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Śabda-Yoga: The Language Of Yoga Demystified – Part 1


In this series, Yogic terminologies of will be taken up and their

  1. Etymological analysis,
  2. Lexical descriptions and
  3. Textual occurrences in Yogic texts and their commentaries, as available, will be presented. Predominantly Yogasūtra Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā and Bhagavadgītā are consulted. Though many more texts could have been consulted, these are primary texts and a hence a clarity on terminologies based on these three texts would give a sound foundation. Later other texts can be consulted.

śabda-yoga is intended to help students, teachers, and professionals of Yoga to develop a sound grammatical,  contextual, and thereby an authentic and immersive understanding of Yoga terminologies.

List of Words

The words that appear in the yogasūtras will be sequentially dealt initially and then terms from other prominent Yoga texts will be taken up. Every śabda-yoga article will analyse five terms. The first five terms for this article are –

  1. samādhi
  2. sādhana
  3. vibhūti
  4. kaivalya
  5. sūtra

As can be seen from the above the first four terms – samādhi, sādhana, vibhūti, kaivalya are the names of the four chapters of Yoga-sūtra and the term sūtra is format of the text composed by Sage Patañjali. Though various other terms like pāda (as in samādhi- pāda), patañjali etc) could have been taken up for the first write up in the series, these five terms were chosen because of their primary importance. Other related terms will be taken up in due course.

  1. Samādhi


Samādhi  = Sam + ā + dhā+ki

  • In this word Sam and ā are the prefixes – meaning – well (steadily) and total/complete
  • dhā is the root – meaning – dhāraṇa-poṣaṇayoḥ – to hold and to nourish
  • ki is the suffix – meaning – the act of –  this affixed to the root according to the grammatical rule 3.3.92 of sage pāṇini in the text aṣṭādhyāyī.

In essence समाधीयते इति समाधिः samādhīyate iti samādhiḥ – the act of fixing/holding the mind completely and steadily is samādhi .


In the following two instances Amarakośa lexicon discusses the term Samādhi.

First Instance

संविदागूः प्रतिज्ञानं नियमाश्रवसंश्रवाः ।
अङ्गीकाराभ्युपगमप्रतिश्रव-समाधयः । । १.५.५

saṃvidāgūḥ pratijñānaṃ niyamāśravasaṃśravāḥ |

aṅgīkārābhyupagamapratiśrava-samādhayaḥ | | 1.5.5

samādhi is one among the ten synonyms for aṅgīkāra – acceptance. The other terms are – saṃvid, āgū, pratijñāna, niyamāśrava, saṃśrava, aṅgīkāra, abhyupagama and pratiśrava.

Second Instance

स्युः समर्थन-नीवाक-नियमाश्च समाधयः। ३.३.९८

syuḥ samarthana-nīvāka-niyamāśca samādhayaḥ3.3.98

Samādhi is used in the following three senses – substantiate (samarthana), speechlessness (nīvāka), rule (niyama).

Speechlessness (nīvāka) is worth noting. In the state of Samādhi. No words exist, even mentally. Only the object remains. This is a very useful and relevant description of the term under consideration.

Textual occurrences  – Yogic texts 

[1]Yogasūtra and commentaries

योगः समाधिः –  yogaḥ samādhiḥ (vyāsa-bhāṣya 1.1)

The meaning of the term Yoga is Samādhi. Yoga in turn is cittavṛttinirodha (1.2). Hence in the text Yogasūtras  cittavṛttinirodha, Yoga and Samādhi are synonymous. This is commonly applicable definition of Samādhi in all its divisions.


Though there is no direct verse that clearly defines Samādhi in this text, we find the term mentioned in two places and the commentary of Bhagavad-Rāmānujācārya is quoted to clarify the meaning of the term Samādhi in those two contexts.

स्थितप्रज्ञस्य का भाषा समाधिस्थस्य केशव २.५४

sthitaprajñasya kā bhāṣā samādhisthasya keśava 2.54

Bhagavad-Rāmānujācārya’s commentary – What is the speech of a man of firm wisdom who is abiding with the mind controlled? What words can describe his state? What is his nature? This is the meaning of ‘How does a man of firm wisdom speak etc.?’ His specific conduct is now described as his nature can be inferred therefrom.

ब्रह्मैव तेन गन्तव्यं ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना॥४.२४॥

brahmaiva tena gantavyaṃ brahmakarmasamādhinā।।4.24।।

Bhagavad-Rāmānujācārya’s commentary  – He is the Brahma-karma-Samādhi who contemplates thus on all acts as filled with the Supreme Brahman or as having the Supreme Brahman as the Self.


