Sutra I.18 – Chapter I, Sutra 18

विरामप्रत्ययाभ्यासपूर्वः संस्कारशेषोऽन्यः॥१८॥

virama-pratyaya-abhyasa-purvah samskara-sesah-anyah

The other kind of concentration (anyah), attained by constantly practicing (abhyasa) detachment, is that in which the consciousness contains no object (virama) but only subconscious impressions (samskara), which are like burnt seeds (sesah). An experience of one’s true nature happens in this state.

PRACTICAL LIVING     When one successfully achieves letting go in its highest form, there are 2 states that can be achieved: (1) timeless connection with an object which happens gradually (refer to Sutra I.17); and (2) timeless connection without an object. In the first case, one is completely absorbed in a moment through an object. Common examples are artists losing themselves in a project, writers in a novel, or me dancing in a drum circle :). In this state, one loses track of time and their surroundings and is fully present in the experience; there is a direct and intimate connection. In the second state, one is again fully present in the experience but there is no object. This is the ultimate state in Yoga, complete bliss (samadhi) beyond description. Neither of these states can be practiced or planned: they are results of the fruits of our actions. But what can we do? Patanjali has already given us a few suggestions: commit and experience (see Sutra I.1); focus on one thing for a long period of time (see Sutra I.2); put effort and let go on a daily basis (see Sutra I.12) and; act and let go for a long period of time, with enthusiasm, devotion and with no interruption (see Sutra I.15).

When have you felt complete absorption?

IN THE YOGA WORLD     Commentators on the Yoga Sutra-s discuss that Patanjali refers to two types of samadhi (complete absorption): samprajnatah (with object) and asamprajnatah (without an object). The first one happens gradually (see Sutra I.17) and since it depends on an object (material, thoughts, ideas), the impermanence of that object necessarily implies the impermanence of this state. However the absence of the object in this second state of samadhi (where the activities of the mind (see Sutra I.5) have ceased to be a distraction), liberates one from this limitation. In this state one is free from passions, desires and appetites and can be maintained without end. It’s important to realize that a person in this state still retains memories and habits (samskaras) that allow them to continue living in the day to day world, but in this state these samskaras do not create distractions.

Many books refer to this state as being one of egolessness, or in other words, losing the sense of ‘I’. A beautiful metaphor to visualize is a river joining the sea, the mind is dissolving into the Self/Purusha (refer to History).

Meanwhile, we have lots of work to do, which is the whole point of Patanjali compiling this text for us!


Sutra I.18-Gabriela

Gabi comes to my mind as I struggle to write this sutra (yes, I am a few days late).She has, many times and through different ways, taught me about the sutras and how to apply them to life. She has become an important part of my yoga journey through her emails, comments, conversations in India and skype phone calls. Her enthusiasm and devotion to understanding the human being, laughing at herself and enjoyment for life is inspiring to me! Sometimes there are moments we share with others that are precious in deep ways. I can think of a particular conversation we shared over skype (transcontinental) where I expressed an experience and really felt I was heard and understood.

Thank you Gabi for being a wonderful listener, a devoted life lover and an enthusiast of the sutras 🙂 I so look forward to seeing you soon! Un beso grande mujer!

Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!

Thanks and we will look at how different people have different types or amounts of work to do to experience peace.

29 thoughts on “Sutra I.18 – Chapter I, Sutra 18

  1. Goosebumps over my skin when you recall that skype conversation… Of course, I am not even near to this sutra but, instead, I enjoy your love and generosity sharing this with me. I am deeply grateful to having met you and the girls… That really makes me lose the sense of “I”… 🙂

  2. Letting go as described in the Sutras is freedom. I feel liberated as I practice ishvarapranihana and can only imagine the bliss which occurs in samadhi. I relate to the first state described as I have experienced flow in my teaching. It is a feeling like I’ve never experienced. I feel free from the minds suffering and so fully present in each moment. It is filling my life with so much joy for which I am truly grateful. 🙂

  3. The idea of complete absorption (with object) I can relate with. The idea of absorption (without object) seems impossible to me at this stage. I find myself completely absorbed when I’m playing a volleyball match. It is a time where I’m only thinking about the game. The outside world disappears to me and I concentrate on the play at hand. I think another example I can think of is when I’m practicing yoga at home. Since it is only me, I try practicing new things and I set aside the time only for me. When I’m in a yoga class, I can become absorbed to a certain point, but the asmita kicks in and if someone in the class is doing something advanced, my focus gets thrown off and I think, “I want to do that”. 😉

