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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XXX
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Dhyana: The Meditation

Continued from Part XXIX

In one of the earlier parts, various components or limbs of the yogic life as described in ancient texts of the Hinduism were briefly narrated. Of the eight components as summarized in his Yoga Sutra, Sage Patanjali recommended that Yama and Niyama were necessary to inculcate moral discipline in the practitioner. Two other basic yogic components suggested by him were Pratyahara and Dharana; the former helps withdrawal from the material world while the latter facilitates the concentration of mind. The remaining four components are the Asanas to tone up the body for a healthy life, Pranayama for the breath control and Dhyana (meditation) to get rid of distractions and attachments with the goal of reaching the highest yogic discipline Samadhi. Though each component has specific value and could be individually pursued but practicing all the eight limbs is important for the successful discharge and experiencing the temporal activities as also in the pursuance of the divine path.

The nearest literal meaning of Dhyana is the meditation or contemplation that implies focused attention into the body and mind. Historically, meditation has received attention in various parts of the world since ancient times with or without a religious resonance. The concept of Dhyana and its practice originated in the Vedic era of Hinduism, and it was further amplified and practiced within the diverse traditions of Hinduism ever since last 3,000 years. However, apparently the meditation found a mention and acceptance in China and the West several hundred years later. While in the West, meditation is closely linked to religion and God, but in Indian context it is more of a cultural relevance and considered a practice or technique associated with good mental and physical health, purification of soul and a path to achieve liberation.

What is Dhyana or Meditation?

Dhyana is meditation or contemplation i.e. focused attention inside the body and mind. Though many people meditate on a particular deity but it is essentially not restricted to any religious object. The practitioner could practice to contemplate on God or any object of nature or celestial bodies or any abstract thought of pure and pious nature. The concept is that when someone focuses his (or her) mind on an object, the mind tends to be synergized with that object. Therefore, when one focuses on the divine or pious thoughts they become reflective on his own body, breath, senses and mind. During Dhyana, the consciousness is further unified by combining clear insight into distinctions between the objects and between the subtle layers of perception. Through sustained meditation, the practitioner comes closer to the universal truth that facilitates him to pursue liberation or moksha, the ultimate goal of life according to Hindu scriptures.

Thus the meditation is an effective tool to see the purpose of life clearly and perceive reality beyond any illusion. It has been practiced in various nationalities and cultures since antiquity as religious tradition and belief, and as a path towards enlightenment and self-realization in Hinduism and other Indian religions. From the nineteenth century onwards, it has spread across the world more as a common scientific technique for the mental and physical well-being apart from the spiritual upliftment. People are commonly using meditation in their private realm and business domain engaging techniques – by focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity to attain concentration and awareness, and in turn achieve a mentally lucid and logical as also emotionally calm and stable state.

Dhyana in Vedas and Upanishads


The oldest reference of meditation is found in the Rig Veda (Hymn 4.36.2) as the term Dhyanam in the context of one’s mind and thought. The term Dhyanam appears in several Upanishads explaining and elaborating it in the context of concentration, contemplation or meditation. The Kaushitaki Upanishad in its first two chapters personifies Atman (soul) with Brahman (God) and then explains its philosophical concept in the third chapter where it tries to establish the perception of sensory-objects dependent on sensory-organs, which in turn are subordinate to the psychological powers of the mind. The Upanishad thus conceptualizes that the sensory organs are only means and the freedom and liberation is ultimately dependent on the powers of mind through the knowledge (Jnan) and action (Karma). The Kaushitaki Upanishad verses 3.2 to 3.6 refer to Dhyanam, relevant in the context of mind and meditation.

“…Manasa dhyanamityekbhuyam vai prana…

{Kaushitaki Upanishad, 3.2}

(With mind, meditate on me as being prana)

Terms implying “meditate or contemplate” find a reference in several verses of the Principal (early 900 – 600 BC) Upanishads: the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad chapters 3.5, 4.5 and 4.6; the Chandogya Upanishad chapters 1.3, 2.22, 5.1, 7.6, 7.7 and 7.26; the Maitri Upanishad chapter 6.9 to 24. According to the Prasna Upanishad, meditation with “Om” in mind leads to realization of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman). According to verse 5.1 of chapter 3, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, a meditative practitioner is able to realize Brahman.

