Meditation, dhyána, and "prolonged, deep meditation", samádhi, is an integral part of the ancient ashtánga yoga (eight-limbed yoga), which is the Patanjali yoga system. It is also called classical yoga and raja yoga, royal yoga. Patanjali yoga is mainly concerned with cultivating the mind by meditation (dhyána) to progress and be liberated. The system is laid bare in a brief primer. It aims at reaching a state of yoga, in part by yoga postures, asanas, and even more by meditation. There is more on it further down.
Buddhist meditation in a nutshell
The term Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices that tend to be practised by Buddhists. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts. Buddhist meditation is practised to get Awakened (Enlightened) in the state called Nirvana, which is a joy-state. The earliest tradition of Buddhist meditation practice - preserved in the collection of early Buddhist texts in the Pali language, including the Sutta Pitaka ("the basked of discourse") - was also the focus of early Buddhist schools, and has been incorporated to a greater and lesser extent in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and many East Asian Buddhist traditions.
What is more, Buddhist texts may be the earliest texts that describe meditation techniques – both meditative practices and states that had existed before the Buddha as well as those that were diversified within Buddhism.
Early Buddhism incorporated meditative absorption states. The most ancient sustained expressions of yogic ideas is found in the early sermons of Buddha on four jhanas, dhyánas. Buddha taught that meditative absorption was to be combined with liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness.
As Buddhism got on and branched out somewhat, Yogacara Buddhism (Yogacara (Sanskrit: "yoga practice") provided a path of the bodhisattva – but the bodhisattva does not figure in extant, old sermons of Buddha.
Also, yoga is central to Mahayana, Vajrayana or "Tibetan Buddhism" in particular.
Hindu yoga - glimpses
In Hindu literature, the term "yoga" first occurs in the Katha Upanishad, where it refers to control of the senses and the cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.
Vedic Yoga goes into pranayama ("mind-breath-forms"), mantra, and dhyána (meditation). There are varieties of each of these three.
Prana relates to motions of the mind, and may be used for concentrating and stilling the mind. Advanced pranayama involves mindful regulation of prana; for beginners it is controlling the breath.
Further, dhyána (meditation) is not merely for getting a quiet mind and deriving great anti-stress benefits from it, though relaxing and calming can be a significant achievement. The Bhagavad Gita uses the term 'yoga' extensively in a variety of ways. The goals of yoga are varied and range from getting suppler and perhaps improving health, to achieving freedom, moksha, in which you realise Supreme Brahman (Spirit of All).
The word 'yoga'. There are many definitions of what yoga is, as 'yoga' is a word with several meanings already from antiquity. One may say, initially, that 'meditation' is part of the more encompassing term 'yoga,' and you do not have to belong to a church and cult to practice yoga and meditation. Wikipedia's article "Yoga" says that "The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, to control, to yoke or unite. Translations include 'joining', 'uniting', 'union', 'conjunction', and 'means'. Also, "the word yoga may be derived from . . . 'yujir samadhau', which means contemplation or absorption."
Yoga, a many-sided system. Rooted in a very long Indian and Tibetan tradition, 'Yoga' suggests a many-sided system that can suit a many-sided development, not only Tantric Sex Yoga to be practiced in some higher forms of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Meditation is a great stage in the yoga system of Patanjali. Buddhism and Hinduism share in yoga training. Meditation, or dhyána, is part of such systematic fares, and said to be essential for higher development. The mind can be calmed and clarified by meditation, depending on methods, the quality of the practice and the general conditions for meditation and having a good life in general.
Good conditions and excellent methods may be had by careful study of crucial elements and research finding, rather than jumping headlong into some sect that uses yoga and meditation as baits that serve culprits. So, discrimination tends to get helpful, also when it comes to self-unfoldment and the use of our free time, and so on. Winning free time is good, and good use of it is much to go for. You should consider what forms of very handy and practical yoga suit you.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras yoga state
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras begin with the statement yogas chitta-vritti-nirodhah (1.2), "Yoga limits the oscillations of the mind". Translators understand the old, Sanskrit definition a bit differently, though. It could be of some help to see how the term is explained in yoga traditions, and what some able translators have come up with. Then, by cross-combining most of the translation options of most elements in the sentence of Patanjali, we may end up with scores of nuances and variants of meanings. However, I give you just some central definitions of each part of Patanjali's catch-phrase. You may "combine" them if wish (further down). Here are two more all right English translations to begin with:
Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)."
