Ancient Spiritual Practices of the Sun Blog Hindu Meditation

Hindu Meditation Practices

A stone relief of a person meditating from the Achyutaraya temple in India. Photo by Ms Sarah WelchOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Some of the oldest known references to the practice of meditation are found in the ancient sacred texts of the Hindu tradition,1 a major world religion whose ancient roots stem from the Religion of the Sun.

From the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is an ancient Hindu epic that conveys numerous spiritual teachings within the story it tells.

The following passage from the Mahabharata describes a meditation exercise through which a person can reach a higher state of consciousness. It tells how a practitioner should first relax and still the body (becoming inert “like a piece of wood”), then quieten their mind and senses, so they no longer perceive anything externally, nor possess any desire for any sensory excitement within. Then, in this inner quietness empty of desire, it describes how one can reach a state where the mind is “undividedly” united with consciousness, which happens when there is complete silence in the mind.

Note that traditionally “yoga” can broadly refer to any kind of spiritual practice or discipline; in this context it refers to a sitting meditation exercise (i.e. not yoga asanas):

…a person, restraining speech, sits like a piece of wood, crushing all the senses, and with mind undividedly united [with the Supreme Soul] by the aid of meditation. He has no perception of sound through the ear; no perception of touch through the skin; no perception of form through the eye; no perception of taste through the tongue. He has no perception also of scents through the organ of smell.

Immersed in yoga, he would abandon all things, rapt in meditation. Possessed of great energy of mind, he has no desire for anything that excites the five senses.

~ The Mahabharata, Translation by K.M. Ganguli2

A former statue of hindu god Shiva in meditation, in Rishikesh, India. Photo by Jarmo TuiskFlickr: Shiva Gangeses, Rishikesh, CC BY 2.0, Link

The text goes on to explain that when first practicing meditation, a person’s mind or attention may be unstable — moving about in all directions like a drop of water on a leaf. While the mind may be fixed in meditation for a time, as soon as one’s attention strays it can become as “flighty as the wind” again, which describes the mind being scattered, with lots of thoughts arising. It explains that when this happens, a person should calmly direct their mind back to meditation without becoming discouraged or annoyed.

 

As a drop of water on a (lotus) leaf is unstable and moves about in all directions, even so becomes the yogin’s mind when first fixed on the path of meditation. When fixed, for a while the mind stays in that path. When, however, it strays again into the path of the wind, it becomes as flighty as the wind. The person conversant with the ways of yoga-meditation, undiscouraged by this, never regarding the loss of the toil undergone, casting aside idleness and malice, should again direct his mind to meditation. … Though feeling annoyed in consequence of the flightiness of his mind, he should fix it (in meditation). The yogin should never despair, but seek his own good.

~ The Mahabharata, Translation by K.M. Ganguli3

Another excerpt from the Mahabharata contains a description of a meditation exercise where one sits in nature, restrains their senses, and concentrates their mind on “the All or universal Brahman” which in the Hindu tradition signifies the source of creation and the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena.4 It describes how the practitioner should perceive themselves as part of, not separate from “the All”, and meditate on various parts of their body as parts of the All.

Restraining all the senses in a forest that is free from noise and that is uninhabited, with mind fixed thereon, one should meditate on the All (or universal Brahman) both outside and inside one’s body. One should meditate on the teeth, the palate, the tongue, the throat, the neck likewise; one should also meditate on the heart and the ligatures of the heart!

~ The Mahabharata, Translation by K.M. Ganguli5


Please note, more practice excerpts will be added as and when we find them. While we recommend the practices in these excerpts, featuring a passage from a text does not mean we can vouch for the entire contents of a text.
Jenny Resnick, Jordan Resnick, Justin Norris and Matthew Butler contributed writing or research to this article.


  1.  A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of Human Stress Response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1 page 199–202  

  2. The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CXCV (Translation by K.M. Ganguli)   

  3. Ibid.  

  4. “Brahman.” The Free Dictionary. Accessed February 12, 2018. https://www.thefreedictionary.com/brahman.  

