by Swami Krishnananda
We shall be considering what should be regarded as the highlight in the system of Patanjali's yoga, at which all his teachings converge in the end. These great feats are known as the samyamas, or the absorptions by way of a whole-souled concentration of one's being. We may call them also samapattis, in his own language. They are equivalent also, in some way, to what are usually known as the samadhis. These are the highly technical sides of his teachings and very meagrely understood even by students of this system. But that is the strong point of his gospel. Everything that Patanjali says anywhere in his work has an ultimate reference to this achievement, i.e., the final plunge that the seeker takes into the supreme objective, the goal of life.
As it was noticed, different terms are used in this case, almost all meaning the same thing, practically. The word samyama is very important. It actually means a restraint of an all-comprehensive nature. One musters in all the forces of one's personality and concentrates it as a totality. The entirety of one's being is focussed. This graduated identification of the seeking spirit with the objective of meditation is what is called samapatti in its various stages. Even this process of self-identification and absorption takes place by stages. Thus, what is called samapatti is not a sudden jump into the depths of the ocean. It is a gradual going in. Even when one enters the bottom of the ocean, one goes by degrees of descent. One touches the surface first, then goes deeper and deeper, stage by stage, until the bottom of the ocean is reached. Something like that is the gradual ascent and entry through the samyamas, samapattis, and samadhis.
Samyama, or concentration of this nature, can be practised, according to Patanjali, on any object. You can absorb yourself in anything and everything-it may be even a pencil or a wrist-watch. Whatever can be conceived in the mind can also become the object of samyama. But in its spiritual connotation and with its relevance to the ultimate liberation of the spirit, samyama means the practice of an organised attention on the categories of the Samkhya as was observed earlier. The stages of samyama on other things are experiments. They are trainings given to the mind. We are told sometimes, when we begin to concentrate, that we may start with a dot on the wall, a rose flower, a beautiful imagery, sunrise or sunset, and the like. These instruments are familiar to people who take to the art of meditation. But these are only processes of disciplining the mind, and are not the end and aim, or the finale of yoga proper.
When Patanjali takes us seriously to the point he is driving at, he refers to samyama on the categories or the evolutes according to the Samkhya. These categories may be regarded, for all practical purposes, as the conceivable stages of the manifestation of the universe in the process of what we may call creation. The lowest category is taken as the first object of meditation. The immediately visible phenomenon is the object that is concentrated upon first. The minor types of Samyamas, the concentrations which are purely of a preparatory nature, are not our concern in these courses of studies, and hence we go straight to the concentrations properly so called. The lowest categories, or the immediately visible evolutes in the cosmological scheme, are the five gross elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether.
Whatever we see in this world is constituted of the five elements. There is nothing anywhere except these objects of experience. The material of the structure of all objects consists of these five elements and these are also the bodies of all individuals whether organic or inorganic. Now you have to listen to me with attention, because there are certain important technical points involved in this samyama. This method of meditation is not intended for everybody, and it cannot be prescribed as a wholesale remedy or recipe for all seekers, indiscriminately. It is meant only for a selected few who are fit for this type of thinking, and, so, caution has to be exercised in its implementation, under the guidance of a teacher.
The world is constituted of these five elements in the region of name, form and substance. These elements have three aspects. There is firstly, a substance in them, a materiality. The earth has substance. It is made up of something; it 'is' something. We cannot say it is 'nothing'. We may not be able to say, immediately, what it is made of, but it is clear that it is something substantial. It is not an emptiness or an airy void, and it has a characteristic which is definable. This characteristic is the name-form complex. We call it earth, for instance, and that is a name, a nomenclature. A definition is a name, whatever be the form of it. The characterisation of anything may be called its name. Generally, in India particularly, the name given to a particular person or a thing describes that person or thing. It is not just anything that one imagines by a crotchet. If your name is such-and-such, that name connotes what you are made of in your characteristics, psychologically.
