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Types of Meditation--Part 2, By Swami Bhajanananda

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    TYPES OF MEDITATION—PART TWO Swami Bhajanananda Swami Bhajanananda was the editor of Prabuddha Bharata from 1979 through 1986 and has contributed many
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 16 3:22 PM
      Swami Bhajanananda

      Swami Bhajanananda was the editor of Prabuddha Bharata from 1979
      through 1986 and has contributed many articles to various Vedanta
      journals. Swami Bhajanananda is an Assistant-Secretary and Trustee of
      the Ramakrishna Order. This article was first published in the June,
      1981 Prabuddha Bharata.



      Concentration can be practiced on any object. In fact, in our daily
      life we are concentrating on something or other most of the time.
      This kind of concentration is more or less unconscious and is done
      under the compulsion of desires. True meditation differs from it in
      being a conscious process involving the detachment of the will from
      lower desires and its focussing at a higher center of consciousness.

      We have seen that meditation is a stage in concentration common to
      all spiritual paths. We have also seen that meditation is of two
      types: subjective and objective. Subjective meditation is of the
      nature of an inquiry into the Atman and is called nididhyasana.
      Objective meditation is concentrating the mind on an object.
      Objective meditation is known under different names. Patanjali calls
      it dhyana. In Vedanta a more common term is upasana. Both these terms
      are, however, met with in the Upanisads.

      In ancient India meditation was a subject of deep study, research and
      experiment. The followers of the Samkhya philosophy developed it into
      an independent science of mental life. When properly concentrated on
      an object, the mind undergoes certain changes. These changes are the
      same for a particular degree of concentration whatever be the object
      chosen. In other words, concentration follows certain universal laws.
      These laws were discovered by the great yogis of ancient India.
      Patanjali codified and compiled them in his famous Yoga Aphorisms.
      These laws form the basis of upasana also. So Sankaracarya defines
      meditation as "a process of unwavering application of the same
      thought on some object, such as a deity prescribed by the scriptures,
      without being interrupted by any alien thought."1 However, there are
      some important differences between Yogic meditation and Vedantic

      The immediate aim of Yogic dhyana is to discover the functions of
      mind at higher levels of consciousness. Its ultimate aim is the
      separation or isolation of Purusa from prakriti. As Bhoja points out,
      Yoga is really viyoga, disunion.2 On the contrary, upasana aims at
      union. Its immediate aim may be to unite the meditator with a deity.
      But its ultimate aim is to unite the individual self (jivatman) with
      the Supreme Self (Paramatman).

      Another difference is that in Yogic meditation the choice of God is
      optional. According to Patanjali, meditation can be practiced on any
      object one likes.3 Bhoja in his commentary points out that in Yoga
      the object of meditation (bhavyam) is of two types: God and the
      tattvas [elements of the differentiated universe–ed.]. The tattvas
      again are of two types: Purusa and the twenty-four categories of
      prakriti.4 Dhyana may be practiced on any of the tattvas. But in
      upasana God alone is the object of meditation, and not the tattvas.

      The third difference is that in order to practice yogic meditation it
      is not necessary to have any preconceived ideas about Reality. But
      upasana is based on the Vedantic conception of Reality and operates
      within a definite conceptual framework. What upasana does is to
      convert the conceptual or indirect (paroksa) knowledge into intuition
      or direct (aparoksa) experience.


      These two types of meditation–Yogic dhyana and Vedantic upasana–
      became united in the post-Vedic period. It was shown last month
      [see "Types of Meditation" archived here] how upasana evolved in the
      Vedic period from ritual-bound meditations (angavabaddha) into
      substitution meditations and finally into the vidyas. In the meantime
      the Yoga system was getting perfected. It was then that the Tantras
      arose, probably a few centuries after the Vedic period had ended.

      The Tantras combined the monism of the Upanisads with the theism of
      the puranas. Secondly, they united Yogic meditation with Vedantic
      upasana. Apart from this, the Tantras made independent discoveries
      about mantras, kundalini, etc. The all-round harmony and synthesis
      effected by the Tantras opened a new era in the history of
      spirituality in India. This continues to this day. The meditation
      techniques now prevalent show the strong influence of the Tantras.


