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Meditation according to the Yoga Way (Part II)

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.







(Part II)





The psychology of the Yoga way says that the greatest roadblock to Self-realization through meditation is restlessness of the mind. The mind is material and its conditionings of impurities are mechanical. It is most difficult to know the nature, depth, and extent of these impurities. All we know is that the mind is restless and that restlessness is manifesting itself in our restless body movement, unevenness of breath, and changes in biochemistry. This restlessness is more than disturbing thought. Thoughts when repeated become ingrained and turn into deep-seated tendencies (samskaras). Passage of time and change of environment are of no help in overcoming our restless habits. Old age cannot lessen their fury and distance cannot obliterate them. Unfavorable samskaras do not go away by themselves. The technique of overcoming unfavorable habits is the deliberate cultivation of favorable habits. Bad samskaras are overcome only by good samskaras. As Swami Vivekananda says, commenting on Patanjali’s Yoga:

The only remedy for bad habits is counter-habits; all the bad habits that have left their impressions are to be controlled by good habits. Go on doing good, thinking holy thoughts, continuously; that is the only way to suppress base impressions. Never say any man is hopeless, because he only represents a character, a bundle of habits, which can be checked by new and better ones. Character is repeated habits, and repeated habits alone can reform character.


The distinctive contribution of Yoga is its message that control of the mind must be effortful and forcible, and to that end the Yoga system prescribes an eightfold practice.

The first five limbs of the eightfold practice are external practices, the last three internal ones: The first two limbs are yama and niyama for achieving moral purity. The practices of non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-receiving of gifts constitute yama. The practices of internal and external purification, contentment, mortification, study, and worship of God constitute niyama. The third limb is asana, which constitutes directions for posture in order to gain mastery over the body. Posture that is steady, with the limbs of the body restful, is conducive for concentration and meditation. The fourth limb, pranayama, is the control of breath, by which a person seeks to awaken the mind. Pranayama is the retention of breath (kumbhaka)—following either inhalation (puraka) or exhalation (rechaka). The life force (prana) in each of us is a manifestation of the cosmic life force, and our breath is the gross manifestation of that cosmic life force, which is ever awake and ever active in us. Pranayama is the way to reconnect ourselves with the cosmic life force. The fifth limb is pratyahara, or the practice of withdrawing the mind from sense-objects. The sixth limb is dharana, concentration, which is keeping the mind focused on an object for a certain length of time without interruption. The seventh limb is dhyana, or meditation on one single thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts. The eighth limb is samadhi, when the mind becomes completely absorbed in the object of meditation. The eightfold practice is a practice for attaining samadhi through proper concentration and meditation. According to the tradition of Yoga, focusing the mind on the same object for twelve seconds achieves one unit of concentration; twelve such units of concentration (two minutes and twenty-four seconds) make one unit of meditation; twelve such successive units of meditation (twenty-eight minutes and forty-eight seconds) make one unit of lower samadhi; twelve such successive units of lower samadhi (five hours, forty-five minutes and thirty-six seconds) lead the meditator to highest samadhi, where the individual consciousness becomes one with the Self.

The Yoga system seeks to modify our subconscious mind with the help of regulation of breath, posture, and diet. Modern psychology explains how our conscious thoughts and actions are heavily influenced by the deep-seated desires and urges of our subconscious mind. But the Yoga system further shows us how we can modify our subconscious mind by the efforts of our conscious mind, how repeated exercises of the will on the conscious level can influence the subconscious depths and modify them permanently. By controlling the manifested effects of impurities, the Yoga system seeks to eliminate the source of the impurities and regain contact with the true Self in meditation.

(To be continued)

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