III.2 तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम्

tatra pratyayaika-tānatā dhyānam
tatra pratyaya-eka-tānatā dhyānam

“There [in the state of dhāraṇā], a singleness of attention to arising thoughts is dhyāna.”

The word “meditation” is so widely used, it has become loaded. The outer form sometimes seems to stand for the thing itself. What is meditation? We all agree that specific practices taught by specific lineages–perhaps Tibetan or Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation or Vipassana–are meditation. There is a common understanding as well that meditation involves some form of sitting (the Bhāgavad Gītā, indeed, describes sitting on an antelope skin in a clean place, not too high, not too low, holding the body, the head and neck upright). Yet when we consider, really, what is meant by meditation, we might ask, does it require one to sit? Could one perhaps do it lying down? Must one be still? Could one do it walking? Or dancing? Singing? Rock climbing? Author Julia Cameron describes her morning practice of writing to be meditation. Catholic priest Thomas Keating teaches a meditative technique he calls Centering Prayer. Are meditation and prayer two different things?

In some sense, yoga is meditation, and meditation is yoga. And though, traditionally, many have translated dhyāna, the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga,  as “meditation,” this obscures the specific definition Patañjali has given dhyāna here. The word “meditation” better applies to the entire process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi.  (This will be discussed more in sūtra III.4.) It is not a separate practice from the rest of yoga. It is also not a fixed state, nor an endpoint, nor one unchanging thing. Meditation is process, a process of awareness and attention, of presence.

Dhāraṇā, making the choice of a point of focus and–as Rohit Mehta describes it–setting a marginal area of awareness around that point, is the first step in that process. Dhyāna is the second step; it is, Patañjali tells us, pratyaya-eka-tānatā, a singleness of attention–an observation of all arising sensations, feelings, thoughts–the repeated return to the focal point and the movement to what Mehta calls the marginal area as well.

The word pratyaya, which could be translated as idea or thought, comes from prati-, “towards,” and the verb i, “to go.” It thus describes movement (in a way that neither “idea” or “thought” do). It is a movement of citta towards an object or image or sense impression. It is not static, but rises, subsides. Eka is one, and tānatā, derived from tāna, thread or sound (itself derived from tan, to stretch) is extension or expansion.

The extending, expanding thread or sound of dhyāna is the inward sensing, feeling attentiveness of observation. As we choose the point, we also allow the movement of mind, feel the mind in the body and return our attention to the point. The ongoing presence to movement, sensation, feeling allows us to listen–as Rohit Mehta says–to the story of ourselves. Distractions from the point of focus, indeed, tell a story, and pratyaya-eka-tānatā suggests receptivity, sympathy to that story.

To come into right perception of the world around us, we must come into right relationship with ourselves.

Thus the importance of the body in dhyāna. Whether by attending to the breath, the position of the spine, or holding any part of the body as a point of focus, we feel the body more, we inhabit the mind that is in the body more fully. B.K.S. Iyengar describes eka-tānatā as having both a centrifugal direction from the center of self out to the skin, “the frontiers of the body,” and a centripetal one, which brings an experience of the whole body as one, which brings also subtle, inner sensations of self. The awareness centers. It expands.

As we listen to the story of the mind, Rohit Mehta says, the mind becomes quiet; our gaze, our attentiveness becomes more steady. This steadiness comes not from will power, but from a flow of concern, caring, purpose.

Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.

It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement…
But we just feel the wind against us.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Uncollected Poems, translated by Joanna Macy


“Eka-tānatā implies an unbroken flow of contact between the sādhaka‘s consciousness and her sādhana. … In āsana, there is a centrifugal movement of consciousness to the frontiers of the body, whether extended vertically, horizontally or circumferentially, and a centripetal movement as the whole body is brought into single focus.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.2

Dhyāna is the state of watching the flow of thought without any interruption. To observe the movement of the mind in a condition of extensive awareness is, according to Patañjali, the state of dhyāna…. It is necessary to realize that distraction is the language through which the mind tells its own story. We have never listened to the mind, in fact we have treated mind as something alien to us. The non-listening to the story of the mind makes distraction into such an enormous problem in all approaches of meditation…. Meditation is indeed the emptying of the mind of all its contents. But the mind cannot be emptied, it empties itself. And this emptying happens when the story of the mind is listened to without any judgment or evaluation…. When the mind empties itself, the thought process automatically ends. The cessation of the thought process is a state of silence. And it is only in the silence of the mind that the focal point can be looked at.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 259-65

• Do you watch the movement of your consciousness when you practice āsana? How would you describe that movement? Where does the movement go? What happens when you watch the breath?
• What happens for you when the mind drifts away from the area of focus? What is the nature of your response? What is your relationship with distractions? What is your relationship with your mind?
• After a session of practice, do you feel you have “heard” your mind? Have you “listened to its story”?
• Do you feel your practice has brought you a more direct perception of things?
• In what other activities in your life do you choose a focal point? What happens in that activity when you find that you have shifted away from the point?



there (refers to previous sūtra)


masculine noun in compound

arising thought, thought wave, movement towards something (prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)



one, single


feminine noun, 1st case singular

extension, expansion; having the quality of a thread, or a note of sound (from tan,, to stretch; tāna is “thread”; eka-tāna, is “directing the mind to one object”; -ta is feminine suffix that makes an abstract noun)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

observation, contemplation (from dhyai, “to think, ponder, reflect, call to mind”)

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