Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.28
तज्जपः तदर्थभावनम् ॥२८॥
tat-japaḥ tat-artha-bhāvanam ||28||
Repetition of it and realization of its purpose [should be made].
Its repetition and the contemplation of its meaning [should be performed].
Continuing this discussion of oṁ, Patañjali here gives a specific indication as to how to fix the mind on Īśvara. After all, since Īśvara, as a type of puruṣa, is beyond prakṛti, and therefore beyond conceptualization or any type of vṛtti, how is one to fix one’s mind upon him since the prākṛtic mind cannot perceive that which is more subtle than itself? Patañjali provides the means: through the recitation of the syllable in which Īśvara manifests. As early as the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, oṁ, which is considered there to be, “non-different from brahman” is described as “the best ālambana,” support (I.10, 38) for the mind in meditation: “when one knows this support one delights in brahman.” The recitation of oṁ is called japa. Japa is an old Vedic term common in the old Brāhmaṇa texts, where it referred to the soft recitation of Vedic mantras by the priest.
Vyāsa states that by constantly repeating oṁ and contemplating its meaning, artha, namely Īśvara, the mind of the yogī becomes one-pointed—the goal of all yoga practice. Vyāsa quotes a verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa: “From svādhyāya [reciting mantras], let yoga be practiced, and from yoga let reciting mantras be performed; by perfection in both, the supreme ātman shines forth” Elaborating on this, Vācaspati Miśra takes this sūtra as specifying how to engage in meditation on Īśvara, that is, the devotion to Īśvara referred to in sūtra I.23. He understands the bhāvana, dwelling upon, of this sūtra as permeating the mind again and again, and Bhoja Rāja considers it the entrance into the mind of an object again and again to the exclusion of all other objects” (bhāvana occurs also in II.2, 33, 34). Repeating oṁ and contemplating its meaning, that it is the sound representation of Īśvara, the object of the yogī’s surrender, when coupled with Patañjali’s usage of praṇidhāna, devotion, in I.23, points to chanting the mantra in a devotional mood. According to the bhakti traditions—recall that Vyāsa considers Īśvara-praṇidhāna a special sort of bhakti—by doing this, thoughts of the Lord become the very substance of the citta, a sort of “Iśvarizing” parallel to the “sāttvicizing” activities of the yogic lifestyle. Just as an image and associations of, say, a cow, arise upon hearing the word “cow,” so thoughts of the Lord arise in the citta upon reciting and hearing his name, japa. Śaṅkara notes that such japa can be mental or softly audible. By such recitation, japa, the citta becomes saturated with saṁskāras connected to God (of course, in meditation proper, the mind remains fixed on one such saṁskāra, specifically, the mantra encapsulating Īśvara). This results in a feeling of bliss. More important, continues Vācaspati Miśra, the Lord then becomes gracious to such a devotee and awards him or her samādhi.
Śaṅkara’s analysis of this sūtra reflects the widely held view in Hindu traditions touched upon previously that in addition to perception of puruṣa, the yogī whose practice is imbued with devotion can also directly perceive God as a distinct but supreme puruṣa. Since oṁ has an inherent relationship with Īśvara, says Śaṅkara, by reciting oṁ the yogī can meet Īśvara face-to-face, that is, the recitation of oṁ with intense concentration not
“only brings Īśvara to mind but also takes one to a supersensory face-to-face encounter with Īśvara: “By perfecting the repetition of oṁ and meditation on the supreme Īśvara, the supreme ātman (paramātman) situated in the highest place (parameṣṭhin) shines forth for the yogī.“190 Vijñānabhikṣu articulates the same view:
His name is the praṇava (oṁ). And praṇidhāna, devotion, consists in contemplating Him, preceded by chanting oṁ and culminating in direct perception of Him. This absorption [saṁyama] with regard to the supreme Īśvara is the primary practice in asamprajñāta–samādhi and [the attainment of] liberation … Absorption on the personal ātman, on the other hand, is secondary.
Here we find the Vaiṣṇava view articulated that the realization and perception of puruṣa is a secondary, less important goal of yoga. The higher goal is the realization and perception of Īśvara, the Supreme form of whom both Śaṅkara and Vijñānabhikṣu consider to be Viṣṇu. Be that as it may, as Coward (1985, 356) recognizes, “According to the Yoga tradition, it was this route to Īśvara that was chosen by the majority of yogīs as their path to release.”
Coward gives a fascinating correlation of Śaṅkara’s comments here with the various stages of samādhi. He attempts a hermeneutic of the mechanics underpinning this perception of Īśvara through chanting oṁ. Coward’s representation of the stages involved in this process involves the subdivision of the vitarka and vicāra states of samādhi into sa and nir forms (the prefix sa– means with, and nir without). This will be explained fully in I.42–44.
