Category Archives: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
“WHEN THAT WISDOM BORN OF SAMADHI IS RELINQUISHED THEN EVERYTHING ENDS AND THE YOGI ENTERS THE ‘NIRBIJAH SAMADHI’ OR SAMADHI WITHOUT SEED.”
With this sutra Patanjali closes a circle that he opened with “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah” (sutra 2). Within “nirbijah samadhi” the yogi has a mind “free of fluctuation.” In the intervening 49 sutras Patanjali has taught us about a process of arriving at this state of mind. He has emphasized unrelenting energetic practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya) as essential components. Along with energy, he has listed faith, a purified memory and samadhi as components of the path to this state of mental freedom. He has taught us the use of meditation (samapatti) to reach and develop samadhi. And in this sutra Patanjali explains that in the final stages of yoga even the wisdom concerning the purpose of existence, itself, must be released in order to completely free the mind of all disturbances.
Once that wisdom itself is relinquished then the yogi is “nirbijah,” or without a center. The mind, at that point, is truly free. It has no definable center and so, cannot be assaulted or disturbed from any direction. As the Buddha says, the mind at that point cannot be located anywhere by anyone or anything. The mind is established free of all thoughts, perceptions or investigations because it is completely anchored in its own form, “svarupe avasthanam,” as sutra 3 states. And that form is not located anywhere in either space or time (mostly due to a purification of the memory faculty which I discussed in the commentary connected to sutra 43).
This concludes book 1 but does not conclude all that Patanjali has to tell us about yoga. As we have seen so far, Patanjali is writing in a very beautiful style that becomes easier to interpret once we see its patterning. This treatise is called the “Yoga Sutra” for a good reason. “Yoga Sutra” literally means “necklace of wisdom.” This is a very fitting title because this sutra, as we have seen, must be taken as a whole. In other words, each “bead” of wisdom must be considered relative to the next one and also relative to all the other beads on the string.
The two important observations related to this that I have made so far is that (one) we can correctly interpret any given sutra by comparing its key Sanskrt terms with the same terms used in other sutras. In other words, all uses of the same Sanskrt word, taken together, can help us decode any one given use. And (two) we can rely upon Patanjali’s repetition of all the key themes. As we will see in the further books, 2-4, Patanjali will be describing the key terms and stages of yoga over and over in slightly different ways. Book 1 is therefore not isolated from books 2-4 and vice versa. Taken together we have the best chance of really understanding yoga, its practices, its principles and its goals.
I suspect that in my future posts we will discuss the same topics, ideas and even the same Sanskrt words that we have seen already in book 1 but our understanding will deepen and hopefully, with more understanding, our appreciation and enthusiasm will increase as well.
“THE ‘SAMSKARA’ CREATED BY THIS NEW WISDOM STOPS THE CREATION OF ANY OTHER TYPE OF ‘SAMSKARAS.'”
I have retained the Sanskrt word, “samskara,” here because of its complexity. “Samskaras” are commonly translated as “subliminal activators or residual impressions.” Simply stated, they are the latent tendencies that support our habits, which are themselves created by past actions. This gets even more complicated because “samskaras” are also inherited from past lives. So we are born with certain “samskaras” and we are constantly creating new ones in our lives. The old ones surface to create impulses to act in certain habitual ways. Those old ones then get exhausted but identical new ones are created by our re-enactment of past habits.
“Samskaras” imprison us within the wheel of rebirth. In other words, the latent tendencies and impulses that we die with lead to being born again. Although Patanjali has not told us that yoga is concerned with ending the cycle of rebirth we can logically connect “samskaras” to “vrttis” or disturbances of the mind. Later in book 4, sutras 8 & 9, Patanjali will talk more about “samskaras” and connect them to “vasanas.” Either way, it is certain that within Patanjali’s system “samskaras” must come to an end in order to reach the highest level of samadhi, as he will describe in the final sutra 51.
The wisdom born of samadhi causes these latent and unconscious tendencies and orientations to dissipate. Under the influence of this wisdom, we see only the underlying purpose or meaning to life and its objects. Seeing only the central purpose of life, the yogi is therefore not paying attention to anything else and so becomes naturally detached, “vairagyam.”
As Patanjali says in sutra 12, it is “vairagyabhyam” which causes the ending of mental disturbances, “citta vrtti nirodhah.” So the “prajna” of samadhi therefore generates an ever increasing “vairagya.” This is why the realization of “nirvicara samapatti,” the state of meditation in which this greater wisdom (which the Buddha calls “prajnaparamita”) arises, is the end of any effort that the yogi has to put forth. After that wisdom arises it has a life of its own, naturally terminating existing “samskaras” with its own “samskara.” And in the next sutra, Patanjali will tell us that this final “samskara” of the wisdom itself ends on its own naturally, completely freeing the mind of the yogi. Then the yogi has reached “nirbijah samadhi” which Patanjali will describe in the next, the final, sutra of book 1.
