Meditation is the practice by which there is constant observation of the mind. It means focusing the mind on one point, stilling the mind, in order to perceive the self. By stopping the waves of thoughts one comes to understand his true nature and discover the wisdom and tranquility that lie within. It is the seventh step of Patanjaii Yoga. As focusing the rays of the sun with a magnifying glass makes them hot enough to burn an object, similarly focusing the scattered rays of thoughts makes the mind penetrating and powerful.
With the continued practice of meditation one can discover a greater sense of purpose and strength of will and one’s thinking becomes clearer and more concentrated, affecting the person and all his or her actions. Swami Vishnu Devanand has written, “Meditation does not come easily. A beautiful tree grows slowly. One must wait for the blossom, the ripening of the fruit and the ultimate taste. The blossom of meditation is an expressible peace that permeates the entire being. Its fruit is undescribable”.
Using concentration as a tool, the next and final step towards true self-mastery is meditation. Yoga teaches that through meditation the individual learns to be truly and fully conscious of himself as a unit separate and distinct from all other manifestations of life, not merely in the highly personal, individualistic western sense (which all too often leads to egocentricity and uneasy self-absorption), but in a detached way that makes him immune to superficial influences.
The common man, subjected daily to competitive pressures, influenced by fears and insecurities of others, easily becomes prey to anxiety or even panic while trying to live up to impossible standards artificially set up by his social milieu. But those who wisely take time to find out ‘who they are’, quickly lose the need to play a life-long game of “follow the leader”. They learn to differentiate between what is right for them and what is not, what they really want out of life and what they have been made to believe they want. They learn to be true to themselves and through this awareness are liberated from conformity.
It is a fact that a person himself can change his mental attitude once he learns to face and stay with his problems long enough to sort out the confusions. First, he must discover what is the real ‘he’ in the clutter of superimposed images. Next he must decide, just as he would with an analyst’s help, which of his problems he is able to do something about, and which he must learn to live with in the light of objective reality. Once he has achieved such self-knowledge, he will feel he has stopped beating his head against the wall.
An inner sense of serenity will replace senseless turmoil. Meditation is less stringent than concentration. In meditation, instead of staying sternly with one point, a person is free to let the thoughts flow into his mind, provided they are germane to the main subject. Of course, in order to keep from drifting into aimless time-wasting day-dreaming or even free association of ideas, the yogi does start out, as in concentration, by deliberately focusing his mind on something specific — often a part of his body. To learn to control one’s own thinking and emotions at the source, to subdue restlessness, calm the nerves and literally will himself to bring about what is best in him, to shut himself off from worry and all negative attitudes — these are the realistic goals of meditation which one may set up for oneself.
Two main types of meditation are described in yoga literature; they are:
• Concrete or Saguna Meditation
• Abstract or Nirguna Meditation
In Saguna meditation one tries to focus on a concrete object on which the mind can easily dwell — on an image or visual symbol, perhaps, or a mantra which brings him to unity. In Nirguna meditation, the point of focus is an abstract idea, such as the ‘Absolute’, a concept that is indescribable in words. Saguna meditation is dualislic — the meditator considers himself separate from the object of meditation, whereas in Nirguna meditation the meditator perceives himself as one of the objects. Regardless of whether one practices Saguna or Nirguna meditation, the end is ultimately the same — transcendence of the Gunas. As Swami Vishnu Devanand says in his teachings, “The purpose of the life is to fix the mind on the Absolute.”
Thus the self knowledge brought about by systematic meditation will first become the basis for greater self-reliance and self-confidence and later will help improve every human equation of which he is a part. Through meditation one will gain a sense of perspective that will enable him to view the world around him objectively, to accept hard facts, gauge the good and the bad at their correct value and so never allow himself to be weighed down with a sense of impotence or defeat.
Similarly, there will be no room in his heart for envy, jealousy, resentment or hatred, since all these emotions stem from weakness, insecurity and fear, and they are the root cause of all physical and psychosomatic disorders. Instead one will experience fresh inner strength, which will be his balance-wheel for the rest of his life and will provide corrective measures for every bodily as well mental irregularities too.
Samadhi is the peak of yogi’s quest. At the height of meditation his body and bodily senses are at rest, as if he is in the state of sleep, although his mental faculties are fully alert, as if he has attained super consciousness state. In fact in the state of Samadhi yogi loses consciousness of his body, breath, mind, intelligence and ego. He lives in infinite peace, where his wisdom and purity, combined with simplicity and humility, shine forth.