Frequently asked questions

Q: Here is what I understand of the progression in Yoga:
  1. Dharana (focus on one “object”, often drifts to other things but comes back to the object)
  2. Dhyana (uninterrupted focus on the “object”)
  3. Samadhi (Subject merges with object)
      Is Samyama quick cycling of (1)-(3) on different “Objects”? Is this different from the full blown Yoga? It appears like you go from steps 1-2-3 in stages.
 
 
Answer: 
 
In context of the 3rd chapter of the Yoga Sutras, these are not steps of progression in Yoga; rather, they are the components of samyama. Also:
  1. Dharana is a steady focus on a particular point or object. If the mind drifts to other things, it is no longer is dharana.
  2. Dhyana or meditation is a continuous flow of similar “mental modifications” within that steady focus of dharana. The point is that meditation is based on the steady focus of dharana, but adds another feature: a smooth and continuous a flow of awareness within that steady focus. Generally, that flow is to subtler and subtler states.
  3. Samadhi suggests two things here:
    1. The subject merges with the object so only the object remains and the subject disappears, so the meditator forgets himself completely. He is at that point selfless/emptiness.
    2.  What is that state of selflessness and emptiness, yet awareness? Pure consciousness. So Samadhi here also means pure consciousness.

So is samyama a quick cycling of 1 – 3? No. Actually, samyama means all three together simultaneously.  How is that possible? Very easily. In fact, that is the secret of samayama–it is an effortless, but ever so delicate process. So let’s look at it closer.

We’ve already explained how dharana and dhyana can exist simultaneously. This happens even when you meditate with a mantra: at times your focus is on the mantra alone with no other thoughts, but the mantra is becoming fainter and fainter, so there is flow. That is dharana and dhyana, simultaneously. Now in the beginning days of meditation, when you get so absorbed in the mantra that you transcend completely, the mantra disappears and you are momentarily left in a state of no mantra, no thought, yet you are not asleep. You have forgotten yourself, the mantra, and there is no thought. That is a dim state of pure awareness as a beginner experiences it. As you continue to meditate, over the months and years, that pure awareness starts to become more and more clear and also starts to “stick,” so that even while other thoughts are there, or even while the mantra is there, the inner light of pure awareness is also there. When this becomes more vivid, it is called sakshi bhava, the witness state. This means the veil of ego/mind is getting much thinner. This means the thought of self is much less. In fact, as this state matures, if you try to locate the ego in your experience, you can’t. When you look for the self, you only find emptiness. So that is the beginning of sahaja samadhi, or natural abidance in samadhi.

Now, let’s back up a bit. even while that state of pure awareness is just starting to develop, there can be some value of it sticking while the mind is in a very subtle state, such as during meditation or during the practice of the siddhis. So, if you have been meditating for some months or years, and are at a very fine, effortless state of awareness of the object of samyama (say, for example, the feeling of compassion), your attention can be steadily focused on a feeling of compassion; at the same time, that awareness of compassion can be flowing to a subtler state–it is not a stagnant focus, and at the same time, you can lose awareness of yourself or the process of thinking; that is, the value of emptiness of self, or pure consciousness is there. This is samyama. All three, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, taken together simultaneously.

Q: It seems like you go from the 3 steps of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi in stages, right?

Answer:

Definitely samyama evolves in stages! But again, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi aren’t separate “steps” of samyama; they are the three pieces that make up the whole that is samyama. They are practiced (or experienced, as it is effortless) simultaneously.

But about the stages of practice, you are exactly right: Patanjali actually says that “Samyama is to be applied to the successive stages of practice.” 3:6  This means the experience develops over time with practice and as one purifies and becomes subtler and absorbs ever more prana/shakti into the pancha kosha or layers of your being. At first samyama can seem rather vague. But gradually, it becomes more clear, and you start to get the predicted result of samyama more clearly. Eventually, samyama becomes very clear and indescribably subtle and powerful. It is effortless, but dharana gains the power of spontaneous, laser-focused attention; dhyana is the flow of a powerful current of quantum state (subtlest value) awareness, and you are established in the all-pervasive universal cosmic consciousness. All three together. Simultaneously. That is a more advanced stage of practice of samyama. And still there is a ways to go, as you continue to open the channels between pure consciousness and the layers of your being, the pancha kosha.

So, there are 4 classes of yogis:

  1. Prathama-kalpika: Those dedicated to practice, in whom clear, subtle perception and some degree of pure awareness is just dawning.
  2. Madhu-bhumika: Those who have gained substantial clarity at subtle levels of awareness, so they have rtambhara wisdom: truth-filled perception. They can know, intuit, and experience, what they wish.
  3. Prajna-jyoti: They have opened a great deal of coordination between consciousness and the pancha kosha, such that they have mastery over the elements and many of the siddhis, and they are dedicated to gaining further attainments.
  4. Atikranta-bhavaniya: They have gone beyond any wish for any attainments or anything whatsoever. They only wish for the permanent elimination of mind and abidance in the Ultimate.

Q: Is samyama the same as “full-blown yoga”?

Answer:

If you mean is it the same as liberation, no. Is it the same as seedless samadhi? No. Yet in its mature stages, samyama is beyond what most practicing “yoga” and meditation can even conceive of. And the reason Patanjali dedicates 1/4 of his Yoga Sutras to samyama is because it leads to liberation and full-blown yoga.

Q: Why is samyama important?

Answer: 

In the grand scheme of things (relative to liberation or enlightenment), gaining the yogic powers or siddhis is not that important. In a way, it’s like learning any skill really well, like becoming great at ping-pong or chess. BUT what is important is that the practice of samyama is a powerful method to integrate consciousness/prana-shakti into the layers of your being, the pancha kosha (5 sheaths):

  1. Annamaya kosha – physical body
  2. Pranamaya kosha – pranic body
  3. Manomaya kosha – mind (emotions too)
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha – wisdom sheath, consisting of subtle faculties of intellect/senses
  5. Anandamaya kosha – sheath of bliss

By integrating consciousness/prana-shakti into the layers of your being, you open all the chakras and nadis much more quickly, and you transform on all levels of your being. You raise your consciousness so much faster. And when you think of great yogis, who are not only enlightened but possess unlimited abilities, that is due to that full integration. Anything is possible with such integration. Anything means anything! Whereas it is entirely possible to have full enlightenment without the siddhis and that full integration. The koshas are purified to a degree, but the person hasn’t taken the trouble to accomplish that integration.

This makes a difference in the character of your enlightened life and how it can manifest in the world while you are alive. It also makes a difference as to what is possible when you drop the body (die). Dropping the body enlightened without that integration means you drop the body and what is left? The Self. You merge in the Infinite. Dropping the body with that integration means you have many possibilities depending on the degree of integration achieved.