“THIS WISDOM DIFFERS FROM THAT DERIVING FROM CONVENTIONAL LEARNING OR ONE’S OWN INSIGHTS BECAUSE IT IS FOCUSED ON THE SPECIAL PURPOSE UNDERLYING ALL OBJECTS.”
Patanjali is telling us why the wisdom, “prajna,” produced by samadhi is so special and different from other types of more conventional wisdom. The specialness of the samadhi wisdom is derived from the very profound purpose underlying the objects that becomes clear to the yogi. That special purpose is called “artha” and Patanjali tells us about this “artha” (and its importance) in not less than 17 sutras.
In sutra 43 Patanjali describes the process of this special “artha” arising in the consciousness of the yogi and the monumental effect that it produces: “When memory is purified and there is a realization of emptiness then meaning alone stands forth without sense impressions. This is called nirvitarka samapatti.”
“Meaning” is interchangeable with “purpose” and both give us the definition of “artha.” We are all looking for the fundamental meaning of life which is the same as our purpose for existing and when we find it, true wisdom dawns, as Patanjali tells us in this sutra 49. Wisdom is “True” in the highest sense because it is about THE purpose, “arthatvat,” Patanjali tells us here. That purpose, in fact, is the “other” or hidden object, “visaya,” behind all objects. And that purpose is also the inner most core or seed, “sabijah,” that is the only thing remaining as an anchor to the yogi established in this stage of samadhi. As we shall see in the final sutra, 51, of this chapter, there is one higher stage, “nirbijah,” or without seed, for the yogi to reach. Even the underlying purpose of life, the “artha,” has to be relinquished for the mind to be completely freed of all disturbance.
“WITHIN NIRVICARA SAMAPATTI WISDOM OF THE MOST PROFOUND NATURE DAWNS.”
The word that Patanjali uses is “rtambhara,” or “truth bearing.” This truth is of a special Absolute nature. Satyananda Saraswati explains, “Sat is subtler than energy; ‘sat’ means existence. It has two aspects called ‘ritam’ and ‘satyam.’ ‘Satyam’ is the relative aspect and ‘ritam’ is the absolute or cosmic aspect. . . . ‘Ritam’ is the ultimate truth beyond matter and energy.”
Only one earlier sutra (20) includes the word, “prajna.” But it is the very important sutra number 20 that lists the ingredients necessary to reach the goal of yoga. There, “prajna” is listed along with “samadhi,” energy and purified memory. So “prajna,” although important, is not the end goal of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.
“THROUGH NIRVICARA SAMAPATTI, PURITY IS ACHIEVED AND THE PRIMORDIAL SELF BECOMES ILLUMINATED AND CLEARLY SEEN.”
With this sutra we have come full circle and reached the promise that Patanjali made in sutra 3:
“tada drastuh svarupe ‘vashtanam.”
In that sutra Patanjali promised that through “yoga, the seer [gets] established in his or her own essential nature.” As I noted in the commentary to that sutra, the key word in that sutra is “svarupe,” roughly meaning “one’s own form.” In this sutra Patanjali uses the Sanskrt word, “adhyatma,” which is roughly translated as “higher,” “original,” or “first self.” It could also be translated literally as “study of the self or the soul.” Although Patanjali uses the word, “atma,” frequently, this sutra is the only one that contains, “adhyatma.”
“Know Thyself” is, of course, the age-old truth engraved by the Oracle at Delphi, ancient Greece. But this dictum is repeated in many other places as well. “Adhyatma” is, in fact, used by Krishna in a number of his key teachings within the Bhagavad Gita. In sloka 8:3 from that text Krishna defines “adhyatma” specifically. There are many different existing translations of that line but in the compilation that I made of that text, entitled “The Bhagavad Gita In Focus,” (www.bhagavadgitainfocus.com) I list that sloka in this way:
“The principle behind awareness (adhyatma) is the essence of being ‘I’ (svabhavo).”
Krishna also uses “adhyatma” in another critical line within the Bhagavad Gita, 13:12. In that sloka Krishna identifies stable knowledge of the “adhyatma” as part of what true knowledge is. I list that sloka as saying:
“constancy of Self-knowledge (“adhyatma”)/ and an appreciation of Absolute Truth as the highest form of wealth;/ this is knowledge and anything to the contrary is ignorance.”
So, with these past 47 sutras, Patanjali has delineated a path to reaching and realizing that Self-knowledge: the highest stage of meditation beyond both sense impressions and their related thoughts (nirvicara samapatti).
“THESE STATES OF SAMAPATTI CAN BE CALLED ‘SABIJAH SAMADHI,’ OR SAMADHI WITH SEED.”
