An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 12: Towards Absorption

We have been moving along the lines of Patanjali's system of yoga, to culminate in meditation. In the same way as the other systems of yoga have their own techniques, Patanjali has a novel method. He has prescribed various psychological techniques of controlling the mind, all which are supposed to tend finally to a cosmic type of meditation. The true yoga of Patanjali commences with what he calls samyama, samapatti, or samadhi. We are likely to be surprised that yoga should start with samadhi, rather than end with it. The reason behind this definition that "yoga is samadhi" is that yoga is essentially a method as well as the attainment of union with reality. The great revolution spiritually takes place when samyama starts. Until that time one is just a novice in yoga. The terms samyama, samapatti and samadhi are not identical in their literal meanings or even in their particular connotations. They signify different shades of implication in the process of self-absorption.

Only an expert who has mastered the entire technique can take to samyama or total concentration. The word "samyama" has a specific intention and it is used in the system of Patanjali to designate a whole and thorough concentration of self on the given object. There are two difficulties in the practice of samyama, viz., the procedure to be adopted in collecting oneself into an integration or wholeness of being, and the art by which to conceive the object of meditation itself. Both these are problems enough.

While in ordinary types of concentration, a faculty may be utilised for the purpose on hand, in samyama it is not merely one of the psychic faculties that is employed, but the whole of one's being. To prepare yourself for this total concentration called samyama, you are asked to train yourself in the lesser types of concentration which go by the name of dharana and dhyana, the art of fixing your attention on any given thing, for the matter of that, to the exclusion on any other thought.

A distinction has got be drawn between the stages of dharana, dhyana and samadhi – concentration, meditation and absorption or union. The stages gradually intensify themselves as they go higher and higher. But they are not basically different in their qualitative essence. In the art of concentration, in the technique of fixing the attention, dharana, there are only four aspects, and the four become three, finally converging into a single continuity of experience, wherein even the duality is not experienced. In dharana, or mere attention or concentration, there are four simultaneous practices involved.

The exclusion of all extraneous thoughts is the first thing to be done in dharana. Thoughts which are irrelevant to the task on hand, ideas which have no vital connection with the idea that you are expected to entertain, feelings which have no real connection and which are not going to be helpful in any way, are to be regarded as extraneous and are to be shut out. This shutting out of extraneous thoughts is the first step in concentration.

The next stage is to gather together those ideas which are positively necessary for the purpose of concentration. Even among the ideas that are necessary there may be a diversity. It does not mean that you have only one thought always, for there may be many thoughts in the mind. Suppose you are going to concentrate on a tree. You know very well that it is not only one thought that is there in the mind at this moment. There are various thoughts meeting at a total of the thought of the tree. When you look at a painted picture or any other object, you have various ideas connected with that object. These are the positive ideas as different from the negative ones which are the extraneous features to be shut out, yet maintaining a variegatedness requiring to be brought together into a focus. When you think of a tree, you may have the thought of the seed from which it has arisen, the way in which it has grown, the nature of the trunk, the branches, the foliage, etc. All these varieties of thoughts concerning the tree, which is the object on hand, have an internal relationship among themselves though they appear to be diversified on account of the variety of structure in name and form. The emphasis on this internal relation is the second step.

The third aspect is the concentration on the structure of the object itself. The objective side is as important as the subjective. You bring together all the thoughts that are necessary, positively, to fix the attention on the object, and then try to visualise the object in an impersonal manner, i.e., as the object is in its own status and not as it appears to your mind. Everything has its own status. You will see that there is a difference between the way in which I think of you and the way in which you think of yourself, or rather, to put it more precisely, the status of your own individuality. The subjective ideas of the object are to be set in harmony with the objective nature of the object.

Herein is involved the connection between yourself and the object. This is the subject of Epistemology, the process of sensation, perception, cognition, etc. All these take place simultaneously as it were in dharana, or concentration, though they are capable of being distinguished one from the other, theoretically, or logically. But, in practice, they appear to suddenly arise as events in the mind. But when you go further, when concentration deepens, when attention becomes meditation, when dharana becomes dhyana, the four aspects boil down only to three. There is no necessity to worry about the extraneous thoughts now. They have been shut out completely and now you are wholly absorbed in the idea of the object. There is only the contemplator, the contemplated and the process of contemplation; the seer, the seen and the seeing process; the knower, the known and knowledge.