      One of the important changes that the Tantras introduced was in the
      field of symbols. The images of different gods and goddesses have
      completely replaced the Vedic images of fire, sun, air, etc. In the
      Vedic period the approach to ultimate Reality was direct. The Tantras
      made it indirect: the aspirant first attains the vision of a god or
      goddess and then through him or her realizes the ultimate Reality.
      Again, in the Vedic period words were used primarily for their
      meaning (abhidhana). The Tantras have, however, shown that certain
      mystic words have an intrinsic power to produce changes in

      Symbols play an important part in human life. Other than pure
      consciousness, all our thinking is based on symbols. These symbols
      can be divided into two groups: rupa (form) and nama (name). These,
      along with the self, constitute the knowing process. Emotions are
      also of course a part of mental life. But they are not essential to
      knowledge. In fact, they very often distort the knowing process. A
      person overcome by anger, envy, fear and other emotions has a
      distorted view of other people. That is why Patanjali regards
      emotions as "false knowledge" (viparyaya).5 They are great obstacles
      in spiritual life, and the aspirant is advised to rid himself or
      herself of them before attempting real meditation. True knowledge
      arises only when the mind is freed from emotional disturbances. It
      is, however, important to note here that bhakti, love of God, which
      is a great help in upasana, is not an emotion and is therefore never
      regarded as an obstacle. True devotion is a property of the self, its
      longing for union with the Supreme Self.

      When the mind is freed from the hold of instincts and emotions, there
      remain in it only three elements of pure cognition: form, name and
      the self. These are the only factors that constitute the meditative
      act. Spiritual aspirants show great variation in their ability to
      manipulate these three factors.

      When we speak of differences among people we usually mean their
      emotional make-up. Some people are more loving and kind, some cruel
      and harsh. Some are arrogant, some humble. And so on. One of the
      important tasks in spiritual life is to level up these differences
      and make every aspirant pure, virtuous, calm.

      However, these are not the only differences among aspirants. The very
      structure of the mind and the way names, forms and the self influence
      it vary from person to person. Some people find visualization of
      images very easy but find it difficult to manipulate abstract ideas,
      especially mathematics. Their thinking is a kind of inner seeing and
      they have what is called a "photographic memory." The minds of these
      people are form-oriented. Some others find it difficult or even
      impossible to visualize forms and do their thinking mostly through
      sound symbols. These are the people who benefit most from listening
      to talks and lectures. Their minds are name-oriented. There are yet
      others who find both names and forms a great botheration and prefer
      to hold on to the self without any visual or ideational support.
      Their minds are self-oriented.

      To meet the needs of these three different mental types, three kinds
      of upasana have been developed: pratikopasana (meditation on visual
      images), namopasana (meditation on sound symbols) and ahamgrahopasana
      (meditation on the self). Each aspirant should know which type of
      mind his or hers is: form-oriented, name-oriented or self-oriented.
      This the aspirant can easily find out by a little self-analysis and
      practice in meditation. The aspirant must then choose that type of
      upasana which suits him or her most.

      It may be surprising to know that there are some people who are
      totally incapable of visualizing forms. Such people find it very
      difficult to meditate on the image of a deity. When they close their
      eyes they only feel a blank with various ideas moving somewhere
      inside. It is like listening to the gurgling of a stream in the dark.
      They, however, find repetition of a mantra very easy and producing
      great harmony in them. Whereas there are others who find such
      repetition difficult, distracting and unrelated to their basic
      spiritual urge.

      Fortunately, however, most people have a mixed type of mind. They can
      make their minds form-oriented, name-oriented or self-oriented as
      they wish. So they can easily combine all the three types of upasana
      in their practice. Nevertheless, during the early stages of spiritual
      life even they may find it easier and more beneficial to give more
      emphasis on one type of upasana according to their individual
      temperaments, while not neglecting the other two. Meditation is a
      difficult task for beginners but they can make it a bit easier by
      following the line of least resistance, their own natural orientation
      of mind. Once the aspirant acquires proficiency in any one method, he
      or she will find it easy to practice all the other methods.


