It is not required for a sādhaka practising dhyāna to adhere to valiant restrictions on food and other diversions. His sitting posture should not hinder easy breathing and other bodily activities, and should not cause trouble to his limbs. There is a proper measure for eating, sleeping and jāgaraṇa. A yogi is moderate in the above aspects. Here, moderation means just as much as is required for mental balance; neither more, nor less.
nātyaśnatas-tu yogo’sti na caikāntam-anaśnataḥ ।
na cāti-svapna-śīlasya jāgrato naiva cārjuna॥ BG 6.16
yuktāhāra-vihārasya yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasu ।
yukta-svapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā ॥ BG 6.17
A glutton cannot become a yogi, as also one who seldom eats. Excess sleep is not recommended, as is jāgaraṇa or staying awake for too long. One should be tranquil; there should be no excess of pleasure.
There are two goals here:1) Efficiency in work 2) Peace of mind. When the yakṣa asked what was the main characteristic of the practice of Dharma, Dharmarāja said, “dākṣyam-ekapadaṃ dharmyaṃ” (MBh. 3-314-72) — “Efficiency is one-quarter of dharma”. Dharma is possible when one is efficient. Jāgaraṇa, oversleeping, starving, and stuffing one’s stomach with food — all these affect the peace of mind.
Enjoyment of and attachment to pleasure should be present in such a way that progress towards the two aforementioned goals is not impeded. Just as ‘not impeding’ is important, it is also important that they be ‘present’. The body and the senses should be controlled, not killed. They become obedient only if they are humoured for some time. If we try to suppress in a strict manner, they might revolt and break the mind into pieces. Dhyāna then becomes impossible; worldly work becomes impossible. Viveka deserts the mind that is not peaceful.
Efficiency and peace of mind are required not only for a seeker of knowledge and not just for a yogi but are required qualities even for us, who are not quite so inclined in this direction. The plight of humans is like this because these qualities are not present in our day-to-day dealings. Dhyāna-yoga can be practised when the mind is healthy and content.
yatroparamate cittaṃ niruddhaṃ yoga-sevayā BG 6.20
saṅkalpa-prabhavān kāmān tyaktvā sarvān-aśeṣataḥ।
manasaivendriya-grāmaṃ viniyamya samantataḥ॥ BG 6.24
śanaiḥ śanair-uparamet buddhyā dhṛti-gṛhītayā।
ātma-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā na kiñcidapi cintayet॥ BG 6.25
The qualification for yoga is said to be acquired when the mind stops roving here and there, and can focus without getting agitated. Until then we do not qualify for yoga. Completely giving up all desires that are the root cause of various saṅkalpas, controlling all senses and subjugating them, attaining tranquility little by little at a time with a steady mind, firmly establishing the mind in the ātmā, one desiring to practise dhyāna should not think of anything else. This is paramātma-dhyāna-yoga or the yoga of meditating upon the Supreme.
Different Types of Dhyāna-yoga
For many among us, paramātmā is a distant thing. It is not easy for us to even imagine it. But we also possess a desire to understand its nature. Therefore, we also need a method of dhyāna that might gradually lead us on the path to true knowledge. In the statement
ātma-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā... BG 6.25
We can replace Ātma with a deity of our choice — one that we love and can grasp. "Deva-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "śambhu-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "rāma-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "vāṇī-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "kṛṣṇa-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "lakṣmī-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", "gaurī-saṃsthaṃ manaḥ kṛtvā", etc — thus fixing the mind upon our iṣṭadevatā. Usually, during all vratas like Vināyaka-caturthī, during all japas like that of the Gāyatrī-mantra, it is an established tradition to recite the dhyāna-shloka first. The intention is to bring the Divine image to mind — and in the process, fix the mind on the greatness of the deity, its wonderful power and glory. "muktāvidruma…" in gāyatrī-dhyāna, "dhyeyaḥ sadā savitṛ-maṇḍala-madhyavartiḥ", etc.