…tasmadbrahmanah pandityam nirvidya balyena tisthaset | balyam ca pandityam ca nirvidyatha munih, amaunam ca maunam ca nirvidyatha brahmanah;…
{ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.5.1}

(Therefore the knower of Brahman, having known all about scholarship, should try to live upon that strength which comes of knowledge; having known all about this strength as well as scholarship, he becomes meditative; having known all about born meditativeness and its opposite, he becomes a knower of Brahman.)

In the early Vedic era, emphasis was on the external Yajna fire rituals (Agnihotra) which with the passage of time became more of the knowledge-based meditative internalized rituals (Prana-agnihotra). This is corroborated from the texts of Samhita and Aranyaka layers of the Vedas, and is more pronounced in Chandogya Upanishad and later Buddhist literature which explain meditation as the inner form of fire offering or sacrifice. The Upanishads focus on the interiorization of rituals that conceptualize life as an unceasing sacrifice and emphasis is placed on meditation. In the later Upanishads such as Shvetashvatara Upanishad, Mundaka Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad, Kaivalya Upanishad, and many other minor Upanishads, meditation has been glorified as means of self-sacrifice in realization of highest truth of the universe.

Dhyana-yoga in Bhagavad Gita


Dhyana and related contextual concepts are dealt with in many chapters of the Bhagavad Gita including chapters 2, 12, 13 and 18 while the chapter 6, titled as “The Yoga of Self-Control” exclusively deals with the Dhyana-yoga. In this most venerated and followed text of Hinduism, Gita lays down four paths for the self-purification and attainment of spirituality. These are the path of unselfish action (Karma-yoga), the path of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), the path of devotion (Bhakti-yoga) and the path of meditation (Dhyana-yoga). The chapter 6 describes at length the importance of self-upliftment, salient features of Dhyana, steps in mind-control and glorification of Dhyana-yoga including the nemesis of defaulters.

Uddhared atmanatmanam natmanam avasadayet,
Atmaiva hyatmano bandhur atmaiva ripur atmanah
.
{Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 5}

(One should lift oneself through the power of mind (meditarion), and not degrade oneself; for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.)

In the following two verses, the practice of meditation is explained:

Tatraikagram manah kritva yata-chittendriya-kriyah,
Upavishyasane yunjyad yogam atma-vishuddhaye.
Samam kaya-shiro-grivam dharayann achalam sthirah,
Samprekshya nasikagram svam dishash chanavalokayan.

{Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 12-13}

(Seated firmly on it, one should strive to purify the mind by meditation, controlling the functions of the mind and senses. He must hold the body, neck and head firmly in a straight line, and gaze at the tip of the nose, without allowing the eyes to wander.)

Yatha dipo nivata-stho nengate sopama smrita,
Yogino yata-chittasya yunjato yogam atmanah.

{Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 19}

(As a flame does not flicker in a windless place, such is the disciplined mind of a yogi steady in meditation on the self.)

During the discourse on the marvels of Gita, Prince Arjuna expressed doubt that it was difficult to achieve self-control and equanimity of mind. Besides, the mind being very unsteady, turbulent, and tenacious and powerful; therefore trying to control it was like trying to control wind. To this, Lord Krishna clarified him as under:

Shri Bhagavan uvacha:
Asanshayam maha-baho mano durnigraham chalam,
Abhyasena tu kaunteya vairagyena cha grihyate.
{Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 35}

(Lord Krishna said: The mind is restless no doubt, and difficult to curb; but it can be brought under control by repeated practice (of meditation) and by detachment, O son of Kunti.)

Dhyana in the Bhagavad Gita is described as a yogic practice in a person’s spiritual journey. To resort to meditation, the practitioner requires inculcating certain moral virtues like Satya (truthfulness), Ahimsa (non-violence) and Aparigraha (non-covetousness). Like it was mentioned earlier, meditation in Hinduism is not compulsorily linked with the religion or God: a person may meditate to attain spirituality or he could do it simply to enjoy bliss of nature such as green pastures, snow clad mountains, deep blue ocean, a serene lake under moonlight, the star-studded moonlit sky or just colorful horizon at sunrise or sunset, and so on. The main object of a deep meditation is to detach the mind from the worldly distractions and disturbances surrounding oneself, submerge it on the indwelling spirit and one's soul towards the state of a wholesome harmony (Samadhi), where the mind and the intellect stop wandering; and thus one experiences real consciousness and bliss.

