Dharana is the sixth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It refers to concentration of the mind. Practicing dharana involves fixing the mind on a particular object — either external (such as an image or deity) or internal (such as a chakra). Dharana is a Sanskrit word which means “concentration.”
The last three limbs of Ashtanga yoga dharana, dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment) are collectively referred to as sanyam, which means “control.” Patanjali explains dharana as the binding of attention to anything more than a single spot. He also states that the last three limbs should be considered together, as they are progressive stages of concentration.
Practicing dharana leads the practitioner to dhyana, which is the next stage of Ashtanga yoga. Dharana is the practice of concentrating on a particular subject, and dhyana is the state in which total concentration is achieved. This eventually leads to the eighth limb, samadhi, which is the deepest stage of concentration.
To practice dharana, the individual should choose a calm place and assume a comfortable seated position. The eyes can be kept shut to focus on a chakra or mantra, or they can remain open to fix the vision and mind on an external object. Beginners can practice dharana for about 10 minutes, then increase the duration as they advance.
Yoga can help an individual master the art of dharana because it involves focusing on the breath, body or even a mantra. Regular practice of dharana enhances yoga practice by improving the practitioner’s ability to remain focused, no matter what they are doing. It trains the mind to remain calm and increases mental strength.
1. WHAT IS DHARANA
Dharana is the fixing of the mind on something external or internal. The mind can be fixed externally on the picture of Lord Hari, Lord Krishna or Lord Rama or on any other object or point. Internally it can be fixed on any Chakra or any part of the body or on any abstract idea. Having controlled the Prana through Pranayama and the Indriyas through Pratyahara, you should try to fix the mind on something. In Dharana you will have only one Vritti or wave in the mind-lake. The mind assumes the form of only one object. All other operations of the mind are suspended or stopped. Different objects of Dharana and their effects are given in the subsequent lessons. According to the Hatha Yogic school, a Yogi who can suspend his breath by Kumbhaka for 20 minutes can have a very good Dharana. He will have tranquillity of mind. Pranayama steadies the mind, removes the Vikshepa and increases the power of concentration. Fixing the mind on something is Dharana or concentration of mind. Dharana can be done only if you are free from the distractions of mind.
2. THE MIND OF DISTRACTIONS
When the seer does not abide in his own native state, he connects himself with the various Vrittis. He becomes assimilated with transformations. If your son is seriously ailing, you identify yourself with the Vritti and get grief. You have forgotten your essential divine nature. The Vrittis that arise from the mind obscure your native state. They are like clouds that screen the sun. During the time of concentration, the seer identifies himself with his own native state. At other times of concentration, the seer identifies with his Vrittis. This is a great distraction of the mind. The remedy for the evil effects of distractions is suggested in Sutra 30 and 31 of Chapter I. Have a comprehensive understanding of these modifications of mind. The painful Vrittis have to be controlled by the not-painful Vrittis, and these in turn have to be mastered by Para Vairagya. The painful Vrittis are those which bring the afflictions and become the field for the growth of the afflictions and become the field for the growth of the vehicle of actions (Karmasaya). Vrittis that emanate from Rajas and Tamas are painful ones. Vrittis that arise from Sattva Guna are not painful ones. Through Vairagya and Abhyasa the painful Vrittis are to be controlled. Then concentration will become habitual. For practising Dharana different kinds of exercises are given in the subsequent pages.
3. DHARANA ON SENSE PERCEPTION
In the previous Sutra, Pranayama practice is prescribed for steadying the wandering mind. In this Sutra it is stated: Or by the practice of concentration. By the term: brought about by the enjoyment of senses refers to the experiences or sense perceptions, such as smell, taste, sound, feeling, etc.
By concentrating on the tip of the nose, the Yogi experiences Divya Gandha; by concentrating on the tip of the tongue, he tastes Divya essences; by concentrating on the palate, the Yogi experiences Divya colour; by concentrating on the middle of the tongue, he experiences Divya touch; by concentrating at the root of the tongue, he experiences Divya sounds. By concentrating on these super-sensual perceptions, he gets steadiness of mind. These experiences give him definite encouragement. He gets faith in Yoga.
Then he applies himself with great intensity and diligence to Sadhana for getting higher experiences in Yoga by entering into Samadhi. By concentrating on the moon, sun, planets, jewels, lamp and precious stones, one can get higher super-sensual experiences and can reach Samadhi.
4. DHARANA ON SATTVIC MIND
The word ‘or’ means, here is another method for steadying the mind. For concentrating on the Sattvic mind, it is necessary to concentrate on the seat of the mind, viz., the heart. The description is given below.
