Dharana, Dhyana, Savikalpa & Nirvikalpa Samadhi in Advaita Vedanta (47)


Lesson 47 lists 8 steps of Patanjali Yoga Sutras (ashtanga yoga) in light of Vedanta non-duality. Subject matter is Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (Meditation) and Samadhi (Absorption). And WHAT is to be done during meditation.

Source: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, verse 18, 19 and Patañjali Yoga Sūtrās

Patañjali Yoga Sūtra 8-Steps of aṣṭāṅga-yoga:

  1. Yamaḥ (niṣedha): Avoided. Don’ts
    1. Ahimsa: Avoid injuring others. Give up violence, physical, verbal, mental. Why? Because mind is disturbed. What you do to mirror, it will do to you. Hurt mirror, mirror hurts you. Not in visible manner, but invisible manner.
    2. Satyam: Give up speaking untruth. Give up falsehood at thought/verbal level.
    3. Asteyam: Non-stealing. Never possess anything which doesn't legitimately belong to you. Any benefit I gain through unfair deal is a stolen benefit. Whether others recognize or not, Bhagavān recognizes stealing.
      • If someone deserves a salary, and I don't give right amount in order to save up, the saved money is stolen.
    4. Brahmacaryam: Give up inappropriate attitude/relationship towards opposite sex.
    5. Aparigrahaḥ: Not possessing excess of anything (money, fame, power, responsibilities, food, etc)
      • Parigrahaḥ: Possessing too much. Amassing wealth. Even if legitimately earning, according to śāstra, one has to share with society. If not sharing, big imbalance between rich/poor in society.
  2. Niyamaḥ (vidhi): Followed in daily life. Do's.
    1. Śaucam: Purity within/without (internal/external)
    1. Saṃtoṣaḥ: Contentment, with whatever I legitimately earn. Never compare with other people.
    2. Svādhyāyaḥ: Scriptural study.
    3. Tapaḥ: Austerity. Simple living. Non-pompous/luxurious living. Observing moderation.
    4. Īśvara praṇidhānam: Surrender to God.
      • What does “surrender to God” mean? Surrendering to laws of karma. God means “laws of karma which keeps universe in harmony”. This includes physical/moral orders (all of Bhagavān's). Meaning whatever I experience in life is what I deserve (every experience one goes through, from happiest to most torturing). Everything happens according to moral order of Īśvara.
      • NOTE: God/Īśvara/Bhagavān/Lord are all synonymous words. They're used interchangeably to appeal to different minds.
      • What does it mean to “ACCEPT the  laws of karma” (God)? It means to NOT resist/criticize any experience. “I accept whatever I receive as will of God.”
        • EG: We can improve future, because it hasn't yet come. But whatever has already come, is Īśvara's will. Acceptance of Īśvara's will, is acceptance of “Law of Karma”, is acceptance of every bit of my experience.
      • So “Acceptance of what-is” means:
        • To not allow/let experience to create bitterness, anger, hatred, inferiority, jealousy in the mind… towards oneself/another.
        • To not allow/let experience to generate negative emotion towards what HAS happened.
        • Acceptance produces cheerfulness, which is possible by thinking of: “What I get is what I deserve. I can't blame anyone”.
        • All one can do is pray to God to give strength to face the inevitable in the future because of one's prārabdha karma.
        • In Sanskrit, surrender is called: śaraṇāgati / praṇidhānam / prapatiḥ


  • Last 3 niyama put together is called: Kriyā Yoga. Another name for Karma Yoga.
    • SFR (Self-Realization Fellowship) institution uses word “Kriyā Yogaḥ”, which is nothing but practice taken from Patañjali Yoga Sūtrās.
    • According to Patañjali, Kriyā Yoga = Tapas +  Svādhyāyaḥ + Īśvara praṇidhānam… which in Bhagavad Gītā in equated to Karma Yoga
  • Following yama/niyama, makes one cultured/decent person. Whose able to meditate.


