Sūkṣmaviṣayatvaṁ ca aliṅga paryavasānam (I.45). The gradation of the subtlety of the objects of meditation consummates in the indeterminable matrix of all things; this is the meaning of the sutra. As we proceed further, we begin to come into contact with more and more of the subtle aspects of the very same object of meditation. It does not mean that the object changes, but the intensity with which we perceive it and the subtlety of its constitution go on increasing as one advances. It is a precise prescription and advice that the object of meditation should not be changed. Once we take to a particular object, we must pursue it right through the very given object and not change its location or character. The purpose of meditation is to go into the very root of things, and once we get into the root of any particular object, we have simultaneously entered the roots of everything else also, because everything is made up of the same substance and everything is constituted in the same manner – whatever be that object, wherever it be, and whatever be the spatial or temporal location of the object. It is enough if one persists in concentrating the mind on any one given thing until one reaches the summit of the realisation of the essence of the object. .
This sutra has reference to certain specialties of the Samkhya philosophy on which the yoga system of Patanjali, particularly, is based. Of course, it has no contradistinction from other systems of thought as far as the practical aspects are concerned, but the point made in this sutra is that the advance in meditation, or the progress one makes in meditation, is commensurate with the various stages of the manifestation of what is called prakriti in the Samkhya. The indeterminable, or alinga mentioned in this sutra, is nothing but the pradhana or the prakriti of the Samkhya.
The cosmological doctrine of the Samkhya is that there is originally a common base for every form of material existence, and that the variety of this world is really a diversified form of one and the same substance. It is not really a variety of substance but a variety of form – forms taken by one and the same substance which the Samkhya calls prakriti or pradhana. This original material of all things, called pradhana or prakriti, is constituted of what we know as gunas, the essential properties – sattva, rajas and tamas. These are peculiar things which are easily mistaken and misconstrued as certain conditions or attributes of prakriti or pradhana. However, they are not the ordinary attributes or qualities of pradhana, but are another name for pradhana itself.
There is, ultimately, no distinction between substance and quality, though in the world of ordinary sensory experience we are likely to make a distinction between substance and its attribute. It is not an attribute; it is a condition of the substance out of which prakriti is made. Prakriti has three conditions – known as sattva, rajas and tamas – and what is known as the ultimate state of prakriti is only the equilibrium of these three gunas, wherein we cannot know which is preponderant and which is submerged. They act and react upon one another with equal force, so that their presence is not objectively felt. There is, therefore, no external consciousness or object-consciousness in the state of the ultimate condition of prakriti.
Any person who is absorbed in the condition of prakriti will not have world-consciousness, because there is no externalisation caused by the preponderance of rajas. The externalisation of the objectification of consciousness by means of perception is due to the preponderance of the rajas quality of prakriti; but there is no such preponderance in the ultimate condition. They are all equally emphasised with equal intensity and, therefore, there is nothing special in the form of an individual experience. There is no individuality at all, because the individual consciousness is itself an outcome of the rajas preponderating, by which one part of prakriti is cut off from another part.
This condition of prakriti or pradhana – the mulaprakriti, as it is called – becomes the cause of the first manifestation in the process of evolution. This first form of manifestation, cosmologically, is called mahat in the terminology of the Samkhya. This is a Sanskrit word which practically means what is known as cosmic intellect or universal intelligence. This is, in the language of the Puranas and the Epics, the condition of the Creator or Brahma wherein all individualities are brought together into a single universal point of view. There are no various points of view there; there is only one point of view, and that is the cosmic point of view. Here, everything is directly experienced without the instrumentality of the senses. There is not even this mind as we see it in our own personal individuality. It is pure intelligence, subtly manifest in cosmic sattva, which is the first manifestation of prakriti.  .
Then the Samkhya tells us that there is a gradual solidification or concretisation of this state, and there is manifest a tendency to self-affirmation of a cosmic nature which is called ahamkara. This ahamkara is not the egoism of the human being, but it is a logical presupposition of the manifestation of variety. It is purely a logical 'x' without which we cannot explain anything that is manifest subsequently, but it has no connection whatsoever with the pride or the individual egoism of the human beings that we see usually. Sometimes these states of prakriti, mahat and ahamkara, mentioned in the Samkhya, are identified with the principles of Ishvara, Hiranyagarbha and Virat which are mentioned in the Vedanta doctrine.
