Reflections on Samadhi


“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.20190413_083824

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:

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



Insights from Prashant-ji and Geeta-ji, Reflections from the Centenary Teachings

Over the past two weeks, Prashant and Geeta-ji’s teachings have been full of gems. I am very grateful to have been present with them for the Centenary Celebrations. I will share some quotes I wrote down in my notebook and share a little context and reflection.

Some quotes and highlights I wrote in my notebook from Prashant’s classes and talks:

“Mechanically doing, that is not practice.”

Prashant spoke about this in the context of approaching practice as exploration, that was how B.K.S. Iyengar approached practice.

“The subject is difficult, the art is difficult.”

Yoga is something that takes a very long time to understand on many levels, on the cellular levels, the mental levels, the physical levels. Through practice, yoga samskaras slowly evolve the person who practices. But it is a difficult art.

“Treat the body as your child.”

For what? What are the aims? The body is at once a source of suffering and a vehicle of liberation. Better take care of it as it is our means to practice. 

“When we are busy we are occupied in reacting.”

Sound familiar?

“Don’t be a technician in asana and pranayama. Yoga doesn’t allow anything to be done mechanically.”

Sometimes getting stuck on the points of technique or doing the same thing everyday mechanically eludes us from seeing the vast scope of practice and finding freedom, exploration and spontaneity.

“Breath is a sculpture of mind.”

Prashant explained that observation of the breathing process and pranayama leads one to understand the different psychosomatic and emotional states, and that prayamana leads one towards cultivating vairagya (dispassion).

In Iyengar yoga you are drawn beyond your limits. This is its signature condition. 

By facing and transcending limitations, physical, mental etc, I am brought into a fuller sense of what it is to be human. The pain doesn’t kill you. You don’t die. But you do realize that one day you will die and you begin to imagine how you would like to face that moment and every moment of your life.

Nothing will escape the samskara cortex.

Everything we’ve done, experienced, felt, thought, nothing is lost. It is all there. 

Concepts: Lab condition. Playground psychosis.

Sometimes we think, “this is not taught, why would I do it?” Prashant emphasized that you are your own teacher and student. There is something inside that can assess, that knows what is essentially right and wrong. Experiment, explore, play. 

This globe is a paltry speck of dust. Within yourself, you are the universe. 


Notes from Geeta-ji’s classes. Actually I did not take notes during Geeta-ji’s classes, as she explicitly asked us not to. I will share my impressions.  

Geeta’s classes and talks were powerful, intense, full of compassion and made me feel absolutely with myself.  I felt like I was learning yoga again for the first time, with a scope much vaster and deeper than I had thought possible. She emphasized the Yoga Sutras and talked about 1.20 which inspired her. She taught both movement and action in asana, and especially used receptive movement to bring us deeper into the asanas, Chalana kriya, as she called it. One day, she taught the children’s class and had us join along with jumpings and surya namaskar in different formations.  She showed many examples of therapeutics on stage, her eye penetrating and seeing to the root cause of each person’s ailment. I was inspired by her embodiment of yoga.

I will end here, as I am catching a flight to Chennai shortly. Filled with gratitude for this opportunity.

“Where need ends and where greed begins, you have to have discrimination.” – Abhijata Iyengar quoting Guru-ji



Centennial Celebration, Day 1 & 2

We arrived to Balewadi Stadium on December 3rd to a very well organized event with over 1200 participants. We were given a badge and a group, coded by letters and colors which determines where in the hall we will sit for the day – the groups rotate positions in the hall each day. Abhijati opened the program and reminded us that we were all there to celebrate the life, teachings and 100th birth anniversary of B.K.S. Iyengar. Geeta-ji’s message was that we are one family. 

Prashant Iyengar opened the morning program and opened out a few key concepts in Iyengar yoga, including activity, awareness and sensitively. Yoga is not just doing to achieve an asana. Yoga is the unity of body, mind and breath and creating connectivity and an embodiment that is essentially even minded, equanimous, pure, sanctified: sattvic in nature. Prashant-ji elaborated on the centrality of  breath, and how breath is the main tool which affects and is affected by thought, emotions, posture, activity.  During the session we did a few asanas to observe the quality of breath in different regions of the body.

