The yoga sutra and deep meditation

by Thomas Egenes Ph.D. on August 29, 2010

While yoga is generally understood in America to be a diverse array of bending and stretching exercises that originated in India, the word yoga has a much wider connotation, and includes sitting with the eyes closed in silent, deep meditation. In India, yoga is a state of mind, not just an exercise for the body.

The primary text on yoga is called the Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali. This text includes 195 short aphorisms, called sutras.

Maharishi-Patanjali-Yoga-Sutras

The second sutra of the Yoga Sutras 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 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.

Lady-meditating

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.”

For the past twenty-five years I have been teaching at Maharishi University of Management, an institution of higher education where all students, faculty and staff practice yoga and Transcendental Meditation as part of a traditional university curriculum. It’s been incredibly fulfilling to see my students begin their study of yoga and meditation with the effortless, natural achievement of the state of Samadhi. It provides an ideal foundation for the study of yoga in all its facets.

Of course, all aspects of the limbs of yoga are fascinating—the five yamas, the five niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. None are difficult to understand and practice, and the rewards are significant. Pretty much everything a person can think of can be achieved by the practice of yoga. Settling the mind, establishing peace, and then desiring and acting from that deepest level of intelligence and the experience of vibrant, holistic health and happiness are all the natural result of successful practice of this ancient science of life. I look forward to writing more about the different dimensions of yoga in the weeks ahead. More coming!

_________________________________________

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.

Dr. Egenes is the author of Introduction to Sanskrit, Part One and Part Two, and a newly released translation of the Yoga Sutras, called Maharishi Patanjali Yoga Sutra.

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  • http://another-albatross.spaces.live.com/ Juri Aidas / Albatross

    The process of transcendence utilizes all the eight aspects of yoga simultaneously. Looking at the four inner limbs of yoga one finds them intertwined. Withdrawal (pratyāhāra) for example is the first drawing of our attention inwards to the natural state of the deep (samādhi) which suffuses all sentience, a slight focusing (dhāraṇā) then allows for the effortless effort (as in the releasing of, say, a feather from ones grip rather than the picking up of it) of starting up the process of getting into the dive of meditation (dhyāna) via the use of a mantra, in a wakeful manner, the result being the settling of the mind into silence.

    The four outer limbs of yoga prepare the set of the setting, so to say, by establishing attitude (yama) and behaviour (niyama) (the ethics and morals of the yogic process as they relate to the process as such, not being ideological determinates), and posture (āsana) and regulated breathing (prāṇāyāma) make the body supple and responsive and thus allow for a prolonged repose in the deep.

    All the eight aspects of yoga are, in a sense, involved in the process of transcending. Yoga is a philosophy of the wholity of experience and establishes the means for the full range of consciousness to come to fruition. Continuity in the application of yogic method to ones life consists in the alteration of deep rest and ensuing activity (algorhythmy). It’s paradigmatic. The paradigm of yoga: rest & activity.

  • http://www.a2zyoga.com/blog Katherine Roberts

    Yes in India yoga is not alone for the fitness of body but more for the fitness of mind. Yoga treats the soul and the mind besides curing bodily illnesses.

  • Jose eduardo velazquez e.

    Please traslate de english to spanish
    everbody don t understand the english

    thank you

    • http://another-albatross.spaces.live.com/ Juri Aidas / Albatross

      Why not just run the text through the Google translation engine, that gives a somewhat rough but, in a way, graspable rendering. Good luck. I haven’t read Thomas Egenes Yoga-Sutra take yet but as soon as I get my moola, in a few days, I shall order it.

  • http://meditationsydney.org.au/ Joshua Paling

    Like everything Tom Egenes says, this is pure wisdom! Thanks for sharing, Tom.

  • Terry Bauer

    Dear Tom,

    This is great! As always, you are clear, simple, and easy to understand. I learn a lot from you, and look forward to your future posts.

    Terry

  • Geke

    I’m not a scholar, so let’s say this is just to give you something to think about :-)
    I think I can discern both TM and the TM-Sidhi technique in Matthew 6:6-8. Here’s the King James translation: 6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. 7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen [do]: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. 8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

    The meaning regarding TM can be seen on three levels, from gross to transcendental, in the first part of verse 6:
    “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door”.
    1. To meditate, go into a known room which is quiet and secluded.
    2. During meditation, turn the attention inward, by and by closing the eyes and all the senses.
    3. Transcending means being completely by oneself, with all the senses closed completely.

    The following says that (only) on that level, one should talk to one’s Father. I take “the Father” to be “Being”, God, or maybe an “ishta devata”, which are all in the transcendent. The Father, being omniscient (“which seeth in secret”) will gratify one’s wish on the relative level (“shall reward thee openly”). The word “reward” indicates that this prayer is also an offering, i.e. an action that pleases the Father–a better word would be the Sanskrit “yagya”.

    There’s a “trick” in verse 8: the Father doesn’t give what one asks, but what one needs–because the thought used in the sanyama is purified in the process of transcending. This clarifies a possible doubt as to whether God would grant unwholesome wishes.

    Looking more in detail, one can see the three parts of sanyama in the phrase “pray to thy Father which is in secret”:
    “pray” – dharana
    “to thy Father” – dhyana
    “in secret” – samadhi
    I think in the original text, “in secret” can be qualifying both “thy Father” and “pray”.

    Why did Jesus speak in such condensed form? My guess is that he was speaking to thousands, but only a hundred or so were initates. Or it’s like the way Maharishi spoke about–or rather: hinting at–the sidhis before he started giving them out, sensing from the audience’s reactions how best to proceed.

