The primary text on yoga is called the Yoga Sutra of Maharishi Patanjali. This text includes 195 short aphorisms, called sutras.
The second sutra of the Yoga Sutra defines yoga. In Sanskrit, it reads like this: yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah. In English, “Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind.” (Yoga is the complete settling (nirodha) of the activity (vritti) of the mind (chitta).) This is considered to be the classical definition of yoga.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra defines the depth of this experience as samadhi. Samadhi is a state of mind where there are no thoughts and there is no object of meditation, where the mind is fully expanded and in a state of “pure unbounded awareness.” Although for centuries scholars in the East and West had thought of this experience as extremely difficult to achieve, our generation has witnessed a remarkable new appreciation for the naturalness of deep meditation as a result of the teachings of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Vedic scholar and sage who brought to light the technique of Transcendental Meditation.
I think of attempting to meditate as something like learning how to swim. A beginner might be inclined to use too much effort, and thrash around in the water. But with proper instruction, you learn to relax in the water, take smooth strokes, and glide without effort. With proper instruction meditation is just as effortless.
Those familiar with the Yoga Sutra know that samadhi is something that is not achieved in isolation. It is the last of the eight limbs of yoga, called ashtanga yoga (ashta means ‘eight’ and anga means ‘limb’). The last three limbs (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) have to do with meditation. I believe that most systems of meditation are good at dharana, but very few understand dhyana.
Let’s go into this a bit. Dharana is usually translated as concentration or steadiness. It is taking an object of meditation, such as a mantra, and focusing on it, usually by mentally repeating it over and over. It’s like focusing on individual drops of water, because the object of meditation is discrete. Dharana is a surface state of mind, and it is unlikely that a person could slip into samadhi from the state of dharana.
Dhyana is much different. It involves a lack of focus, a lack of effort, a lack of concentration. In dhyana the object of meditation is non-discrete. While dharana is like individual drops of water, dhyana is a continuous flow, like oil on glass. This is where Transcendental Meditation comes in as a method of proper understanding and practice of meditation. TM allows a student, right from the beginning, to achieve dhyana and then experience samadhi on a regular basis. Sometimes even on the first day of TM practice a person will say, “It was so easy and silent and simple — my mind was in a perfect state of peace without any effort on my part.”
Thomas Egenes received his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is Associate Professor of Sanskrit at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A.
Not only did Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduce the Transcendental Meditation technique to establish that state of Yoga of mind, that supreme state of settled mind (Samadhi), he also developed Maharishi Yoga Asanas to promote mind-body integration and support balanced good health.
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