3.4 – When concentration, meditation, and samadhi function as one, that is samyama.

त्रयमेकत्र संयमः ॥४॥

trayam ekatra samyama

  • trayam – three parts
  • ekatra – as one
  • samyama – the perfect integration of consciousness; the uniting of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi

3.5 – Through the mastery of samyama, wisdom dawns.

तज्जयात् प्रज्ञालोकः ॥५॥

tad jayat prajna alokah

  • tad – that
  • jayat – victory; mastery
  • prajna – wisdom; intuitive insight
  • alokah – light; sight

3.6 – The application of samyama occurs in stages.

तस्य भूमिषु विनियोगः ॥६॥

tasya bhumisu viniyogah

  • tasya – of that; his; her
  • bhumisu – stage; ground; land; place
  • viniyogah – application; use

Commentary on Sutras 3.4—3.6:

Samyama is perfect concentration. It’s the process of completely absorbing one’s attention in the object of meditation. As this occurs, the field of consciousness becomes still and reflective, the object alone shines forth, and the yogi gains insight into the nature of that object.

That occurs in the stages mentioned in the previous sutras. First, one begins to flow attention toward the object of meditation (concentration). The flow of attention eventually becomes seamless (meditation). Finally, the yogi’s attention merges with the object (samadhi). We can unpack that process of merging into even more stages.

In chapter 1, Patanjali covered various levels of samadhi. Those were:

  • Savitarka samadhi – partial absorption with a gross object (while thoughts are still present)
  • Nirvitarka samadhi – full absorption with a gross object (when all thoughts have subsided)
  • Savichara samadhi – partial absorption with a subtle object
  • Nirvichara samadhi – full absorption with a subtle object

The practice of samyama becomes more and more refined as the yogi progresses through these object-supported stages of samadhi.

For example, we could take the mantra OM as our object of meditation. To begin our practice, we establish a stable and comfortable posture, use a breathing technique to calm the breath, withdraw our attention from the senses, and then proceed with our contemplation of OM.

We could start by chanting OM aloud. At first, the mind will wander. Each time that happens, we gently bring it back to the mantra. We may have to repeat the process over and over for a while. But assuming we are consistent and proficient in our yoga practice, our concentration will eventually form a steady flow. At some point, that flow will give way to absorption in the chanting.

There may be some thoughts present during the beginning stages of that chanting. Since we’ve been chanting aloud, this stage could be considered a form of savitarka samadhi (samadhi with a gross object). Then even the thoughts subside, and there’s nothing left but the sound of OM riding on the voice. That is an example of nirvitarka samadhi (full absorption with a gross object).

From there, the mantra may soften more and more until it becomes just a whisper. Then we could recite it internally, listening to subtler and subtler levels of its sound until it’s almost nonexistent.

Again, that process could go from partial absorption with the subtle recitation of OM (savichara samadhi) to full absorption on a very fine aspect of the sound (nirvichara samadhi).

We could also travel through the same levels while focusing on a yantra or mandala. To do this, we would begin with our eyes open, gazing at the physical painting, then close our eyes and imagine the yantra within, and then let the yantra fade until just the essential felt quality of it remains.

As we’ll see throughout this chapter, we can apply samyama to practically any object we choose. It’s an advanced form of practice that takes time and patience to develop. But if we are intensive enough in our training, samyama will naturally unfold.