  1. Āsana:
    • Training oneself to sit in posture for length of time. Old days āsana was easy because we were always moving. Today āsana is  hard due to chair/lifestyle. Ironically, today's comfort prevents one of greatest God's gifts: Meditation.
    • Deals with anāmaya kośa.
  1. Prāṇāyāmaḥ:
    • Deals with prāṇamaya kośa.
    • Regulating breathing.
    • Encages the mind within body. Just like encaging bird, has nowhere to go but stay put.
  2. Pratyāhāraḥ:
    • Withdrawal of sense organs from external world.
    • Eyes, as though looking tip of nose.
    • Pratyāhāra is yogic terminology corresponding to “dama” of Vedanta (as per Tattva Bodha), which means: Sense control.
      • Pratyāhāra  (Yoga) = Dama (Tattva Bodha – Vedanta)

Logic of Arrangement:

  • 1-2 in Yoga Sūtras is equivalent to bahiranga sādhana (disciplines to be observed throughout day – in Bhagavad Gītā CH6).
  • 3-5 in Yoga Sūtras is equivalent to antaraṅga sādhanam (disciplines before meditation – in CH6).
  • 3-5 in Yoga Sūtras is equivalent Dhyānam-svarūpam (nature of meditation – in CH6).
  • So what is nature/process of meditation (Dhyānam-svarūpam) described CH6? It is (according to Yoga Sūtrās) dhāraṇā + dhyānam + samādhi
    • 3 Put together is given technical name by Patanjali: ātma-saṃyamaḥ OR saṃyamaḥ (Actual meditation)
  1. Dhāraṇā: (Focusing/fixing/holding)
    • Turning mind away from world, and fixing on object of meditation.
    • Like adjusting camera to focus subject.
    • Object of meditation varies according to level of student, in regards to God:
      • Before study of Vedānta: Any iṣṭa-devata. Picture, flame of light, sun. But condition is, it should be related to God.
      • After study of Vedānta: God is saguṇa brahma viṣaya manasam vyāparaḥ (Mental activity associated with God).
    • NOTE: To call it dhyānam (meditation), it should be associated with God. If no God is involved, then it's mere concentration exercises. That's why dhyānam is defined as: saguṇa brahma viṣaya manasam vyāparaḥ (Mental activity associated with God).
        • Else if any mental activity is meditation, then our worry = meditation!
        • Thus removing all thoughts in meditation is NOT recommended. Else person can't meditate on God. There SHOULD be thought in Meditation. Without thought, it can't be called Meditation.


  2. Dhyānam: (Meditation)
      • Retaining mind/thought in focused object.
      • Dhāraṇā VS Dhyānam:
        • Dhāraṇā: initial focusing (eg: active process of adjusting camera lens) on object. This is hardest stage because when person sits down for meditation, mind is generally rajasic (agitated), and it takes time to come down.
        • Dhyānam: retaining/maintaining focus (so object is in focus).
      • Meditator in dhyānam is going through 2 processes:
        • 1) Effort/will to maintain object of meditation (Īśvara) in focus.
        • 2) Self-inquiry
        • Meaning 1/2 are mixed. So dhyānam is not 100% self-inquiry because meditators experience is mixture of ātman/anātman thoughts being entertained.
      • NATURE OF MIND: When mind retains object of meditation (ātman-related-thoughts), mind will naturally slip off (into anātman-related-thoughts). SOLUTION: During tug of war, bring back mind by effort when slips off.
      • REVISION: What is Dhyānam? Effort/will to retain mind on object of meditation is called Dhyānam.


  1. Samādhiḥ: (Absorption)
    • Natural absorption in object of meditation. It's where distractions have ended. While in Dhyānam (stage 7), distractions are still coming and going (tug of war).
    • End of struggle, where mind dwells in object of meditation, without disturbance.
    • Samādhi can be described as: vijātīya pratyaya anantarita sajātīya pratyaya pravāhaḥ: The flow of similar thoughts is unobstructed by dissimilar thoughts. Meaning…
      • Constant flow of similar thought. Meaning “God-ly thought”. Thought should be associated with God.
          • EG: If I focus on God's mouth, it's no different the focusing on God's eyes. It's still God.
          • Meaning can change your thoughts, but should be in relationship to God.


  • QUESTION: What if one has studied Vedanta and gone beyond saguṇa Īśvara (form god, personal God), and also understood “aham brahman asmi”?
    • For him/her the object of meditation is not a personal God… but nirguṇa brahman (Brahman).
      • For nirguṇa brahman, one STILL needs thoughts entertained in mind to SOLIDIFY one's knowledge (because vāsanās still partially extrovert the mind).
      • What kind of thoughts will such person entertain? Aham brahman asmi thoughts. Any thought connected to ātma-svarūpam (Nature of Self)
    • Not allowed: aham HUSBAND/WIFE asmi 🙂
    • Allowed: aham suddha caitanyam asmi, citānanda arūpaḥ asmi, śivo ‘ham śivo ‘ham asmi


