The Sanskrit term “dhyana,” related to the Pali word “jhana” (used in the Buddhist Pali Canon), represents a collection of meditation-related practices in Hinduism that are nevertheless distinct from meditation as most Buddhists understand it. Dhyana is the seventh anga (limb or level) in the 8-step Yoga practice of Patanjali, and is therefore very important to Hindus and is understood as the step immediately prior to Samadhi.
Prior to dhyana, other Yogic practices are embraced, such as Yama (abstaining from violence, falsehood, sensory over-stimulation), Niyama (purity, contentment, austerity), Asana and Pranayama (which have to do with body postures and breathing practices), Pratyahara (stopping information flow from the outside by turning the mind inwards), Dharana (maintenance of a single focus in the mind’s eye) and then, finally, Dhyana. The purpose of dhyana is to become totally detached and eradicate samskaras, with moksha, or release from reincarnation, the ultimate aim.
The Atma, or self, in dhyana, is in a state of total awareness. Love, which is absent in both focused attention and open monitoring forms of meditation, which very much present in dhyana (as well as Theravada Buddhism’s metta practice). This love isi called “Bhakti” and is understood as a longing to merge with God. Combining love and dedication to the divine, while concentrating on a mystical mantra, moves the individual from meditation to dhyana.