In three consecutive verses the term Samādhi is defined in the text.

सलिले सैन्धवं यद्वत् साम्यं भजति योगतः ।
तथात्ममनसोरैक्यं समाधिरभिधीयते ॥ ४.५

salile saindhavaṁ yadvat sāmyaṁ bhajati yogataḥ

tathātmamanasoraikyaṁ samādhirabhidhīyate ।। 4.5

As salt in water unites and dissolves into it, a likewise merging of the mind and self (atman) is Samādhi.

यदा संक्षीयते प्राणो मानसं च प्रलेयते ।
तदा समरसत्वं च समाधिरभिधीयते ॥४.६

yadā saṁkṣīyate prāṇo mānasaṁ ca praleyate

tadā samarasatvaṁ ca samādhirabhidhīyate 4.6

When prāṇa is without any movement (in Kumbhaka) and the mind is absorbed in the self, that state of harmony is called Samādhi.

तत्समं च द्वयोरैक्यं जीवात्मपरमात्मनोः ।
प्राणष्टसर्वसङ्कल्पः समाधिः सोऽभिधीयते ॥ ४.७

tatsamaṁ ca dvayoraikyaṁ jīvātmaparamātmanoḥ

Prāṇaṣṭasarvasaṅkalpaḥ samādhiḥ so’bhidhīyate 4.7

That state of equilibrium which is the union of Jīvātman  and the Paramātman, in which there is the end of all desire-ideation(Saṅkalpa), that is called as Samādhi. 

  1. Sādhana


Sādhana = ṣādha + lyuṭ

In this word –

  • Sādha  is the root – meaning – saṃsiddhi – to achieve well
  • Lyut is the suffix that indicate instrumentality (by which). Lyut is added to the root by the rule 3.3.117 of Sage Panini in the text aṣṭādhyāyī.

In essence – साध्यते अनेन इति साधनम्  – sādhyate anena iti sādhanam – That by which (a task) is achieved is sādhanam.


Amarakośa gives eight meanings to the term Sādhana –

मारणे मृतसंस्कारे गतौ द्रव्ये’र्थदापने।
निर्वर्तनोपकरणानुव्रज्यासु च साधनम्॥३.३.११९

māraṇe mṛtasaṃskāre gatau dravye’rthadāpane

nirvartanopakaraṇānuvrajyāsu ca sādhanam3.3.119

They are  – Killing, funeral, motion, substance, making someone give money, repayment, material/instrument and following.

Textual occurrences


We do not find the term Sādhana in any of the sutras. But the second chapter of the text is conventionally titled Sādhana-pāda – that contains tools or methods that lead to the goal of Yoga.

While commencing the commentary on the Aṣṭāṅgayoga yoga – sage Vyāsa, principal commentator of Yogasūtras states – न च सिद्धिरन्तरेण साधनम् इत्येतदारभ्यते –  na ca siddhirantareṇa sādhanam ityetadārabhyate  (2.28)– success in Yoga cannot be achieved without (appropriate) instruments/methods. Hence, this (the description of the eight limbs) is commenced.

In Bhagavadgītā the usage of the term Sādhana is not found.


Though the term sādhana is used in the Haṭhayogapradīpikā (2.57, 3.51 and 3.76) no new inputs can be gleaned from these references. The term is used in the sense of instrument or method to achieve Haṭha’s goals.

  1. Vibhūti


vibhūtiḥ = vi + bhū + ktin

As can be seen from the above

[2]Bhū – is the root which means – sattāyām (to exist, to be, to happen)

The prefix added to it is vi – indicating special

The suffix is ktin which is added in the sense of indicating the action (bhāva) (embedded in the root – to be) and feminine gender (striyāṃ ktin – aṣṭādhyāyī 3.3.94)

Thus the three components, in general indicate the meaning special presence/happening (of powers).


In the lexicon amarakośa we find the following reference on the term vibhūti –

विभूतिर्भूतिरैश्वर्यम् अणिमादिकम् अष्टधा (१.१.३६)

Vibhūtir-bhūtir-aiśvaryam aṇimādikam aṣṭadhā (1.1.36)

The words Vibhūti, bhūti, aiśvarya are synonyms. They are eight types of powers beginning from aṇimā (becoming infinitesimally small) etc

Textual occurrences


It is interesting to note that though the third Chapter of this text is known as Vibhūti Pāda which deals with various supra sensory powers and extraordinary knowledge – this word has not been used by Sage Patañjali. To indicate special powers Sage Patañjali used the word Siddhis.


