What is dhyana?
Sutra 1.39Yathabhimata-dhyanad-va..to overcome the obstacles to a yoga practice “is possible by following that way of meditation which one considers as most convenient.” (Metha.pg 71)
Patanjali states here that meditation is the only way to unravel the secrets of the unconscious mind. But “ Patanjali makes it abundantly clear…that meditation is not the following of some particular pattern. In fact, he brushes aside the idea of patterns and systems of meditation by using the phrase yatha abhimata, which means, according to one’s inclination.” (Metha. Pg. 71)
Prashant offers a more expansive understanding of dhyana. Dhyana is often translated as meditation. It is the seventh limb of the eight limbs of yoga. In my years as a beginner practitioner, meditation seemed impossible and improbable. I looked loftily up at dhyana, somewhere in the stratosphere, most likely unattainable for me in my lifetime! But, Prashant states that meditation is only a part of dhyana. Dhyana is “open architecture” and very liberal and encompassing whereas meditation requires form and structure. Meditation, he says, is actually “conservative and we think that it requires qualifications to even attempt it”. This is why so many say – I can’t meditate. Pema Chodron commented that we do not meditate to become good meditators ! We meditate, to listen.Prashant used the phrase “Dhyana se suno”. It means “to listen attentively, listen advertently, listen carefully”. This is all expressed in dhyana. In the english language we never say “meditatively listen”.
In sutra 1:39 Patanjali offers a revolutionary idea in the field of meditation that Prashant explains clearly … the next few paragraphs are my notes from this lecture….
when the mind is in a condition of anxiety and fear you cannot go for meditation in it’s conservative form; sit straight, eyes closed etc. But Patanjali advises to go for dhyana because it is fruitful. You can lift your mind – whatever means you use to lift your mind out of the fear and vexed state is dhyana. The technical process will not work when your mind is in tumult. But dhyana will come with a thought, a memory, even listening to a voice you trust, or talking to someone. Your mind may not be 100% revived but you will be comforted and the mind will shift. This is dhyana. This is not meditation.
The klesa vrttis (disturbances of the 5 klesas: ignorance, ego, desires, aversions, fear of death) can torment us so that we feel as if we have a volcano within and we are explosive with our desires, aversions, fears etc.) ANY measure we take – half halasana, viparita karani, janu sirsasana, sirsasana etc. is fit for dhyana.
When we are in a battle with the klesa vrttis, any measure we take using spiritual attentive practices to overcome is dhyana. Any personal deity, memory, thought, person, friend, words that give solace to the mind is dhyana. This is NOT the description of a class on meditation.
Meditation has qualifications. Dhyana is open, liberal, expansive and available to one and all.
Meditation has become fashionable because it is used for “stress management”. We are prescribed to do meditation to reduce stress. If you are stressed, this conservative understanding of meditation can be more stressful and gives an idea that you must be stressed to meditate. This is a limited meaning to meditation and to dhyana. The sages of lore did not practice meditation because they were stressed. They thought of dhyana – the quiet, attentive listening. They thought of the whole infinite space of existence as a place to listen. This is dhyana.
Another meaning of dhyana: when the mind is on a normal plane, dhyana can lift it to a higher plane. It could be a thought, beautiful scenery, music, nature etc. Anything that raises your mind to a higher plane where the mind can be ethereal. This is not meditation. This is dhyana.
There is something in all of us that needs a form of dhyana. We experience this when we become quiet and attentive. This state is not dependent on qualifications. Dhyana does not need a qualification. There is no assessment of success or failure. We often say “ my meditation failed” and we become depressed and in despair. Dhyana does not consider success or failure.
There is a form of dhyana that is imperative and mandatory when life is on a spiritual plane.To be a good human being you MUST have that kind of open minded dhyana. It is MUST. You don’t look for qualifications.
When we are hungry, we eat. We don’t consider likes or dislikes or qualifications. We simply eat. This is like dhyana. It is a MUST.
Why? You have to know your own embodiment – no doctor can know what is in your mind. So many things are beyond the grasp of medicine so YOU must know your embodiment. This is dhyana.
Rohit Metha concludes “There is no path to meditation…it is to move in a pathless region, like sailing on the uncharted seas”.By saying this Patanjali has placed the responsibility of meditation onto the meditator, not onto the success or failure of one technique or another. Dhyana requires us to take responsibility for the nature of ourselves. “We must know ourselves as a fact and not an idea or as an ideal” ( Metha pg. 72) Dhyana begins here, with this self knowledge, not in imagining some supreme or elevated state of being. “ In order to go far, one must begin near, and in meditation, one has to go very very far…any approach to meditation that does not begin here is an exercise in futility and frustration” (Metha pg 73). Dhyana is a MUST to be a good human being.