Meditation is a word that has come to be used loosely and inaccurately in the modern world. That is why there is so much confusion about how to practice it. Some people use the word meditate when they mean thinking or contemplating; others use it to refer to daydreaming or fantasizing. However, meditation (dhyana) is not any of these.
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
Meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is totally different from the normal waking state. It is the means for fathoming all the levels of ourselves and finally experiencing the center of consciousness within. Meditation is not a part of any religion; it is a science, which means that the process of meditation follows a particular order, has definite principles, and produces results that can be verified.
In meditation, the mind is clear, relaxed, and inwardly focused. When you meditate, you are fully awake and alert, but your mind is not focused on the external world or on the events taking place around you. Meditation requires an inner state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent. When the mind is silent and no longer distracts you, meditation deepens.
From childhood onward, we have been educated only to examine and verify things in the external world. No one has taught us how to look within, to find within, and to verify within. Therefore, we remain strangers to ourselves, while trying to get to know others. This lack of self-understanding is one of the main reasons our relationships don’t seem to work, and why confusion and disappointment so often prevail in our life.
Very little of the mind is cultivated by our formal educational system. The part of the mind that dreams and sleeps—the vast realm of the unconscious which is the reservoir of all our experiences—remains unknown and undisciplined; it is not subject to any control. It is true that the whole of the body is in the mind, but the whole of the mind is not in the body. Except for the practice of meditation, there is no method to truly develop control over the totality of the mind.
The goal of meditation is to go beyond the mind and experience our essential nature—which is described as peace, happiness, and bliss. But as anyone who has tried to meditate knows, the mind itself is the biggest obstacle standing between ourselves and this awareness. The mind is undisciplined and unruly, and it resists any attempts to discipline it or to guide it on a particular path. The mind has a mind of its own. That is why many people sit for meditation and experience only fantasies, daydreams, or hallucinations. They never attain the stillness that distinguishes the genuine experience of deep meditation.
We are taught how to move and behave in the outer world, but we are never taught how to be still and examine what is within ourselves. When we learn to do this through meditation, we attain the highest of all joys that can ever be experienced by a human being. All the other joys in the world are momentary, but the joy of meditation is immense and everlasting. This is not an exaggeration; it is a truth supported by the long line of sages, both those who renounced the world and attained truth, and those who continued living in the world yet remained unaffected by it.
Meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning. Meditation teaches you to systematically explore your inner dimensions. It is a system of commitment, not commandment. You are committing to yourself, to your path, and to the goal of knowing yourself. But at the same time, learning to be calm and still should not become a ceremony or religious ritual; it is a universal requirement of the human body.