1.17 – Lower states of samadhi can be accompanied by objects such as gross or subtle thoughts, bliss states, and a sense of individual existence.

वितर्कविचारानन्दास्मितारुपानुगमात्संप्रज्ञातः ॥१७॥

vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah

  • vitarka – gross thought; reasoning; doubts; false thinking; destructive thinking
  • vichara – subtle thought; idea; inquiry
  • ananda – bliss; joy; ecstasy
  • asmita – egoism; a mistaken self-identity; the sense of being an “I”; a sense of being a separate, isolated, independent entity
  • rupa – form; appearance
  • anugamat – accompanied by; following
  • samprajnatah – preliminary states of samadhi

1.18 – In the other (higher samadhi), which comes after practicing the first, all mental content has ceased. Only latent psychic impressions remain.

विरामप्रत्ययाभ्यासपूर्वः संस्कारशेषोऽन्यः ॥१८॥

virama pratyaya abhyasa purvah samskara shesha anyah

  • virama – cessation; termination; pause
  • pratyaya – contents of consciousness; mental content; notion; cognition; conception
  • abhyasa – training; practice; discipline; habit; drill
  • purvah – prior; previous; former time
  • samskara – psychic impressions; forming the mind; conditionings
  • shesha – remain; residue; leftover
  • anyah – other; different

1.19 – Whether absorbed in that which transcends the body, or with the primordial field of nature, one will once again become involved with the contents of consciousness (due to the activation of latent psychic impressions).

भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानम् ॥१९॥

bhava pratyayah videha prakriti layanam

  • bhava – become
  • pratyayah – contents of consciousness; mental content; notion; cognition; conception
  • videha – bodiless
  • prakriti – primordial field of nature; root; mother; origin
  • layanam – dissolution; absorption into

Commentary on Sutras 1.17—1.19

These sutras introduce us to samadhi, the core direction of yoga training. Samadhi means “to collect” or “to bring together.” In the highest sense, it’s the bringing together of our attention with Awareness Itself. Defined in this way, it is synonymous with the meaning of yoga.

When we sit to meditate, we choose an object to focus on. That could be an external object such as a candle flame, mandala, yantra, statue, or photograph. It could be an internal object such as a mantra, chakra, or the breath. Or it could be an even subtler object, such as the perception of inner light, inner sound, the sensation of bliss or ecstasy, or the sense of I-ness (self-existence).

Throughout a meditation session, we may shift our attention from a gross object to a finer one, such as from a mantra to the perception of inner sound. Or, we may stay with the same point of focus but experience finer and finer levels of it.

Whatever our chosen object may be, we begin by withdrawing our attention from our external environment and then concentrating it on that object. When we’ve established a smooth, unbroken flow of attention toward the object, that is called meditation. And when we reach a point when our attention becomes fully united with the object, that is samadhi.

During the first stages of samadhi, we may still experience gross or subtle thoughts. There may be a sense of a “me” who is sitting in meditation. Or, as subtle forces rise and our consciousness expands, there could be feelings of ecstatic bliss. These are all still fluctuations in our field of consciousness.

The first stages of samadhi require the support of an object and are called sabija (with seed) samadhi. The higher form of samadhi mentioned in Sutra 1.18 requires no support and is called nirbija (without seed) samadhi.

In nirbija samadhi, the yogi has transcended the object of meditation. In that state, only the pure recognition of oneness remains.

While this is the highest form of samadhi, it’s not the end of the yogic path. Dormant impressions in consciousness (samskaras) still exist. Those impressions will eventually become active, and the yogi will fall into lower states.

As we descend, we become identified again with the objective world—our bodies, minds, personalities, occupations, possessions, etc. But the practice of meditation, and its culmination in the various states of samadhi, create new positive impressions in consciousness. Coming back to our practice over and over reinforces those impressions and builds a strong tendency (vasana) toward samadhi.

The more we practice, the weaker our false identities become, and the more we begin to abide in a state of Self-awareness.