There are many misconceptions about Yoga and/or meditation, especially in the material-minded West. Many there, seem to confuse relaxation and “mindfulness” with Hindu’s meditation-proper, which is primarily of a more exact and technical methodology, and is of a primarly psycho-spiritual nature. This is a typical confusion that happens often between Eastern spirituality and/or Yogic techniques and with vague New Age cliches.
Meditation-proper is Dhyana which naturally leads one to Nirvana or Sattva Samadhi. Samadhi is built upon Bhakti, structure, effort, service and study, as well as on: Dharana, Pratyahara, Pranayama, Asana, the Niyamas and Yamas. (I will address these later).
So meditation is not something we do, it’s something that occurs naturally because of what we’ve already been doing or practicing…often for many years or even lifetimes.
All the preparation that happens before surgery is preparation, not surgery. All the practice and preparation it takes to be able to sink a hole-in-one, or to play a Led Zepplin song on the guitar, is practice and preparation for actually doing so. A rule also applies that if one practices wrong, one will probably play wrong. The same can be said about meditation and/or Yoga-proper.
To say that meditation can be practiced without ending the modifications of the mind, or without a spiritual and/or religious connection is incorrect. This is a Western view: take that which is sacred, singular and profound to Hindus and twist it around, turn it into something it’s not, divide it up, rename its sections, make it marketable to the masses and then take credit for it’s invention.
At it’s core, meditation is the science of Yoga that appears in Hinduism as the very essence of its spiritual practice. It’s not just a simple mental exercise, just as Yoga is not just Asana. Meditation is not a hobby. It’s not something anyone can do anytime they like with or without preparation, or with or without a compentent teacher. It’s not something that takes no effort or can be learned in minutes, or be mastered by next Thursday.
Of course the reader will hear that there are a thousand different kinds of meditation, and that it belongs to the human race without having any sort of radical. These same people are ones who will say that anything and everything is meditation. They are also usually the one’s who are getting paid and are trying to create a version and vision of themselves as healers, great Yogis or Gurus.
There is some truth in all this however. The copy of a copy of a copy ad infinitum, will leave the origianl reader of the copy with pristine direction, while those on the bottom end of it will just have to guess or fill in the blanks, so that meditation/Yoga might fit into their own individual purpose and/or narrow grooves of their understanding.
It is like that game we played in grade school where the teacher whispers a phrase in the ear of the first child in line, and by the time it’s gotten to the last child it makes no sense…it goes from being something like, “I do know my name”, to “dog breath turtle slime.” It is for such reasons that tradition and authenticity are important.
So the question has to be asked, ‘do we follow the origianl that has been practiced by multiple millions throughout many generations without alteration in India and her cultural realm, or do we take a New Age, Christian-like view of meditation/Yoga which has now become a part of popular Western culture used to sell everything from Yoga itself to life insurance and maxipads’?
Many practitioners, Yogis, New Agers, Spiritual Universalists and Christian meditators will ask “why does any of this matter?” All they really have to know as far as I’m concerned is that I’m a Hindu and that it does indeed matter to me. If these people are actually as progressive, moderate and liberal as they like to think they are, that is all that should matter for them to take this article seriously and offer a modicum of attention and respect. Beyond that, I have already given an explanation for this and now I will continue by offering a tutoral to what Yoga meditation-proper is. From a theoretical and scholarly stance.
There are a few different types of traditional Yoga, and they all connect in some way. Jnana Yoga is the way of contemplation, self inquiry, study and experiential knowledge. Bhakti Yoga is the way of finding god and the true self which is god, purely through devotion. Karma Yoga is the way of action in the service to others and/or the personal Lord, deity or God. Tantra is the way of ritual, mysticism and psychology. Hatha Yoga combines Asana, Pranayama and the quiet focusing of mental energy. Kriya Yoga involves using esoteric and Vedic techniques like visualization, communing with nature and utilizing other Vedic sciences like Ayurveda, Mantra, Jyotish and Laya and/or Yoga Nidra, or Following the currents of sound which present themselves during patterns of sleep.
Raja (Ashtanga) Yoga is the way or Yoga of meditation. This is also known as Pantanjala Yoga. There are eight limbs of Raja Yoga. The first two limbs construct a foundation for the remaining limbs. The remaining limbs construct a basis for meditation-proper which is the state of meditation itself or Dhyana. Sustained Dhyana then naturally leads to Nirvana or Samadhi.
