3.1 – Concentration is fixing one’s flow of consciousness on a chosen point of focus.

देशबन्धः चित्तस्य धारणा ॥१॥

deshah bandhah chittasya dharana

  • deshah – place; region; location
  • bandhah – fixing; binding;
  • chittasya – of consciousness
  • dharana – concentration; steadiness

3.2 – Meditation is an unbroken flow of consciousness toward the chosen point of focus.

तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम् ॥२॥

tatra pratyaya ekatanata dhyanam

  • tatra – there; therein; in that
  • pratyaya – contents of consciousness; mental content; notion; cognition; conception
  • ekatanata – one string or cord; one continuous flow
  • dhyanam – meditation; the undisturbed flow of concentration

3.3 – When that point of focus becomes devoid of form, and only its essence shines forth, that is samadhi.

तदेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिवसमाधिः ॥३॥

tad eva artha matra nirbhasam svarupa shunyam iva samadhih

  • tad – that
  • eva – same; way; like
  • artha – purpose; meaning; an object
  • matra – only; alone
  • nirbhasam – illuminating; shining
  • svarupa – nature; quality; essence; appearance; original form
  • shunyam – devoid of; empty of
  • iva – like; as
  • samadhih – unity consciousness; union of subject and object; bringing together; deep absorption

Alternate translation:

When the field of consciousness becomes devoid of form, and the essence of the point of focus alone shines forth, that is samadhi.

Commentary on Sutras 3.1—3.3

We begin the third chapter with the climax of the eight-limbed system Patanjali began to lay out in chapter 2. As we’ll see in Sutra 3.7, these final three limbs are more internal than the previous five.

We have an easy, comfortable posture, our breathing is calm and refined, and we are directing our attention inward, away from the senses. Now, we’re ready to go deeper.

The sixth limb is concentration (dharana). Yogic concentration is not a forced, herculean effort to clamp down on the object of meditation. It’s the gentle direction of attention toward a singular point.

That point, the object of meditation, gives the mind a place to rest. It can be something outside ourselves, such as a candle flame, a statue or photograph, or a mandala or yantra. It can also be something more subtle and internal such as the breath, a mantra, or an energy center within the body, such as the naval center, heart chakra, spiritual eye, or crown.

Concentration is the beginning stage of focusing on the chosen object. A common metaphor that depicts this stage is water dripping from a faucet. The spaces between the drops represent the breaks in our flow of attention. Our attention wanders (space), and we bring it back (drop). It wanders again (more space), and we bring it back again (another drop), and so on.

As our practice deepens, we enter the next stage of the process, meditation (dhyana). Meditation is an unbroken flow of concentration toward the object of meditation. And this has been described as pouring oil from one container to another. Unlike drops of water falling from a faucet, the stream of oil is steady and appears almost motionless.

Meditation, as defined by Patanjali, is much different than how many people think of it today. It’s more than a basic relaxation technique. It’s a steady, tranquil, unbroken flow of our attention. And that flow eventually clears away everything other than the object of meditation.

In that state, which is samadhi, our field of consciousness appears to have no nature of its own. It’s like gazing into a pond on a windless day when no ripples are present, and the surface is like glass. We don’t even notice the water, only the sun’s reflection from above.

As we learned in chapter 1, samadhi has different stages. The one being described here in the eighth limb of yoga is sabija samadhi, samadhi with a supporting object. The higher samadhi (nirbija samadhi), which will naturally unfold as we progress on the path, is without the support of an object. In that state, the Self alone shines forth.