Dhyana is the 7th limb of yoga and a core meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism. It is similar to meditation but with a few noteable differences.
The National Institute of Health  says, “The word [Dhyana] is usually translated as meditation, implying a state of abiding calm. But it requires Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana too.”
Given the power of the method, you will want to learn it properly. So let me share everything you need to know.
First, let’s look at the technique itself.
Guided Dhyana Meditation
- Sit with good posture. You can meditate in Shavasana. But I will continue with instructions for seated practise. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Slightly lower your chin to lengthen your spine.
- Breathe. Take a minimum of twenty mindful breaths to relax your mind.
- Focus on your meditation object. You can either use a physical object such as a gemstone, or a mental image. Focus on one part of your object and meditate on it.
- What happens next is really a process of subtraction. You want your object to be the only thing you are aware of. That means silencing thoughts and feelings. To do this, you need to detach from mental phenomena. While you are meditating on your object, mindfully observe and label mental phenomena such as thoughts and feelings, much as you would do in Vipassana. When you consciously observe these things, you will detach from them. Continue to do this until the only thing left is the meditation object. This is Dhyana.
- To follow tradition, after Dhyana yoga practice comes Bhakti meditation technique.
- If you would like to know how Dhyana works with other techniques, read my guide to Meditation For Enlightenment.
What Is Dhyana Yoga / Meditation?
Dhyana is the seventh limb of yoga. The order of the “limbs” is as follows:
- Niyama (rules of conduct)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption).
Yoga teacher Mara Carrico says the Eight Limbs of Yoga are a “prescription” for a morally disciplined life. To follow the true yoga lifestyle, we must follow all eight limbs. That’s why it is imperative to learn Dhyana properly.
What does Dhyana mean?
According to Monier Williams [the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University], the word “Dhyana” means “profound, abstract meditation”.
And according to The Yoga-Darsana: The sutras of Patanjali with the Bhasya of Vyasa by Harvard, Dhyana meditation is uninterrupted awareness.
In Dhyana, the meditator is aware of only two things:
- The origin of consciousness
- The object on which they are meditating.
This is different to more common techniques, like Samatha and Dharana, which are focused meditations.
In focused meditation, at least one of the five senses is always involved. In proper Dhyana yoga, no senses are involved.
Gregor Maehle, author of Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, says that in Dhyana meditation the citta (mind / heart) is focused on the object in a way that is observed beyond ordinary perception and removed from the constraints of the ego.
In other words, we are not aware that we are meditating on an object. Instead, we are the object.
Onesness with the meditation object
Dhyana is when the centre of consciousness focuses on the object of meditation. There is no distinction between the object and the meditator. They are one.
Kirsty Tomlinson on Ekhart Yoga, explains it like this:
“While Dharana requires us to concentrate on one object, Dhyana teaches us to observe it without judgement, without attachment – instead, contemplating it in all its colours and forms in a profound, abstract state of meditation.” .
It is totally senseless
Dhyana is different to other techniques because it does not use the senses.
In the book Ancient Yoga and Modern Science, T.R. Anantharaman says that in Dhyana, we are not judging or even aware of the possibility of judging. And we are not aware of the distinction between the self and the external world. We are one.
It is a place beyond words. Lao Tzu spoke of a similar state when he said, “He who knows does not speak”.
Connect to your higher self
With Dyana meditation, you will connect to your higher self. The method leads us beyond likes, dislikes and sanskaras (imprints left on the mind). Attachments evaporate like puddles in the sun.
We step out of Jadasamadhi (dreamlike state), let go of consciousness and self, and exist as pure Atma (higher self).
In this state, we achieve oneness with the object, a harmony based on complete love.
An explanation of oneness
Imagine that you are made of three points.
The first point is the origin. This is the very core from which consciousness stems. It is like the sun. It is the creator.
The second point is your mind-body. Here you may be aware of thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are like clouds that prevent the sun from breaking through.
The third and final part is reality itself. If you are meditating on an object (Dharana / Samatha), this third part will be the object. In a breathing meditation, the third part is the breath. Likewise, in Trataka, the third part is the candle.
When we enter Dhyana the only thing that exists is the object that we are meditating on and the centre of consciousness.
In his book Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation, Rolf Sovik [President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute] explains that Dhyana is “proper meditation” and that it is only possible after extensive practise of Dharana.
Sovik explains that it is not effortful concentration but pure existence.
As you practice Dharana or Samatha (meditation focusing on an object), you will gradually quiet the mind and move towards oneness. At first, you might experience just a few seconds of oneness. But this time will increase the more you practice.
To go further in the technique, aim to stop trying to meditate and aim for effortless oneness with the object. This will bring oneness faster and for more extended periods.
Don’t force it
It is impossible to force Dhyana. Instead, it is a natural evolution of Dharana and will come through prolonged practice. That practice will be extremely fruitful. Once we achieve the state for an extended time, we find great insight into the nature of ourselves and our existence.
Hindus often practise Dhyana by meditating on Om.
Sri Krishna gave instructions as follows:
“Seated comfortably in a seat neither high nor low, keeping the hands near the body unmoved, control the eye from wandering outwards (fix the gaze on the top of the nose).
“Control the breath by taking it through one nostril and letting it out through the other and vice versa. Control the senses.
Pronounce the letter OM continuously and with deep devotion both while inhaling and exhaling.”
In Hinduism, it is believed that the practice of Dhyana meditation will lead to Samadhi. This is the highest state of concentration a person can achieve.
According to Stuart Ray Sarbacker [Associate Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Philosophy] the ultimate goal is the union of Atman (soul) with Brahman (ultimate, unchanging reality).
In Buddhism, Dhyana is “no-mind”. It is a state of complete equanimity and awareness.
In The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Alexander Wynne explains that Buddhism merges Dhyana meditation with mindfulness and that it is done to achieve shunya (state of null).
Dhyana yoga builds on the practice of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (breath control) and Dharana (concentration) and leads to the eighth limb (absorption).
In yoga, it is complete, pure-minded meditation in which we are not aware that we are meditating. We are one with the object. And it is a oneness beyond thought and effort.
Dhyana is oneness.
There are moments when you will experience the state even if you don’t meditate. Dhyana meditation gives you the control to create those moments of oneness. And once you can create that state, you’ll gain tremendous insight into the true nature of reality. And that is what Dhyana meditation technique is all about.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison