“Meditation is to bring the complex consciousness to simplicity and innocence without pride and arrogance.” B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga
“Veil upon veil shall lift, but still veil upon veil will be found behind.” -Lord Buddha quoted in The Science of Yoga, I.K. Taimni p. 446
“Realization is not acquisition of anything new nor is it a new faculty. It is only the removal of all camouflage.” Sri Ramana Maharshi
Samadhi is the eighth limb of yoga. It is also the eighth of the eightfold path in Buddhism. It is a fascinating area of study, as samadhi opens out the potential of consciousness which is beyond the scope of anything we can write, think, conceptualize or imagine about. Like the universe, consciousness is infinitely vast, and much is unknown and undiscovered by us. Similar to the quote by the Buddha, “Veil upon veil shall lift, but still veil upon veil will be found behind,” in the path of yoga, greater vistas of possibility and freedom are revealed, and still much eludes us. B.K.S. Iyengar writes in The Tree of Yoga, “Where there is no subconscious, no unconscious, but only consciousness, that is samadhi.” (p. 140) In this reflection/research piece, I am writing primarily from the perspective of yoga, though samadhi is also understood and practiced in many of the world’s contemplative traditions.
The Sanskrit word samadhi consists two parts: sama, which means equal and dhi to fix or remain steady. Samadhi is yogas citta vritti nirodha, the cessation of the fluctuations of the consciousness, which is also the definition of yoga. It is the culmination of concentration (dharana) and meditative stability (dhyana) which lead to profound absorption where subject and object fall away. It is the merging of the experience and the experiencer in a seamless flow where all self-consciousness or sense of “I” as the doer or experiencer has been dropped off. Samadhi is oneness.
This chart from Taimni’s book, The Science of Yoga, shows the progression from ordinary thinking to samadhi. In ordinary thinking, the mind jumps from thought to thought, shown in the various letters. The circle around the letters show a sense of self consciousness. As one progresses though dharana (concentration) and dhyana (single pointed mediation) the mind becomes more one pointed and concentrated on its object, “A”. In dhyana the continuity with the object is maintained. In samadhi the duality, or self consciousness between the meditator and object of meditation falls away.
Samadhi is important because it is essential to developing the liberating insight and transcendental wisdom know as prajna. Prajna is transcendent wisdom which cuts through greed, hate, and delusion, founded on ignorance (avidya). Prajna liberates the Self from bondage and ignorance and reveals its true nature. Intellectual study of samadhi is extremely limited as samadhi denotes the pinnacle of meditative experience. However, it is important for people following the yogic path to have an understanding of what it is and what it is not.
There are basically two distinct types of samadhi, both founded on concentration. Mouni Sadhu, a disciple of Sri Ramana Maharishi, in his book Samadhi classifies them as “lower” and “higher” samadhi. The term “lower” samadhi is an advanced stage or concentration that can lead to the siddhis (occult powers) alone without the essential surrender and transformation of the “ego” and the development of wisdom. The other he calls “higher” samadhi is one in which the ethical precepts and natural laws are followed and leads to genuine insight and liberation. I am interested in the latter – the former can be dangerous and lead to harm. Only by harmonizing with the natural laws of yama and niyama (the ethical precepts and disciplines) can true transformation and the fruit of spiritual practice be realized. When followed as an integrated path, the deeper and more subtle domains of consciousness and the subtle ways in which we are bound to suffering are revealed by samadhi and the insight which arises therein.
Cultivating samadhi as explained in the Yoga Sutras can be practiced as a systematic technique as outlined in the eight limbs of yoga in which the body, mind and consciousness become more and more refined and sensitive (sattvic) and develop a discriminating faculty (viveka). Samadhi can also be entered by grace: paravairagya (perfected renunciation) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender, devotion to and love of God) in which all traces of self have been surrendered. It is interesting that these two almost distinct paths are given, astanga (eight-limbed) yoga for purification and increasing sensitivity, and ishvara pranidhana in which the quality of vaigraya (renunciation) is developed to such an extent that one achieves a state of yoga and merges the individual with the universal.
The Yoga Sutras explain that it is a rare person who can practice only devotion and achieve samadhi. This is due to their strength of practice accrued over many lifetimes. B.K.S Iyengar writes, “Only when body, mind and intelligence are fully purified, is it possible to surrender totally to God, without expecting any return. This is a surrender of the highest order, beyond of capacity of the average individual.” (p. 85 Light on Yoga Sutras). For most of us, the eight-limbed path is the most balanced way to cultivate the yogic path and to insure that we are developing evenly, with no part of our character or personality left in the shadows.
