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Dhyana: The Seventh Limb of Yoga

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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As we advance through the stages of the eight limbs of yoga, we come to the seventh limb called dhyana. Often, dhyana is used interchangeably with the practice of meditation. There is, however, a distinct difference between meditation as a practice and the state of being that is dhyana.

The Journey of Meditation

Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind. In using a mantra or a focal point such as a candle or the breath, you are bringing the awareness within as in the practice of pratyahara, or the fifth branch of yoga.

In meditation, there is an awareness of the observer, the object of observation, and the observed. Suppose you are using a candle as a visual meditation. The candle is the object of observation. You, the person creating focus on the candle, are the observer. And the awareness that you bring to yourself in performing the candle meditation is the observed. Yet, in this practice there is constant thought. The work of bringing awareness to a specific activity, even in inactivity, is effort in doing something. The mind is still active alone with at least one of the senses.

This initial stage of meditation, where awareness is present, brings about many healthful and blissful benefits. Your body will achieve normal homeostasis. You will be calmer, more relaxed, and better equipped to deal with stress.

Between Meditation and Dhyana

The state in between the practice meditation and dhyana can be called, glimpsing the soul. In Primordial Sound Meditation, Drs. Deepak Chopra and David Simon refer to this state as Atma Darshan. The Atman can be described as your higher self or soul.

In daily living, Atma Darshan can be a moment where you enter a peak state such as when time flies or when you feel that time stands still. For example, have you ever sat down to have coffee with a friend, with whom you haven’t spoken to in a while? Excited to catch up, you begin to talk only to look down at your watch and realize that five hours have flown by. The transcendence of time is glimpsing the soul. A peak experience is also a moment of perfection such as watching a birth or even a transition into death.

In meditation, glimpsing the soul is referred to as slipping into the gap. The space between your thoughts is the gap. This is the space of infinite possibilities and unbounded creativity. You are touching your soul space. As Atma Darshan suggests, you have these moments of stillness but are unaware of such stillness until you come out of the state. The soul exists beyond space, time, and causality, and therefore cannot be experienced within the parameters you are used to in measuring an experience.

For example, you go to your favorite Greek restaurant (place) and get a Greek salad (object and causality) every Tuesday for lunch (time). Space, time, and causality allow you to measure and record experiences in your memory. Yet, as the soul transcends these elements necessary for measurement, you may know you’ve traveled to the gap by the feelings you have after meditation. Those feelings may be bliss, a sense of overall wellness, and unexplained happiness or ease in the body.

Thus, focused attention (dharana) and slipping into the gap are a training ground for full awareness but are not the full effect of dhyana.

Through Your Meditation You Can Reach Dhyana

Meditation is the pathway to the state of dhyana. Through the mantras and one-pointed attention, you can break through to total awareness. Dhyana is the state of pure Atma, which is consciousness and self-awareness. Love reigns the seventh limb of yoga.

If you have studied the Seven States of Consciousness outlined in Primordial Sound Meditation, dhyana would equal the state of Divine Consciousness. Love flows from you. However, it’s not an attached state of love. Love with attachment is to objects or people. Love with detachment is the vibration of pure love for God. In yoga, this type of pure love is called Bhakti. It is an innocent love for the sake of merging in oneness to the Divine. You can equate this to the type of love that an infant has for his or her mother. He or she longs to be bonded and merged with her. He or she has totally surrendered himself or herself to her.

In dhyana, love flows through you and creates a higher vibrational frequency within you. Just as your Creator, named Purusha in Sanskrit, this divine love has the capacity to heal, create miracles, and has compassion and empathy for all. The ego falls away in dhyana and you transcend the confines of the mind. God’s will moves through you when you have surrendered your will fully to Divine will.

Finally, attainment of dhyana is not through willing it to become. The greater you seek it, the more it will slip away from you. Your preparedness for the seventh limb of yoga will come with the consistent practice of the other six limbs. Then, like a lotus flower unfurling in readiness, dhyana will seek you.