      Pratika means a symbol–literally, "going towards," something upon
      which the mind is focussed. Though words are also symbols, pratika is
      generally used to mean visual symbols–images, pictures and natural
      objects used as symbols. During the Vedic period fire, the sun, the
      air, the mind, etc. were treated as pratikas to represent Brahman.
      How were the pratikas related to Brahman? There were two ways of
      doing this, and accordingly Vedic pratikopasana was of two types:
      sampad and adhyasa.

      In sampad upasana an inferior object is used as a symbol to represent
      superior Reality.6 The symbol is unimportant, the attributes of the
      higher reality dominate the meditative field. (To give a modern
      example, when a stone idol or salagrama is worshipped as Visnu, the
      worshipper forgets the stone and thinks only of the luminous splendor
      of Visnu. This may be regarded as a modern form of sampad upasana.

      In adhyasa upasana the symbol chosen is itself a superior object and
      dominates the meditative field. Upon this symbol the attributes of
      the Reality are superimposed, but the symbol is as important as the
      attributes. Meditation on the sun (one of the most beautiful
      meditations ever conceived) is an instance of this. The Upanisad
      teaches, "The sun is Brahman, this is the instruction."7 The sun with
      its dazzling brightness has a striking resemblance to Brahman and can
      itself be directly meditated upon as Brahman. All that one has to do
      is to superimpose upon the sun the attributes of Brahman like
      infinity, consciousness, bliss, ultimate causality, etc.8

      With the disappearance of the Vedic tradition these ancient pratika
      meditations are no longer in vogue. There is at present a great need
      to revive them.

      In modern times the images of various deities and the symbols
      connected with them have almost wholly replaced the Vedic pratikas.
      Not only that. The conception of the connection between the symbols
      and the Reality has also changed. Vedic symbols directly connect the
      meditator with the ultimate Reality. But in Tantric symbols this
      connection is indirect. First of all, the deity behind the symbol is
      to be realized, and then through the deity the ultimate Reality is to
      be attained.

      Pratikas used in modern times may be divided into two groups:
      aniconic and iconic. The former group includes yantras (mystic
      diagrams), mandalas (psychic diagrams), salagrama, siva linga, water
      pot, etc. These are used more in ritualistic worship than in
      meditation. The lotus symbolizing a chakra or center of
      consciousness, the flame symbolizing the self, the sky symbolizing
      space and similar impersonal symbols which are often used in
      meditation may also be included in this group.

      The second group of pratikas includes the anthropomorphic images of
      gods and goddesses which are called pratimas. A pratima may be a
      picture drawn on paper or cloth (pata) or a three-dimensional idol
      (vigraha) made of stone or metal. The Brahma-Sutra clearly teaches
      that the pratika is to be looked upon only as a symbol of Brahman.
      God should not be lowered to symbols, but symbols are to be exalted
      to God.9 In other words, the purpose of a pratima is to serve only as
      a visual aid (dristi saukaryam) to concentration. This may be true in
      the case of meditation but not necessarily so in the case of worship.
      The widely accepted belief is that a properly consecrated pratima
      which is daily worshipped, acquires a special sanctity and power and
      becomes a center of divine grace. According to Sri Ramanuja there is
      a special manifestation of God known as arca in the idol.

      In this context two points are to be kept in mind. The statement that
      pratikas are only symbols of God does not imply that the gods and
      goddesses of Hinduism are only symbols. Hundreds of illumined souls
      have directly realized these divinities. Even the great Sankaracarya
      has not denied their existence. Each deity represents a particular
      aspect of Saguna Brahman, the Personal God, and is at least as real
      as a human being, if not more.

      The other point to note is that though pratikas are mainly used as
      aids to concentration, the purpose of upasana is not mere
      concentration of mind but the direct vision of the deity represented
      by the pratika. The pratika may be a picture or idol made by an
      artist. Upasana does not mean simply transferring the artist's
      imagination to our own minds. It is not merely an exercise in memory,
      trying to remember the picture we have seen outside. Upasana is an
      attempt to go beyond the symbol and meet the real god or goddess in
      the depths of consciousness. It is a search for the soul's eternal
      Beloved. For this a living image must first of all be implanted deep
      inside the heart. It is the continuous interior gazing at this living
      image in the depths of consciousness that really deserves to be
      called pratikopasana. As concentration deepens, the image sinks into
      consciousness drawing the mind with it deeper, deeper… until it
      touches the undercurrent of pure consciousness and bursts into
      ethereal phosphorescence.