  4. I have recently experienced complete absorption with the object of teaching Yoga. I have experienced what I hear is called “flow” or a feeling of bliss, living fully in the moment, without distraction. It is a state I wish I can experience always! The feeling often stays with me throughout the day after teaching but can quickly fade as my samskaras surface. To keep this experience alive is daily practice. Daily meditation and yoga has kept this experience with me as I absorb myself in focus of the inner self-a self of peace and contentment 🙂

  5. Much like Daniel, I feel pretty familiar with the experience of complete absorption (with an object) and impossibly unfamiliar with the experience of absorption (without an object). I was a competitive dancer for the majority of my life and still, today, remember the feeling of being completely absorbed in a dance. Allowing my movements to consume my thoughts and emotions and entering a state where I realized I belonged to something greater than myself. In these moments, I temporarily lost the sense of “I.” However, as you stated in your writing, Lucia, these moments do end. I am not entirely sure how to go about achieving virama. Although, I do believe that realizing this is a state worth achieving, is the first step in the journey towards it.

  6. Pingback: Sutra I.29 – Chapter I, Sutra 29 | weeklysutra

  7. I completely agree w/ Daniel…complete absorption is something I experience…the other, not so much haha. When I snowboard, or play piano, write…Im totally absorbed. I need to find a way to find absorption w/o an object.

    • Remember this is all a process…and that complete absorption is not something we can plan – it just happens. So if there are specific activities that bring you to that state, enjoy them! And if the other state happens, great!

  8. I agree with Christina and Daniel – I find myself completely absorbed when I practice yoga or am dancing – it’s wonderful! I have yet to experience complete absorption without an object, but I feel like it’s possible, but it will just take time and practice.

  9. I am also in agreement- I believe I have yet to experience complete absorption without an object, but I have felt in a “flow” state while acting, canoeing, and doing yoga. I’m thinking the more and deeper I can access complete absorption with an object, the closer I may come to not needing those objets from the external world to access samadhi.

  10. I can most definitely relate to samprajnatah (with object) complete absorption and it is something I experience with activities I love that completely take me away from everything around me as well as time (a good book, a good hike, rock climbing, a grueling asana practice), but I agree with the coments above, the idea of asamprajnatah (without an object) complete absorption is foreign to me at the moment. I have begun to practice meditation and while at the moment my mind tends to continue to wander, I am hoping with practice this may be something that will happen to me in the future.

  11. I’ve actually been speaking to quite a few people about an experience where I was completely absorbed in my yoga practice and have every day since then have hoped for a similar experience – but I have to let it go bc it’ll happen again but I can’t be waiting for it. I’ll never forget it…it was one of David’s classes about a year after I started practicing yoga. All I remember is focusing on my breathe and hearing David call poses but everything else was a blur…like I don’t actually remember him saying to go into half moon but I did and then he came to adjust me in the pose and I immediately snapped out of the state I was in to realize I was in half moon and I didn’t remember the poses we’d just done to get there but I know I did them. It was such an awesome experience!

  12. I find this state of absorption when I am on a run outside. It does not happen everytime, but every so often I get so in tune with my breath and my body that I am not even aware of how far I have gone. That is my favorite form of running, one where I am not worried about the time or where I have to be next, one where I am simply enjoying being outside.

    I used to run with headphones and music blasting in my ears to distract me. One day my aunt asked me to go on a run with her and she never takes any music. I tried it out. We ran along lake michigan near my parents lake house. It was so beautiful hearing the waves and the seagulls and my own breath. Running around the city is a little different, the sounds aren’t necessarily has peaceful. But I still think removing that object from my run brings me more in tune with my inner self.

  13. My brushes with absorption usually happen outside on a calm, breezy, sunny day. Especially times where I have just lied on a beach all day, not sleeping, not really doing anything, but just enjoying being in that moment. It feels very peaceful. There is no sense of time beyond looking at the sun. Beaches are a good space too because I’m so far away from my normal distractions. There is no need to think about work or worry what’s next. I just be happy.

  14. It is said that Jainist monks, after reaching a complete state of bliss (samadhi, nirvana) which will lead to their liberation (moksha) can live without any wants or desires of both mind and body. They can go days, even weeks without food or water, they are nourished by their eternal spirit which now rests in the bosom of compassion, their consciousness leaving the karmic cycle of life, their bodies an almost empty shell. This sutra reminded me of this legends or stories of unbelievable proportions, humans who defy what we like to call the natural order. Without an object of union, which can come and go, as life brings and takes, we are an intrepid wave, traveling deeper into the ocean, trying to reach the end of earth just to be absorbed back in and we lose form, speed, current, we are now the horizon. Where does this wave begin or end? It’s ever engulfing.