In dhyana, or meditation, these three processes take place automatically and simultaneously. The culmination of dhyana is what true yoga is. As you might have heard, yoga is union – that is, when the union is established, you are in a real state of yoga. You cannot be said to be in a real state of yoga or in union with anything if the harmony between yourself and the object is not wholly established and you somehow retain an individuality of your own. The requirement is something like two friends who have one soul and one way of thinking, though they have two different bodies. Such friends do not really exist, for it is not easy to see one consciousness uniformly functioning in two forms. However, the subject and the object unite in some such way, only to lose their separatist identities in the union.

There is the rising of dharana and dhyana into samapatti or samadhi, where an equilibrium is established in consciousness. There is a harmonious flow of awareness, on account of whose emergence the distinction between the seer and the seen gets diminished and is reduced to the minimum. The gulf between the subject and the object is narrowed down almost to a point of identity, or oneness. In dhyana, this union does not take place, but there is a tendency to this union. In samadhi, there is absolute union. This is the fourth state of the effort in yoga.

Now we come to the forte, or the main point, which Patanjali makes out in his Sutras, as his final message in yoga, towards which all other teachings move as preparatory stages. If you read the Sutras of Patanjali directly, you would not be able to understand as to what you are expected to concentrate upon. You will be in a mess even after you read all the Sutras, because he does not specifically mention that you have to develop any concept of God in a theological sense. Though there is a mention of Ishvara or God in some place, it is stated as a method of concentration, one among the many ways, and not necessarily the only method, or as the goal of yoga. The point that Patanjali makes out in his Sutras as the final plunge is difficult to understand, because he is precise and concise in his expressions, and does not dilate upon the theme.

Before we touch upon this magnificent point that is going to be unravelled, we may consider one of the Sutras which has an intimate connection with samapatti, or samadhi. In the state of absorption, the modifications of the mind are thinned out. They are not robust as during contemplation of objects externalised. A psychosis of the mind in respect of an object is called a vritti. The more the intensity of the idea of the existence of an external object, the stouter is the vritti, and the stronger is the ego attached to it. A vritti, or a psychosis, is supposed to become thin when the idea of the externality of the object is worn out, gradually, in deep concentration.

An object, philosophically, is nothing but the externality attached to being. A thing goes by the name of an object, because of the externality, the spatio-temporality, the isolatedness, the distinction, which is foisted on that thing. Anything that is totally outside you, external to your consciousness, is an object and the form, the shape or the modification which the mind undergoes in respect of this externality of a thing is called the vritti. This is what is called a psychosis. And it gets thinned out in deep concentration, when it moves towards the ideal or the goal of the abolition of the distinction between the subject and the object. It gets thinned out because the idea of externality gets diminished in intensity during concentration. The object comes nearer and nearer to you as it were, or, the other way round, you go nearer to it. To such an extent does this phenomenon manifest itself that at an advanced stage, the subject gets reflected in the object, and the object gets reflected in the subject, in a mutual coalescence of characters, wherein the specific identities of the two are overcome in an essential uniformity, not only of function but even of being itself.

You see yourself in me, and I see myself in you, as if we both are mirrors reflecting one in the other. We do not remain as things cut off one from the other with no apparent connection between ourselves. This is the example of two mirrors facing each other. One is reflected in the other; one is seen in the other; one is the other. When a pure crystal reflects an object, you will find the two commingling, one being seen in the other, so that you cannot know which is the object and which is the crystal. A red flower, a lotus, or a rose that is brought into the proximity of a crystal gets so much reflected in the crystal that the crystal assumes wholly the colour of that object. It appears as if it has become the object itself. Grahitr, grahana, grahya: These three terms used in the Sutra refer to the perceiver, the perception and the perceived; the seer, the seeing and the seen; consciousness, the process of the movement of consciousness, and the object itself. These three, the grasper which is the subject, the grasping which is the process, and the grasped or the object, reflect one in the other. This is a highly advanced stage of meditation. A student in the earlier stages will not have this experience. When you begin to feel a throbbing sensation of the presence of the object in your own self, and it looks as if you have become the object or the object has become you, you do not know which is the side that can be called the Subject or the Object. Great mystics, saints and sages who are in this condition are supposed to have lost the consciousness of even the environment around them and do not distinguish between themselves and the things that they see as the objects around them. They remain in a kind of inundated condition; a flood overtakes them.