The yoga of meditation is also referred to as Raja yoga or Ashtanga yoga. After explaining various aspects of the Dhyana-yoga, Lord Krishna summarized that the person who meditates attaining perfection in the life, he achieves the supreme state, where a liberated soul enjoys awareness of its pure identity.

Prayatnad yatamanas tu yogi sanshuddha-kilbishah,
Aneka-janma-sansiddhas tato yati param gatim.
{Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 45}

(The Yogi who diligently takes up the practice (meditation) attains perfection in this very life, with the accumulated merits of previous births; he becomes purified from material desires and reaches the supreme state.)

Dhyana in Other Scriptures

Apart from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma-sutras are other foundational texts that attach great importance to the meditation. Adi Shankara is known to have written an extensive discourse on meditation as a spiritual practice in his commentary on the Brahmasutras which is in concordance with similar discussion on Dhyana in his commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and some Principal Upanishads too. Dharma-sutras are another genre of ancient texts emerged from the literary traditions of the Vedas; the Vasistha Dharma-sutra emphasizes Dhyana as a virtue, and interiorized substitute equivalent of a fire sacrifice, a theme similar to early Upanishads. Dhyana is also included as one of the eight key components or limbs of yogic practices in Patanjali's Yogasutra.

Meditation Practices in Different Religions

Meditation has a universal presence and acceptance in different religions and cultures. On one hand, it is linked with religion citing it as a means of devotion or prayer to God, on the other hand it is also considered as a scientific tool for universal wellness of the body and mind. On face it appears as a very simple exercise to sit still in silence, but at the same time it is so onerous to control and manage innermost feelings and thoughts. The beginners find it difficult to concentrate but it becomes easier to contemplate after sustained efforts. The entire experience comes through the mind and the entire perspective of life can change dramatically once a person starts meditating.

Christianity considers meditation as a form of prayer whereby a structured attempt is made to be in close proximity and consciously reflect upon the revelations of God. The word meditation itself is a derivative of the Latin word meditari, which implies concentration. Thus Christian meditation is a deliberate practice of reflecting reverence and devotion to God. Meditation equivalent in Islam is Salah which is a mandatory act of devotion performed by Muslims five times per day. During this process, the body experiences different postures, while the mind is expected to attain a level of concentration called khushu. Another optional meditation in Islam is Dhikr, which implies remembering and mentioning Allah (God). In Taoism (Chinese religion), meditation has a long history of techniques like concentration, visualization, contemplation and mindfulness meditations.

Hinduism has a long history of meditation since Vedic period. It finds a reference in the oldest scripture Rig Veda as Dhyanam and is described in early Upanishads. According to Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the meditation (Dhyana) leads to a state of calm and concentration in realizing Self (Atman) with Brahman (God). The Bhagavad Gita glorifies Dhyana-yoga as another form of pure and divine yogic practice to reach God. Sage Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras describe eight components of yogic life of which Dhyana is considered the highest state that transforms in Samadhi for the realization of the Divine. Swami Vivekanand, a nineteenth century saint and philosopher proposed Raja-yoga (the highest form of meditation) equating it with Dhyana-yoga of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutras. In modern age, many Hindus resort to meditation for their mental and physical well-being as also the spiritual growth. Other Indian religions such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated from the ancient Hinduism and all of them attach high value and virtue to the meditation. Buddhists are known to follow meditation (Dhyana or Vipassna) on the path of the awakening and nirvana. Meditation is a core spiritual practice in Jainism and all their Tirthankaras are stated to have practiced deep meditation to attain enlightenment. In Sikhism, the meditation (Simran) and good deeds are considered essential to achieve spiritual goals.

Meditation in Modern Times


Having said that the meditation does not essentially mean only contemplation on God, certain obvious basic queries need to be dealt with for the common practitioners. Such queries are: Why meditate? What are the intended benefits? How do we measure it? How do we learn to meditate? These are valid queries or questions to arise in any potential practitioner’s mind. So let’s try to explore the science behind to find answers.