It is now that a condition or a state supervenes where there is a sudden split of this cosmic condition into the external and the internal. This is the beginning of what they call samsara or bondage of the jiva. There is no bondage as long as a bifurcation is not introduced between the subject and the object of knowledge. Bondage commences the moment there is a severance of the consciousness from its content, an isolation of the subject from the object. This happens subsequent to the appearance of ahamkara. So, on the objective side, we have what are known as the tanmatras and the mahabhutas. The tanmatras are the subtle principles behind the five gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, and they are called sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha in Sanskrit, meaning thereby the sensations of sound, touch, form, taste and smell which have connection with the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether – prithivi, appu, tejo, vayu and akasa. This is the external side of the world. Generally, what we call the world is constituted of these five great elements or mahabhutas. But the experiencing side, the subject side, is what is known as the jiva, the principle of individuality – you, I, and everyone included – who have an extrovert vision of these five mahabhutas, all of which we regard as something outside us, notwithstanding that every one of us, including the bhutas, have come from the same principle of ahamkara. It is something like the right hand looking at the left hand as an object of its perception, though both these are emanations of a single substance, a single unifying principle - namely, the bodily organism.
The subject side is the individual, the jiva, which has a physical body made up of the five elements themselves – earth, water, fire, air and ether. Then we have the five pranas – prana, apana, vyana, udana and samana. There are the senses – the five senses of knowledge and the five of action. And then there is the principle of mentation – there is the intellect and all these complexities constituting what is known as the subtle body of the individual. This is the subject side, while the object side is formed of the five elements mentioned.
The bondage of the jiva consists in the isolation of its experiencing unit, namely, consciousness, from the object of its experience. This is the reason why there is desire of every kind. A desire is nothing but an attempt of consciousness to gain what is not contained within its own self. The content of consciousness is what is desired by consciousness, but that content is cut off due to a peculiar phenomenon that has arisen, and the phenomenon is the principle of isolation of the subject from the object. The purpose of yoga is to bring about a reunion of this twofold principle known as the subject and the object, so that it may go back to the original condition where it was not so separated. The means of action in the process of meditation, of course, is consciousness itself; we may call it mind in a grosser form.
The mind is the principle of activity in the process of meditation, and in the lowest form of mentation there is a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact conviction that the object is completely outside the mind and it has nothing to do with the mind at all. This is the lowest form into which the mind can sink, where the desires become very vehement, very strong and uncontrollable. There is an intense tension caused by this feeling that the object longed for is absolutely outside oneself, and there is practically no control one has over the objects of sense which one needs. The method of meditation tries to introduce a technique which gradually thins out this conviction that the objects of consciousness are external, and the internal relation that exists between the two is brought up to the surface of consciousness to a greater and greater degree.
So in the various methods of meditation prescribed by Patanjali, he takes us, stage by stage, from the grosser form to the subtler form, from the consciousness of the five elements, which is the lowest form of experience that we can have, higher up to the tanmatras, which are the subtler principles behind the elements, and then to the ahamkara, the mahat and the prakriti, and finally to the supreme purusha itself. The resting of the purusha in its own consciousness is called kaivalya or moksha. The aim of yoga is liberation – which is another name for the non-objectification of the consciousness of the purusha – by means of manifestation through the forms of prakriti, and a resting of the purusha in its own self, in its Supreme Absoluteness. .
The externalisation of the consciousness of the purusha takes place by degrees, as it was mentioned in this cosmological process. In the beginning there is only a potentiality of such manifestation, which is the condition of mulaprakriti. Then there is an actual manifestation, though not a binding form of it, which is called the mahat. Then again there is a further concretisation of it, which is a lower condition still, yet not a binding condition because of the universality of consciousness still present there, which is the state of the cosmic ahamkara. Then there is a fall, a sudden cut of consciousness into the subjective side and the objective side, which is the problem of the jiva, the difficulty of man – every form of tension and unknowing. So, in the beginning, the grossest form becomes the object of meditation. From the gross, we go to the subtle. From the subtle, we rise to that state of awareness which is prior to the manifestation of even the subtle and the gross. And finally, we go to the ultimate cause of all things.
These stages of meditation are referred to in a sutra of Patanjali from his first chapter, and these stages are designated by him as savitarka, savichara, sananda and sasmita. These are all peculiar technical words of the yoga philosophy, which simply mean the conditions of gross consciousness, subtle consciousness, cause consciousness and reality consciousness. Though he has mentioned only four stages for the purpose of a broad division of the process of ascent, we can subdivide these into many more. As a matter of fact, when we actually come to it and begin to practise, we will find that we have to pass through various stages, just as we do in a course of education. Though we may designate a particular year of study as being the first grade, second grade, third grade, etc., even in each grade we will find there are various stages of study through the divisions of the syllabus or the curriculum of study.