Even yogis who develop the siddhis (occult powers) due to advanced states of samadhi may fall from yoga due to the influence of desire, or may not be on the path to liberation at all if the foundational precepts are not cultivated. This is apparent in our age when spiritual teachers and guides of all traditions “fall from grace” by getting caught in and misuse personal power – power vested in them either by their own attainment or their position within a certain lineage. That is why all practitioners of all paths are urged to examine first themselves and then their teacher to see if he/she embodies all aspects of true practice, or is at least working on it.
With regard to the stages of samadhi, the Yoga Sutras describe samadhi with support or seed, sabija samadhi and samadhi without support or seed, nirbija samadhi. Support in this case means an object or symbol that is used in meditation. The Yoga Sutras elaborate on a number of different supports or seeds, such as meditating with the object of breath, OM, the characteristics of an enlightened sage, the luminous sorrow-less light of the heart. Sutras I.17-19 and I.42-45 describe sabija samadhi, I.33-I.39 describe the different kinds of supports or “seeds”. Also discussed are: samprajnata samadhi (samadhi with prajna) and asamprajnata samadhi (samadhi without prajna) are described as stages to nirbija samadhi (samadhi without seed) which is explained to be the most profound samadhi: the state of absolute identity with the seer. (p.103 Light on the Yoga Sutras) Patanjali writes in the final Sutra of the Samadhi Pada, I. 51 that even the truth bearing insight of “rtambara prajna” which still operates within the discriminating intelligence is relinquished in nirbija Samadhi where the Self merges with the Infinite.
B.K.S. Iyengar has described samadhi as grace: the intelligence of the head merging with the intelligence of the heart. The head is the seat of intellect and discernment, and the heart is the seat of consciousness and the Self or Soul. Yoga Sutra I.17 is an important sutra which outlines the aspects of sabija samadhi.
I. 17 vitarka vichara ananda asmitarupa anugamat samprajnatah
Practice and detachment develop four types of samadhi: self-analysis, synthesis, bliss, and the experience of pure being. – translation B.K.S. Iyengar
According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s commentary on this Sutra, vitarka is an act of involvement by deliberate thinking and study which leads one to the final point, or root cause. Vichara is investigation, reflection and consideration which stills the mind and leads to acuteness, clarity and subtlety. Ananda is the bliss that arises as vitarka and vichara take one closer to abide the Self alone, the core of one’s being. Asmita is the experience of pure being. B.K.S. Iyengar correlates these aspects of samadhi with the four lobes of the brain. The front brain, the analytical part, relating to vitarka, the old brain or back brain, which stores impressions of pleasure and pain, and which reasons to vichara, the base of the brain, or brain stem to ananda, and the crown of the head, the seat of the individual self to asmita. “Sabija samadhi is achieved by drawing the four facets of the brain towards its stem.” (p. 69 Light on Yoga Sutras)
Analogous to the aspects of sabija samadhi in yoga are the 4 or sometimes listed as 5 jhana factors in Theravada Buddhism. For more information see: http://www.leighb.com/jhana_4factors.htm
In summary, when the intelligence of the head merges with the intelligence of the heart, samadhi or oneness is experienced:
“When this synchronization has been achieved, a transitory state of quietness, manolaya, is experienced. Then, from the stem of the brain, consciousness is made to descend towards the source of mind, the seat of the heart. Here it merges into a mindless, beginning-less, endless state of being: amanaskatva, or nirbija samadhi (samadhi without seed or support). It is the conquest of the spirit. (p. 69, Light on the Yoga Sutras)
This to me points to direct experience, which cannot be further explained with words.
After reflecting on this subject for the last few months, one of the insights that has arisen in me is my deep trust of yamas and niyamas (in Buddhism Sila, or ethical precepts) as the gate towards the so called “higher stages” of yoga including samadhi. It is only through deepening this basic purity and innocence of the conscious (antarkarana sometimes referred to as dharmendriya – organ of Dharma) can remain clear and reflect the light of the soul.
In my own practice and experience, perhaps I have only touched on some preliminary stages of concentration and samadhi. While practicing, concentration improves and deeper samskaras (impressions) are dislodged from the sub conscious to be seen in the light of awareness (similarly described in Sutra I.18). Deep stores of energy open up. The body and nervous system become more open, relaxed, sensitive. A deep sense of well being arises. The mind becomes clear and still like a mountain lake. The emotions and mind become steady… transformation happens at a level not known fully by reasoning. Intuition is developed. The eyes shine. Friendliness and joy arise. A sense of oneness and wholeness is felt.
May your practice go well!
Astadala Yogamala, Volume 7, B.K.S. Iyengar
Light on the Yoga Sutras, B.K.S. Iyengar
Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar
Samadhi, Mouni Sadhu
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
The Science of Yoga, I.K. Taimni
The Tree of Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation by Dr. Edwin Bryant
Above chart From I.K. Taimi’s book, The Science of Yoga