Apart from the usual intended benefits of mental clarity and emotional stability, the practitioners also take recourse to meditation to reduce sufferings from the stress, anxiety, depression and pain. It is more or less universally recognized that practicing meditation leads to inner strength in terms of peace and harmony of mind and overall physical well-being. At institutional level, the meditation is also under research in West for its possible psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular health benefits.

How to Meditate:


The practitioners need a proper posture during the period of meditation, stabilize and practice it for a given period, properly relax then before joining back the usual worldly chorus or routine. Those who have some physical handicap or injuries, they need to take some precautions and modify to suit their requirements.

  • Usually a sitting posture in a yogic asana is recommended during the meditation for the practitioner; a cushion on the stable solid ground in open or floor in airy room is preferable. However, if a person has difficulties, he (or she) could also opt for a chair, bench or raised platform that should not be perching or hanging back. If he (or she) is using a raised surface, the bottoms of feet should preferably touch the floor.
      
  • The body posture must be straight without stiffening the upper parts of body (head and shoulders). The natural curve of the spine should not be constrained. Let the upper arms be parallel to the upper body at sides before allowing the hands to rest on the both thighs without stressing them too forward or backward.
      
  • The practitioner should lower chin a little and allow gaze gently downward. The eyelids could be lowered completely or even eyes be closed but it is not compulsory. The intent is to minimize or avoid focus on what is appearing before eyes while meditating.
      
  • The practitioner may try to contemplate on God or simply concentrate on any natural object; the intent should be to paying attention to own breath or the sensations in the body while detaching the mind from the surrounding distractions and disturbances. One should meditate for a while, relax and repeat the process. One could even break, go about some daily routine and resume. This is how a beginner shall experience it.
      
  • The practitioner would gradually notice that his posture is stabilized, and the inbreath and outbreath being instinctively felt. In the beginning, the attention will inevitably stray away from the breath and wander to other distractions but will again return to breath after few moments or minutes.
      
  • As his concentration gradually improves, he would experience some kind of trance without distractions, wondering and even feeling of contemplation gone; what he will experience is just his breath, an ideal harmonious situation.

The process of meditating is as such not very complex and one can simply sit and practice as above. One may preferably close eyes because it will save visual distractions. He should try to stay focused on breathing without stressing the mind. Any specific efforts are not required, just a still place with a reasonably calm mind is suffice. It’s is only awareness or non-awareness; non-awareness means distractions but once the practitioner is lost in thought, it is awareness i.e. the state where the object of focus is the breath.

Benefits of Meditation:


In most religions, the meditation is linked with the religion and contemplation on God. In Hinduism, the Dhyana-yoga is much more than this and even a path to achieve liberation (Moksha). In Bhagavad Gita, while educating the delusional Prince Arjuna, Lord Krishna concluded that the practitioners of Dhyana-yoga (meditation) absorbed in Him are yogis of the highest order. In yet another context, Krishna said that if a person departs contemplating on Him, he attains liberation without any doubt.

Yoginam api sarvesham mad-gatenantar-atmana,
Shraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah.

(Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 47)

(Of all yogis, those whose minds are always absorbed in me, and who engage in devotion to me with great faith, them I consider to be the highest of all.)

Antakale ca mameva smaranmuktva kalevaram,
Yah prayati sa madbhavam yati nastyatra samsayah.

{BG: Chapter 8, Verse 5}

(He who departs from the body, thinking (meditating) of Me alone at the time of death, attains My state; there is no doubt about it.)

Leave aside the spiritual part, the daily practice of meditation even for a limited period in day-to-day life accrues known benefits for the practitioner’s mental and physical health. The first and foremost benefit is that a practitioner would have a better prospect of a sound sleep at night. Regular meditation helps in achieving a lower heart rate by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and encouraging slower breathing. The human beings have a tendency getting involved in the thought process that perplexes the mind disturbing the sleep. As the meditation itself is a practice of getting rid of usual distractions and attachments, it facilitates a natural sleep by easily letting go all bygones of the day or even beyond. We all know that a sound 7-8 hour sleep for all adults is as critical and necessary as the requirements like good nourishment, water and shelter.

