Four Types of Concentration

Sutra 1-17

Concentration means wholeness, unity, equilibrium. The hands, feet, mind, all our members and faculties must be unified. They must all work in harmony, in tranquillity and balance.1 It is quite rare that one can call upon the faculty of concentration and unify all faculties of the mind, body, and spirit at will to focus on any object, or subject matter; whether it interests the psyche or not.

The ability to concentrate is encapsulated in every living being, and their degree of concentrated intensity on a subject, or object, is what determines its power. This energy can wake up the universal powers of organization and synchronicity, or it can have effects on things from a distance.

For example, in animals such as lions and tigers, the degree of intensity within the concentration has the power to freeze its prey from far away. Despite having such an advanced degree of concentration, it remains bereft of the ability to conjure up a plan to take over humanity, or pick up a gun and go human hunting. It's power of concentration is confined within specific pre-defined boundries.

Sutra 1:17 vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah

The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds, (1) gross (vitarka), (2) subtle (vichara), (3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and (4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.

If intensity is what determines the degree of success for concentration, then how is this intensity developed and sustained?

Concentration of attention operates at four levels:

  • 1  Concentration at Gross Level (savichara)

    The quality, or intensity of concentration is determined by the duration for which awareness is focused on a given object. Awareness, as we saw earlier, is the quality of consciousness in attention when it is focused on a particular object, or subject.

    At the gross level, attention on an object can barely be sustained because consciousness is being bombarded by thoughts and intentions associated with the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic realm is obsessed with what others think of us. We are always measuring our self worth with a yardstick on which the scale of measurement was written by someone, or something else. As a result, what we measure and cut for ourselves could be grossly unfair and highly inaccurate. But that does not seem to bother us because it is the yardstick by which everyone else seems to measure their sense of worth, so why not we. This is where we are mistaken.

    Patanjali mentions gross level attention as the first type of concentration because this is the level at which we employ concentration on a daily basis. Concentration at this level is unconscious, instinctive, and automatic. At this stage the mind has a strong tendency to run, stomp, jump, and crawl like a demented dancer - frustrated, impatient, and full of doubt. This is the domain of the ego where judgement is king.

    Concentration as a Distraction

    At another level, gross concentration is often used as a tool for distraction. This is an often ignored fact because we wish to hide behind its dark benefits. An example of this is when a person is engrosed in playing video games or watching TV. In such cases, a person finds reality so uncomfortable that they unconsciously ask the faculty of concentration to help them become, and stay distracted through a particular handicap, or addiction such as shopping, gossiping and persecuting, surfing the net, playing video games, or the incessant search for relationships.

    It is very sad to see people congratulate each other for getting high scores in a video game and lining up for days to purchase a new game only so they could avoid life, a thought that many do not even wish to enetertain. I say this with a heavy heart because I now know the many psychological handicaps to which I crucified my many youthful, and vital years.

    At gross levels, concentration has no interest in a life of meaninng, character and higher purpose, nor does it have any room for contemplation and introspection. Sooner or later a person begins to feel the anxiety and emptiness that springs forth from self-delusional engagements and distracting entertainments. When this happens, the heart is shocked into opening itself up to the mystery of contemplation. This shock my be the result of a stagnant marriage, death of a loved one, or bouts of anxiety and depression.

    One cannot achieve much unless he or she has free use of mental and physical capacities. But how many of us have the free use of these? From the day we are born we are prgrammed to dance at the beat of anothers drum. Know that this is not our fault. We never wish to have our mental faculties hijacked, and the strength of our physical capacities rendered impotent through coercion and manipulation. But we have little choice in this matter.

    Our system, including the business, educational, and political sector go to great lenghths to engage in calculated and strategic efforts to obtain full possession of our whole being until we begin doing the bidding of interests who profit from our addictions and enslavement to materialism. As a result, our power of concentration - despite being an inherent faculty - remains a latent forgotten force till death does us apart.

