Samadhi or the meditative state of mind is of many types. While various meditative practices lead the mind to be absorbed in itself, the purity or stability of the samadhi makes it manifest through different names. The first, mentioned by Maharshi Patanjali, is Savitarka Samadhi. This quietude of mind is very conditional. When meditation is focused on a word or a mantra, arises the awareness of the mantra, its meaning and the knowledge of both. The mind is constantly shifting between these three in the state of Savitarka—which means, ‘with a specific argument.’
For instance, the mind takes up the analysis of a mantra called ‘Soham’ to meditate on. The awareness first goes to the sound and meaning of the word ‘So’ or ‘Saha’ which means He, Brahman or God and to Aham or myself and to the meaning of the mantra that ‘God is Myself’. In this state of shifting between the three words, the mind grows quiet and becomes conditionally absorbed with its own self.
This is an initial and essential step to meditation or gathering the mind in one place. You begin with taking up a lofty thought, concept or word to meditate upon. Soon every other thought, emotion or object, except the one being meditating upon, leaves your awareness temporarily. For example, when you are watching a movie in the cinema hall, you almost forget the world outside—whether it is sunny or raining and during gripping scenes, you become even unaware of those sitting just next to you. But still, the mind is not totally quiet. It is conditioned by what we see—the name, form and prior knowledge about the form and its associated meanings. When this conditioning goes away, the mind is back to its earlier habitual state of confusion, doubt, fear, hatred and duality.
This is a welcome experience nevertheless and shows us that we are on the right path. The sutra gives the description of such a state and also points out the way ahead, and advises you not to revel in small victories in the course of your meditative practice.
When a word or sentence is taken up for meditation, it should be remembered that both are nothing but a collection of sounds. All the different sounds are the modification of the one basic sound—‘Om’. It is also not permanent as it has its origin in silence; it exists for a while and then drops back into silence. The purpose of Savitarka Samadhi is to analyse all these permutations and combinations of words and their meanings. Just as the body becomes tired after a hard day’s work and drops off to sleep automatically, the mind becomes exhilarated by understanding the meaning of the words that are contemplated upon. Tired as it may be, the mind is pushed to a new field of activity and easily goes to a state of rest or quietude. This absorbed state of mind is called the Savitarka Samapatti.