This is the first lesson in dhyānayoga.
The method of dhyāna has to be learnt from experienced people only. It is not possible to learn it by listening to speeches and explanations. The secret of dhyāna is the mechanism to temper the mind. This mechanism differs from jīva to jīva. Some children can be cajoled with candies; others might need to see a cane before they oblige. There is no single rule that works for all minds. If experienced people share their experiences, some guidance can be obtained from it. I am not experienced. I will just say a few words that I have merely heard from others.
Means for Dhyāna
As far as possible, those who want to practise dhyāna should decide on the following four first.
- A designated place
- A specific time
- The mūrti of a deity
- A mantra or a mahāvākya
Out of the twenty-four hours available in a day, at least fifteen minutes should be earmarked for this purpose. Early morning is the best time. If that is not possible, even night time is fine. It is of utmost importance that the mind should be at peace. If there is a specific time and place, the mind can easily take the requisite mood or attitude. It might be difficult to achieve the same in a different place or at a different time. One should sit there in silence, where there is no animated activity of others. One should sit with a clean mind and body in such a place, and fix the concentration on the icon of the iṣṭadaiva. Once should recall the stories, the wonderful qualities and splendour of the deity, and keep thinking about it. If he feels like it, he can perform pūjā, but the mind should not wander away in the hullabaloo of flowers and naivedya. Japa should not even be performed loudly, because sound pulls the mind outward towards the world. Among all dhyānas, silent dhyāna is the best. That is why yogis are called maunis (those who are silent).
Then, are bhajanas and kīrtanas wrong? No, they are also useful. However, their use is limited. Bhajanas and kīrtanas bring elevated emotions to the mind. These emotions are fructified only by performing dhyāna solitarily.
I feel that the practice of dhyāna is possible at least to a certain extent for everyone — including women. There is no one who is so busy that he or she is not free for a few minutes before sleeping at night, or in the early morning—just beside the bed—before one sets out for their daily routine. If those five minutes are used for dhyāna, it will not only bring much-needed peace and calm during the entire day, but also firmly establishes a practice routine.
Yogis can engage themselves in deep dhyāna of their deity for a very long time. It is very difficult for us to achieve such deep concentration for a long time. It is a great fortune if our minds can fix themselves upon the divine even for a second. One of my elders would say — "I can wash a buffalo with ease, washing a sāligrāma is difficult". Another elder would say, "I can focus for hours on worldly matters; whereas my mind is not focused for half a minute in the half hour I spend for pūjā". Worldly things excite our temper or desire, and trap us with them. There is no such outward attraction for devotion to the divine. It happens inside us. Our firm and persevering effort is required for it. "Uddhared-ātmanātmānam". That is why it is difficult. Sādhanā is when something difficult is achieved. What is great in achieving something that is easy?
Without such dhyāna, it is difficult for anyone to understand the Bhagavad-Gītā. Experience is knowledge. Here, by experience, we mean our own experience. The knowledge obtained from books is incomplete. Bookish knowledge is only a poor imitation of the knowledge gained by experience, whereas experience gives complete knowledge. When such experience has to be gained, the mind has to ripen. Both karma and jñāna are ways to ripen the mind. Both of them are needed.
"yāvad-yāvat karmabhya uparamate tāvat tāvat nirāyāsasya jitendriyasya cittaṃ samādhīyate।"
(As it recuses itself from activity, the mind of the one who is at ease and whose sense organs are controlled attains focus.)
naitādṛśaṃ brāhmaṇasyāsti vittaṃ
yathaikatā samatā satyatā ca.
(There is no other wealth of a brāhmaṇa
than unity, equanimity, truth,
character, firmness, the cessation of punishment, sincerity
and gradual cessation from activity)
They say that the mind should desist from sensual enjoyment; the meaning here is to get rid of the cares, scares and fuss of karma. Karma should be performed, but we should also extricate ourselves from it. Both are required — there are different requirements for different situations.
