Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
Close your eyes and you will see clearly.
- Taoist wisdom
This blog post is part of our Yoga Sutras series.
Want to start at the beginning?
Yoga Sutra 1.41
क्षीणवृत्तेरभिजातस्येव मणेर्ग्रहीतृग्रहणग्राह्येषु तत्स्थतदञ्जनतासमापत्तिः
kṣīṇa-vr̥tter-abhijātasy-eva maṇer-grahītr̥-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tatstha-tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ
When the Mind Is One-Pointed, it Becomes Stable and Clear Like a Flawless Crystal. In this State, the Perceiver, Perceived and Instrument of Perception Are One, Just as a Crystal Reveals Objects Placed Near it. This Is the Consummation of Samadhi.
Now, Patanjali dives into the most subtle parts of the method he is describing, called Raja Yoga or the Eight-Limbed Path (Ashtanga Yoga). As we discussed in February, this first book of the Yoga Sutras is for Patanjali’s most advanced students and is simultaneously a broad overview of Raja Yoga basics.
So in the final 11 Sutras of this book, Patanjali quickly covers what he will go into great depth about in the Third and Fourth Books. The final Sutras of Book One are difficult to understand on their own, which is why it’s for Patanjali’s most advanced students.
Luckily, repeated readings of the Sutras lend more clarity. As we start to understand just what the heck Patanjali is talking about, we apply the lessons to our lives and the Sutras are further elucidated. Then, when we re-read them again, their meaning is even further clarified by our own lived experience. The Sutras may be terse but they are understandable with effort.
In Yoga Sutras 1.41 - 1.51, Patanjali explains what happens when a practitioner achieves the final limb of the 8-Limbed Path, samadhi. It is very difficult to describe the state of samadhi because it is an experience that is “beyond words,” as Swami Satchidananda would say.
It would be hard to convince you to keep up with all these diligences and practices that are frankly, difficult, if you don’t know what the reward of all these practices is. That’s why Patanjali tries to describe the state of samadhi, even though it is ineffable.
Sutra 1.41 describes how samadhi feels once the practitioner has finally reached its commencement. It is a state wherein the yogi’s mind fails to differentiate between the object (what is known), the subject (the knower) and the process of knowing.
These three aspects become unified in a yogi’s consciousness like the reflection of an object within a flawless gemstone. The mind takes on whatever color is near it and is absorbed within it. This is the state of one-pointedness, where the mind’s thoughts are solely directed at one thing.
Don’t think that samadhi is only for Deepka Chopra and the Dali Lama. I am willing to bet almost everyone (everyone?) has experienced a state of samadhi to some extent. That is the enviable state of “flow” we all love to be in.
Anyone who has accomplished anything important and challenging has had to have a one-pointed focus to master it. It all depends on what you turn your focus on.
There are people we can all name who have used the full force of their intellectual and emotional capacities to create insidious situations. And lest we get too depressed, we can all find other people who have used the full force of their intellectual and emotional capacities to create good in the world.
It is up to us how to proceed with the knowledge the Sutras bestow. This is why the Yoga Sutras are so difficult to understand. Learning to harness your capabilities fully is empowering and without proper ethical preparation, you can wreak havoc. Book Two is all about the practices to properly prepare for samadhi.
Sutra 1.42 explains the state of flow and absorption one reaches first. It is the stage called savitarka samadhi, or “samadhi with deliberation” (Satchidananda, 96) or “reflection” (Stiles, 14) where “the word, meaning and content are blended” as we become “totally engrossed” in the object and achieve “special knowledge” about it. (Iyengar, 94) Mukunda Stiles calls us “one indistinguishable subject-object” when we are like this. (13) At this point, our understanding of our object of meditation is still clouded by our own memories and perceptions.
Yoga Sutra 1.43 explains how to get through this first stage. We need to practice diligently until “the storehouse of [our] memories and impressions [about the object] is completely purified” from our mind. Then, “only the object’s true essence shines forth in thought-free perception” (Stiles, 13) and we can achieve true understanding and mastery of it without our own ego clouding our perception. This stage is called nirvitarka samadhi, where the “memory is cleansed” (Iyengar, 95) and our consciousness is in a state of “absorption without reflection.” (Stiles, 14) The Shoshoni Yoga Retreat handbook on Yoga Sutras has a very succinct way of putting this whole process
As flawed thought processes such as logic become obsolete, truth may shine through in its purest form without the distorting lens of the practitioner’s ego. (15)
To know something completely, we have to let go of our own thoughts and perceptions about it and let the objective truth shine through. This is quite difficult.
Patanjali describes the next two stages in Yoga Sutra 1.44. These stages are practiced just as the stages are in Sutras 1.42 & 1.43 but upon more subtle objects of concentration. They are called savicara and nirvicara samadhi.
