Meditation is prescribed as a balm to remove all the stress and strain of life. It is in fashion these days and every other person claims to be practising or propounding some new and original technique. It is therefore important to understand what the Scriptures and Realised Masters say about meditation. The guru, sage Yajnavalkya, teaches his disciple, his own wife, Maitreyi. He instructs, "The Self should be realised. For that, one should listen, reflect and meditate." Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4. Even though the Truth, the Self, is self-evident, we are unable to realise the same due to gross obstacles like dullness of the intellect (buddhi mandyam), attachment to pleasures (bhogasakti), objects (vishayasakti) and so on. There also exist subtler obstacles like non-comprehension of the existence or the nature of the Self or unavailability of the right means (pramana asambhavana), doubts regarding the Self (samshaya or prameya asambhavana) or a habit, accumulated from innumerable lives, of identifying with the not-Self like the body (viparita bhavana).
The gross obstacles are removed by spiritual practices like japa, asana, pranayama, practice of discrimination and self-control, and cultivation of qualities like tolerance and faith. The mind, thus rendered relatively pure, is prepared to listen to the scriptures from a qualified guru. When a disciple listens with faith, he understands that the import of the scriptures is: 'I am not the finite entity (jiva) that I consider myself to be, but the Infinite Truth (Brahman).' Listening thus with an open and prepared mind (shravana) removes the non-comprehension of the existence and nature of the Truth. Thereafter the knowledge is deeply and independently reflected upon (manana), until the seeker gains doubtless knowledge that 'I am the Infinite Truth'. Even after this doubtless knowledge, we still live on with the notion 'I am the body', as against our knowledge 'I am the Infinite Self'. To remove this obstacle one should practise nididhyasana or meditation. It should be noted that without shravanam and mananam, nididhyasanam or meditation may not be very effective. It is difficult for a mind riddled with doubts to enquire deeply or gain firm abidance in the Self.
Nididhyasana means a desire to meditate (ni + didhyasana). The word 'meditation' - dhyana, comes from the root dhyai - 'to contemplate' or call to mind; ni means nitaram - continuously. Therefore meditation is the steady or continuous effort to contemplate or bring to mind one's true nature.
It is said: "The greatness of reflection is a hundred times that of listening to the scriptures, and the result of meditation is one hundred times more than what is gained from reflection on the words of the scriptures. However, the greatness or result of Self-Realisation is infinite." Hence, one should listen, reflect, practise meditation and realise the Self.