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Types versus Stages of Meditation
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

There are many Types of meditation based on 
the Object that is Observed by the Observer,
and these can evolve through Stages, from
Gross, to Subtle, to Subtler, and Subtle most. 

Index of this web page
Focal point of meditation 
Observer, Observing, Observed 
Stages of meditation 
Breadth versus depth of experience 

See also these articles
Five stages of meditation 
Systematic meditation 
Five koshas or sheaths 
Levels and dimensions 
Mindfulness and concentration 
50+ methods of meditation 
Yoga Sutras 

Three interrelated principles: This article describes the interrelationship between three aspects of the meditation process, and how these lead one to experience not only the breadth, but also the depth of meditation:

  1. Focal point as the basis of meditation Types

  2. Process of Observer, Observing, and Object Observed

  3. Stages of meditation evolving past the focal point


Focal point of meditation 

Basis for the Type of meditation: It is common for one to ask a meditator, "What type of meditation do you do?" Usually, it is the Object on which one focuses attention that determines the answer to the question. Following are some of the examples (their popular names are excluded):

  • Sensation experience (mostly sense of touch or seeing)

  • Breath (many different methods)

  • Energy (chakras or channels of energy)

  • Attitudes (love, non-violence, compassion)

  • Mantra (various types or traditions)

  • Visualized image (numerous varieties)

  • Stream of thoughts (methods known by different names)

The styles, systems, or types of meditation may go by different names, and they may be taught by a wide range of schools, traditions, teachers, lineages, religions, or paths, but the primary underlying discrimination between them is the nature of that focal point.

Subtler than the Gross Objects: What is often missed, however, is that meditation evolves in stages (described in detail below). Some systems or schools of meditation deepen beyond the Gross form of that Object of meditation, while others remain focused on that single Object, and go no further. In other words, some go very deep, while others remain in the shallow waters of practice with that Gross Object, not recognizing the further reaches of meditation.

Another way of saying this, is that some methods of meditation are only methods of relaxation, and do not really pursue the depths of practice that lead to higher, truer states of consciousness or being. Still others emphasize only the surface meditation Objects as part of religious worship, not pursuing the esoteric depth of the practices. While these surface practices might be very useful, they are early stages from the perspective of the whole of the meditative process.

  • As an example, meditation on the mechanical aspects of breath may be the basis for a system of meditation. This can be extremely relaxing and may bring some peace of mind, as well as improved physical health. Yet, if the practice is limited to the Gross breath alone, the higher aspects will be missed. Beyond the Gross breath is the energy (prana) that is behind the breath, as well as many levels of mental process, the instruments of mind itself, and the Subtler aspects that define our individuality. Beyond that is the true Self, the direct experience of which is called Self-realization, or other names.

  • Similarly, one may practice meditation on the sensory experience throughout the body, which is a very useful practice. However, Subtler than the physical sensation is the energy (prana), the senses themselves (as Objects of examination), the mind which is doing the experiencing, and the deeper mental aspects beyond the conscious thinking. If one chooses to progress beyond the sensing stage, the sensory meditation can be used effectively near the beginning of a specific meditation session, following this with the Subtler meditation practices.

  • The same kind of Gross versus Subtle meditation also applies with the Gross levels of mantra, attitudes, and all forms of visualized images. Each of these surface level practice are useful in their Gross forms, and each can be followed to their Subtler sources, but only if the meditator is aware of the process of meditation moving in stages.


Observer, Observing, and Observed

Three aspects: In each of the examples above, there are three aspects to the process of meditation:

Observer <--> Observing <--> Observed

  1. Object: There is an Object being Observed, including visualized images, sensation, breath, mantra, and attitudes, etc..

  2. Observing: There is also a process by which that Observing occurs, which utilizes the sensory and mental instruments.

  3. Observer: Beyond the mental and sensory instruments, there is an Observer, who is doing the Observing by means of those instruments.

1. Object Observed: A Gross Object is composed of Subtler Objects. We are all familiar with this process in the physical world, in relation to Objects being constructed of compounds, molecules, and atoms. A similar process is encountered in the Subtler meditations. In each case, there is an Observed Object, whether that Object is the Gross Object itself, or one of its Subtler components.

Observer <--> Observing <--> Observed

Gross Objects: The notion of meditation on a Gross Object is pretty straightforward, including any of the familiar Objects, such as visualized images, sensation, breath, mantra, and attitudes, etc..