    A couple of years I was surfing and I wasn’t doing a very good job of paddling hard enough, a rogue wave swept me under and for some reason I didn’t panic, maybe it was that I remembered the best way to avoid being washed down is to remain still and your body naturally rises or maybe I somehow knew it would all be ok. The next few moments are a bit of blank but the overall experience was calming and I can honestly say I wasn’t here or there, I felt endless, as if I belonged with the ocean and the ocean currents were meant to stream down my veins. I am not sure how long everything lasted or what “pulled” me back, I do remember eventually gasping for air as my body did naturally rise out of the water. I haven’t surfed since that day and it’s not fear that holds me back is that I felt happy and complete drifting away in the water and although I want to experience that again, I rather find a less dangerous way of replicating this state. I have small glimpses of this after meditating, eventually the object of my mediation fades and everything is just white. I hope as I keep on practicing more moments like this will come.

  15. When I reflect on moment in my life were i fell I have experienced absorption a few memories come to mind. The first one that comes to mind is when I was on vacation in Michigan with my family as a child. I must have been somewhere around 10. We would stay in a rural retreat home that sits on top of a hill overlooking forest on each side. In the fall the forest is an incredible array of fall colors. I remember sitting on the hammock on a beautiful fall day, the sun was shinning, the air was fresh, and I was completely taken in by the view of the forest. As I sat there I remember realizing the flow of my breath, I began to take deeper breathes and all of a sudden it was like my head was empty. My mind was completely quiet and it felt like everything in the world was just as it was supposed to me. I’m not sure if this is an example of samprajnatah (with object) or asamprajnatah (without an object), I wasn’t trying to focus on anything, I was just sitting and breathing – perhaps my object was my breath or nature. Either way, that experience of absorption is one that stuck with me and was one of the early glimpses I had into the peace that comes from the practice of yoga & meditation.

  16. I am going to be honest here and say that I don’t know if I have ever felt complete absorption with or without an object. Maybe this is just me expecting too much from the process. I have lost track of time doing certain tasks – such as designing, working with children, yoga, meditation and creating in any way. But I am not sure if that is really complete absorption. I might just be placing too may expectations on it. But most of the time I am focusing on the task, but sometimes my mind wanders, which makes me wonder if I have truly ever let myself experience samprajnatah. This most definitely is something I will need to work on as I continue my yoga practice and teaching.

  17. Complete absorption happens to be when traveling in an area substantially different than my culture or environment. During the first days I feel like I am shedding part of my culture and habits, then I begin to see the reality of the place I am visiting. Eventually a sense of calmness permeates me, I have the feeling of seeing everything flowing.

  18. Concentration of both kinds seems to occur when we become unaware of the processes of our mind. With action centered around a physical or virtual object, this state-change happens when analytics and calculations are passed to the unconscious – it’s not as if our minds stop doing the work, but more that our minds have instead mastered the processes to the point where they are innate to our very presence. It seems as though sustained concentration without an object is the result of these types of behaviours building up over time, so that an object is no longer necessary. Like any skill or ability, the potential for this to be a “part of us” is probably latent, but requires much devoted study and practice – hence practicing yoga, right?

    In my own life, I have spent a long time practicing sustained focus on objects that are not of my own choosing, and am fairly successful at it regardless of object – it’s liberating to recognize my own power in deciding where to place this practice – although ingrained memories/pathways make it fairly difficult to do so without really really conscious effort – “No, choose THIS! Remember? Place your foot here, not there. Trust yourself; take directive and listen to others but recognize your own intelligence in this regard – and act on it!”

  19. I tend to find complete concentration with physical activities like running, swimming, or knitting. I suppose that is what I initially like about yoga. Especially after I got over comparing myself to others in class. I often find that I don’t even notice the music after several minutes into a class. I’m totally zoned in to the breathe and the intention.

  20. Listening to my favorite songs always make me feel as though I’m taken away physically and emotionally. I feel completely absorbed by the melody and the lyrics if there are any. I’ve found I can’t play them during my classes as their like vaccums to my subconscious and I need to be fully present in that sort of environment

  21. There have been times when I have been performing my music and I have been completely absorbed. These times usually occur when I am playing or singing “for fun.” I lose track of time and all of the sudden I look and it has been three hours. There have been many times I have sat down to play the piano while something has been boiling and it takes me hearing the water hitting the burner to remember that I was cooking (I know, not the safest). I find now that music has become my “job” I don’t have these moments as often as I did when I was younger.

    I don’t think I have ever experienced this feeling of complete absorption without an object. I am not even sure I can imagine what that would feel or be like. I understand it in concept but not when actually applied to my own life. I wonder if you are aware when you are in this particular state when there is no object present. I wonder how this would look and feel for different people. I guess this particular idea offers more questions than answers for me. I look forward to reading the other comments and ideas posted on this topic.

