The Meditation Technique of Savitarka Samadhi
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on January 11, 1990.)

We have been considering the various aspects of the technique of meditation for some time during our Academy sessions here. From this we would gather that meditation in the spiritual sense implies our adjustment with the object of meditation.

Meditation is a spiritual technique; it is yoga practice in the height of its culmination. It is almost the last stage in spiritual endeavour. In the earlier stages of yoga practice we have the disciplines known as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and so on.

Each stage blossoms into the next higher like the opening of a flower from a little bud growing in a stem of a flower plant. Each stage of the opening of the flower, right from its little invisible bud form until it becomes completely efflorescent, is a wholesome development of the stages of the growth of the flower. When the flower opens gradually from its original incipient, rudimentary seed form, it has passed through various stages of completeness in itself, and it was not a fraction of it that was moving. Similarly, the yamas, niyamas, asanas, etc., are not some extraneous limbs of yoga practice like hands and feet of the body of yoga, but the whole body itself. The entire body of yoga is found in the yamas, and also in the niyamas, etc. When a child develops into an adult, it is not that the fingers grow first, the legs grow next, the nose the day after tomorrow, etc. The entire organism entirely, holistically, rises into action, into the form of a complete development in the next stage of its growth. So what is important is to realise and be conscious of the fact that every stage in yoga is a complete stage, though it is a preparatory stage.

Now, in the state of dhyana, or meditation, the flower has opened up into almost a perfection so that it is now going to yield its fruit in the form of total absorption, known in a very intriguing way as samadhi. This word has been used, misused and abused one hundred times by people because of the difficulty in knowing what it means. The word samadhi itself is a misrepresented word, and many a time it is understood as some kind of paralytic introversion, as it were, of the mind of a person sitting for meditation and becoming semiconscious. Nothing of the kind is samadhi. It is not a state of semi-consciousness. It is not paralysis, nor is it introversion.

Many yoga students are likely to have the wrong notion that in the last stage of meditation, which touches samadhi, we are introverted, cut off from all connection with the world, and no relationship is maintained with anything in the world. It is not so. There is also a misconception that yoga and meditation are a personal effort unconnected with human society or nature outside. “What good is meditation for human society outside in the world if one is doing it in the corner of a room in someone’s house?” is a question arising in the mind because of a wrong notion that meditation is something that is taking place within your body, in your mind that is inside the body.

Meditation does not take place inside the body. It is true that it is an action of the mind, but it is not that mind which is apparently working inside you as a psyche, as a medium of cognition of objects outside. It is a different kind of mind altogether that is operating in meditation. The difference between these two kinds of mind is to be very properly and carefully appreciated. You have grown into the adulthood of the efflorescence of consciousness, wherein the mind has practically merged into a wider dimension of itself.

The mind is not inside you. It appears to be inside only in acts of sensory perception, empirical consciousness or object awareness. The object of meditation is not like any other sense object. Underline this one hundred times, and go on saying it again and again so that you may not forget it: The object of meditation is not a sense object. It is not something that you can see with your eyes. It is not possible to see it with your eyes because this object, which is the object of your spiritual meditation, is something higher than you but not outside you.

Can you imagine a state of affairs where a thing is above you, and higher than you, but is not outside you? All advancement in culture, in education, is a movement upwards. It is a transcendence of the lower categories of perceptions and acquirement in higher stages. Higher stages of achievement culturally, educationally, spiritually, do not mean moving more and more toward some object outside. When you advance outside, you cover a distance in space. If you go to the moon, you have covered a large distance, no doubt, outward in space. You may go to the stars, a larger distance still. This is not the way in which you cover a distance in meditation. It is a distance which is logically an advance in the developmental process of consciousness, in which condition the object of meditation does not stand outside in space and time, but envelops you. Ordinary perception of a sensory object does not permit the enveloping of the object in your case, nor do you actually envelop that object.