So, the name is the definition of the object, and this definition has reference to the form of the object. If the form had been different, the definition would have also been different. And behind the name and form, there is the essentiality of the object. Now, this essentiality cannot be visualised immediately. We cannot see what the earth is made of. We see only the outer form of it, that is, as it appears to our sensation and perception. The appearance of this object is the point on which we have to practise samyama, initially. Naturally, one cannot do anything else. One cannot even imagine in one's mind what is behind the appearance of this wall. We have to concern ourselves, at present, only with the so-called appearance of these five elements.
The elements have a gross form of their own (sthula). They have a characteristic, or a property (svarupa). They are constituted of certain inner components (sukshma). Firstly, they have a "name-form complex". Secondly, they have a "specific characteristic". Thirdly, they have an "inner component". Fourthly, they are "reducible to certain ultimate properties which go to constitute every element" (anvaya). And, finally, fifthly, "they have a reference to the universal determining Will" (arthavattva). We may call this final power the Will of the Absolute. We may call it the "Supreme Idea" of Plato. We may call it the "Substance" of Spinoza. We may say it is the Force of the purusha, or the God of the religions. There is something that determines everything in the universe, above all.
Now, therefore, these elements are the initial objects of samyama. Though we are now concerned with the Earth, obviously, the rule applies to the other elements also. These five stages of description of any particular element, or all the elements, are the points of concentration. We may take the entire physical universe constituted of the five elements. It will be difficult to envisage this, the totality of all things. The mind will refuse to think in this manner, because it is not accustomed to visualise things in a collective way. We are only used to think particular objects. The totality of physical phenomena cannot become the object of thought, for ordinary persons. However, here is a great subject, very interesting and worth considering. The Earth is solid, Water is liquid, Fire and Air are not only gaseous but also have their own specific distinguishing properties. Ether has its own comprehensive characteristic, for it contains everything.
Everyone knows what these elements are, because they are sensed by everyone, every day. We can understand, in outline, grossly, what these distinctions are among one element and the other. The solidity, etc., mentioned, are the differentia of the elements. The outer shape is their nature. When we look at the Earth, it appears to be something. When we look at Water, it appears to be another thing. When we see Fire, Air, or Ether, they are quite other things. They are all definable by way of their characteristics, solidity, liquidity, gaseousness, etc. These are the properties. Anything that is solid can be regarded as having the Earth element in it. Anything that is liquid can be said to have the Water element, and so on, with the other elements.
The first stage of samyama is concerned with the five gross elements, in which their essential substantiality (artha) is mixed up inseparably with our notion about them, the form, or the idea (jnana) as well as the name associated with them (sabda). This first attainment is known as savitarka-samapatti. In the second stage the name and the form are dropped and the gross elements in their essentiality become the objects of samyama. This is nirvitarka-samapatti.
The third stage of the ascent concerns the point of the inner subtleties of the elements. We are told today that behind the solid bodies of things there are the molecules, behind the molecules there are the atoms, and behind the atoms there are forces, electrical energies, electro-magnetic phenomena. Something like this is the way in which we have to conceive and contemplate the inner constituents of the elements. These inner components of the elements are called tanmatras. Tanmatras actually mean the specific substance out of which the gross elements are essentially made, and from which anything can be deduced by an increase in the density of these components through a mixing by way of proportionate combination.
The Sanskrit words for the five tanmatras are sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha, i.e., the principle of sound connected with Ether, the principle of touch connected with Air, the principle of sight or colour connected with Fire, the principle of taste connected with Water, and the principle of smell connected with Earth. These in their universal significance are the tanmatras, the essential subtle ingredients behind the five gross elements.
When samyama is practised on the tanmatras of the elements, together with the notion of their spatiality, temporality and causality in the scheme of the evolution of the universe, it is called savichara-samapatti. When samyama is done on the tanmatras in their essential form, free from these associated notions of space, time and cause, it is called nirvichara-samapatti.
