dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi : instructions for complete integration
The final 6th, 7th, and 8th limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga are Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi.
यम नियमाअसन प्राणायाम प्रत्याहार धारणा ध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni
– pys II.29
restraints (yama), observances (niyama), postures (āsana), expansion of life energy (prāṇāyāma), sense withdrawal (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation (dhyāna), and meditation (samādha) are the eight limbs [of yoga] (aṣtav aṅgāni)
Restraints, observances, postures, expansion of life energy, sense withdrawal, concentration, contemplation, and meditation are the eight limbs of yoga.
Awesome! We’ve made it to the last 3 stages (or the antaranga, the internal limbs) of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga.
These can be understand as: concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation (dhyāna), and meditation (samādhi).
Sometimes the terms are translated differently. Dhyāna is frequently referred to as “meditation” instead of “contemplation”, and samādhi is sometimes defined as “absorption”, “integration”, “bliss”, or even “trance”.
Perhaps there is a lot of fluidity in these stages. However, especially in the context of the yoga sūtras, I find it helpful and clarifying to more consistently refer to dhyāna as “contemplation” and samadhi as “meditation”. This nomenclature makes a distinction in the progression from “concentration” (dhāraṇā) to “meditation” (samādhi). There is, in between concentration and complete meditation, a kind of a continuous flow of awareness, or “contemplation”, which is called dhyāna.
According to the yoga sūtras, the practices of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi (together known as saṁyamaḥ) can bring pure wisdom to the practitioner, as if one’s consciousness can be rendered empty and transparent like a jewel that reflects only the substance of meditation.
Let’s look at the yoga sūtras pertaining to Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi :
deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā
– pys III.1
concentration (dhāraṇā) binds (bandhaḥ) the mind consciously (cittasya) to a place (deśa) *
Concentration binds the mind consciously to a place.
* see notes at end of lesson
तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम्
tatra pratyaya-ekatānatā dhyānam
– pys III.2
contemplation (dhyānam) there occurs (tatra) in the singular and steady flow (ekatānatā) of perception (pratyaya)
Contemplation there occurs in the singular and steady flow of perception.
तदेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिव समाधिः
– pys III.3
meditation (samādhiḥ) is when that (tad) same (eva) object of contemplation (artha) alone (mātra) shines forth (nirbhāsaṁ) as if (iva) one’s own form (svarūpa) is empty (śūnyam)
Meditation is when that same object of contemplation alone shines forth as if one’s own form is empty.
When practiced together these 3 limbs are called Saṁyamaḥ :
– pys III.4
complete integration (saṁyamaḥ) is the three of these (trayam) [the practices of dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi] together (ekatra)
Complete integration is the three of these practices together.
– pys III.5
from their refinement (tajjayāt) comes the light of pure wisdom (prajñālokaḥ)
From their refinement comes the light of pure wisdom.
तस्य भूमिषु विनियोगः
tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ
– pys III.6
application (viniyogaḥ ** ) of this [practice] (tasya) occurs in progressive stages (bhūmiṣu *** )
Application of this practice occurs in progressive stages.
* see notes at end of lesson
These are the last and most internal (or subtle) of all 8 limbs Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. Even so, they are still “external” to the realization of seedless meditation :
– pys III.7
these three (trayam) are the inner limbs (antarangaṁ) compared to the [five] previous [limbs] (pūrvebhyaḥ)
These 3 are the inner limbs compared to the 5 previous limbs.
तदपि बहिरङ्गं निर्बीजस्य
tad api bahiraṅgaṁ nirbījasya
– pys III.8
even so (tad api), these limbs are external (bahiraṅgaṁ) to realizing seedlessness (nirbījasya****)
Even so, these limbs are external to realizing seedlessness.
* see notes at end of lesson
* Deśa in Sanskrit is here translated as “place” but that does not necessarily mean an external place like a large geographical location. It could mean a subtle internal place of focus, such as a “chakra”, or even the gazing-places used in the practice “driṣti” as with the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyasa practice.
** Viniyogah is also a term used today to describe another stream of yoga practice extending from Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his disciple T.K.V. Desikachar. Krishnamacharya emphasized the importance of applying and adapting yoga practice to the nuances of each individual.
*** Bhūmi refers to “foundation” or “level of attainment” and it is also an important concept in the Buddha dharma and the path of the boddhisattva. Within the multitudes of Buddhist doctrines, there are differences in the number, name, and description of each bhūmi but all systems share the idea that the attainment of a bhūmi establishes the practitioner in a new level of practice that prepares one for the next level.
**** Nirbījasya refers to “nirbīja samādhiḥ” which can be translated as “seedless meditation” (pys I.51) in contrast with “sabīja samādhiḥ” or “meditation with seed” (pys I.46). We will look at this distinction in the next lesson.
To summarize dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi according to the yoga sūtras, as a series of instructions for practicing saṁyamaḥ :
1) Concentrate by binding the mind consciously to a place. (pys III.1)
2) Contemplate there in a singular and steady flow of perception. (pys III.2)
3) Meditate so that same object of contemplation alone shines forth as if one’s own form is empty. (pys III.3)
4) Completely integrate these three practices together. (pys III.4)
5) Refine them to realize the light of pure wisdom. (pys III.5)
6) Apply this practice in progressive stages. (pys III.6)
7) Recognize these 3 as the inner limbs compared to the previous 5 limbs. (pys III.7)
8) Even so, know these limbs are external to realizing seedlessness. (pys III.8)
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