s’more samādhi : to be with seed or without seed and the cloud of virtue
Meditation (samādhi) is the 8th limb or stage of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. In its broadest sense, meditation can be distinguished as either sabījah samādhi (meditation with seed) or nirbījaḥ samādhi (meditation without seed).
Just as a seed in the soil can cause a plant to take root and grow, a seed in meditation (bījaḥ) can cause a thought to take root and grow, a reflection to ripple, a fluctuation of consciousness (vritti) to continue. And just as a seed in the soil cannot be seen once planted, not all seeds in meditation reveal themselves as manifest (linga). Sometimes they are said to exist in their unmanifest potential (alinga) like an invisible pregnancy.
If meditation with seed (sabījah samādhi) naturally causes further fluctuations of the mind, albeit of the most refined variety of fluctuation, is it an inferior form of meditation than that without seed (nirbījaḥ samādhi)?
I can only imagine a yogic version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet :
To be with seed, or without seed, that is the question –
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the vr̥ttis
The vikṣepāḥ of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a citta of troubles
And by opposing them, to silence—to cease, to nirodhaḥ
Patañjali does state at the very start of the yoga sūtras that yoga is a process of cessation, nirodhaḥ.
– pys I.2
yoga (yogaś) is the cessation (nirodhaḥ) of the fluctuations (vr̥tti) of consciousness (citta)
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness.
However, Patañjali also states that the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvara) is the ultimate seed! The source of all knowledge, according to the yoga sūtras, is the seed of this primordial awareness:
तत्र निरतिशयं सर्वज्ञबीजम्
tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña-bījam
– pys I.25
that [iśvara, referred to in the previous sūtras] is the ultimate (niratiśayaṁ) seed (bījam) of all knowledge (sarvajña)
Iśvara is the ultimate seed of all knowledge.
Patañjali also states that by surrendering to the supreme being/god/goddes (īśvara praṇidhānā), the perfection of meditation can be attained :
– pys II.45
meditation (samādhi) is perfected (siddhiḥ) through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess (īśvara-praṇidhānāt)
Meditation is perfected through surrender to īśvara (the supreme being/god/goddess).
Perhaps sabījah samādhi, meditation with seed, is not an inferior attainment nor obstacle to nirbījaḥ samādhi, meditation without seed.
It might simply be that even at the very heart of surrender there is still subtlety to discover.
Let’s look at sabījah samādhi and nirbījaḥ samādhi as described in the yoga sūtras.
Sabījah samādhi is first explained as a form of samāpattiḥ, meditative absorption :
क्षीणवृत्तेरभिजातस्येव मणेर्ग्रहीतृग्रहणग्राह्येषु तत्स्थतदञ्जनतासमापत्तिः
kṣīṇa-vr̥tter-abhijātasy-eva maṇer-grahītr̥-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tat-stha-tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ
– pys 1.41
meditative absorption (samāpattiḥ) occurs when weakened (kṣīṇa) fluctuations of the mind (vr̥tter) allow the perceiver (grahītr̥), the perceiving (grahaṇa), and the object of perception (grāhyeṣu) to steadily (tatstha) reflect what’s being perceived (tadañjanatā) as if transparent (abhijātasya) like a jewel (eva maṇer)
Meditative absorption occurs when weakened fluctuations of the mind allow the perceiver, the perceiving, and the object of perception to steadily reflect what’s being perceived as if transparent like a jewel.
Samāpattiḥ is then explained according to 4 categories of increasing subtlety :
1) savitarkā (with thought) * least subtle
2) nirvitarkā (without thought) * more subtle
3) savicārā (with reflection) * even more subtle
4) nirvicārā (without reflection) * most subtle
Although it is not explicitly stated in the yoga sūtras, it could be argued that samāpattiḥ itself is the fruition of dhāraṇā (concentration) and dhyāna (contemplation), the limbs preceding samādhi.
तत्र शब्दार्थज्ञानविकल्पैः संकीर्णा सवितर्का समापत्तिः
tatra śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ sankīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ
– pys I.42
when that [meditative absorption] (tatr) is blended (sankīrṇā) with conceptualized linguistic knowledge (śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ) it is known as meditative absorption with thought (savitarkā samāpattiḥ)
When that absorption is blended with conceptualized linguistic knowledge it is known as meditative absorption with thought.
स्मृतिपरिशुद्धौ स्वरूपशून्येवार्थमात्रनिर्भासा निर्वितर्का
smr̥ti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyeva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā
– pys. I.43
when meditative absorption goes beyond thought (nirvitarkā [samāpattiḥ]) memory (smr̥ti) is completely cleansed (pariśuddhau) of its own forms (svarūpa) as if emptiness (śūnya-eva * ) is the only meaning (artha-mātra) shining forth (nirbhāsā)
When meditative absorption goes beyond thought, memory is completely cleansed of its own forms as if emptiness is the only meaning shining forth.
* see note at end of lesson
एतयैव सविचारा निर्विचारा च सूक्ष्मविषया व्याख्याता
etayaiva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣaya vyākhyātā
– pys I.44
in the same way (etayaiva) [meditative absorption (samāpattiḥ)] on subtle objects (sūkṣma-viṣaya) is discerned (vyākhyātā) as with reflection (savicārā) and (ca) without reflection (nirvicārā)
In the same way, meditative absorption on subtle objects is discerned as with reflection and without reflection.
– pys I.45
and subtle objects (sūkṣma-viṣayatvam) terminate (paryavasānam) in unmanifest form (aliṇga)
And subtle objects terminate in unmanifest form.
