In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, meditation is defined as ‘when the mind has been able to transcend the knowledge of smell, sound, touch, form and taste, and at the same time, when the consciousness is functioning around one point’. This is the technical, classical definition of dhyana. It is not the act of concentration, when we are trying to concentrate or consolidate the dissipated energies of our mind. That is not dhyana, but the way to dhyana. What we have been doing in yoga classes is not dhyana.
“Dhyana [meditation] is the unbroken flow of awareness [ekatanata] of that [desha or object].” Ekatanata can also mean the unbroken extension or movement along something–in this case the subtle stream of Om. Meditation is the unbroken experience-awareness-movement within the subtle sound-mutations of Om. “Meditation is continuity of the experience of the meditation-object in that area–a stream of identical vrittis [waves, modifications] untouched by any other vritti,” says Vyasa. To induce meditation we produce a stream of identical waves in the chitta by the mental intonations of Om until that stream becomes a continuous unitary flow of increasingly rarefied sound, a single object or wave that is “untouched” by any other thought or impression. Meditation (dhyana) is “a stream of identical vrittis as a unity, a continuity of vrittis not disturbed by intrusion of differing or opposing vrittis. This is dhyana.” So says Shankara. And He contrasts the beginning stage of meditation, dharana, with dhyana, saying: “Whereas in dharana there may be other impressions of peripheral thoughts even though the chitta has been settled on the object of meditation alone–for the chitta is functioning on the location [desha] as a pure mental process–it is not so with dhyana, for there it [the object of meditation] is only the stream of a single vritti untouched by any other vritti of a different kind.
In order to reach the superconscious state in a scientific manner it is necessary to pass through the various steps of Raja-Yoga I have been teaching. After Pratyâhâra and Dhâranâ, we come to Dhyâna, meditation. When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called Dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of Dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samadhi. The three — Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi — together, are called Samyama. That is, if the mind can first concentrate upon an object, and then is able to continue in that concentration for a length of time, and then, by continued concentration, to dwell only on the internal part of the perception of which the object was the effect, everything comes under the control of such a mind.
“The same [i.e. dhyana] when there is consciousness only of the object of meditation and not of itself [the chitta] is samadhi.” This sutra is extremely difficult to translate. It can also be put: “When that object of meditation alone appears therein in its true or essential form [swarupa] as shunyam [empty or void of all else, as a single thing alone], that is samadhi.” Vyasa comments on it in this way: “Dhyana, when it comes to shine forth in the form of the meditation object alone, apparently empty of [or beyond] its own nature as a vritti, and [the meditator] having entered the being of the meditation object and become it–that is samadhi.” Shankara’s expansion on this statement of Vyasa makes it clear that meditation is being spoken of: “Meditation, consisting of the idea-stream, having apparently given up being a stream of one idea [vritti], is radiant as the form of the object, just as a clear crystal shines out as the material on which it has been placed, and is apparently empty of its own nature, and when, ‘having entered the being of the meditation object,’ that being the cause of the thought [vritti], ‘becomes it,’ that very dhyana is samadhi.” That is, when the idea-stream of the repetitions of Om ceases to be a stream or movement and becomes the shining of the pure consciousness of the self (spirit), seemingly having become “empty of its own nature”–but only apparently so, for consciousness is the essential nature of all being–including God. And when the meditator has “entered the being of” Brahman and become It…that is samadhi. Shankara then concludes that meditation is “the method whereby what was a stream of ideas becomes, from entering the being of the meditation object, the very form of that object.”
When all other possible objects of awareness are excluded and the object of meditation is perceived in its essential form absolutely devoid of any connotations or even its nature as an object to be perceived–when it has become a “no thing” through absolute oneness with the meditator–that is samadhi, the culmination of meditation. Samadhi means oneness or sameness, the state when the meditator, object of meditation, and meditation have become ONE.
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