More about Samyama, 2 of 6
This is part two of six pieces on the highest state of mind training known as samyama.
One writer defined samyama as “the flowing of attention, awareness and energy.” I would like to look at that some more. Each of these three characteristics refer to very specific practices and states of consciousness that are cultivated separately first. Samyama therefore is the synergy of three distinct practices working together as one practice.
Samyama as a single practice that is greater than the sum of its three basic practices. By putting samyama in the technical and systemic context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s, the precise nature and power of samyama becomes very clear:
Technically samyama is the simultaneous and synergistic practice of the last three of eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga system. Individually these limbs are technically called “dharana”, “dhyana” and “samadhi”. For samyama to be understood by the mind for the amazing power it is, each word needs a precise definition. The trouble is, Sanskrit simply does not work that way. Its beauty as a sacred language comes precisely from the wide spectrum of potential meanings surrounding every major word. So instead of a definition, here are some synonyms:
Dharana: concentration, attention, focus, resolve, mindfulness.
Dhyana: meditation, awareness, witnessing, detachment, insight.
Samadhi: contemplation, energy, light, absorption into the object of meditation, bliss.
Can you catch a sense or intuition of the meaning of these words?
Much more precision can be gained from carefully looking and practicing Patanjali’s text. The first five limbs of yoga might be said to be the source of dharana, concentration. This is a state where the mind is still, clear, awake, and lucid.
Dhyana, meditation, is for Patanjali any focus on this concentrated attention. He lists a number of possible focuses and the consequences of a given focus in the form of various powers and experiences. Dhyana arises from the cessation of the movements of the mind; it is the state yogas aim at.
But Patanjali is an equal opportunity spiritualist; he doesn’t seem to care about theological matters except insofar as they support or hinder practice. He seems eminently practical in this. Meditation is mind practice, dhyana – no more, no less. What you practice the mind on is up to you.
In that context, then, samadhi is entering INTO the object of meditation. It is becoming that object. It is a pretty radical idea, but it is not just a becoming. It is a revelation also. The essence of a matter is revealed by samadhi on it.
When you become something, all stands revealed. All doubt is resolved, and nothing is left to say or do. Samadhi is high-seeing (sama = summit, dhi = seeing). Dhyana is insight as a vehicle (dhi = insight, yana = vehicle). Dharana is (clearly) seeing a (material) form (dha = seeing, rana = material form).
All depends on the context here. If I were to present these notions in modern language, I would say that dharana means sound reality testing and freedom from neurotic imprints and emotional chaos; dhyana means meditative experience and skill with the abstract nonlinear content of mind that generates perceptual dualities, thereby giving rise to categories and conditional states of consciousness; and samadhi means direct experience of the context in which mind arises as a consequence of witness awareness. But the downside with all this modern jargon is that it dates fast, while Patanjali’s words remain.