In all sensory perception of an object you stand outside it and it stands outside you. Actually, an awareness of a sense object does not mean union with that object. It is only an apprehension, an apprehension of an externality rather than a unity. In the sensory perception of an object, you are aware of the externality of the object but you are not aware of the unity of that object, notwithstanding the fact that even perception of a sensory object is not possible unless there is some basic unity between the perceiving subject and the object perceived. But sensory action is so tricky, so eluding and misguiding that it will not permit you to be aware of the basic unity obtaining between the object and yourself, and in the act of perception of an object it will insist again and again that the object stands outside you. In meditation, the whole thing is transmuted; the entire perceptional process gets transformed into a menstruum, into a liquid, as it were, of a coming together of both the object and the subject in a union which is more profound and deeper than the sensory relationship that seems to be there in ordinary perception.

The object of meditation with which you have to establish a union is defined in different ways in terms of the different systems of yoga. We shall, for our practical purposes, confine ourselves to the most clear statement of it available in the system of Patanjali himself. A student here mentioned that it is prakriti that is the object of meditation according to Patanjali, but one has to understand what exactly it means. How do you conceive this prakriti? The entire creation is prakriti manifesting in various degrees through the evolutionary process. I am now, for your benefit, pinpointing my few words only on the suggestions that you can get from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I am not touching upon other aspects of yoga now.

Patanjali’s system is, of course, centred round the concept of purusha and prakriti, universal consciousness and universal matter. Universal consciousness is purusha, which is conscious of universal matter, which is prakriti. According to Sankhya, which is the metaphysical foundation of the Yoga of Patanjali, prakriti evolves, or devolves, we may say, in a process of coming down into grosser and grosser forms into certain states known as mahat, ahamkara, the tanmatras and the pancha mahabhutas. Prakriti is a universal status, an equilibrium of the forces known as sattva, rajas and tamas. Forget the sattva, rajas, tamas for the time being, and consider prakriti as a universal continuum. It is spread out everywhere. There is no up and down, no uneven surface; it is a uniformity, as it were, like a vast sea with no billows and waves. A little disturbance caused in this equilibrium of prakriti by the action of purusha, which is universal consciousness, stirring up the sleeping prakriti, manifests from Mahat-tattva what may be called cosmic intelligence, comparable with what in another system of philosophy is known as Hiranyagarbha or Ishvara.

Purusha, which is universal consciousness, is not objectively aware of anything because purusha is pure subject, and therefore, there is no objectivity within it. But mahat is universal consciousness, omniscience. We many a time say God is all pervading and all knowing. The all-knowingness of God has a meaning only if there is something which God can know. If God only is, and He knows only Himself, we do not call it cosmic consciousness. The term ‘cosmic’, knowing everything, is significant only if there are some objective phenomena through which the universal pure subject manifests itself, and such a stage is called Mahat-tattva. So prakriti is the medium through which the universal purusha manifests itself as cosmic consciousness, mahat.

The next stage of development is self-consciousness of a universal character. This is ahamkara. Though this pure universal consciousness, which is purusha, is pure subjectivity, it is not a subject in the sense of anything that is opposed to the object. It is subject pure and simple, without an object outside. Therefore, even the word ‘subject’ is not appropriate in respect of, in regard to the universal consciousness that is purusha. However, because it is necessary for us to free it from the concept of anything that is outside it, we use the word ‘subject’. This pure universal consciousness that is purusha, peeping as it were through the medium of universal continuum that is prakriti, having become cosmic consciousness, or mahat, becomes self-conscious. I am cosmic consciousness. It is not just cosmic consciousness which is featureless and ubiquitous, but it is also self-conscious: I am. This ‘I am’ consciousness is not to be associated either with pure purusha or with Mahat-tattva. It is a third stage, which is ahamkara. These are the transcendent states of the manifestation of the great principles of purusha and prakriti according to Sankhya and the Yoga System of Patanjali.

Then actual creation starts. There is a tremendous vibration taking place everywhere in this wondrous cosmic I-ness: I am what I am. The so-called ‘I am what I am’ or ‘I am that I am’ is this ahamkara tattva, the third category in the devolution of prakriti through universal consciousness, purusha. Motion and force are said to be the beginning of creation. Even modern science considers that motion and force are the beginning. In terms of modern astronomy, the physical theory of the Big Bang and the cosmic dust congealing into certain specified concentrated forms of nebulae, galaxies, etc., is similar to what the Sankhya or the Yoga calls the tanmatras. A tanmatra is the congealed, differentiated, segregated form arising out of gyrating motion and force taking place in the ‘I am what I am’. They are five concentrated galactic universal features, we may say. The tanmatras are much more than a galaxy. I am only using this comparison for your understanding.