Similarly, in the process of meditation the stages are many, and we may find that practically every day we are in one particular stage. The details of these stages will be known only to one who has started the practice. They cannot be described in books because they are so many, and every peculiar turn of experience will be regarded by us as one stage. Each stage is characterised by a peculiar relation of consciousness to its object and the reaction which the object sets in respect of the consciousness that experiences it. In the beginning it looks very difficult on account of this aforementioned conviction – that the object is completely cut off from the mind – and that is why there is so much anxiety and heartache in this world. We seem to be completely powerless and helpless in every matter. We are helpless because the world is outside us, and it has no connection with our principle of experience, namely consciousness. To bring into the conscious level the conviction that the objects of experience are not as much segregated as they appear to be, requires very hard effort, philosophical analysis and deep thinking bestowed upon the subject.
But Patanjali says that mere thinking and analysis will not do – it requires direct meditation. While analytical techniques are good enough for the purpose of bringing about logical convictions in the mind, direct experience of the reality behind the objects would be possible only by meditation, which is not merely an analytical technique undertaken, but a profound attempt at piercing through the structure of the object by repeatedly hitting upon it by the use of a single technique which is practised regularly every day, so that when the object is bombarded in this manner by a repeated process of meditation, adopting a single technique, without remission of effort – the object gives way. The complex structure of the object, which appeared to be a compact substance, is revealed before the mind as made up of bits of matter and little tiny processes of force which can be disintegrated by the power of meditation. The object can be dismembered, and we will find that afterwards there is no object at all.
When we dissect an object into its components, the object ceases to be there; we have only the components. The appearance of a single, compact object before the mind is due to a misconception that has arisen in the mind. We dealt with this subject earlier, when we discussed some aspects of Buddhist psychology and certain other relevant subjects in this connection. The belief in the solidity of an object, and the conviction that the object is completely outside one's consciousness, almost go together. They move hand in hand, and it is this difficulty that comes as a tremendous and serious obstacle in meditation.
Whatever be our effort in meditation, the conviction that things are outside us and that they are completely out of our control will repeat itself so vehemently and forcefully that we will be unhappy. Doubts will arise in the mind. "After all, am I going to succeed? How can I control this mountain? What right have I over this mountain?" But we will realise, after repeated practise, that we have some say in the matter of the existence of even a mountain, though it may look that it is irrelevant to the question at hand. Ultimately there is nothing that is disconnected from us and, therefore, there is nothing which cannot be converted into an object of meditation. In fact there is nothing, anywhere in this world, which cannot become an avenue for the entry of consciousness into the Universal Reality. Any object, for the matter of that, can be taken as a suitable object for the purpose of meditation, because prakriti is permanently present, pervading everything in one form or the other, and so whatever be the object that we take for meditation, it is a form of prakriti, this pradhana of the Samkhya. So, there is no need to worry oneself about the choice of the object of meditation. It depends upon the predilection of the mind, the tendency of the mind, and the suitability of the relationship one has with the object that has been chosen.
But once the object has been chosen, the advice given here is that we must persist through that object, and that there should be no change of the object. Otherwise, if we change the object, our efforts will not bring success. Whatever be the object that has been chosen, during the time one engages oneself in meditation upon it there should be a persistent effort to bring that object nearer and nearer to one's own self, though, in the beginning, it may appear to be far off or remote from oneself. There are various factors involved in object-consciousness. One thing is that it is far away from us. The second thing is that it is material in nature, while the meditating consciousness is not material. Another thing is that, because of the remoteness of the object and the isolation of the object from consciousness, one seems to have no control over the object. With all of these factors, there is a desire for the object. This is the essence of samsara. We desire a thing over which we have no control and which we perhaps cannot get with all of our efforts, and yet we need it and we cannot live without it. This is the essence of suffering. But all this suffering can be obviated and eliminated if, through philosophical analysis and repeated meditation, the nature of the object is gradually made a part and parcel of the nature of one's own self.
The entire process of meditation is nothing but this peculiar technique of the absorption of the characteristics of the object into one's own self, stage by stage, though it may take years - sometimes it takes births. But the purpose is the same, and the method is this: namely, that the spatial isolation and the temporal distance of the object from the meditating consciousness should be diminished gradually, by repeated concentration. After repeated practise it will be realised that the object will reveal certain characters which are sympathetic with the constitution of the meditating consciousness. In the beginning stages, however, the sympathy that exists between the subject and the object cannot be visualised.
This impossibility of visualising the sympathy between the two arises on account of the intensity of the activity of the senses. The senses are very powerful, and the only business of the senses is to intensify the isolated condition of the object from the subject and to emphasise excessively the distance that the object maintains in respect of the subject – the materiality of the object, the desirability of the object, and so on and so forth. This is the work of the senses, which is an activity that is quite opposed to the attempt that the mind proposes in its meditations.
So the mind has to become friendly with the senses, and rather than oppose the activity of the senses, may have to convert the energy spent through the activity of the senses into meditative forces. This process of the conversion of energy from sense activity into mental activity is called pratyahara, which we shall be considering later on.