DHARANA disciplines the mind

by Iulia Radu

The mind is like a monkey: the more you want to quiet it using force, the more it will refuse to comply and will jump even more agitated from one place to another. Mental concentration can be described by “not to take action”. ZEN practitioners call it “to simply stay” (ZAZEN)

– mental concentration – is the next stage of the journey in the fascinating world of meditation. The human mind permanently receives information from the outside world through the five gates of the senses: smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing. Out of all the information received from the senses, the mind has the ability to select only those that are important at a certain time. This selection is done by focusing the attention on some particular information, ignoring all the less important one. The more focused the attention on a particular sense, the greater the amount of information received through it, and the volume of information received from the other senses diminishes in intensity, and may even be ignored by the mind.

A special feature of the human mind is the ability to focus the attention towards the inner world of thoughts, feelings and ideas. Moreover, the human mind can be focused on itself – this fact being of a real importance, because it enables the mental control. This faculty of the human mind, to change the direction of attention at will, is the basic mechanism of the mental concentration. The mind that meditates on a deity transforms into a perfect copy of it.

To concentrate means to unite all in one center, to collect, to focus. Therefore, through mental concentration – DHARANA – the mind focuses on a single purpose without being able to jump to another topic for a determined period of time. The opposite of concentration is dispersion, scattering. In this case, the uncontrolled mind passes abruptly from one topic to another, not fixing itself on something specific. Unfortunately, this is the mind condition of the majority of people nowadays. When it perceives an external object, the mind takes the form of that object. Thus, it represents a first aspect called “VRITTI”; in its capacity as VRITTI, the mind is the representation of the exterior object. The physical object is the “coarse” object and the mental impression it creates is the subtle object. In addition to the perceived object, there is one more aspect of the perceiving mind. We have thus two important aspects in the process of concentration: VRITTI, the object to perceive, and the perceiver, or the one who perceives. The mind that meditates on a deity, for example, turns through a continuous devotion into the perfect copy of that deity, becoming strong and pure like It. This is a fundamental principle in the process of adoration.

DHARANA translates as “to control (stop) the mind”. The ancient tradition of wisdom considers that mind is, in accordance with well determined laws, just a steady stream of psychic patterns (VRITTI). The sequence of psychic models has an emotional sublayer, consistently doubled by physiological responses. In reality, mind means movement. It is like the wind: the wind appears when the air gets into motion; when this motion ceases, the air still exists but the wind disappeared. The mental substance that remains after the mental models (VRITTI) were stopped is named “CHITTA”. Once the mental patterns stopped, the mind disappears and we enter the state of non-mind, condition characterized by the highest degree of creativity and spiritual intuition.

Only the concentration maintained for long enough determines the transfer of the cosmic energies

Patanjali defined YOGA as follows: “YOGA CITTA VRITTI NIRODHA” (YOGA-SUTRA), which means “YOGA is the gradual suppression (NIRODHA) of the mental patterns (VRITTI) of CHITTA”. This SUTRA contains the essence of the whole YOGA science and the secret of the mental concentration. Ignorance and prejudices are likely to prevent you from believing in the success of your mind concentration. Do not let yourself fooled! Any human being has the ability to concentrate, often very deeply, when they deal with an object that they have a great interest on. The question is whether this kind of concentration relates to the genuine practice of concentration in YOGA. Even if it can give you guiding ideas on the real state of mental concentration, however is not what YOGA means by this.

DHARANA, the volitive concentration, lies in the ability to focus at will on a certain object, for an indefinite period of time, even if that certain object does not spontaneously attract our attention. It is not recommendable to force the mind to focus; this is a basic rule during the training. The mind is like a monkey: the more you want to quiet it using force, the more it will refuse to comply and will jump even more agitated from one place to another. To prevent this phenomenon from hapenning, begin by focusing your mind on a well-defined object, and when it has the tendency to jump to another thought, bring it back with patience and a lot of calmness, with humor and compassion for your lack of inner discipline. If, thanks to this continuous mental balance, you get into a state of irritability, this will do nothing but increase the mind tendency to disperse.

A state of perfect mental concentration involves the focusing of the whole potential of attention on the chosen object, for a specified period of time, without forcing or letting appear a state of mental tension. This process is analogous to the phenomenon of focusing the sunlight through a lens: the power of the sunbeams collected in a single point increases enormously in comparison to the power of the dispersed sunbeams. If, however, the light is perfectly focused, but the process takes very little, the results are very low or even zero and the focus must be maintained continuously for a certain period of time in order to obtain noticeable effects (for example, igniting a piece of wood). Similarly, DHARANA should be maintained for a period of time sufficiently long to allow the triggering of the process of resonance with the corresponding cosmic energies and the transfer of this energy in your being, and, once with it, of the information and feelings concerning the subject of concentration.

