Concentration and Meditation
To reach the meditative state, concentration is required first. A scattered, distracted, and inattentive mind cannot truly meditate, even if one sits silently for long periods of time. As the Yoga Sutras teach us, one must first develop the one-pointed mind (ekagra chitta) in order to reach state in which the mind is dissolved into higher awareness (niruddha chitta).
In terms of the eight limbs of Yoga, one must first develop dharana or concentration in order to reach the state of dhyana or deep meditation, and samadhi or unity consciousness beyond that. Meditation is often defined as ‘prolonged concentration’. The two, concentration and meditation, differ not so much in quality but in the degree and the length in which they are sustained.
Today most people have little power of attention or capacity for concentration. We live in a high tech age of computers, social media, and virtual reality. Our minds are trained since childhood to be entertained. Our main concern is usually finding better forms of entertainment, or more sophisticated entertainment equipment, not understanding our own inner consciousness.
The average scene in a movie is about twenty seconds long and the average frame in a computer game is about one-quarter of a second. Our minds are conditioned by rapid external stimulation and we find it hard to turn within and be still. It is not enough simply to want to meditate. We must adjust our nervous, pranic, sensory, and mental vibrations in order to allow meditation to occur. This means to slow down, turn within, and use the senses in contemplative manner. It requires periods of introspection every day to balance our external activities, or maintaining an inner space of awareness even during outer activity.
Meditation, granting us inner composure, will increase our ability to better deal with our media based environment. It will provide us a space of renewal in which to effectively respond to the new challenges of the global culture network today. We can adapt aspects of the media culture to meditation as well as maintaining a special time for meditation when we put all media devices to rest.
Tools for Developing Concentration: Drishti Yoga, the Yoga of Seeing and Mantra Yoga
There are numerous tools of concentration taught in Yoga and Vedanta. These can be divided into two groups, first those using light and perception, and second those using sound and mantra.
The first group of concentration methods involves fixing the gaze, what is traditionally called Drishti Yoga or the ‘Yoga of seeing’. One may fix the gaze on external objects in nature like a tree, a flower, or a flowing river, or on colors, lights, and geometrical patterns (including yantras like the Sri Yantra). One may also fix the gaze inwardly at various chakra centers, particularly the third eye, the seat of inner perception, and the heart, the seat of the higher Self. These may be combined with visualization methods. Generally our attention and concentration follows what we are looking at.
The second group of concentration methods emphasizes mantra or Mantra Yoga, particularly the chanting of seed syllables or bija mantras starting with Om. These concentrated sounds project a single consistent sound vibration through which the mind can be easily concentrated. Generally the mantric approach is more important as our minds are engaged inwardly in sounds and words. It is sound in the form of words that serves to store and carry the information and experience that we gain through perception.
One can combine both these methods involving light and sound, which naturally go together. The current of our thoughts and the movement of the eyes both reflect the stream of awareness. Through mantra we can sustain a current not only of sound but one of light.
A good method for developing concentration that combines fixing the gaze (drishti dharana) and mantra (mantra-dharana) is to mentally repeat your seed mantra while gazing at a candle or a ghee lamp placed, holding your gaze steadily without blinking. Let your mantra merge into the external flame and that external flame to merge into the flame of your third eye. This will turn an outer mantra dharana into an inner mantra dharana.
Mind and Sound Vibration
The mind is based upon words and sounds, which create and sustain the mind’s vibratory pattern. The words within us hold emotions, feelings, memories, sensations, ideas, and insights. They are containers for many things above and beyond the overt meaning that the words may actually have. Our experiences are held in patterns of communication, words and sounds, including not just what has been said but how it has been said, and how it is imbedded in our deeper memory.
Control of the inner speech is the basis of control of the mind. Steadiness of the inner speech in turn rests upon steadiness of the outer speech or vocal organ. Through steadying our inner sound and thought currents through the use of mantras, we can steady the mind. Changing the dominant sound patterns in the mind is the best way to change the mind down to the subconscious level, and to open up the higher levels of awareness. Mantra allows us to link our outer speech with our inner speech and mind, connecting us to greater cosmic sound vibrations.
Seed or Bija Mantras and Concentration
The simplest way to develop the power of attention is to concentrate on a single sound as in a bija mantra. Making the mind one-pointed in a concentrated seed mantra brings the mind to a state of ‘singularity’, in which the mind will naturally take a quantum leap in awareness, leading us to the universal consciousness beyond the limitations of the mind and the relativity of time and space.
Bija mantras like OM, AIM, HREEM, SHREEM, KLEEM, KREEM, HOOM are particularly helpful here, either singly or in certain combinations. They can be received from a guru and as part of worship of various Devatas (Deities). OM Haum Joom Sah Namah Shivaya is very good in this regard. Note my book Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound for more information or traditional mantric texts like the Mantra Yoga Samhita.
As one repeats the mantra, the vibration of the mantra will gradually enter into the deeper mind, reaching into the samskaras or karmic patterns at the base of the subconscious. Here we should remember the example of a singer who by holding a single high note can break a glass. The light of the mantra can illumine even the deepest darkest portions of the subconscious mind, releasing any blocked energy within it.
The development of concentration through mantra is one of the best tools of psychological healing. It can help break up deep-seated habits, addictions, and traumas, releasing the mental energy and prana trapped within them. It helps dissolve negative emotional patterns, even those forgotten by the conscious mind. It does not require that we analyze the unconscious, relive our traumas, or dig up old memories. The mantra changes the energetic structure of the mind, so that such negative patterns have no place to develop or remain.
Need For Sustained Practice
To achieve this power of attention and concentration requires discipline, effort and practice. Our power of attention is like a muscle and can only grow slowly and incrementally in strength over time. We need patience in developing it like cultivating a garden. Yet if we persist, in a period of a few months, major differences can be seen, and the nature of the mental field can be considerably altered within a few years of steady practice.
Once we have a greater power of attention, we will naturally have greater powers of discernment and a better judgment in life, which will improve our health, well-being, work, and relationships. It will not be as easy for other people or the external world to disturb us or dominate our thought process. We will have an inner flow and an inner space that nourishes us from within. We will have greater capacity to learn and a greater creativity to enhance our lives.
Mind and the Three Gunas
It is important to remember the role of the three gunas – that sattva is the true nature of the mind, and rajas and tamas, the factors of agitation and inertia, are the doshas or toxins at the level of the mind that need to be removed.
- The concentrated mind is a sattvic mind, which has the innate power of self-renewal and deeper perception.
- The distracted mind is a rajasic mind, which will involve us in unnecessary activity or cause our actions to be done in a disturbed manner.
- The dull mind is a tamasic mind that will slow down all of our responses and get us caught in emotional negative in one form or another.
The meditative mind depends upon a sattvic life-style based upon the yamas and niyamas of Yoga, particularly ahimsa or non-violence. This sattvic life-style implies an Ayurvedic life-style that balances your constitution as Vata, Pitta or Kapha, and a Yogic life-style that includes all the tools of Yoga relative to body, prana, senses, mind and heart. If our meditation is not proceeding well, or if we are lacking in concentration, there may be factors in our life-style that are inhibiting it.
If we make concentration and meditation an integral part of our life style – which is easy to do with mantra meditation – then we can return to the state of harmony and balance that connects with the universal prana and awareness, the state of the higher Self.