dhyAna and samAdhi are quite fascinating, pretty alluring and romantically inspiring terms for an aspirant on the spiritual path. They are almost always spoken in a tone that creates an awe. They sound mysterious, other worldly and ethereal. Many stories are told in the Purana-s about highly revered Sages lost in deep meditation or samAdhi to the extent that they were unaware of their own body being buried in heaps of sand or eaten away by critters and crawlers. Hair-rising narratives too are often reeled out about the powers that dhyAna and samAdhi lead one to – clairvoyance, multiple accomplishments (aNimAdi siddhi-s), infinite longevity (ciranjIvatva), visitations to subtler worlds inaccessible to normal human beings and so on. There is hardly a spiritual Guru who does not harangue about the glories a seeker will be bestowed through practicing dhyAna and samAdhi. Some teachers would even make these as a pre-requisite before any true ‘knowledge’ is imparted. As a result, the words dhyAna and samAdhi acquired varying meaning. Teachers too historically used or interpreted them in different ways. We shall attempt to take a synoptic view particularly from a Non-dual perspective what these terms connote and their role and relevance for a seeker who has adopted the jnAna mArga (The Knowledge Path) in his/her pursuit of liberation.
The write up is structured as a Power Point Presentation downloadable as a pdf file at: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/downloads/dhyAna_samAdhi.pdf.
The principal argument I make here is that just like bodily physical exercises (of PT, haTha yoga, Asana-s. tai chai etc.), meditation is an exercise for the mind — an action done by a doer.
All actions will inevitably yield their results and surely whatever meditation technique one may use (mantra-based, breath-based, object-based, deity-based, Compassion meditation, focused meditation, mindfulness meditation etc.), one can expect certain outcomes.
The Neuroscientific evidence (taking into account the initial work done by the TM people, and later the research carried out at the Penn state University by Andrew Newberg, at Wisconsin by Dr. Richard Davidson and his group and many researchers at several other scientific Institutions across the world) shows that Meditation practices have a direct effect on the brain – a physical ‘object’ in the world.
The fact that meditation has an effect on the brain (which is a part of the body) implicitly means that the usually advocated “techniques” of meditation are useful in the wakeful state in the awake world. They help in relaxation, towards sharpening of the brain, in obtaining special skills, in increased thickness and increased number of folds in the top layer of the brain (cortex), in the generation of the neurotransmitters and hormones like opioids and cannabinoids (anandamide) etc. which give a happy feeling or produce squirts of dopamine.
But in Advaita, we consider the awake world and the actions that go on in the awake state are ‘mithya‘ (fallacious).
Further, Vedantic understanding says:
i) Actions arise in ignorance (karma ajnAna janitaM).
ii) Liberation cannot be ‘obtained’ as a “result” of an action done.
That being the case, how can Meditation, an action, a daily practice, lead to moksha, the pursuit of a seeker on the Knowledge Path (jnAna mArga)? It cannot. The real Meditation, as is understood in Advaita, is not something to be “done.” Meditation is the ending of the triad (observer-observing-the observed). It is just a “happening” like ‘Life happens.’
Some Teachers use the word “samAdhi” to indicate such a type of True Meditation.
Patanjali sUtra-s define meditation and samAdhi in a different way than the above understanding. Hence, dhyAna and samAdhi can be pretty confusing words unless one is clear about the system being followed.
However, one should state that Meditation as a ‘to do’ practice, along with actions like charity, pilgrimage etc. are useful in training the mind in the beginning stages for a seeker. Meditation may also help in the post-realization phase of a seeker towards stabilizing oneself in the abidance of an unbroken brahman-thought.
Slides # 1 – 5:
Slides # 6 – 33:
The first part of the slides deal with the Neuroscientific findings as evidence to show that different types of meditation affect different parts of the brain with attendant behavioral changes in the practitioner. (I have a couple of Video clips also in this part).
Slide # 34:
A short clip from a Talk by the Professor of Neuroscience, Nancy Kanwisher of MIT shows the discovery of the ‘Face recognition area’ in the brain. It also demos how the electromagnetic field in the brain impacts on what you see “out there.” A change in the electrical field will distort or alter your perception. This aspect is exploited in the technique of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) used to bring about a change in the neural connections of a patient suffering from depression, anorexia and certain other disorders. But the interesting point coming out from an Advaita perspective is that it is a projection of the waves in your brain that show you what you ‘think’ you see located somewhere there outside you. It is not that a thing is ‘already there’ and you see it as ‘it exactly is.’
Slide # 35 – 41:
We discuss here the issues of self-control and emotional maturity and the parts of the body and brain related to these behaviors. Present Neuroscientific findings lead one to conclude that ‘self-control’ is a finite resource and is not inexhaustively available for use. A period of recuperation is required for the resource to get replenished. We also try to locate the six enemies (arishadvarga-s) and the corresponding endocrinal glands in the body.
Slides 42 – 46:
There is a difference between obtaining mind-based worldly knowledge and the Non-dual Self-Knowledge as explained by Shankara. We also examine the role ‘attention’ plays in giving us ‘knowledge’ and contrast it with Consciousness which is the ‘True Knowledge.’
Slides # 47 – 72:
Next I take up the definitions of dhyAna and samAdhi as used in different texts like aparokshAnubhUti, vivekacUDAmaNi, Yogavasishta etc. We consider the Vedantic view as expressed by Shankara with a few quotes from BG and so on. I try to bring out the difference in the usage of the terms in Patanjali yogasUtra-s and Advaita. Finally I show that action will help to attain citta sudddhi which leads to citta naishcalyaM, but the next stage of realizing jIvabrahmaikatva jnAna, the vastu tantra jnana, is not a direct result obtained from the state of a placid mind. It has to happen by Itself (tat prasAdAt).
I attempt to show that the terms “dhyAna and samAdhi,” though highly technical, have been used to mean different things by different teachers historically and that there is no rigorous standardized universally accepted process or method that the words indicate. The slide # 51 presents the teaching of Sage Vasishta that realization of the Oneness of subject-object (i.e. Liberation) dawns on him who achieves ‘desirelessness.’
Slides # 73 – 75:
We end with an invocative prayer from mahAnArAyaNa upanishad:
आर्द्रं ज्वलतिज्योतिरहमस्मि । ज्योतिज्वॅलति ब्रह्माहमस्मि । योऽहमस्मि ।
अहमस्मि ब्रह्माहमस्मि । अहमेवाहं मां जुहोमि स्वाहा ॥ ….. 67.
Meaning: I realize this Identity of Jiva & Brahman by offering myself i.e., the jIvatva (the finite self) as an oblation into the Fire of Infinite brahman which I am forever. May this oblation be well reached for achieving jIva-brahma Identity.
(The above is a part of the अघमर्षण मन्त्र (aghamarShaNa mantra), seeking the blessings of Sage aghamarShaNa, recited ritualistically by traditional seekers while bathing or during the observation of other ablutions. The word aghamarShaNa also means the cleanser of demerit).
Acknowledgements: I am grateful to the authors of the various sources from which I have freely adopted the material. As far as possible, I have given the references so that the reader can further pursue the matter, if interested. My thanks are also due to Dennis who kindly had a preview of the slides and made helpful observations. He has been kind to create the downloadable link for the pdf of the 75 slides.