By Alan C. Haras
“After mastering the art of concentration, one proceeds to meditate. The constant practice of meditation leads to realization of self.” Yogi Gupta
©Dharma Yoga Center
The Catholic theologian Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. referred to Meditation, or dhyana, as it is referred to in the Yoga Sutras, as the means through which we connect to the “portion of God dwelling in the center of our chest” – in the spiritual heart.
The various practices of yoga are designed to empower us with the ability to sit still long enough in order for the “mind to settle into silence”, revealing the changeless, eternal Self.
Let’s explore the various components of meditation, using the framework of Father Burghardt’s definition, and the substance of the yogic teachings as passed on by Sri Dharma Mittra.
According to SwamiSivananda, concentration, or dharana, is defined as twelve seconds of unbroken focus on one point. Meditation, or dhyana, is said to be about 2.5 minutes, while samadhi is about thirty minutes.
Sri Dharma Mittra emphasizes that the purpose of asana is intended to prepare one to sit in meditation long enough to perceive the Self. Traditionally, it is said that one should build up to being able to sit for three hours without distraction.
Of course, progress is made in stages. Patanjali Maharishi says that, “The practice of yoga will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time.” The Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi TeacherTraining Manual reminds us that, “the more one practices, the faster progress is made.”
In order to persevere in the practice of meditation, one must be motivated by a burning desire for liberation, or mumukshutva. Without a passion for God or the Self, progress is virtually impossible. One may be motivated to practice for a time out of fear, or a desire for some benefits, but it is really love which leads us onward, beyond ourselves.
Patanjali says that samadhi comes from complete surrender to the Almighty One. Surrender takes place when we love something more than we love our own illusions. Of the nine different forms of yoga, bhakti yoga is the path of union with the Self through love. Whether one is devoted to a particular form of God, one’s Guru or the Truth, the spiritual aspirant is spurred on by a love which consumes the small self and draws them into a transforming union with Ultimate Reality.
There is a beautiful word in Sanskrit – darshan– which refers both to how one sees things, as well as to actually “to have sight of” something or someone. When one goes to a temple or to see a Guru, one is going to have darshan. This kind of “look” is not a stare or a glare, but a gaze, by which one sees beyond the appearance of things into the things into their essence.
This kind of vision is depicted in yogic literature and art as the “third eye” – a vision that sees beyond the apparent duality to the unity we all share. The yogi is one who lives in two worlds at once – simultaneously aware of multiplicity, while remaining absorbed in the Supreme Self beyond names and forms. One “sees”, not merely with physical eyes, but with the divine eye, or divya chakshu.
When asked what is really Real, the great sage Sri Ramana Maharshi answered, “That which does not change.” The question we must then ask is, “What does not change?” We live in a world of constant change. Change appears to be the only thing we can count on. However, the yogis assure us that there is a changeless reality, but it is to be found only within. It is known as the atman – the portion of God residing within our own heart. This atman, the changeless reality within us, is said to be identical with Brahman– the changeless reality that pervades the entire cosmos. This Supreme Self is like the movie screen upon which the play of names and forms unfolds, while remaining unstained by any of the moving pictures.
The practice of meditation establishes us in the role of the eternal witness, observing the movements of the body, mind and emotions, without getting caught in them. One is able to “do what needs to be done” without being identified with the “doer”, thus allowing the mind to remain absorbed in the Infinite.
1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alistair Shearer2. Fourteen Lessons in Raja Yoga by Swami Sivananda3. Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training Manual4. Bhagavad Gita by Swami Nikhilananda.
Alan Haras (Bhaktadas Om) is the owner of Hamsa Yoga in Lake Orion, Michigan. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Michigan State University, is finishing up a two-year training in Spiritual Direction from the Manresa Jesuit Retreat House, and is pursuing his Masters in Religious Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. He has been blessed to spend three years studying Advaita Vedanta with Dr. John Grimes, ten years studying the Jivamukti Yoga method, as well as having spent time in India with the late kirtan-wala and bhakti yogi Shyamdas. In 2012-13, Alan completed the 200, 500 and 800-hour Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Trainings with Sri Dharma Mittra, made a 12-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and completed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. As a teacher, he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to offer “the greatest charity of all” – sharing and promoting spiritual knowledge.