The five Yamas are codes of social conduct, and the five Niyamas or codes of personal conduct. These are the ten primary commitments and practices which make up the Yogic lifestyle. They are to be adapted to the individual practitioner rather than being a one-size-fits all, foreign imposition upon the whole of humanity. They are a part of traditional Dharma, not dogma. They are simply commonsensible ways to live and behave so as not to bring conflict or chaos into the mind. A mind with conflict and chaos can never reach a meditative state.
1)Ahsima or non-harming/non-violence
2)Satya or truthfulness/rigorous honesty
3)Brahmacharya or control of sexual energy
4)Asteya or non-stealing, coveting
5)Aparigraha or non-possessiveness/non-attatchment
Limb Two: The Five Niyamas
1)Shaucha or cleanliness/purity
2)Santosha or inner contentment, living in one’s truth
3)Tapas or discipline/sacrifice, literally ‘Tapas’ means fire which burns away all but that which is pristine and true
4)Svadhyaya or study/contemplation
5)Ishvara Prandidhana or surrender/sublimation of the ego-self to a god, goddess, truth or “higher power”
Asanas are the beautiful physical aspects of Yoga. They are the poses, stretches and attitudes performed by the practitioner. They bring strength, flexibility and balance to the body and mind. They release tension and toxins. Primarily, they provide tonification to the nervous system and alignment to the spine, allowing the practitioner to sit or rest in an upright postion while pursuing more mental and spiritual ventures and practices.
Prana is the vital life force. We obtain Prana into the body through the breath and diet, into the senses through impressions and into the mind through examination and contemplation on the elements, especailly air and ether.
*These previous four branches are called the ‘outer’ limbs of Raja Yoga. The next limb, Pratyahara, is considered to be an inner as well as an outer limb. Limbs six, seven and eight are generally refered to as the ‘inner’ limbs of Raja Yoga.
Pratyahara refers to various methods of managing and internalizing incoming sensory impressions. We learn to have Yogic awareness or discrimination (Viveka) of impressions when we find that some impressions are theraputic in nature Vs. those that may be detrimental to our health and to our awakening. In practicing these methods, we can create our own sort of sensory deprivation tank. That is to say, we become in control of that which is allowed in and that which is kept in our individual awareness.
This refers to the ability to give all our mental energy to the object or idea of our examination. There are various methods to improve and sharpen this natural ability to focus that most of us have lost to some degree or another and through the process of practicing Yoga, regain and develop.
This is meditation proper. So there is relaxation, concentration, energization, observation, visualization, contemplation, memorization, mesmerisation and disassociation, but none of these are meditation-proper. They are just prerequisites to meditation-proper. The important thing here is to see how the previous limbs are things that we do, whereas Dhyana or meditation in its truest and purest form, is something that happens as a result of what we do or have already done.
So the Yamas and Niyamas give us a foundation for a Yogic lifestyle. They bring clarity to the mind, purity to the body and strengthen one’s will to stay on the spiritual path of awakening. Asana tonifies the nervous system, preparing it for an abundance of Prana or vital life force. Pranayama builds-up the life force or the energy of awareness and consciousness. Pratyahara internalizes this energy. Dharyana focuses this energy. Sustained focus of this sort naturally leads to Dhyana or the state of meditation-proper. Sustained Dhyana or meditation-proper, then naturally leads to the state of Samadhi or Nirvana, where one’s awareness meets with cosmic consciousness.
Samadhi is the state of union or Yoga-proper. Samadhi means ‘absortion’ and refers to the union of the true self (the Atman) and the Paramatman or supreme self. This may also be decribed as the union with the comic divine Lord or deity and the individual self, or the union between the microcosm and the macrocosm, or between individual awareness and cosmic consciousness, or the soul and God.
It is the natural ability to be “reborn”, and see all in the self and the self in all. It is pure truth…pure bliss…pure love. It is the pure and pristine understanding of all that exists, without effort. There are various ways of describing this, but it is really beyond words. Even the most sublime poetry can not properly describe Samadhi. It simply must be experienced. Once Samadhi is experienced, then there are various types, levels and/or qualities of Samadhi; from the mundane to the profound, based upon the three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas).
Raja Yoga is the science of meditation and awareness. Every science has two main aspects. One is theorem and the second is practicum. I have covered a very small portion of the theoretical here and in doing so, have provided a very general map of sorts that can be used by the begining student of Yoga and meditation as well as by more experienced practitioners. I invite the reader to begin his or her own practice with the help of a qualified teacher and/or a copy of the Yoga Sutras by the Rishi Pantanjali.