Samadhi with seed is the state of complete stillness that is still anchored to a center, or a seed. It is not yet a completely liberated mind. It still has a reference point and so, assumably, is still subject to the possibility of being disturbed or distracted. In samadhi with seed we have yet to reach a state that is beyond the possibility of being either disturbed (conforming to the “vrtti,” as sutra 4 describes) or distracted (“viksepah” from sutra 30). In other words, at that point none of the potential distractions listed in sutra 30 could possibly lead to any negative states listed in sutra 31. That is, such a yogi could never fall into a state of depression, pain or anxiety due to the occurrence of sickness, apathy, indecision, heedlessness (lack of mental focus to do the work), laziness, lust, wrong ideas or a perceived failure of any type. Even if these obstacles did arise the mind of the yogi could not waver. That is the goal of “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.”
At this point, with sabijah samadhi, the yogi is almost there. His or her concentration is established and correct, focusing only on the underlying purpose of both objects existing and their related thoughts. But that concentration is still dependent on a center and so is not yet unassailable.
This book 1 of the Yoga Sutras is entitled “On Samadhi” but it is only now, at sutra 46, that we have reached the beginning of the description of “samadhi.” Only one earlier sutra (20) even mentions the word, itself. So we have been building up to the goal of yoga so far with the sutras. But it is important to remember that “samadhi,” although it is now a widely recognized word socially, is not the end goal of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. He first mentions “samadhi” in sutra 20 as ONE of the necessary components of the goal. In sutra 20 Patanjali told us that faith, energy, a purified memory, “samadhi,” and profound wisdom (“prajna”) lead us to the goal of yoga.
For this reason, and a few others I will go into later, I doubt that the individual chapter titles are part of Patanjali’s original text. I believe that they were added later in order to make the text easier to digest and understand. They are simplifications of the topics covered but they are not entirely accurate.
“THIS SAME PROCESS OF MEDITATIVE COGNITIVE BLENDING RELATING TO OBJECTS ALSO HAPPENS RELATING TO THOUGHT ITSELF. ULTIMATELY THEN THE YOGI SEES THE PURPOSE AND MEANING BEHIND EVEN THE MOST SUBTLE OF THOUGHTS AND THEIR CORRESPONDING OBJECTS.”
In sutras 41, 42, and 43 Patanjali described the characteristics and development of a meditative cognitive blending called “samapatti” specifically related to the sensual experience of objects. In this sutra he states that the same characteristics and stages of development apply to meditative cognitive blending when it is focused on thoughts as objects.
In sutra 41 Patanjali used the analogy of a clear crystal to describe this state of cognitive blending. In sutra 42, with “savitarka samapatti,” the yogi loses a sense of the boundaries between himself and the physical object being focused on. All of it takes on a similar coloration just like what happens to a clear crystal. In sutra 43, with “nirvitarka samapatti,” the sense impressions drop away, leaving only the underlying purpose behind an object’s existence.
Now, in this sutra, with “savicara samapatti,” instead of a cognitive blending with a physical object, there is a cognitive blending with a thought. The cognitive blending means that the thoughts are without a sense of ownership or a sense of their origination and destination. Thoughts are just there, without a sense of “mine” or “not-mine.” In “nirvicara samapatti,” the next stage of development, the details of the thought fall away completely, leaving only the realization of the purpose behind the thought existing at all. This is a realization of the nature of the mind.
The important technical thing to realize is that thoughts always have objects: “vicara” has “visaya.” All thoughts, even the most subtle ones, concern the experience of objects. For this reason “vitarka” (sense impressions of an object) and “vicara” (thought impressions of an object) form the simplest division of all of life experience. From the standpoint of the mind there ARE ONLY sense impressions of objects and the processing thoughts that follow them. Those two together make up all of mental activity. They comprise the “vrtti,” or mental fluctuations which Patanjali focused on in the very beginning of this Yoga Sutra.
In sutra 45 Patanjali explains this further by saying that thoughts are connected to even the most subtle and primary objects of existence, matter itself. In other words, there is no object that is beyond the range of thought, “vicara.” So the mind is potentially all comprehensive. That is what sutra 45 says.
When the yogi is “nirvitarka” and “nirvicara” he or she has effectively stilled the mind in the way that Patanjali recommends in sutra 2: “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.” This is not the final stage of evolution for the yogi but it is the end of his or her own efforts. The rest of the way to full and complete liberation happens on its own, automatically, as Patanjali will tell us in sutra 50.
“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.
“WITH SAVITARKA SAMAPATTI, THE OBJECT’S NAME, THE MEANING BEHIND THE NAME AND ALL OTHER INFORMATION CONNECTED TO THAT OBJECT ARE BLENDED TOGETHER SEEMLESSLY.”
