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Dhyāna: साध्य & साधन (Insights from Yogasutra, Mundaka Upanishad & Bhagavata Purana)

Dhyana – focused attention is required for achieving success in all walks of life. Dhyana is thus a tool to achieve one’s objective. On the other hand, Dhyana itself is a skill that must be acquired. Thus, Dhyana is not only a Sadhana but also a Sadhya.

Ancient Indian narratives have provided various paths, devices and tantra-yuktis to become skillful in Dhyana. These texts are frank in admitting the difficulty in acquiring this skill and in prescribing the methods to overcome these difficulties. These texts are also emphatic on the need for training Mana-Buddhi-Sharir (Mind-Intellect-Body triad) to achieve this skill.

This presentation will discuss how to train the mind (and intellect) in dealing with variegated thought processes, philosophies, methods, personalities, attitudes, and behaviors. This training process is remarkably identical across Upanishads, Darshan Shastra and Puranas. The presentation will describe the similarities and nuances and the rationale behind these nuances.


Patanjali’s Yogasutra defines Sanyam as combination of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Dharana can be defined as specific selection of a subject for study/comprehension while Dhyana can be described as reflection to comprehend the subject. Samadhi is the act of contemplation to bring unbiased clarity about the subject or the problem associated with the subject. The combination of these three is ‘Sanyam’ which when successful leads to the solving of a problem and/or comprehension of the subject. Bhagavan Patanjali asks us to make use of these skills for the wellbeing of the world.

I have made use of this method for solving problems in ancient Indian history research. My journey began as the consumer of knowledge and claims generated by others, and continues as producer of newer knowledge. This exercise requires comprehending the works of others and its classification into logical buckets. I built the framework of ‘Grains-chaff separation Matrix’ to accomplish this.


Any claim can be classified into one of the four categories by evaluating how the evidence was employed and how it was tested. However, its utility is not only limited to classification of claims but also to explain these claims to others.

I would like to mention consistency of this framework with two other approaches/methodologies before discussing its superimposition with methods discussed in Yogasutra or Puranas to train the mind (and intellect) in dealing with variegated thought processes, philosophies, methods, personalities, attitudes, and behaviors.

The framework aligns beautifully with four outcomes of ‘Chatushkoti’ logic. The framework also aligns well with different modes of dealing with an individual, the familiar; ‘Sama-dama/dana-danda-bheda’ where different approaches may be tried in a serial or methodical fashion during negotiations or otherwise until a desired modification in individual’s behavior is achieved.

Yogasutra recognizes the prime importance of varied attitudes, personalities, and behaviors of individuals on one’s ‘Chitta’ and specifically on one’s effort to attain ‘Sanyam’ via the triad of Dharana-Dhyana-Samadhi. Therefore, Yogasutra recommends multiple strategies to deal with these differing personalities and behaviors of individuals or in consuming/comprehending works of others. The famous sutra refers to fourfold response to fourfold outcomes emerging from varied responses (of one to the behavior of others or of others to oneself). This can be shown as follows.

For brevity, one may translate ‘Sukha-dukkha-punya-apunya’ as ‘good-bad-desired-undesired’ which in turn are to be responded with friendship, compassion, joy and indifference. This applies equally well whether one is responding to someone’s behavior or to the quality of someone’s work.

Bhagavata Purana extends the same approach, with minor differences a guideline for a Bhakta as s/he travels the path from Kanistha to Madhyama to Uttama bhakta. Bhagavata states this as either a recommended strategy (sadhana) or accomplished behavior (sadhya) of a Madhyam bhakta. This can be summarized as follows:


One may naturally wonder if the best one can do is to learn and to live with this behavior or is there a hope for the changing someone’s behavior or providing helpful critique to someone’s work.

The answer is resounding ‘yes’ and is provided by Yogasutra text. The first and most important requirement, of course, is that the individual whose behavior needs a change or a researcher who genuinely wants to improve has Shraddha for the advice of Yogasutra and s/he is truly committed to finding the truth. Next is to comprehend why one has landed into one of the four quadrants of the framework. Yogasutra Samadhipad 7, 8, 9 provide crisp and clean reasoning for these outcomes. A triangulation of Pratyaksha (empirical and objectively testable), Anumana (logical reasoning) in the context of reliable background knowledge leads to the truth or the best approximation to the truth. Not following this process or missing any of these steps leads to false knowledge. Pure speculation which is not backed by empirical evidence leads to confusion and delusion. One may accept the truth of a specific thing based on individual conviction knowing well that it may or may not be true.

Sincere efforts can lead to transformation from 2 of 4 undesired quadrants with the help of conviction, sincerity, abhyasa and ardent desire to know the truth or the best approximation to the truth.

Finally, the interrelated or independent realization of this 4-fold framework is so consistent that even Buddha has said to have experienced prema-maitri-karuna-upeksha in 4 directions when he attained Buddhahood at Gaya. The story emphasizes the enduring narration of this four-fold strategy in dealing with realities of life, whether they are experienced in human behavior or human works.

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