Subtler components: All of the Objects are constructed of five Gross elements called bhutas, and these are earth, water, fire, air, and space. These five also have five Subtle elements, called tattvas, which are the Subtler aspects of earth, water, fire, air, and space. Subtler than these are the mental processes and three components out of which these arise, which are called gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas).

Although one may be practicing meditation on Gross Objects, which is extremely useful, it is also important to recognize that these Subtler explorations of the component nature of the Objects is a further stage of the meditation process. The particulars of how to do those Subtler meditations come with practice and training.

2. Observing process: Subtler than Observing either the Gross Objects of the various types of meditation, or the Subtler components of those Objects, is meditation on the process and instruments by which that Observing or meditating is done. The process and means of Observing is, itself, now the focal point of meditation.

Observer <--> Observing <--> Observed

Meditation on the Observing process includes meditation on the:

  • Indriyas: The ten senses, including the five active senses (karmendriyas) and the five cognitive senses (jnanendriyas).

  • Antahkarana: The inner mental instrument includes the four functions of mind, which are manas, chitta, ahamkara, and buddhi

  • Vayus: The five forms of energy flow of prana, the Subtle energy underlying the Gross breath

Notice that when meditation is done with these inner instruments as the Object of meditation, attention has shifted away from the other Objects, such as visualized images, sensation, breath, energy, mantra, and attitudes, etc.. This is a Subtler aspect of meditation, and leads one further inward, moving in the direction of the center of consciousness, the Self.

3. Observing the Observer: Here, attention has shifted not only past the Gross Objects and their Subtle components, but also the sensory and mental processes by which they were being Observed. Attention is now directed towards the Observer itself, seeking to experience the Subtlest aspect of individuation.

Observer <--> Observing <--> Observed

This stage is so Subtle that it becomes extremely difficult to talk or write about. In this arena of individuated identity people can easily find themselves in philosophical debates with one another. Observing the Observer has to do with Asmita, which is described as I-ness itself, which is Subtler than the mental instruments through which Observing occurs. The function of mind called Buddhi (which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) has levels of functioning itself, and the finest aspect of buddhi can also considered a part of the individuated Observer.

Going beyond relaxation: An important point here is that when we discriminate between styles or types of meditation on the basis of the Gross Object of meditation (visualized images, sensation, breath, energy, mantra, and attitudes, etc.), we can unfortunately miss these Subtler levels of Observing both the Observing instruments and the Observer itself. With awareness of this process, our inner journey will not restrict itself to the shallower stages of meditation. We will not then settle for mere relaxation stages, but will pursue the depths of self-inquiry, so as to ultimately experience the eternal core of our being, by whatever name you choose to call that.


Stages of meditation 

Whatever Gross Object is chosen for meditation (visualized images, sensation, breath, energy, mantra, and attitudes, etc.), the process moves inward through stages (Gross, Subtle, Bliss, I-ness, Objectless). All methods of meditation, of all schools, traditions, teachers, lineages, religions, or paths are experienced in one or more of the stages described below. This is a universal framework for deepening meditation, and is extremely useful to understand, in that it allows you to see where you stand, and where you are going.

See also the summary page entitled:
Five stages of meditation 

Stages of attention: In going through the stages of meditation below (Gross, Subtle, Bliss, I-ness, Objectless), it is useful to understand that the attention process itself also advances in stages. This means the nature of attention itself is also refined in subtler forms.

  1. Attention: Simple attention is meant to denote that awareness that we are all accustomed to experience. While it might be a deep metaphysical reflection to discuss the nature of attention, it is here being used in a straightforward way.

  2. Concentration: The effort to bring attention to a single point is called concentration (dharana). The concentration is temporary, and is broken by interruption of other thought patterns, impressions, or sensations.

  3. Meditation: When attention turns into concentration on an Object (any Object, at any stage), and when that concentration is unbroken for some period of time, that is called meditation (dhyana).

  4. Samadhi: Recall the three part process of Observer, Observing, and Observed. When meditation deepens to such a point that these three seem to collapse into one experience, that is the meaning of samadhi. It is as if there is no longer an Observer or a process of Observing, but instead, all that exists is the Object itself. Thus, samadhi may occur at levels. (Sometimes the word samadhi is used to connote solely the highest state of consciousness, so it is important to know that the word is also used at a variety of levels and in relation to different objects.)

