The Study and Practice of Yoga
An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 47: The Rise from Savitarka to Nirvitarka

The contemplation of an object in the process of yoga is quite different from the contemplation of objects in that people usually engage themselves in ordinary workaday life. Everyone thinks of some object or the other every day, right from morning till night. But this is not the type of thinking which is intended in yoga meditation. The mind functions in the ordinary cognition of things, and it also functions in yogic meditation, but in a quite different manner. The intentions behind these two enterprises of the mind mark the difference between these two processes. The intention of the mind in contemplating an object in yoga is quite different from its intention in contemplating the very same object in ordinary life. This makes all the difference, though purely from the point of view of analytic psychology, we may say that the mind is equally active under both circumstances. The difference is very important, and it is really the difference between life in a world of diversity, and life in spirit.

The purpose of sensory contemplation of the mind in respect of an object in the world is something very strange as compared with its intention in yoga. There are two aspects or sides to this issue. Firstly, there is a background of similarity between ordinary mental cognition and yogic cognition of the object, but there is also a glaring difference between the two processes. Is there not a difference between the feelings of a captive in a jail and a superintendent of the very same jail - both of whom live in the same building, breathe the same air and drink the same water, etc.? Their psychological circumstances create all the difference. Both live within the same building, with the same walls around them; one is grieved, and the other is happy. The reason is obvious. Likewise, the mind thinks of an object in ordinary cognition or perception, and it thinks of the object also in yoga, in meditation. What is the difference? And, what is the similarity?

The similarity is mostly academic rather than realistic, and it is, namely, the intention of the mind in any kind of perception is to have contact with the object for the purpose of bringing about a state of satisfaction within itself, which it lacks for various reasons. This it tries to achieve, both in ordinary cognition through the senses and their activities, as well as in yogic meditation. While there is a peculiar inharmonious reaction set up from the side of the object in ordinary cognition, there is no such inharmonious reaction set up in yogic meditation. In yoga, in the meditation process, the essential features or characteristics of the object cooperate and coordinate themselves with the meditating consciousness, whereas in ordinary sensory perception there is the opposite process taking place. Even in ordinary affection and love of objects, there is no cooperation of the object in respect of the subject, though it appears to be so on the surface.

There is an inherent repelling attitude, a kind of disparity of character between the subject and the object in ordinary perception, because of a peculiar selfish interest that is present in the subject in its contact with the object. It is the selfishness of the subject that spoils all its efforts. This selfishness is obvious, though it is covered by certain other extraneous manoeuvres in which it engages itself, making it appear that its enterprises are not selfish but are also concerned with the good of other individuals. But, as they say, satyam eva jayate – truth alone triumphs; our manoeuvres will not work. All this camouflage will come out, because the essential nature of things cannot be deceived by any kind of extraneous manipulation, either by the senses or by the ego. And so, while there is an apparent affection of the subject towards the object, there is an inherent selfishness present in the manifestation of this love, because the purpose of this contact of the subject with the object is the satisfaction of the subject – not the satisfaction of the object. This is a very important point to remember, and it is the essence of selfishness.

Why does the subject crave for the object? It is not for the good of the object, or for the satisfaction or the well-being of the object; that is very clear on the very face of it. The intention is purely self-centred, and this is what cannot be tolerated by the selfhood of the object. It is impossible to utilise anything in this world wholly as a kind of instrument for the purpose of something else because, ultimately, from the point of view of the essential nature of things, nothing is an instrument or a tool for the purpose of something else. The interrelated connectedness of the forces in the world is of such a nature that it prevents the utilisation of any object for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation is abhorrent to the nature of truth, and the forces of nature will not tolerate it.

So our affection for the object, our contemplation of the object, our thought of the object and our desire for the object is contrary to the law of nature, and therefore there is always bereavement in the end. All union ends in separation. All love ends in sorrow. Everything goes to dust, ultimately; this is what we see by practical experience. The reason is that there is a mistake committed by the subject, and inasmuch as everyone is a subject from the point of view of another, and everyone is an object also in a similar manner, there is a universal confusion that has been created. This confusion is called samsara – a great mix-up of values that has taken place, totally unintelligible to the mind which is involved in this mix-up.

