What is Meditation According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?

Patanjali's Ashtanga yoga path integrates meditation into its transformative journey. In the final stages – Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (enlightenment) – we explore meditation's essence.

Dharana is unwavering concentration on a chosen focal point, like a steady drop of water. Interruptions may occur.

Transitioning to Dhyana, we achieve ceaseless focus on the chosen object. Interruptions dissolve, resembling a continuous stream of honey – profound concentration.

At the summit, Samadhi or enlightenment transcends self-awareness. Meditating on the divine, we become one with it. Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi make 'samyama,' the core of meditation. Patanjali explores objects of meditation and supernatural abilities, cautioning against their allure on the path to Samadhi.

In essence, samyama guides us through the sutras, forming the practice of 'meditation' as we journey toward Samadhi.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a foundational text in classical yoga philosophy, provide insights into the practice of meditation. Patanjali's approach to meditation is outlined in the second book of the sutras, known as the "Sadhanapada" or the Book of Practice. Here are key concepts related to meditation according to the Yoga Sutras:

  1. Definition of Yoga:

    • Patanjali defines yoga as "Yogas citta vritti nirodha," which can be translated as "Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind." This succinctly captures the essence of meditation in the context of Patanjali's teachings.
  2. Purpose of Meditation:

    • The primary goal of meditation, according to the Yoga Sutras, is to quiet the mind and achieve a state of inner stillness. By doing so, one can transcend the distractions and fluctuations of the mind and experience a deeper sense of self-awareness and connection.
  3. Types of Yoga and Meditation:

    • Patanjali outlines different paths (or limbs) of yoga, and meditation is an integral part of several of these paths. The path of Raja Yoga, often referred to as the path of meditation, includes practices such as concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana) as essential components.
  4. Dharana (Concentration):

    • Before meditation, Patanjali emphasizes the importance of Dharana, which is the practice of concentration. This involves focusing the mind on a single point, object, or thought. The ability to concentrate is seen as a precursor to deeper meditative states.
  5. Dhyana (Meditation):

    • Dhyana, or meditation proper, is the state of sustained concentration where the mind is absorbed in the chosen point of focus. It is the uninterrupted flow of awareness toward the object of meditation. Through Dhyana, one moves beyond the fluctuations of the mind towards a more profound state of inner stillness.
  6. Samadhi (Union):

    • The ultimate goal of meditation, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras, is Samadhi, a state of profound absorption and union. Samadhi is described as a state where the meditator and the object of meditation merge, leading to a transcendent experience of oneness.
  7. Obstacles and Solutions:

    • Patanjali acknowledges that there are obstacles (antarakṣaya) on the path of meditation. These obstacles include distractions, doubt, and restlessness. The practitioner is advised to cultivate qualities like patience, perseverance, and faith to overcome these obstacles.
  8. Mind Management:

    • The Yoga Sutras provide a comprehensive framework for managing the mind. Through meditation, practitioners learn to observe and understand the nature of the mind, creating a foundation for cultivating a more balanced and harmonious mental state.
  9. Non-Attachment (Vairagya):

    • Meditation in the context of the Yoga Sutras is also linked to the concept of Vairagya, or non-attachment. Practitioners are encouraged to develop a sense of detachment from the fluctuations of the mind and external influences.
  10. Ethical Foundation:

    • The Yoga Sutras emphasize the importance of ethical conduct (Yamas and Niyamas) as a foundation for successful meditation. Cultivating virtues such as compassion, truthfulness, and self-discipline creates a conducive environment for meditation.

In summary, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, meditation is a systematic practice that involves concentration, sustained meditation, and ultimately leads to a state of profound union and transcendence. It is a path toward understanding the nature of the mind, achieving self-realization, and experiencing a state of inner peace and harmony.