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

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PART III: THE VIBHUTI PADA

Chapter 89: The Levels of Concentration

The next sutra, which follows the descriptions given earlier, is tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ (III.6). The practice of absorption has to be applied to the different stages, or by different stages. The adjustment of thought in samyama is a total reconstitution of the mind, and it has to adapt itself in every way to the nature of the object of samyama. There should not be even the least tinge of personality or self-affirmativeness when this adjustment with the object is called for. We know very well that even to be a good friend, we have to do a lot of sacrifice. We cannot be an adamant egoist and then be a good friend of anybody, because friendship with anyone implies a capacity to adjust oneself with the living conditions of another person. If we stick to our own guns, we cannot have any friends.

Hence, this samyama is nothing but an entertainment of utter friendship with the object – and not merely friendship, but actual communion with the object. For this purpose, it is necessary to understand the nature of the object. If we do not know our friend, we cannot be a good friend to that person. The body, mind, soul and every type of environment of a person is to be understood very carefully, in every detail, in order that the friendship may be permanent. Likewise, the inner structure of the object – physical, subtle, as well as causal – has to be grasped very well before samyama is attempted on the object.

It has to be done by stages, says the sutra: tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ (III.6). The first stage, of course, is the grossest form of mental conception of the object. It is essential that when we practise samyama on an object, we have to bear in mind every detail of the nature of the object. It is not a bare, featureless perception. When I look at you, I do not look at the details of your bodily personality. I have only a general idea of your features. I may be seeing you every day for months together, and yet I may not be able to recollect the features of your face if I have not observed you properly, because observation of the details of the features of a personality is different from merely being acquainted with a person, even if it be for years together.

Samyama is not mere general acquaintance with an object in the sense of an ordinary social friendship. It is a very deep and thoroughgoing analysis of every bit of the constitution of the object. Thus, yoga prescribes methods of very minute concentration on every detailed aspect of the object, whatever that object be. It may be a bare physical object, an inanimate something; it may be a human form; it may be the concept of a celestial deity. Whatever be that object which has been chosen for the purpose of samyama, its details have to be borne in mind with great care because if some of the details are missed, the mind cannot absorb itself into those aspects which it has missed in its observation. The adjustment of the mind in a completeness and thoroughness with the nature of the object is possible only if there is a thorough understanding of the structure of the object.

Therefore, it is necessary that a detailed observation process be practised in the beginning. We have to observe, with a minute eye, every bit of the different aspects of the form of the object, from head to foot, fix the mind on those aspects and not allow the mind to think of any other thing. In the beginning it will not be possible for the mind to fix itself on any single aspect exclusively. So, the method prescribed is to allow the mind to move from one aspect to another aspect of the same object. If we meditate on Lord Krishna’s form, we conceive of His form from head to foot in various manners, right from the diadem down to the toenails. We cannot conceive the form at once, in its completeness, because the mind is not used to such forms of conception, so we take it part by part – every aspect, every detail, every feature, colour and so on, of the object. We allow the mind to roll like this, from top to bottom and bottom to top, again and again, until we are able to conceive the object in its totality and the form of the object grips us with a force which will draw the attention of the mind totally towards it. It should be like a powerful magnet drawing the mind towards it entirely, and not only in parts. The object will not draw us entirely unless we have a clear concept of the entire object. Nothing in the world can draw us entirely, because we always have a partial and superficial observation of things. We never observe anything in detail. We are never used to such work. But here, a novelty is introduced in observation. A very methodical and acute observation is called for so that the mind is concentrated – so concentrated that it has become practically one with that which it is contemplating.

The stages, as the sutra tells us – the bhumis – are the degrees of the manifestation of the nature of the object. It is very difficult to explain to a novitiate what actually is the series of the stages of the development of an object. Any object, for the matter of that, is a very complex structure. It has deep details involved within its being which cannot easily be observed with the naked eye. The implications go deeper and deeper as we begin to conceive the details of the object more and more, with greater and greater attention.

Before we try to touch upon what exactly is in the mind of the author of the sutra when he speaks of the bhumis, or the stages of meditation, I shall give you a gross commonplace example of how we can take the mind deeper and deeper into the nature of an object. Take a currency note. What do we see there? We see a great meaning. That is the first thing that we see in a currency note. We see a purchasing power, a value, a capacity, a treasure, something worthwhile and very commendable. This is all we can conceive when we cast our eyes on a government’s currency note. It is, for the non-critical attention of the mind, a value and not a substance. This is the distinction, because its substance is something different from the value that we see in it. We always mix up two things when we see any object in this world. The substance gets buried under the value that we see. The substance of a child is different from the value that a mother sees in that child – and so on, with respect to any object.

