Book 1, Sutra 39: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“OR THE MIND CAN BE STEADIED BY FOCUSING ON ANY OBJECT OR PRINCIPLE THAT IS APPEALING.”
Patanjali listed the obstacles that can create distraction in the mind of the yogic practitioner in sutras 30-31. In sutra 32 he recommended that we apply a single antidote to any obstacle that might arise. Sutras 33-39 list examples of such antidote practices.
Is Patanjali telling us in this sutra to meditate on whatever we like (whatever “pleases us and brings calmness to the mind” according to Brahmananda Saraswati) and it will work to calm our minds? Or are there certain objects and principles that will work (“are suitable”) and ones that aren’t?
“It is immaterial what one takes for [the object of meditation]. . . . whatever [thing] is agreeable. An aspirant should choose for himself that object on which he can concentrate his mind” according to Satyananda Saraswati.
But Iyengar says that the object of meditation must be “an object conducive to meditation; not one which is externally pleasing but auspicious and spiritually uplifting. Practicing this simple method of one-pointed attention, the sadhaka gradually develops the art of contemplation.” Sadhakas also finds a middle ground: “An object which appeals to one and helps in concentration may be selected.” Swami Satchidanananda also says “anything that one chooses that is elevating” is okay.
Technically speaking the Sanskrt of this sutra, “Yathabhimata dhyanad va,” does not contain any restrictions. Literally it could be read as “concentrate on whatever you like.” I expect that we will come back to this sutra in future sections of Patanjali’s Sutra where concentration on various objects is explained further.