21Yoga Sutras 1.17: Four types of concentration on an object
- Aug 13, 2005Yoga Sutras: Sutra 1.17:
Four types of concentration on an object
See also these articles:
Types Versus Stages of Meditation:
Five Universal Stages of Meditation:
YOGA SUTRA 1.17: 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
(vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah)
VITARKA = gross thought or reasoning
VICHARA = subtle thought
ANANDA = bliss, ecstasy
ASMITA = I-ness, individuality
RUPA = appearances, nature, form
ANUGAMAT = accompanied by, associated with
SAMPRAJNATA = cognitive absorption, lower samadhi
STAGES OF ATTENTION: Attention develops in stages:
1) ATTENTION may wander here and there, whether externally observing
through the senses, or internally observing the stuff of the mind.
There are seemingly countless objects that can be observed by "me" as
the observer (That "me" is actually a false identity, which is
systematically being explored so as to uncover the true Self).
2) CONCENTRATION (3.1) comes from attention and means that the
attention is focused on one object, though the concentration may be
interrupted, and is thus temporary. There is still an observer, who
is doing the process of observing, and an object that is being
3) MEDITATION (3.2) is a state of constant attention, wherein the
concentration is not broken by those other distractions. There
continues to be an observer observing an observed object. (There is
no specific time limit that discriminates between concentration and
4) SAMADHI (3.3) is absorption, which occurs when the observer, the
process of observing, and the observer all three seem to collapse
into one, wherein there seems to be only the object in existence.
THINK OF ATTENTION: Since it may be difficult to conceptualize
samadhi, it might be useful to think of this sutra and the four
stages (below) in terms of attention or concentration. By thinking in
terms of attention, it is easier to grasp the practicality of the
principles, while the depth of experience can be allowed to come over
ALL OBJECTS ARE IN ONE OF FOUR STAGES: Virtually all types, styles,
methods, or objects of meditation are included in one of the four
stages or levels described in this sutra. At this point in the Yoga
Sutras, specific objects are not being suggested. Rather, the four
categories of which any and all possible objects of meditation is
1) SAVITARKA/GROSS: relates to concentration on a gross object while
still accompanied with other activities of the mind. This includes
meditation on worldly objects, the body, sensory awareness,
visualized objects, the gross level of breath, attitudes, the
syllables of mantra, or streams of conscious thought.
2) SAVICHARA/SUBTLE: relates to subtle objects, after the gross have
been left behind, including the subtleties of matter the subtleties
of the ten senses, and the subtleties of mind as objects of
meditation, inquiry, and non-attachment.
3) SANANDA/BLISS: emphasizes the still subtler state of bliss in
meditation. In this state, the concentration is free from the gross
and subtle impressions that were at the previous levels.
4) SASMITA/I-NESS: focuses on I-ness, which is even subtler, as it
relates to the I that is behind, or witness to all of the other
RELATED ARTICLES: See also the sections from the following articles,
which also deal with these stages or levels of concentration (scroll
up and down after clicking on the link):
Types versus Stages of Meditation:
50+ Methods of Meditation:
Five Universal Stages of Meditation
MEDITATION ON THE SUBTLE: It is very important to reflect on the
principle of meditation on the subtle elements. Meditation at this
stage means that you are dealing with the very building blocks of all
of the objects on which you might meditate in their gross form. You
are focusing not only with objects normally seen to be external (the
things of the world stored as memories in the mind), but also the
very instruments (such as senses and mind) by which those objects are
experienced. In this way it becomes increasingly possible to attain
non-attachment to the whole realm of gross matter, along with their
subtle counterparts and the mind itself.
LIKE DRIVING THROUGH CITIES ON A HIGHWAY: When you are driving your
car in a rural area it may seem quiet and peaceful. As you approach a
city, there is an ever increasing activity, with more and more
people. In the heart of the city, it is thriving with sights and
sounds, people and objects of this or that kind. When you pass
through the center of the city the process reverses, as the activity
seems to gradually recede behind you, as you move through the city.
On your journey down the highway, towards your destination, you
approach cities, experience them, and drive through them.
The inner journey is like that too, as you approach a level of inner
activity, experience it, and then move through to the next. The goal
is realization, direct experience of the absolute reality, the
objectless center of consciousness, whose nature is of peace,
happiness, and bliss, though truly indescribable. On that journey
inward, few are able to go directly to that realization, and must
move into, experience, and then transcend the levels of inner reality
or mind, that are along the way. This is the process being described
in this sutra.
WHOLE PROCESS IS IN 18 SUTRAS: Sutras 1.17 and 1.18 describe the
process of samadhi, the higher tool of meditation. Thus, the whole
process of Yoga is summarized in the first 18 sutras. The remaining
sutras give more expanded explanations, including the process of
stabilizing the mind (1.33-1.39), more specific ways to attain
samadhi (2.26-2.29), and how to then use samadhi as the finer tool
(3.4-3.6) for Self-realization.
SIMPLICITY, LIKE A BALL POINT PEN: Yoga Sutras has a beautiful
simplicity to it, including these four stages of sutra 1.17.
Attention can absorb in gross objects or subtle objects.
Like clicking on a ball point pen, one can come outward, like the
little container of ink. When attention is outward, the subtler
levels are still there, underneath or interior, doing their work to
provide consciousness itself with experience of the gross.
With another click, the pen part retracts back into the body of the
pen. When attention retracts from the gross, there is no gross
experienced. Then, the subtle is experienced.
When attention retracts again, that subtle experience falls away.
Then, there is the experience of joy or bliss, as none of the
activity, distractions, attractions or aversions (whether gross or
subtle) are experienced. Yet, there is still an I-ness doing
something called experiencing. There is an experiencer experiencing
With one more click of the pen, attention retracts past even that
bliss, so that all there is, is the I-ness itself. Consciousness is
still operating through that individuation, but that's another story.
Beautifully simple. Not scholarly, but practical. Oral tradition says
that the "study" of Yoga Sutras is oral, not only textual. The
simplicity of the outline of the Yoga Sutras necessitates
elucidation, whether in written or, preferably, oral form. For some,
this brevity in the Yoga Sutras is a sign of being incomplete. For
others, it is a sign of being succinct. For the latter, the Yoga
Sutras is a breath of fresh air in the midst of tomes of debate.