Stages of meditation

It is known that the restless mind cannot immediately enter into a state of thoughtlessness.  That is why meditation is practised in stages.  A 2005 paper “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness” by Antoine Lutz and his colleagues contains a very succinct description of this graded process accompanied by a concise table, which we highlight in this post.   

The following table is from page 40 of the paper.

Stages of meditation table: From the paper "Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness" by Antoine Lutz, John Dunne, Richard Davidson

In their paper, Lutz et al. describe the four stages in the Buddhist practice of Open presence or Rig-pa Chôg-zhag.   

Stage 1: One strengthens the vacillating mind by building  concentration on some chosen external object  (e.g. candle, sky, etc) for long periods of time until the mind is unperturbed by external distractions, the recall of past events, and thoughts about the future.

Stage 2: One then employs techniques that cultivate an awareness of subjectivity in a manner that de-emphasizes the object.  One observes the mind and the senses while they are contemplating the external object.  In doing so, one gains phenomenal access to the reflexive awareness that is immutable (i.e. the Spirit or soul within).

Stage 3: One then de-emphasizes subjectivity as well, so as to further enhance that access to reflexivity.  At this point, one has developed the strength to stand back and reject the thoughts as they seek to enter the mind.

Stage 4: Finally, as the consciousness recedes inward, one loses awareness of subjectivity as well.  One becomes fixed in the bliss of the Presence within.

This is a quick summary from pages 39-45 of the paper, which is worth reading.  Click here to read the full paper.

These gradations mentioned above have been described in an earlier post -see Types of Meditation.

These steps are analogous to the five stages of Samadhi described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Savitarka, Savichara, Sananda, Sasmita, Asamprajnata).

Stage 1 – Savitarka(gross): Fix the mind on the external object without wavering.

Stage 2 – Savichara(subtle): Become aware of the mind and sense instruments which are involved in the cognition of the external object.

Stage 3 – Sananda(bliss): Let the attention recede from the instruments of cognition, and dwell on the ocean of bliss within.

Stage 4 – Sasmita (I-ness) : Deeper still, focus on the greater individuality within.

Stage 5 – Asamprajnata (objectless): In this stage, one goes beyond all supports and dwells on the Self itself.

Details of the above stages can be read at

See also

  1. Meditation
  2. Subtle forms of the ego – (transcending suffocation)
  3. Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
  4. Developing discernment on which actions are spiritual
  5. Stabilizing the body before meditation
  6. Transcending the work-leisure cycle
  7. Aspects of Karma Yoga
  8. The transmutation of sexual energy
  9. Sublimation of the sexual urge through Yoga
  10. How to awaken the soul (psychic being)
  11. Towards more conscious sleep and dreams


9 thoughts on “Stages of meditation

  1. kalpana

    Useful analysis thanks.
    Is there any similar paper that identifies stages by which the meditator returns to ‘ordinary life’? This is the challenge – the ‘chopping wood, carrying water after ‘enlightenment’. Hence the need for meditation to be grounded in ‘ordinary life’, which is why it is the 8 fold path, etc, why a synthesis of yoga is required etc.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      I searched the web for “chopping wood carrying water” and discovered that it is a Zen anecdote. The student asks the master: “What work will I do as I seek enlightenment?” The master replies “Chop wood, carry water.” “And what work will I do once I achieve enlightenment?” asks the student. “Chop wood, carry water” replies the master.

      I doubt there is a scientific paper covering those aspects. We are still at the stage where scientists are willing to analyze the veridicality of mystic experiences. The answers to your questions can be found by delving into Sri Aurobindo’s Letters on Yoga .

  2. Pingback: Meditation For Busy People | Meditation For Beginners

  3. kalpana

    >>>”It is known that the restless mind cannot immediately enter into a state of thoughtlessness. That is why meditation is practised in stages’.’
    Sorry if I appear to be digressing, but feel it is helpful to consider the disembarkation from the flight of meditation.
    With reference to Patanjali, the 8 limbs are a very useful way of contextualising meditation, proceeding from ‘external’ disciplines [ conduct, attitude, body, breath] leading to the more ‘inward’ stages of meditation. Unless one is exiting the body via ‘samadhi’, the return to ‘real-life’ from meditation requires a return to yama, niyama etc. – stepping down and not abruptly re-entring daily life from rarified mind-states. Some interesting research regarding one type of meditation [TM] here

    1. Sandeep Post author

      > it is helpful to consider the disembarkation from the flight of meditation.

      Yes, it is helpful to consider the problem but I don’t know if there is a straightforward answer. There are all kinds of unsettling psychological problems that can be triggered by an opening to the subtle realms and despite all efforts to maintain balance, one could become manic-depressive, develop an inflated spiritual ego, or even get attacked by occult entities.

      One thing to consider is that if you are destined to progress, you will receive guidance to overcome such problems through your visions and dreams. When the disciple is ready, the Master comes to guide.

  4. Pingback: Buddhist monk is the world’s happiest man | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. Hari

    what is the use of chanting mantra? Does it develop concentration? I tried but could not go on because it became monotonous after a few minutes.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      The Mantra pierces through the veil of Maya and awakens the Atman within. See what Sri Aurobindo says

      Hari: I tried but could not go on because it became monotonous after a few minutes.

      It may take several years before you see any positive effect. You have to practice without expectations. One must give up the mercantile attitude and practice solely out of love for the Divine. The Divine does not reveal itself to those who practice specific methods; rather, it reveals itself to those who are psychologically mature – who are kind, compassionate, selfless and live with equanimity and self-control.

      You might like to read this article on Obsessive-Compulsive spirituality


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