Rev. Jaganath, Integral Yoga Minister and Raja Yoga master teacher, has spent a lifetime delving into the deepest layers of meaning in Patanjali’s words within the Yoga Sutras. Our series continues with the 17th sutra of Chapter 1. Rev. Jaganath explains that this is a key sutra: “It introduces us to the state of contemplative absorption, samadhi, which marks the beginning of a new way of understanding, experiencing, and responding to life, self, and life’s realities.” In this article, Rev. Jaganath analyzes each word of  sutra 1.17.

Sutra 1.17:  Vitarka-vicāra-ānanda-asmitā-anugamāt-samprajñātaḥ

Translation: Samprajnata samadhi (distinguishing contemplation) is accompanied by reasoning, reflecting, rejoicing, and pure I-am-ness (Swami Satchidananda translation). When practice and nonattachment strengthen, intuitive insight (samprajnata) arises. As this insight deepens, it reveals four increasingly subtle levels of nature (prakriti), bringing complete and accurate knowledge of the object of contemplation (Rev. Jaganath translation).

The four levels of nature are:

  • Vitarka (investigation into the gross form of objects): The mind investigates and gains knowledge of the gross aspect of an object.
  • Vichara (knowledge of subtle essences): The factors that brought the object into existence are revealed.
  • Ananda (bliss of a sattvic mind): At this level, attention naturally turns to awareness itself. Devoid of a gross or subtle object, manas, the part of the mind that constantly seeks objects to grasp, becomes clear and tranquil, resulting in the experience of joy.
  • Asmita (ego sense): The direct experience of the ego-sense, pure I-am-ness.

The duality of mind and object remains in all these states.

This sutra is important. It introduces us to the state of contemplative absorption, samadhi, which marks the beginning of a new way of understanding, experiencing, and responding to life, self, and life’s realities. It is the transcending of a mindset that understands life only by comparing, contrasting, and dissecting. This mindset, virtually the only way things are known to us, is obsessed with being right—right being defined as that which is in agreement with our own biases, desires, and fears. We rarely enjoy the great benefit of knowing an object or event in itself, free of our expectations, plans, and ideas of what is right and wrong. Samadhi opens the path to experiencing the deepest realities. It brings us to the peace of the Self, that lies within each of us. Let’s take a look at some of the specifics of this sutra.

Vitarka describes a state of mind that is discursive, suggesting that the mind, although in deep contemplation, still digresses from subject to subject or from one aspect of the subject to another. The mind still oscillates or indulges in internal dialogue.

Look at this list of definitions for vitarka: discursive thought, deliberation, conjecture, supposition, guess, fancy, imagination, opinion, doubt, uncertainty, a dubious or questionable matter, reasoning, consideration, purpose, intention, a teacher, instructor in divine knowledge, knowledge obtained by reason and argument rather than intuition. These definitions center around doubt, implying that the acquisition of spiritual wisdom is preceded by not knowing. In general, in the context of spiritual pursuits, it is perhaps more useful to understand the state of not knowing as refined, directed curiosity. In this stage the reduction of the conceptualizations that color perception begins. It is the beginning of applying the totality of the mind to the object of contemplation.

Vichara is a more peaceful, focused state than vitarka. As deep, steady attention is sustained, the mind naturally begins to probe the object of contemplation revealing subtler aspects of its nature. The roots of the word suggest this probing movement, from the gross manifestation of an object to its subtler components.

Ananda is connected to the expansion of an individual’s consciousness. It is uncreated joy, not connected with any attainment of possessions or status, or any external circumstances or conditions.

In theatrical dramas, ananda is the thing wished for or expected, the climax of the drama, the point at which all aspects of the drama are resolved. Ananda is also a kind of house, suggesting a sense of security. Ananda is also traditionally used to designate the hours between 2–6 pm and 2–6 am, a time of high creativity, hours when the mind moves quickly—good times to meditate.

Ahamkara is the power of asmita to take on identifications. 

Asmita, here defined as the ego sense, is also called ahamkara. While both terms can mean the same thing: a sense of individuality, asmita is also used to designate a larger sense of ego—the cosmic sense of “I”—the very principle of individuation. This ego transcends the individual mind. It is the principle that makes the more limited body/mind ego possible.

While the ego sense is often treated as the primary foe in spiritual life, it is more accurate to state that it is not the sense of ego, but an ego that has been colored by ignorance and selfish attachments. When we hear or read Yoga masters talk about ridding ourselves of the ego, it is mostly in this sense that they are speaking. At the same time, the highest enlightened state—liberation or Self-realization—consists in completely transcending the confines of ego: selfish and selfless, in order to experience the authentic Self. After liberation, the ego resumes its function, but without losing the experience of liberation. To be liberated while living—a jivanmukta—is the goal of a yogi for this lifetime.

The word anugamat, meaning: following, going after in life or death, imitating, approaching is from anu = after or along, near to, towards, next + gama = going, riding on, course, road, march, intercourse with a woman, removal, going away from. The idea of anugamat as intercourse is interesting. The analogy of two people becoming one through love and yearning is an interesting parallel with the mind of the meditator and the levels of samprajnata. It brings love and fervor into the equation for success in meditation. This helps remove notions of meditation as being an unfeeling calculating exercise in sheer will power.

The roots of samprajnata, intuitive insight, reveal a lot about its meaning. Prajna can be translated as before (in time) knowledge. In other words, insight that occurs before the arrival and influence of intellectual knowledge.

Jna, has many meanings: knowing, intelligent, perceive, apprehend, seize, grasp, understand, experience, recognize, ascertain, investigate, regard or consider as, to acknowledge, approve, allow, to visit as a friend, to recognize as one’s own, to engage into, to wish to know, to request, having a soul, wise, the thinking soul (puruṣa). One interesting definition that seems particularly relevant to the study of the Yoga Sutras is to apprehend. The word apprehend is related to apprentice. In apprenticeship, much of what is learned is not from books, but by emulation and guidance of a master teacher. The main idea is that knowledge is not static—a collection of data—but a dynamic process of learning, self-transformation, and growth.

The four levels of consciousness in this sutra are usually referred to as samadhis. While this is technically true, the word is not mentioned in the sutra itself. One possible reason is that Patanjali was seeking to convey the mind’s ability to probe and discover, rather than attain (and perhaps, rest in) states, a more static way of looking at this subject.

In Buddhism, prajna is consciousness or insight. It refers to the intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms. The ultimate moment of prajna is insight into emptiness (shunyata) which is the true nature of reality. It is often equated with enlightenment and is one of the essential marks of buddhahood. Prajna is also one of the perfections (paramita) attained by a bodisattva in the course of his or her development.

About the Author:

Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book, Patanjali’s Words, is a work-in-progress.