Monthly Archives: April 2014

Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1.17


Practice and detachment develop four types of samadhi: self-analysis,  synthesis, bliss and the experience of pure being.

Other translations:

The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds, 1) gross (vitarka), 2) subtle (vichara), 3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and 4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.

Deep concentration on an object consists of 4 types:  1. Gross thought (vitarka)  2. Subtle thought (vichara)  3. Bliss (ananda)  4. I-am-ness (asmita) and is called samprajnatah samadhi (unity with object and Divine)

This sutra is actually about the final stage of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga – samadhi, or the seer becoming one with what is seen (Iyengar describes this as ‘awareness’).

Incidentally, I think that in a book, my mind would prefer to work up to samadhi, beginning with the more achievable limbs of yoga, rather than jumping straight in with the ultimate goal. I wonder why Patanjali did it this way? I suppose if you start with the ‘prize’ / goal, then the purpose of the lower stages is more obvious. Perhaps by doing this, he is saying that this whole book is about samadhi or meditation / awareness, and that the other 7 limbs are steps you must follow to achieve this.

This translation / interpretation of the yoga sutras says it helps to think of this sutra (on the nature of samadhi) as being about attention or concentration, or meditation. This particular sutra is on samprajnata samadhi – unity, cognitive non-duality or lower samadhi (compared with the next sutra, which is on asamprajnata samadhi, meditation without content).

The sutra states that there are four types of meditation or attention:

1. Iyengar calls the first type ‘self-analysis’, but the other translations refer to it as ‘gross thought’ or ‘gross concentration’. This means meditation upon physical objects, mantras, breath, etc.

2. Subtle thought – after the gross thoughts have been left behind, the subtle nature of things

3. Bliss – freedom from the gross and subtle thoughts,

4. I-am-ness or the experience of pure being – consciousness of being with oneself.

It appears that these are just listed as the four types of ‘meditation with content’, not that they are supposed to be done in a particular order or that one is superior to any other. I notice that this appears to be in quite stark contrast to Zen Buddhism, but perhaps not to other forms of Buddhism. In the Zen practice of zazen, or shikantanza (sitting meditation), one jumps straight in with formless meditation – just sitting, and noticing what occurs, with no particular focus on the breath or anything else. I suppose that the 4 types of meditation here would still occur if one only practiced zazen. By just sitting, you would still gain the awaresness of the gross and the subtle, of the bliss (if it happened to occur), and the I-am-ness.

I suspect that Zen Buddhists would take issue with the ‘bliss’ aspect here – Suzuki in ‘Zen Mind, Beginners Mind’ implies that you may or may not find meditation enjoyable / blissful / peaceful. If you did, then great, but that is not the point. The point is that you noticed it.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.16


The ultimate renunciation is when one transcends the qualities of nature and perceives the soul.

As an atheist, I struggle with this idea of “the soul”, but can find meaning if I substitute “the self” or “ultimate reality”, but perhaps this is straying too far from what Patanjali intended. Other interpretations use “supreme consciousness” or self.

Iyengar lists five stages of detachment:
1. Disengaging the senses from action
2. Keeping away from desire
3. Stilling the mind
4. Mastery of desire
5. Supreme detachment

The qualities referred to here are the gunas: sattva (luminosity or serenity), rajas (vibrance) and tamas (inertia or dormancy). Hopefully we will return to these gunas again, as I feel I do not understand them completely at present.

Iyengar describes the practice of yoga (in the wider sense, rather than just asana) as the impetus for climbing the ladder to enlightenment or samadhi. By practising detachment we can pull the ladder up behind us.

For iyengar, practising yoga can help us to free ourselves from the trappings of consciousness. I might go even further and add that we would also seek to be free from the unconscious. In psychoanalytic theory, the unconscious mind is the cause of much suffering, whether from childhood trauma or just past experience. The goal of psychoanalysis is to bring the unconscious to the fore, to see what is there, thereby freeing the mind of those forces which cause suffering. Another way of doing this is through meditation – noticing those “negative automatic thoughts” (in CBT lingo) and just letting then be, observing our reaction to them without judgement. So the yoga sutras predict the whole Western psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic tradition!

A return


Well, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Since I last posted here I’ve got married, moved house, had a baby and not done a whole lot of yoga (had really bad hip pain for the whole pregnancy). So now my Little Man is 3 months old, I’m looking to resume my yoga practice. Time is a bit pushed, as he loves to nap in the sling rather than the cot.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois recommended resuming ashtanga practice not before three months post-partum. I started with David Swenson’s 30min short form today. It felt good to be back on the mat, but a little frustrating at how far back I’ve slipped. I guess this is part of the practice – accepting where we are currently, and taking it slow and steady. Not my fortes, so it’ll be interesting to see how this sits.

Now all I need to do is find my copy of the yoga sutras and we’ll be back. ..