Portrayal of meditation in ancient Hindu scriptures - the Upanishads & Bhagavad-Gita

Portrayal of meditation in ancient Hindu scriptures - the Upanishads & Bhagavad-Gita

VedantaSpiritualityWisdom Literature

In the Upanishads words such as dhaya, dhvai, manta, drsti, mati are used to denote meditation.

Tapas was a more popular practice in which meditation formed part of a set of austerities and penances that were aimed to generate bodily heat or inner fire to burn away the impurities of the mind and body.

According to Rigveda, the word emanated from the primordial Being by the great heat of austerity (tapas). Another word that is used in the Upanishad frequently to denote meditation is “Upasana”, a meditative practice that seems to have evolved into dhyana.

The Chandogya Upanishad reflects this progressive development in the Vedic thought. The Upanishad view meditation or contemplation (dhyana) as a journey into oneself till one reaches the reality that is permanent, reliable and beyond which there is nothing to be realized.

The following verse from the Upanishad envisions the whole universe and its constituent parts being in a state of deep meditation.

Dhyayativaparvatha, - “the mountains are in meditation as though”; “dhyayativesaudrah – “the sea is in meditation though”; the stars, the planets are in meditation; the trees are in meditation. Every object in this universe is in meditation because there is absolutely no conflict whatsoever except in the human cites Swami Shudhananda, (2008: 8). In this whole marvelous creation when everything is enjoying the deep meditation, should only the human beings be condemned to restlessness? That possibility of being in meditation continuously is there in each one of us. If we know how to look at ourselves, understand our perceptions, we shall also be in meditation every moment of our life, states the author (ibid).

The Katha Upanishad also suggests a similar approach by emphasizing the need to stabilize the mind through the practice of self-contemplation (adhyatma yoga) to overcome joy and sorrow and realize Brahman.

The Maitri Upanishad prescribes six fold yoga (sadhana yoga) for the liberation of the elemental soul from both good and evil. It consists of control of breath (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahra), meditation (dhyanam), dharna (concentration), logical enquiry (tarak) and self-absorption (Samadhi).

The Paingala Upanishad distinguishes four kinds of spiritual practice to attain Brahman and explains the purport of each. They are hearing (sravanam), reflection (mananam), meditation (nidhidhyasnam) and self-realization (atma darsana).

The Kaivalya Upanishad emphasizes the importance of devotion in the practice of yoga and meditation. It identifies faith (shradha), devotion (bhakti), meditation (dhyana) and concentration as the means to know Brahman who is equated to Shiva. One should meditate upon the lotus of the heart, which is pure, without passion, wherein lies the source of Brahma who is eternal, blue throated and companion of Uma.

In Bhagvad-Gita, Lord Krishna touches upon the subject of dhyana on many occasions during his long conversation with Arjuna. Verse 10 to 16 in the 6th chapter, Dhyana Yoga, explains how and in what conditions a yogi should subdue his mind through concentration.

In the Bhagvad-Gita, Sri Krishna gives a wonderful picture of the concentrated mind: “As a lamp placed in a windless spot does not flicker, the same simile is used to define a Yogi of subdued mind practicing union with the Self”. Again, Sri Krishna tells us: “When the mind is absolutely subdued by the practice of Yoga, and has attained serenity, in that state, seeing Self by the self, he is satisfied in the Self alone (Paramananda, 2012:26).

Yada viniytam cittam
Atmany evavtisthate
Nisprhah sarva-kamebhya
Yukta ity ucyate tada

When the perfectly controlled mind, free from longings for the objects of world, is turned towards the Self, it abides in the Self.” (Bhagvad-Gita – 6:18) This is meditation – to be aware of the Self, in the Self by the Self and to get established in that Awareness.

(The above short extract is from an unpublished work titled, ‘Evaluating the impact of meditation and silence’ by Swati).


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