There is a lotus with the face downwards below the heart with 8 petals. Inhale and throw the breath. This exhalation will turn the lotus with the petals upwards. Imagine also when you exhale that the lotus is turned upwards. Then meditate on the effulgent light that is inside the lotus. The Sushumna Nadi or Brahma-Nadi passes through this lotus. This is another method of concentration for steadying the mind and attaining Samadhi.
There is a special concentration on this lotus. You will have to locate the four parts of the Pranava A, U, M and Ardhamatra, the point in the lotus. In the centre of the lotus, there is the sphere of the sun, the seat of waking state with the letter A; above this, the sphere of the moon, the seat of dreaming state with the letter U; above this, sphere of fire, the seat of sleep with the letter M; above this, Chidakasa, the seat of Turiya, the state known as Brahma Nada, the fourth state, which the knowers of Brahman call half-measure or Ardha-matra. In the stalk thereof is the artery of Brahma (the Brahma-Nadi – Sushumna) with its face upwards. This passes through the spheres of the sun, etc. That is the seat of the mind. The Yogi concentrates at this centre.
5. DHARANA ON THE DESIRELESS MIND
Meditate on the pure mind or heart of Mahatmas or great persons like Sri Vyasa, Sukha Deva, Sri Sankaracharya, Dattatreya, Janaka, Lord Jesus or Buddha. The absorption of the mind in another mind ever pure, steady and blissful will certainly cause corresponding effect and lead to Samadhi. If you find it difficult to practise this, adopt the following method.
6. DHARANA ON THE KNOWLEDGE OF DREAM
Steadiness of the mind and Samadhi will follow by practising this method. Some times you get beautiful vision of Lord Siva, Krishna or Rama or various other deities or holy personages in dreams. When you wake up you get elated. You can concentrate and meditate on any such vision you get in dream. You can meditate on the blissful state of deep sleep or on the idea: I slept happily. According to Yoga, sleep is not a mere blank. By the purity of mind and by the grace of the Lord, the Bhaktas get His Darshan in dream and sleep, and they get Mantras also for their Japa.
7. DHARANA ON TRIPUTI
The Yogi, whose mental modifications become powerless, whose mind is as clear as a crystal and having the power of appearing similar to the colour of the objects, obtains concentration of mind by meditating on the knower, knowable and knowledge.
When all the Vrittis are controlled and when the mind is one-pointed, it is transparent like a crystal. The mind loses itself in the object concentrated upon. The mind acquires the power of appearing in the shape of whatever is presented to it, be it the knower, the knowable or the knowledge. Just as the crystal becomes coloured by the colour of the object placed before it and then shines according to the form of the object, so also this mind is coloured by the colour of the object presented to it, and then appears in the form of the object. ‘Samapatti’ is Tanmaya Parinama. The mind gets the quality of the object which it comes in contact with. This is Grahya-samapatti. This is the first state. If the mind leaves connection with objects, if it keeps connection with the Indriyas only, it is called Grahana-samapatti. Grahana means the Indriyas. This is the second state. If the mind keeps connection with the Atman only, it is called Grahitri-samapatti. Grahitri means: He who knows. That is the Self. This is the third state.
The Sutra gives you the condition of the mind of concentration. The Vrittis should be annihilated. The mind should be pure like a crystal and then concentrate on the knower, knowable and knowledge.
8. DHARANA ON ANY CHOSEN OBJECT
Meditate on anything that appeals to you good or anything which the mind likes best. Having suggested so many methods in the above Sutras for concentration, and meditation, Patanjali Maharshi in the end says: Concentrate on any object that appeals to you much. You can select any pleasant object that brings in concentration of the mind easily. This is the meaning of this Sutra.
Select any gross object that the mind likes such as pencil, apple, rose, chair, etc., and concentrate on it. The mind should be trained to concentrate on gross forms and objects in the beginning period of Sadhana and then gradually it can concentrate on subtle objects. After a regular practice on these, the mind becomes fit for concentration on internal Chakras and abstract ideas. Retire into a solitary place. Sit in a steady posture. Close your eyes. Avoid all distractions. Then you will have wonderful concentration. When you concentrate on one object, do not think of any other object. In this chapter a few exercises are given for Dharana.
In the next Chapter ‘Samyama,’ various gross and subtle objects and centres in body are given. You must have a thorough study of the chapters: Pratyahara, Dharana, Samyama, Dhyana and Samadhi. They are something like one subject. The exercise Trataka – steady gazing, given in Shat Karmas (six purificatory actions) of Hatha Yoga, is also a kind of exercise in Dharana.
Vedantins try to fix their mind on Atman, the Inner Self. This is their Dharana. When Hatha Yogins concentrate their mind on Shat Chakras or the six centres of spiritual energy, they concentrate their mind on the respective presiding Devatas and Tattvas. Bhaktas concentrate their mind on their Ishta Devata. Dharana is an important stage for any kind of Sadhana. You can concentrate on the virtuous qualities of your father or great persons, saints or prophets. This is abstract concentration (Sukshma). Beginners can concentrate on the tik-tik sound of the watch. Hatha Yogins concentrate on a small black dot when they do Trataka. This is also very good for beginners. Trataka on the picture of Lord Krishna can be done by Bhaktas.