Put simply, Mind-yoga calms fluctuations of the mind, and this is essential for higher forms of meditation à la Patanjali. Carefully focused thought may lead to such states of mind.
Going further, a well focused mind is able to transcend thoughts, in time. Mantra yoga includes means of reaching the beyond, of transcending, and one mantra method system, ◦Transcendental Meditation, TM has lots of good side effects also. It is worth noting that good methods require far less time of practice than other methods. For example, meditation should be practiced for about 20 minutes twice a day in the Transcendental Meditation programme (for beginners).
Now for Criss-Crossing Meanings of Patanjali's Phrase
A. Citta, chitta
Citta: (Skt., 'that which has been seen', i.e., belonging to consciousness also called Chit). In Hinduism, the reflective and thus conscious mind; in Buddhism, an equivalent to manas (reflective mind) and vijnana (continuing consciousness). It belongs to all beings above the level of plant life.
How citta is understood, received particular analysis and emphasis in Yogacara, the Cittamatra, Mind Only school of Buddhism.
In Abhidhamma (Pali; Skt., abhidharma, ‘special teaching’), there is reflection on the meaning of Gautama Buddha's teaching. Abhidhamma talks of 121 types of citta, and each of them may be combined with any one of fifty-two cetasikas (accompanying qualities of experience), thus producing a large variety of mental events.
'Vritti' means fluctuations, modifications – also livelihood, conduct, character, treatment, inclination, functioning, appearing, thoughts, modes, waves.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras lists five types of mental activity. They are: valid cognition (pramana), misconception (viparyaya), imagination (vikalpa), sleep (nidra), and memory (smriti).
Cessation, neutralisation, restraint, from the root rudh, to obstruct."
By combining essential meanings with a view to the sources and the living tradition, we may come up with such as:
(Good, able) yoga in its higher forms are for stilling the mind well, so that you get into higher, interior mind states at will in periods, and very easily of them too.
Now there has been done non-damaging brain research of people who meditate, both Tibetan Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, and other meditators. Some of the findings show even dramatic changes of brain waves and their patterns, strengths (amplitudes), and synchronised patterning.
It should pay to study prominent and good research findings and choose the best methods available to practice at home.
A Wider Perspective
The last three limbs of Patanjali's Eightfold Yoga are called dharana (focus), dhyána (contemplation, deep meditation), and samádhi (yogic absorption). These "phases" contain thought and direction of thought, and the rinsed, well unified mind can then be used for well-directed focus that assists subtle attainments and other attainments by sanyama, which is sustained, well relaxed focus with a unified or undivided mind. Patanjali enumerates subtle successes from the practice.
Dharana (focus, gathering attentiveness) and dhyána (deeper meditation) are related, and not always easily discerned from one another.
Mental mantra repetition is used for some forms of meditation. The word 'mantra is derived from the verbal root 'man', which means 'think'. Mantra yoga often involves sound, word, or phrase that is repeated and is believed to have great powers to elevate and in time purify and rescue the mind (for a while) into another level.
Mantra can be practiced aloud and whispered. But the most profound effect on the mind comes from silent repetition of mantra, that is, 'japa'. Manu Samhita says something that could apply just poetically (not accurately) to the drift of increased efficaciousness as we move from loud to whispered and on to silent mantra repetition (japa):
An offering, consisting of muttered prayers, is ten times more efficacious than a sacrifice performed according to the rules (of the Veda); a (prayer) which is inaudible (to others) surpasses it a hundred times, and the mental (recitation of sacred texts) a thousand times. [Manu Samhita, 2:85]
A mantra that is silently repeated, should be put to the best use, accordingly. After able practice and experience with mantra, the aspirant's mind is prepared for dhyána, mediation.