Then meditation is considered a natural stress buster too. Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension and it may be caused by any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. It may be acute or chronic depending upon the gravity and duration. Stress can cause many types of physical and emotional symptoms, and many health problems. The continued acute stress may lead to conditions and symptoms of tiredness, diarrhea or constipation, forgetfulness, headache and body ache, stiff neck, resorting to alcohol/drugs, and so on. The chronic stress may even cause serious health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, anxiety and depression, and so on. Almost every person must have experienced how, at times, simply taking a pause to rest the mind helps one feeling better. Numerous studies have been undertaken in the past that conclusively prove a very positive role of meditation in an effective stress-management. A regular and consistent daily practice of meditation is known to alleviate stress and related symptoms in about 8-10 weeks

The anger and anxiety in man are other issues that can be easily tackled through meditation. We all know that the anger is a complex emotion in many people which is also a source of guilt and shame for many of them. Some people have a tendency of even committing crime and/or shaming acts that becomes a cause of embarrassment for life long. The usual tendency in a person is that an emotion rises up under some stimuli, then the person gets caught up in it and commits bizarre acts by some action or speech. The anger exactly works in the same fashion in a person. A sustained meditation has a long lasting sobering effect on the practitioner transforming his personality from a rash and reactive mode to a more constructive, responsive and productive one.

Anxiety is another highly negative emotion that renders a person in a cognitive state where he is unable to regulate his emotions and actions. Even I have seen people under the grip of anxiety, and consequent depression, where life becomes meaningless and some people even develop suicidal tendencies. In fact, a majority of people are anxious in life for one or the other reason and time: while for some it serves as a stimulus to ponder in a calibrate manner and act judiciously to handle the issue or problem at hand, many others are overwhelmed with anxiety and loss of will power to think or act decisively. For the latter category, the anxiety poses serious challenges and threat in day-to-day life. Some of the common symptoms of the person under anxiety are an upset stomach, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, tension, headache, or tightness in the chest, and so on. The modern scientific research suggest that regular meditation also reprograms the neural pathways of the sensory centres in the brain improving the practitioner’s ability to manage and synchronize emotions. Irrational thoughts are the chief causative factors of the growing anxiety and practicing regular meditation certainly checks stray thoughts and ideas, thereby ameliorating pain and side-effects of the anxiety induced symptoms.

Besides, meditation also provides skill and opportunity to mentally scan every inch of the body and sensory organs. This enables the practitioner to evolve the faculty of learning the body awareness that enables the practitioner to pay attention to any physical sensations felt in the body at any point of time. The meditation provides an ease to explore and experience senses synchronized with posture and thoughts. This go-to technique provides a safe mechanism to intrinsically explore and understand any issues that cause physical or mental strain. While meditating, one can enhance his focus and decision-making and minimize feelings of fear and stress. This becomes possible because one is able to measure and manage own thoughts and feelings that tend to take hold of the person. Overall physical benefits of meditation range from the reduction in anxiety and lowering of blood pressure to the increased general immunity and quality of sleep and rest. As meditation also helps in soothing nervous system, it helps in maintaining calm and composure, and in turn better sociability and improved relationships.

Epilogue

Though meditation has universal appeal and acceptance, its oldest reference is found in Rig Veda of Hinduism. While meditation has been mostly a medium of devotion or prayer to God in Abrahamic religions, traditionally it has gained a far greater relevance and application in Hinduism ranging from the general well-being to spirituality. Some practitioners use prayer beads: For instance, the Christians use rosaries comprising of pearls or beads joined by a thread while Hindus use jap-mala with 108 rudraksha beads. In modern times, the meditation has assumed a more secular form in India whereby emphasis is more on stress reduction, relaxation of the body and mind, and self-improvement rather than laying erstwhile much emphasis on the spiritual growth and attainment.

In the later decades of the twentieth century, many scientific research studies too were undertaken world over that suggest the regular meditation helps to reprogram the neural pathways of the sensory centres in the brain improving the person?s ability to manage and synchronize negative emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, and so on. In fact, some meditation techniques have also been developed in clinical psychology and psychiatry to manage certain psychological conditions. However, the Indian concept of meditation (Dhyana-yoga) employing asanas and postures like full-lotus or half-lotus appears to be more popular and appealing worldwide, particularly the West, for its comprehensive benefits ranging from the mental and physical well-being to the spiritual growth and enlightenment.

Continued to Part XXXI
  

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24-Mar-2019
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