9. THE CONCENTRATED MIND
The one-pointed modification of the mind (concentration), comes when the subsiding and rising (the past and the present) are rendered similar.
Sometimes when you are deeply engrossed in a subject you do not know how the time has passed. You say, Is it 12 o’clock now? How the time has passed! I sat at six in the morning. It is twelve now. I have not taken even my tea. The idea of time has vanished now, as you were deeply engaged. In Samadhi, the past and present become one. There is simultaneous knowledge. Everything is present for the Yogi. Everything is here. Everything is now only. The more you are concentrated, the more you are not aware of time. This is the test for deep concentration.
When the mind is fully occupied in the affairs of the war, the soldier does not feel any serious injury of a gun-shot wound in the leg. He is not aware of the loss of a large quantity of blood also. He has great concentration in war. He is not conscious of his body for the time being. When the excitement is over, when he sees some blood spots on his clothing, he comes to consciousness. Then only he is alarmed a bit. When the mind is intensely fond of anything, there will be no perception of pain even if destruction awaits the body. When the mind is completely drowned in any object, who else is there to observe and feel the actions of the body?
There are five Yoga Bhumikas or stages or five states of mind, viz., (1) Kshipta (wandering); (2) Mudha (forgetful); (3) Vikshipta (gathering mind); (4) Ekagrata (one- pointed); (5) Nirudha (controlled or well-restrained). In Kshipta state the rays of the mind are scattered. It is always wandering. In Mudha state, the man does not know anything. He is quite dull. He will harm others. In Vikshipta state, the mind is centered for a short time only; but wanders about for a long time. In Ekagrata state, it is one-pointed and concentrated. You can enter into Samadhi with the help of this mind. In Nirudha state, all the Vrittis are controlled. This is the state of Vritti-sunya. But Samskaras which are the seeds for Vrittis are here. No Yoga is possible in the first three states of mind. Yoga is possible in the fourth and fifth states only.
10. BENEFITS OF DHARANA
The mind can easily meditate by steady practice on the most minute as well as the biggest object. This is the proper test for concentration. He has mastery in concentration starting from the smallest of atoms to infinity. He has full concentration. He does not want any more practice.
He who practises concentration will possess a very good health and very cheerful mental vision. Through concentration you will get penetrative insight. Subtle esoteric meanings will flash out in the field of mental consciousness. You will understand the inner depths of philosophical significance when you read the Gita or the Upanishads with concentration. Those who practise concentration evolve quickly. They can do any work with greater efficiency. What others can do in six hours, can be done by one who does concentration, within half an hour. What others can read in six hours, can be read by one who does concentration, within half an hour. Concentration purifies and calms the surging emotions, strengthens the current of thought and clarifies the ideas. Concentration keeps a man in his material progress also. He will have a very good out-turn of work in his office. What was cloudy and hazy before, becomes clearer and definite; what was difficult before becomes easy now; and what was complex, bewildering and confusing before, comes easily within the mental grasp. You can achieve anything through concentration. Nothing is impossible for one who practises regular concentration.
11. INSTRUCTIONS ON DHARANA
Purify the mind first through the practice of Yama and Niyama. Then take to the practice of Dharana. Concentration without purity is of no use. There are some occultists who have concentration. But they do not have good character. This is the reason why they do not make any progress in the spiritual path. Ethical perfection is of paramount importance.
A man whose mind is filled with passion and all sorts of fantastic desires can hardly concentrate on any object even for a second. His mind will be jumping like a monkey.There can be no concentration without something upon which the mind may rest. The mind can be fixed easily on a pleasing object such as jasmine flower, mango or a loving friend. It is very difficult in the beginning to fix the mind on any object which it dislikes such as faecal matter, cobra, enemy, ugly face, etc.
Practise concentration till the mind is well- established on the object of concentration. When the mind runs away from the object of concentration bring it back again to the object.It is very difficult to practise concentration when one is very hungry and when one is suffering from an acute disease.
Train the mind in concentrating on various objects gross and subtle and of various sizes big, medium and small. In course of time a strong habit of concentration will be formed. The moment you sit for concentration, the mood will come at once, quite easily.
For a neophyte the practice of concentration is disgusting and tiring. He has to cut new grooves in the mind and the brain. After some time, say two or three months’ regular practice, he gets great interest. He enjoys a new kind of happiness. He becomes restless if he fails to enjoy this new kind of happiness one day. Concentration is the only way to get rid of worldly miseries and tribulations. You have taken this physical body only to achieve concentration and through concentration to realise the Self.