Dhyana (Meditation) – 8 Limbs of Yoga

Dhyana, or yoga meditation, is the 7th stage of the 8 limb’s of Ashtanga Yoga. What most people today refer to as ‘meditation’ are generally varieties of techniques for stress relief and relaxation, and for enhancing and refining the faculty of ‘concentration’ (or dharana).

However, Swami Gitananda explains that meditation is a most misunderstood word. It has come to mean for many, simply sitting with the eyes closed, or the repetition of a mantra sound over and over. It must be something much more profound, much more elevated.

 

From the 6th stage of Dharana, the mind is put through various rigors of trainings to restrain its waywardness and to refine its awareness to the ultimate degree of ‘one-pointedness’. Achieving this state is an ‘active process’ that requires much effort. But it is precisely when this ‘one-pointedness’ of mind ceases to be an ‘active effort’ and then just ‘happens naturally’, without any effort, that we have achieved the state of meditation.

Hence, meditation is a ‘state’ (of being, or of mind), and not a techinique that we ‘practice’.  It is an unbroken stream of raw observation whereby very little ‘sense of self’ remains. Without the dualistic nature of thought inherent in thinking present, one can say that at such moments, the observer and the observed become one.

At this level, it becomes increasingly more difficult to use words and the reasoning, conscious mind to describe the experiences of yoga. After all, the state of meditation, by its very nature transcends our material human experience and everything that is related to it.

The 6th (Dharana) and 7th (Dhyana) stage of yoga often seem to overlap each other by definition. However, we could say that meditation (dhyana), is concentration (dharana) taken to ‘perfection’ — In other words, a meditative state is the natural result of ‘perfect concentration’.

So it is prolonged concentration, then, that leads us into this ‘spontaneous’ and ‘free-flowing’ meditative state, whereby nothing but the object of concentration fills the mental space; and whereby the observer and the observed become one.

So this begs the question “How often are we in a meditative state?”. Unless you are a very dedicated and highly disciplined practitioner, the answer is “probably not often”.

While this word ‘meditation’ has taken on a whole range of meanings today, from the very mundane exercises for calming the mind, to more structured practices for refining and improving concentration, these things, although some of them may be valuable tools on the ‘road to meditation’, are not themselves meditation, and in most cases, alone will not be able to take one to a state of meditation.

This is so because much preparation is needed before one is capable of experiencing this powerful, yet very subtle state of meditation. As Swami Gitananda explains:

“Meditation is an exalted state of being which is produced by a moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama; transcendence of and freedom from the imprisonment of the senses in Pratyahara. Practices of Dharana, exercises in concentrating and focusing the mind must be perfected. Only then is one able to even speak of meditation, let alone experience it.”

In my own experience in meditation, I believe I have encountered fragmented moments of meditative states. However, I say they are fragmented states because while in those states, it does not take long before my discursive mind intervenes to try and dissect and understand what has just happened. I suppose the “ … moral and ethical, pure lifestyle; control of the body and breath through Asana and Pranayama” spoken of by Swami Gitananda refers to the ultimate process of making the ego extinct, thereby allowing a meditative state to be sustainable. This is not an easy task from my own experience.