and happiness are commonly mistaken for one another, yet they are actually quite different. In fact, the happiness derived from each of the five senses – hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell – depends upon external objects and lasts as long as the object of happiness is around. In other words, when the sense object is gone, happiness is also gone. As an example, suppose you are listening to a melodious sound. What happens when the sound ceases? Your happiness from that sound ceases too! Another example: the happiness derived from seeing a beautiful form depends on that form itself. Your happiness exists as long as the beautiful form exists. If that beautiful form goes away, so does your happiness.
However, the bliss derived from meditation on the innermost being is NOT dependent on any external object/outer condition. Bliss independently arises from the being/Spirit within, not from an external object/outer condition. In truth, bliss is as intrinsic to you as heat is to fire.
Mind is different than brain
Your mind is completely independent of your physical brain. Do not confuse the mind with the brain. They are different. The brain is a part of the body. Everyone is born with a new brain, but not with a new mind. When an individual dies, the brain dies but the mind does not die. It continues to remain with the eternal I-awareness (chetna in Sanskrit). From birth to birth, the mind is carried forward. This is the reason why you can remember your past lives.
Do I have to give up my religion to meditate?
Do you give up your religion to go to sleep? Meditation is an elder brother of sleep – it leads to a state similar to a conscious sleep. Just as sleep lies beyond your waking state, so also meditation lies beyond your deep sleep state. If deep sleep can be so refreshing, imagine how much more refreshing meditation would be.
Meditation is practiced in all religions to experience one’s own innermost Spirit. For instance, if you’re a Christian, you’re not meditating on any particular religion, but rather on your own innermost Spirit. Regardless of nationality, race, religion, and gender, everyone can meditate. Meditation is everybody’s birthright.
Remember, the “I” or “amness” existence is the true and natural state of the innermost Spirit (called turiya in Sanskrit) — call it Self, Being, Consciousness, Awareness, Guru, God, or Aatman in Sanskrit. They’re all just different words for the one and the same reality.
Meditation can’t be understood intellectually, but you can certainly experience it.
When you’re in meditation, you experience your innermost divinity – your own intrinsic true nature. After experiencing this divinity, you’ll begin to see yourself as a pure Spirit who is eternally blissful and divine.
In conclusion, if you want to discover, explore, and experience your true Self, you should meditate. Only through meditation can you connect with your innermost Spirit (atman in Sanskrit).
May you experience true meditation!