or meditation is the conscious maintenance of a steady
stream of the same thought about an object at a higher
center of consciousness.1
What we call thinking is the manipulation of a series
of thought-waves called vrittis.
mind has two tendencies. Its natural tendency is to
move constantly from one thought-wave to another. This
tendency to grasp diverse objects is called sarvarthata
all-pointedness. But occasionally the mind holds
on to a single object; this tendency is called ekagrata
one-pointedness. Dhyana or meditation is a special
type of one-pointed activity of the mind.
English word "concentration" is a general
term which may mean either one-pointedness or the maintenance
of a small number of thought-waves, as for instance
takes place while playing chess. We have already shown
how true meditation differs from ordinary forms of concentration.
According to Patanjali, concentration must fulfil five
conditions in order to become a means for liberation.
The first of these is sraddha which means faith
faith in the supreme goal of life and the possibility
of attaining it. This must be supported by virya
which means energy or enthusiasm produced, not by the
activity of instincts, but by the continuous exercise
of willpower. The third condition is smriti or
memory. This must supported by samadhi or one-pointed
absorption and prajna or self-awareness.2
these the most important condition is memory. To maintain
a steady stream of the same thought means to maintain
a steady memory. However, meditation is not an ordinary
process of remembering. Normally a person remembers
many things, and some people have wonderful powers of
memory. But to keep the memory steady by fixing the
mind on a single idea is difficult, and this is what
meditation means. Again, ordinary memory is recalling
a past experience. To remember is to dwell in the past.
A good deal of a normal person’s daily life is
spent either in remembering the past or in expecting
the future. The present is so momentary that, as soon
as an experience comes, it rolls on into the past.
is not remembering the past but maintaining the memory
of the present. It is not an attempt to call back to
mind a past event, but an attempt to prevent the present
from slipping into the past, into forgetfulness. True
meditation is the fixing of the whole memory process
at the present moment.
often spiritual aspirants forget the above point. What
many of them do is this: they look at a picture of their
Chosen Ideal of God then close their eyes and try to
remember what they have seen. This holding on to a past
event, regarded as a sacred act, does not essentially
differ from other types of remembering past events.
It makes meditation mechanical, repetitive. It tires
the nerves. It opens the door to the past with the result
that the aspirant finds a crowd of past memories rushing
into his or her mind. Small wonder then, many people
do not derive much benefit from this kind of meditation
even after months and years of practice.
meditation is directly encountering a living Image.
When you see a person face to face, you live in the
present. If meditation is to become something like this,
you must be able to look into the unknown depths of
your heart and directly "see" a living Image
there. This becomes possible only when you succeed in
focusing the light of your consciousness into the depths
of your heart. Beginners find this difficult. That is
why they are advised to practice prayer and worship.
(Other methods of holding memory to the present are
vipassana, the Zen technique of maintaining self-awareness
in which the meditator constantly watches all movements
and thoughts, nididhyasana, the Vedantic technique
of enquiring into the nature of the Self, and the constant
repetition of a mantra.)
and worship are acts which have meaning only in the
present. Prayer cannot slide into the past without your
notice. As soon as forgetfulness comes, prayer stops.
Spiritual prayer is indeed an intense effort to hold
the present moment. Prayer, even when addressed to an
unknown Being, makes you live in the present. Worship
makes that Being more real and enables you to hold on
to the present longer still. When this encounter between
the soul and the Image in the present is internalized
and intensified, it becomes meditation.
meditation is thus an act which works against the very
tendency of the mind to dwell in the past. Meditation
is the movement of a steady stream of consciousness
from the "I" (the subject) to a mental image
(the object). When this movement is steady, the object
does not change; when it wavers, the object too changes.
It is an impulse or movement that originates in the
self that determines whether the image remains steady
or changing. This self-impulse is the will. When we
try to meditate, a number of memories crowd into the
mind and we feel helpless. But it is we who allow the
mind to wander in this way. We can fix the mind on any
object if we really want to. By training the will we
can keep the inner image steady. When this happens our
memory gets restricted to the present. And that is meditation.
always means meditation on an object. There is a popular
notion that meditation means making the mind blank by
purging it of all images. This is not quite true, for
there must always be an object in the mind during meditation.
Meditation, as already pointed out, means the maintenance
of a single thought and the suppression of all the others.
complete suppression of all thoughts takes place in
deep sleep and some higher forms of absorption (samadhi)
when the mind becomes free from all objects, and the
objectifying tendency of the mind itself is suppressed.
a person tries to remove all thoughts without acquiring
purity and spiritual power, the usual results will be
not samadhi but a kind of sleep or hypnotic stupor.
