“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.
“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.