"meditation" is enjoying unprecedented popularity
in the East and the West alike. A form of spiritual
practice once restricted to a small number of fairly
qualified aspirants is now being followed by large numbers
of people and applied to a wide variety of human situations.
To satisfy the spiritual needs of different types of
aspirants, ancient techniques of meditation are being
modified and new techniques are being evolved by spiritual
directors. Indeed, so diverse has meditation become
that it now stands for a generic term denoting several
forms of concentration rather than a specific spiritual
various types of meditation now prevalent all over the
world may be divided into two broad groups: secular
and religious. To the former group belong all forms
of concentration practiced for the sake of health. It
has been scientifically proven that certain types of
meditation relax the body, reduce blood pressure and
mental tension, and cure psychosomatic disorders. They
have thus become a boon to a large number of people
living under conditions of stress, especially in the
West. There is nothing wrong in practising meditation
for its therapeutic effects, but one should not think
this is all that meditation means or can do.
we are concerned only with the other group of meditations,
called upasana in Vedantic literature, which
aim at spiritual illumination. This again is of two
types: anthropomorphic (sakara) and non-anthropomorphic
(nirakara). In the first type, followed in the
path of devotion, meditation is done on a form of the
deity known as the aspirant's Chosen Ideal of God, or
Ista Devata. In the second type, followed in
the path of knowledge, meditation is done on a non-anthropomorphic
object like light or space or on some attribute of Qualified
kind of spiritual meditation which requires a higher
degree and quality of concentration, need not necessarily
be a relaxing experience, especially for a beginner.
The term used by Patanjali the father of Hindu
psychology for meditation is dhyana, and
according to him it forms only the seventh step in a
graded scheme of yoga. With the exception of a few fortunate
people born with natural calmness and purity of mind,
most people find that the higher types of spiritual
meditation entail effort, struggle and strain. Sri Aurobindo
points out: "The road of yoga is long, every inch
of ground has to be won against much resistance and
no quality is more needed by the spiritual aspirant
than patience and single-minded perseverance with a
faith that remains firm through all difficulties, delays
and apparent failures." (Bases of Yoga,
is at present a good deal of confusion about the true
nature of meditation. This is mainly caused by the mistaken
belief that meditation is nothing but a form of concentration.
Everyone has the capacity to concentrate his or her
mind on something or other, and it is with this confidence
that most people attempt to meditate. But when they
find that they do not succeed, they ask in surprise,
"Why am I not able to meditate?" The truth
is that meditation is not just an ordinary type of concentration.
Spiritual aspirants must understand this. They should
know the difference between ordinary concentration and
Concentration and Meditation
ordinary concentration the mind is focused on an external
object or a mental idea. From childhood we have been
practicing concentration on external objects as a part
of the natural process of perception.
is perception? According to the Samkhya, Yoga and Advaita-Vedanta
schools of philosophy, the mind goes out through the
eyes and takes the form of the object, and this is how
we see it. According to Ramanuja and Madhva, it is the
self that issues forth and directly perceives the object.
Either way, concentration on external objects is a natural
process. The Katha Upanisad says that the Lord,
as it were, struck the sense organs and made them outgoing.
(2.1.1) So we find no difficulty in concentrating on
meditation is a complete reversal of this process of
perception. It means turning the mind or the self back
upon its source. Sri Ramakrishna explains this by the
parable of the police sergeant who goes about his rounds
in the dark with a lantern (which has dark glass on
three sides) in his hands. With that light he can see
others but they cannot see him, unless he turns the
lantern towards himself. (Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,
the same way, with the light of the self we can see
external objects and movements of thoughts, but if we
want to see God, we must focus this light inward. And
this is what meditation means. To turn the habitually
outgoing mind inward to its source is an admittedly
then, is the first difference between meditation and
ordinary concentration: meditation is the result of
the focusing of consciousness on its true source or
center. The Tantras speak of different centers of consciousness
but the Upanisads point to the spiritual heart as the
true center of one's consciousness. Though the beginner
can to some extent hold the mind in the region of the
physical heart, he or she has usually no idea of what
the spiritual heart the true center of consciousness
most people this higher center remains dormant or veiled,
but through continence and prayer it can be developed.
Unless the aspirant discovers this spiritual center,
his or her mind will wander during meditation.
should be understood that trying to drive the mind inward,
as a shepherd drives sheep into the pen, is not meditation.