  • 2  Concentration at Subtle Levels (vichara) or Contemplation

    Concentration on subtle levels/Contemplation (Vichara), ensues when the mind has built enough resilience through earlier practice to take a stroll amongst tumultuous emotions without being ambushed by them. At this level attention is dominant, with sporadic moments of insurgency from the mind who is desperate to take back his turf so he can wreak havoc upon the newly cultivated calm demeanor and tranquil heart, a state of being within which the old mind is extremely uncomfortable. In these moments of restlessness and anxiety the mind tries its best to disrupt internal peace and derail concentration. This constant revolt to jump back into a life of distraction and misery is known as reenactment.

    Contemplation(Vichara) is not something you force upon yourself, no. It happens naturally when the energy within ones faculty of concentration gets infused with greater degrees of order. This is a gradual process, but is perceived by the observer as a sudden transformation because the change that was taking place within the energy patterns of the atoms was happening in the background. Once the adept has progressed enough in the training of concentration to have harnessed the distractions from the bombardment of thoughts to a manageable level, nature having witnessed the evolvement of awareness patiently, bestows upon the adept the power of non-attachment which subdues the mind from fluttering at dizzying speeds, producing the stillness within the heart needed for contemplation.

  • 3  Bliss Accompanied Concentration (ananda)

    As our concentration gets established, our awareness matures to illumine the delusional nature of our emotionl reactions through mindfulness. In practice of mindfulness we experience brief moments of clarity with which the weight of the body seems to fall away, and what remains is just the consciousness. As a person gradually becomes aware of their latent powers, one becomes more conscious of their ability to influence the inner workings of these latent forces. Proficiency in any discipline, including concentration, is a result of this realization.

    You may have witnessed this phenomenon in a musicians state of absorption in performance, or an athletes intense concentration before they transition into what is called The Zone. In this state, the performer has transitioned from concentration into a meditative state for a brief moment. Research has shown that when in this state, perfomers report a heightened sense of awareness, accompanied by bliss.

  • 4 Concentration on the Observer - Result of Samprajnata Samadhi

    Let us first understand what the subtle world is. The energy that animates inherent life, from animals to atoms, comes from the astral world which is much more subtle than thoughts, emotions, and intentions. These in turn have evolved from much finer and subtler forces of causal creation, the creative vibratory thoughts flowing from the consciousness of Spirit.

    As you transcend this subtle world, you find that the feelings of discomfort and suffering that rock and roll through us is the consequence of the trapped energy from our experiences and beliefs. With this insight, we realize that the source of our suffering is rooted in our thinking. We are the creators of our unhappiness, and since we created it, we cannot be it.

    You have evolved now to know, and concentrate on the observer rather than the observed, be it gross or subtle. This insight into the reality of our distress is known as samprajnata samadhi, it is the state or experience where the object of your concentration - in this case our suffering and its nature - is transcended through our faculty of concentration. Since one is aware of their participation in concentration as the observer, a sense of I-ness, or individuality remains during samprajnata samadhi. The content I-ness, or content of the mind is known as the Seed.


    Samprajnata Samadhi begins when the consciousness is completely cut off from the outer world after passing through the two preliminary stages of Dharana and Dhyana. In the first stage of Samprajnata Samadhi the consciousness is therefore centred in the lower mental world and functions through the Manomaya Kosa. The essential function of the mind in this stage is denoted by the word Vitarka.

    It should be noted that when a person can leave the physical body and function in the two subtler vehicles called astral or lower mental body he is not necessarily in a state of Samadhi though his physical body is in an inert condition. He may be merely functioning in these subtler bodies in the ordinary manner exercising his clairvoyant powers and bringing down the knowledge he has gained into the physical brain when he returns to the physical body.

    The state of mind when engaged in activities such as clairvoyance etc. is not Samadhi because the mind is directed through different objects and mental tasks instead being focussed on a single object...or, no object.


