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Signposts of Progress in Meditation
Part VI: Depths of Absorption

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.







Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York


Concentration, when it becomes effortless, takes the form of meditation; meditation is absorption in the object meditated upon. Just as concentration has various levels, so does absorption in meditation have various depths by which the aspirant's progress can be measured. The Yoga system describes these depths of absorption in meditation as the following seven stages of samadhi:

  1. savitarka (with question)

  2. nirvitarka (without question)

  3. savichara (with discrimination)

  4. nirvichara (without discrimination)

  5. sananda (with bliss)

  6. asmita (with only purified I-consciousness)

  7. the state of complete absorption

The Yoga system is based upon the idea that the inner Self, which is pure Consciousness, remains covered by successive layers of ignorance consisting of attachments and aversions. These layers surround the Self like the rings of a tree trunk, with each outer layer being grosser and denser than the preceding inner one. The outermost layer is the physical form. Mind and matter, according to Yoga, are not two separate entities. Matter is the evolved form of mind; in their undifferentiated state, both mind and matter, which are one and the same, are called Prakriti.

The goal of meditation is to transcend the bounds of Prakriti, by means of the devolution of Consciousness (the opposite of the process of evolution) through meditation. This meditation must be on a single object, beginning with the gross form of the object and proceeding to finer and finer contents of the same object. The three factors in meditation—the witness consciousness of the aspirant, the object witnessed, and the act of witnessing—are distinguishable only in the early stages of meditation. As meditation deepens, they begin to merge and finally become one.

The Yoga system maintains that there are only three possible objects of meditation: material form or symbol, a thought or idea, or the inner Self. At the first stage of meditation, savitarka (with question), the aspirant concentrates his mind on some visual or audible form or symbol. The object of concentration is thought to exist inside the aspirant and regarded as being within the limits of time and space. It is as if the aspirant's mind at this stage queries the object of concentration to reveal its true nature, which is why this stage is called "with question." The second stage of meditation, nirvitarka (without question), is reached when the aspirant is able to concentrate on the same object by separating it from all ideas of time and space.

The aspirant reaches the third stage, savichara (with discrimination), when he meditates no longer on the gross form of the object, but on its subtle essence (tanmatra), though still thinking of it as within time and space. As his meditation deepens, he attains to the fourth stage, nirvichara (without discrimination), where he is able to concentrate solely on the subtle essence of the object, separating it from the ideas of time and space.

His meditation reaches the fifth stage of absorption, sananda (with bliss), when he meditates on neither the gross form nor the subtle essence of the object, but on its further subtle essence—the very mind-stuff itself. Reaching the sixth stage, asmita (with only purified I-consciousness), the aspirant meditates on his I-consciousness in its most undifferentiated form. At this stage, he becomes videha, bereft of all body consciousness. Yet this state of disembodiedness is still not perfect, for the aspirant continues to think of himself as having a subtle body.

Absorption reaches its culmination when the aspirant's mind becomes free from all seeds of potential thought: his mind now has nothing to cognize and ceases to be mind. The myriad universe drops away, time stands still, and his individual consciousness merges in the Self, the Universal Consciousness. The process of meditation deliberately cultivates a single thought-wave, and as this thought-wave becomes intensified through repeated practice, it takes the form of the whole mind. After swallowing all other distracting thought-waves, it itself becomes quelled.

To be continued

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]


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