Yoga sutras I, 17: Types of Samadhi - Samprajnata or distinguished samadhi


[b]I, 17 Vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprnatah

Thorough knowledge
is accompanied by inquiry
into its four forms
analytical thinking about an object,
meditative insights on thoughts,
reflections into the nature of bliss,
and inquiry into one?s essential purity.[/b]

M. Stiles

Up until this sutra, Swami Satchindananda explains that Patanjali describes the theory of Yoga. But now, he begins to describe the highest practice of yoga, samadhi. Thus, he addresses and guides the advanced student.

This student has practiced the external limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pratayahara, pranayama. And has progressed through the internal limbs of yoga: dharana (one pointed concentration), dhyana (the evolution of dharana into a continuous flow of awareness = meditation), samadhi (the merging of dhyana with the object of meditation; absorption in the spirit).

This sutra describes the practice of samprajnata or distinguished samadhi. Samprajnata leads into the asamprajnata or undistinguished samadhi which is described in sutra I, 18. The practice of samprajnata samadhi requires an understanding of nature or Prakriti because samprajnata is an involutionary practice. The evolution of prakriti from the unmanifest (or avyakta) to manifest begins with the ego, then mind, then the subtle elements (tanmatras), to finally the gross elements. Understanding Prakriti allows one to go beyond prakriti.

Swami Shyam divides samprajnata samadhi into four types:

  1. Savitarka samadhi. In this type, the mind is focused on a concrete object or a gross form of the object. (analytical thinking). For example, Physicists studying the atom discovered atomic energy (Sw. Satchindananda)

  2. Nivitarka samadhi. In this type, the mind ?no longer holds its idea of what the name, form and knowledge of the object are.? (page 13)

  3. Savichara samadhi. In this type, the mind is focused on the subtle elements or tanmatras of an object; (meditative insights on thoughts). For example, the contemplation of color or concepts of love (Sw. Satchidananda)

  4. Nivichara samadhi. In this type, the mind ?no longer holds its idea of the name, form and knowledge of that thought.? (page 13) Nivichara samadhi can be further divided into
    a. sa-ananda samadhi = inquiry into bliss during which there is
    i. an awareness of peace and joy
    ii. a lack of awareness of words, meanings, time, space
    b. sa-asmita samadhi = inquiry into the state of ?I? during which there is
    i. an awareness of the vritti of asmi, the source of ahamkara (beyond the ego)
    ii. a lack of awareness of peace and joy

Sw. Satchindananda cautions that the practice of samprajnata samadhi must be pure and selfless or else the practioner or sadhaka will abuse their new found powers and abilities.

Iyengar, B.K.S., Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New Delhi, India: Harper Collins Publications India. 1993

Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications. 2004
Swami Shyam, Patanjali Yog Darshan, India: International Meditation Institute, 2001, 3rd. edition.

Stiles, M., Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Boston, MA: Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. 2002


This is certainly one of the most elusive sutra’s of Patanjali. Unless one has passed through these spiritual experiences, how is one to understand them? Georg Feuerstein has published an illustration which illustrates these stages of samadhi (Chapter 10, p. 253 of The Yoga Tradition). Other than that, I would like to quote Wittgenstein here: << Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, dar?ber muss man schweigen. (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent).>>


This is one of the sutras that has a rather different translation to the one I studied (by Desikachar), which what “Then the object is gradually understood fully. At first it is at a more superficial leve. In time, comprehension becomes deeper. And finally it is total. There is pure joy in reaching such a depth of understanding. For then the individual is so much at one with the objet that he is oblivious to his surroundings.” This translation seems to be about how the processes is experienced rather than what the process is, as Mukunda explains. I agree with Willem that until one has experienced some of this meditative stages mere words do not make sense (at least to me!). As Desikachar says “But comprehension is incomplete ntil we have achieved perception at the depest level without any errors”. So until we have experienced we won’t truly understand.


Well I’ve just read some of Taimni’s commentary on this sutra, fascinating, a lifetime’s work perhaps. In the last paragraph, he compares the knowledge attained from this and subsequent sutras to a map of a country. A map doesn’t give us ideas of landscape or scenery merely relative positions and contours. To know the country we have to visit it ourselves. In the same way, if we wish to know about higher planes, we have to ?practise Samadhi and come into direct touch with them through their respective vehicles.? This knowledge is direct and incommunicable!!!

The Science of Yoga I K Taimni The Theosophical Publishing House 2005 p.41


To understand this sutra I found the easiest explanation to be that of B.K.S. Iyengar, when he likens it to our progression in the practise of asana. He expains how our asana practice progresses through Vitarka: its hit and miss, to Vicara: we are using investigation discrimination and experience, to Ananda: “movement is at once centripetal and centrifugal. This integrity brings bliss.” It’s like going from a state of effort to non-effort “the asana then rests only on the inner self which is poise: the only support is asmita”. To relate this progression to the consciousness is quite a challenge for me.