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    « Dharana, Focused Mind | Main | Signs Along The Way »
    Wednesday
    Dec022009

    Dhyana, Meditation

    This is the seventh in a series of eight essays on the ashtanga yoga of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

    YS III.2 tatra pratyayaikatanata dhyanam

    tatra = there
    pratyaya = notion; present idea; content of mind
    ekatanata = one flow, extending continuously; stretching; streaming unbrokenly
    dhyana = meditation

    This steady single focus propagating unceasingly is Dhyana (Meditation).

    When people speak of meditation, they usually mean the practice of a mental technique used to soothe, quiet and clarify the mind-field. Many of these popular techniques (TM, Insight or Vipassana Meditation) are known as "centering" techniques, because they involve deciding on a mental focal point, such as a sound (mantra) or counting breaths and returning to that point over and over again as the mind wanders from it. This is not meditation, properly speaking, but a preliminary training in Dharana, which if properly understood and practiced, over time, introduces the meditator to Dhyana, or true meditation, which is what Patanjali describes here.

    Dhyana here is described as a natural extension of Dharana. When one's focus of mind is one-pointed, effortless, and uninterrupted, the state of Dhyana is achieved, and this focused, uninterrupted resonance of mind causes the mind to expand and evolve.

    See the following article by Adyashanti:

    http://www.adyashanti.org/index.php?file=writings_inner&writingid=12

    Think of mind as a field of perception, and Dharana as a natural, effortless narrowing of the focus within that field. Our mind-field is a field of awareness occupied by notions, reflections, thoughts, feelings and impressions of many kinds. The word "pratyaya" simply means the present thought, the idea that is foremost in the mind at any moment -- "what's on your mind."

    When the attention remains focused in a relaxed, appreciative way on this single thought, without effort or fixation, and that flow of attention toward the thought continues, the object of contemplation, in this case a thought, progagates -- meaning, it expands, extends, grows, evolves and becomes more. Attention energizes and nourishes the thought, and the thought expands and grows as a result. This is Dhyana.

    We experience this every day, to some extent. We hold something in mind and dwell on it, and the idea grows and expands and extends. We think of "something refreshing" on a hot day, and stay with it long enough for the idea to become "ice cream" then "a particular flavor and serving of ice cream," then, "where to get it," and "how to get there, and "let's go now." Whatever we focus on expands and evolves, and eventually takes form.

    The Dhyana that Patanjali is referring to is a very deliberate, pure form of contemplation -- dwelling on a single idea. But it is nothing exotic -- it's just an extension of something already present in everyone's experience.

    We meditate on one thing or another all day long -- and what we dwell on grows stronger for us. Dwell on being unhappy, and we become more unhappy. Dwell on gratitude and we become more grateful, and so on.

    This being the case, it makes sense to be more selective about what we dwell on, for our life will follow that thought.

    "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."

    If one would be successful in a formal sitting practice of meditation, it is a good idea to be grounded in the preceding stages of Yoga -- Yama, Niyama and so forth, and then to have the personal instruction and guidance of an experienced meditation teacher.

    It is also important in the beginning of meditation practice, to have a regular daily practice of meditation, even if only for a few minutes. Any good centering techniques, if done without force or strain, will work. Meditating with others, in a group, is also recommended, as it stabilizes and strengthens one's practice.

    From Taimni, Science of Yoga:

    "It was pointed out in the previous Sutra that the Sadhaka should aim at eliminating the intruding thoughts which are called distractions and should see that such interruptions are reduced in frequency in a progressive manner. When he succeeds in eliminating the distractions completely and can continue the concentration on the object without any interruptions for as long as he decides to do so he reaches the stage of Dhyana.

    It will be seen, therefore, that it is the occasional appearance of distractions in the mind which constitutes the essential difference between Dharana and Dhyana. Since this Sutra is very important from the practical point of view let us first examine the significance of the various Sanskrt words used in defining Dhyana. Let us first take the word Pratyaya which is used frequently in the Yoga-Sutras.

    This word covers a wide range of notions such as concept, idea, cause etc., but in Yogic terminology it is generally used for the total content of the mind which occupies the field of consciousness at a particular time. As the mind is capable of holding a large variety of objects simultaneously a word has to be used to denote all these objects taken together irrespective of their nature.

    Pratyaya is a technical word for this total content of the mind. In view of what has been said above about Dharana, it will be seen that this Pratyaya with which the mind remains in continuous contact in Dhyana is fixed and yet a variable thing. It is fixed in the sense that the area within which the mind moves is defined and remains the same. It is variable because within that limited area or sphere there is movement.


    A few illustrations will make this point clear. When a scientist focusses his microscope on a drop of dirty water the field of vision is defined and limited within a circle and he cannot see anything outside it. But within that circular patch of light there are constant movements of all kinds. Or, take a river which is flowing within well-defined banks. There is constant movement of the water and yet this movement is confined within the banks of the river. A person who looks at a river from an aeroplane sees a thing which is fixed and moving at the same time. These illustrations help us to understand the dual nature of the Pratyaya in Dhyana and the possibility of keeping the mind moving within the limits defined by the object of meditation.


    The Sanskrt word Tatra means ‘in that place’ and obviously refers to the Desa or place or mental territory within which the mind is confined. The mind has to remain united with the Pratyaya within the limits defined in Dharana. The mind of any person remains united with the Pratyaya while he is in waking consciousness. But not only is the Pratyaya changing all the time but the mental territory is also changing because the mind is flitting from one subject to another.

    Ekatanata which means ‘extending continuously or unbrokenly’ refers to the absence of interruptions from distractions which are present in Dharana. In fact, as pointed out above, continuity of the Pratyaya is the only thing which distinguishes Dharana from Dhyana from the technical point of view. This continuity may be compared to the continuity of the flow of water in a river or that of oil being poured from one vessel into another.

    Why is it essential to achieve this kind of continuity before Samadhi can be practised? Because every break in the continuity means distraction and distraction means lack of adequate concentration and grip over the mind. If the mind is diverted from the chosen object it means that some other object has taken its place, for there must be continuity in the movement of the mind.

    It is only in Nirodha that the continuity of the movement can be broken without any other object occupying the mind. Now, if a distraction breaks the continuity, apparently, there is not much harm done, for the mind can take up the thread immediately and continue with its work of diving deep into the subject. But actually, the appearance of the distraction is not as innocuous as it appears. It shows the absence of sufficient grip over the mind and a corresponding lack in the depth of concentration.

    In practising Dharana it is found that as the depth of abstraction increases and the grip over the mind becomes stronger, the frequency with which the distractions appear becomes smaller. So, continuity should be regarded as a gauge for measuring the necessary control over the mind and intensity of concentration. The attainment of Dhyana Avastha shows that the mind is getting ready for the last stage and the real practice of Yoga. Unless and until this condition is fulfilled the practice of Samadhi cannot be begun and the real secrets of Yoga will remain hidden from the Sadhaka."

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