Meditation is central to the spiritual endeavor in many schools of Hinduism, notably the Yoga tradition. The Bhagavad-Gita (12.12) ranks meditation above intellectual knowledge, and the Garuda-Purana (222.10) states: “Meditation is the highest virtue. Meditation is the foremost austerity. Meditation is the greatest purity. Therefore be fond of meditation.” This exhortation expresses a sentiment that is widespread in the sacred literature of Hinduism.

However, meditation is by no means universally regarded as the principal means of attaining Self-realization. For instance, the Bhagavad-Gita (13.24) states that some behold the Self (atman) by means of meditation, while others approach it through samkhya-yoga and karma-yoga. Here samkhya-yoga stands for the spiritual practice of discernment (viveka) between the real and the unreal, and karma-yoga is the practice of dispassionate action. In the Trika school of Kashmir, the yogin is given alternatives to meditation like mantric recitation (japa), observing vows (vrata), and ritual sacrifice (homa).

The Sanskrit word dhyana, derived from the verbal root dhyai (“to contemplate, meditate, think”), is the most common designation both for the meditative state of consciousness and the yogic techniques by which it is induced. The Vedanta tradition also employs the terms nididhyasana, which stems from the same verbal root, upasana (literally “dwelling upon”), and bhavana (literally “cultivating”).

The term dhyana is widely used to refer to the contemplative process that prepares the ground for the ecstatic state (samadhi), though occasionally the term is also employed to signify that superlative state of consciousness.