"Meditation applies the brakes to the mind." – Ramana Maharshi
Meditation is a part of yoga. According to sage Patanjali, the father of modern yoga, complete stillness of mental tendencies is yoga.
Meditation (dhyana in Sanskrit) denotes the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs of yoga are yama, niyama, aasana, pranayama, pratyahar, dharana, dhyana (meditation), and samadhi. Although the Sanskrit word "dhyana" is commonly translated as meditation, it really has no English equivalent. The English word "meditation" is derived from the Latin verb meditari, which means "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder, to exercise the mind." But the word, "dhyana" actually doesn't mean contemplation at all. This is because anything within the realm of the mind is not dhyana.
Meditation is a state beyond the concept of mind. It is a state of no mind -- an actual inner experience (not an intellectual hypothesis) of absolute silence. "Dhyana means becoming aware of all workings of your mind, all the layers of your mind – your memories, your desires, your thoughts, dreams – becoming aware of all that goes on inside you," said Osho (formerly Rajneesh), a world-renowned Indian mystic of the new age, in his book, I Am That. "You simply drop all chattering of the mind, you slip out of the mind like a snake slipping out of the old skin. You become profoundly silent."
Meditation is very easy if you turn to it with a genuine interest. Just like falling asleep, meditation happens naturally.
First, it's important to understand what meditation really is. Reflect for a moment upon what you are. And remember: what you are depends on what state you are in. The three states of waking, dream and sleep are the states of your mind. They come and go. But the "I" awareness/existence persists in all the three states of your mind; it never comes and goes. It exists all the time 24/7, no matter what your state is.
What is this "I" existence? The "I" existence is the true and natural state of the Spirit within (called turiya state in Sanskrit). You might call it Self, Spirit, Being, Consciousness, Awareness, Guru, God, or Aatma (in Sanskrit). But when you get down to it, they're all just different words for the one and the same reality.
This inner Spirit watches the mind. Watching is the key to diving into real meditation – and the watcher is not the mind.
Remember, when you're watching something, you're not that object. For example, if you're watching a rose, you are not the rose. If you're watching your hand, you are not your hand. If you're watching your mind's activities, you are not the part of the mind. The real You is the watcher/observer/knower/Seer. Watching isn't doing. It's a calm state of just being – not actually doing anything at all.
The ultimate goal of meditation is to realize your own Spirit/Self. Once you realize your true Self, you'll identify yourself with that Self – and not with your physical body and mind. Speaking about transcending body and mind, Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), a great spiritual master of India, said, “The Yogis say that man can go beyond his direct sense-perception and beyond his reason also. Man has in him the faculty, the power, of transcending his intellect even, a power which is in every being, every creature. By the practice of Yoga that power is aroused, and then man transcends the ordinary limits of reason, and directly perceives things which are beyond all reason.”
One of the most common questions when you're just beginning to meditate is: “My thoughts keep racing during meditation. What should I do?” Remember, it's the nature/duty (called dharma in Sanskrit) of your mind to think. Just as dharma of your eyes is to see, nose to smell or ears to hear, the dharma of your mind is to think. Actually, it's called swa-dharma, which means one's own natural duty. So don't worry about what your mind is doing – it's just doing its job. Instead, focus on being the watcher of your mind. The goal of meditation is to be the watcher of thoughts, not to go after the thoughts themselves. All your thoughts are like white and dark clouds, whereas your inner Spirit is like the clear blue sky above those clouds, completely detached from them. The sky (Spirit) is always there - only covered with clouds (thoughts).
When thoughts come, desires arise or memories surface during your meditation, all you need to do is to simply observe your mind's activities. Do this just the same way you'd observe traffic passing in the street when you're standing on a balcony of a building. Once you start observing your thoughts, they'll gradually subside on their own. This is the simple secret behind getting rid of your thoughts.
Here's another method to stop those racing thoughts – and it's surprisingly easy. First, understand that every thought, whether negative or positive, arises from Consciousness/Spirit within. When you're having those worldly thoughts, you can also have the spiritual thought (mantra), “I am Consciousness.” Yes, the repetition of a mantra is actually a thought that can be used to destroy all other thoughts. That mantra stops by itself when all other thoughts are destroyed. You can easily grasp this process through an analogy. You can use a thorn to remove a thorn from your finger. Once the thorn (mantra) has been used to remove the thorn in your finger (thought/obstacle), you can just throw both thorns away. It really is that simple!
You can now glide into meditation naturally and spontaneously. During meditation, you don't fall asleep; you become more alert; you go beyond your mind. When you experience that naturally calm state of "no-mind," you're experiencing true meditation.