All these five subtle ingredients are reducible further to certain final cosmic properties and that is a more advanced step in the analysis of the five elements. The Samkhya or yoga calls these final properties as gunas. These gunas are sattva, rajas and tamas, reference to which has already been made. Sattva, rajas and tamas are the ultimate substances out of which the tanmatras and the elements are formed. The gunas are not qualities in the sense of abstract definitions. When we say that the rose is red, we know that redness is the property or quality of the flower, but we do not speak of property here in this sense, because we feel at once that the rose is not the same as redness. There is something which is the rose other than the quality called redness. But, here, this is not the case. The gunas, as properties, are the very essentialities, the substances, the very existence of prakriti and its evolutes, the tanmatras, etc.
The example usually given is of the rope that is made up of three strands. We can twist three strands to form a rope, and we do not say that the strands are qualities or properties of the rope. The rope is made up of the strands, and they form its substance. Just as threads constitute the cloth – we cannot say that the threads are only a quality of the cloth for they are the constituents of the cloth – they are the cloth itself. The gunas make up all things. These gunas are sattva, rajas and tamas, the conditions of all things in the ultimate analysis. The universe is a 'condition' and not a 'thing'.
The final stroke is the most magnificent step. What are these three gunas? How are they bifurcated? And why should they mix themselves up in certain proportions to constitute the tanmatras, and so on? Why should anything at all happen in the world? Everything happens in the way it does on account of the original permutation and combination of these three properties. If they are mixed up in some other proportion, the universe would be something else. This world would not have been what it is now.
There is a supreme determining power immanent in and transcending the whole universe of experience. What it actually is, no one can speak about. There is something indescribable and unintelligible at the foundation of all things. We may compare it with the Archetypal Ideas of the Supreme Good of Plato. The Vedanta calls it the "Absolute", or "Brahman". The Samkhya calls it the "purusha". Here we need not go deep into the mysterious base of things, for all this will go above the heads of everybody. However, suffice it to observe that there is some deciding principle, which wills in a manner the structure of all creation, and determines its functioning. This Great Idea of the cosmos is the reason why the three properties are mixed up in certain proportions at a particular time, and everything then follows as the patterns of universes.
When we conceive of anything, see anything, or try to define anything, three aspects of knowledge are involved: we have a name or characterisation given to the object; say, it is a stone, it is a tree, it is a person, and so on. Everything has a name. The associated name is called 'sabda', in the terminology of the Sutra. Sabda actually means a sound; and the name is nothing but a sound, which is connected with an idea thereof. The idea going hand in hand with the name or definitive limitation is called 'jnana'. We have an idea of an object as invested with a name defining it such as Mr. John. John is the name, and in connection with this name of the person, we form an idea of the person. This idea of the person, or any other thing, is another aspect. But the person as such or the thing as such, independent of the idea and independent also of the definition or name, is a third something altogether. Do we not think that we are different from the name that we have and the idea people have about us? Who has told that this particular tall thing is to be called a tree? Everybody has agreed that it should be called that way; that is all. Well, if the dictionary changes and the whole of humanity agrees that what is known as a tree should be called a stone, it is a stone from that day. The name can change. So, the name is not an essential element in the object. The name is only a convenient descriptive definition of a particular something for purpose of practical dealings. However, the more difficult and more important factor is the idea that we have about it. The least aspect of the object is the name. The more important aspect which determines it in an intensive manner is the idea. Everything is conditioned by the idea that goes with it. Our dealings with things in the world are conditioned, determined by the ideas that we have about them.
But our ideas are not necessarily a correct representation of the object. We may be mistaken and we are often mistaken. According to Patanjali, our ideas about things are always a set of errors and we never know the truth of things. No one can have a true concept of the essentiality of anything in this world. Everything is known only as conditioned by the idea and the name. So, when we do samyama on anything with the admixture of name, idea and the substantiality of the object, then this kind of achievement, called savitarka-samapatti, is the lowest stage of absorption. We can conceive or even gaze at the object that we have chosen for the purpose of samyama as constituted of this blend of three aspects. The thing as such, of course, we cannot conceive immediately. But at least we do believe that there is such a thing called tree, in its own essentiality, transcending the idea or the definition that we have associated with it.