In this sutra Patanjali continues to describe “samapatti,” or the state of cognitive blending analogously described by the clear crystal in the last sutra. Here he adds 5 Sanskrt terms: “sabda,” “artha,” “jnana,” “vikalpa,” and “savitarka.” Roughly translated these terms mean “name,” “meaning,” “factual knowledge,” “conceptualization” and “sensorially based perception.” Translations differ somewhat on how Patanjali intended these 5 terms to relate to each other and to “samapatti.” Some translators wrote that the first 4 terms are blended together to get a new version of “samapatti” called “savitarka samapatti.”
I don’t think the “samapatti” described in this sutra is a “new” one that differs from the “samapatti” of the last sutra but I do admit that the following sutras will describe further refinement of “samapatti.” For now, Patanjali is simply giving us more information about the cognitive blending called “samapatti.” Just as the last sutra stated that it was a blending of experiencer, experience and the process of experiencing itself, in this sutra Patanjali describes it as a blending of the theoretical knowledge of an object (name, meaning, inferences, references, etc.) with the sensual knowledge of that object. We can call this “savitarka samapatti,” or “samapatti with sensation” in order to distinguish it from the higher or more refined “nirvitarka samapatti” or “samapatti without sensation” that Patanjali will describe next.
“AS IT BECOMES STILL, THE MIND BECOMES LIKE A FACETED CLEAR CRYSTAL IN WHICH THE EXPERIENCER, THE OBJECT OF EXPERIENCE AND THE PROCESS OF EXPERIENCING ITSELF IS SEEN TOGETHER SEAMLESSLY. WITH FOCUS AND STABILITY, A SATURATED TRUE COGNITIVE BLENDING IS REACHED (SAMAPATTI).”
Iyengar states that in the stage described by this sutra “The yogi realizes that the knower, the instruments of knowing and the known are one, himself, the seer.” He then identifies the key term of this sutra, “samapatti,” as indicating the original goal of yoga stated by Patanjali in sutra 3; that is, “assumption of the original form of the Seer.” Iyengar thus differentiates between “samadhi” and “samapatti.” “Samadhi,” Iyengar writes, “is profound meditation, profound absorption” while “samapatti” is “the balanced state of mind of the seer who, having attained samadhi, radiates his own pure state.”
Hartranft calls “samapatti” a “coalescence; a transparent way of seeing.” Similarly Woods states it is a “balanced state.” Purohit calls it an “illumination” and Taimni says it is a “consummation.” For Tola and Dragonetti “samapatti” has no English equivalent and so, they retain the Sanskrt. With “samapatti,” they explain, “the mind stabilizes itself; that is, it concentrates and fixes itself on a single object. As the fixation becomes increasingly intense, it carries with it the gradual elimination of all mental processes.” Tola & Dragonetti don’t agree that it is the final goal of Patanjali’s yoga. For them “samapatti” is a mental process itself and so, does not refer to total stillness.
The reason that I am dwelling on the definitions of “samadhi” and “samapatti” is because they play a key role in not only the following sutras in this book 1 but in many parts of the other books as well. So the decisions that translators make on how to define “samapatti” in this sutra affects the direction that their translations will take from here on.
What Patanjali explains here, and calls “samapatti,” could be also described as a shift into nonduality because it puts not only the seer but also the processing of seeing, itself, into focus. Just as a clear crystal becomes thoroughly colored by the surface that it rests on, so does the mind lose a sense of distinction, necessary for dual thinking, in “samapatti.” In other words, in “samapatti,” there is no sense of difference between what is seen, the seer, and the mechanics of seeing. All three of these components are witnessed together without a sense that anything is specifically happening. It is all just “THERE” with no one outside of that “THERE” to consider it in any special way.
In order for something to “happen” there must be sense of distinct components: subject versus object. The mechanics of seeing then operates to create a relationship between seer and the seen. But when that whole situation is turned into a well-examined crystal clear mixture; that is, when they are all seen together without maintaining mental distinctions between them; then there is a mental “saturation,” or a cognitive blending that is nondual. This is “samapatti” according to Patanjali.
It is easy to underestimate what is being said here. Patanjali is referring to a very elevated state of awareness that is the product of both practice and detachment (as he stated in sutra 12). Moreover, this elevated state will be referred to as the basis for many of the super powers Patanjali will describe in later parts of his Yoga Sutra. If we fail to realize how elevated “samapatti” is we may underestimate what is involved in realizing the super powers as well.
In the following sutras Patanjali will continue to elaborate on “samapatti,” enumerating different stages and qualities and also how it relates to “Samadhi.” It is helpful to keep in mind the analogy of the clear crystal that Patanjali gives us in this sutra for “samapatti” when we read his more nuanced descriptions in the sutras that follow. With that analogy we know that “samapatti” is always the case of a cognitive blending between subject and object, or perceiver and perceived.