Etymologically, the word dhyāna comes from the noun dhī, imaginative vision, which occurs in the Vedas. It can be an abstract noun derived from the verbal root, dhyai, which means to contemplate. We understand meditation to be sustained attention, or the application of the mind to a single-pointed focus. Dhyāna is then said to culminate into the state of samādhi. Samādhi is the combination of samā (equanimity) and dhī (consciousness), a state where the meditator and the object of meditation (his own Self) coalesce into oneness.
Sage Patanjali’s third sutra of the Yoga sutra explains this state. He says, “tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe avasthānam.” This translates as, “at that time (the time of concentration) the seer (the Purasa) rests in his own (unmodified) state.” So why does it seem to be a challenge to meditate upon one’s own true nature? This is because the mind is a monkey. It straddles between memories and future anxieties. The state of Samādhi is the elimination of these mental fluctuations – Yoga citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ. However, the challenge is that the senses are overpowering and lure the mind away.
Swami Vivekananda provides an analogy to this verse: We cannot look at the bottom of the lake because its surface is covered with ripples. It is only possible when the ripples have subsided and the water is calm for us to catch a glimpse of the bottom. The bottom of the lake is our own true Self, the lake is Citta and the waves are the Vṛttis. Citta manifests itself in 4 forms: scattering, darkening, weakening and concentrating. The Ekagra, concentrated form of the Citta is what brings us to Samādhi.
There are various forms of meditation. As we learn throughout the course, mantra meditation is effective in focusing the mind towards its sounds and vibrations. As Yogi Kirti explained, repetitive chanting of mantras like the Gayatri is retained and replayed by the mind, cancelling out other distractions that may disturb one’s tranquil state. A powerful form of meditation is meditation upon the primordial sound OM. In Yoga Sūtra 27, Patanjali says “tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ” – His (the Supreme Lord’s) manifesting word is OM. He proceeds to say, “tajjapastadarthabhāvanam” – The repetition of this (OM) and meditation on its meaning is the way. OM is equated to the word Akṣara. Akṣara according to the traditional etymology –na kṣarati/na kṣīyate-is that which does not flow out or perish, hence the imperishable, the eternal. The monosyllabic, indivisible (akṣara), being dimensionless and extension-less, is therefore beyond all extension and thereby illimitable. Another form of meditation is simply observing the breath. For instance, in Vipassana meditation, the practitioner engages in anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing.
In tantric traditions for example, one meditates upon a yantra, a geometrical diagram, which represents their chosen divine aspect. There also exist tantric ‘formless’ meditations in which detailed creative visualization is abandoned on the grounds that the deity is ultimately beyond such characterization. In Mṛgendra tantra for example, one passes beyond the prescribed forms of visualization and instead meditates upon anything in which one’s consciousness becomes tranquil, mentally fashioning position, form and size. The result of this meditation is that the yogi comes through ‘the cessation of all mental activity to rest in nothing but his own identity,” which is the nature of Parabrahma/Śiva.
The obstacles in meditation could largely boil down to what Patanjali mentions in his second sūtra- fluctuations of the mind. We have various distractions today, such as the continuous buzzing of our phones, chatter, competition, stress, anxiety at workplace, etc. Perhaps, this was the reason why Osho ji devised the dynamic meditation to enable such frenzied seekers to at least taste the possible ecstasy that meditation could give. Personally, whenever I have a deadline to meet, I find it difficult to attain a meditative state as my train of thoughts meander into various possibilities. While our modern lifestyle has augmented our obstacles in meditation, there have been various challenges in the early days as well. Patanjali lays out the 9 obstacles in yoga: Disease, mental laziness, doubt, calmness, cessation, false perception, non-attaining concentration, and falling away from the state when obtained and inability to maintain the achieved process (Y.S 1.30)
Even after transcending these obstacles, Ramana Maharishi explains that you should continue meditating till you forget that you are meditating. As long as you conscious that you are meditating, it is no meditation at all. The consciousness of body, mind and thought of yourself should perish. The experience of only the object of your meditation should subsist. He says, the state of meditation is experiencing but without the consciousness that you are experiencing.
What is Meditation? | Complete Explanation