Mark of an Ātma-jñānī
Śrīkṛṣṇa describes the mark of a meditator who has successfully accomplished Ātmadhyāna.
sarva-bhūtastham-ātmānaṃ sarvabhūtāni cātmani।
īkṣate yoga-yuktātmā sarvatra sama-darśanaḥ॥ BG 6.29
yo māṃ paśyati sarvatra sarvaṃ ca mayi paśyati।
tasyāhaṃ na praṇaśyāmi sa ca me na praṇaśyati॥ BG 6.30
sarvathā vartamāno’pi sa yogī mayi vartate BG 6.31
ātmaupamyena sarvatra samaṃ paśyati yo’rjuna।
sukhaṃ vā yadi vā duḥkhaṃ sa yogī paramo mataḥ॥ BG 6.32
All living beings are within the expanse of the ātmā. A yogi internalises this experience and behaves in the same way towards everything and everyone. We have seen the meaning of samabhāva earlier: it means having clear distinction between proper and improper in external behavior and equal love for all internally. Everything is a manifestation of the divine, and the divine pervades everything uniformly. It cannot be said that it manifests densely in some and sparsely in others. The love that a yogi feels internally is equal and common for all. Wherever he is, whatever state he is in, he always interacts with the divine at all times. Ātmaupamya is characteristic of him. Ātmaupamya means behaving towards someone else as though it was oneself. A great yogi is one who considers others’ happiness and sorrow as his own, at all times and in all places. He is part of all of the world’s experiences, be it joy or agony. This is what Śrīkṛṣṇa says. He does not abandon the world; but he is engrossed in the welfare of all beings. Internally, he is not attached to worldly activities, but outwardly, he helps in those very activities. Internally, he is firmly established in the true knowledge of the ātmā. Because of this — because his knowledge of the true nature of the ātmā is complete, he is able to conduct himself as though the whole world is an extension of himself. Just as it is the innate nature of jasmine to spread fragrance, the quality of Ātmaupamya is thus natural and effortless for a yogi. Ātmaupamya is prescribed dharma for a sādhaka, and a natural development for a siddha (one who has attained it). Thus, its importance is in both ways. This philosophy of Ātmaupamya is the fundamental thread running through all our worldly morals and traditions. The śāstras expound this in many ways -
ātmanaḥ pratikūlāni pareṣāṃ na samācaret॥
(One must not do to others what one would find disagreeable)
MBh. 5.15.17, 18
mātṛvat para-dārāṃśca para-dravyāṇi loṣṭhavat।
ātmavat sarva-bhūtāni yaḥ paśyati sa paśyati॥
(One who sees others’ wives as his own mother,
others’ wealth as a lump of earth,
and all beings as one self, indeed sees.)
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.
 Staying awake all night as part of religious austerities
 When the Pāṇḍavas were wandering in the forest, they were thirsty and looking for water. One by one, they found a lake inhabited by a yakṣa. He said that they would be able to drink water if they answered his questions correctly. The last four Pāṇḍavas did not heed the yakṣa’s words and died immediately. Yudhiṣṭhira, however, answered the yakṣa’s (in reality, the yakṣa was Yama himself) questions correctly and got his brothers revived.
 Says DVG with his characteristic humility.
 One should not look at this statement with feminist eyes. The jobs that are traditionally performed by women — taking care of children, for instance — all need some level of worldly attachment. Amidst the many daily chores of nurturing the family and taking care of them, they may not find the necessary time, inclination or confidence that they can practise dhyāna. The intention behind this statement is that even those with multitudinous daily activities that bind them to the world can perform dhyāna.
 Critical Edition
 The word aupamya originates from the word upa+mā, the literal meaning of which is "whose measures are the same". It means similarity. Ātmaupamya therefore means to look at something else as though it is oneself.