Yoga is a very influential and important aspect of the Hindu tradition. There are very many different forms of yoga, some that focus more on strength, and other’s that are predominantly for the mind, and its control. The word yoga stems from the root yujir, which means to unite, or connect (Joshi 53). There are two reasons for the name of yoga; one, it brings about unity of the senses, the mind, and the vital force, and two, for the steadiness of contemplation by eliminating multi-pointedness of the mind (Joshi 57). All the different types of yoga stem from the classic eight limbs of yoga. The eight limbs are Yama (constraint), niyama (spiritual discipline), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (mental concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (higher consciousness) (Varenne 99). Each of the limbs can be further grouped together in twos by how they are related to one another (Varenne 99). Dhyana is an important and very powerful limb of yoga, which many Hindus strive to achieve. Dhyana (the 7th limb), is usually paired with Samadhi (the 8th limb) (Varenne 127). It is argued that these two limbs are the final stages before achieving the final goal, which is a state of liberation (Varenne 127). [To read more on how Dhyana is paired with Samadhi, see Varenne (1976).]
As mentioned earlier, there are many different types of yoga. Hatha-yoga is also known as the yoga of strength, and puts its emphasis on the physical aspect of the practice, while tantra-yoga on the other hand is structured around understanding what is occurring during deep meditation (Varenne 83), also known as dhyana (Venkatesananda 387). Raja yoga is also focused on dhyana, and is even sometimes referred to as dhyana-yoga (Joshi 62). Joshi states that Raja yoga is believed to be the yoga of the few, beyond the reach of the common man (62). Dhyana is also perceived as part of the wheel of yoga in which it is not its own form of yoga, but instead, a form of “practice” (Feuerstein 2002:36).
Yoga is practiced all over the world today, to relieve stress, to mediate, and to gain strength. In the western world, the practice of meditation, or dhyana, does not receive as much emphasis in comparison to some of the other limbs of yoga – like the art of achieving the postures (asana), and being able to accomplish a steady, and controlled breath (pranayama) while in the postures. Although the focus is not usually on the meditation in the western world, it continues to be a pivotal aspect in the practice of yoga in the eastern world. Pantanjali defined yoga as the elimination of the modifications of mind (Joshi 57-58); which clearly indicates that he held the belief that the control of one’s mind should be the main focus of yoga.
Yoga is often paired with Sankhya, one of the six orthodox systems (Rodrigues 201). [See Rodrigues (2006) to read more on the six orthodox systems.] Dhyana, a Sankhya-yoga, is a yoga where the final truth could be known and is a method where a person’s thoughts are fixed on the “object” of meditation (Dasgupta 1979:39). As stated by Burley one endeavors to sustain this level of single-pointed concentration to the point where it becomes genuine meditation (dhyana)(130).
Meditation first stems from concentration (dharana), the sixth limb of yoga. Dharana is the advancement of the mind, when it becomes focussed on an object repeatedly, in other words, thinking of the single “thing” and nothing else (Dasgupta 1978:148). With the continuation of concentration, it may be followed by meditation, which is when concentration advances from focussing on a single “thing”, to flowing steadily without any interruption (Dasgupta 1978:148). Eventually, even the steady flow becomes an unconscious act (Dasgupta 1978:148). Concentration (dharana) is a creative act based on centering one’s mind, or consciousness, and must become incorporated in a yogin’s life to bring him/her full success (Feuerstein and Miller 1972:31). [For an example of concentration see Feuerstein and Miller (1972:31).] Feuerstein and Miller state that “the fruit of successful concentration is meditation or dhyana” (1972:31). To be successful in meditation, the practice of breath is needed in addition to concentration. With the control, or discipline of breath (pranayama), the mind becomes prepared for concentration, and therefore, can flow into dhyana (Dasgupta 1978:147). And in order to properly practice the pranayama’s, the mind must be in a state of dhyana (Dasgupta 1978:147). The yogi must fix his mind on an object (dharana), all the while steadying himself with the art of breath and posture (Dasgupta 1979:336). Breath and posture help to keep distractions at bay, and allow the yogi to centre himself on the attainment of deep mediation (Dasgupta 1979:336). Once dhyana is achieved, the mind is in such a deep state, it even fails to realize that it was once thinking (Dasgupta 1979:336). The final stage can then take place that is, Samadhi, or a state of higher consciousness (Dasgupta 1979:336). The combination of dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi becomes one state, known as samyama (Dasgupta 1978: 148). [See Dasgupta (1978) to read more on samyama.] These statements show how the limbs of yoga interact with one another, and how one is not truly attained without the others. It is illustrated with the noun “yoga”, which was originally used to portray union – the connection of various things, or the “tool of union” (Joshi 53-54).
The purpose of accomplishing the eight limbs of yoga is to gain a better understanding of oneself and to unite all aspects of your life together. Along with that, in the Hindu tradition, once dhyana is attained, nothing is desired and the true knowledge arises, which is what separates prakrti from purusha (Dasgupta 1978:117). [More on prakrti and purusha, see Dasgupta (1978), and Rodrigues (2006).]
Dhyana is an important aspect of yoga, and in order to achieve it, you must be fully committed to yoga, and open to learning possibilities about yourself, and more specifically, your mind.
References and Further Recommended Reading:
Burley, Mikel (2007) Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. New York: Routledge.
Dasgupta, Surendranath (1978) Yoga: As Philosophy and Religion. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.
Dasgupta, Surendranath (1979) Yoga Philosophy: In Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. New Delhi: Shri Jainendra Press.
Feuerstein, Georg and Miller, Jeanine (1972) Yoga and Beyond. New York: Schocken Books.
Feuerstein, Georg (2002) The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice. New Delhi: Elegant Printers
Joshi, K.S. (1965) “On the Meaning of Yoga”, Philosophy East and West, 15(1): 53-64.
Rodrigues, Hillary. (2006) Hinduism: The eBook Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd: ISBN 0-9747055-4-3.
Varenne, Jean (1976) Yoga: And The Hindu Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Venkatesananda, Swami (2008) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
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Article written by: Lenae Olson (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.