"When persons without training and preparation
try to make their minds vacant," warns Swami Vivekananda,
"they are likely to succeed only in covering themselves
with tamas, the material of ignorance, which
makes the mind dull and stupid, and leads them to think
that they are making a vacuum of the mind."3
It should be pointed out here that the word "meditation"
is often used, especially in the teachings of Swami
Vivekananda, to mean not only dhyana but also the next
higher state of samadhi or absorption. This does not,
however, mean that samadhi is only a prolongation of
dhyana; there is a qualitative difference between the
two, as we shall see later on.
is possible to meditate on the subject, the "I":
this kind of meditation is called aham-graha upasana.
But the subject in this case is not the pure Atman but
only the empirical self, a reflection or image of the
true Atman. The existence of the self is self-evident
and does not need any proof, but its real nature as
the Atman is not self-evident.
pure Atman can never become the object of meditation.
During higher samadhi, when all thought-waves are stilled,
that pure Atman shines by itself. There is a method
of penetrating straight into the pure self through inquiry,
but this does not come under meditation. It is a direct
path followed by those who practice jnana yoga.
a person may spontaneously get into a state of consciousness
in which the mind becomes calm and alert. The person
feels a deep inner silence in which every movement is
noticed and every thought appears fresh and meaningful.
The mind does not hold a particular image but calmly
witnesses thoughts coming and going—like clouds
moving across the sky or travelers going through a silent
countryside. The person then lives in the present. He
or she observes the silent flow of life without being
carried away by the stream. This is a state in which
the self becomes aware of the whole mind itself, rather
than an object or an image. It is like a fish suddenly
becoming aware of the water in which formerly it had
noticed only other fish, worms, etc. When this mood
is consciously cultivated, the mind becomes fit for
the path of bhakti this meditative awareness is attained
through love. The devotee thinks of the Deity with so
much love that his or her whole being vibrates with
that single thought like a gong struck with a mallet.
There is no room for any other thought in the mind which
gets rooted in the living presence of the Deity and
riveted to the present moment.
true meditation the mind becomes like a violin string
stretched between the self and the object, and vibrates
in the present moment producing ever-renewing melodies
Basis of Meditation
human mind is perhaps the most wonderful thing in the
whole universe. All the knowledge and mystery of the
universe are hidden in its depths. Those who wish to
practice meditation should know how their minds work.
The mind is not a machine which we ourselves have built
and can operate in any way we like. It has come to us
ready-made, and it started influencing us long before
we became conscious of its working. The individual mind
does not work in isolation. Each is a part of the vast
cosmic mind, works in accordance with certain universal
principles, and is impelled by the same cosmic energy
called prana. In his famous lecture on "The
Powers of the Mind" Swami Vivekananda says, "All
minds are the same, different parts of one mind. He
who knows one lump of clay has known all the clay in
the universe. He who knows and controls his own mind
knows the secret of every mind and has power over every
as physics and chemistry are based on precise laws of
the physical world, the working of the mind is also
based on certain universal laws. The credit for first
discovering these is attributed to the sage Kapila.
They were well known in India long before Buddha's time.
Later on Patanjali codified the principles of mental
science into his system of yoga which is now gaining
worldwide attention. Perhaps in the twenty-first century
humanity’s main preoccupation will be not with
science but with yoga.
India itself, owing to the obsession of the people with
metaphysical speculations for the past thousand years,
much of the knowledge concerning yoga has been lost.
Fortunately, however, enough of it has been incorporated
into the system of Vedanta to survive as a living tradition
to this day. Those who attempt meditation must have
a clear understanding of five fundamental principles
of yoga psychology which form the basis of Vedantic
first principle is that consciousness belongs to the
true self known variously as the Purusa, Atman, jiva,
etc. It is its very nature. Everything else in the universe—the
entire material universe and all individual minds—belongs
to prakrti which is unconscious (jada). Prakriti
is neither material nor mental stuff; it is the unmanifested
primordial stuff of which mind and matter are only two
is unconscious but is not dead or inert. It is an unconscious
power animating the whole universe. It is not self-luminous.
It is known only when the light of the Purusa falls
on it. But the Purusa or Atman is self-luminous and
does not need anything else to reveal it.
distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness,
one of the great discoveries made in ancient India,
is an important point in spiritual life. Those who want
to practice meditation must have the basic knowledge
that the self alone is conscious and that, in the absence
of self-awareness, all mental and physical activities
go on unconsciously. The circulation of blood, digestion
and assimilation of food, and other physiological activities
go on without our being aware of them.
we study our mental life we find that a major part of
it goes on automatically. We talk, read, eat, walk and
play, hardly being aware that we are doing these activities.
