Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Concept of Meditation in Hinduism


Sri Ajit Halder

Meditation (Dhyana) is a Hindu spiritual technique to create the right mental condition for the attainment of peace of mind and inner silence leading to spiritual awakening. The aim is to turn the mind’s attention inward, away from the humdrum of the external world for uninterrupted concentration on God.  This is achieved by suspending all random thoughts and freeing the mind from anxiety and stress, thus getting rid of the restlessness of the mind.  This endeavour helps to achieve the mental state required for concentrated attention on God.  Hinduism prescribes methods to realize the tranquil state of mind, forgetting everything and concentrating on God.  Whatever be the method or technique, the ultimate aim of meditation in Hinduism is to guide and direct the mind to a state where it has not been before but where it should be – to reach a relaxed, meditative mind for quiet contemplation on God.

It may seem that the practice of meditation begins with the suspension of all random thoughts entering the mind, with the result that the mind becomes empty of any thought.  But the objective of meditation is quite different and straightforward, and it is to direct the mind away from the many to the one all important thought, i.e. to become absorbed in one’s awareness of God.  At first the endeavour may seem to be much demanding of one’s efforts.  However through continuous practice, one will increasingly be able to focus on God.  So meditation enables one to turn the mind’s attention from the distractions of the external world to the mind’s inner world, leading to an awakening of God-Consciousness within everyone.

There are many styles of meditation within Hinduism, and Yoga is commonly prescribed as the preparatory step for meditation. Within Patanjali’s AshtangaYoga practice, there are eight limbs (Ashta anga) leading to moksha and this will be discussed later in this article.  AshtangaYoga is very popular and practised both in the East and the West in various modified forms.  In reality however,  what usually happens is that most people practising meditation get bogged down in yogic exercises, the so called mudras and asanas,  and do not progress to the higher level of meditation – i.e. to achieve mental ‘serenity’ or ‘tranquillity’ for realizing God-consciousness, as prescribed by Hinduism.

It should be mentioned here that these mudras or asanas do have proven beneficial effects for restoring a person’s sound health.  But the main objective of meditation is to realize union of one’s self, one’s atman, with the omnipresent Brahman, that is to say the ultimate union of jivatma with Paramatma.  In Hinduism this experience is referred to as the attainment of moksha (salvation).

During meditation, the mind often wanders away and the meditator has to be constantly vigilant and bring the mind’s attention back again to focus on the objective - i.e. seek union with the Supreme.  The many techniques of meditation may be divided into two main forms –the first one involves thinking and focusing on a certain thought, idea or ideal; and the second, which is a more advanced form, requires emptying the mind of all random thoughts and entering into a state of inner silence.  It is a state of deep inner peace and awareness of one’s real being.  In essence, the two techniques are not different techniques but linked together : the first one will make it easier to progress on to the second advanced stage, the meditative state of mind which is the highest state in which mind will exist.

Regular practice of meditation beneficially affects one’s thinking, one’s behaviour, ensures a positive state of mind and attitude, as well as improving one’s health.  It also develops patience, tolerance, tranquillity, self-discipline and inner strength.  Meditation is a discipline and in order to reap all of its rewards, a certain degree of concentration is required as is will-power, perseverance and the willingness to devote time, effort and energy.

Preparation leading to the meditative stage:

The best time for meditation is in the morning which has certain advantages over meditation practised at other times of the day or night.  In the morning, the mind is quiet when one wakes up from the night’s rest.  Then too, the nature is quiet in the early morning and the city life is not yet fully active, noisy or stirring.  Consequently in the morning, one finds it easier to quieten the mind and concentrate using an icon or a symbol.  The best icon I can think of is the symbol \, AUM.  One may begin by focusing at the top left of the symbol and start scanning it downwards following the curved line until the eye reaches the bottom left end, and then retracing the path to reach the top left end.  By repeating the scanning of the symbol several times, the eye will remain focused on the icon and the mind shall reach a state of tranquility.  Devotional mmusic played in slow tempo may help the mind to engage in deep meditation.

Patanjali’s AshtangaYoga:

This is the true, original system of yogic science from which all modern day forms of yoga and meditation have developed.  It was compiled into the form of sutras (threads) by the great sage Patanjali.  The main eight stages with explanatory notes are given below.

  1. YAMA - Self restraints comprising Ahimsa - not causing pain to anyone; Satya – truth; Asteya – honesty; Brahmacharya - conserving vital energy and Aparigraha - being non greedy.
  2. NIYAMA – Observances comprising Saucha – cleanliness of the body and purity of the mind; Santosha – contentment; Tapas - practising austerity; Swadhyaya - self study and to be aware of life around and Ishvara;  Pranidhana - surrendering  to God
  3. ASANA – Yoga postures.
  4. PRANAYAMA – Gaining vital energy (prana) by breath control
  5. PRATIHARA – Withdrawal of the senses
  6. DHARANA – Concentration
  7. DHYANA - Meditation
  8. SAMADHI - Enlightenment   

A careful study of the above list will reveal that the eight items quoted are like eight steps or means for the systematic and gradual attainment of the ultimate, i.e. to gain enlightenment on the Supreme Self, Paramatma. The eight steps are to be followed in the sequence as given above and continued beyond the third step (i.e. yogic exercises). The items 1 to 6 are the necessary and useful preliminaries demanding strict observance of the rules:  self-purification, living a content life in a disciplined manner, performing yogic exercises, concentrating and endeavouring to become absorbed in  DHYANA (Meditation) as mentioned in item 7.  But the task should not end there since according to Hinduism, the aim of the whole exercise is to attain the highest step of SAMADHI.  On reaching this enlightened state, the meditator will feel his/her self has become completely merged with the Supreme Self, that is to say that the union of  jivatma with Paramatma has been realized.


In Hinduism, meditation is a religious act of offering prayer unto God and for many dedicated Hindus, practising meditation is a way of experiencing the Divine Presence within themselves.  So meditation has a spiritual dimension.  In the physical world, meditation can help humans to keep on enjoying a healthy body and a sound mind.  Medical science recognises the benefits of meditation practised as regular contemplative sessions, and recommends meditation as a therapy in treating patients suffering from stress-related diseases, with good results. Thus, Hinduism provides meditation both for our spiritual welfare and for our physical well-being.

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