Swami Satchidananda mentions some subtler objects upon which a person might meditate: “tanmatras (sensory perception), citta (thought forms) and ego”. (99) In savicara meditation, we focus on a subtle object with reflection on it. In nirvicara meditation, we focus on this same object but now, without mental deliberation.
As Yoga Sutra 1.45 explains, the possible objects of concentration “ends only at the indefinable” (Satchidananda, 99). However, the object we are studying in Raja Yoga is the most subtle object of all - consciousness itself. Eventually, “when consciousness dissolves in nature, it loses all marks and becomes pure.” (Iyengar, 97)
Iyengar names two further states of samadhi through which our consciousness will rise. Sananda and sasmita samadhi are, “the inexpressible states of pure bliss (ananda) and pure self (sasmita).” (97-98)
All of these states of samadhi - savitarka, nirvitarka, savicara, nirvicara, sananda, sasmita - are called sabija, in Yoga Sutra 1.46. Sabiija means “with seed”. “Seeds” refer to any impressions that have been fixed in one's mind, even after weeding these samskaras out.
On one side of my home, there is a lot of trumpet vine growing. Trumpet vine is beautiful but incredibly invasive. So we try to weed the trumpet vine out anytime we find it someplace we don’t want it. But trumpet vine’s roots are so deep and persistent that even after digging them out, after some time they grow again. It's not until we pluck out the very base of the vine's root that we are able to keep it from reemerging.
Our deepest rooted samskaras (the ones related to our identity, sense of belonging, our purpose, etc.) are like the trumpet vine. Even when we try to direct the growth of our mental garden, inevitably, the most persistent seeds (perceptions and memories) that have been sowed in the past will pop up to the surface, cloud our understanding and we’ll have to weed them out again and again.
Work on our samskaras, or our subconscious impressions, can be challenging but it is possible. The Shoshoni Yoga Retreat handbook frankly says that
Identification with the absolute may seem truly insurmountable…[but] with continued practice, glimpses of the absolute achieved gradually will develop into an undisturbed flow, making clear the relationship between the individual and the Self. The enlightened practitioner may then dispense with meditation tools.” (16)
Patanjali uses the last Sutras in Book One to describe how a person moves into the seedless state of samadhi. Sutra 1.47 tells us that by becoming skilled at the state of nirvicara samadhi (or non-deliberative samadhi on the subtler objects of concentration), a state of sattva (or calmness) flows undisturbed in our body and mind.
BKS Iyengar says that when we remain in this state, “the vehicles of the soul - the anatomical body…the senses…the mind, intelligence and consciousness - are illuminated.” (99) This is defined as rtambhara tatra prajna, which means truth upholding insight, in Yoga Sutra 1.48 (Stiles, 77). Wherein, “the Self is the source of pure wisdom.” (Shoshoni, 16)
Yoga Sutra 1.49 tells us that this wisdom is totally distinct from other kinds of wisdom we glean - those we have heard or read, based on educational traditions we’ve been a part of, someone else’s conjecture or understanding, or even our own logical deductions from these experiences. The kind of wisdom we are after in the spiritual field has a distinct purpose and unique aim. (Stiles, 77)
“Truth-bearing knowledge is first-hand, intuitive knowledge. This is wisdom based on insight.” (Iyengar, 101) It is intuition that springs from a deep connection with the inner Self.
The last Sutras in Book One are perhaps the most optimistic two sentences in all of yoga. Once rtambhara tatra prajna is attained, all other samskara are replaced by this one samskara, which also prevents new samskaras from arising (Yoga Sutra 1.50).
Iyengar says “a new life begins with this truth-bearing light” (102) and when even that samskara is “relinquished”, the practitioner enters nirbija (seedless) samadhi. Because in sabija samadhi, the practitioner still perceives the wisdom as separate from the owner of the wisdom. (Satchidananda, 106)
In nirbija samadhi, “feelings of ‘I’ are extinguished.” (Iyengar, 103) BKS Iyengar compares this to “rivers los[ing] their existence on entering the sea.” (103)
As Makunda Stiles concludes in his translation of Yoga Sutra 1.51, “thus a new mind is born.” (15). At this point, our old way of life is over and we are at the beginning of a brand new one.
In 2024, we’ll look at Book Two of the Yoga Sutras. This is a very popular chapter for good reason. Book Two goes into all sorts of details about specific practices we can use to get started on the yoga path.
Happy Holidays and New Year, everyone!
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Is there anything you do that gets you into a state of “flow?” What does that feel like? Do you ever meditate and how does that compare to a state of flow focusing on more external objects?
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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