If the difference between attention, concentration, meditation, and samadhi is not clear, it is best to think of the stages below in terms of simple attention. The stages can be viewed as the various levels one moves through on the inner journey, and the matter of whether the attention is occurring as concentration, meditation, or samadhi can be left for later, or allowed to come over time through direct experience.

Stages of meditation: Below are descriptions of four stages of meditation with a focal point, and then a fifth stage of objectless meditation. (see Yoga Sutras 1.17-1.18)

Gross (Savitarka)
Subtle (Savichara)
Bliss (Sananda)
I-ness (Sasmita)


Gross stage: All of the methods of meditation described above (visualized images, sensation, breath, energy, mantra, and attitudes, etc.) operate at the Gross level of the world. 
  • Meditation on physical sensation is at the Gross level.
  • Meditation on mechanical breath is at the Gross level.
  • Meditation on the syllables of mantras is at the Gross level.
  • Meditation on visualized Objects is at the Gross level.
  • Meditation on stream of thoughts is at the Gross level.

While each of these might be considered a different style or type of meditation, they are all being done at the same stage of meditation, which is the Gross or Savitarka stage (or level). If the meditator wants to go to deeper meditation, samadhi, and Self-realization, these Gross Objects must be experienced in their Subtle forms, along with the Subtle instruments of our own makeup that allow them to be experienced.

In other words, you must let go of the Gross level of the Object for meditation to deepen. You must go beyond the Gross stage of meditation, regardless of which style you are practicing.


Gross (Savitarka)
Subtle (Savichara)
Bliss (Sananda)
I-ness (Sasmita)


Subtle stage: For all of the Gross Objects above, the question is what is the Subtle level or stage underneath. To not pursue the Subtler aspect of these Gross Objects is to stay stuck in the most surface level of meditation. The deeper experiences of samadhi and Self-realization will totally elude one who emphasizes the Gross meditations alone, without following those beginning level practices into the field of experience out of which they come.

In the Subtle stage of meditation, the Gross Objects are now experienced in their Subtle form:

  • Physical sensation is replaced by exploration of the nature of sensing itself.
  • Mantra begins to be experienced beyond the syllables.
  • Visualized images begin to be experienced in their Subtle or formless forms.
  • Meditation on streams of thoughts is replaced with meditation on the mind which is doing the thinking.

There are two general ways in which this Subtle level is utilized for meditation leading to Self-realization:

  • First, the Gross Objects are explored in their Subtle forms of shape, vibration, and light so as to determine that they are not truly related to the Self, and can be set aside with non-attachment as not worthy of further pursuit on the inner path to Self-realization. (They may, however, be useful in other ways related to the Gross world, such as your physical health.)
  • Second, the Subtle forms of our own constitution are explored as Objects of meditation. They are seen to be not-Self, and are also set aside with non-attachment. This includes the instruments with which we experience the Gross meditations. For example, the senses of sight and touch (physical sensation), the pranas underneath Gross breath, as well as the mind which is doing the processing of all this data.


Gross (Savitarka)
Subtle (Savichara)
Bliss (Sananda)
I-ness (Sasmita)


Bliss stage: Underneath, or Subtler than all of the Gross Objects, the Subtle aspects of those Objects, and the Subtle Objects of Observing, there still remains consciousness. When all of these subside, or are transcended, there remains a feeling of Bliss or Joy that is called Ananda.

This Bliss is not a mere emotion, as wonderful as emotions can be. It is a whole different order of reality or being, Subtler than the mind, which normally experiences emotions. This can be seen more clearly by looking at the article on the Koshas, where you can see graphically how the day-to-day thoughts and emotions are at the mental level (manamaya kosha), whereas the Bliss being described here is at a deeper level, beyond the typical mental functioning.

One of the main reasons for this Bliss is the fact that all of other levels and Objects have been temporarily allowed to come to rest, or be transcended during this period of meditation with Bliss. 


Gross (Savitarka)
Subtle (Savichara)
Bliss (Sananda)
I-ness (Sasmita)


I-ness stage: Regardless of the Gross or Subtle Object on which you may have been meditating, or even the meditation on Bliss, there is an I-ness (Asmita), an individuality that is experiencing those Objects of meditation. 

When meditation shifts so far inward that the Object of meditation is the I-ness itself, it is irrelevant what might have been the more surface level of Object. It is also irrelevant to consider the Subtleties of sensation, energies, lights and sounds, etc. that existed at the Subtle stage just below the Gross. Even the Bliss stage has been transcended, letting go even of the Latent forms of the Gross and Subtle Objects.

