What happens during meditation ?
- From the annals of
the Yoga Sutras
In the third chapter of the yoga sutras, which is called the Vibhuti Pada or the chapter on the super powers, Patanjali describes the details of meditation that eventually leads to the state of Samadhi, which is the ultimate state of yoga that leads to great powers, called Siddhis, as well as to the end goal of yoga -Kaivalyam or total freedom (from rebirth and suffering). In the first and the second chapters of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali already lays out the importance of meditation (to remove the kleshas) and he gives certain means through which to get into a meditative state. He says that meditation is so important that one should use any means possible to get into a meditative state (YS 1.39). Now, in the third chapter, Patanjali while discussing the mechanism of meditation describes what goes on in the mind during meditation. This is the topic of this article.
Samskaras - the imprints of thoughts on the mind
Every thought, in addition to possibly propelling an action, leaves imprints on the mind. These imprints are called Samskaras. The yoga philosophy tells us that we carry samskaras from this and past lifetimes (YS 2.12 -2.14).
Patanjali, in sutra 3.9, says that there is a tug of war going on in the mind between what he describes as the outgoing samskaras and the restraining samskaras.
The outgoing Samskaras (Vyuttana Samaskaras) have a tendency to let the mind dwell on worldly objects in a continuous stream while the restraining Samskaras (Nirodha Samskaras) tend to rein the mind and turn it inward and reduce the vrittis (the mental fluctuations). Meditation cultivates the restraining Samskaras. Therefore the more we meditate, the more nirodha Samskaras or the restraining imprints on the mind that take place. This reins the mind and prevents it from aimless wandering during everyday activities as well as in meditation.
And what happens next ?
Patanjali in the next sutra says that when one cultivates, through meditation, the restraining imprints on the mind, then there is a continuous flow of peace in one's life due to these restraining imprints.