But the difficulty increases as we go further, so that, at a point, we may find that it is a hopeless affair and we cannot go ahead any more. This is because we are asked to drop the aspects of name and idea and try to be attuned to the thing as it is in itself. This struggle is almost an impossible one for ordinary persons. How can you think of another as he is in himself apart from the idea that you have about him and the name that is associated with him? But this is precisely the true samapatti, or attainment.
The practice requires a little effort, and some sweating is necessary here. An easy-go-lucky life is not the life of yoga. We have to be serious in this matter, if we really want freedom in the ultimate sense. But how, on earth, is it possible to do samyama on the thing, as it is in itself, independent of the idea that I have about it, and dissociated from the name that is connected with it? Yes, it is not easy. It is not possible in the initial stages and the Teacher of yoga does not want to tell you what the second stage is, when you are still in the first stage, when you have, perhaps, not yet stepped even into the first stage. These steps of yoga are not academic definitions. They are not theories. They are not something to be told to you, now itself, wholesale. They are, on the other hand, stages of experience and not admonition or teaching. You cannot ask, "What shall I do after attaining moksha?" These are stupid questions, not intended to be answered, because these doubts arise from utter idiocy. The attainments are experiences and you will know what the answer is, yourself. It is like a dreaming man asking, "What shall I see when I wake up?" Nobody can say what he will see. He has to wake up and see; then he will know what it is about.
The stages of samapatti are levels of direct realisation and experience. They are not theoretical discussions. They are not mere informations given or teachings of a logic school, academic in nature. It is absurd, therefore, to put questions as to what are these stages, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, etc., when you have not even entered the stream. But a general solacing message can be given to you to enthuse the spirit. This is what the teachers generally do. They console you and give you an inspiration that something magnificent is coming, though it cannot be described in human language. There are types of meditation which you will find described in standard works on the subject, wherein you will be asked to transpose yourself into the object on which you are practising samyama, or total absorption.
This is not merely a spiritual technique; it is also a technique of even ordinary success in life. I am referring to pure psychology and even good social living. If you wish to be a good social individual, you must be able to transfer yourself into the society or the set-up of the society, the placement of the persons around you. You must be able to think as the people around you think; at least you should attempt to think in harmony with the way in which other people are thinking around you. You would be regarded as an anti-social person, you would be a misfit in that atmosphere, and you would be unhappy every day, if you are not versed in this human art.
The capacity of your mind to transfer itself to the position of the particular object or objects in the midst of which you are living is a great yoga by itself, and these stalwarts are the people who are the great men of human history. This requires a little bit of a surrender of one's ego, a sacrifice of one's personality and a relinquishment of one's own ideas. Why should you think that your own ideas are the correct ones? Why should you go on sticking to your own guns? It may be that others are also right, and there is no harm in conceding some value to the thoughts of other people. Why should you think that you are always right, and others are always wrong?
So, even to succeed in life, by way of a happy social and personal existence, it is necessary, on one's part, to be able to think in terms of the existence and feelings and needs of other people also. This is a kind of concentration and adjustment done in a mild manner, though not so intensely as in yoga. If you can think as another thinks, feel as another feels, and try to recognise another's needs and requirements as your own, become the other, for the time being, and lose yourself in the 'other', you 'are' the 'other', if this could be possible, you are in the first stage of samyama. I do not think that this essential of a good life is so difficult as it appears, and perhaps no one can be truly happy in this world if this rule could not be successfully employed, with some effort. When this method is carried to the technical point of complete concentration and absorption, it becomes the samapatti of the savitarka type. This is the real yajna, or sacrifice. This is real service. This is to be really humanitarian in the deepest sense.
The greatest service that one can do to others would be to think as others think. Everything else comes afterwards. When you are able to feel as others feel and be as others are, you have done the greatest service to people, and no charity can be greater than this act of goodwill. That is a real friend who has become you and exists as you. What can be a greater glory than this ideal?