In the afternoon session, Prashant-ji discussed the evolution of Iyengar yoga. He discussed that evolution in Iyengar yoga has two aspects: the evolution of Guru-ji’s practice and the evolution of how Guru-ji taught. Prashant highlighted the fact that English was not Guru-ji’s mother tongue, which was Kanada. In that regard, Guru-ji was at a disadvantage in terms of articulating his experience and the classical yoga tradition. Guru-ji’s way of learning and teaching, according to Prashant, was highly intuitive. He said that to call Iyengar yoga a “system” is a misnomer, as a system implies a fixed framework, whereas Guru’-ji changed and adapted from day to day depending on the conditions and what was revealed to him through his explorations.  Prashant said, “Highly intuitive people don’t have systems.” He also emphasized the importance of pacing and adapting the practice to the circumstances and condition of ones body, mind, and stage of life.

Prashant also discussed how Guru-ji was an artist while demonstrating, a scientist while teaching and a philosopher while practicing. 

One thing that stood out for me in Prashant’s teaching was his emphasis that Iyenagar yoga is an open architecture, it is not rigid, fixed or dogmatic, and that yoga cannot be taught but it can be learned. That means that a teacher can teach a student the techniques of yoga, but cannot teach the essential inner process that makes yoga yoga and not just body exercise.   

On the 2nd day morning session, we did a comparative asana practice:

Trikonasana, Bhradvajasana, Trikonasana, Setubandha Sarvangasana, Trikonasana Virabhadrasana II, Trikonasana, Purvotanasana, Trikonasana, Standing back arch, Trikonasana, Sirsasana, Trikonasana, Supta Baddhakonasana (by my memory)

In the afternoon session on Day 2 Geeta and Prashant Iyengar discussed to topic of mentoring, learning and teacher training in Iyengar Yoga. The essential points from that discussion were that they themselves were not “trained” to be teachers, but after a long period of taking classes and observing classes, Geeta and Prashant began to teach. This long period of observation and apprenticeship is how one picks up ways of teaching different ages, abilities, conditions. Teacher training courses, which are more formal in nature, were not recommended in the long term. Now as yoga has already been popularized, what is more important than turning out a lot of teachers is the quality, depth and experience of teachers – and that takes a long time. 

There is much more, but I will share that at a later time.

Liberating Source: Navigating Darkness to Reveal the Light

Practicing and understanding yoga is about practicing and understanding key principles. From these fundamental principles or sources, flows the plurality of technique, expression, systemization and method.  If the technique follows from the source, there can be alignment, systematic intelligence, and authenticity. Yoga comes from the source and takes us back to the source. The journey to the source passes though layers of our being which may not be fully known to us.  Yoga is a process of self-discovery and penetrating deeper within to understand, and ultimately transcend our limitations, afflictions, and pains and to reveal the light and truth within.

What is the source?

The source of yoga is the light of the Self, which is inherent in all beings. The Self, core, or source (I am using these terms interchangeable) is beyond the influence of nature, prakrti, and the fluctuations of consciousness, vrttis. The myriad technologies and techniques of yoga, and the eight limbs of practice, are meant to guide us to ever increasing purity and sensitivity so that the light of the source may be perceptible and increase in radiance to illuminate our lives. As wisdom and discrimination clearly discern the causes of pain, the veils which obscure the brilliance of the source may be removed. This wisdom and discrimination is not a conventional wisdom or discrimination based in duality, but one that arises from seeing the undifferentiated source and the unfathomable connection and inter-relation of all things. The way to the source is the eight limbed path, which enables the awareness to become aware of awareness, like an eye seeing an eye.

Yoga was realized by historical and contemporary masters surely as a result of their practice and renunciation (abyasa and vairagya), but also no doubt through devotion to their teachers, gurus and those who came before, and to those divine beings who represent the divine within. A guru guides seekers from darkness to light, this is the literal meaning of the word guru. The concept of grace arises from turning ourselves over with deep faith to that which is beyond the scope of our will and intellect, yet is is something that our instinctual intelligence knows to be true. This is an aspect of vairagya. B.KS. Iyengar writes:Spiritual wisdom does not decide, it knows.” (Light on the Yoga Sutras p. 58, Sutra I.7)

Through our practice, abyasa, we also must learn to be our own guide and to move through the dark and shadowy places into the unknown, which slowly becomes known. We shed the light of awareness on places that we have ignored or bypassed. The practice of citta vrtti nirodha, or cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness, is moving towards and maintaining connection at the substratum of awareness. It is a consciousness that moves ever closer to its true self, until there is oneness.

As we travel on the path, our problems, obstacles, afflictions and pains begin to show us parts of our being that may have been in darkness. New layers begin to reveal themselves. Evolution in yoga is not possible without making a long journey though the unknown, through darkness. It is only by shedding the light of awareness and maintaining observation on these places of nescience, pain, difficulty, habit and emotional afflictions (klesas) that we can begin free ourselves from the suffering that arises from being under their sway and identified with their story. The path is long and can take a lifetime, or many lifetimes, but at times we catch a glimpse of the light and over time we witness ourselves changing, transforming in the direction of light. We are happier and more at peace because of it – and those around us are too.