The yoga process is a remedy that has been prescribed for the illness that has been created in this manner. Because of the peculiar intrinsic character of this confusion, it is difficult to get out of it. It is intrinsic, inherent, and a part of our individual make-up, and therefore yogic meditation is difficult. It is difficult because it requires a reshuffling of the very method of thinking, though thinking is present even in yoga. Though the same mind is working and it contemplates perhaps the same object, the intention – and therefore the methodology – is different. The purpose behind the contemplation of an object in yoga is not to exploit the object, as it is in the case of ordinary perception. The intention of the subject here is not to put to use, or harness, the circumstances of the object for its own selfish interests. The purpose here is quite different altogether.

What is the purpose? The intention of the subject is a union which is utterly fraternal, which is incapable of understanding by the senses which are involved in external relationships. This philosophical and psychological background of meditation was the point we previously considered in the context of the sutras cited from Patanjali: vitarka vicāra ānanda asmitārūpa anugamāt saṁprajñātaḥ (I.17); tatra śabda artha jñāna vikalpaiḥ saṅkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ (I.42).

We have a peculiar mode of thinking 'objects', and we are born into this mode from which we cannot usually extricate ourselves. As it was previously pointed out, there are at least three elements involved in the perception of an object – the object as such, which is called artha in this sutra; the idea of the object which is called the jnana of the object; and the nomenclature, the epithet, the name, the way by which we designate the object. These three are mixed up as if they are one single thing, though they are distinct features. An object has no name, really speaking. No object in this world has a name by itself. When an object is generated, when it is born or brought into existence, it does not come with a name. It is doubtful if the tree knows that it is called tree.

Likewise, nothing in this world is associated with a designation of this character. It has a status of its own, independent of all these associations. But the worst of all things is the idea of the object. That we have some sort of an idea about things is not usually known to us, because we are born and brought up in the circumstance of the habit of holding an opinion about everything. We live in a world of opinions. We have an idea about everything in this world, and the idea that we hold about things is regarded as identical with the nature of the thing itself. Our opinion about an object is made a part of the nature of the object, so that we compel the object to subserve the definition that we give to it, according to our own perception of it.

This is another interesting feature, and it is the essence of exploitation – that we compel someone to come under the subjection of our opinion about them. What a strange thing. But this is what is happening, and our relationship with people and things in the world is entirely dependent upon the idea that we hold about these persons and things. The main question is, is this idea correct? Is the idea that we hold about persons and things correct, or not correct? One who holds an idea will always assert that it is correct, because no one can become something different from what one is essentially. The idea or opinion one holds, about anything for the matter of that, is a part of the structure of one's mind at that given moment. The idea, therefore, is not different from the mind. It is a condition of the mind – a form taken by the mind itself. It is the shape and structure of the mind at that time. The idea is mind itself, and the mind is inseparable from one's subjectivity or individuality, which is the basis of all values or evaluations. Inasmuch as the idea is one with the mind, and the mind is one with individuality, the individual holding that opinion or idea cannot, at any time, imagine that the idea can be wrong. How can we think that we ourselves are wrong? We are self-identical. The idea that we hold is ourselves, manifest in a particular manner.

So, we are the supreme judge of everything, and the whole world becomes a client before us, cringing before us for judgement, and whatever judgement we pass must be the final one. This is the opinion, this is the attitude, and this is the intention of every person, every individual in the world – from A to Z. There is a mutual suspicion created in the body of individuals, on account of this internal compulsion exerted by the subject upon the object. This difficulty that has been created, this intolerant attitude that has been projected towards the object, is naturally repellent to the object. There is, therefore, when it is deeply analysed, no such thing as love of an object by the subject. Such a thing does not exist; it is a misnomer. And because it does not exist, it does not succeed, though it is projected by the subject under a misapprehension of its own ways of thinking.

The method of meditation is a reverse one, where the subject and the object are enabled to stand on a par, and the fact that they really are on a par becomes recognisable. There is no such thing as subject or object, ultimately. It is only a creation of the minds of certain individuals. Every individual, having a status of his own, her own or its own, cannot be regarded as an object of someone else, because the moment one becomes an object, the status of selfhood vanishes. There is a selfhood present in even an atom. It has a say of its own; it has a purpose of its own and an intention behind its activity, which is not for the fulfilment of someone else. It has a mission of its own which it is trying to achieve through the process of evolution, through which it is moving. The fact that there is an inherent status in everything in this world is recognised in yogic meditation. There is, therefore, no meditation by the subject on an object. The object ceases to be there. It assumes a different character, namely, the subjectivity that is present in it, which is similar to the subjectivity which is manifest by the mind meditating. This sort of assimilation of the selfhood of an object into the selfhood of the subject is a technique unknown to the world. Because it is not practised by anyone, such an attitude is unknown to people. But, with effort and the power of will, a new way of thinking is generated in yoga, by which that which is responsible for the creation of the false distinction between the subject and the object is obviated.

