Monday, February 20, 2012

Yoga Sutras: a guide to meditation: What is concentration?

Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras is titled “Samadhi Pada” or an exposition of the state of meditative concentration which constitutes true meditation. We saw in an earlier blog article (on Stanza 2) that Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, describes the state of yoga concentration (or meditation) as resulting from the cessation of the mind’s identification with, interest in, and feeling (like or dislike) response to its perceptions (whether in memory form, through current sense impressions, desires or imagination).

In this first book Patanjali is describing both the positive aspects of meditative concentration and the obstacles to that concentration. Meditation requires one to continually strive to disengage from thoughts and our emotional interest and response to these thoughts (here, thoughts include signals from the five senses and our response to them). Patanjali says success comes from “long and constant efforts with great love and desire for the goal.”

First we focus on detaching our response and interest in objects (called to our mind by desire, memory, etc.); then comes non-identification with the feeling states associated with objects (happiness, sadness, boredom, sleep).

We then go through various stages of meditation starting with interiorized contemplation which contains a mixture of intuition, reason, questioning and inner dialogue. This can reveal insights about objects, people, and of course ourselves and the very nature of cognition.

We proceed to the next level which is more purely intuitive and knowing. When we ascend beyond this stage we experience joy which is subtler because there’s no object under contemplation. Beyond joy, though without necessarily leaving it, is pure sense of Self, or I-ness.

These stages have yet higher octaves such as the experience of wonder and reverence; contemplation of God (or Higher Consciousness); pure Bliss; expansion of awareness beyond the body into space beyond the body.

The highest of such states, called Samadhi, merge the act of cognition with the object and the subject (Self). Called many things and described in countless ways down through the ages, this state goes beyond the intellect’s (and this writer’s) comprehension and ability to describe. I reference the reader to Paramhansa Yogananda’s poem, “Samadhi.” (It can be found in the original edition of his life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi.”)

Returning now to the process of concentration, Patanjali includes devotion to God (Iswara) as  meditation and especially meditation upon the “word” that manifests God, OM. Repetition (mental chanting) of OM, and meditation upon OM (heard in meditation) are particularly important forms of meditation.

Patanjali recommends meditation upon one object as the way to calm the breath and emotional disturbances which hinder meditation. Breath control techniques can speedily bring the mind under control.

Any form of meditation that accelerates or reveals the subtle astral senses can greatly help as well. Meditating on the inner light (seen in the forehead), meditation upon the heart center, meditation upon peace or pure happiness, or indeed “anything that appeals to one as good” — these are all forms of meditative concentration which will yield the progressive stages which lead to samadhi.

In essence and in conclusion, Patanjali is recommending that the meditator find a positive focus for meditation rather than only work on “fighting off” all distractions. Instruction in the methods is given by one’s teacher and especially one who is or represents a true teacher, or guru: one who, has himself, achieved the highest state of samadhi.

Blessings to you,

Nayaswami Hriman