Meditation as we generally think of it is practiced across all eastern traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. Obvs different religions have different philosophies and meditation plays varying roles. There are many different schools of thought inside what we call “Hinduism”, alone. Then there are people who practice mantra meditation as a way to relax, or to manifest their dreams into reality, or to build confidence, etc. etc. etc. In order to keep this post from becoming unscrollably long, I’m going to focus on just the few main goals of meditation that are discussed in the Vedas, from “Hinduism” perspective, with a blissful little slip into Buddhism around nirvana (or should I say blissless? as in void of.. umm just void?). MOVING ON. I’ll try to remain somewhat objective although as my name might reveal, I’m into the Bhakti-yoga path where practice of pure love is the means as wells as the end goal of meditation. SO. Let’s begin.
Why do you keep putting “Hinduism” in quotes btw??
Because Hinduism is a name given a long, long time ago by Greeks and Muslims for the people living on the other side of the Indus River. Indus is Sindhu in Sanskrit, hence ‘hindu’. Those people (modern day Indians) practiced sanatana-dharma which is the culture, religion and lifestyle of the Vedas designed to link or yoke you to Spirit at every step. ((The English word ‘yoke’ which means to ‘hitch, attach, link’ comes from Sanskrit word yoga which means just that, to unite)) So Hinduism is really a superficial, geographical title that was given by outsiders – there is no mention of ‘Hindu’ anywhere in the Vedas which are the scriptures the entire culture is based on. That’s why.
Various goals for people in various stages of consciousness evolution
Instead of Hinduism, the more accurate term is sanatana-dharma which means ‘eternal position/teaching/essence’ and reflects the idea that no matter what your race, gender, religion or other outwardly situation is, you are in essence a spiritual being and you have an eternal relationship with the Supreme Spiritual Being (whether you call it God, Brahman, Bhagavan, Allah, Krishna, Jehova, truth, universe, the Source). And the Vedic culture is designed to encourage a lifestyle that takes one closer and closer to self-realization no matter where you start or enter the culture. That’s why there are so many volumes to the Vedas and so many seemingly contradicting advice or goals of meditation mentioned. Different people, at different points in their personal evolution of consciousness, are attracted to different spiritual paths. The Vedas offer something for everyone so that you can hop on and enjoy and thus stay on the road that eventually takes you to the ultimate goal.
Well let’s just cut to the chase here and quote some ancient teachings. This mantra from Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.28.6) defines samadhi as follows:
Fixing the vital air and the mind in one of the six circles of vital air circulation within the body [chakras], thus concentrating one’s mind on the transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Being, is called samadhi, or samadhana, of the mind.
Samadhi is the last step of the eight-fold yoga process known as Ashtanga (ashta=eight, anga=limbs) described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Samadhi is a state of ecstasy where the meditator realizes the profound connection between their self, the Divine, and all living things. In Ashtanga-yoga, samadhi is attained through a “technical” approach of eight clearly described stages, beginning with yama (the dont’s like intoxication, being too talkative, impatience) and niyama (the dos, like contentedness, generosity, vegetarian diet).
If you go to the details, the fourth step, pranayama (breathing exercises) is perfected when you sit still and combine your in-going and out-going breath – in other words, stop breathing. The fifth step is dharana, contemplation, that precedes actual meditation (dhyana). So through the traditional, yoga path of ashtanga, getting to Samadhi can take a few (hundred?) lifetimes. And the environment on our planet is not getting more and more convenient for this type of approach to enlightenment, quite the opposite.
Don’t be discouraged though! You can totally implement the different eight steps to your life in ways that feel good and help you progress – omazing! But, samadhi is not something that comes cheaply or easily through this mechanic, mystical yogic path.
You often hear about nirvana in connection to Buddhism. Nirvana is Sanskrit and literally means ‘blown out’ (like a candle), or another translation given for it is ‘out of the forest’. Buddhist teaching tells us that all in life is impermanent and in a constant state of flux. Any sense one might have of their self or a soul inside them, is regarded as a misapprehension. This sense of self is one of the main causes of human conflict and misery, and by realizing the nonexistence of our perceived self ‘we’ may go beyond ‘our’ mundane desires and attain nirvana – a state of peace when all craving is eliminated. One is free of the five skandhas that tie you to material idea of ego: matter, sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness.
I’m a big believer in soul and oneness in spirit with the Divine and all beings AND simultaneous difference in individuality of each spirit allowing for hierarchy of beings (“normal beings”, gods, goddesses, supreme being) and thus relationship and…love! – so it warms my heart to see in the oldest texts that exist in Buddhism, the Nikayas, Buddha affirm to his disciples that the “Soul was the only refuge, was the light within” (DN 2.100), and said the “Soul was that which was most beloved.” But, in later Buddhist sutras (teachings), rather than direct his followers to discover Atman (self), he taught that all clinging to concepts and ideas of a self are faulty and based on ignorance.
Nirvana is also mentioned in the (non-Buddhist) Vedas, in the Bhagavad-gita. Here’s the shloka (verse) with nirvana in it, from Bhagavad-gita’s 6th chapter which talks about the mystical 8-fold yoga path:
yunjann evam sadatmanam
Thus practicing control of the body, mind and activities, the mystic transcendentalist attains to the spiritual sky [abode of Krishna] by cessation of material existence.
Prema has a simple but profound meaning = pure love. Specifically, love directed toward the Divine that surpasses any form of selfish love or lust-based emotion. Prema is particularly the goal of meditation for bhakti-yogis – the practitioners of loving, devotional service. Here’s a beautiful description of prema, in accordance with the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition of Krishna-bhaktas or devotees of Krishna:
Krishna-prema (Love for Godhead) is not fire but it still burns away one’s material desires. Krishna-prema is not a weapon, but it still pierces the heart. It is not water, but it washes away everything—one’s pride, religious rules, and one’s shyness. Krishna-prema makes one drown in the ocean of transcendental ecstasy and pleasure.
The personification of prema and the supreme example of pure love is Sri Radha, a cowherd girl, and the internal potency of Krishna – His feminine energy. On the Bhakti path, pure love increases in the heart as one practices and becomes more and more free from material conceptions and illusions. This is then the ultimate perfection of life – absorption in pure love of God. In Bhakti tradition, liberation (moksha), nirvana (as in freedom from material conception of ego) and samadhi (total peace and unbroken meditation) are seen as inferior to prema, and just incidental by-products of that elevated, pure love.
Ok so simply put, what’s the goal of meditation?
OMG don’t ask me anything anymore, I’ve for now exhausted my capacity to put these out-there concepts into words along with googling, wiki-ing, Bhagavad-gita-ing, Sutra-ing, and just everyth-ing included in this. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface anyway. These things run deeeeep. Super simply put, goal of meditation is enlightenment. Self-realization. God-realization. Then, what those mean, vary according to different traditions. But one word that can umbrella all other goals of meditation under it… across all traditions and religions and non-religious paths… is that the goal of meditation is… TRUTH. To see your self and the world the way they really are.