  • fw

    Tom,

    Just wondering if you have recently watched the lecture MMY gave on the Yoga Sutras. I have watched it in the last month, and I believe you would enjoy it and learn a great deal as well.

    Jai Guru Dev,

    FW

  • http://www.meditativelearning.com/ Rune

    Do meditation as simple as possible and as accessible as possible for all people.. Many are under the perception that meditation is unattainable, when in reality it is an innate and underlying condition that even a baby can experience. People who live in their mind / thoughts, are the experts in believing that things are more complicated than they really are.

    Love&Light

  • BillyG

    To suggest that average TM’ers can experience Samadhi after a few sessions (or years) of meditation is silly to say the least. One MAY experience the beginnings of Savikalpa Samadhi , and occasionally glimpses of Savikalpa itself, (tip toeing through the sleeping elephants) but that is not a common experience. Patanjali enunciated the different states leading to Savikalpa Samadhi, perhaps that is what the writer is suggesting. However, the impression he leaves (and is the TMorg’s position) is that one actually transcends to Pure Consciousness, without even really defining the various distinctions of Pure Consciousness whether they be on the level of the individual (CC) OR the Universal (GC), or even Brahman; sounds good though, and should sell well.

    • Thomas Egenes

      Patanjali didn’t use the word ‘savikalpa,’ so I’ll keep to the English. According to published EEG research by Dr. Fred Travis, beginning practitioners of Transcendental Meditation show widespread Alpha waves, suggesting that the practitioner is experiencing pure consciousness right from the beginning. With years of regular practice, people practicing TM show alpha waves while in activity, suggesting that they are experiencing pure consciousness all the time.

      • gnulnx

        Alpha waves do not suggest their are in a state of pure awareness. It suggests that they are in a relaxed state. Anyone that sits with eye’s closed will start producing alpha waves.

        I agree with other up above. I doubt seriously that anyone usign TM is experiencing Samdhi on the first attempt. Perhpas that instructors don’t know what real Samadhi is?

        • Dr. Fred Travis, Ph. D.

          “EEG in the alpha frequency is being re-examined. Originally it was considered to represent cortical idling–lower brain metabolic rate is associated with higher alpha amplitude. This is definitely true of alpha EEG in the back of the brain –the visual center–when people close their eyes, are alpha activity in the center of the brain (motor center) when people stop moving around. Frontal alpha EEG has been called “paradoxical alpha” since it is often seen when there is increased cerebral metabolic rate. Paradoxical alpha is associated with inner attention.

          There is another point here. While the alpha band includes four cycles/sec (8-12 Hz), it is divided into two sub-components–alpha1that includes 8-10 Hz, and alpha2 that includes 10-12 Hz. Alpha 2 is usually seen during cortical idling and is the frequency most reported during eyes-closed rest. Alpha 1 is seen during paradoxical alpha and is most often seen during TM.

          A third important point, is that samadhi–unbounded self-awareness without the sense of time, space or body sense–is associated with other markers besides alpha EEG. Specifically suspension of respiration is also seen during this state, along with alpha coherence in frontal areas. You may be interested is some discussion of this point: Travis and Wallace, Psychphysiology, 1997; Travis and Pearson, International Journal of Neuroscience, 2000.

          The point about experiencing samadhi in the first sitting is an important discussion. With other meditations there is a novice/expert effect in the practice. Expert meditators will have “deeper” or more successful meditations. The data suggests that there is not a novice/expert effect during TM. Subjective experience and brain research reports that people quickly master transcending during TM; and that effects of regular practice of time are seen in activity. (See Travis, Tecce, Arenander, and Wallace, Biological Psychology, 2002)

          Frederick Travis, PhD
          Dean, Graduate School
          Chair, Maharishi Vedic Science

  • V.Ananthakrishnan

    Hello Dr.Thomas Egenes. Great posting. I like it very much. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks.

  • DEBAPRIYA PADHI

    Everybody must meditate for sometime

  • http://www.miamibikrambrickell.com miami bikram

    deep meditation is the key to inner peace and the best way to relax your mind. Do this on a daily basis and you’ll be stress free.

  • http://www.nsrusa.org David Spector

    “To suggest that average TM’ers can experience Samadhi after a few sessions (or years) of meditation is silly to say the least.”

    But this is the most remarkable feature of transcending. In the first session, after years of living with only waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, the mind finally gets the chance it has been waiting for: to dive within, experiencing finer states of thinking, until the source of thinking (pure awareness) is directly experienced, sometimes for the first time. It’s not a silly conjecture, but a reality. It is a thrilling and wonderful experience, one I have seen happen in the first meditation of almost all of my 100 or so TM students.

    It is natural, in this suffering world, to be skeptical, and doubting. But the work of Dr. Travis and other researchers establishes reliable physiological markers for transcending and for samadhi. Concerning the different types of samadhi: when the clear experience comes, it’s really simple: there is only one state of restful alertness, in which pure awareness is present but thoughts are not. Anyone can experience it at random (because it is natural), but only through transcending can one experience it twice a day, like clockwork.

    The clarity of the experience deepens with time, and the peace and intelligence of samadhi does “leak” into daily life more and more over the months and years (which are the two basic reasons for the various “types” of samadhi reported in spiritual literature) but that first experience of pure awareness is samadhi, without the slightest doubt.

  • John Pattrick

    Its one of best relaxation technique which give us the refreshing ours-elf. Superb informative blog post about the yoga and mediation. http://www.meditationtoday.com.au/meditation-courses/

  • Cameron

    phenomenal – thanks

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