Yoga Sutra 1.17

Translation and Commentary

May 17, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Translation

Due to the nature of the object of focus the first stage of spiritual absorption, known as saṃprajñāta samadhi, is four fold: vitarka anugata, vicāra anugata, ānanda anugata, and asmitā anugata.
Yoga Sutra 1.17 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, Phd

vitarka reasoning; supposition; argument; discussion; but in this context, it refers to the concentration on physical objects
vicāra thinking; contemplation; but here it refers to the concentration on subtle objects
ānanda pleasure; happiness; but here it refers to the joy that is derived from deep within the senses, not from the pleasure that comes from sense-object contact
asmitā I-am-ness; self identity
rūpa form
anugamāt followed by
samprajañātaḥ state of spiritual absorption in which the yogi is aware of the object being meditated on, the process of meditation, and himself as a meditator

Four Pillars of Concentration

The mindneeds an object for concentration. But within every object is a more subtle focus... and then another... and finally the subtlest of all.

Self-realization, as described in the previous sutra, is the ultimate goal of yoga. It is called purusha khyati. In the process of Self-realization, the mind is the chief means as well as the greatest obstacle. A clear and one-pointed mind allows us to see what we are, but an impure and disturbed mind blocks and distorts our inner vision. In order to purify our mind and make it one-pointed, we first have to withdraw it from the external world and focus it on one object. But the mind has formed a habit of attending to one object after another. It does not know how to enjoy itself without leaning on some object.

Regardless of how the spiritual absorption is induced, we need to continue practicing. Only then do we achieve maturity in that experience.

All the objects known to the mind can be classified in four major categories. The first includes objects that are physical and can be experienced by the senses. For example, you can focus your mind on a lotus. In the beginning your mind wanders; then, because of your resolve, it comes back to the image of the lotus. As you continue practicing, your power of concentration increases and the mind stays with the image of the lotus longer. Eventually there comes a time when the mind stays with the lotus image for an extended time without interruption. During this period the mind becomes clear like a crystal and steady. Thus there arises an environment in which you can get a clear understanding of yourself. That is why this stage of one-pointedness is considered to be a state of samadhi (spiritual absorption).

In a strict sense, however, this is not a perfect state of spiritual absorption, because even though aspirants are aware of the inner Self, they are also aware of their concentration on the object (in this case the image of the lotus), the process of concentration, and themselves as the concentrator. This stage of samadhi, samprajñata, can therefore be translated as "lower samadhi" because it is still a stepping-stone to pure and perfect spiritual absorption. It is called vitarka anugata samadhi (spiritual absorption followed by concentration on another object) because it will inevitably be followed by a disturbance caused by another object that will take the mind away from the image of the lotus.

The second category of objects that can be known to the mind are those which take the form of thoughts. You can choose a mantra, for example, and use it as your focal point. Through practice you will also gain clarity and stability of mind, enabling you to experience your Self within. But this is also a lower form of samadhi, because your mind will eventually be pulled away from its focal point (the mantra) involuntarily. You remain aware of your mantra, the process of meditating on it, and yourself as a meditator. You begin your meditation by focusing on a particular type of thought (vicara) and toward the end of your meditation you are involuntarily pulled by another thought (vicara); the spiritual absorption induced by this meditation is called vicara anugata samadhi.

The third category of objects is contained within our senses in the form of joy (ananda). The body is a repository of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. The existence of different colors and aromas is totally dependent on the capacity of the senses that perceive them. For those who are color-blind, certain colors don’t exist. For maggots and vultures, there is no foul smell. Through practice you can train your senses to exhibit their inherent properties and your disciplined mind can gain access to that reservoir of sense pleasure that lies within you. That pleasure does not depend on external stimulus. The mind runs from one object to another in search of happiness. Once it finds that pleasure within, it loses its interest in chasing the objects and becomes steady. But the state of spiritual absorption induced by the meditation on this form of joy will follow the same pattern as the previous two categories: it starts with meditation on joy (ananda) and is involuntarily disrupted later by the desire for or idea of other forms of joy. This state is called ananda anugata samadhi.

The fourth category of objects known to the mind is our pure sense of I-am-ness. In the process of reaching spiritual absorption of this kind, you first withdraw yourself from all worldly affairs and become aware of yourself as the space occupied by your body. You focus your mind on the sense of Iam- ness that pervades your entire body. Through constant practice, as your meditation becomes refined, you will automatically lose your awareness of your body and become aware of your breath. You will begin to feel that you are a breathing being. Eventually you will transcend this state of awareness and begin to feel that you are a thinking being. At some point you will transcend that state too—only a sense of Self-existence will occupy the realm of your consciousness. When you use the sense of I-am-ness that identifies itself with Self-existence as its focal point, then the spiritual absorption emerging is called asmita anugata samadhi. But even here the spiritual absorption can be involuntarily disrupted by the sense of I-amness pertaining to other objects, such as body or senses.

Regardless of how the spiritual absorption is induced, we need to continue practicing. Only then do we achieve maturity in that experience. It is the maturity of the experience that enables us to stay in that state a longer period of time. It is also the maturity of the experience that enables us to get into and get out of that state voluntarily. This ability is what opens the door to the highest form of samadhi described in the next sutra.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>