Dhyana the Seventh Yoga Path of Meditation
Dhyana is normally translated as meaning meditation, but there are many forms of meditation and to simply call dhyana meditation is an over simplification of dhyana’s true implication.
The Yoga sutras defines Dhyana as the “continuous flow of the same thought or image of the object of meditation, without being distracted by any other thought”. Swami Vivekananda explains Dhyana in Patanjali’s Yoga sutras as, “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.
What the sutras explain is that Dayana is not the act of meditating but a meditative process called Dhyana”. Dhyana can thus be seen as an advanced mental state, where one achieves a one pointedness of mind (eka-tanata)
It is interesting to note that 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. They viewed creation as the mental manifestation of Brahman, the universal entity and believed that through austerities and penances man could acquire similar potencies.
Jeanine Miller, a British scholar 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 dhyana and were familiar with three states of transcendental reality, which they identified as diffrent forms of dhyana. In addition they were also familiar with the forth state although it was not explicitly mentioned in the early Vedic hymns.
This separates dhyana into four types:
- Mantric dhyana/meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
- Visual dhyana/meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought, this could be called subjective meditation and a modern version of this is from of meditation is called focal point meditation or meditation on a candle, but the purest form of subjective meditation evolved into Zen Buddhism and Zazen (meditation).
- Absorption in mind and heart or dhyana/meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart. A more literal understanding of this can be described as 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). This form of dhyana has now be popularized as Vipassana meditation.
- Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of dhyana/Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya). (Later I suggest that Shiva is the symbolic figure for Samadhi and not Brahman, but this is more semantics as Shiva, is also viewed as a different form of Brahman. This fourth dhyana is not really dhyana, but more a state that is the goal of dhyana. Dhyana awakens the Atman.
Looking at the word Atman, we find that its origins are: an, to breathe and tman, self. So at the root of the meaning is the original idea of breath and self, this connection with the breath and Self is at the core of dhyana, dhyana is an instrument to free the Atman and thereby gain access to the transcendental planes of consciousness.
Yoga has eight branches of which Dhyana is the seventh limb of this path, following Dharana and preceding Samadhi. Dhyana is integrally related to Dharana, as one leads to other.
Where Dharana is a state of mind, Dhyana is the process of mind. Dhyana is distinct from Dharana in that the meditator becomes actively engaged with its focus.
Dhyana in a nut shell
The practice of dhyana/meditative contemplation, is a reflection on whatever Dharana the yogi has focused on. If in the sixth limb of yoga one focused on a personal deity, then that is the Dhyana one contemplates on. If the concentration was on an object, then the Dhyana is non-judgmental, non-presumptuous observation of that object. If the focus was on a concept or idea, the Dhyana is contemplating that concept/idea in all its aspects, forms and consequences.
Dhyana can thus be seen as an uninterrupted awareness were the yogi remains as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing the object of their Dharana as it passes through their mind and around them.
In the Jangama Dhyāna technique, for example, the meditator concentrates the mind to a spot between the eyebrows.
- According to Patañjali, this is one method of achieving the Dharana or initial concentration necessary for the mind to become introverted in Dhyana (Yoga Sutras, III).
- In the deeper practice of the technique, the mind concentrated between the eyebrows begins to automatically lose all location and focuses on watching itself. This step then prepares one to begin the practice of Dhyana.
In Dhyana, the meditator is not conscious of the act of meditation (i.e. is not aware that they are meditating) but is only aware that they exist (awareness of being), the mind and the object of meditation.
Dhyana is distinct from Dharana, in that the yogi contemplates on the object of meditation and the object’s aspects only, free from distractions of the mind during Dhyana.
The practice of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samādhi (union) together as a combined simultaneous practice is according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali referred to as Samyama or (Holding Together). It is an interesting side note that what we have is a Triune Godhead or “the Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva ” which is of historic interest for understand of religious origins, particularly when we consider that the Vedic seers held the understanding of a transcendental reality, which they identified as Brahman. This leads to the idea that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are also symbolic figures for Dharana, Dhyana and Samādhi. Samyama being the union or / Moksha (freedom from Saṃsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.
Note: Self in Hindu Philosophy is often used as an interchangeable term for Atman, but in western philosophy Self is considered the Ego or personality. Similar modern concepts of Atman are Higher-self, Enlightenment and Heightened awareness.
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