Yoga is a metaphysical philosophy that emerged in ancient India in response to those seeking happiness and freedom. In order to accomplish this, the intention of yoga is the control of the activities of the field of the mind. It is not to control the mind for the sake of controlling the mind. Rather, it is to refine the mind to such a subtle level that one attains personal firsthand experiential knowledge of the dualistic nature of existence.
In sutras 17 to 22, Patanjali introduces the concept of samadhi, the state of super consciousness that arises when the mind is brought under control by systematically moving inward and becomes quiet enough to experience the true Self. First, the seeker concentrates on an object or a seed of thought, and then advances to objectless or seedless concentration. There are technically seven progressive levels of samadhi that will be brought forth by the end of the Samadhi Pada and divided into two categories. Samprajnata samadhi is samadhi with seed, sabija, of which there are six levels. Asamprajnata samadhi is samadhi without seed, nirbija, and is the highest level.
Patanjali explains the process of samprajnata samadhi as one in which we meditate through four psychic levels. First, the mind is absorbed in gross thought or conjecture, vitarka. Next, the mind becomes absorbed in subtle thought or reflection, vichara. Then, the mind becomes absorbed in bliss or enjoyment, ananda. Then, the mind becomes absorbed in the I-am-ness feeling or the ego, asmita.
When the mind withdraws from the gross, the subtle is experienced. When the mind withdraws further, the subtle falls away and there is joy and bliss because the activities of the mind are not being experienced. What is left is the I, our true nature, the experiencer of that joy and bliss.
According to the ancient commentators, when we progressively become aware of the nature of material existence from the gross elements and organs to the subtle senses and the intellect, we realize we are not that. Rather, we stand in the true I, the alternative dimension of being, spiritual consciousness: purusha.
Samadhi, then, is not unattainable or elusive to the everyday seeker. In fact, the moment we sit down to meditate we are in vitarka, absorbed in gross thought. The process of samadhi is active and is designed to clear the perception that what we experience with our senses is real, i.e., the external physical material world. What is real, then, is internal, our spiritual being. This notion forms the basis for future sutras, most importantly the concept of avidya, the unenlightened state in which spiritual ignorance prevails.
Asamprajnata samadhi is called anya, which means “other,” because the term asamprajnata is not used in the Yoga Sutras. Asamprajnata is preceded by control over the vrittis so that only latent impressions of thought, samskaras, remain. The mind appears to be without seed, without object or subject of support. This is the highest state of knowing, a kind of super conscious experience that lies so far beyond waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, that words fail to describe it fully. The activities of the mind are completely controlled, the highest form of detachment, desirelessness, is attained, knowledge of the true Self arises, and freedom emerges.
Patanjali next describes two kinds of people who have reached asamprajnata samadhi but are experiencing their rebirth while having yet to reach the highest state of happiness and freedom, kaivalyam, or liberation. The first are the videhas, or those without a gross body. The second are the prakritilayas, those who have merged with prakriti but have not finished their life cycle. This sutra applies to few people, so Patanjali offers a five-fold methodology that could be adopted by the rest of us who wish to continue on the path.
The five prerequisites for attaining samadhi are shradda, virya, smriti, samadhi, and prajna. Each of these principles leads into the next. Shraddha is conviction that arises out of the pursuit of truth through effort on the path of yoga. This is not blind faith. Rather, it is a firm belief based on inner certainty. The Bhagavad Gita says that the one with shraddha reaches the highest of all knowledge. And there is a passage in the Vedas that says that shraddha is the most precious gem on the top of knowledge, on top of the most supreme, the most essential truth. The gem is the understanding of the distinction between purusha and prakriti.
Once experiential conviction arises, shraddha engenders virya, vigor and enthusiasm, to carry within on this path. It is the energy behind shradda. Virya brings about smriti. In this context, smriti is defined as mindfulness, persistent concentration that is always totally and completely focused on remembering the goal of yoga.
Smriti begets samadhi. In this context, samadhi is used generically. It is the practice of mental absorption with the intention to continually purify the mind. And finally, samadhi gives rise to prajna, the unchanging realization of the true nature of existence. This higher wisdom is born out of discrimination between purusha and prakriti and is gained via the state of samadhi.
The speed of the practice and the level of enthusiasm for yoga determine progress on the path toward realizing the Self. And further, the practice can be mild, medium, or extreme. And because of that, the sutras say that is it possible for all yoga devotees to attain the ultimate goal of yoga: happiness and freedom.