At this stage, consciousness is wrapped only around I-ness or individuality itself. This stage is not merely an alternative to the grosser Objects of meditation; it is an entirely different level of reality and self-being.


Gross (Savitarka)
Subtle (Savichara)
Bliss (Sananda)
I-ness (Sasmita)


Objectless stage: When attention is no longer wrapped around any Object whatsoever, that is objectless meditation. This is called Asamprajnata or Nirbija meditation (samadhi).

This is not merely a conscious state of mind like we typically encounter, where there are few Gross thoughts. It is an extremely high order of awareness, beyond or deeper than all of the Gross meditations, all of the Subtle meditations, the meditation on the Bliss, as well as the meditation on I-ness.



Breadth versus depth of experience

Breadth and depth of meditation: The two dimensions of type and stage of meditation also represent the breadth and depth of meditation practices. There may be a great breadth, or diversity of Gross Objects that may be used as focal points of attention (there are many objects in the world and mind), but the deeper stages are Subtler than all of these surface level diversities.

  • Types or styles deal with breadth: The different styles of meditation usually emphasize different Objects of meditation. These various styles are all at the Gross level of reality.

  • Stages deal with depth: Each of the styles of meditation align with the Gross level of reality, and their Gross form must be transcended if one is to progress to the Subtler, deeper stages.

 Styles or types deal with Breadth: The different styles of meditation usually emphasize different Objects of meditation. These various types are all at the Gross level of reality, and there is a great breadth of the number of such practices which are possible to pursue. 

  • Sensations are experienced at the Gross stage. 

  • Mechanics of breathing is at the Gross stage. 

  • Emotional attitudes are at the Gross stage. 

  • Reciting the syllables of mantra is at the Gross stage. 

  • Visualized images are at the Gross stage. 

  • Streams of pictures and words are at the Gross stage.

    B R E A D T H    


Stages deal with Depth: Each of the styles or types of meditation (above) align with the Gross level of reality, and their Gross form must be transcended if one is to progress to the Subtler, deeper stages.

  • Sensation shifts to awareness of the instruments of sensation (the senses and mind itself).

  • Breath awareness is dropped as one encounters the underlying pranic energy itself.

  • Emotional attitudes give way to serenity beyond the mind.

  • The syllables of mantra fade away, as one becomes absorbed in the deep feeling and meaning.

  • Visualized images give way to meditation on light itself, along with the mental instruments of perception.

  • Streams of pictures and words are dropped, as their building blocks, the Subtle elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space are explored.

    B R E A D T H    

Observing the Observer: Gradually, the Objects themselves are dropped, at both their Gross and Subtle stages, as attention goes to the ever Subtler stages of ones own being. 

  • Instead of being absorbed in the Objects, attention is wrapped around the deep Bliss that arises when one is still conscious, yet has let go of those Gross and Subtle images. 

  • When that too is allowed to be shed, attention wraps itself around I-ness itself. 

  • Thus, the Observer, which was originally the one Observing all of those other Objects is now, itself, the Object pursued in meditation. 

The meditator is at the doorway of the deepest meditation.


Meditation is systematic: Meditation is a systematic process that moves through stages. Meditation may begin with a Gross Object that has shape and form. Gradually, the meditation may deepen into the Subtler aspects of that Object. Systematically, attention then explores the mental and sensory instruments by which that Gross Object is Observed, experienced, and understood. Then, the individual Observer itself, the I-ness, becomes the focus of exploration. Finally, the reality beyond the Objects, the Observing process, and the Observer is experienced.

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This site is devoted to presenting the ancient Self-Realization path of the Tradition of the Himalayan masters in simple, understandable and beneficial ways, while not compromising quality or depth. The goal of our sadhana or practices is the highest Joy that comes from the Realization in direct experience of the center of consciousness, the Self, the Atman or Purusha, which is one and the same with the Absolute Reality. This Self-Realization comes through Yoga meditation of the Yoga Sutras, the contemplative insight of Advaita Vedanta, and the intense devotion of Samaya Sri Vidya Tantra, the three of which complement one another like fingers on a hand. We employ the classical approaches of Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti Yoga, as well as Hatha, Kriya, Kundalini, Laya, Mantra, Nada, Siddha, and Tantra Yoga. Meditation, contemplation, mantra and prayer finally converge into a unified force directed towards the final stage, piercing the pearl of wisdom called bindu, leading to the Absolute.








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