The tanmatras are shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha, which are the objective universal counterparts of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. The tanmatras are the elemental principles which become responsible for sensations of every kind through these perceptive media such as hearing, etc. Now, this cosmic counterpart, objective counterpart, correlative, as it is known, of all these five sensations are not mere ideas. They are actual existences, and they congeal further into solid masses which are capable of contact through the sense organs. These solid masses are the physical substances known as the mahabhutas: ether, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements are grossened forms of the tanmatras: shabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha.

The individual, the person, the human being, the student of yoga is a part and parcel of this cosmic setup, intending to unite himself or itself to the whole to which it belongs, of which it is a part, from which it has come. This endeavour of the part to unite itself with the stages of the cosmos as delineated just now would be the dhyana and samadhi process. It is a very stalwart, very tall process, shattering ordinary human thinking, stunning the human intellect and stimulating the whole system even to think of such a possibility.

I am now mentioning some very advanced concepts which are not to be found in ordinary expositions of yoga. They are also not to be taught in a public platform. All teachings in yoga are general, with certain techniques of meditation on a given initiated object. We do not try to take the mind of the student to the breaking point by telling it what it cannot understand, and is not supposed to understand.

These stages of samadhi, known also as samapatti in the language of Patanjali’s Sutras, are not academic subjects which are to be studied by merely reading a book or listening to a lecture from a teacher or professor. They are stages of actual experience. Experience cannot be explained in any kind of lecture. It is like the sweetness of sugar, or the taste of a delicious meal. Nobody will tell you what is the taste of a delicious meal. Even with the most eloquent lecture on a good meal or the sweetness of cane juice or sugar as such, you will not know what it is. You have to eat the sugar and have the meal yourself. So are these samapattis, samadhis. They will be only words that are likely to go over your heads as water poured on a rock. Water will never sink into granite. We are granites of ego, and the ego will repel every kind of water poured over it. Anyway, as a classroom lesson on yoga practice I shall cover this subject also, whatever be the extent you are able to understand its meaning.

The sutras are very brief in this regard. Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali will we find an elaborate description of this. We have to delve deep into what it suggests. It does not say anything, but only suggests in one or two places. Patanjali is very detailed and elaborate in other matters, but when it comes to a crucial matter he is very mysterious.  He will mumble one or two words, and from that mumbling we have to go deep into its intention.

Vitarka vicāra ānanda asmitārūpa anugamāt saṁprajñātaḥ (Y.S. 1.17) is a sutra in the First Pada itself. This one sutra is the secret of whatever Patanjali wants to say about samapatti, and he is mum after having uttered these words. I am not going to explain to you the meaning of this verse, but only the intention behind it. Samapatti, the union of the meditating consciousness with the object of meditation in its highest reaches, begins with the identity of the meditating consciousness with the entire physical cosmos, which consists of the mahabhutas: prithivi, appu, tejo, vayu, akasa – earth, water, fire, air and ether. These five elements enumerated as earth, water, fire, air and ether are actually not five things; they are five degrees of the manifestation of matter. As gas can become liquid and liquid can become solid, and they are not three distinct things but are actually three stages of condensation of matter, similarly, the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether appear as if they are five. They are not like five fingers, one unconnected from the other; they are five degrees of the density of matter. So we may say there is only one thing, not five things. The entire universe is matter capable of conversion from solid differentiation into its inner components, and on this meditation is attempted.

Today I shall give you another aspect of this matter which is the subject of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – that is, when we apprehend an object, three phases of consciousness are involved in that process. Patanjali expects us to differentiate these processes, and not allow all these three phases to jumble up into one knot of confusion in ordinary perception as it takes place.

In ordinary perception of an object, a confusion takes place, a mixing up of values. What are these? Three values are involved in ordinary perception. The three phases involved in perception are, firstly, the object as such as it stands in itself – the pure substance, which Patanjali calls artha: the object as such, a substance by itself independent of any quality that we are likely to associate with it. For example, a leaf is green, but even minus greenness, the leaf must be there. A leaf is oblong, but even minus oblongness, the leaf must be there. A leaf is having a weight, but even minus weight, the leaf must be there. Can you imagine an object minus its shape, quality, etc.?

