Hindu tradition

These ideas about types of meditative awareness and the need for ethics and insight have their parallels in ancient meditation texts drawn from Hindu traditions. The earliest reference to breath-focused meditation is in the Rg Veda, the oldest text in the Hindu canon, which dates from about 1200 BCE (Flood, 1996). The earliest meditation reference in the Upanisads is in the oldest one, the Pre-Buddhist Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, which states that after becoming calm and focused, the meditator can perceive unity with all things. The Maitrt Upanisad, dating from about 600 to 300 BCE, contains an early formulation of the facets of yoga, involving pranayama (breathing techniques), tarka (inquiry), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, dating from about 100 BCE to 500 CE, added certain preparations for meditation practice, such as yama (ethical principles), niyama (self-restraint), and asana (yoga posture) to these six facets to formulate eight-limbed or ashtanga yoga (Flood 1996).

In the Yoga Sutra, dharana is the first level of awareness and involves meditation on a particular object, such as a feeling, thought, or image. In this stage of meditation, the focus is at times broken and thus concentration is not uninterrupted. It is important to note that concentration becomes increasingly subtle; that is, the initial focus is on the object’s gross aspects and over time concentration reveals increasingly subtle aspects of the object. When dharana is continuous, it becomes dhyana, the uninterrupted flow of mental effort. The one-pointed concentration involved in dhyana requires control of desires, because they constitute a distraction (Dass and Diffenbaugh 2013). These first two stages may correspond to degrees of FA because they involve training the attention to focus on an object of meditation.

With practice, dhyana develops into samadhi, or high consciousness, with different stages of samadhi reflecting degrees of what might elsewhere be described as OM and NDA. The initial stages of samadhi are termed samprajnata samadhi, or the samadhi of wisdom. In samprajnata samadhi the mind is still fluctuating in gross levels of object-based cognition. The first stage of samadhi (savitarka samadhi; absorption with reasoning) involves ordinary mental functions, such as experiences of the senses and thoughts and feelings that accompany those sense perceptions (Dass and Diffenbaugh 2013). Savitarka samadhi resembles the description of OM because it entails awareness of the flow of experience. As meditation experience progresses, the meditator transcends all fluctuations of the mind and no longer relies on an object of meditation; subject and object of meditation no longer exist in asamprajnata samadhi. Samadhi results in knowledge about the nature of existence itself (Dass and Diffenbaugh 2013).

The Yoga SUtra are generally interpreted as descriptive of concentrative meditation because they appear to describe stages of meditation on a concrete object. Indeed, at the initial stages, the focus may be concrete but progresses through successive refinements. The transition from focus on a particular object in dhyana to savitarka samadhi is quite distinct and is predicated upon achievement of vairagya, or detachment from “the colorings pertaining to objects in the mind” (Dass and Diffenbaugh 2013, p. 39). Thus, the SUtra describes stages of meditation that begin with focus on a particular object such as the breath, progress to awareness of the flow of experience without clinging to a particular object of attention, and culminate in states of NDA. The “objects of meditation” described in the SUtra refer to all the contents of awareness prior to loss of the self-object distinction in asamprajnata samadhi, rather than necessarily referring to specific concrete objects.

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