“Everyone in the fourteen worlds meditates upon Him, and all the denizens of Vaikuntha sing of His qualities and pastimes.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.222)
caudda-bhuvane yāṅra sabe kare dhyāna
vaikuṇṭhādi-pure yāṅra līlā-guṇa gāna
One of the limbs of the eightfold system of yoga is dhyana. Ashtanga is the system, and the dhyana within it is meditation. Yoga is the linking of the individual soul with the Supreme Lord. Think of it like God’s children uniting with God. The concepts of souls and sparks of spirit are not sectarian; therefore yoga is a more accurate term for what we generally refer to as religion. Yoga is not based on anyone’s faith. Yoga is part of the spiritual science, based on laws that cannot be broken.
As the goal of yoga is to link the individual with the Supreme, the practice of it is not limited to any specific methodology. This means that dhyana can be practiced outside of ashtanga. Bhakti is both a kind of yoga and the achievement resulting from the perfection of explicit yoga practice. Bhakti-yoga can also have dhyana. There can be karma and jnana as well, which are work and knowledge respectively.
The teachers of bhakti-yoga in the modern age recommend the chanting of the holy names. They say that within the name of the Lord is the potency of the Lord. The name is identical to Him. In fact, the more you can say these names, the better off you will be. Even if you achieve perfection in bhakti-yoga, you will not want to stop saying the names. The best way to say them is through a mantra, with the most famous one being the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Chanting this mantra in a regulated way is a kind of dhyana. The individual must concentrate to make the practice fruitful. Dhyana is necessary due to the default condition of a restless mind. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna says that all souls in this world are His fragmental parts. Not that they break up and then unite back into one, but they are like miniature expansions of Him. Though He expands into fragments, God remains completely whole. This defies the laws of the material nature, which say that everything in life is part of a singular energy. The material laws make life a zero sum game. The spiritual is beyond this; it is infinite.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
Despite being His fragmental parts, these souls are struggling in the material world. Krishna says this is due to the six senses, which include the mind. The mind can be our friend as well as our enemy. When we are worried about something, it is the mind which gives us pain. Everything else could be fine around us. Just from thinking we become ill. Dhyana is a way to control the mind, and the best thing to concentrate on is God Himself. The more you know about Him, the more fruitful your meditation will be. The name is so powerful that simply hearing it is as effective as putting yourself in seclusion and trying to concentrate. Because of this potency, the representatives of Krishna recommend that we chant as much as possible; in a regulated way just in case.
To help us understand the benefit, we can look to database technology. In the modern age where sensitive information is stored on computers, the database plays a vital role. If you lose a database, you could lose your entire business. A bank, for example, can’t afford to lose its data. The information is just too important. Therefore so many safeguards are in place. Backups, mirrors, standbys – there are many options to ensure both high availability and data integrity.
If there are any vital changes that need to be made, such as with settings, the database administrator has a handy option available. It is called “single-user mode.” When applying an important update, you often need to make sure no one else is accessing the database. This way no data is being inserted, updated or deleted. The problem is that you yourself have changes to make. You need to maintain access for yourself while restricting everyone else. By putting the database in single-user mode, no one else can even access the system. You can do the necessary maintenance and then revert back to multi-user mode when you are ready.
The dhyana that accompanies regulated chanting of the holy names can be likened to the single-user mode. There is necessary maintenance done, as outside of bhakti-yoga the mind never finds peace. Without peace there cannot be happiness. Peace is found through knowing three things. One is that Krishna is the enjoyer of all sacrifices. The second is that Krishna is the proprietor of all the planets. The third is that Krishna is the ultimate well-wishing friend of every living thing.
To hear of these things is rare enough, but to remember them after being heard is difficult. Therefore the dhyana in bhakti is a way to keep this in the mind, to maintain peace even when back in the real world, working to sustain life. The soul is not meant for the material world, and through enough proper maintenance it can find its way out, back to home, back to Godhead.
When system update to do,
To get exclusive access for you.
This way integrity not to violate,
Later returning to multi-user state.
Dhyana in same way can be thought,
From concentration enlightenment brought.
Path from this miserable world out,
Think of God distractions without.