Dhyana – Meaning, Classification, Benefits, Research

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Dhyana is the seventh limb of Astanga Yoga, enlisted by master Patanjali. Dhyana means meditation. Meditation is the continued process of its previous stage i.e. Dharana or concentration.One can enter the stage of meditation only after gaining concentration.
Read – Ashtanga Yoga – Eight Branches Of Yoga

Meaning and dimensions

  • Contemplation
  • Reflection
  • Profound meditation

Following detachment of the senses from the sense objects and diverting the senses inwards with the help of Pratyahara, the person tries to concentrate on a pre-determined point of focus, an internal one like a chakra or an external source of focus as in dharana. Once he gains mastery over concentration he can go deeper and meditate on his self. This is called Dhyana.
Read – Meditation By Watching Mind: Stages, Method, Benefits

Dhyana helps in attaining oneness with self or self realization, which is the main aim of ashtanga yoga i.e. Samadhi.
Read – 24 Stress Management Tips: Pranayama, Meditation, Lifestyle Changes

Types of Meditation


Meditation is of two types.

Saguna Dhyana
Saguna Dhyana is a type of meditation in which the meditation is done by concentrating over the idol or divine symbol.

Controlling the breathing and concentrating over the desired God in the mind for 60 ghatika i.e. 24 hours will endow the practitioner with eight mental richness – ashta aishwaryas. This type of meditation is called Saguna Dhyana.
Read – Mudra – The Science Of Gesture: Benefits, Types, How To Practice

Nirguna Dhyana
Nirguna Dhyana is a type of meditation in which the meditation is done by concentrating over ones soul (atma).

The person practising Nirguna Dhyana can attain Samadhi i.e. oneness with self within a span of 12 days. Once the person has achieved control over vayu, he will be free from Jivana i.e. physical living and attain Samadhi, a condition of union between jivatma i.e. ones inner self and paramatma i.e. the divine soul (a greater soul of which each of us are a part of).

Example – Just like the water takes the shape of a container, when the mind contemplates with an object of thought, blends so well with it that there is no interruption in the flow of thoughts even for a moment.

Dhyana is a means of attaining Samadhi i.e. oneness and self knowledge. It is a part of self-directed awareness, by which the practitioner realises about self (Atma, soul), one’s relationship with other living beings and ultimate reality i.e. paramatma.
Read – Do You Concentrate On Improving Concentration? 14 Easy Techniques

Roots of meditation – Hinduism

Roots of Meditation in Hinduism and its relevance in other religions Apart from being an essential part of Hinduism, meditation also finds its place in Buddhism and Jainism, wherein the followers of these religions too believe and practice meditation. It is said that the technique of meditation originated in the Vedic era of Hinduism, the practice of meditations in various religions have mutual influence over each other.

Etymology and definition of Dhyana
Dhyana is derived from its root word dhi. Dhi means ‘imaginative vision’. The variant of Dhi is dhya and dhyana which means meditation.

‘Dhyana is sustained attention and application of mind to the chosen point of concentration’ (Thomas Berry).

In Dharana, the practitioner learns to concentrate on a point of focus. Dhyana is an extension of Dharana wherein the practitioner meditates on his self or a Deity
Read – Laziness, Lack Of Concentration In Generation Y – Can Ayurveda Help?

Contexts of description of Dhyana in Hindu scriptures
In Vedas – The term Dhyanam appears in Vedic literature as in Rig veda and in Taittiriya Aranyaka. In Vedic Era, meditation paralleled the ideas of ‘interiorization’. Here, the external fire rituals (agnihotra) were replaced with meditative internalized rituals, like doing a fire ritual inside the body instead of outside and called it Prana Agnihotra. Meditation is equated with internal fire ritual. This ‘interiorization of Vedic fire ritual into Yogic meditation’ mentioned in Samhita and Aranyaka layers of Vedas and in Chandogya Upanishad is also found explained in later Buddhist texts. Buddhism has described meditation as ‘inner forms of fire sacrifice’.
Read – Veda and Upaveda – Introduction

In Upanishads – The term Dhyana is used in the meaning of meditation in Upanishads. Prashna Upanishad asserts that the meditation on ‘AUM’ leads to the ultimate reality i.e. the world of Brahman. The term dhyana and the related terms such as dhyai which means deep meditation also appears in numerous Upanishads composed after 5th century BC.

In Brahma Sutras – Brahma Sutras (foundational text of Vedanta school of Hinduism) mentions that dhyana i.e. meditation belongs to all Vedic schools. Adi Shankaracharya dedicates an extensive chapter on meditation essential to spiritual practice in his commentary on Brahma sutras and also in his Bhasya on Bhagavad Gita and early Upanishads.

In Dharma Sutras – According to Dharma Sutras meditation is a virtue and interiorized equivalent to a fire sacrifice.
Read – Influence Of Ayurveda in Darshanas: Analysis, Explanation

In Bhagavad Gita – The term Dhyana and related words with the meaning of meditation is seen to be mentioned in many chapters of Bhagavad Gita. The chapter 6 of Gita is given the title – ‘Yoga of Meditation’. Bhagavad Gita states four paths to purify one’s mind so as to achieve the summit of spirituality. They are –

The Dhyana Yoga system is explained by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the 6th chapter of Gita.