  5. The Mahabharata, Book 14: Aswamedha Parva: Anugita Parva: Section XIX (Translation by K.M. Ganguli)  

About the author

Vida Norris

Vida Norris is a writer and researcher who contributes to the SpiritualSun.com. With a background in permaculture design and landscaping, Vida has a deep interest in the ancient civilizations who practiced the Religion of the Sun and how they lived sustainably and with seemingly higher consciousness and interest in spirituality. She explores ancient sacred sites and pores over ancient texts, with the hope of bringing back the relevance of the Religion of the Sun to those interested in spirituality today.

23 Comments

  • Thanks, the practice to sit in a forest to contemplate your body as being part of the all , I have done this as a relaxation leading into another practice it is a way to be rid of tension and anxiety so will be extending and taking it to a .deeper level.

  • Thanks for that Vida,

    I like the last line in the second quote:

    ‘The Yogin should never despair but seek his own good’

    Worth reflecting on if practices aren’t going well.

  • When fixed, for a while the mind stays in the path. When, however, it strays again into the path of the wind, it becomes as flighty as the wind.

    I experienced a bit of this when doing a meditation on dreams practice this morning. At first, having just come from sleep, my mind was a bit muddled. But gradually it got more focussed as I directed it back to my memories. However after some time there seemed to be another salvo of wind gusts trying to carry me away each time I was trying progress along a route of discovery. So I had to reapply that focus, to be watchful of those first moments when my direction was turned away.

    Even though it wasn’t my aim to silence the mind with this retrospection practice I noticed that by the end of it my mind was just very quiet and I felt peaceful. Very pleasant.

  • Thanks, Vida. I find these passages inspiring as well. I like the imagery and analogies that are woven into the passages. The second passage was helpful to me because it brings to light such a common tendency to get discouraged when trying to be aware or meditate.

  • Thank you very much for compiling this series of practices Vida. The last one that speaks about meditating on the universal Brahman inside and outside of one’s body in particular spoke to me.
    Some weeks ago, I felt inspired to connect more to the peaceful energy of the inner Father/Brahman within me, in addition to the relationship with the Divine Mother (which feels more “hands on”, in the sense of every-day work and struggle). During this time, I also stumbled upon a few related devotional songs on this topic, so I am sharing some here in case more people will find them inspiring:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZCgStafklE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Ca-VIzQH0

  • Thanks Vida, some cool practices in here 🙂

    I think I may have experienced that state before where I was immersed in a practice and the perception of the outside world and the senses disappeared briefly on a few occassions (not sure about having my mind undividedly united with the Supreme Soul though, maybe that is an extra level deeper into the meditation). I had actually forgotten about it until reading this again though. Something to aim for! Look forward to giving the meditations a go soon.

  • These excerpts are really good. It’s helpful to hear the different descriptions of how a person might approach a practice of meditation, especially with the detail the excerpts go into to explain how each one of the senses is shut down to the external sensory world.

    I can definitely relate to the second excerpt as well, having times where a meditation practice doesn’t go well because of a scattered mind. It’s a good analogy, that your mind becomes like the wind…that’s pretty much what it can feel like. And what’s recommended — to just be consistent and bring your concentration back to the practice without becoming annoyed or feeling bad about it, is a useful strategy.

    I really like the Shiva image you found too, it’s so beautiful and embodies the quiet stillness of meditation perfectly.

  • I have tried the third practice (although not in nature) where I spent most of the time focusing on the ligatures of the heart. It felt very nice and strong. I feel if nothing else is possible to do practice-wise in a day then a good sit down meditation focusing on something seems to be of great help.

  • I love the simple, yet deep, descriptions from the Mahabharata.
    I have really been longing lately to get back to this place.
    It’s a very long time since I practised this way.
    Thank you so much for the reminder.

  • The first practice listed seems very intriguing and it makes me want to explore it in practise.
    I have read, and this excerpt’s instruction seems to subtly point in that direction as well perhaps, that beyond such complete stillness a whole other dimension of experience can suddenly open up to us.

    The second excerpt felt very motivating to read. I’ve also had more than plenty of times where I felt frustrated at being unable to focus and concentrate the mind in the way I would wish. But it seems that if we keep at it, training our mind, it will improve. Perhaps then the fitness of a concentrated mind can be likened to a muscle?

