III.3 तादेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिव समाधिः

tad evārtha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ svarūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ
tat eva artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ svarūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ

“That–when the object alone shines forth, as if [citta] were empty of its own identity–is samādhi.”

The word samādhi comes from dhā, to hold or put. Sam means “with” or “all,” ā is an intensifier. Thus samādhi is “putting all together.” Patañjali defines samādhi as a kind of pure perception–the object alone is seen. One’s own form is “emptied” (śūnya). It is as though the perceiver has no identity.

As I have said, citta (sometimes translated as mind, sometimes as consciousness) is the apparatus by which we perceive. Our experience shapes citta, leaves patterns of thought, preconceptions, ideas that then affect what we see (or don’t see). Despite this inherent limitation, samādhi is the remarkable moment in citta when artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ– “the object alone shines.” Artha is the object one focuses on and mātra is “measure”; the phrase artha-mātra means something like the thing itself, the thing alone, or even the essence of the thing. Patañjali suggests that samādhi is an insight into the totality of a thing. It is, in Rohit Mehta’s words, a vision of Reality. (Here mātra is neuter; the feminine form of the word also means measure and is used to refer to sound or vibration–its cognate is our word meter. In an ultimate sense, the sound, the vibration, of a thing is its essence.)

Samādhi has been translated as absorption, union, communion, integration. It comprehends a quality of immersion or flow, in which a kind of natural curiosity and alertness operate. This is not a state that we perfectly control. It is certainly not a state that we can force. It is also not something out of the range of ordinary experience. As a mother gazes at her child, absorbed in the child, she is in samādhi. When a musician, as B.K.S. Iyengar says in his commentary on this sūtra, becomes engrossed in her playing, that is samādhi. The love of the thing brings us to its contemplation, holds our attention, and supports the liveliness of our engagement. It is “as if” (iva) the limitations of our form–the habits of mind built from fears, disappointments, obsessions and preoccupations–fall away, and we see, feel, hear anew.

It is not, however, a negation of self that leads to integration, that allows us to be in communion. Patañjali’s threefold process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi assist the self in telling her story. In dhāraṇā, we choose a focal point (and a marginal area around it, as Rohit Mehta says). In dhyāna, we steadily observe the movements of our mind away from the focal point and back. The distractions of the mind themselves tell the story of the mind, of the self.

I have described the importance of the body in this practice of hearing one’s own story. Indeed, the mind makes itself known, powerfully and primarily, through the body. Trauma therapist Peter A. Levine calls the body experience, sensation, feeling, and motor response, “the unspoken voice.” By staying tuned to the body and breath as we practice, we hear this voice. We hear ourselves. When working with trauma patients, Levine helps them “uncouple” sensation from image and thought. To hold, to contain our impressions, make no conclusions, this is a yogic act. This is what happens as we observe the movements within us. In some sense, in dhāranā, we come to hold ourselves.

The emptying of dhyāna, which brings us to samādhi, is an emptying of memory (see I.43), of past preoccupations and present certainties. It requires a relaxation of hyper vigilance and a lowering of the defenses. It requires a willingness to not know, to be, simply, curious. The body shows us the way to this, in a “bottom’s up” way (Levine’s phrase). Breathing, sensing, feeling, the body moves instinctively toward balance, a balance of self and other, of autonomy and connection. Many of us need to come out of a kind of physical frozen state, a fear state, in which the brain is super-charged with image and thought, the life force itself suppressed. (See Peter A. Levine, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.)

As I consider the importance of samādhi in our world today, at a time of climate crisis, of pandemic upheaval, of ongoing, even worsening, racist violence and injustice, I look to the words of adrienne marie brown, writer, healer, doula, and social justice facilitator. In her prophetic book Emergent Strategy, she describes a personal transformation needed for our times and declares that we are all “the protagonists” of a great turning, a change that we must envision into being. She writes:

Many of us have been socialized to understand that constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass are the ways to create change. But … adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical, deep, and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience.

Resilience comes from, is made possible by, a connection inward as well as out. It is through our senses–not in spite of them–that we integrate within, that we free our curiosity and unleash our deep desire to connect, that we become quiet and more attuned to the other.

I am listening now with all my senses, as if the whole universe might exist just to teach me more about love.

(Both quotes are from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by adrienne marie brownpp. 10, 14.)


“If the goal of the practice of meditation is to gain knowledge of the object of meditation that is immediate, unbiased, and whole then the mind has to reach a state where it completely, even if temporarily, gives up whatever form it is holding in favor of that of the chosen object.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, p. 168

“To watch the movement of inattention is to watch the activity of the knower of the field. It has to be understood that the thinker can be watched only in the movement of thought and not away from it. In this watching the thinker relates his own story, and when it is heard without any interruption then the thinker comes to a state of quiet. It is in this quietness emanating from the focal point, that there comes a deep silence which is indeed the condition of total attention. It is only in such a state of attention that seeing is possible. This seeing or right perception is described by Patañjali as Samādhi or communion… In this awareness, and there alone, one communes with the intrinsic significance or the quality of things or persons. The timeless moment is a flash…. The next moment the stream will move on. But it is in that timeless interval that one can have the enthralling vision of Reality, a regenerating touch of the Intangible. This is the moment of Love, of communion, or Samādhi. Love and Samādhi are not two different things.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 274-79

• In your experience, how does the “emptying” of the mind happen?
• How do you know when you come into a true perception of things?
• What does it mean to you, to listen, with all your senses, to a message of love? What is your understanding of why Rohit Mehta says, Love is Samādhi?
• What are conditions in you that lead to not listening, not sensing or feeling?
• What activities engross you most completely?


neuter pronoun, 1st case singular




specifically, so, just so


masculine noun in compound

object, aim


neuter noun in compound

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


neuter participle, 1st case singular

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


neuter noun in compound

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


neuter adjective, 1st case singular




as though


masculine noun, 1st case singular

absorption (from sam-, “with,” + ā, “towards,” + dhā, “to place, to hold”)

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