Yoga Sutra 1.42-1.44


Acquiring a Penetrating Mind

As spiritual absorption deepens, we are no longer aware we are meditating. The mind and the object on which it is focused have become one.


When the mind focuses on an object in association with the word and its meaning, there arises savitarka samapatti—a narrow field of concentration that contains the word, its meaning, and the object denoted. Download 1.42 Audio RecitationAudio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

tatra there

śabdārthajñānavikalpaiḥ =  + artha +  + vikalpai (third case plural of vikalpa)

  • śabda word

  • artha meaning

  • jñāna cognition; awareness

  • vikalpa distinct; option; alternative; requiring further clarification

sakīrṇā limited; confined savitarkā accompanied by inquiries; accompanied by tangible, gross object samāpattiḥ the end result; conclusion; mental occurrence

As described in the previous sutra, a clear, calm, and tranquil mind has the ability to focus on any object for a prolonged period. This kind of mind can focus on a gross form with a tangible shape, size, and color, or it can focus on a pure idea, beyond shape and size.

In order to meditate on such an object, you must first withdraw your mind from every direction and focus it on the space occupied by that object.

Because a tangible object is limited by space, the mind focused on such an object draws a boundary of space around itself. In this context, therefore, the mind exists in the confined space occupied by the object, and in that confined space it is stable. While it is focused on the object, it is fully aware of the word assigned to that object, the precise meaning of that word, and the homogeneous cognition that holds the word, its meaning, and the actual object together. Because of its unwavering nature, the mind is completely absorbed in this cognition. Thus, this state of concentration is defined as savitarka samapatti or savitarka samadhi—cognitive absorption.

Seekers from a number of religious backgrounds undertake the practice of concentration and meditation that fall in the category of cognitive absorption. They meditate on a yantra, a mandala, an image of a god or goddess, the cross, or a picture of Krishna or Jesus Christ. These are perceptible forms, with unique shapes and sizes. The words for these forms—for example, kala chakra, Krishna, or cross—refer to an entity that corresponds to, or occupies, space. In order to meditate on such an object, you must first withdraw your mind from every direction and focus it on the space occupied by that object. The mind is still aware of the word, its meaning, and the actual object denoted. This level of mental absorption is cognitive samadhi—a spiritual phenomenon common to many of the world's religions. When this process is taken to the next level, it is called nirvitarka samadhi, as described in the next sutra.


Upon the complete transformation of memory, there arises nirvitarka samadhi—a mental state in which the meaning alone is illumined and which appears to be devoid of its own form. Download 1.43 Audio RecitationAudio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

smṛtipariśuddhau = smṛti + pariśuddhau (seventh case singular of pariśuddhi)

  • smṛti memory

  • pariśuddhau thorough purification; cleansing; transformation

Together, smṛtipariśuddhau means "thorough purification or transformation of memory."

svarūpaśūnyā svarūpa + śūnyā (first case singular, feminine)

  • svarūpa self-nature; one's own form

  • śūnyā empty; void; devoid of

Together, svarūpaśūnyā means “devoid of one’s own form.”

iva as if

ārthamātranirbhāsā = artha + mātra + nirbhāsā (first case singular, feminine)

  • artha meaning

  • mātra only

  • nirbhāsā illumination

Together, arthamātranirbhāsā means “where the meaning alone is illumined."

nirvitarkā = nir + vitarkā (first case singular, feminine)

  • nir devoid of

  • vitarkā options, alternatives, or cognitions requiring further clarification.

Together, nirvitarkā means “the word, its meaning, and the object denoted are so well blended that distinctions among them no longer exist.”

No matter how gross the object of your concentration and how concrete its shape and size, there comes a time in meditation when the mind becomes so absorbed in the object that the distinction between you as the meditator, the object of meditation, and the process of meditation, begins to blend into one another. Your retentive power, responsible for recollecting the word and its meaning, stands still. At that point in meditation, the mind crosses the field of space occupied by the object and begins to penetrate the very field of retentive power (memory) where the word and its meaning lie in their homogeneous form. The actual discrete form of the object has already been left behind. Now the word too has merged into the meaning.

At this stage, when the mind naturally becomes concentrated on the meaning alone, nirvitarka samadhi arises—a state of mind fully aware of the pure meaning of the word, not the word itself and not its corresponding form. In other words, the mind is fully focused on the feeling. For example, you begin your meditation by focusing on the cross. Initially you are aware of the word cross, its meaning, and the shape indicated by the word. But as your meditation deepens, the word cross and the shape indicated by it are left behind. The mind is absorbed in the pure feeling of sacredness inherent in the word and the idea. This level of stillness of mind is called nirvitarka samadhi.


Accordingly, savichara samadhi and nirvichara samadhi, which have extremely subtle objects as their focal points, can be explained. Download 1.44 Audio RecitationAudio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

etayā accordingly; by the same token; in the same fashion; similarly eva only

savicārā = sa + vicārā (first case singular, feminine)

  • sa with

  • vicārā thinking; inner reflection; analysis; contemplation

Together, savicārā means “accompanied by thinking or self-reflection.”

nirvicārā = nir + vicārā (first case singular, feminine)

  • nir without

  • vicārā thinking; inner reflection; analysis; contemplation

Together, nirvicārā means “that which is beyond thinking, beyond analysis.”

ca and

sūkṣmaviṣayā = sūkṣma + viṣayā (first case singular, feminine)

  • sūkṣma subtle

  • viṣayā object

Together, sūkṣmaviṣayā means “that which has a subtle object as its focus.”

vyākhyātā to be described; has been described; can be described

Having explained how a yogi of a clear, calm, and tranquil mind can focus either on a minute or on a gigantic physical entity and how such a yogi can effortlessly switch from minute to gigantic and yet remain unaffected by the inherent qualities of the object of his mental focus, Patanjali takes his readers to the next level of concentration and the mental abilities induced by it. Here a yogi with a crystal-clear mind can choose a pure idea as an object of concentration and meditation. Take, for example, an idea familiar to people in the East, such as tat tvam asi (“Thou art That”) or one familiar to people in the West, such as “Be still and know that I am God.” Here these ideas are expressed by phrases made of a cluster of words. Due to the abstract ideas they convey, it is easier for the mind to quickly leave the words and phrases behind and simply focus itself on the idea, which has no form, shape, or size, and therefore does not—in any physical sense—occupy space.

In the initial stages, however, the mind is aware of the process of attending the idea. It is fully aware of the fact that it is reinforcing the notion contained in the phrase “Thou art That,” for example, by virtue of attending it repeatedly. The mind is also aware of the fact that this notion is becoming clearer and firmer as the process of contemplation progresses. This level of realization induced by concentration on an idea is called savichara samadhi—the samadhi where the mind stands still and, without fluctuation, remains absorbed in that idea with full awareness of the process of absorption.

As this process is further refined by virtue of a greater intensity of concentration, the mind is no longer aware of the process of absorption. It has penetrated the very core of the idea “Thou art That,” and has become fully established there. The awareness of the process of concentration on the idea is left behind and thus this state of mental stability is called nirvichara samadhi—samadhi devoid of the awareness of meditating on the idea. The mind and the idea are so blended that they have become one. According to the adepts, this level of absorption eventually leads one to experience aham brahma asmi (“I am That”), a concept identical to the biblical concept “I and My Father are One.”

About the Teacher

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Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas.... Read more