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.