Dharana – Fixing the mind
Dharana can be translated as the concentration or fixing the mind on the object of contemplation. It is the initial step of deep meditation. When the mind becomes free from external objects caused by the senses, one can fix the mind on the inner state of contemplation. The mind can be fixed on any of the following: the divine, one’s breath, any object (heart, tongue etc), an idea, a mantra, an imaginary point or colour. In Dharana, one should have clear focus, without drifting the mind from one object to another. Also, all the other parts of the body are excluded from the consciousness.
Sometimes, it will be difficult to concentrate on meditation because the mind wanders through many ideas and thoughts. When body and associated senses become attached to thought patterns, the mind will struggle with restlessness. All the energy will be wasted on the thoughts. The inability to focus would create frustration and anger and eventually lead to disinterest in meditation. This is the problem with many people.
Therefore, Patanjali and other mystics suggested step by step approach in concentrating the mind. Sage Patanjali designed an eight-step yoga system, in which some rules should be essentially followed before perfecting the art of concentration. These steps are: Yama (restraining harmful thoughts), Niyama (cultivating good habits), Asana (learning postures), Pranayama (breathing techniques) and Pratyahara (controlling the senses).
(Also Read: Who is Sage Patanjali )
Dharana is the sixth limb or rung of the eight-limb yoga described in the yoga sutras by Maharshi Patanjali. The first five rungs are more of external in nature. Through Pratyahara (5th limb), we enter into the inner layer. In yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, the awareness was on restraints, behaviors, body, breath, and senses respectively. These are all mostly dealing with the external world. Dharana is like becoming intimate with the inner world.
(Also Read: Patanjali Yoga Sutra: Eight Steps of Yoga )
Sage Patanjali explains Dharana with the following sutra:
Sutra 3.1 – desha-bandhah chittasya dharana
Meaning: Dharana or concentration is the ability to fix the mind on one object or a place.
At the stage of Dharana, still, some effort goes into holding the object for concentration, like breath, heart, deity etc. The only difference being the object is internal. In this stage what remains is the object of meditation, the meditator, and the consciousness. However, when we go deeper into meditation, the consciousness also disappears.
It has been said in many scriptures that you will become what you are contemplating about. Concentration helps in materialistic life too. When we focus intensely on any particular goal, that goal itself will become part of life. Then all the hardships encountered on the way will become stepping stone for success. All successful people in the world have an intense focus on their goal.
There is a story in epic Mahabharata about concentration. Pandavas and Kauravas are the royal princes, who were the students of Guru Drona. Drona was an expert in various martial arts and other art forms useful in war skills. After the intense practice of all the techniques of defense and attack in various arts, the boys became experts in their fields. One day mentor Drona decided to test their expertise in archery. He placed a wooden bird on a branch of a tall tree. A prominent eye was painted on that bird. The bird appeared very tiny from where they were standing. He then asked the students to aim at the bird’s eye. Following the instructions, the students aimed at the eye of the bird.
He asked the students to explain what they are seeing currently. Everyone, except Arjuna, said, “I see the wooden bird, branches, tree, and people around me”. Drona told them to step aside as he knew it was impossible for them to hit the bird, leave alone eye of the bird. However, Arjuna said, “Sir, I can only see the eye of the bird, nothing else”. Pleased by Arjuna’s response, he ordered to release the arrow. Arjuna immediately shot his arrow straight into the bird’s eye.
This is called Dharana. One has to fix the mind on the object with the exclusion of everything else. Among all the students, Arjuna alone mastered the practice of Dharana. That is the reason, he became the best archer, with unbelievable mastery over it.