True meditation is the result of the natural inwardness
or interiority (pratyak pravanata) of the mind
caused by an inward pull. This inward "pull"
comes from one's higher center of consciousness. And
the higher center will exert this pull only when it
is open and active. Then the mind comes to rest in its
own source, as a bird comes to roost in its own nest.
This resting or fixing of the mind is called dharana,
without which meditation is difficult.
in most forms of ordinary concentration the sense organs
are active and contact with the external world is not
cut off. But during meditation, which needs a higher
degree of concentration, the mind alone is active and
contact with the external world is cut off. The yogis
call this state ekendriya—the state in
which one indriya or sense organ (namely the
manas, or mind, which the yogis regard as the
sixth sense organ) alone is active. According to Patanjali,
before one attempts dhyana (meditation), one
should gain proficiency in dharana (fixing the
mind) and pratyahara (withdrawing the mind from
external objects). This withdrawal is defined by Patanjali
as a state in which the senses, detached from external
objects, become one with the manas or mind. (Yoga-Sutra,
2.54) When this is practiced for a long time, the mind
alone remains active the ekendriya state.
Only then is true meditation possible.
now come to the third difference between ordinary concentration
and meditation. What we call thought is only a wave-like
movement of the mind which is called vritti.
Vrittis are produced either by external stimuli
or by the sprouting of samskaras (latent impressions
of past experiences). When we are absorbed in a book
or a job, several names and forms occupy the field of
consciousness and the mind moves in a circle. Whereas
in meditation the mind is, as it were, fixed on a point
and there is only a single vritti in it. Then
only a single name (mantra) and form (usually
the form of the Chosen Ideal) will occupy the field
of consciousness. All other names and forms are consciously
suppressed. This is, however, difficult as the samskaras
are continuously sprouting into waves. Unless at least
the major desires and impulses are eliminated, the practice
of meditation will become an inner battle.
takes us to the fourth difference. Ordinary concentration
is the result of attachment to various external objects,
whereas meditation is the result of detachment. To get
absorbed in an undertaking which one likes because it
satisfies one’s desires is easy. But to get absorbed
in something through detachment is difficult. This becomes
possible only when detachment is supported by intense
is not an exercise in passive withdrawal, an escape
from reality. It is an intense seeking of Truth in the
only place where Truth ought to be sought. It is an
eager search for God in the unknown depths of the heart.
Just as a man in darkness gropes about by stretching
out his hands, so does the meditator seek God within
by stretching her or his intuitive faculty, the pure
buddhi. Though meditation is usually practiced
on an image, true aspirants know that the image upon
which they meditate is not the true Reality. Their meditation
is in fact a search for that Reality of which the image
is only a symbol. To seek an intangible unknown Reality
in the unknown depths of the soul becomes possible only
if there is intense aspiration and faith.
there is the fifth difference. The human mind has two
powers: to experience and to create. Most of our normal
thinking is a creative process—we are always trying
to create something: new objects, new relationships,
new meanings, new ideas, etc. If we cannot create anything
real, we create unreal things and try to live in a dream
world. All the great achievements of science, technology
and art are the result of people’s stupendous
efforts in creative concentration. But creation of this
type gives rise to diversity and conflict.
is an attempt to make the mind stop creating by seeking
the source of experience. Though experience is also
a function of the mind, its real source (consciousness)
is in the Atman or the self. Meditation is an attempt
to isolate the self and discover the Uncreated or the
Absolute, which is what humanity is trying to seek through
creative activity. Meditation is a movement towards
unity and peace.
difference, related to the above, is that ordinary concentration
is a movement in time. Meditation is an attempt to remain
in timelessness. The more we think, the more we move
with time and get caught in the ever-flowing stream
are two types of time. One is external time, determined
by the movements of the earth with reference to the
sun. The second is internal time, determined by the
movement of thoughts. In very small children these two
times remain distinct; as they grow up they learn to
correlate the two. But this correlation is lost during
deep sleep and dreaming when we live in an entirely
different world of time. In the normal waking state
a certain co-ordination between inner time and outer
time is maintained as a kind of ratio. This ratio varies
from person to person: for some people time flies, for
others time hangs heavy.
live constantly in time, to be under the tyranny of
time, to "run with the hare and hunt with the hound"
all the time causes great strain on the nerves. People
want to escape from this oppressive time awareness.
