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Three stages of transformation during meditation

Prakriti, as we know, is a composite of three gunas – sattva (purity), rajas (action, movement) and tamas (dullness etc.). These three gunas are in a constant state of flux all the time. The dominance of one guna over the other keeps shifting from moment to moment. Since the mind is also a part of Prakriti, it also is going through constant change all the time due to changes in the gunas. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has given the name "vritti" to these constant fluctuations going on in the mind.

Patanjali, in sutra 1.2, gives the definition of yoga as "that state of the mind wherein these constantly changing vrittis have been restrained or subdued and the mind can stay in a state of stillness" – yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ ॥2॥ (sutra 1.2). Patanjali has given the eight limbs of yoga as the means to achieve that state of stillness of the mind. Of these eight limbs, the most important and essential is the practice of meditation. As given in chapter 3, the broad category of "meditation" is actually a continuum of three practices called dharana (initial focus/concentration), dhyana (one-pointed contemplation, also called meditation), and samadhi (final state of absorption). When these three are practiced together, it is called "samyama" (sutra 3.4). In this article, I’ll be using the term "meditation" to imply the practice of these three stages of meditation – dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

In this article, I will be talking about the various stages of transformation that the mind goes through as we continue to deepen the practice of meditation.

Whether you are a casual meditator or a seasoned one, you are familiar with the constant chatter that the mind likes to go back to despite your best efforts to stay focused on the object of meditation (mantra, for example). During this stage of meditation the mind keeps going back to the people, events and thoughts related to the mundane day-to-day life – work, family, shopping, planning for a party and so on. Patanjali used the term "sarvarthata" (all-pointedness) to refer to the state of the mind in constant flux due to mundane thoughts. So, as meditators, our first job is to try to bring the mind from this state of sarvarthata (all-pointedness) to ekagrata (one-pointedness). However, the mind continues to go back and forth between these two states. After prolonged practice we may achieve the state wherein all-pointedness begins to diminish and we are able to maintain the state of ekagrata for some length of time. Patanjali terms this as "samadhi parinama" or "samadhi transformation" (sutra 3.11):

सर्वार्थतैकाग्रतयोः क्षयोदयौ चित्तस्य समाधिपरिणामः॥११॥

sarvārthatā ekāgrātayoḥ kṣayodayau cittasya samādhi-pariṇāmaḥ ॥11॥

"Diminishing of all-pointedness and appearance of one-pointedness in the mind is called samadhi transformation".

When the practice becomes more sustained and deeper, we may attain a state wherein the mind may be fluctuating between successive states of one-pointedness. Which means that the mind is no longer bothered by mundane day-to-day thoughts which was the cause of all-pointedness. Patanjali calls this as "ekagrata parinama" or "transformation of one-pointedness" .

ततः पुनः शान्तोदितौ तुल्यप्रत्ययौ चित्तस्यैकाग्रतापरिणामः॥१२॥

tataḥ punaḥ śātoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasya-ekāgratā-pariṇāmaḥ ॥12॥

"When the same content of the mind (object of meditation) subsides and rises again in the mind, it is called transformation of one-pointedness".

As we know everything that goes on in the mind leaves an impression in our subconscious called samskaras. Even the state of one-pointedness leaves its own samskara in the mind called the samskara of one-pointedness. The term one-pointedness implies that in this state we still have an object of meditation in the mind. Our goal, however, is to reach the state of complete "nirodha" as defined in the very definition of yoga mentioned above (sutra 1.2). With sustained practice of meditation we may be able to attain the state of nirodha (total cessation of thought or the object of meditation). As can be imagined, even the state of nirodha leaves its own impression or samskara called "nirodha samskara".

While in this state of transition between successive states of one-pointedness, or one-pointedness and nirodha (total suppression) there is still a possibility of thoughts erupting in the mind due to some deep-seated samskaras (past impressions) in our subconscious. At this stage, we have been able to eliminate all thoughts arising as a result of "sarvarthata" or all-pointedness, as mentioned above. Patanjali gives the name "vyutthana" (rising thoughts) to these eruptions from the deep levels of subconscious in the mind while we try to attain the state of nirodha (total suppression). When there is gradual diminishing of these rising thoughts (vyutthana) and the appearance of nirodha samskara, this transformation is called "nirodha parinama" or "nirodha transformation" (sutra 3.9).

व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोः अभिभवप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षण चित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः ॥९॥

vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskārayoḥ abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodhakṣaṇa cittānvayo nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ ॥9॥

"When there is gradual diminishing of the rising thoughts (vyutthana) and the appearance of nirodha samskara, this transformation of the mind while connected with the moment of nirodha is called "nirodha parinama" or nirodha transformation".

The three transformations can thus be summed up as follows:

Samadhi Parinama (transformation) = From "sarvarthata" (all-pointedness) to "ekagrata" (one-pointedness)

Ekagrata (one-pointedness) Parinama (transformation) = ekagrata to ekagrata

Nirodha (total suppression) Parinama = vyutthana (rising of subliminal impressions or ekagrata impressions) to nirodha impressions

For most of us, we continue to strive to attain the initial transformation called the "samadhi parinama" wherein we try to subdue the mundane, day-to-day thoughts, the state of the mind termed "sarvarthata", to ekagrata (one-pointedness). This could be roughly approximated to the initial stages of the "samprajnata samadhi" (samadhi with awareness of the object of meditation) as given in sutra 1.17.

From a practical point of view, we need to develop a regular and uninterrupted practice of meditation. In the early stages of the practice, the mind continues to race through the thoughts that relate to the day-to-day activities in our lives. As the practice deepens we begin to experience brief periods of one-pointedness when the mind is able to stay with the object of meditation for some length of time. This is the beginning of the samadhi parinama state given above. This will correspond to what Patanjali has termed as "savitarka samadhi" as defined in sutra 1.42. Once we get there, then deepening the practice further can lead us to the subsequent stages of transformation.

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