III.4 त्रयमेकत्र संयमः

trayam ekatra saṁyamaḥ
“The three [dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi] are one thing: saṁyama.”

Patañjali introduces one word to describe the three-fold process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi. The three are one, he says. And he calls the one thing saṁyama.

Saṁyama repeats as a refrain through Chapter Three, as Patañjali goes on to describe the abilities and understanding that come from contemplation of the world around us.  Saṁyama brings integration within and more accurate perception without. It mends the different parts of ourselves and opens up for us insight into the experience–the being–of others. Yoga is a “science of purification of perception,” says Vimala Thakar (Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 95). We must base our actions in the world on truth.

Saṁyama derives from sam-, which here has a sense of “all” or “complete,” and yama, “rule” or “discipline” (same word as yama, the first limb of yoga). It is used in many contexts to refer to spiritual discipline or religious vow. Here, Patañjali has defined it in a more precise way–it is dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi. Mehta translates saṁyamaas Patañjali uses it, as “meditation.” And this seems the best translation to me–in that it corresponds to the way so many of us today use the term “meditation.” Other commentators translate saṁyama as “perfect mastery,” “perfect discipline,” “integration.” Yet those translations seem incomplete. The discipline of saṁyama is specifically a discipline of perception. The mastery is a mastery of observation, of sensing. Saṁyama is integration–and healing–of consciousness.

Patañjali has emphasized the three-fold aspect of meditation, and in so doing, he has highlighted the cyclical, rolling, ongoing aspect of practice. The practice Patañjali describes allows for movement–and for the natural cultivation of our abilities. Samādhi–complete absorption, union, deep insight into the nature of things, or as Rohit Mehta says, a vision of the Formless–occurs as a moment in time. Just as the eye shifts its gaze, so does citta move again. To demand that the eye stay fixed is to harm it. In the practice of saṁyama, we return to dhāraṇā (choosing a focal point), to dhyāna (observing the distractions of our mind), to samādhi again.

The threefold aspect contrasts in an interesting way with the either/or, dual nature of our conceptual process. We tend to conceptualize in terms of good/bad, hot/cold, pleasure/pain (see sūtra II.48). The yogic practice, however, is an ongoing emptying of such conclusion. It is an effort to see without labels.

In some sense, our tendency to good/bad thinking is an attempt to exert control over circumstances. To freeze reality in certainty. To not know, however, is an essential yogic intention–to be curious and to be ready to learn. This is what we practice.

Last week, I attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration. I was moved by a tall white woman who held up a sign that read #whitewomanlistening. As a white woman, there is much for me to listen to and learn from at this time. Our nation is overdue a reckoning with its history of racial violence and injustice. We need this reckoning to move forward.

The great science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler has, in her important novel Parable of the Sower, called us all to see ourselves as agents of change. “All that you touch you change; all that you change changes you,” declares Lauren Oya Olamina, the heroine of that book.

As much as we may desire to fix things, to keep them as they are, to stay with what we have known, to assume we already know–the nature of our world and of ourselves is change. Patañjali’s saṁyama can help us come un-fixed in ourselves, free us, perhaps, from our too-narrow ideas of God.

Create no images of God.
Accept the images
that God has provided.
They are everywhere,
in everything.
God is Change–
Seed to tree,
tree to forest;
Rain to river,
river to sea;
Grubs to bees,
bees to swarm.
From one, many;
from many, one;
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving–
forever Changing.
The universe
is God’s self-portrait.

–Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower


“Meditation [saṁyama] comprises this threefold process of awareness, attention and communion [dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi]. The three together constitute the wholeness of spiritual experience. They are a whole. It is only for the clarity of mental understanding that one may examine the three separately…. Samādhi or Communion is indeed the experience of the Formless. But such an experience comes only in a flash, in the Timeless Moment. It is in the vision of the Formless that one sees the quality of things, the intrinsic significance underlying all manifestation. There comes a perception of what is. This is right perception and this alone is the starting point of right action or right communication.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 281-2

•What is your experience with meditation? How do you define it?
•What do stillness/movement feel like to you in practice?
•What does integration mean to you?
•How do you respond to change? Do you see yourself as an agent of change?


neuter noun, !st case singular

group of three, triad (from tri, “three”)



in one place; together as one (from eka, “one”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)

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