Book 1, Sutra 43: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
“WHEN MEMORY IS PURIFIED AND THERE IS A REALIZATION OF EMPTINESS THEN MEANING ALONE STANDS FORTH WITHOUT SENSE IMPRESSIONS. THIS IS CALLED NIRVITARKA SAMAPATTI.”
Some translators define “nirvitarka” in the general sense as “without thought” but the earlier sutra 17 established “vitarka” as the type of mental activity connected with incoming sense impressions. In a way, then, “vitarka” is the sensual input that happens before we “think” about what we are sensing. “Nirvitarka” is then a state that is free of sensual input. In this state the external world makes no impression upon the mind of the yogi. But something does remain, however. That something is called “artha” and it is the key to this sutra. But before we get to what “artha” is we must look at the rest of the sutra.
The second component of this sutra, after “vitarka,” is the purification of memory. The third component is “emptiness” (shunya). There is a lot of disagreement over what exactly Patanjali means by either. What is he calling “empty?” And how is that connected to memory?
Some say that it is the mind of the yogi that becomes empty and others say that it is the object focused upon that becomes empty. But Patanjali is making a more profound statement than either of these options. I connect Patanjali’s phrase “svarupa shunya” to the very profound idea, found within the Buddha’s teachings, that every object is empty. Patanjali is saying that at this stage in “samapatti,” or cognitive blending, the yogi clearly sees that the material form, “svarupa,” of every object he or she focuses on contains no special substance that makes it distinct from other objects. Every object is essentially the same as every other because the form or shell is empty. This is “svarupa shunya:” the emptiness of form.
How does the purification of memory play a role in this? When the memory is purified, the yogi enters a state that is beyond time as a linear mechanism. In other words, memory is what gives power to cause and effect. Something from the past happened to create something significant in the present. That is the awareness created by memory. Without memory, the whole idea of change, which requires linear time, collapses. Without memory, nothing is changing because there is no observation of objects through the progression of time, past to present to future.
Therefore, a yogi whose memory is purified doesn’t see linear time as a fact, doesn’t respect change and so, doesn’t register the characteristics of forms as real (since all forms are a result of cumulative changes compiled by linear time). Without perception of the characteristics of forms, those forms are seen as empty. So if all objects are empty then what is left at that point for the yogi to perceive? In the “nirvitarka samapatti” of this sutra what the yogi perceives remaining is the third component: “artha” or the functional meaning connected to a form.
Many translators try to interpret “artha” in this sutra as meaning “objects in themselves” but in other sutras (sutras 28, 32, 42 and 49) “artha” clearly is more about the meaning or functioning or purpose of an object rather than referring to the object itself. The Sanskrt word, “visaya,” is used to designate an object in 6 other sutras (11, 15, 33, 44, 45, 49). Why would Patanjali suddenly use the word, “artha,” to designate something he has consistently used “visaya” for? Of the 27 translations I reviewed, about half translated “artha” as object and the other half translated it as some type of meaning.
If “artha” is meaning or purpose, what type of meaning is Patanjali talking about here? In the earlier sutra 28 where Patanjali gave us the instructions to repeat the mantra of Iswara, he claimed that by repeating the mantra we would realize the “artha.” Some have interpreted this as indicating that by repeating the mantra we would understand the meaning OF THE MANTRA but Patanjali was indicating a much more profound realization than that. The “artha” that a user of the mantra will realize is not that of the mantra but of Iswara, itself. In other words, by repeating the “pranava” mantra Patanjali says that we will realize the functional meaning of God: the what, why, where and how of God.
In this sutra, “artha” has a similarly profound meaning. When the yogi enters the “samapatti” state that is beyond sense impressions (“nirvitarka”) only this very profound “artha” remains. In other words, when a yogi focuses on an object in this way he or she sees only the essential meaning behind life. The only thing seen in this state of consciousness is the underlying how and why things happen from the most profound, fundamental perspective. No sense impressions interfere with this pure communion of “artha” or “purpose.” The yogi is completely alone with an understanding of why everything IS.
This interpretation of “artha” is also supported by the use of this word in the prior sutra 42. There Patanjali listed 4 Sanskrt terms that, he said, get mixed together in the “savitarka samapatti.” These four terms are “sabda,” “artha,” “jnana” and “vikalpa.” They refer to the four components of experiencing an object: its name, its functional purpose, observational facts about its form and inferential guesswork connected to its potential and future life. Of these four, only “artha,” purpose, remains in “nirvitarka samapatti.”
As Sadhakas writes, “the ultimate purpose [of Yoga] is for one to know life, to understand this world and see through its limitations. We require a tremendous capacity to know it fully.” For Patanjali then “artha” refers to that full knowledge in sutra 28, 42, 43 and in sutra 49 which we shall look at in a future post. The fact that this understanding of the word “artha” fits all the sutras in which Patanjali uses it is a sign that we are on the right track.