Meditation as a way to achieve mindfulness

In the earlier post on mindfulness in ancient India, we looked at a hymn in the Rig Veda (RV 10.58) that talks of the need to focus on the present and not let your mind wander.

One of the key techniques that later (Buddhist) sages have talked about as the way to keep your mind steady on the present is meditation. The source of this Buddhist thinking is the Rig Veda. Here we look at two of the Rig Vedic verses that talk of the very same approach (meditation) to steadying your mind.

These two verses are part of a hymn (RV 6.9) to Agni. The purport of the hymn seems to be that Agni, who is the guide and teacher, overcomes the darkness of our understanding and enlightens us. He is our real priest. Even people without knowledge of the sacrifices are enlightened by Agni. [See RV 6.9.1 to RV 6.9.4]

The first verse that we are concentrating on is RV 6.9.5.

dhruváṃ jyótir níhitaṃ dr̥śáye kám máno jáviṣṭham patáyatsv antáḥ ।

víśve devā́ḥ sámanasaḥ sáketā ékaṃ krátum abhí ví yanti sādhú ॥ RV 6.9.5 ॥

Let us look at what this means.

[An] immovable ( dhruváṃ ) light ( jyótiḥ ) has been placed ( níhitaṃ ) to look on ( dr̥śáye ) well ( kám ). [The] mind ( mánaḥ ) [is] the swiftest ( jáviṣṭham ) amongst ( antár ) [those that are] caused to fly ( patáyatsu ).  All (víśve ) [the] gods (devā́ḥ ) [are of] one mind ( sámanasaḥ ) [and] focused ( sáketāḥ ) [and ] move ( ví yanti ) unerringly towards ( abhí sādhú ) [a] single (ékam ) purpose ( krátum ).

The verse talks of using Agni, the light, as the focus of our meditation. This focus is needed since the mind is prone to wandering far away from the present. This is true for the mortals as well as the gods, since they also focus their minds as one towards that single purpose (meditation).

The next verse (RV 6.9.6) talks of the difficulty to achieve focus during meditation

ví me kárṇā patayato ví cákṣur vī̀dáṃ jyótir hŕ̥daya ā́hitaṃ yát ।

ví me mánaś carati dūráādhīḥ kíṃ svid vakṣyā́mi kím u nū́ maniṣye ॥ RV 6.9.6 ॥

My ( me ) two ears ( kárṇā ) fly in all directions ( ví patayataḥ ) [around] this ( idám ) light ( jyótiḥ ) that (yát ) has been placed (ā́hitaṃ ) in [my] heart ( hŕ̥daye ).  [And so does my] sight (cákṣuḥ ). My ( me ) mind ( mánaḥ ) wanders ( ví carati ) with distant thoughts ( dūráādhīḥ ). Whatever ( kím svit ) will I say  (vakṣyā́mi ), [whatever] will I now think of ( u nú maniṣye )?

The sage who is the author of the hymn says that while he tries to meditate on the immovable light placed for him to focus on, his ears and his sight wanders in all directions. His mind goes far away. What he will speak of next, what will he think of next?!

This hymn accurately captures the situation we all get into when we start meditating. It is difficult to bring our mind and our thoughts into focus. The author goes through the same pangs of agony.

For comparison, Griffith translates the above two verses as:

“A firm light hath been set for men to look on: among all things that fly the mind is swiftest. All Gods of one accord, with one intention, move unobstructed to a single purpose.” (RV 6.9.5)

“Mine ears unclose to hear, mine eye to see him; the light that harbours in my spirit broadens. Far roams my mind whose thoughts are in the distance. What shall I speak, what shall I now imagine?” (RV 6.9.6)

The last verse (RV 6.9.7) talks of how everyone, including the gods, bow down before this light (Agni). It requests the light (Agni) to be gracious and help us (to focus our thoughts?).

So it is clear that meditation was a technique practiced in ancient India to achieve mindfulness.


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