So they go on vacation and try to forget themselves
by getting absorbed in books or movies. But they find
that this does not work all right, for time haunts them
like a ghost wherever they go or whatever they do. Meditation
is an attempt to free humanity from the tyranny of time
by first slowing down the inner clock and then lifting
the mind to a timeless dimension.
the most important difference between ordinary concentration
and meditation is that the former is an unconscious
process involving self-forgetfulness, while the latter
is a conscious and self-directed process. What we generally
call conscious activity is mostly unconscious or automatic.
Freud discovered the unconscious and showed how it caused
mental disorders. Jung showed that even normal healthy
thinking and activity were mostly controlled by the
unconscious. We talk, eat, work and walk without being
simultaneously aware that we are doing all these. As
Jung has pointed out, there is a world of difference
between the two statements: "I am doing work"
and "I am aware that I am doing work." We
are rarely in touch with our own self, hence there is
very little self-awareness in our normal day-to-day
truth was discovered in India some three thousand years
ago. Kapila, the founder of the Samkhya school, showed
that everything in the universe, including the mind,
is unconscious and that the Purusa (or the Atman,
as the Vedantins call it) alone is truly conscious.
mind is continuously breaking into waves and this makes
the reflection of the self discontinuous. As a result
we lose contact with our own center of consciousness.
Meditation stops all the waves except one, which makes
the reflection of the self uniform and restores our
contact with our true center of consciousness. This
is affected by exercising the will. Just as the cart
driver controls the horses by holding the reins tight,
so does a meditator control his or her mind through
the will. This is what Buddha calls right mindfulness.
is thus a fully self-directed process. It is a struggle
against mental automatisms, it is an attempt to prevent
mental waves from submerging the rock of self-awareness.
This point distinguishes it from brooding, introversion
ordinary concentration the mind is swayed by the object.
If you are reading a book, it is the book that determines
your concentration; if you are working, it is the work
that controls your mind. In meditation the object usually
plays only a passive part and control of the mind is
effected by the self. The mind can be controlled, not
by the mind, but by a faculty which is higher than it.
This higher faculty is the buddhi or dhi,
which is both a faculty of intuition and will. It is
an impulse originating in the buddhi that controls
the mental waves and directs the stream of consciousness
towards the object during meditation. Unless this buddhi
is to some extent developed and made active, meditation
another difference, eighth in order, is that meditation
is not just looking at an object but is an attempt to
enter into a living relationship with it. This is especially
true in the path of bhakti where the devotee looks upon
meditation only as a means of forging an intimate, everlasting
relationship of love with his or her Chosen Ideal. One
of the chief reasons why many people do not succeed
in meditation is that they forget this important point
and regard it as a passive act like looking at a picture
or a flower.
loving relationship can be established only when there
is a certain degree of similarity of nature between
the subject and the object. Vedanta holds that every
human being is potentially divine: that is, his or her
true self is a part of the Supreme Self. Spiritual life
is the discovery of this eternal relationship. To discover
this relationship spiritual aspirants must first of
all discover their true self, the true divine center
within themselves, where alone they can feel the touch
of the Supreme Spirit. It is only when the mental waves
are stilled that the light of the self reveals itself.
That is why calmness of mind is so important.
meditation is not mere inner silence, it is the conversion
of this silence into a means of uniting the individual
self with the Supreme Self. That is why meditation of
some kind or the other is enjoined in all Hindu scriptures.
The Bible also says: "Be still and know that I
am God." (Psalms 46.10)
it should be remembered that ordinary concentration
and meditation lead to quite different results. Proficiency
in meditation makes it easy to do any work with concentration,
but the reverse is not always true. Though doing secular
work with concentration gives a good training to the
mind and is therefore better than idling about
or working sloppily it does not ipso facto
enable the aspirant to do deep meditation. Ordinary
activities, if not accompanied by discrimination, detachment,
devotion and a certain degree of meditative awareness,
will only take us more and more away from the divine
center in us. Such concentration will only get us involved
more and more in the unconscious stream of life. Meditation,
on the contrary, takes us towards Reality directly.
the above discussion it is clear that true meditation
is not as easy as it is popularly supposed to be. In
the path of bhakti meditation forms only the third step,
for it should be preceded by prayer and worship. Those
who have practiced prayer and worship for some time
find meditation easy and natural. How do prayer and
worship help the aspirant in the practice of meditation?
the first place, as we have shown, meditation is concentration
of mind on a higher center of consciousness and, unless
that center is to some extent awakened or made active,
meditation is difficult. Prayer, when done with intensity,
quickly awakens the heart center. Says Swami Vivekananda,
"By prayer one's subtle powers are easily roused,
and if consciously done all desires may be fulfilled
by it." (Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda,
is not the main problem in spiritual life. What is really
difficult is to give a higher direction to the concentrated
energies. A beginner cannot do this through meditation
alone. Prayer and worship open the higher centers and
direct the mind upward.