In the savitarka stage of chanting, oṁ is mixed up with the conventional meanings and ideas associated with it. For example, one may have a mental image of Īśvara derived from some picture or a description in a Purāṇic scripture, or one’s ideas on Īśvara will be molded by some sectarian theological notions, or even from pure imagination. In other words, one’s mind will be conditioned by convention in some form or fashion. Therefore, at this stage, even though one is fully absorbed in chanting the mantra without external distraction, which is the prerequisite of any of the levels of samādhi, nonetheless this stage of samādhi is obscured by these habitual ways of conceiving Īśvara. At the nirvitarka stage, these conventional ways of thinking are weakened, and the object of meditation, in this case Īśvara, appears in its own pure nature, unobstructed by mental clutter and imposition. Coward states:
From the reports of yogīs like Patañjali and Vyāsa, in this experience, one comes to know Īśvara as the original speaker of the Vedas to the Rṣis, although, of course, to put this into conventional words, as we have just done, already reduces us back to the level of savitarka. To know it in its nirvitarka192 purity, one must experience it for oneself. (1985, 354),
At the third stage of savicāra, as the mental concentration on the recitation of the mantra deepens, one penetrates into the essence of the sound and begins to perceive Īśvara’s body as consisting of pure sattva. The yogī’s mind is now so completely identified with Īśvara that it is no longer aware of its own separate existence; one is so absorbed in this vision that one has lost all self-awareness. One has merged into Īśvara, although one must always bear in mind that this is not the merging of advaita-vedānta where the soul is held to actually ontologically lose its separate identity. Puruṣa never loses its separate identity in Yoga. The merging here is psychological—one forgets one’s own self in the rapture of the divine vision of Īśvara, but one nonetheless remains a distinct individual. In the final stage, one’s absorption in this vision of Īśvara is purged of all notions of Time and Space: “Īśvara’s relationship with the praṇava and all the Vedas (of which it is the seed) is seen to have existed in all previous cycles [world ages] (beginninglessly), to be manifest in the preset cycle, and to be potential in all future cycles” (ibid., 355). Since the late Vedic period, as Coward points out: “Īśvara-praṇidhāna and svādhyāya (in the form of chanting AUM) has been the core practice of most yogīs” (357)
It is unfortunate that adequate attention has not yet been directed to the Purāṇic traditions, which were being compiled and organized into the Purāṇic corpus in Patañjali’s time, where the “bare bones” directives of the Yoga Sūtras are brought to life. It is in the colorful narratives and stories of the great and manifold manifestations of Īśvara in the form of Viṣṇu, Śiva, and the Goddess, and in the stories of the great devoted paradigmatic yogīs who undertook tapas, Īśvara–praṇidhāna, and svādhyāya in unique and incredible ways, that one finds the inspirational exemplars of Hindu yoga. Notwithstanding that these stories have been dismissed by most Western scholars as too mythological to merit serious philosophical attention, it is from these stories and renditions that the living Yoga traditions of Hinduism have found their inspiration and the spiritual practices of hundreds of millions of Hindus over the centuries have taken shape.
The Purāṇic Dhruva story is one such well-known story. Dhruva was a young boy of five who was offended by his father the king (see II.12, 51 for this part of the narrative). Desiring revenge due to his kṣatriya, warrior, spirit, the boy took to the forest, where he performed japa on the mantra given to him by his guru Nārada—oṁ namo bhagavate Vāsudevāya—with undeviating concentration. (The devotional traditions typically retain the ancient syllable oṁ, given its correlation with Īśvara and with Brahman, but adjoin to it the specific name of Īśvara they revere, in this case Kṛṣṇa.) As a result of his constant focus, and incredible austerities (see II.51), Viṣṇu appeared to the boy despite his tāmasic motive in undertaking this meditation. Connecting this story with the vitarka stage of samādhi described in I.17, Vijñānabhikṣu remarks that (in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Vaiṣṇava tradition in general), there are two ways of gaining a vision of God through meditative practice, that is, two types of Divine epiphany. God can appear either in an external physical form and be perceived externally by the physical eyes of the dedicated devotee, as in the Dhruva story, or internally to the meditating devotee. Put more precisely in this latter case, the yogi’s awareness can be transported to another non-prākṛtic plane of consciousness (saguṇa Brahman), even as the devoted yogī still retains his physical body, an experience that Vijñānabhikṣu correlates with vitarka meditation:
The direct perception of vitarka-samādhi is different in character from the perception of the form of four-armed Viṣṇu by Dhruva and others attained by the practice of japa and penance, etc. The Supreme Īśvara, being satisfied with the penance and meditation of such [devotees,] … created a body for Himself and manifested before them and interacted with them by talking to them and so forth. Yogīs, on the other hand, by the power of their yoga practice, directly perceive the four-armed body of the Lord situated in the eternal Divine realm, even though they themselves are somewhere else.
Thus Dhruva here experiences both an internal and an external vision of Viṣṇu. It was (and remains) primarily scholastics or dedicated practitioners who would have seriously studied or engaged intellectually with Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras (which remains true for most yoga practitioners in the West today). For everyday Hindus, the teachings of the classical knowledge systems are translated into and transmitted through popular stories. We include here a translation of the episode from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (IV.8.43–9.2) referred to here by Vijñānabhikṣu, which describes part of Dhruva’s mantra meditation and the resulting manifestation of Īśvara (Viṣṇu) before him, as an example of how the technical and esoteric stages of classical yoga are made accessible and come to life in the popular and colorful narratives that form the core of real-life Hindu religious identity. (In III.3 we provide another description of yoga practice from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa using the same form of Īśvara as the ālambana). We take up the narrative where Dhruva’s guru, the great sage Nārada, instructs the child:
… Seated on a prepared seat (āsana).
