I.43 स्मृतिपरिशुद्धौ स्वरूपशून्येवार्थमात्रनिर्भासा निर्वितर्का

smṛti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyevārtha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā
smṛti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyā iva artha-mātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā

Nirvitarka [samāpatti] happens on the purification of memory. It is as though [citta] empties itself of identity. There is a shining of the object alone.”

Patañjali describes a state of perception that is “without thought” (nirvitarka, from nir-, “without,” + vi-, “distinct,” + tark, “to think”). He uses imagery of emptying, purifying, and shining. As in I.41, which describes the beautiful jewel being saturated by the object, there is a sense here in which citta is infused with the object of attention. Citta shines as the object, as though citta had no form or identity of its own. The phrases svarūpa-śūnya-iva and ārtha-mātra-nirbhāsa are significant, appearing again in Patañjali’s definition of samādhi, the eight limb of yoga (also the theme and title of this chapter). See III.3.

Ārtha-mātra-nirbhāsa means “shining with the object alone.” In contrast with savitarka samāpatti, which does itself bring proficient and keen insight, nirvitarka samāpatti does not mix word associations or conceptual ideas in the perceptive moment. Jaganath Carrera describes it as “beyond thought.”

The consciousness is svarūpa-śūnya-iva, “as though” (iva) “emptied” (śunya) of “its own form” (svarūpa); citta is emptied of identity and of any purpose related to identity. I am intrigued that Patañjali uses the word iva here. It suggests that citta neither completely nor finally “empties.” Citta does have a form. It does have its own inherent nature. It has its own essence. And yet in nirvitarka samāpatti, there occurs a profound “emptying.”

The idea of emptying is important in the Christian tradition. St. Paul uses it in the Epistle to the Philippians (2:7) to describe the incarnation of the divine, writing that Christ  “emptied himself…to be born in the likeness of man,” and St. John of the Cross, the great sixteenth-century mystic, builds on this passage to describe the aspirant’s path. There is a stage, he says, of emptying, of loss, even darkness that readies the spirit to receive spirit, which is, he says, love:

He strips their faculties, affections and feelings, both spiritual and sensual, both outward and inward, leaving the understanding dark, the will dry, the memory empty and the affections in the deepest affliction, bitterness and constraint, taking from the soul the pleasure and experience of spiritual blessings which it had aforetime, in order to make of this privation one of the principles which are requisite in the spirit so that there may be introduced into it and united with it the spiritual form of the spirit, which is the union of love. –St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, Chapter III


“Memory is the recollection of past thoughts and experiences. It is the storehouse of past impressions. Its knowledge is reflected knowledge. The sādhaka should be aware that memory has tremendous impact on intelligence. By perseverence in yoga practices and persistent self-discipline, new experiences surface. These new experiences, free from the memories of the past, are fresh, direct….” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.43

“The mind no longer labels an object or provides any other associations or details about it from memory. The object stands before awareness just as it is, stripped of the usual accoutrements of category and meaning with which the mind dresses up an object to set it apart from other objects; this is an apple, apples are red, I like apples.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 17

“One comes to the experience where no centre of thought-modification exists only by purification of memory, which [Patañjali] defines as a state where the subjective projections of the mind have dropped away. Then there is no conflict in the sphere of becoming, for the will of the mind is not sought to be imposed upon the will of nature. The effort of the mind to become something ceases. It does not mean that there is no becoming. It implies that there is only the natural becoming, not a becoming in the direction set by the mind…. In nirvitarka samādhi there is a purification so that not only is the mind freed from the pulls of the repetitive memory but also from the pulls of anticipation, from the frustrating efforts of psychological becoming.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p.82-85

•Have you ever dropped a label or categorization of something or someone and come to a fuller understanding of what or who it is?
•What is it to see with the eyes of love?
•Have you gained “freshness of perception” from the practice of the physical poses? Mr. Iyengar writes that in āsana practice, spiritual understanding “begins with the inner skin.” What does he mean?
•What do you consider purification of the memory to be?
•Rohit Mehta writes that the mind attempts to realize itself on nature, that it projects itself forward, anticipates the future. But the future the mind attempts to realize is rooted in the past: “the future that is sought is the unfulfilled past.” Are you aware of a psychological drive to see things a certain way? To assert yourself on the future? What is involved in letting go of such motivation (in your experience)?
•Has life brought you experiences that have necessitated an “emptying” out of yourself? Would you say this led to growth? Of what kind?


feminine noun in compound

memory (from smṛ, “to remember”)


feminine noun, 7th case singular, “on”

purification (from pari- , “all around,” + śudh, “purify”)


neuter noun in compound

identity, essence, natural form (from sva, “own,” + rūpa, “form”)


feminine adjective, 1st case singular




as though


masculine noun in compound

object, aim


neuter noun in compound

the one thing and no more (artha-mātra = the “object alone”)


feminine participle, 1st case singular

shining forth (from nir-, “forth, away from,” + bhās, “to shine”)


feminine adjective, 1st case singular

without thought or reason (from nir-, “without,” + vi-, “distinct,” + tark, “to think”)

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