This post is again broadly based on notes from a discourse by Swami Paramarthananda.

What is meditation?

Meditation (dhyana) is a practice (sadhana) of conditioning the mind. Many of us are conscious of our physical health. We try to imbibe

  • exercise,
  • physical sports,
  • workouts at the gym,
  • (pathanjali) yoga asanas (postures)
    into our daily routine – to keep ourselves physically fit.

Meditation likewise is one of the key practices to keep our mental faculty (mind) fit. Even though meditation is related to the mind, it also has some physical health benefits as well.

The Goal of meditation

Meditation is a means for different things to different people. We can use meditation to help us with

  • either worldly / material goals such as physical and mental health, personality development and better performance etc. (upasanam)
  • or spiritual advancement (upasana yoga)

Meditation as a spiritual practice

When meditation is used as a practice for spiritual advancement it can be

  • either preparatory (dhyanam)
  • or assimilatory (contemplation as per Swami Dayananda Saraswathi) (nidhidhyasanam)

    Types of meditation

    A spiritual seeker (sadhaka) can use Preparatory Meditation to condition his mind before studying Vedanta. Depending on what aspect of the mind

  • Tranquillity / Peace (Shama)
  • Focus / Sharpness
  • Open-minded-ness
  • Value system

is being developed the meditation can be classified into

  • Relaxation meditation
  • Concentration meditation
  • Expansion meditation
  • Value meditation

Relaxation meditation

In relaxation meditation you try to ‘relax’ your mind using a technique that works for you. It can be very simple mental self talk / imagination like

  • while breathing out imagine breathing out all negative emotions, stress, tension etc.
  • while breathing in imagine breathing in good health, wellness, peace etc.  

Concentration meditation

You can choose any task that requires you to focus. Swamiji used the example – a typist can use typing. But since we all do this, all of the time, It is better to use a practice that is spiritual.

You can choose from a spectrum of mental worship practices (manasa upasana) such as

  • Mental worship (manasa pooja – scope is large) – You can imagine yourself or a priest performing an elaborate spiritual ceremony (pooja). For example you can choose Mantra Matruka Pushpa Mala Stava or Shiva Manasa Pooja Stotram by Adi Shankara Bhagavad Pada and visualize your self doing an elaborate pooja. If you are not used doing a pooja, next time you visit a temple, observe how it is done. You can use the same visualization.
  • Mental chanting of spiritual verses (manasa stotra parayana – scope is as smaller than mental worship as there are only words now) – You can mentally chant verses from the scriptures / prayer songs etc.
  • Mental chanting of lord’s name (manasa japa – scope is smaller than mental chanting of verses as there is only one name that you are chanting) – You can mentally chant the name of the lord repeatedly. Ex. chanting
    • Om Nama Shivaya, or
    • Om Namo Narayanaya, or
    • Om Maha Devyai Nama:, or
    • Shree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama or
    • Hare Rama Rama Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare or
    • What ever be the name of your lord (ishta devata).

    The smaller the scope is the harder it is for the mind to keep the focus. Thus one can start with larger scoped practice and move towards the smaller scoped practices.

Expansion meditation

This is done to identify ourselves with the bigger universe. You can slowly start identifying yourselves with a bigger entity. Self –> Family –> Neighbourhood –> Street –> Locality –> City / Town / Village –> State –> Country –> Humanity –> World –> Universe –> Creator of the Universe. As the salinity of a water reduces with dilution (by adding more and more water) the selfishness / narrow minded-ness reduces as one starts identifying himself with bigger entities. This can almost eliminate our narrow notion of self.

Value meditation

The first step here is intellectually convincing ourselves that values are required and they should not be compromised even if the situation is adverse. Example

  • Rama agreed to sacrifice the throne and to live in forest to honour his father’s word.
  • Nachiketus agreed to goto to Yama to keep his father’s word.
  • Raja Harishchandra was ready to die for truth.

Here we can imagine our self in adverse situations and imagine our response to them in accordance to desired values. Example we can imagine our self in a situation that makes us angry and imagine that our response to be patience instead of anger. Or we can imagine our self in a situation that can make us jealous of someone and instead of feeling jealous we can imagine our self congratulating the person with our whole heart.

Once we practice this enough, this becomes a habit in our real life as well.

Which one to practice

Just like we use different kinds of exercise to strengthen different parts of the physical body, different kinds of meditation, condition different aspects of the brain. So we need all of them.

An un relaxed mind, however sharp it can be, cannot study Vedic philosophy (Vedanta).

A relaxed mind, if lacks focus cannot do Shravana (listening) or Manana (memorizing, analyzing)

So every type of meditation is required.


Obstacles & tips to overcome  them


What if, I am unable to start?

  • Start small and slowly increase the time (start with 2-3 minutes & slowly increase the time)

What do do with other thoughts during meditation?

  • Just do not try to control the thoughts, in which case the thought might become more powerful. Everyone knows the story where a king is asked by the doctor to not to think of the monkey when taking the medicine and the king ends up thinking about the monkey every time he tries to take the medicine.
  • At the same time try not to entertain it further and get back to your meditation / relaxation / concentration technique at hand (ex. breathing or relaxing or manasa pooja or manasa stotra parayana)
  • Follow some sort of non co-operation movement with the thoughts, so that the thoughts do not overpower / control you.
  • Generally it does not matter if the mind wanders from one thought to another, because such is the real nature of mind. But it might be a problem if a single thought pattern repeats. It might mean that you may need to fix something in your lifestyle as a whole.

I tried to get back to the meditation technique when I realized that my mind had wandered off, but it still keeps happening often, what can I do? Well if your mind is completely racing and you are not at all able to continue –

  • Try guided meditation.
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