- 1 What meditation exactly means
- 2 Concentrated meditation
- 3 Postures for Concentrated Meditation
- 4 Surface Thoughts and Imaginations
- 5 A letter
- 6 References
What meditation exactly means
There are two words used in English to express the Indian idea of dhyāna, “meditation” and “contemplation”. Meditation means properly the concentration of the mind on a single train of ideas which work out a single subject. Contemplation means regarding mentally a single object, image, idea so that the knowledge about the object, image or idea may arise naturally in the mind by force of the concentration. Both these things are forms of dhyāna, for the principle of dhyāna is mental concentration whether in thought, vision or knowledge. 
Different kinds of meditations
There are all kinds of different meditations! What people usually call meditation is, for example, choosing a subject or an idea and following its development or trying to understand what it means. There is a concentration but not as complete a concentration as in concentration proper, where nothing should exist except the point on which one concentrates. Meditation is a more relaxed movement, less tense than concentration.
When one is trying to understand a problem which comes up, a psychological problem or a circumstantial one, and he sits down and looks at and sees all the possibilities, compares them, studies them, this is a form of meditation; and one does it spontaneously when the thing comes up. When one is facing a decision to be taken, for instance, and doesn’t know which one to take, well, ordinarily one reflects, consults his reason, compares all the possibilities and makes his choice… more or less. Well, this is a form of meditation.
Now, there is the form of meditation which consists in a concentration on an idea and concentrating one’s attention upon it to the extent that that alone exists; then this is the equivalent of a concentration, but instead of being total it is only mental. 
The first step in concentration must be always to accustom the discursive mind to a settled unwavering pursuit of a single course of connected thought on a single subject and this it must do undistracted by all lures and alien calls on its attention. Such concentration is common enough in our ordinary life, but it becomes more difficult when we have to do it inwardly without any outward object or action on which to keep the mind; yet this inward concentration is what the seeker of knowledge must effect.
Nor must it be merely the consecutive thought of the intellectual thinker, whose only object is to conceive and intellectually link together his conceptions. It is not, except perhaps at first, a process of reasoning that is wanted so much as a dwelling so far as possible on the fruitful essence of the idea which by the insistence of the soul’s will upon it must yield up all the facets of its truth.
Thus if it be the divine Love that is the subject of concentration, it is on the essence of the idea of God as Love that the mind should concentrate in such a way that the various manifestation of the divine Love should arise luminously, not only to the thought, but in the heart and being and vision of the Sadhaka.
The thought may come first and the experience afterwards, but equally the experience may come first and the knowledge arise out of the experience.
Afterwards the thing attained has to be dwelt on and more and more held till it becomes a constant experience and finally the Dharma or law of the being.
This is the process of concentrated meditation; 
Practicing mediatation on a sentence
Mother, in the Friday Classes, you often read a sentence1 to us and ask us to meditate on it. But how should we meditate on a sentence? That is, should we think, meditate on the idea or… what should we do?
Meditate on a sentence?
Obviously on what it means.
That is, we must think…
Because that, Mother, becomes a mental function or what?
The sentence is already a mental formation; the mental formation is made. The sentence is the expression of the mental formation. So when you meditate on a sentence, there are two methods. There is an active, ordinary external method of reflecting and trying to understand what these words mean, understand intellectually what the sentence means exactly—that is active meditation. You concentrate on these few words and take the thought they express and try, through reasoning, deduction, analysis, to understand what it means.
There is another method, more direct and deep; it is to take this mental formation, this combination of words with the thought they represent, and to gather all your energy of attention on it, compelling yourself to concentrate all your strength on that formation. For instance, instead of concentrating all your energies on something you see physically, you take that thought and concentrate all your energies on that thought—in the mind, of course.
And then, if you are able to concentrate the thought sufficiently and stop it from vacillating, you pass quite naturally from the thought expressed by the words to the idea which is behind and which could be expressed in other words, other forms. The characteristic of the idea is the power to clothe itself in many different thoughts. And when you have achieved this, you have already gone much deeper than by merely understanding the words. Naturally, if you continue to concentrate and know how to do it, you can pass from the idea to the luminous force that is behind. Then you enter a much vaster and deeper domain. But that asks for some training. But still, that is the very principle of meditation.
If you are able to go deep enough, you find the Principle and the Force behind the idea, and that gives you the power of realisation. This is how those who take meditation as a means of spiritual development are able to unite with the Principle which is behind things and obtain the power to act on these things from above.
