By meditating on any object of one's choice, one attains steadiness of mind. Listen to Sutra 1.39 RecitationAudio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD
yathā = accordingly
abhimata = abhi + mata
abhi in every direction; all around
mata understanding; opinion; choice
Together abhimata means well thought out, a well-meditated, properly understood object of one's choice; an object agreeable to the mind.
dhyānāt by meditation vā and/or
A meditative object verified by the adepts, or one revered in your spiritual tradition, steadies the mind and draws it inward.
Common sense tells us that the mind enjoys entertaining objects of its liking and hates to focus on objects it does not like. So what’s going on here?
The sutra style of writing demands that you not spend even half a syllable unless it is absolutely required to convey the message. Yet here Patanjali, the master of the masters, spends one whole sutra telling us that “by meditating on any object of one’s choice, one attains steadiness of mind.” Common sense tells us that the mind enjoys entertaining objects of its liking and hates to focus on objects it does not like. So what’s going on here?
For some reason, none of the commentators have bothered to explain why Patanjali used an entire sutra simply to state the obvious. Here is what I have gathered from my own study of the Yoga Sutra. The entire essence of the practice described in this sutra is hidden in one word—abhimata. In ordinary Sanskrit usage, abhimata means “opinion, intent, the option one likes,” but in a more subtle understanding of Sanskrit, it means “that which is agreed upon or that which is agreeable to the mind.” The traditional method of deciphering the meaning of a sutra requires that you look at the same word from six different angles. Here, for the sake of brevity, I will explain abhimata from only two—bhava artha and parampara artha.
From the angle of bhava artha, the feeling-based meaning as opposed to the literal meaning, abhimata refers to the object of meditation that has been unanimously agreed upon by scores of adepts and aspirants who continued their meditation on a particular object for a long period of time. All of them gained a similar experience, and after matching their experiences they concluded that that particular object was conducive to attaining stability of mind. Through their continuous experiments, they verified the result. The final outcome is abhimata—well thought out, well analyzed, leaving no room for any doubt. Therefore, this sutra is not saying that you meditate on any object of your preference, but rather that you meditate on the object preferred by the experienced adepts if you wish to gain stability of mind.
Yogic literature describes thousands of well-thought-out meditative objects and you can choose any of them. Meditation on such objects will help you gain stability of mind. In other words, it is not a random selection of an object from anywhere or in any manner, but rather a wise selection of an authentic object that is described in this sutra.
From the angle of parampara artha, the word abhimata means the meditative object which supercedes all other objects within a particular tradition. For example, if your disposition leads you to find joy in conceiving divinity as a goddess, you are attracted to the image of the Madonna and child as well as to the goddesses Durga and Kali. The question then is, which one is the best object of meditation for you? All of them are equally attractive; therefore, logically, they are equally capable of bringing stability to your mind if you meditate on them. This particular sutra advises you to identify which tradition you belong to, and which particular form of the goddess or corresponding symbol is held in the highest regard in that tradition. Meditation on that object will bring the highest degree of stability to your mind and will have a lasting effect.