One should cast off the impurities of the senses, breath and mind by the three practices of prāṇāyāma, one should contemplate (dhyāna) with a steady mind the [Supreme] Teacher (guru, i.e., Īśvara). He has pleasing face and eyes and is always inclined to bestow his grace. He has beautiful nose and eyebrows, charming cheeks, and is the most attractive of the divine forms.
Youthful, with charming limbs, and reddish eyes and lips, he is the refuge of his devotees, the shelter of humankind and an ocean of compassion.
He is a puruṣa, his color is that of a dark cloud, and he bears on his chest the mark of śrīvatsa. He wears a forest garland, and and his four arms bear the conch, discus, club, and lotus flower.
He wears a helmet and earrings, and is bedecked with bracelets and armlets. His neck is adorned with the kaustubha gem, and his garment is of yellow silk.
He sports a belt with dangling bells, and shining golden anklets. He is the most attractive person in existence, serene, and delightful for the mind and eyes to behold.
He is endowed with two feet shining with a row of gemlike nails. He is to be found within, having taken up his seat in the lotus of the heart of his worshippers.198
He is the supreme boon-giver, and one should meditate (dhyāna) on his smiling countenance and loving glances with a steady and concentrated mind.
The mind of one meditating on the most auspicious form of God, Bhagavān, becomes perfected due to this highest form of mental control, and never refrains from meditating.
Now hear the supreme secret mantra which should be chanted (japa). A person reciting this mantra for seven days and nights attains a vision of the siddhas.199
It is: oṁ namo Bhagavate Vāsudevāya.
With this mantra, a wise person should perform the Lord’s worship with devotional offerings, understanding the appropriate articles to use in worship according to place and time.
The Lord manifests in the form of the mantra. One should perform worship in the same manner as he has been worshipped by the ancients, while reciting this intimate mantra …
Dhruva withdrew his mind, which is the support of the senses and their objects, from all other objects. Meditating on the form of God in his heart, he ceased to be aware of anything else …
Then, he observed that form, which was as brilliant as a flash of lightning, [that he had been perceiving internally] in the lotus of his heart on account of his insight honed by dedicated yoga practice, suddenly disappear, and [opening his eyes] he beheld that same form standing externally.
As elsewhere, Vijñānabhikṣu introduces a Vedāntic element to the discussion. As we know, his philosophy is one of bhedābheda, oneness in difference, and he quotes a variety of scriptural passages emphasizing the oneness of the puruṣa with Brahman, or Īśvara—that is, between the soul and God—and a selection of passages focusing on the difference between the two (Vijñānabhikṣu is correlating Brahman with Īśvara here since, in theistic Vedānta, where Brahman is conceived of as a personal being, they are essentially one and the same). In Vijñānabhikṣu’s view, such apparently conflicting statements can be reconciled by holding that puruṣa and Brahman are simultaneously both one and different. As he has attempted to illustrate in previous passages, the oneness of the equation holds good insofar as both are pure consciousness and thus belong to the same class, or category, of existence. However, both Īśvara and puruṣa retain their identities eternally, hence the difference, as Vyāsa will specify in the next verse While this is a Vedāntic concern, it holds for the Yoga tradition (at least with regard to puruṣa and Īśvara).
Vijñānabhikṣu adds that the oneness of puruṣa with Brahman results from the absorption of the consciousness of the former into the latter; in other words, it is a psychological, not an ontological or a metaphysical, oneness. Put differently, the pure puruṣa forgets its own separate existence by being absorbed in thoughts of Īśvara, but this does not mean such a puruṣa actually loses its distinct individuality as certain nondualist schools hold (hence the difference indicated in bhedābheda philosophy). Vijñānabhikṣu quotes the well-known verse
“from the Mahābhārata (XII.306.76) stating that those who are wise worship the twenty-sixth category of existence, Īśvara, not puruṣa, the twenty-fifth. Thus, Īśvara, like puruṣa, is an eternally separate category of reality, and, although the two are alike in nature insofar as both are conscious beings, they are nonetheless eternally separate and distinct individuals. Through repetition of oṁ, and meditation on Īśvara, one can realize the latter as paramātman, the Supreme Soul.
Additionally, in Vijñānabhikṣu’s view, one cannot chant oṁ and meditate on Īśvara at the same time. Therefore, he suggests that oṁ be repeated as a prelude and postlude to devotional meditation. Hariharānanda, on the other hand, holds that the oṁ mantra be recited while thoughts of Īśvara are simultaneously cultivated, because if oṁ is chanted correctly, its designation, Īśvara, automatically comes to mind anyway. In his perspective (which is representative of most bhakti theologies), eventually both the mantra and its referent, Īśvara, come naturally to mind, at which time the devotee is established in Īśvara-praṇidhāna, submission to God.