      True pratikopasana, then, is a process of converting imagination into
      Reality. It is a technique for the transformation of consciousness.
      How does this transformation take place? Three principles are
      involved in it: the principle of khyati [knowledge–ed.], the yatha-
      kratu principle ["As is one's will, so does one become." Chandogya
      Upanisad–ed.] and the theory of mantra.


      If in pratikopasana meditation is practiced on a visual symbol, in
      namopasana it is done on a sound symbol–the name of a deity or a
      mantra. This, however, is not the only difference between the two.
      There are much deeper differences based on certain basic properties
      of the human mind.

      Here we wish to mention only two or three points. The repetition of a
      mantra or a name of God is called japa. When the words used are many,
      it may take the form of stuti (hymnody), bhajan (singing of songs set
      to music) or samkirtana (group singing). These are better regarded as
      forms of worship though, when properly done, they produce a
      meditative effect.

      It should be kept in mind that mere mechanical repetition of a mantra
      hardly deserves to be called upasana. As true pratikopasana is
      visualizing a "living image," so true namopasana is the repetition of
      an "awakened mantra." The mantra becomes awakened (chetana) when it
      becomes connected to the basic rhythm of consciousness in the depths
      of the heart.

      Another point should be noted here. In popular usage only
      pratikopasana is known as meditation, while namopasana is known as
      japa. As a matter of fact, both come under meditation. To make the
      distinction between these two types of meditation more clear it is
      better to describe pratikopasana as bhavana (visualization), a term
      more commonly used in the Tantras and Buddhist scriptures. As a
      general rule japa is accompanied by bhavana (visualization) of a god
      or goddess. But several sects in Hinduism and especially the Sikhs
      practice japa without visualizing the form of any deity. They are
      pure namopasakas. In their case japa itself becomes meditation.


      Ahamgraha literally means "self-grasping," that is "self-
      identification." Unlike the two types of meditation described above
      which are purely objective techniques, ahamgraha-upsana is a
      subjective-objective meditation technique. It is a meditation on the
      self as the object. But it is not mere concentration of mind on the
      object as the other two meditations are. It means the "grasping" of a
      vaster whole by the Self. It is an attempt of the self to identify
      itself with the Supreme Self.

      Since the pure Atman cannot be an "object" of meditation, various
      symbols are used to enable the self to "grasp" the supreme Self. Thus
      like the other two upasanas described above, ahamgrahopasana is also
      a kind of symbolic meditation.

      Objectivity and the use of symbols, these are precisely the two
      points which distinguish ahamgrahopasana and nididhyasana or
      subjective meditation. In nididhyasana no symbols are used, nor is
      the self objectified. It is a negative process of neti, neti ("not
      this, not this") by which the self cuts asunder all identifications
      and withdraws into its own locus. The distinction between these two
      techniques is important though it may not be so obvious to an
      untrained mind.

      The simplest form of ahamgrahopasana is to visualize the Atman as a
      point of light and meditate on it thinking "I am this light."
      However, as the individual self is part of the infinite Supreme Self,
      ahamgrahopasana usually means meditation on the union of the
      individual self with the supreme Self. Again, as the Supreme Self is
      all-pervading, this meditation necessarily involves an awareness of
      divine immanence in creation. Thus ahamgrahopasana actually takes the
      form of double meditation: meditation on the self as a part of God
      and meditation on God as present in all beings.

      It is now clear that some of the vidyas, if not all, discussed in the
      Upanisads are really ahamgraha meditations. In fact this is the only
      way contemporary humanity can understand and practice the vidyas, for
      their original esoteric tradition has been lost. One of the most
      famous of these meditations is the antaryami vidya. Uddalaka, the son
      of Aruna asks the sage Yajnavalkya about the Inner Controller. In
      reply the latter describes the immanence of Brahman in the earth, in
      the sky, in the sun etc.

      He who dwells in the earth, but is within it, whom the earth does not
      know, whose body is the earth, and who controls the earth from
      within, is the Inner Ruler, your own immortal self.

