Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.43
स्मृतिपरिशुद्धौ स्वरूपशून्येवार्थमात्रनिर्भासा निर्वितर्का ॥४३॥
smṛti-pariśuddhau sva-rūpa-śūnya-iva-artha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā ||43||
Nirvitarka is when memory is purified, as if emptied of its own form, and the object alone shines forth.
Nirvitarka [samāpatti], “absorption without conceptualization,” occurs when memory has been purged and the mind is empty, as it were, of its own [reflective] nature. Now only the object [of meditation] shines forth [in its own right].
Vyāsa explains that when the mind has been purged of all saṁskāric memory in terms of any recognition of what the object of meditation is, or what its name or function are, smṛti–pariśuddhau, that is, when it allows itself to be colored exclusively by the object of focus itself without any cognitive analysis of the object’s place in the greater scheme of things and without the normal instinctive impulse to identify it and recall its name, then the yogī has attained the stage of nirvitarka–samāpatti, or nirvitarka–samādhi. In this state, the mind has also given up its own nature of being an organ of knowledge, svarūpa–śūnya, in other words, awareness is not even aware of the mind as being an instrument channeling awareness onto an object. In a sense, all knowledge of the object as conventionally understood has been suspended, and the mind has completely transformed itself into the object, free from any cognitive identification or self-awareness. The object can now shine forth in its own right as an object with its own inherent existence, artha–mātra–nirbhāsa, free from labels, categorizations, or situatedness in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, we can note that the object has in effect become the yogī’s entire universe, since awareness is focused exclusively on it and is thus unaware of anything else, even the cognitive process itself.
A brief discussion of the two stages of conventional perception as understood by a number of Indic philosophical traditions, including (with differences in vocabulary) Sāṅkhya, is useful here. In essence, when for instance, one ambles along the road and encounters an unexpected object, one first becomes aware of it in a vague sort of way, as raw sense data, without assigning a name or identification to it, like the preconceptual awareness of an infant. After this moment, the mind processes the data, and memory saṁskāras identify the object in terms of its specific name, the category of thing that it is, and its function in the grand scheme of things, for example, “This is a red clay pot for carrying water.” The first stage of indeterminate awareness is called nirvikalpa, and the second, savikalpa. Thus, in conventional perception, nirvikalpa–pratyakṣa, preverbal, preconceptual awareness, is followed by savikalpa–pratyakṣa, the recognition of name, category, and function of an object, the latter being considered a more exact form of cognition. In samādhi the reverse holds true—savitarka, when there is still awareness of an object’s name and function, is superseded by nirvitarka, where the object stands out freed from the mental clutter of naming, identification, and recognition. Thus, in contrast to mundane perception, in samādhi, nirvitarka is considered to be a higher level of awareness.
By definition, then, nirvitarka–samādhi is a state beyond the ability of words and concepts to describe (so a commentary on sūtras such as this is a priori somewhat oxymoronic). Vijñānabhikṣu adds that words and ideas are subject to error, and thus so are inference and scripture, since they are composed of words. Therefore, one must turn to a guru who has experienced such states. Even then, says Vijñānabhikṣu, despite the fact that the guru may have realized the true nature of things, it is not possible to give experiential insight into such things through words, any more than one can convey the actual taste of sugarcane and milk through words to one who has not experienced them. Therefore, ultimately, one returns to the yogic truism that one must experience these states for oneself. Analyses such as this are useful only insofar as they might inspire individuals to take up the actual practice of yoga.
When one has attained this stage, says Hariharānanda, one loses any attachment to wealth and family, etc., as one sees all such things as essentially combinations of elements and subtle energies.