But even without going so far—that implies a rather hard discipline, doesn’t it, a long-standing habit—you can pass quite easily from the thought to the idea, and that gives you a light and an understanding in the mind which enables you, in your turn, to express the idea in any form. An idea can be expressed in many different forms, in many different thoughts, just as when you come down to a more material level, a thought can be expressed through many different words. Going downwards, towards expression, that is, spoken or written expression, there are many different words and different formulas which may serve to express a thought, but this thought is only one of the forms of thought which can express the idea, the idea behind, and this idea itself, if it is followed deeply, has behind it a principle of spiritual knowledge and power which can then spread and act on the manifestation.
When you have a thought you look for words, don’t you, and then you try to arrange these words to express your thought; you can use many words to express a thought, you tell yourself, “No, look, if I put this word instead of that, it would express what I am thinking much better.” That is what you learn when you are taught style, how to write.
But when I give you a written sentence which has the power to express a thought and tell you to concentrate on it, then, through this thought-form you can go back to the idea behind, which can be expressed in many different thoughts. It is like a great hierarchy: there is a Principle right at the top, which itself is not the only one, for you can go still higher up; but this Principle can be expressed in ideas, and these ideas can be expressed in a great number of thoughts and this great number of thoughts can make use of many languages and an even greater number of words.
When I give you a thought it is simply to help you to concentrate…. There are schools which put an object in front of you, a flower or a stone, or any object, and then you sit around it and concentrate on it and your eyes go like this (Mother squints) until you become the object. That too is a method of concentration. By gazing steadily like that, without moving, you finally pass into the thing you are gazing at. But you must not begin to gaze at all kinds of things: only gaze steadily at that. That gives you a look… it makes you squint.
All this is to learn concentration, that’s all.
Sometimes one of these sentences expresses a very deep truth. It is one of those happy sentences which are very expressive. So that helps you to find the truth that is behind. 
Meditating on a subject
Sweet Mother, when you tell us to meditate on a subject, we choose, for instance, to meditate that we are opening to the light; we imagine all sorts of strange things, we imagine a door opening, etc., but this always takes a mental form.
It depends on the individual. Everyone has his own particular process. It depends altogether on each one. Some people may have an imagery which helps them; others, on the contrary, have a more abstract mind and only see ideas; others, who live more in sensations or feelings, have rather psychological movements, movements of inner feelings or sensations—it depends on each one. Those who have an active and particularly formative physical mind, see images, but everybody does not experience the same thing. If you ask the person next to you, for instance… (To the next child) When I give a subject, do you see images like that?
Most often I feel something.
What is it, most often?
A sensation, yes. It is more frequently a sensation—I mean generally—more frequently a sensation or a feeling than an image. The image always comes to those who have a formative mental power, an active physical mind. It is an indication that one is active in one’s mental consciousness.
(The child who had asked the first question) But is this right?
But everything is right if it has a result! Any means is good. Why shouldn’t it be right?… Images like that are not necessarily ridiculous. They are not ridiculous, they are mental images. If they bring you some result, they are quite appropriate. If they give you an experience, they are appropriate.
For example, when I ask you to go deep down within yourselves, some of you will concentrate on a sensation, but others may just as well have the impression of going down into a deep well, and they clearly see the picture of steps going down into a dark and deep well, and they go down farther and farther, deeper and deeper, and sometimes reach precisely a door; they sit down before the door with the will to enter, and sometimes the door opens, and then they go in and see a kind of hall or a room or a cave or something, and from there, if they go on they may come to another door and again stop, and with an effort the door opens and they go farther. And if this is done with enough persistence and one can continue the experience, there comes a time when one finds oneself in front of a door which has… a special kind of solidity or solemnity, and with a great effort of concentration the door opens and one suddenly enters a hall of clarity, of light; and then, one has the experience, you see, of contact with one’s soul…. But I don’t see what is bad in having images!
Postures for Concentrated Meditation
The sitting motionless posture is the natural posture for concentrated meditation—walking and standing are active conditions suited for the dispense of energy and the activity of the mind. It is only when one has gained the enduring rest and passivity of the consciousness that it is easy to concentrate and receive when walking or doing anything. A fundamental passive condition of the consciousness gathered into itself is the proper poise for concentration and a seated gathered immobility in the body is the best for that. It can be done also lying down, but that position is too passive, tending to be inert rather than gathered. This is the reason why Yogis always sit in an asana. One can accustom oneself to meditate walking, standing, lying, but sitting is the first natural position. 