The idea that we have about an object is different from the object itself. We know that we do not always think of an object in the same way. Now we think of it in some way, and tomorrow in another way. It is said that things are seen in different ways in different levels of perception. Some say animals perceive objects differently from human perception. It is said that dogs can see things which the human eye cannot see. It is believed in India that if some death is to take place, even a month beforehand the dogs will know it. They will start making some peculiar whining sound in that place where the death is going to take place; they will have a peculiar tune, and people do not like it. They drive the dogs out when they make such noises which mean that someone is going to pass away.

The vultures also know it. In deserts such as the vast Sahara, or the Arabian Desert, sometimes camel riders lose their way because the ocean of sand is so vast that they cannot know the path. Sometimes they lose their way and get exhausted with no water to drink. They sink down, and vultures come. They know this man is going to die. He has not died; he only feels exhausted, but he is preparing to fall down. The vultures can sense it.

Perceptions, therefore, vary in their categories and comprehensiveness, and an in-depth analysis will see objects differently. The idea of an object is different from the object itself, so that is a second factor. The object as such is one factor, and the idea or the notion that you have got about the object is the second factor. The object itself is called artha, and the idea about the object is called jnana.

There is a third factor, namely, the nomenclature. A tree is not called a stone, a stone is not called water, water is not called fire, and fire is not called milk. Each object has its name. The moment you utter the word ‘fire’, the idea of milk will not come to your mind. The association of the name with that particular object is so intimate and essential that you will not be able to make a distinction between the object as such and the name. For example, a man named Joseph will not be able to appreciate himself being called by any other name, such as Robert. There is a person fast asleep whose name is Rama. If you say, “Rama, get up,” he will wake up. If you say, “Nightingale, get up,” Rama will not get up because he knows that he is not Nightingale. Even though he is fast asleep, he knows he is Rama and not Nightingale. That shows the intimacy, the intense connection between the name and the person.

Now, I mentioned that there is a mixing up of values in the perception of an object. The object as such, independently by itself without any association, is one thing. The name that you associate with it, the nomenclature, your idea of it, is the other. Patanjali says that in your meditation on the object, you should differentiate that object from involvement in the idea you have got about it, and also the nomenclature connected with it. It is not ordinarily possible for you to do this, and so Patanjali’s system of meditation is very difficult. It is very important, and must be practised by everyone. There is no other way, but it is so difficult, like peeling a hard ball of steel. How will you peel it?

However much you may try to dissociate the object as such from the idea and nomenclature, you will not succeed. But ages of practice – I should say ages, not even months and years – will enable you to succeed in entering into the object.

So this earliest stage of samapatti or samadhi, which in the language of Patanjali is called savitarka, is such a complicated thing; even the first stage itself is so complicated. That is to say, you will face a difficulty in dissociating the subject and the object from their involvement of nomenclature and ideation. This physical cosmos – earth, water, fire, air and ether, this continuum of matter – is such an object that is now before you. The object that has been placed before you for contemplation is the entire cosmos of matter. Matter is a name that you have given to it. Remove that name. Do not call it matter. Do not call it earth, water, fire, air, ether. Remove these names. Do not call it mahabhuta. Remove this nomenclature, and do not have any idea about it as a solid substance like earth, which is of a particular consistency when you touch it. The liquidity of water, the heat of fire, the taste of something, the movement of air, the expanse of sky – remove all these ideas from your mind, and remove the name. You will find there is something remaining there as the background of these processes.

If you can succeed in dissociating this entire physical cosmos of matter from its idea that you have about it and the nomenclature that is associated with it, you will be in union with the whole reality of prakriti’s evolution in the lowest of its stages. You will be cosmically identified with the whole of material substance. You will be cosmically aware of your being one with all nature, and that is savitarka samadhi.

There are five or six stages, all staggering and yet worthwhile knowing, with which Patanjali concludes with the great dictum of kaivalya, or absolute liberation.