There are five occurrences of the term vibhūti in this text and all those references are concentrated in the 10th chapter (Verses 7,16,18, 40,41)[3]. The chapter is also known as Vibhūti-yoga. The survey of the all occurrences of the term in this text indicates that here also the term Vibhūti means powers. While Vibhūti in Yogasūtra refers to the powers that a practitioner of Yoga attains, here the term points to the powers of the Lord.


The term Vibhūti occurs in one occasion in this text  98th verse of third chapter.. The verse is as follows –

अभ्यासान्निसृतां चान्द्रीं विभूत्या सह मिश्रयेत् ।
धारयेदुत्तमाङ्गेषु दिव्यदृष्टिः प्रजायते ॥ ९८ ॥

abhyāsānnisṛtāṁ cāndrīṁ vibhūtyā saha miśrayet 

dhārayeduttamāṅgeṣu divyadṛṣṭiḥ prajāyate 98

The Moon fluid that flows due to the practice  (amarolī) should be mixed with sacred ash. It should be smeared on the limbs of the body. This results in great powers of sight.

As can be noted here the term Vibhūti in this text refers to sacred ash (Bhasma) and its use is connected to the practice of amarolī (this is a Haṭha practice that involves in dirking one’s own urine refer Verse 3.96,97 of the text).

  1. Kaivalya


kaivalyam = kevala+ṣyañ

The word kaivalya is formed by addition of the  (tadhita) suffix  ṣyañ to the word Kevala that means  the one who is alone.

The suffix ṣyañ is added to indicate Bhāva (action/state) (aṣṭādhyāyī 5.1.124).

This would mean that based on etymology – the word Kaivalya refers to the state/act of being alone (केवलस्य भावः कैवल्यम् – kevalasya bhāvaḥ kaivalyam).


In the lexicon amarakośa we find the following reference on the term Kaivalya –

मुक्तिः कैवल्य-निर्वाण-श्रेयो-निःश्रेयसामृतम् (१।५।६)

muktiḥ kaivalya-nirvāṇa-śreyo-niḥśreyasāmṛtam (1.5.6)

mukti, Kaivalya, nirvāṇa, śreyas, niḥśreyas, amṛtam are synonyms that indicate liberation

Textual occurrences


The term Kaivalya occurs in five instances in this text. Each of them is unique as they contribute specific ideas. Hence the sutras are given with general translation.

तदभावात्संयोगाभावो हानं तद्दृशेः कैवल्यम् ॥ २. २५ ॥ 

tadabhāvātsaṁyogābhāvo hānaṁ taddṛśeḥ kaivalyam ॥ 2.25 ॥

By the absence of avidyā, the conjunction of draṣṭā (consciousness) dṛśya (matter) ceases and this is the state of Kaivalya (liberation)

तद्वैराग्यादपि दोषबीजक्षये कैवल्यम्  ॥ ३.५० ॥

tadvairāgyādapi doṣabījakṣaye kaivalyam 3.50

Being dispassionate about (the powers of omnipotence and omnipresence) leads to the depletion of all errors (caused by affliction) and that leads to Kaivalya (liberation).

सत्त्वपुरुषयोः शुद्धिसाम्ये कैवल्यम् ॥ ३.५५ ॥

attvapuruṣayoḥ śuddhisāmye kaivalyamiti 3.55

When the intellect and the consciousness are equal in purity, Kaivalya (liberation) is attained

तदा विवेकनिम्नं कैवल्यप्राग्भारं चित्तम् ॥ ४.२६ ॥

tadā vivekanimnaṁ kaivalyaprāgbhāraṁ cittam 4.26

Then (when even the desire/inquisitiveness to know about one’s own state cease – due to clarity about one’s own conscious nature) the mind is inclined towards discriminate discernment and it tilts heavily towards Kaivalya (liberation).

पुरुषार्थशून्यानां गुणानां प्रतिप्रसवः कैवल्यं स्वरूपप्रतिष्ठा वा चितिशक्तिरिति ॥ ४.३४॥

puruṣārthaśūnyānāṁ guṇānāṁ pratiprasavaḥ kaivalyaṁ svarūpapratiṣṭhā vā citiśaktiriti 4.34

Kaivalya (liberation) is moving towards the latent state of the guṇas, which are devoid of any purpose of consciousness, or it is the consciousness established in its own nature.

Bhagavadgītā – The term Kaivalya does not occur in this text.


The word Kaivalya appears in one verse in this text. It is as follows –

ज्ञेयवस्तुपरित्यागात् विलयं याति मानसम् ।
मनसो विलये जाते कैवल्यमवशिष्यते ॥ ४।६२ ॥

jñeyavastuparityāgāt vilayaṁ yāti mānasam 

manaso vilaye jāte kaivalyamavaśiṣyate 4.62

By renouncing the object of knowing (things outside) the mind dissolves. When the mind dissolves Kaivalya (liberation) remains.