meditation being a conscious and self-directed process
can be successfully practiced only when it is supported
by the will. Pure will and pure consciousness are the
dynamic and static aspects of the higher self. Through
self-analysis and introspection it is possible to understand
the true nature of the will and its workings. But a
wayward will enslaved by emotions and instincts cannot
be brought under control by self-analysis alone. That
is the reason why meditation very often depends on the
aspirant’s moods. If we want to be independent
of our moods, we must be able to direct our will Godward
whenever we want. Prayer and worship gradually bring
the will under control.
it is seen that in many aspirants meditation affects
only a small the conscious part of the
personality. The other parts of the personality, especially
the unconscious part of the mind, which is a magazine
of psychic energy, go on in their old ways. This kind
of meditation lacks power. Prayer and worship rouse
the unconscious, energize every part of the personality
and gear them all to meditative effort. It is only when
meditation is charged with power that it will act like
a power drill and pierce the veil of maya.
have also seen that meditation becomes meaningful only
when there exists a living relationship between the
soul and God. Some people are born with an inner sensitivity
of the soul for the unseen, intangible Reality and feel
a spontaneous love for God. For the others the only
way is to cultivate devotion through long practice of
prayer and worship.
and worship are of help in yet another way. They provide
support to the mind even when one does not or cannot
meditate. It so happens that on certain days aspirants
find it difficult to meditate. When this happens many
of them think, “Instead of wasting my time trying
to meditate, let me do some work.” But a true
devotee does not think that way: he or she just switches
to intense prayer and worship. True devotees are not
discouraged by dryness of mind or other obstacles; in
their case meditation is only an extension, a subtler
expression, of prayer or worship.
are, of course, other aids to meditation, but here we
are concerned mainly with the path of devotion where
prayer and worship play an important role.
During the Early Stages
meditation is so difficult, does it mean that we should
take it up only after attaining proficiency in prayer
and worship? Indeed, if the aspirant could devote a
few months or even years exclusively to prayer and worship,
she or he would quickly advance and would find meditation
easy and spontaneous. But today few people have the
faith and patience to wait for such a long time. Nor
is it necessary even for the beginner to abandon meditation.
The practice of meditation along with prayer and worship
can be taken up even in the beginning of spiritual life.
For meditation, even when not perfectly done, helps
the aspirant in several ways.
helps the aspirant to understand the working of his
or her own mind. Meditation in the early stages may
appear like waging an inner battle but the time spent
in it is not wasted. Through that the aspirant gains
understanding about his or her subtle desires and tendencies.
Meditation of this kind "acts as a rudder in a
boat," points out the Holy Mother. "When a
person sits in the evening for prayer, he can reflect
on the good and bad things he did in the course of the
day. Then he should compare the mental state of that
day with that of the previous day
Unless you practice
meditation in the morning and evening side by side with
your work, how can you know whether you are doing the
desirable or the undesirable thing?" (Swami Tapasyananda
and Swami Nikhilananda, Sri Sarada Devi: The Holy
Mother, p. 408.)
practice of meditation during the early stages is important
for a second reason: it gives the mind a good training
in inwardness (pratyak pravanatha) and introduces
a sense of interiority into the life of the aspirant.
These effects may not be immediately noticeable, but
after a few months or years the aspirant finds that
the mind is turning inward without much difficulty.
Even if the mind wanders, sitting motionless in a particular
posture itself disciplines the body and the nervous
system. Later on, when the aspirant becomes an adept
in meditation, she or he will find this early training
a great asset.
the practice of meditation helps the aspirant to integrate
his or her personality. It provides a common inner focus
for the will, intellect and emotions. Even when the
aspirant does not succeed in having perfect meditation,
the presence of a central focus within gives a sense
of unity and integrity to his or her whole personality.
And this helps the aspirant to remain unaffected by
the changes and troubles of the external world.
are the advantages of practicing meditation during the
early stages of one’s spiritual life. However,
when the aspirant gains proficiency in it, meditation
becomes a direct means for spiritual experience.
meditation is a knocking at the door of the shrine within
the heart. This higher meditation, intensely and persistently
practiced, will at last open the inner door to the world
of divine light, knowledge and bliss.
shall next discuss this higher meditation its
different techniques and the various mental processes
involved in it.
1980 Swami Bhajanananda