Yoga dictionary. Vitarka
By and large, we achieve some kind of” enlightenment ” every day. Any awareness of anything, any life lesson passed-this is a kind of”enlightenment”. Therefore, enlightenment is an endless process, because, as we know, evolution, as well as degradation, have no end point. There is no limit to both perfection and regression.
If we talk about concepts more specifically, in yoga there is such a term as “Samadhi”. As you know, Sanskrit is a very complex language, and one word can have up to fifty different meanings. According to the yoga sutras of Patanjali, Samadhi is the ultimate stage of yoga. Again, the final stage does not mean the highest point of perfection. It is perhaps fair to say that yoga only begins at the level of Samadhi. After all, in Sanskrit “yoga” means connection. And Samadhi, according to one of the interpretations, is the merging of individual consciousness with the cosmic, that is, in the process of Samadhi, this very yoga – connection with the Supreme is realized. And in his philosophical treatise Patanjali clearly outlined the stages of achieving Samadhi. In addition to the basic concept, which is known as the “eight-stage system of yoga”, its finale is Samadhi, Patanjali also revealed in more detail the four stages of acquiring this state: Vitarka, Vicara, Ananda and Asmita. Consider the first of these steps, which is called “Vitarka”.
The concept of the four steps to Samadhi was described by Patanjali in the first Chapter, Sutra 17. The translation of this Sutra version of Sir Ganganath JHA Sutra reads: “a Real connection – one that is achieved through Perceptions, Representations, Joy and Identity.” Accordingly, in this version of the translation the term “Vitarka “is translated as”perception”. But as mentioned above, each Sanskrit concept has many meanings. And the term “Vitarka “can also mean many concepts:” analysis”,” research”,” reasoning”,” reflection”,” guess”,” representation ” and so on. A yoga teacher like Iyengar proposed the following definition of the term “Vitarka”: “analytical research” or “intelligent introspection”.
If we take something averaged between different versions of the translation, we can say that Vitarka is “reflection”. Thinking about what? Is Vitarka contemplation, the process of Dhyana? Yes and no. In the case of Vitarka, the object of concentration is the objects perceived by the senses. What’s the meaning of that?
For example, in yoga there is such a practice as Trataka-concentration on a point, candle or image. One of the classic variants of Trataka is the concentration on the so – called “thanka” – a kind of iconographic image with the image of an enlightened being in the tradition of Buddhism. So, concentration on thanka is a typical example of Vitarka-contemplation of an object that is perceived by the senses.
This is the fundamental difference between Vitarka and Vichara, which is a process of concentration on more subtle things. And Vicara is a full-fledged Dhyana. It is no accident that Patanjali placed these concepts in this order: first comes the Vitarka and then the Vicara, a more subtle level of concentration.
The process of transition from Vitarka to Vicara is described by Patanjali in Sutra 45 of the same first Chapter. In the version of A. Bailey’s translation, the Sutra reads as follows:”the Gross leads to the subtle, and the subtle, in gradual stages, to that state of pure spiritual being, which is called Pradhana.” The further two stages described by Patanjali in Sutra 1.17, Ananda and asmita, can be translated as bliss and disidentification from the ego, respectively.
The eight-stage system of yoga involves four stages of working with the mind: Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. It can be said that in Sutra 1.17 Patanjali reveals these concepts in a different interpretation. Vitarka contains the development of Pratyahara – control of the senses – and Dharana-keeping attention on the object. And then the yogi passes into Vicara, the direct practice of Dhyana, which leads first to the attainment of Ananda (bliss), and then to Asmita, the disidentification from the ego, which brings the yogi very close to the state of Samadhi.
Thus, as we can see, the work with the mind begins with the concentration on some object perceived by the senses. This is usually the simplest form of meditation. It is important to note that Vitarka is not necessarily a concentration on a visual image, such as a thangka or an icon. It can also be concentration on a sound, i.e. a mantra or any other object perceived by the senses.
For example, in some traditions there is such a practice as eating Prasada – food offered to any deity. In this case, through the concentration on the taste of food, Vitarka is also carried out. This, of course, happens only if the eating of Prasada is done consciously and in a meditative state, and not just as an ordinary absorption of food. Thus, methods of Vitarka there is a great variety, and everyone can choose for himself the object that causes the maximum resonance with the inner world.