Result of 8 Steps Followed:

  • If person follows these 8 steps, where will it culminate? Into samādhi.
    • What is samādhi?
      • I am absorbed in object of meditation (Rāma, Krisna, or any thought that symbolizes God-liness). But since there is effort/will involved, in one corner of mind, there is division involved, where I see myself as meditator, and Lord as object of meditation. Therefore, 8th step is called: savikalpa-samādhi
      • Meaning savikalpa-samādhi is whereby division between subject/object is manifest, evident or pronounced.
      • Savikalpa-samādhi can be compared to watching a movie in theater. At first, you know you are watching screen. You/screen are different. But very soon you get absorbed in the movie and begin to forget the fact that you are sitting in the theater. Gradually you are transported into the picture. The “I” entity is forgotten. Process of watching is forgotten. You become ONE with the picture.
    • How to know I lost myself and got involved in the movie? Because my reactions to movie are more pronounced. Meaning subject/object division has been temporarily resolved.
    • When I have become one with object of meditation, this is called: nirvikalpa-samādhi.
      • Meaning, the absorption wherein I forget the surrounding, forget that I'm in a particular place, and even forget self (subject), is referred to as: nirvikalpa-samādhi.
      • In nirvikalpa, the thoughts are there, the meditator is there. But because of absorption, both are NOT prominently felt.
      • So nirvikalpa-samādhi is phalam (fruit) of 8 steps of aṣṭāṅga-yoga. It's not 9th step because it is the destination/consequence of 8 steps.


Further details about Dhāraṇā, Dhyānam, Samādhi:

  • These are 3 most important which account for Vedantic Meditation
  • In Bhagavad Gītā, Chapter 6, verse 18 – Krishna comes to Dhyāna-svarūpam. Which consists of 3 stages…


  • Focusing mind on object of meditation. Entertaining thought dealing with object.
  • EG: Focusing on tree, then object of meditation is tree.
  • Called: TREE-ākāra-vṛttiḥ (ākāra: of form of | vṛttiḥ: thought modification). Meaning: Thought Modifications ABOUT __ (tree, īśvara, compassion, etc)
  • In context of Bhagavad Gita CH6, it will be: īśvara-ākāra-vṛttih (Meaning thought modification is about Īśvara, during process of meditation).


  • Since all thoughts have momentary existence (EG: TREE-ākāra-vṛttiḥ), I attempt to have the NEXT vṛtti (modification) of TREE.
    • This is called: sajātīya-pratyaya-pravāhaḥ (flow of similar thought, each thought dealing with same object).
    • This attempt is called: dhyānam, which involves: Effort, initiative, deliberation.
  • If person follows, after time, mind gets into groove of similar habit, merely by REPETITION alone. Just like Japa (repeating God's name/mantra). This registers an impression in subconscious mind.
  • Just like coming home after kīrtanam, mind in background continues chanting. OR hearing disliked music in shop; it continues playing before bed.
  • So mind has capacity to form vāsanās (impressions) by anything sufficiently repetitive and charged with emotion. USE THIS psychological phenomena to your advantage by consciously entertaining ātma-svarūpa thoughts (any thought related to nature of Self)
  • Just like bicycle continues running after stopped paddling, in same way, “thought cycle” continues after some time.
  • Any vṛtti which takes place without our initiative is called: sūkṣma-vṛtti (subtle thought)
  • When sūkṣma-vṛtti is taking place, one is not aware of it, because focus is not focused on it. This is called: absorption in particular thought. In this absorption, the subject/object/effort division, is NOT felt.
    • Just like in deep sleep state, division is not felt, but there is still a thought-modification taking place. How to know such thought took place in sleep? After waking up, we say, “I slept well”. To say that, we (meaning Ātma) should've gone through thought modification called: sūkṣma-vṛtti of deep sleep.
    • Meaning, sūkṣma-vṛtti (subtle thought) registers experience in dormant mind (even during deep sleep), and which we're able to activate in waking state.
  • CONCLUSION: After deliberately repeated thought gets momentum (through dhyānam repetition), the will is not required any longer to maintain thought because of sheer momentum… in which subject/object division is NOT manifest. Subject/object is there, but it's not manifested due to absorption.


