I.44 एतयैव सविचारा निर्विचारा च सूक्ष्मविषया व्याख्याता

etayaiva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣayā vyākhyātā
etayā eva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣayā vyākhyātā

“By this, [the samāpatti] that applies to subtle objects, [and can be described as] savicāra and nirvicāra, is explained.”

Central to the practice of yoga is the choice of an object (viṣaya) as a point of focus. In the context of āsana practice, this will mean, first, what is the shape of the pose? How must the foot press or the arm extend–to make this shape? The shape of the pose might be considered the most outward object of attention–the first order of business. As the practice continues, we may shift our focus to more subtle (sūkṣma) layers–the movement of the skin, the quality of the breath, our own habits of mind. The subtle layers may or may not be more profound in meaning, or even more transformative in effect. Indeed–as far as āsana practice is concerned–practitioners return to the outer form regularly, with full regard and interest.

In sāṅkhya philosophy, which shares much of the terminology and worldview of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, the “subtle objects” are those that are the cause of what is manifest (for a diagram of sāṅkhya principles, see Table 9 in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, by  B.K.S. Iyengar, pp. 132-33). The movement toward these layers is thus a kind of involution, a reversal of the direction of evolution, toward the cause, the source. In the words of B.K.S. Iyengar, “We struggle from the gross material world into the subtle heart of nature, like the salmon returning to their source for both death and regeneration.” (Light on Life, p. 211)

What is the perceptive faculty that takes us to these realms? Patañjali uses the term vicāra, which commentators variously translate as reflection, discrimination, deliberation, contemplation, intuition. Its dictionary meaning is close to vitarka, but Patañjali clearly means to differentiate it.

What is a good word to describe the observation of inner things? I ask myself, what am I “seeing” when I “see” that another person is angry or sad, delighted or confused? Is it the expression of the face (I believe some would assert that this is the case) or am I reading some more subtle sign? What in me is doing the reading?

Mr. Iyengar uses the sāṅkhya concept of buddhi (“intelligence,” considered one of the three components of citta) to define vicāra: “perfect intelligence where all logic comes to an end.” I like the word intuition— it expresses the inward-moving aspect of vicāra (derived from car, “to move”), and, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it has historically been used to express spiritual insight, divine inspiration. In modern usage, intuition is “immediate apprehension,” whether by the senses or the intellect. Some use it to mean a perception the means of which is unknown.

It is perhaps not necessary to work too hard to find the right English word for vicāra, because Patañjali proposes a perception that is beyond it. Patañjali’s purpose in the Yoga Sūtras is to provide a guide to practice. Do it. Experience it, he seems to say. There is something beyond.

Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey
to the ocean of meanings. …

The stream knows it can’t stay on the mountain.
Leave and don’t look away from the sun as you go,
in whose light you’re sometimes crescent, sometimes full.

— Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)


“Transformation of the consciousness by contemplation on subtle objects such as the ego (ahaṅkāra), intelligence (buddhi) or the counterpart of the elements (sound, touch, sight, taste and smell), or the qualities of luminosity, vibrancy and dormancy of nature, conditioned by space, time and causation, is savicāra samāpatti. … In nirvicāra samāpatti, the sādhaka experiences a state without verbal deliberations. … He is free from memory, free from past experiences, devoid of all past impressions.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.44

“From the sāṅkhya perspective, the gross aspect of  nature consists of all things that are visible, palpable, or otherwise grossly perceptible, including matter and the products of consciousness (citta). The subtle elements, on the other hand, are those phenomena that are immaterial and subtly perceptible. These include the tanmātras, or subtle primary experiences underlying sound, form, odor, flavor, and feeling, and the movements of consciousness’s three components; intelligence (buddhi), sensory mind (manas), and “I-maker,” or ego-organizing principle (ahaṅkāra).” — Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 17

• In your yoga practice, what do you consider the gross elements? The subtle?
• Have you become aware of more subtle layers of perception through yoga? What is an example of this shift of awareness?
• Is what you know with your heart different than what you know with your mind?
• Has your knowledge of yourself deepened with practice? 


feminine pronoun 3rd case singular, “by”




just, thus (a particle that adds emphasis)


feminine adjective, 1st case singular

with intuition (from sa-, “with,” + vi-,  “distinct,” + car, “to move”)


feminine adjective, 1st case singular

beyond intuition (from nir-, “without,” + vi-,  “distinct,” + car, “to move”)





adjective in compound



noun, here in an adjectival compound, feminine 1st case ending (modifying samāpatti, which is understood)

object (from viṣ, “to act”)


feminine past passive participle, 1st case singular

explained (from vi-, “distinct,” + ā, “fully,” + khyā, “to name”)

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