Thus it can be seen that the term Kaivalya is a predominantly Yogasūtra terminology. 

  1. Sūtra


sūtram = sūtra+ac

The root here is Sūtra. The meaning of the root is  veṣṭane vimocane granthane ca (to put in thread, to release, to cover with thread)[4]

To the above root – the suffix added is ac (erac – aṣṭādhyāyī 3.3.56). The meaning brought in by the suffix is karaṇa (instrumentality).

Hence, the meaning that emerges through the etymology is – that by which stringing is done – सूत्र्यते अनेनेति सूत्रम् – sūtryate aneneti sūtram .


In the lexicon amarakośa we find the following reference on the term sūtra –

सूत्राणि नरि तन्तवः(२.१०.२८)

 sūtrāṇi nari tantavaḥ (2.10.28)

sūtra (is a neuter form) and tantu is a masculine form (indicate thread).

Though the reference from this lexicon does not add anything new, the Sudhā commentary[5] to the above verse of amarakośa quotes hemacandra lexicon where it is stated –

सूचनाकारिग्रन्थे तन्तुव्यस्थयोः

sūcanākārigranthe tantuvyasthayoḥ

Sūtra refers to the text that is full of various indications, it also means thread and arrangement.

 Textual occurrences

Yogasūtra – It is to be noted that though the text is in sūtra format, in the body of the text the word sūtra is not used.


There are three occurrences of the term sūtra in this text. The three occurrences are as follows –

मयि सर्वमिदं प्रोतं सूत्रे मणिगणा इव ॥ ७.७॥

mayi sarvamidaṁ protaṁ sūtre maṇigaṇā iva 7.7

Everything is stringed in me like precious stones in a thread.

ब्रह्मसूत्रपदैश्चैव हेतुमद्भिर्विनिश्चितैः ॥ १३.५ ॥

brahmasūtrapadaiścaiva hetumadbhirviniścitaiḥ 13.5

By statements that indicate Brahman, which are logical and affirmative (the concepts of kṣetra-kṣetrajña are sung)

विषादी दीर्घसूत्री च कर्ता तामस उच्यते ॥ १८।२८ ॥

viṣādī dīrghasūtrī ca kartā tāmasa ucyate 18.28

… a rueful, procrastinating doer is Tāmasic in nature.

In the third reference above the word  dīrghasūtrī (the one who procrastinates) contains the term sūtra. The derivation of dīrghasūtrī  is given as follows – दीर्घं सूत्रं कर्तव्यव्यापारोऽस्त्यस्य  dīrghaṃ sūtraṃ kartavyavyāpāro’styasya – the one who has a long thread – meaning – work to be accomplished[6]


The term sūtra is found in just one verse in this text. As can be seen below – It is used in the sense of thread and it is part of Yogic cleansing practice called Neti.

सूत्रं वितस्ति सुस्निग्धं नासानाले प्रवेशयेत् ।
मुखान्निर्गमयेच्चैषा नेतिः सिद्धैः निगद्यते ॥ २।२९ ॥

sūtraṁ vitasti susnigdhaṁ nāsānāle praveśayet 

mukhānnirgamayeccaiṣā netiḥ siddhaiḥ nigadyate 2.29

One should insert a soft thread of a length vitasti (12 finger length) through the nostril and draw it out through the mouth. This is called as Neti by the Siddhas.

will be continued.. 

References and web-tools utilized:

  1. Advaita sharada –
  2. aṣṭādhyāyī –
  3. Yoga-vaiśāradī –
  4. Aksharamukha –
  5. Nāmaliṅgānuśāsana alias amarakoṣa of amarasiṃha with the commentary vyākhyāsudhā or rāmāśramī by bhānuji dīkṣita, Edited with notes by M.M.Pandit Shivadatta Dadimatha, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Prathisthan, Delhi, Reprint 2002
  6. Śabdārthakaustubha , Chakravarthy Srinivasa Gopalacharya, Bappco Publications, Second Edition, 2000

[1] Though chronologically Bhagavadgītā should have been given first, as the terms here are discussed from Yogasūtra  occurrences from Yogasūtra are given first


[3]  As these verses do not bring out any new shades of meanings the verses are not given.


[5] amarakoṣa, sudhāvyākhyā, caukhambā saṃskṛtapratiṣṭhāna,Delhi, 2002, pg.347

[6] – Vacaspatyam

(Originally Published here)

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