When we sit for meditation the same automatism continues
within us. Having spent a major part of the day more
or less unconsciously, we find we have very little control
over the mind during meditation.
more we hold on to the self, the more conscious we become.
And the more conscious we become, the greater becomes
our control over our thoughts and actions. This kind
of self-awareness, popularly known as alertness, is
essential not only for those who follow the path of
jnana but also for those who follow the path of bhakti.
self is the abode of consciousness. Spiritual aspirants
must learn to open its doors and allow consciousness
to flow into their mental activities more and more.
It is desires and other impurities of mind that obscure
the self and drive us through unconsciousness. As the
mind becomes purer, the light of the self manifests
itself more, giving us greater self-awareness and self-control.
second basic principle of yoga psychology is that knowing
is the result of a mental modification. In order to
know an object the mind must take the form of that object.
This modification of the mind is called a vritti.
or knowledge is the relation between the self and the
object. The pure self or Atman cannot directly know
an object. Between the self and the object must intervene
the mind. Even this is not enough; the mind must take
the form of the object. When the light of the Atman
falls upon this vritti or thought-wave, knowledge results.
are of different types. When you look at a tree, the
mind goes out and takes the form of the tree. That is
how you know the tree. When you close your eyes, the
mind reproduces the image of the tree, and that is how
we call life or existence consists of worlds within
worlds. Just as there is an external physical universe,
so also there are subtle inner worlds peopled by gods,
goddesses, spirits and disembodied beings. When the
mind is projected towards those beings we come to know
about them. All these modifications of the mind are
can be no knowledge without vrittis. In deep sleep,
the mind being overpowered by tamas does not
produce any vritti. So in deep sleep we know nothing,
and upon waking say, "I did not know anything."
But according to Patanjali and some Advaitins, during
deep sleep a particular kind of vritti called nidra
vritti exists. In the highest superconscious state
called nirvikalpa samadhi, the mind gets absorbed
in the Self and the Atman alone exists. It is not a
state of "knowledge" but one of pure existence.
Except this non-dual experience, every form of knowledge
from the feeling of emotions to the highest spiritual
vision is the result of vritti or thought-waves.
knowledge is called prama, wrong knowledge is
called bhrama. A thought-wave which produces
true knowledge is known as pramana and one which
produces wrong knowledge, viparyaya. According
to Patanjali, attachment, hatred, fear and other emotions
are all viparyaya-vrittis. There is also another
kind of knowledge, which is neither true nor false.
Abstract ideas like goodness, beauty, infinity, etc.,
do not have an objective content. Nevertheless, they
are not wrong but serve a practical purpose. A thought-wave
which produces this kind of knowledge is called vikalpa.5
you sit for meditation and try to visualize your Chosen
Ideal, your knowledge is not true because you do not
actually see him or her. At the same time, it is not
false either because your imagination is not about something
which does not exist. Strictly speaking, most of our
meditations should be classed under vikalpa, though
they depend on memory. When through prolonged meditation
you get a direct vision of the Deity, the vikalpa changes
into a pramana, true knowledge. This true knowledge
of supersensuous Reality is called saksatkara
or yogi-pratyaksa, and to attain it is the goal
mind has different levels or layers and each of these
has its own vrittis. The vrittis that occur in the outer
layers are gross and are concerned with external objects.
Poetic intuition and philosophic insight have their
origin in higher layers. In the deeper layers of the
mind exist subtle vrittis through which one knows supersensuous
truths of the spiritual world. Most people are aware
of only gross forms of thought. When, through purification
and meditation, the spiritual aspirant learns to go
deep into the mind, he or she becomes aware of subtle
have seen that what is called knowledge is the reflection
of the light of the Purusa or Atman on the vrittis.
Gross vrittis reflect very little light and there is
little self-awareness associated with them. Subtle vrittis
reflect more light. The images they produce are brighter
and there is greater self-awareness associated with
them. As the aspirant goes deeper into the mind, he
or she gets closer to the Atman and sees more and more
of its light.
Atman is the same in all people. The difference between
one person and another lies in the types of vritti that
dominate their minds. In the words of Swami Vivekananda,
each soul is potentially divine but the degree of manifestation
of this divinity varies from person to person. Those
who are pure and spiritual have pure vrittis in their
minds and reflect more of the inner light. The Sanskrit
word for "god" is deva which literally
means "the shining one." Gods are those beings
whose subtle bodies are so pure and transparent that
in them the light of the Atman shines in all its dazzling
brilliance. Through purification and meditation every
person can attain to that state.
should we know all these details about vrittis? The
fundamental problem in meditation is to produce and
maintain the right type of vritti. If you want to realize
or "see" your Chosen Ideal, you must produce
the pure vritti that will reveal his or her true nature.
