|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 526 ]
"Meditation is a mostly misunderstood word. It has come to mean for many simply sitting with the eyes closed, the repetition of a Mantric sound over and over, or something of the sort. According to Patanjali, meditation is the seventh step of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga. Therefore it cannot be something as simple as 'sitting with the eyes closed'. It must be something much more profound, much more elevated -- and indeed it is!
Yet in modern times, inane misconceptions have risen. One often encounters such comments as 'meditation is good therapy', and 'my meditation has become boring'. Such ignorance is an insult to our ancient Rishis... If meditation was such a mundane activity with such a mundane purpose as a cure for dejected and bored minds, why has the sage [Patanjali] put it as the penultimate step of a long and arduous climb?"
~ Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri, The Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali
From a practical standpoint, not much is said of dhyana in the contemporary writings on yoga. There is, however, much written on the topic of meditation, but as Swami Gitananda Giri states above, what most people refer to as meditation practices are generally varieties of techniques for stress reduction and relaxation, and for enhancing and refining the faculty of concentration.
Concentration is an active process, whereby after the appropriate preparations of body, stabilization of emotions, and purification of the subtle pranas, the mind is put through various rigors of training to restrain its waywardness and to refine its awareness to the ultimate degree of 'one-pointedness'. While achieving this state is itself an active process, maintaining or holding onto it, especially in the beginning, also requires effort.
Early in the exploration of the realm of samyama, the sadhak will find that concentration comes and goes, or rather, a definite mental effort is necessary in order to maintain the mind's hold upon a single point. It is, however, when this one-pointedness of mind ceases to be an active effort and it just happens naturally, without any effort, that is when we move into the state of dhyana, or meditation.
Thus, we could say that dhyana is dharana taken to perfection -- or dhyana is the natural result of the perfection of concentration. Prolonged concentration, then, is what leads the sadhak into this spontaneous and free-flowing state (dhyana) wherein nothing but the object of concentration fills the mental space; wherein the observer and the observed merge into one.
"To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.'
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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