The value of a currency note is different from the substance of the currency note. The substance is nothing but a piece of paper; the value is something different. The value is a concept, whereas the substance is physical. What we see in a currency note is a physical something, plus a conceptual meaning. So the value of the physical something is in the brain – the head or the mind of the person who conceives or perceives that object called the currency note. If we divest that currency note of the value that we have superimposed upon it, we will be entering into the substance of that object. We remove the notion of meaning in it. Suppose there is an order of the government that these currency notes will not be valid from tomorrow. We know what will happen. The currency notes will have no meaning; they will lose all sense. We will see the substance from tomorrow onwards. The value has gone. They are no more currency notes – they are merely a quantity of physical substance. Their worth is only in pounds or kilograms of waste paper. All the meaning that we saw yesterday has gone overnight, merely because of an ordinance of the government that these notes will not be valid from such and such a date.

Now we see that the concept that we have about the object called the currency note is not to be identified with the substance of the note. This much is clear now. What is the currency note made of? It is not made up of the purchasing power, as we are thinking. It is made up of paper – that is all. The purchasing power is an investiture upon it, a kind of superimposition, which is a meaning that we have foisted upon it for various reasons. Now we have gone one step above in our analysis of the object. From the stage of calling it a currency note, we have come to the higher stage of calling it a piece of paper, which is the reality behind the currency note. It was paper even previously, but we did not want to call it paper, for reasons of our own. When I show you a thousand-rupee currency note, you will not say, “Here is a piece of paper.” You will say, “Here is a note.” We have a new name for it, coined for our practical convenience, notwithstanding the fact that it remains paper even today, as it will be one day after its value is negated by the government’s orders.

Thus, the capacity of the mind to lay itself upon the substance of the note, divested of the value that has been superimposed upon it, will be the next step – the next higher stage of contemplation. Now we begin to see the paper rather than the note. The idea of ‘note’ has gone. We call it paper. But is paper the real substance of what we see there? What is paper? It is a name that we give to a peculiar form that wooden pulp has taken. Paper is nothing but wooden pulp which has been made malleable and flattened by a mechanical process in the factory; and we have a coloured piece of wooden pulp before us, which we call paper. We remove the idea of paper from our minds because that is only a name that we have coined to designate a particular form taken by a wooden pulp. What is there? What is the substance of paper? It is pulp, made of wood. From the currency note we have gone to paper, from paper we have gone to wooden pulp. What is the wooden pulp made of?

Now we go deeper still. Is there such a thing as wooden pulp? It is nothing but a heap of chemical substances. The wooden pulp is nothing but a chemical value, assessable and measurable in a laboratory. Perhaps we will be able to manufacture, chemically, certain substances which are equivalent to wooden pulp. We can chemically manufacture paper without wood. The essence of the wooden pulp is nothing but a chemical substance – so much of carbon, so much of this, so much of that. They have been mixed in a particular proportion, in permutation and combination, and what we call the wooden pulp is nothing but a chemical substance. So we have gone from currency note to paper, from paper to wooden pulp, and from wooden pulp we have gone to the chemical substance. What is the chemical substance made of?

We go deeper still. The physicist will see the chemical substance in a different way altogether. His angle of vision is different. The physicist’s observation will reveal certain atomic forces which have been arranged in a particular manner to form that chemical substance called the wooden pulp. The velocity and the arrangement of the electrons around a nucleus determine the structure of the chemical substance. It may be hydrogen, it may be carbon, it may be nitrogen – whatever it is. These chemical substances are really not independent, indivisible physical matter. They are only certain arrangements of electrical particles to which everything is reducible, says the physicist.

See where we have gone now – from a currency note we have gone to the electric energy. This so-called currency note of so many dollars, pounds or rupees is nothing but electric energy which has been compounded into grosser substances, and we have given an appellation to each stage of the development of this object in its grossified forms. In the subtlest form we call it electrical energy; when it grossifies we call it chemical substance; when it grossifies further we call it wooden pulp; still grosser we call it paper; then further we invest it with some imaginary value called money. This is what has happened to all the objects in the world. The Yoga Sutras tell us that this is not the way of looking at things. We cannot have samyama on an object, we cannot enter into the nature of an object, we cannot commune with the object, we cannot become the object, unless we know what the object is. We have ultimately found out that the so-called currency note is something quite different from what we are conceiving in our mind at the present moment. The stages, or the bhumis, which the sutra refers to here are the stages of the development of the manifestation of the object.

To refresh our memory, we can go back to one or two definitions of Patanjali given in the Samadhi Pada, which we studied long ago. The gross form of the object is a compound of several factors, says Patanjali: tatra śabda artha jñāna vikalpaiḥ saṅkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ (I.42). This was told to us in the Samadhi Pada. When we look at an object, we have three ideas jumbled together – the object as such, the name that we have given to it, and the idea that we have about it. These three go together. Our idea about the object is reinforced by the name that we have given to it. The idea and the name jointly prevent our proper evaluation of the nature of the object as it is. “It is my daughter.” This idea, ‘my daughter, my son’, prevents us from knowing the nature of that person independently. We know very well what is the difference between our son and somebody else’s son. There is a tremendous difference, though the substances behind these two persons are identical in every respect. The object that is the base of this concept called ‘son’ is of the same nature in either case, but a tremendous gulf is created by the mind in its definitions. The definitions have so much meaning.