According to the sutra of Patanjali, that which creates this false distinction between the subject and the object and wrongly compels the subject to look upon another as an object, is a peculiar complex – it is the idea, the name, and the space-time relation. These are the things that have to be given up. Really speaking, space-time is the real problem, and the idea that the subject has of the object is also due to the space-time complex that is present. We cannot isolate the idea from the presence of space-time. So, ultimately, it is a problem of space-time. These two elements – space and time – go together. We cannot have one without the other. The two types of meditation that Patanjali refers to have relevance to the conception of something as located in space and time, and the conception of the same thing as not located in space and time. The first one is called savitarka; the other is called nirvitarka. These are peculiar technical terms in the yogic language of Patanjali. The contemplation of an object as situated in space and time, and therefore defined by our idea of that thing, is savitarka. The freedom from these associations is nirvitarka.

The stage where we can contemplate the object as not located in space and time cannot easily be achieved, because the mind is incapable of thinking of an object as not being located in space and time. It itself is in space and time from its own point of view, because the very idea or notion of individuality is a spatial concept. The fact that we are individuals is an outcome of the notion that there is space and time. How can we get out of this difficulty? The answer is, again, meditation. But what is the sort of meditation that we should practise.

The methods prescribed for this have already been studied in earlier sutras. To recapitulate, we may bring to mind the processes prescribed – namely, an intense contemplation on the characters of an object, even if it is located in space and time, minus its associations with other objects. While the spatio-temporal location of an object prevents the subject from knowing the object correctly, it is made worse by further associations of the object with other objects in the world, so that we always think of several things and not one thing at a time. Earlier, we also studied that our idea of an object is associated with a subtle idea of another object. By distinguishing the characters of a particular object from the characters of other objects, we are able to perceive an object. The red colour of an object is known on account of the presence of other objects which are not red, and so on and so forth.

So we are permanently and constantly under a pressure of the necessity to distinguish one from the other; and without this distinction, knowledge of an object is not possible. But this is a great effort of the mind and a kind of tiresome process. The mind gets tired merely because of this subtle effort which it has to put forth perpetually in the cognition of an object, though this has become a kind of habit to us – like lying. There are people who go on telling lies from morning to night, and it has become a part of their nature that they do not know that there is some pressure in their minds. Everything that they utter is a falsehood. If this is the case, the tension, which is at the background of uttering falsehoods, becomes a part of our nature, so that we do not know that we are in a state of tension at all. Likewise, because of the perpetual habit of the mind to distinguish one thing from the other in the act of perception and cognition, it forgets that it is placed in the context of a perpetual tension. We are always in a state of tension and never free at all, merely because we cannot know anything without knowing something else, by distinguishing one thing from the other.

But in meditation, in yoga, there is an attempt to obviate this. We should not contemplate the object by distinguishing it from another object. We are not good merely because someone else is bad – that is not the point. We have an intrinsic goodness of our own. Does it mean that our goodness depends upon the badness of others? Suppose no one is bad, will we then not be good? It is not so. There is some positive element present in every object, and it is that positive element that we are trying to discover in meditation. But mostly we are unable to do this peculiar feat, because of the inherent selfishness of the individual in assuming a superiority of its own over everything else, and the necessity it feels in putting other things into use for its own purpose. There is no such thing as one's own purpose in the structure of things. This is, again, a mistake. Why should we work for our own purposes, while such purposes do not exist?.

There is only one purpose for the whole world. For all things, there is a single aim, and we cannot understand this peculiar feature that is working behind all things in the world without properly going into the deeper relationships of things. Is there a differentiation of purpose among the functions in the various limbs of the body, even though the eyes see and cannot hear, the ears hear but cannot see, the stomach can digest food but cannot think, and the brain can think but cannot digest food? There is a diversity of function, no doubt. We may think that they are all independent organs, working independently for different purposes, but they have no different purposes. All the organs and limbs of the organism function for a single purpose, and that is the point which makes every other function subservient to itself. Each limb cannot work for its own aim - it would create chaos. Bringing into high relief the aim that is ultimately present in everything in this world will be helpful in contemplating anything in this world from its own point of view. The moment the point of view of an object is taken into consideration, the limitation of that object in terms of space and time does not harass us so much.