  22. I agree that sometimes we can put a lot of importance on needing to feel that absorption… Maybe if I just (insert your activity here) a little harder/stronger/etc, I will start flowing, but like you’ve stated, absorption is something you can’t force.

    I’ve felt this absorption while dancing. After weeks of rehearsals, the body begins to absorb the movement. We “get it in our bones” is what we say… After the physicality is absorbed, the mind is able to let go, and let the music-mind-body connection take over. It’s a beautiful feeling.

    In terms of experiencing absorption without an object, I’m curious of the consciousness… Is it an out-of-body experience? Is there complete stillness and ananda? Like Sarah, I’m interested in hearing more about the topic! …as well as any scientific studies that accompany it 🙂

  23. There are times when i left work for home and kept thinking about the problem i was dealing at work while driving. It was not so healthy because it was consuming me outside the work hours, and cut in my personal life. I realized this fact but it kept happening again and again. Eventually i had to tell myself its just work, it doesnt own me it has no right to consume me. I have to let go, so now at the end of work day, i get up and leave and stick to other evening plans whether its yoga class, zumba, dancing or hanging with friends.

  24. ” Commentators on the Yoga Sutra-s discuss that Patanjali refers to two types of samadhi (complete absorption): samprajnatah (with object) and asamprajnatah (without an object). The first one happens gradually and since it depends on an object (material, thoughts, ideas), the impermanence of that object necessarily implies the impermanence of this state. However the absence of the object in this second state of samadhi (where the activities of the mind have ceased to be a distraction), liberates one from this limitation.”

    Lately, I find myself in complete absorption when reading books. In particular, I have been reading a lot about the Universe. When reading Carl Sagan, I often find myself in complete absorption- losing track of time and my surroundings. Learning about the universe is such a fascinating thing to me, that I ignore (or let go) of everything around me to retain what I’m reading. When I’m reading on the train, I have to make sure not to concentrate too deeply- or I’ll miss my stop and/or ignore important things that may threaten my safety. To me, this would be an example of samprajnatah.

    There have been a few times in restorative yoga classes or candlelight hatha classes in which i have found myself in asamprajnatah samadhi. I feel completely in the moment, focusing on nothing other than my body and breath and the energy that is flowing through it. It is a feeling of deep inner peace- like it wouldn’t matter if anything were to happen during those moments, or even if the world ends. This is a very special feeling, and doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, I am aware of it and absorb as much as I am able.

  25. I feel like there are a lot of people who would love to completely let go without an object and experience your true self. I know I’ve felt this way. There are times when I look at my life and feel like “This is not truly me.” Even though I’m still being authentic, I feel like there is an even deeper layer that I haven’t uncovered yet. Here’s a small example – I’ve always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. However, I can never get the courage to start it up. What if I have no rhythm? What if I’m awful? What if I’m super stiff? My ego gets in the way every single time. At this time, I’m not 100% sure what my true self is like, but there are times when I know I’m not being it. I hope yoga brings me more clarity.

  26. The symbolism of the river joining the sea is a perfect way to depict the experience of entering our true being and complete bliss. I will hold on to that image to understand this sutra. The discussion of this sutra makes me think of the concept of “flow” which some psychologists are beginning to study. What they have found is in complete agreement with what Patanjali knew long ago: basically, when we enter so deeply into an activity, we are no longer distracted by thoughts and we experience a sense of bliss. We become less aware of ourselves (the ego) and we just exist. There have been a few times in my life when I experienced this state: painting, long runs through the woods, and playing soccer. Although I have gotten close to this flow, or ego-less state in yoga, I feel that the discipline of my practice needs to continue before I feel this state with the same intensity as the other activities which I have been doing for many more years than Yoga. This is extra motivation for me to keep practicing, keep practicing, keep practicing…

  27. I need to practice samprajntha a LOT. I have anxious (monkey) mind often. I can spend all day thinking of two or three things at once while trying to stay focused on one thing. Within that struggle I am also thinking of and acknowledging cravings. For example while I am writing this reply, I am thinking about what I want to eat when I’m done, will I have enough time to finish my notes before work, can I squeeze in a quick yoga practice before I go to work, it’s such a nice day to go for a walk, can I do that too? All in 2 hours. No, I cannot. Acceptance, letting go of the fact that I have to look at what I am committed to accomplishing, which is a daily reading of the Sutras and a response, having to complete notes for work, another commitment and 10 minutes of practice before work. So easy to bounce around in everyday demands. I like having the Sutras to help refocus and find balance within commitment and acceptance of limitations.

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