What is a definition? It is nothing but a characterisation of an object in terms of our notion about that object. The moment we say, “It is my son,” there is so much meaning implied in that statement. If it is somebody else’s son, that is another thing altogether. Why has such a meaning been foisted upon the object? It is because the idea is connected with the object, and the name is also there, together with it. We distinguish one of our sons from another of our sons by a name that we give. “He is Rama. That is Gopal.” They are only two words – empty sounds that we have uttered. They themselves have no meaning, but they assume a meaning on account of their getting identified with the object, so that the word ‘Rama’, or ‘Krishna’, or ‘Gopala’ etc., which are the names of our children, evoke in our minds certain feelings. The name generates or stirs certain ideas in the mind, and this name which stirs ideas in the mind will not allow us to have a correct concept of the object as it is. Our son is the most beautiful of all people. He is beautiful because he is our son.

There is an old story of a barber. He had a son who he thought was the most beautiful. The king of the country ordered the people to bring the most handsome of people. The barber brought his own son. He said, “I think this is the most charming boy.” The barber thought he was charming because he was his son – that is all. Otherwise what is the charm? He was an unattractive fellow! Anyhow, the idea is so predominant in the mind that it will not allow us to have an impersonal, dispassionate idea of the object. And samyama on the object is not possible as long as we do not have a dispassionate definition of the object in our mind. There should not be an emotional content in that definition. We should not say, “It is mine.” This is no good. It may be anybody’s – even then, it has a value.

The sutra, tatra śabda artha jñāna vikalpaiḥ saṅkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ (I.42), tells us that the gross form of samyama is in the form of the envisagement of the object as it is defined by a mix-up of the essential nature of the object, together with the name and the idea of it. But when the name and the idea are withdrawn, the object stands in its pristine purity. When we can conceive the object independent of our idea about it and divested of the name that we have foisted upon it, we go to nirvitarka: smṛtipariśuddhau svarūpaśūnye ivaarthamātranirbhāsā nirvitarkā (I.43). But nobody can reach that state, however much we may scratch our heads. We cannot go even one step above. We are always in the lowest because who can be free from the idea of the object and the name that is attached to the object? When we look at the tree, we have an idea of tree: “It is a tree.” We have attached some name to that particular substance which we call by this name or that name. The independent concept of an object, free from ideational evaluations, is difficult because we have been brought up in an atmosphere of prejudice. Yoga is against all prejudice. We must be thoroughly dispassionate and impersonal to the core if we want to know the nature of anything in this world.

That is what we are trying to achieve by samyama. Tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ (III.6). The bhumis, or the levels of concentration, which are suggested in this sutra are the levels mentioned in the Samadhi Pada where the various levels of samadhis, or samapattis, are described. The grossest form of the object as it is visible to the ordinary, conceptual mind is the first stage of concentration. We take the object as it is, in the manner we are able to conceive it, think of it, etc. Then, we try to free it from the associations that we have created in respect of it by thinking of it as lovable or not loveable, pleasurable or otherwise, liked or not liked, tall or short, etc. An object is neither tall nor short – this also is a very important thing to remember. Tallness and shortness, thickness and thinness, etc., are relative terms. If I bring before you a shirt and ask you, “Is it a big shirt or a small shirt?” you cannot say it is big or small because it depends upon the person. If it is a small child, he will say it is too big; if it is for a big man, he will say it is too small. We cannot say anything about any object unless we compare it with something else. This comparison should be removed. We must take it as it is; and nothing can be more difficult than this task.

We cannot take anything as it is. We cannot take our own selves as we really are. Even we are invested with certain false values. We are really something different from what we appear. Everyone knows that. Likewise, everything else is different from what we think about it, so that there is a complete confusion in every kind of perception of the world. This is why we call it a world of relativities, where every characteristic hangs on something else. Independently, nothing is known. Hence the stages, or the bhumis, or the levels of the practice of samyama are the gradual characterisations of the object, going deeper and deeper, freeing it more and more from external association.

Ultimately, what is in the mind of Patanjali is that we have to meditate upon the various stages through which prakriti passes in the manifestation of this world, the grossest of them being the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – of which every physical object is made. What he expects us to do is to resolve every object into the five elements. We do not see a son, a daughter, etc.; we see only the five elements, because they are resolvable into these five elements. The body of that person, the body of this object, or whatever it is, is capable of reduction to the level of the five physical elements of which they are constituted.

Then Patanjali wants us to go above to the tanmatras, the subtle rudimentary principles out of which the physical elements are made. Then he wants us to go above to the cosmical principle of ahamkara tattva, the Universal ‘I’ which affirms the manifestation of this cosmos on one side as the physical universe, and on the other side as the individual perceivers – jivas. And so it goes up, stage by stage, until the supreme purusha is realised. That ultimate union is the aim of yoga; but for that we have to attain union by stages at lower levels. We have to attain this communion, or absorption, or samyama, at each level of practice. These different levels of absorption are called the bhumis.