Surface Thoughts and Imaginations
That [a state in which the outer being responds to surface thoughts while the inner being is “engrossed in meditation”] is not called meditation—it is a divided state of consciousness. Unless the consciousness is really engrossed and the surface thoughts are only things that come across and touch and pass, it can hardly be called meditation (dhyana). I don’t see how the inner being can be “engrossed” while thoughts and imaginations of another kind are rampaging about in the consciousness. One can remain separate and see the thoughts and imaginations pass without being affected, but that is not being plunged or engrossed in meditation. 
Pondicherry 21 Sept 1914
I hope you received duly my card explaining the delay in my answer.
Your questions cover the whole of a very wide field. It is therefore necessary to reply to them with some brevity, touching only on some principal points.
1) What meditation exactly means.
There are two words used in English to express the Indian idea of Dhyana, “meditation” and “contemplation”. Meditation means properly the concentration of the mind on a single train of ideas which work out a single subject. Contemplation means regarding mentally a single object, image, idea so that the knowledge about the object, image or idea may arise naturally in the mind by force of the concentration. Both these things are forms of dhyana; for the principle of dhyana is mental concentration whether in thought, vision or knowledge.
There are other forms of dhyana. There is a passage in which Vivekananda advises you to stand back from your thoughts, let them occur in your mind as they will and simply observe them & see what they are. This may be called concentration in self-observation.
This form leads to another, the emptying of all thought out of the mind so as to leave it a sort of pure vigilant blank on which the divine knowledge may come and imprint itself, undisturbed by the inferior thoughts of the ordinary human mind and with the clearness of a writing in white chalk on a blackboard. You will find that the Gita speaks of this rejection of all mental thought as one of the methods of Yoga and even the method it seems to prefer. This may be called the dhyana of liberation, as it frees the mind from slavery to the mechanical process of thinking and allows it to think or not think as it pleases and when it pleases, or to choose its own thoughts or else to go beyond thought to the pure perception of Truth called in our philosophy Vijnana.
Meditation is the easiest process for the human mind, but the narrowest in its results; contemplation more difficult, but greater; self-observation and liberation from the chains of Thought the most difficult of all, but the widest and greatest in its fruits. One can choose any of them according to one’s bent and capacity. The perfect method is to use them all, each in its own place and for its own object; but this would need a fixed faith and firm patience and a great energy of Will in the self-application to the Yoga.
2) What should be the objects or ideas for meditation?
Whatever is most consonant with your nature and highest aspirations. But if you ask me for an absolute answer, then I must say that Brahman is always the best object for meditation or contemplation, and the idea on which the mind should fix is that of God in all, all in God and all as God. It does not matter essentially whether it is the Impersonal or the Personal God or, subjectively, the One Self. But this is the idea I have found the best, because it is the highest and embraces all other truths, whether truths of this world or of the other worlds or beyond all phenomenal existence,—“All this is the Brahman.”
In the third issue of Arya, at the end of the second instalment of the Analysis of the Isha Upanishad, you will find a description of this vision of the [Brahman]1 which may be of help to you in understanding the idea. (October number now in the Press.)2
3) Conditions internal and external that are most essential for meditation.
There are no essential external conditions, but solitude and seclusion at the time of meditation as well as stillness of the body are helpful, sometimes almost necessary to the beginner. But one should not be bound by external conditions. Once the habit of meditation is formed, it should be made possible to do it in all circumstances, lying, sitting, walking, alone, in company, in silence or in the midst of noise etc.
The first internal condition necessary is concentration of the will against the obstacles to meditation, ie wandering of the mind, forgetfulness, sleep, physical and nervous impatience and restlessness etc.
The second is an increasing purity and calm of the inner consciousness (citta) out of which thought and emotion arise; ie a freedom from all disturbing reactions, such as anger, grief, depression, anxiety about worldly happenings etc. Mental perfection and moral are always closely allied to each other.
P.S. The answer to your last question cannot be given so generally; it depends on the path chosen, the personal difficulties, etc.
- Sri Aurobindo. sabcl/23/sadhana-through-meditation-i
- The Mother. cwm/07/24-august-1955
- Sri Aurobindo. sabcl/20/concentration
- The Mother. (1972). Questions and Answers 1957-1958. In Collected works of the Mother(pp. 381-383). Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
- Sri Aurobindo. (2015). The Synthetic Method of the Integral Yoga. In Letters on yoga II. Retrieved from http://incarnateword.in/cwsa/29/concentration-and-meditation
- Sri Aurobindo. cwsa/29/concentration-and-meditation
- See "The Vision of the Brahman" in Isha Upanishad, volume 17 of THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO, p. 30. The passage was first published in the third issue of the Arya, dated October 1914.—Ed.