Plastic Waste and Aparigraha




Two topics that have been on my mind: the harmful effects of plastic and aparigraha (freedom from greed, non possessiveness, non hoarding, without surplus).

Over the past couple of months, we have seen in the media photos of plastic covering the oceans four times the size of California, statistics such as by 2050, 99% of sea birds will have plastic in their gut and that there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish.

These current realities are a testament to our global shortsightedness and convenience culture, which can be traced to greed and ignoring the fundamental law of cause and effect. All living creatures on this Earth are affected by human consumption and waste, and we as humans have all contributed to the problem in some way.  Likewise, we all share in the responsibility to remedy the situation. Although larger groups such as corporations and nations hold a great responsibility, as their actions create a larger impact, individuals and communities also share in the responsibility to restore the health of the Earth.

I’m happy to see that people are trying to remedy the issue of plastic waste by banning single use plastics like bags, bottles and cutlery, doing large scale clean-ups and bettering recycling and waste management. We are also seeing in San Francisco more compostable cups replacing plastic single use items (Though I recently read about the deleterious effect of biodegradable plastics. Not only do they blow around and end up in the ocean like most plastics, but they require an industrial compost facility with high temperatures to decompose, which many areas do not have access to. Also: “To be called a bioplastic, a material only needs 20 percent of renewable material; the other 80 percent could be fossil fuel-based plastic resins and synthetic additives.”)

A much deeper paradigm shift is needed with regards to plastics, consumption and culture. Technology cannot save our world. It is people, habits, institutions, cultures, societies that have to change. But even that is at a superficial level, what really needs to change and evolve is our own minds and hearts.

As a yoga and dharma practitioner, I cannot ignore my part in the violence being inflicted upon the earth. I have been considering the niyama of aparigraha, a Sanskit word which translates as freedom from greed, non acquisition, non hoarding. From an environmental perspective aparigraha can be understood as living simply and keeping only belongings that are essential to thrive.

Aparigraha means not only non-possession and non acceptance of gifts, but also freedom from rigidity of thoughts.” BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga Sutras, p.153

By practicing apargraha, or non acquisitiveness, a kind of clarity can emerge with regard to cause and effect. By stepping back to consider, “Do I really need this: drink (which comes in a plastic bottle), packaged food item, new car, etc. the impulse to satisfy the senses is paused, and space for reflection is created. When the mind is not overwhelmed by the senses and their gratification, a kind of power arises. Also, by over consuming and hoarding, we are also robbing others of their basic needs.

Those of us who live in urban areas or use the internet or social medial are continually bombarded with advertisements for things things or experiences to bring us greater happiness. It doesn’t take too long to realize that getting caught in the web or pursuing one desire after another or one material possession after another is actually the cause of great discontent. The reason for this is that it takes us out connection with ourselves, with others and the Earth. By identifying happiness with an object, we forget that the source of happiness is only found in the simplicity of a clear, wise and compassionate heart. Fundamentally, when we are not consumed about gratifying our wants and desires, we can actually recognize and appreciate all that we already have, which is a deeper source of fulfillment.

In his commentary of the Sutra related to aparigraha, Edwin Bryant writes, “One might imagine the citta (mind or consciousness) as a lake, and samskaras (impressions, unconscious habits) as pebbles within it. When a lake is crystal clear, one can see the pebbles at the bottom and easily retrieve them. When the lake is choppy or murky, one cannot.”

Therefore, when the mind is free of acquisitiveness and unconscious habits, this facilitates clarity and stillness mind.  Clarity of mind and heart, just like clarity and purity of our oceans is essential for the optimal functioning of life, and in yoga is the ground of liberation and freedom from suffering. We see what is essential, like clean air and water, loving relationships, the basic requisites for life, and abandon what causes harm.

Some of my related goals:

  • To eliminate completely the use and purchase of single use plastics and as many plastics as possible
  • To track any wasteful items that I do use and make other choices, such as plastic toothbrushes
  • To continue to simplify my life with regards to the possessions I have and what I purchase.
  • To move towards a completely plastic and waste free lifestyle
  • Eliminate online shopping because of the excessive waste produced
  • To notice if I become rigid in thought or heart, and if judgement arises to cultivate patience and equanimity
  • Continue to study and apply the principle of non greed.