The mental concentration technique

Sit in a comfortable YOGA posture (ASANA), hold your back and shoulders straight, and the head in the continuation of the spine.  Close your eyes and get ready to go through the following steps:
 1. Relax quickly and deeply from the bottom up. Apply here all the rules of relaxation.
2. Adjust your breath until it gets calm and quiet.
3. Flip your attention inwards, retreating your senses from external stimuli that might distract you. Start by isolating your mind from any thought that appears, making a brief but firm effort to suspend the process of thinking (see PRATYAHARA).
4. Focus your mind on an object of your choice. Let’s take a closer look at the process of concentration. Clear your mind of all thoughts, then bring the chosen object in the spotlight of your attention, not allowing your mind to jump to a different object or thought. If so, bring it back calmly and patiently. It is the only thing you need to do while practicing DHARANA: to keep your mind focused on the object selected for concentration. It is strongly recommended that you do not force and that you are not tense. Be calm, quiet, and focused.
You will realize that, in the end, the mental concentration is a static process: during concentration the mind is blocked, thinking stopped and the mental activity suspended. The only mental activity allowed is to bring the mind back to the object of concentration when it has the tendency to dimish the focus. Mental concentration can be described by “not acting”. The ZEN practitioners call it “to simply stay” (ZAZEN). During the practice of concentration, the mind must be like a mirror: it will only reflect the object of the concentration just like a pure crystal which absorbs the color of the object above which it is placed. We miss out dozens of meanings when we look at objects  Think carefully of the object of your concentration: approach it with the awe and curiosity of a child, as if you know absolutely nothing about it. This approach should not be rational or intellectual, but we will aim to penetrate its essence through feelings and intuition. Explore the object in a state of creative silence, without a specific purpose, waiting for impressions. Nothing else but you and the object exist then: get into a continuous state of euphoric waiting, doubled by a high acuity of perception. Let your being be absorbed in and by the object. Do not attempt to define, to issue opinions or to understand, just be open to the object, looking at it as though you saw it for the first time. This will open yourself towards the object itself and will create the state of mental receptivity where intuition (or the supra consciousness) can work. Acting in this way, we will soon see that the objects that surround us have dozens of meanings, which normally we miss out. Everything becomes a pure wonder, a fascinating mystery you will penetrate gradually, discovering how everything is supported by an invisible energy that, over time, you will begin to feel and control. The mental concentration, DHARANA is a way to initiate the process of harmonization with the subtle macrocosmic energies whose visible manifestation is the object of our concentration. Do not attempt to hurry this process, let things run by themselves. Here, knowledge goes from object to subject. “Concentration” means to be in a state of hyper attentive waiting, like the cat lurking around the mouse hole waiting for him to come out: the unpredictable can happen in an instant. Perseverance is always rewarded  First you will probably find that this exercise fails lamentably. Accept this as being perfectly normal. Remember that in YOGA there is no fruitless effort, in other words any effort will ultimately pay off; as a wise proverb says “the mud is as valuable as the lotus flower which it feeds.”Each attempt, even unsuccessful, is a step towards success, because concentration, as well as meditation, has a cumulative effect.
Through constant focus you will acquire a huge power At first the mind is very unstable. It is enough to sketch out the object and immediately it will disappear from the spotlight of your attention. After a certain period of practice we can notice the appearance of a firmly enough state of mental stability for the attention to remain uninterruptedly focused on the object for a short period of time (10-15 minutes), stability which will increase gradually up to the stage where the mind no longer lets go of the object from the spotlight of attention because its power of penetration is remarkable. At this stage you will have to make a sustained effort to increase the mental clarity. Then you will see that your mind has a huge power. When you will be able to keep your mind focused on an object for as long as you want without effort, the mind has become an extremely fine instrument for any type of meditation that you will want to approach. It is like intending to tame a wild horse. At the first attempt he will certainly throw you down. If you persevere long enough, you will be able to tame him and then the horse will become a trustworthy friend who will listen even to the unspoken orders. Continuity is therefore an extremely important factor in the process of concentration. Meditation – DHYANA –will follow naturally after this process, just as daytime follows nighttime.

November 2011


Also available in: Română

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