    I’ve recently been experiencing more instances of a type of prayer where I wanted to go beyond anything that makes use of the mind. It’s probably a bit too personal to share here. But it reminds me of some of the Hindu meditation references I’ve read. Though their phrasing, being so old?, is a bit different. Also I would describe my experiences more like a prayer of yearning rather than exercises to achieve a quiet mind.

  • Nice practices Vida. One practice better than the other. It’s a good guide what is the proper approach that someone should have during the practices of meditation.

    Personally, these abstracts answered in one of my main questions about the proper direction during a meditation practice.

    Thank you, Vida, for this article

  • I confess I almost laughed out when I read “sits like a piece of wood, crushing all the senses”.

    At first glance it looks completely contradictory to the Taoist Teaching on Mediation which states “Only the heart must be conscious of the flowing in and out of the breath”… however this is clearly not the case!

    I look forward to exploring this practice in detail, and comparing how these two different meditation techniques can aid in quieting the mind.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • I’ve tried the first exercise a few times by now, and even though I feel like I have much more to understand about it and that my practice can be stronger, I’ve found that through these few attempts I’ve sensed a wonderful stillness and calmness being brought within that I didn’t expect.

    I really like the second excerpt as I can relate to the annoyance and discouragement arising sometimes when my mind and concentration are not stable enough to persist with meditation and produce the results I’m looking for. But I’ve found that it’s another unhelpful direction to stray on if I start dwelling on that annoyance, but like it says, ‘casting aside idleness and malice’ it’s best to come straight back to the practice and try again. I’m looking forward to trying the third exercise also.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this Vida.

  • Thank you Vida. Personally I’m in a period of making fresh efforts in my meditation practices, reassessing where I am and what I need to do to improve my results. It’s great to be reminded of the importance of basics, like doing a proper relaxation in order to loosen the mind from the body – sometimes I can skip these stages thinking of them as unimportant, but hearing it spoken of in the Mahabarata reminds me that they are essential, and essential to persist with without frustration.
    For me, only when the basics are thoroughly done, taking the time to relax at the beginning and also making sure to train the mind to concentrate regularly, can I get anywhere close to an experience of meditating ‘on the All’. 🙂

    • I can relate to thinking that way too Ella about skipping or paying less attention to the relaxation part because I had underestimated its importance during a practice not realizing how truly significant it was to it.

  • Thanks for posting this practice – it’s refreshing to read and couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It’s helped me understand that I need to be more patient with my meditation practice and to continue to keep at it until hopefully I have reach the point of great inner stillness where I have “no desire for anything that excites the five senses”.

  • Thanks for putting these together, Vida. They’re great practices to explore and improve with.

    I really like that statue of Shiva as well — it’s very serene.

    • I agree it’s a nice statue. It must be uplifting to behold such statues when going about everyday life.

      I noticed it said under the image ‘former statue.’ Apparently the river has swept it away?

      • Hi Karim,

        Yes that’s right. Sadly a big flood swept it away, which is a shame since it was such a beautiful statue.

  • The Hindu texts are such a fantastic resource for ancient practices of the religion of the sun, being preserved for millennia . I like here how it suggests focusing on different parts of the body, curiously focusing on around the mouth and heart. Should make for some great practice sessions!

    Also I should mention I can very much relate to the annoyance written about in that second excerpt. When I first started doing meditation practices my mind was extremely unfocused as I had very little experience with good concentration or being aware in the present moment. I would easily get upset with not being able to meditate or even sit still for longer than a few minutes. Thankfully with persistence I’ve been able to overcome this, but it took quite a bit of effort over time.

  • I really enjoyed reading through these, Vida.

    The examples of how the mind can behave are so spot on in terms of how it actually feels at times when our minds are scattered – like water on a leaf. The water just goes from here to there without order or control; so much like a scattered, unruly mind.

    Thanks so much for sharing these.

  • I tried each part of the meditation as I read along, just for a few minutes, and it felt uplifting. Sometimes the language of these texts is not as straightforward so it was helpful to have the explanation between the excerpts. It actually helped me appreciate the literary language and go deeper into the meditation! Thank you, Vida.

Leave a Comment

error:

Send this to a friend