Yoga Philosophy 101: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Seventh Limb of Yoga–Meditation or Dhyana
Resuming our discussion of the eight limbs of yoga set forth by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras, we turn to the seventh limb, Meditation or Dhyana. To review discussions of the first six limbs of yoga, please visit www.yogalife.net/yogaphilosophy101.html
In The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi discusses the relationship between the sixth and seventh limbs, concentration and meditation. She translates the sixth limb, sutra III, #1, as — “Gathering consciousness and focusing it within is Dharana (contemplation).” p. 252. Then she goes on to translate the seventh limb, III, sutra #2, noting — “The continuous inward flow of consciousness is Dhyana (meditation).” p. 259. Nischala explains that Dharana intermittently touches inner awareness while the attention vacillates with frequent fluctuations from the external to the internal. While concentration is the act of gathering the consciousness and fixing the attention, meditation is a more steady and continuously focused inner Awareness. It flows for a longer period of time, allowing identification with the Divine to increase.
Many clients tell me that they have difficulty silencing the automatic bombardment of thoughts that race through the consciousness. Most think it is their personal inability to focus. They are very freed up when I tell them that everyone has to deal with this automatic mental chatter, which we call “The Monkey Mind” in Yoga. So practicing concentration, one tends to focus on stilling the mind to access inner Awareness–quieting the monkey. In meditation, we sustain a continuous flow of inner Awareness in which the monkey is subdued and out of sight for a while.
According to Jean Klien’s book The Ease of Being— “it is a waste of energy to try to still the mind. The nature of the mind is movement. But you are not in the movement. It is in you. When the body-mind functions in you, in your wholeness, it will come spontaneously to its inherent rhythm without agitation. Then it is a perfect tool.” (p. 94)
What Klien recommends is — instead of trying to quiet the mind, simply observe it without judging what’s coming through in a kind of “choiceless awareness” or “unconditioned/motiveless observation” whereby you welcome whatever comes. As you do this, the Awareness that is observing gradually takes the foreground. Thus, the goal of meditation shifts from stilling the mind to becoming the Awareness in the background observing and welcoming everything.
So be patient with yourself when thoughts run rampant through your meditation. As long as you simply observe and welcome thoughts that come, they will pass and leave you focused on sustaining your inner Awareness. When beginning to meditate, most people are too hard on yourselves. You think that your mind must be absolutely empty in order to be effectively meditating. The deeper teaching is that if you sustain the inner Awareness and slow down the thought process, you are meditating. As such, meditation can be defined as “the process of sustaining a quieter mind, not necessarily a silent mind.” Klein also suggests that, for further spiritual development, you take on “observing yourself” throughout your daily life from a place of Awareness, which is the stillness of Being in the background that meditation seeks to discover.
Sources: Nischala Joy Devi: The Secret Power of Yoga. New York: Crown Publishing, Random House, 2007
Jean Klein: The Ease of Being. Durham, North Carolina: The Acorn Press, 1984