  • The state of subtle thought (sūkṣma-vṛtti) continuation is called absorption (samādhi). Since division is not manifest in that state, it's called: nirvikalpa samādhi (state of divisionless-ness. Divisionless-ness from what? From subject/object division).
  • Divisionless-ness does NOT mean absence of subject/object. Only that divisions are in unmanifest form.
    • EG: Water in which salt is dissolved. Salt IS there, but since becomes one with water, experiential (visibly) salt is NOT there, but you KNOW there is salt.
    • In same way, thoughts are there, but they're dissolved like salt. Thus they're not experienced (known).

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 18:

yadā viniyataṁ cittam ātmanyevāvatiṣḥhate |
niḥspṛhaḥ sarvakāmebhoo yuka ityucyate tadā ||

When the mind has gained a certain composure (and) remains in the self alone, when one is free from longing
for all the objects (of desire), then (the person) is said (to be) one who is accomplished.


  • viniyatam cittam: Mind is withdrawn from external objects.
    • Withdrawing means: NOT physically, but thought connected with X (office-ākāra-vṛtti). Anātman object is not entertained.
    • IN SHORT: Withdraw mind from anātma.
      • Anātma consists of 3 things: World, Body, Mind
      • Meaning, never entertain any thought connected with: World, your body, mind's thoughts (personal issues/memories/future concerns, etc).
    • If anātma-ākāra-vṛtti's are removed during meditation, this is called: cittam viniyatam (restraint/pulled back/withheld).
  • How does this withdrawal take place? sarva-kāmebhyaḥ niḥspṛhaḥ (having detached from every object)
    • Only by developing detachment from anātma. Because thought always directed to object of attachment. EG: IF attached to person (son/daughter/friend/college/etc), than that person hovers in thoughts most of time.
    • This is why meditation requires detachment for successful benefit.
      • NOTE: Verse 18 is NOT appropriate place to answer “how to get detached” as we already spoke about this in previous classes.
    • Conclusion: Mind only free to meditate on ātman when detached from anātman thoughts.
      • Metaphor: If holding one thing in hand, can't hold another thing. Need to release the held FIRST (detachment).
  • After successfully withdrawing mind from world, then what to DO? ātmani eva avatiṣṭhate (mind abides in ātma, entertaining relevant thoughts)
    • Mind abides/dwells in ātma. Meaning what?
      • Before object on table = no abiding/dwelling ON table.
      • After object placed on tablet = object is abiding/dwelling ON table.
      • But when applied to mind, does this mean (1) mind is located somewhere, and (2) Ātma is located elsewhere, and (3) I need to “put” mind onto “Ātma”? Is it physical job of fixing mind on Ātma?
        • Answer is NO. Because Ātma is all pervading consciousness. Thus mind is NEVER AWAY FROM Ātma. No question of “mind coming to ātma”, because entire creation is resting in ātma alone.
        • Ātma is defined as space-like consciousness which is all-pervading. Thus mind can't go out of ātma to begin with. That's why the moment one attempts to find ātma, in that first second of trying, the entire meditation is resting on FALSE notion.
      • If mind can't go out of ātma, then what to we mean by “mind abiding on ātma”?
        • “Abiding/dwelling” means: A corresponding thought entertained about the object of meditation, being Ātma in this case.
        • Meaning: Mind should entertain thought modification, where the thought is associated with ātma.
  • CAUTION: Vedāntic meditation is NOT thoughtlessness. Only Yogic meditation is thoughtlessness.
    • Yoga philosophy says: Culmination (ultimate benefit) of meditation is a thoughtless state.
    • Vedānta says: We don't accept/approve of Yogic view. Why? Because it's of NO USE, except that mind gets relaxation in thoughtlessness. But it still remains IGNORANT of “I”. What's more, others get relaxation way faster then by Yoga. Eg: alcohol, cannabis, relaxation drugs, etc. 🙂
    • SUMMARY: Vedānta doesn't give much importance to thoughtlessness. Only to thought which is turned onto Ātma.
  • What are ātman-related thoughts like? (all are called: asaṅgatvam: thoughts related to “aham brahmāsmi”)
    • Examples:
      • “I am conscious principle by which world, body, mind and even this thought is known. And even the thoughtless state is known by Awareness alone. And this Awareness is the witness of the thoughtful and thoughtless mind, I AM.”
      • “These thoughts arise in Consciousness, by they can't disturb it. Like my hand moving in light. But hand is not disturbed by hand, it only illuminates the hand. Similarly, I consciousness illumine the though, but thoughts don't disturb me”.
      • “I am formless. And illumine forms. Just like light illumines formed hand, but light itself is formless”.
      • “Thoughts arrive and depart, but I never arrive/depart. Just like all people are illuminated by light, and so is empty hall illumined by light. Light illumines full/empty hall”. Mind = hall, Thoughts = people, Consciousness = light
    • Sanskrit Examples:
      • aham arūpaḥ (formless), aham asaṅgaḥ (independent), aham sākṣī (witness), aham nityaḥ (unchanging), aham śuddhaḥ (all are related to reinforcing “I am Consciousness”).
    • These ātman related thoughts are called: akhaṇḍa-ākāra-vṛttiḥ (any thought pattern connected with the Consciousness sākṣī).
      • Entertaining this thought pattern is called: ātmanī-avasthānam (dwelling/abiding in Ātma).
  • What is this “State” of entertaining thoughts on ātma called? yuktaḥ iti ucyate (yuktaḥ: absorbed)
    • Which is also called: Absorption, yogaḥ, samādhi
  • REVISION: Samādhi is divided into 2 types:
    • savikalpa: When effort is involved. Because ego is dominant. Effort means “individuality is pronounced”.
    • nirvikalpa: Once effort is entertained for some time, and becomes effortless. EG: Every cyclist is in nirvikalpa samadhi, because he/she is has been paddling with effort (savikalpa), and after time momentum took over. Thus cyclist is on autopilot (nirvikalpa samādhi).


Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6, Verse 19:

yathā dīpo nivātastho neṅgate sopamā smṛtā |
yogino yatacittasya yuñjato yogamātmanaḥ ||

The following simile is mentioned for the restrained mind of a Yogi who is practising dhyana yoga of the Ātma – (it is) like a lamp in a windless spot (which) does not flicker.


Answers what state of samādhi is like:

  • Suppose flame lamp is lighted and kept in open place, it flickers because of disturbing external breeze. Which direction flame go, depends on direction of breeze.
    • To still flame, one needs to protect it.
  • Similarly, in meditation, our thought is like flame. When entertaining that thought (ātman), it's not retained because another thought comes. Thus thoughts flicker because of external influence.
  • When flame is steady, called: nirvikalpa samādhi.
    • Flame corresponds to thought (ātma related thought; akhaṇḍa-ākāra-vṛttiḥ). And steadiness of flame indiciates that ātma-thought is NOT disturbed by anātma-thought.
  • In case of mind, what kind of protection do I need to steady the ātman-thought?
    • vairāgyam:
      • All worries are because of past/present/future worries. Mainly future, involving: (1) Actual future (2) Imaginary future (3) Family members worrying about my progress.
      • Solution: Surrender thoughts to God.
    • bhakti: Later discussed.
  • SUMMARY: Flickerless flame is example of restrained mind of yogī which mind is engaged in ātma-dhyānam. This is called: samādhi
  • CAUTION: Nothing mystical about nirvikalpa-samādhi, because it's experience we all have when subject/object dissolve.
      • Babies do it. See something fascinating. Try to pull it away, it continues looking at object. Hypnotized!
      • Nirvikalpa is lost through growing up. Rarely experienced in adults.
      • Absorbing book!
      • Goooooal! Men celebrate in way they'd rarely do in ordinary life.


In next class…

  • Krisna will take about culmination of dhyānam, called: nirvikalpa-samādhi
  • 7 definitions/features will be given for nirvikalpa-samādhi, which is consequence of aṣṭāṅga-yogaḥ


Keywords: akara vritti, akhanda, anatman, antaranga, aparigraha, aparigrahah, arupa, asana, asanga, atmani, avasthanam, avatishthate, avatisthate, bhagavad gita, bhagavan, brahmasmi, citananda, dharana, ishvara, isvara, iswara, kamebhya, kriya yoga, nisedha, nishedha, nitya, niyama, Niyamah, Parigraha, patanjali, Pranayama, Pranayamah, pranidhanam, prapatih, Pratyahara, Pratyaharah, pravahah, rama, sadhana, saguna, sajatiya, sakshi, saksi, Samadhih, Samtosa, Samtosha, samyama, saranagati, saucam, sharanagati, shaucam, shivo ham, shuddha, shuksma, suddha, suksma, sutras, Svadhyaya, tapa, tapah, tapas, vairagyam, vijatiya, visaya, vishaya, vrtti, vyapara, vyaparah, yama, yamah, yogah, yuktah


Credit for help in Bhagavad Gita teaching is given to Swami Paramarthananda

Recorded 30 April, 2019


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