The purpose of meditation is to produce that particular
vritti. Until you succeed in doing it your meditation
is only a form of imagination. As soon as you succeed
in producing the right vritti, meditation terminates
and direct experience begins.
a question naturally arises: Why is it so difficult
to produce the right type of supersensuous vritti? This
question leads us to two important concepts (which form
the third and fourth basic principles of yoga psychology
with which we are dealing here).
concept is that there is an invariable relationship
between word and knowledge. You cannot think without
words. Suppose you suddenly wake up from deep sleep:
you at first notice "somebody" standing
before you. Then you understand that it is your
mother. Your first experience is cognition; it
is just sense-perception. Your second experience is
recognition: it is the result of thinking. And
thinking needs the use of words: recognition of mother
comes from the word "mother." Similarly, when
you hear or utter within yourself the word "mother,"
the image of your mother rises in your mind. From childhood
we have learned to associate objects or forms (rupa)
with names (nama) so much so that we cannot think
exact relationship between names and forms is a matter
of controversy among Indian philosophers. According
to some, this relationship is artificial, being based
on convention. But according to ancient Sanskrit grammarians
(like Bhartrhari), Mimamsakas and Tantric philosophers,
the relationship between names and forms (nama-rupa)
is eternal. They believe that the basic structure of
the human mind is verbal. Knowledge is the result of
an inner formulation in words. When you look at (or
try to remember) an object, you know it by formulating
the words corresponding to that object.
meditation special words called mantras are usually
used. Mantras differ from ordinary words in an important
respect. If you hear the word "rhinoceros,"
but have never seen that animal (or at least its picture),
it makes very little sense to you. In that case, even
if you go on repeating that word all through your life,
you are not going to know that animal. When you sit
for meditation and repeat a divine name or mantra, it
brings to your mind only an image of the real Deity,
for that is all that you had experienced. But
and this is where the mantra differs from ordinary words
if the mantra is repeated with faith and purity,
it will gradually awaken the subtle, pure vritti which
will directly reveal the reality which it symbolizes.
it is enough to understand that our normal thinking
is impossible without both forms and names. What is
called vritti consists of two parts: the form of the
object and its name. Meditation is the maintenance of
a single vritti, which means the maintenance of a single
name and form and the exclusion of all other names and
now come to the fourth principle of yoga psychology:
every experience leaves behind an impression called
a samskara which has the power to produce that
vritti again. The unconscious cellars of the mind are
the storehouse of countless samskaras. These latent
impressions are continuously sprouting into desires,
emotions, memories and ideas which go on disturbing
the mind all the time. That is why it is difficult to
maintain the right type of single vritti during meditation.
Considering the important role that samskaras play in
the life of a spiritual aspirant, we shall discuss this
topic in greater detail later on.
we need to note at present is that vrittis produce samskaras,
and samskaras produce vrittis. This cycle can be broken
only by destroying samskaras. Samskaras can be destroyed
only by the light of higher spiritual illumination.
But their power can be reduced and kept under check
through purificatory disciplines. Without purification
of the mind true meditation is difficult.
fifth fundamental postulate of yoga psychology is that
the mind is continuously changing and can never be stopped
completely. According to all schools of Hindu thought,
everything in the universe except the self is always
in a state of flux. Vrittis are continuously appearing
and disappearing in the mind. When the mind is distracted
different vrittis appear and disappear, but when the
mind is concentrated, one and the same vritti appears
and disappears continuously. In deep meditation the
image of the Chosen Ideal appears to be stationary,
but this is because the same vritti is continuously
reappearing in the mind with uniform frequency. Meditation
is not the stopping of all the vrittis but the maintenance
of the steady rise and fall of the same vritti over
a long period of time.
is only in some of the highest forms of samadhi that
all vrittis are stopped. But even then the mind does
not stop. According to Patanjali, even when all the
vrittis are stopped, the samskaras go on changing in
the unconscious depths of the mind. If this change of
samskaras also is stopped, if the whole mind
is stopped, the mind will not last long as mind. It
will get resolved back into its cause, which is prakriti.
But this happens only at the time of final liberation.
proper understanding of the above mentioned five principles
of yoga psychology will enable spiritual aspirants to
understand the workings of their minds and make meditation
a fruitful spiritual practice.
flow of one and the same thought-wave there (i.e., at
a particular center of consciousness) is meditation."
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, 3.2.
Yoga Sutras, 1.20.
Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1977) I: 212.
Complete Works (1976), 2:17.
Cf. Yoga Sutras, 1.6-11.
1980 Swami Bhajanananda