Space and time are nothing but the conditions which the mind creates to expel the object from its own purview, to exile it from its own kingdom, and to utilise it for its own selfish purposes. So space-time means ultimately a type of condition of thinking. This has to be got rid of by transferring the thought to the point of view of the object, which is the first step that is needed in the rise of the mind from savitarka to nirvitarka. The point of view of the subject has to be got rid of. As long as that particular subjective point of view is predominant, the point of view of the object is forgotten, and then there is no such thing as gaining mastery over the object. All control is dependent upon the point of view that we take.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we have the famous dictum of Sage Yajnavalkya, where he points out that no possession of anything in this world is possible as long as the thing possessed is outside the possessor – sarvaṁ tam parātād yo'nyatrātmano sarvaṁ veda (B.U. II.4.6) – because the idea of possession is again involved in the idea of space and time. This means to say that the basis of the desire to possess an object is the conviction that the object is different from oneself. That which is different from us cannot be possessed by us. We have already declared that it is outside us and it is not us, and therefore, naturally, we have nothing to do with it.

So, desire is a contradiction. It is a kind of psychological tension. It is not natural to human nature or to anyone's nature and, therefore, it is always a source of pain and suffering to people. Everyone who is desirous is full of suffering, because desire is an unnatural mental condition that arises due to a misconception in regard to things, and this misconception is of a double nature. Inwardly we have a desire for an object, and, simultaneously, there is a conviction that it is outside us. So we create an impossible situation of asserting, on the one side, that the object is outside us and that we have no connection with it, and simultaneously asserting that we want it and we want to absorb it into our own nature. This tension is removed in meditation by removing desire itself, because the subject has no purpose to serve by desiring an object in the ordinary fashion. The purpose of the subject is to recognise the subjectivity in the object, and not to exploit the objectivity that has been foisted upon it.

This recognition of the presence of the selfhood in things, the presence of what is known as the subjectivity in things, is the initial step in the rise of the mind from savitarka meditation to nirvitarka meditation. This requires years of practise. It is not a question of a few days, because we have been born and raised with wrong notions for centuries – from births, since aeons, perhaps. We do not know for how many births we have been thinking wrongly, and therefore it is almost a herculean feat to turn the tables round and prevent the subject from thinking of anything as an object, and to recognise the subjecthood in the object. This is achieved by a repeated hammering into the mind the idea that the object in meditation has a substantiality of its own, independent of the characters of the object – the features of the object – which are perceived on account of the relations of that object with other objects.

Thus nirvitarka is a non-relational contemplation, whereas savitarka is a relational contemplation. The relations are spatial, temporal, and individualistic. Desa kala vastu sambandha, is the Sanskrit term. The sambandha of desa is spatial. The sambandha of time is temporal; the sambandha of vastu is individualistic. This means to say that an object is in space; an object is in time, and an object has a relation with another object, which is the causal relationship. To put it more philosophically, space-time-cause are the obstacles before the subject in its attempt to enter into the nature of the object, or to try to possess it, or enjoy it, or become one with it, etc.

By repeated meditation on the substantiality of the object, independent of these relations, a revelation takes place. The mist before the mind is cast out. There is a response from the object in a friendly manner, which was absent up to this time. In loves and hatreds, which are almost the same thing – there is no difference between the two – there is no such response from the object. The objects try to flee away from us whether we love them or hate them, because of our unnatural attitude towards them. This is the meaning of Yajnavalkya's dictum – sarvaṁ tam parātād – everything runs away from he who tries to see in objects natures which do not really belong to them.

The response from the object in a friendly manner becomes possible when there is a gesture from the subject that the selfhood of the object is recognised. Though we have not entered into it or had a vision of it, at least it is recognised, just as when a new nation is formed, the other nations recognise it. Then, immediately, it becomes a friend of the other nations. Though there has not as yet been any commercial dealing or ambassador appointments, etc., which are yet to be, there is a declaration, at least, that the nation's existence has been recognised; and this is the beginning of friendship.

Likewise, the subject begins to accept the point of view of the object, though it has not taken action on this point of view. This is the stage where the mind begins to rise up from the condition of savitarka to that of nirvitarka.