      He who dwells in water ...
      He who dwells in fire ...
      He who dwells in the sky ...
      He who dwells in the sun ... etc.10

      Another important meditation is Sandilya Vidya, which runs as follows:

      These passages are not meant to be understood theoretically. They are
      meant for actual practice. It is not possible to have the experience
      of Advaita all of a sudden. For this our consciousness must be
      gradually expanded. These meditations are meant to expand our
      consciousness. It is only when we try to practice them shall we
      understand how difficult they are. Those who have reduced Advaita to
      talking and writing will find these meditations a lesson in humility.

      Apart from the vidyas there are many other splendid passages in the
      Upanisads which may be used in meditation. The four mahavakyas, "That
      thou art," "I am Brahman," etc. (which are supposed to produce direct
      intuition of Brahman in highly qualified aspirants) may also be used
      for this purpose. It should be noted that these mahavakyas are not
      meant for repetition, for that would be a kind of namopasana. They
      are actually meant for the practice of ahamgrahopasana. Some of the
      great sannyasa mantras into which Hindu monastics are initiated also
      belong to this category. Apart from these, some of the well-known
      verses of Sankaracarya like the "Morning Remembrance Hymn,"12 "Six
      Stanzas on Nirvana," etc. may also be used for the practice of
      ahamgrahopasana for which they are really intended.


      The three types of upasana discussed above could be practiced
      independently. But they are not contradictory to one another. Each
      stands for a particular aspect of cognition and develops a particular
      faculty of the mind. A combination of the three types of meditation
      will lead to all-round development of consciousness.

      There is especially a great need to include ahamgrahopasana in our
      daily spiritual practice. It reminds us of our real nature as the
      Atman. It is only when we understand that we are potentially divine
      can we establish a loving spiritual relationship with the Deity.
      Moreover, awareness of our higher self enables us to remain
      unaffected by the external influences and maintain constant
      remembrance of our chosen Deity and mantra. Even a devotee who
      worships an idol can practice ahamgrahopasana. He or she may think
      that the Deity dwelling in the idol dwells also in his or her own
      self and meditate on the union of the two. In fact, this kind of
      meditation is an essential part of Tantric worship.

      To conclude: all preliminary spiritual disciplines end in some form
      of meditative awareness, and all meditation paths lead to spiritual
      illumination of some kind or other.


      1. Dhyanam nama sastrokta devatadyalambanesu acalo
      Bhinnajatiyairanantaritah pratyayasantanah ||
      Sankara, Commentary on Chandogya Upanisad 7. 6. 1.
      2. Patanjalamuneruktih kapyapurvat jayatyasau |
      Pumprakrtyorviyogo'pi yoga ityudito yaya ||
      3. Yatha'bhimatadhyanad va | Yoga Sutra 1. 39.
      4. Bhavyam ca dvividham–isvarah tattvani ca |
      Tanyapi dvividhani jadajadabhedat |
      Jadani caturvimsatih | Ajadah purusah |
      Bhoja, Vritti on Yoga-Sutra 1. 17.
      5. Yoga-Sutra 1.8 and Vyasa's commentary on it.
      6. Cf. Brhadaranyaka Upanisad 3. 1. 6 and Sankara's commentary on it.
      7. Adityo brahma ityadesah | Chandogya Upanisad 3. 19. 1.
      8. Cf. Swami Gambhirananda. "Upanisadic Meditation" in The Cultural
      Heritage of India (Calcutta: the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of
      Culture, 1970). Vol. 1, pp. 379-80.
      9. Brahma-Sutra 4. 1. 4 and 5. See also Swami Vivekananda's comments
      in his "Bhakti Yoga."The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda
      (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1973), Vol. 3, pp. 59-61.
      10. Brhadarayanaka Upanisad 3. 7. 1-23.
      11. Chandogya Upanisad 3. 14. 2-3.
      12. Pratah smarami hrdi samsphuradatmatattvam
      Saccitsukham paramahamsagatim turiyam |
      Yatsvapnajagarasusuptamavaiti nityam
      Tad brahma niskalamaham na ca bhutasamghah || etc. Sankara,
      Pratahsmarana Stotra
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