Sutras I-17 introduced us to Samprajnata Samadhi. In sutra 1-18, we are acquainted with Asamprajnata samadhi.

The subject of Samadhi is too often studied in a casual and incoherent manner without realizing that the Yoga Sutras is a scientific treatise in which each word has a specific meaning without any chance of substituting alternate words or expressions for the same idea.

The science of Samadhi is the process of accessing the deeper recesses of consciousness through the elimination of mind. Mind on the other hand, is the the progressive involution of consciousness into matter or materialism. The more we get entangled into worldly pursuits, the further away we get from the process of evolution. Thus, the different stages of Samadhi represent the progressive release of consciousness from the limitations in which it is involved.

What Is Consciousness?

Consciousness is an aspect of the The Absolute in manifestation and its expression is fully realized during a state of no-mind. The greater the content within the mind, the more limited is the expression of consciousness. As the progressive involution of consciousness in matter for the purpose of its unfoldment imposes upon it increasing limitations, so the reverse process of evolution progressively releases consciousness from these limitations.

Read more on consciousness...

Graduating From Mind Towards Consciousness

Since the different stages of Samadhi represent the progressive release of consciousness from the limited mind in which it is involved and Kaivalya is that state in which it can again function in perfect freedom. Consciousness manifests to varying degrees depending on the many grades of mind. As one moves towards subtler levels there comes a point where there remains no mind. At this point the demarcation between the Self and the rest of existence start to merge into each other to the point where eventually you see yourself as being a part of existence.

What is the difference between Samprajnata and Asamprajnata Samadhis?

There is a lot of misunderstanding with regard to the nature of Samprajnata and Asamprajanta Samadhi says I. K. Taimni in his insight into the Yoga Sutras. As a result, many students confuse them with Sabija and Nirbija Samadhi.

When Patanjali uses two pairs of words—Samprajnata and Asamprajnata on the one hand and Sabija and Nirbija on the other—in entirely different contexts it is because he is dealing with two entirely different ideas or subjects and to take these two pairs of words as if they mean the same thing shows lack of comprehension of the whole subject. We shall discuss later the significance of Sabija and Nirbija Samadhis. Let us first try to understand what Samprajnata and Asamprajnata Samadhis mean. source

Samprajnata Samadhi means Samadhi with Prajna. The prefix A in Asamprajnata Samadhi means "Not", therefore, Asamprajnata Samadhi means "the Samadhi Not with Prajna". The word Prajna is derived from Pra meaning high and Jna which means "To Know". So if both types are associated with Prajna, then where lies the difference?

The difference lies in the presence or absence of a Pratyaya in the field of consciousness. In Samprajnata Samadhi there is a Pratyaya, or Seed. Pratyaya is a technical word used in Yoga to denote the total content of the mind at any moment. The word mind is being used here in its widest sense - thoughts, feelings, emotions, concepts, opinions, ideas, goals, intentions, and beliefs and not merely the intellect.

This Pratyaya(seed) may be of any kind and may exist on any plane of the mind. A mental image of a child, a concept of a mathematical principle, an all-embracing vision of the Unity of life are all Pratyayas of different kinds and belonging to different planes. Innovators and scientists involved in creative endeavours make extensive use of varying types of Seeds at different stages of enquiry into subtler realms of knowledge.

Asamprajnata Samadhi therefore represents a very dynamic condition of the mind and differs from Samprajnata Samadhi only in the absence of Pratyaya in the field of consciousness. In intensity of concentration and alertness of the mind it is on a par with Samprajnata Samadhi. That is why it is denoted by merely adding the prefix A to Samprajnata Samadhi.

  • 1:17 vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah
  • VITARKA - gross thought or reasoning.

  • VICHARA - subtle thought.

  • ANANDA - bliss, ecstasy.

  • ASMITA - I-ness, individuality.

  • RUPA - appearances, nature, form.

  • ANUGAMAT - accompanied by, associated with.

  • SAMPRAJANATHA - cognitive absorption, lower samadhi.