Tag Archives: meditation

Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1/41


Just as the naturally pure crystal assumes shapes and colours of objects placed near it, so the yogi’s mind, with its totally weakened modifications, becomes clear and balanced and attains the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable and knowledge. This culmination of meditation is samadhi.

When the modifications of mind have become weakened, the mind becomes like a transparent crystal, and thus can easily take on the qualities of whatever object observed, whether that object be the observer, the means of observing, or an object observed, in a process of engrossment called samapattih.

If we develop one state of mind through constant meditation, all other thoughts and desires will gradually recede. If we do not nourish our habits and distractions, they will wither and die. If we become one with the person meditating, the subject being meditated upon and the process of meditation, the mind is completely absorbed. If you put a red flower near a crystal, the crystal itself appears red; if you practice meditation regularly, the mind will take on that form. We should aspire to having our minds clear like crystals, through the process of one-pointed meditation.


Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1.40


Gradually, one’s mastery in concentration extends from the primal atom to the greatest magnitude

When, through such practices (as previously described), the mind develops the power of becoming stable on the smallest size object as well as on the largest, then the mind truly comes under control.

Once one has mastery over the mind, one can contemplate the full scale of the universe, from the tiniest to the largest things.


Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1.39


Or by meditating on anything one chooses that is elevating

Or by contemplating or concentrating on whatever object or principle one may like, or towards which one has a predisposition, the mind becomes stable and tranquil.

Having given us his suggestions for different techniques for meditation (focusing on the breath, concentration on subtle sense perceptions, imagining a light within, thinking about the state of a noble person’s mind, or concentrating on the state of sleep), Patanjali also says we can select our own technique, according to our preferences. The idea is that we find one point on which to focus, and that will still the mind.


Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1.37


Or by concentrating on a great soul’s mind which is totally freed from attachment to sense objects

Or contemplating on having a mind that is free from desires, the mind gets stabilized and tranquil.

In his suggestions for different meditation techniques, Patanjali here offers that we might like to contemplate a noble person who has given up all attachment to sense objects and who has attained great spiritual progress. Imagine your mind is their mind as they sit to meditate, or visualise your own mind being free from distractions, desires, wants etc.







Yoga sutras of Patanjali 1.36


Or by concentrating on the supreme ever-blissful light within

Or concentration on a painless inner state of lucidness and luminosity also brings stability and tranquility.

Another meditation practice that Patanjali outlines is imagining a light within you. This could be radiating from the heart area, or the third eye (between the eyebrows), for instance. Again, this will lead to serenity of mind.







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 1.11


Memory is the unmodified recollection of words and experiences [Iyengar]

Recollection or memory is mental modification caused by the inner reproducing of a previous impression of an object, but without adding any other characteristics from other sources.

Memory is the retained impression of experienced objects.

When I first read this, I thought I’m not sure I agree that memory is “unmodified”, after all aren’t all of our thoughts modified by our past experience, our upbringing, our world view? Aren’t all of our memories similarly filtered through our previous experiences? I’m not sure I believe that there is such a thing as a ‘pure’ memory for something like seeing a dog in the street, one which has not been affected by our past experiences with dogs; I’m not sure we have the capacity to remember without our unconscious mind making associations and connections, that we may not even be aware of.

It is interesting here that BKS Iyengar uses the word “unmodified” and the second interpretation uses “mental modification…without adding any other characteristics from other sources”.  I think that memory can only be modifed by our unconscious mind and previous experiences, whether we mean to add those or not, that’s just the way the human mind works and processes our experiences. If I was once bitten by a dog as a small child, and I now see a dog in the street, my mind might create the dog I now have before me as a scary entity, something to be feared. But if you see the same dog without having had the negative prior experience, you might just think ‘what a cute dog over there’.

I suppose our memory for facts and knowledge could be said to be ‘pure’ memory, in the sense that I can remember that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. There are no additions here, my unconscious mind has not added anything from my previous experience, I have simply remembered a  true fact. Perhaps it is this type of memory which Patanjali is referring to here.This type of memory (E.g. for facts) is not so disturbing to our consciousness, when compared with the other memories which produce unconscious associations from our past experience. These ‘memories’ can often be fantasy, in the sense that we have mentally reconstructed the memory. Using the dog example, my mind has recreated the image of the dog using my past negative experience, so that when I think back to seeing a dog in the street in the future, I may remember it inducing fear. This is one of the fluctuations in consciousness that Patanjali talked about in 1.6, and something we need to be aware of.

Modern psychoanalysis (and other psychotherapeutic models) aim to do just that, to make us more aware of the associations our mind produces, so that we may see the present as it really is. And there is something quite Zen about that. Therapy is not the only way to achieve this, but sometimes there are so many layers of previous experience in our unconscious mind, we may not be able to chip through them. Meditation and psychotherapy can work hand in hand to help with this awareness.