Samapatti is the attainment which is characterised by the whole-souled absorption of the subject into the object, and, vice versa, a total immersion of the object into the subject. These things are very important to remember. You become completed in your being and do not remain as a partial personality as you are now, when you are conscious of an external object in respect of which the mind forms a judgement of its own, positively or negatively in the form of love or hatred, and the like. But here you raise yourself to the status of spiritual apprehension in an atmosphere of totality of experience, and you are not conscious of an object. You are conscious of a completeness, and it is the completeness that is the joy. It is all happiness, all satisfaction, all pleasure. Even the temporal pleasures of this world are an outcome finally of a filled-ness or a completeness that takes possession of you at the time of that experience. A loss of the distinction between you and the object possessed is the reason behind your feeling of satisfaction. While in ordinary contacts with objects of sense it takes place artificially and it leads you to suffering later on, in this union, the joy takes place spiritually.

And, now, what is this samapatti, and what is this attainment, and what are you expected to concentrate, meditate upon? The yoga system of Patanjali is based on the system of the Samkhya, as its metaphysics. The Samkhya philosophy, in its cosmological enunciations, gives us a gradation of the categories or evolutes; and the objects of meditation in the system of Patanjali are nothing but the categories of the Samkhya. And what are these categories?

The highest reality is the purusha, which is pure consciousness, infinite in its nature. The purusha does not mean a man or a male, as you will read it in its dictionary meaning. It is a metaphysical principle and not a personality or an individual. The Samkhya considers the purusha as the Ultimate Reality, and the attainment of its consciousness is the goal of all life. The highest meditation, therefore, is absorption in the purusha. Next, in importance, comes prakriti, which is the matrix of all phenomena we call creation. By prakriti what the Samkhya means is the barest minimum of objectivity, while the purusha cannot be an object in any sense of the term. The purusha is infinite subjectivity; prakriti is all objectivity. Creation is impossible unless there is a tendency to externalisation, which is what prakriti does at all times. Prakriti is defined as a blend of three properties, or gunas, known as sattva, rajas and tamas, usually translated as Equilibrium, Distraction, and Inertia. These three constitute the condition of prakriti and are the very substance of prakriti, not merely attributes external to or inhering in it. We may say in a sense that the prakriti is a condition, rather than a substance or thing in itself. It is a state of affairs, and this is a point very important to remember. This prakriti which is constituted of the three properties is the cause of this whole creation, the phenomena, this universe. The Samkhya tells us that the reflection of the purusha in prakriti in a cosmical sense is the seed of creation. This is the first function of prakriti, to reflect the purusha in cosmic sattva or the equilibrated condition of itself. The Samkhya has its own technical terms for all these stages. The first stage of this universal reflection is called mahat. We may call it the Cosmic Intellect, or, the Universal Intelligence. This Intelligence is the bare, impersonal, featureless transparency of awareness at the root of and precedent to all objectivity. This mahat which is cosmic awareness further concretises itself, in a cosmic manner of course, and becomes Self-conscious in a cosmic connotation, again, of Self-consciousness. When it attains this state, it is called ahamkara. This is not the ego that we are speaking of in ordinary sense, but a metaphysical principle, cosmical in its nature, the universe becoming aware that it is.

There are variations in the description of what takes place further on. The mostly accepted form of the Samkhya proceeds along the following line. After the manifestation of ahamkara, there is a split, as it were, in a tripartite manner, or in a dualistic way, or, we may say, into the objective universe, and the subjective individualities. The Tamasika ahamkara becomes the cause of the five subtle principles, known as tanmatrassabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, and gandha – meaning respectively the objects of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. It is these that, by a process of permutation and combination, become the five gross elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. This is the physical world that we see with our eyes. On the other side there is the subject: myself, yourself, everybody, all individuals. All beings and all levels, right from plants onwards up to the angels, are the individuals forming the subjective side of prakriti.

Now, all this detail is intended only to give us an idea as to what Patanjali expects us to think in our minds when we move towards samyama or samapatti, the highest kind of meditation. These samapattis, or samadhis, as they are sometimes called, are practised and experienced by stages. One does not suddenly get identified with the highest reality. Patanjali is highly systematic and scientific in his processes. He takes us, psychologically, gradually, from one stage to the other. The samapattis are the samadhis technically known. You must have heard of the names: savitarka, nirvitarka, savichara, nirvichara, sananda, sasmita, and nirbija. These are the stages of samapatti, or samadhi, or union, which is effected, stage by stage, by profound attention of consciousness on these categories of the Samkhya, enumerated above. The process aims, finally, at Universal Self-consciousness, the establishment of consciousness in its own Self. Consciousness becoming Being, chit becoming sat, as they say, is the goal of the yoga's samapatti, samadhi or samyama. These are all affiliated terms, fraternal in their nature, and commingle at the point of a total dissociation of Self from the universe at every level, ultimately from prakriti, the very principle of objectivity.