ता एव सबीजः समाधिः
tā eva sabījas-samādhiḥ
– pys I.46
these are meditations (samādhiḥ) with seed (sabījas)
These are meditations with seed.
– pys I.47
from proficiency (vaiśāradye) in meditative absorption without reflection (nirvicāra) the innermost self (adhyātma) is made clear (prasādaḥ)
From proficiency in meditative absorption without reflection the innermost self is made clear.
ऋतम्भरा तत्र प्रज्ञा
r̥taṁbharā tatra prajñā
– pys I.48
from that [clarity] (tatra) comes truth bearing (r̥taṁbharā) wisdom (prajñā)
From that clarity comes truth-bearing wisdom.
– pys 1.49
this wisdom (prajñābhyām) is something other (anya) than that acquired through hearing (śruta) or inference (anumāna) as it has as its object (viṣayā) a distinct purpose (viśeṣa-arthatvāt)
This wisdom is something other from that acquired through hearing or inference as it has as its object a distinct purpose.
– pys I.50
that [other object of wisdom] is born (tajjas) from latent impressions (saṁskāra) and [its distinct purpose] is to prevent (pratibandhī) the arising of other latent impressions (anya-saṁskāra)
That other object of wisdom is born from latent impressions and its distinct purpose is to prevent the arising of other latent impressions.
Here emerges nirbījaḥ samādhi, the subtlest form of meditation :
तस्यापि निरोधे सर्वनिरोधान्निर्बीजः समाधिः
tasyāpi nirodhe sarva-nirodhān-nirbījaḥ samādhiḥ
– pys I.51
when even these [latent impressions] cease to arise (nirodhe) and all is silenced (sarva-nirodhān) there is meditation (samādhiḥ) without seed (nirbījaḥ)
When even these latent impressions cease to arise and all is silenced, there is meditation without seed.
The yoga sūtras also describe a profound state of meditation known as dharma-meghaḥ-samādhiḥ :
प्रसंख्यानेऽप्यकुसीदस्य सर्वथा विवेकख्यातेर्धर्ममेघःसमाधिः
prasaṁkhyāne-‘py-akusīdasya sarvathā vivekakhyāteḥ dharma-meghaḥ-samādhiḥ
– pys IV.29
meditation (samādhiḥ) forms a cloud (megha) of virtue (dharma) when even (api) the realizations of higher intelligence (prasaṁkhyāne) are entirely (sarvathā) renounced (akusīdasya) through discerning awareness (vivekakhyāteḥ)
Meditation forms a cloud of virtue when even the realizations of higher intelligence are entirely renounced through discerning awareness.
– pys IV.30
thus (tataḥ) ends (nivr̥ttiḥ) the afflictions (kleśa) of karma (karma)
Thus ends the afflictions of karma.
* Patañjali’s use of the word śūnya or “empty” (pys I.43) inspires yet another reflection on the connection between the yoga sūtras and Buddhist philosophy. In Buddhism, the concept of “śūnyata” or “emptiness” expresses the principle that all conditioned things are impermanent, relative, and thereby void of intrinsic existence. This is not the presence of “nothing-ness” (the concept that “nothing matters” leads to nihilism, which the Buddha did not teach). Emptiness is the absence of “eternalness” (notions of “eternalness” can lead to fatalism, which the Buddha also did not teach).The Buddha taught the Middle Way because that is the way to maintain balance in the relativity of emptiness. As Patañjali states, the mind can even attain a level of meditation in which it recognizes its own emptiness beyond thought.
To summarize sabījah samādhi and nirbījaḥ samādhi according to the yoga sūtras:
A) The supreme being/god/goddess is the ultimate seed of all knowledge. (pys I.25)
B) Meditation is perfected through surrender to the supreme being/god/goddess. (pys II.45)
C) Meditation forms a cloud of virtue when even the realizations of higher intelligence are entirely renounced through discerning awareness. (pys IV.29)
D) Thus ends the afflictions of karma. (pys IV.30
1) Meditative absorption occurs when weakened fluctuations of the mind allow the perceiver, the perceiving, and the object of perception to steadily reflect what’s being perceived as if transparent like a jewel. (pys 1.41)
2) When that absorption is blended with conceptualized linguistic knowledge it is known as meditative absorption with thought. (I.42)
3) When meditative absorption goes beyond thought, memory is completely cleansed of its own forms as if emptiness is the only meaning shining forth. (pys I.43)
4) In this same way, meditative absorption on subtle objects is discerned as with reflection and without reflection. (pys I.44)
5) And subtle objects terminate in unmanifest form. (pys I.45)
6) These are meditations with seed. (pys I.46)
7) From proficiency in meditative absorption without reflection the innermost self is made clear. (pys I.47)
8) From that clarity comes truth-bearing wisdom. (pys I.48)
9) This wisdom is something other than that acquired through hearing or inference as it has a distinct purpose. (pys 1.49)
10) That other-object of wisdom is born from latent impressions and its distinct purpose is to prevent the arising of other latent impressions. (pys I.50)
11) When even these latent impressions cease to arise and all is silenced, there is meditation without seed. (pys I.51)
Translations for the yoga sūtras of Patañjali by Sandi Higgins, synthesized with thanks from the following sources:
Books : The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant (2009)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda (1991)
Light On The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar (1993)
The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-sutra-s of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English by I.K. Taimni (2007)
SHANTI WITH SANDI © 2021