‘The mind is like a lake. Stones that are dropped into it (or winds which ruffle it) raise waves in the lake. When we look into the lake, we cannot see ourselves because those waves hamper us from seeing our image. The water must be calmed if one needs to see himself. If one remains quite, eventually the winds will give up. Then one can see himself clearly. One can learn and become aware of oneself. God is always within us but the mind obscures that fact with agitated waves of worldly desires. Meditation quiets those waves and allows us to discover ourselves’. – Bhagavad Gita.

According to Bhagavad Gita, meditation is a means of one’s spiritual journey. This requires three moral values i.e. truthfulness (satya), non-violence (ahimsa) and non-covetousness (aparigraha).
Read – Sufferings And Health Of Spiritual People – Ayurvedic Analysis

According to Patanjali – ‘Dhyana is a process of mind wherein the mind is fixed on something and subsequently there is a course of uniform modification of knowledge’.

According to Adi Shankara – ‘Dhyana is a state of yoga wherein stream of continuous thought about the object, uninterrupted by other thoughts of different kind for the same object’.
Read – Mind – Qualities And Functions As Per Ayurveda

In dhyana, the person meditating is not conscious of the act of meditation but is only aware / conscious of being (that he or she exists). With constant practice, dhyana awakens self-awareness, the fundamental level of existence and ultimate reality, the blissful state of freedom and ultimate liberation i.e.Moksha.

Dhyana becomes prerequisite for obtaining ultimate oneness with self and become spiritually aware of self and importance of being self i.e. Samadhi. Samadhi is oneness with the object of meditation.

The practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi together is designated as Samyama i.e. holding together. Samyama is a powerful tool and can be applied to a certain object or entire class of objects. This is the pathway for spiritual liberation.
Read – Moksha – The Ultimate Spiritual Liberation

Upasana and Vidya


Upasana and Vidya are the terms related to Dhyana. These terms are found mentioned in ancient and medieval Hindu scriptures.
Read – Dharma – To Follow The Right Of Life

Upasana means – ‘coming near to something’. This denotes the state of meditation. It also denotes ritual meditation practices as done before a deity or during some sacrifices and rituals. Some consider it as sub-type of dhyana.
Vidya means knowledge. It is the consequence of dhyana.
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Research on meditation


Dhyana cannot be exactly co – related to any one meditation form of today’s world as different forms exist developed by various practitioners. But ultimately the aim of all the forms remains same i.e. concentration. Hence it can be practiced in any of its convenient form to reach the purpose.

Even though the goal of meditation is attainment of Samadhi or Realization of oneself, several other physical benefits have also been claimed & proved through research works.

It is found to be beneficial in broad range of conditions like pain, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, insomnia, anxiety & depression. In most cases it is found that it may not alter the symptoms but make a difference in how they manage or relate to their ailments.
Read – Easy Rules For Practicing And Mastering Yoga

Pain
A literary review of the relevant studies done on meditation showed significant decrease in the intensity of chronic pain. Even follow up also revealed that results were well maintained [1].

High Blood Pressure
American Heart Association through its studies found that Transcendental meditation lowers blood pressure. It can be used along with medications for well controlled values [2].
Read – Hypertension Causes, Types, Symptoms, Ayurvedic Treatment

Irritable bowel syndrome
A study carried out on 75 female IBS patients with mindfulness training showed reduction in severity of bowel symptoms, reduced distress & improved quality of life. Results continued even after 3 months of training period [3].

Ulcerative Colitis
A study group consisting of 55 adults with ulcerative colitis were made to practice mindfulness based stress reduction procedure & were reviewed after 6 & 12 months. It was found that remission of disease due to stress was reduced in moderate to severe disease[4].
Read – Ayurveda – Ulcerative Colitis Diet

Anxiety, Depression & Insomnia
A review of 47 trials with 3515 participants showed that mindfulness meditation had significant influence on mental health. It reduced anxiety, depression & insomnia markedly [5].

Respiratory infections
A group of adults aged 50 yrs & above were trained in mindfulness meditation & observed that it was effective in reducing acute respiratory illness[6].
Read – Effect of Stress, Anxiety on Stomach And Intestines: Remedies

Other diseases

  • Meditation is found to improve the quality of life in patients suffering from cancer. Society of Integrative Oncology recommends meditation as supportive care in breast cancer to reduce fatigue, anxiety & depression.
  • Meditation was also useful in diseases like backache, migraine, menopausal syndrome etc.
    Read – Migraine – Ayurvedic treatment, Herbs, Home Remedies

References

1. Reiner K, Tibi L, Lipsitz JD. Do mindfulness-based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature, Pain Med. 2013 Feb;14(2):230-42. doi: 10.1111/pme.12006. Epub 2012 Dec 13.

2. Brook RD, Appel RJ, Rubenfire M, et al. Beyond medications and diet: alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2013;61(6):1360–1383.

3.Gaylord SA, Palsson OS, Garland EL et.al, Mindfulness training reduces the severity of irritable bowel syndrome in women: results of a randomized controlled trial, Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Sep;106(9):1678-88. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.184. Epub 2011 Jun 21.

4.Jedel S, Hoffman A, Merriman P, et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction to prevent flare-up in patients with inactive ulcerative colitis. Digestion. 2014;89:142–155.

5.Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM et al, Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-
analysis, JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018.

6.Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D et.al, Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection: a randomized controlled trial, Ann Fam Med. 2012 Jul-Aug;10(4):337-46. doi: 10.1370/afm.1376.

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