Remember, it's the organic realm of meditation that's intrinsically peaceful, blissful, calm and serene – not the realm of your mind. Since it's the nature of the working mind to always be thinking and doing and achieving, how can it be peaceful amidst all these thoughts?
Through meditation on your innermost Spirit, you can consciously experience true bliss within. As you observe your thoughts, you'll naturally stop them. And then you can effortlessly glide into authentic meditation, where you'll consciously experience a blissful meditation state beyond your mind.
Meditation gives you the power to be happy even when you are unhappy. "Meditation can transform a person's character, conduct, and behavior. Through the practice of meditation, lost energy is replenished, memory is improved, intellect is sharpened, and intuition is developed. Meditation removes all worries and tensions of the mind." (from the author's book, Building a Noble World)
Remember, the meditation state is neither the waking state, nor the dream state, nor the deep sleep state. In other words, in the meditation state, you're neither awake, dreaming nor fast asleep. So where are you? You're inside an extraordinary fourth state of meditation. Meditation is a state where you're fully aware, fully conscious, fully alert – yet wholly quiet and fully blissful. Think of it this way: if you were to lose awareness, who would experience the meditation state? The meditation state can't be understood intellectually, but you'll definitely experience it.
When you're in the meditation state, you experience your innermost divinity – your own intrinsic true nature. Once you've experienced this, you'll start seeing yourself as a pure Spirit that's ever blissful and divine.
People who meditate by focusing their attention between the eyebrows often see inner lights. Yogananda Paramahamsa (1893–1952), a renowned yoga guru, describes the blue light in his famous book, Autobiography of a Yogi. Commenting on the blue light in his book, I Am That, Swami Muktananda revealed, "In the center of that divine effulgence in the sahasrara there is a tiny subtle blue light, which yogins call the nilabindu, the Blue Pearl. Watching this tender, inﬁnitely fascinating light, you become aware of your true glory. Though smaller than a sesame seed, the Blue Pearl contains the entire universe. It is the light of God, the form of God within you." For a systematic account of various spiritual experiences, refer to Swami Muktananda’s book, Play of Consciousness.
The best technique of meditation is natural, effortless, and automatic. Here is the Hamsa technique of meditation described in verse 24 of Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, an ancient treatise considered the supreme authority on meditation techniques.
"The exhaling breath (prana) should ascend and the inhaling breath (jiva) should descend, (both) forming a visarga (consisting of two points). By fixing the mind on either of the two spaces between the breaths, one can experience the state of fullness of Bhairava [meditation state]."
Your breath is a simple, natural technique that you can always use to easily reach the meditation state. The gap between your in-breath and your out-breath is your inner space, whereas the gap between your out-breath and your in-breath is your outer space. Under the Hamsa technique, the deepest meditation can be experienced by focusing on either of these two tranquil, empty spaces (called sandhi in Sanskrit), during which breathing ceases. In this gap between two breaths, you are a pure being. If you can settle with full awareness inside this gap, you're in meditation on your true Self – the state of perfect stillness of the mind. For more details on the Hamsa technique of meditation, read the author's book, Building a Noble World, Chapter 3.
Meditation happens easily when you're in the company of a good meditator. When you're meditating with someone who easily plunges into a genuine meditation, that person is constantly emitting divine rays and vibrations that can make it a lot easier for you to experience that same authentic meditation.
To experience your own innermost Self is the goal of meditation. To meditate on the innermost Self is to pray to God. You may be wondering: well, what exactly is the Self? Swami Muktananda (1908–1982), regarded as the Guru’s Guru (param siddha), said: “Through meditation, you can know your own inner Self. That one who understands the most secret things inside you is the Self. For example, when you are in sleep there is someone who watches everything, who witnesses everything, who understands everything even though you are asleep. And then when you wake up, that being tells you what you have seen in your dream. That being is the Self, so meditate on the Self.”
It sounds simple – and really, it is. If you want to discover, explore, and experience your true Self, meditate. Congratulate yourself first because you've already attained that Self! However, you are unaware of it. The dirt of your mind -- such as anger, lust, greed, attachment, hatred, jealousy, and pride -- keeps you away from truly experiencing the divine energy of the Self. In his book, Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda illustrated this clearly: “The bottom of a lake we cannot see, because its surface is covered with ripples. It is only possible for us to catch a glimpse of the bottom when the ripples have subsided, and the water is calm. If the water is muddy, or is agitated all the time, the bottom will not be seen. If it is clear, and there are no waves, we shall see the bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self; the lake is the chitta [mind], the waves are the vrittis [tendencies].”
So what's the secret to meditation? Just remember this: to become aware of your eternal Self, simply let go, be aware of your breath, and watch what your mind does. Only when the mind becomes free of all its tendencies is the state of meditation reached.