I have been receiving questions lately on meditation, samadhi, and mudra. These topics have been covered previously but I will attempt here to elaborate. I may write several posts on this topic in order to elaborate. In my opinion, with the yogic method of meditation it is extremely useful to understand a few terms and their meanings. This first post will discuss a few terms in general and then later posts will go into more depth.
Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, talks about two distinct forms of meditation or samadhi.
The first is called samprajnata and the second is asamprajnata.
The first, samprajnata, is when we learn to hold an object with the mind.
The second, asamprajnata, is when we learn to hold the mind in its basis.
Both forms of meditation involve control, or skill in utilizing the radiant reflection of consciousness that we call the mind.
When the mind is steadied one pointedly on a chosen object form, we have what is called ekagra.
When the mind resolves into its basis completely and becomes objectless we have full nirodha, according to Vyasa, the main ancient commentator on the Yoga Sutras.
To achieve this control of the mind there are several concepts that will be useful for us to learn.
First of all, we need to understand abhyasa and vairagya.
Abhyasa is akin to staying in the lines when we are driving a car.
Vairagya is akin to course correction that keeps us from swaying to the side when we deviate from the center while driving.
In other words, abhyasa keeps us on our chosen object of meditation, and vairagya brings us back when we stray.
Another useful term to understand is parinama. Parinama is translated sometimes as 'transformation of state'. In practice parinama is felt. We notice a distinct shift from one state to another. In our driving example, we would feel the car begin to veer to the right or left and would make the necessary course correction to right the car in the middle of the road. We use our kinetic felt sense to determine 1. when we are going off course, and 2. when we are bringing ourselves back to center.
When we are able to access this 'feeling body' in order to correct the mind during meditation, we have entered what Patanjali calls the instrumental state. Prior to this we may be 'in our heads' or thinking about names and forms, or the content of thought or the mind. This level is what Patanjali calls the objective state. The difference between the objective state and the instrumental state are like the difference between the form of a wave and its substance (water). When we are able to access this direct feeling body of the instrumental state, we can begin to notice the distinct movements that give rise to the forms and names of the objective and thus more readily bring them under control.
It is a mistake to think that we can separate ourselves from the object of meditation. This is like trying to pick up a book from the floor without using your hand. When we hold an object with our mind, we are actually attending to the movement within ourselves that contains the object. In this way we 'feel the object', rather than attempt to hold its form and name in our mind. In practice, this may feel almost like you have swallowed the object deep into your feeling body.
The practices of mudra help to get us deep into our feeling or sensory body, thus giving us access to a deeper level of control of the mind. There is a continuous biofeedback loop that is created through mudra that allows for a continuous recognition of the feeling layer of our being, a place where we can connect intimately with objects that we are choosing to steady and hold.
For more information on how mudra plays a role in meditation please see the following posts:
The number of objects that our mind can hold are infinite. Just as we practice with many asanas and the process for doing them is one, we can also practice with many objects of meditation and yet the process for holding those objects is one. As my teacher used to say, "if you know the one, you will know the many." It is far more important to understand the process of meditation than it is to 'develop success'. The success will automatically arise with regular practice and understanding of the process. It is very helpful in this way to understand what is being described here as well as the landmarks (understanding objective vs instrumental modes).
So far we have mostly been discussing samprajnata, or the meditation with form/object. What about asamprajnata, the meditation where we drive the mind back into its basis? Both meditations are actually the same, but in asamprajnata, instead of holding something, we purposely don't hold anything. One might be tempted here to focus on the form of nothingness or some conceived notion of emptiness but this is incorrect. There is a little 'jump' that is required.
In not holding anything, the 'one' thing we can 'attend' to is the basis. Or rather the basis attends to itself. This is described in sutra 1.3. The Light is always on. In other words, we just rest and 'allow' the light of consciousness to just shine as it always does. It doesn't ever go out. We just rest in that Light. Or the Light rests in itself.