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Concentration YSP 1.17

vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah

Perfect contemplation with full consciousness of the object passes, becoming reflective contemplation, then intuitive, then beatific, and lastly full consciousness of self in the experience. – translation Bernard Bouanchaud

-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. – translation by Swami J.

Imagine if you will, our friend Patanjali, hanging around somewhere in current day India and he’s teaching a bunch of students the what’s what on yoga, specifically how to achieve the state of Yoga which is union with the divine.

Teaching is a tough gig. Even if you understand the subject completely, you have to take in account that people have different learning styles. They process information differently.They have different backgrounds which means the method you give George will not necessarily work for Bob – yes, all men because back in the day, girls weren’t invited.

One of the methods Patanjali spoke about the cultivation of non-attachment as the method to obtain the state of yoga – the stilling of the mind fluctuations. Persistent practice and developing a dispassionate, non-attachment to the results is the method we discussed over the past couple of weeks. It’s an important one and I have a great deal of affinity for it – without getting attached to it, of course….

Patanjali is a good teacher and so right on the heels of last week’s abhyasavairagya combination, he presents another method and this one is concentration. There are two methods for developing this single minded concentration. You can concentrate on an object, that is person, place, thing, idea, body part until all the resources of the mind are brought to bear on that point. The second method is concentration without the use of an object. This week, it’s concentration and objects.

There are four levels of concentration that Patanjali talks about and they are:

  1. Savitarka/Gross: relates to concentration on any gross object while still accompanied with other activities of the mind, including meditation on sensory awareness, visualized objects, the gross level of breath, attitudes, syllables of mantra, or streams of conscious thought.
  2. Savichara/Subtle: relates to subtle objects, after the gross have been left behind; the subtleties of matter, energy, senses, and the mind are, themselves, the 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 experiences.

I took this passage directly from Swami J’s site because not only did he say it better than I could, even if I wasn’t rushed with last minute Christmas preparations but also because I’m very much still at the Savitarka/Gross level of meditation. As my practice deepens and my meditation skills have improve, I sometimes move into more subtle levels of absorption. I may have experienced bliss once or twice and I’m positive I couldn’t find Sasmita on a roadmap with a flashlight and the help of two Sherpas.

Now these methods from section to section in the Yoga Sutras aren’t completely divorced from each other. In using concentration as a method to achieve the state of yoga, it’s going to take a fair amount of persistent practice and I can’t get too attached to the results of my meditation or things aren’t going to work out for me.

I think of these levels of concentration as one of the ways I cultivate non-attachment. As I’m concentrating, I’m allowing myself to let go of thoughts (attachments) to ideas of form and function. In the past few weeks I’ve  been working with a Tibetan Buddhist yoga somatic meditation that asks me to “breathe through the perineum”. Okay, basic anatomy tells you that’s impossible. The fact that I can “do it” is about visualization, for sure, but also about letting go of my attachment to my knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Air is flowing in and out of my bronchial tubes but I am breathing through the perineum.

Ok, that’s that for the sutra study for this week. I decided to switch things up with Christmas preparations this year to give my entire family a more spacious and open experience, which leaves the Christmas baking for today’s ‘to do” list.  I hope all of you wonderful people who read this column have a fantastic holiday season, that everyone you love and is dear to you is healthy and joyous.

Above all, take good care of your Self and honour your Self in this time when it’s easy to lose both of those principle.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

One response »

  1. Dear Kate,

    The concept of un- or non-attachmend is itriguing. If you have other writings or sources expanding the idea, please let me know.

    I can see the concept of consentration and meditation being a boon to those of us who have a propensity to skip around from one concept to another with little notice or reason, each skip in turn serving to interrupt the preceeding one… the result being not just a loss of focus, but a loss of achievement, not to mention the loss of time.

    Hope you have a peaceful holiday season, and a merry Christmas! Namaste.
    Lawson Meadows


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