What is Samadhi?

(A poem by Yogamaya 9)

Unexpectedly it comes
Unexpectedly it goes
Yet no one really knows
What it is…
It comes not to all
Not to the ones who from the yogic grace fall,
Only the sages and the wise
Can experience it and realize
This eternal truth that is absolute
Which is realized when the mind is mute.
This mystical reality of the cosmos is a luminous bright light that incessantly glows,
Like a river merging into the ocean it freely flows
Giving unimaginable bliss that cannot be expressed by prose
Upon knowing it, you wander no more
From birth to death, from shore to shore,
You are awake and without any fear,
Only by knowing the Self, who is bright and clear
There is nothing left to be known,
There is nothing left to be said,
No more illusions to be sown,
No more thoughts to be fed
It comes not by holding your breath,
It comes not by inhaling deep,
It comes only upon ego’s death,
When the mind is forever put to sleep.

– Yogamaya 9

The essence of the poem

Samadhi is the highest state of meditation. It is a conscious trance or absorption into the Supreme Self. It is attained by extreme penance and concentration (Dhyana), which is one-pointed focus on the Self. It is the final limb of Yoga in the Ashtanga Yoga practice (the other limbs are in this order: Yama (ethical standards and integrity); Niyama (self-discipline and spiritual observances); Asana (maintaining the right postures); Pranayama (breath control); Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses); Dharana (concentration devoid of external distractions); Dhyana (meditation with an uninterrupted flow of concentration).

Samadhi is the final stage when the meditator merges with whatever he/she focuses on during Dhyana. At this point there is no distinction between the subject and object of meditation. The ego or ‘I’ consciousness is forever lost and you become identified with the Supreme Self (Paramatma). Samadhi is not something you can desire to have and neither can it be experienced by putting voluntary effort into your breath control, or by deliberately forcing your mind not to think of anything etc. It can only be experienced. It is not deep sleep but the stage beyond deep sleep when all the senses are lost except for the Self-awareness. You become the witness of your own divine consciousness at that time. There are four stages of consciousness: while you are awake, while you are dreaming when sleeping, while you are in deep sleep without dreams and lastly, a state of pure awareness beyond the state of deep sleep. This fourth state is also known as Turiya. After Samadhi, one is said to be enlightened and is called a ‘Seer’ or Rishi (sage). Thereafter, whatever scriptures the enlightened one reads, he/she will understand everything, because the highest wisdom has already dawned within him/her – the wisdom of the Supreme Self. Thereafter, it is only about exhausting the Prarabhdha karma, as an enlightened one does not have Sanchita or Agami, the fire of knowledge engulfs all the karma except the Prarabhdha.

What is interesting to note here is that Prarabhdha will only exist for the enlightened one from another person’s point of view, because the enlightened one will not feel any sorrow or pain of any Karma. Furthermore, there are two types of Samadhi – Nirvikalpa and Savikalpa. Nirvikalpa is the highest state of Samadhi, where the meditator and Self merge to a point of no return of the individual consciousness, such a Samadhi can last for days, weeks or even years together, when we think that the person is dead but actually they are not dead but are in deep trance. However, such Yogis do not always stay in the cities to help people. They retire to forest or mountain to meditate and initiate true spiritual aspirants if the need arises. Savikalpa is the state of Samadhi where the meditator has identified his own identity as the object of meditation, this could be an IshtaDevata (chosen deity or Kaula Guru based on your astrological chart. In this Samadhi the individual consciousness returns but is under the guidance of the object of meditation. Yogis who attain this type of Samadhi can work in normal situations and interact with everyone without anyone even knowing that this person is a Yogi. Such Yogis can choose to enter Nirvikalpa at any point in their life.

Another difference in the type of Samadhi is that Yogis who have attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi show no specific qualities or Gunas (Nirguna), e.g. they’ll eat anything you give them, survive on anything etc.), whereas after a Savikalpa Samadhi, Yogis may still retain certain likes and dislikes (Saguna) but these are not to be compared with the likes and dislikes of a common man.

Upon enlightenment, a being attains Siddhis (special powers owing to spiritual perfection). However, that being never misuses these powers. Powers include these:the ability to become big or small, ability to appear or disappear at any place, ability to control death and time and all situations, ability to control other beings, ability to make any dream come true etc.  Whatever object a Yogi meditates on during Samyama (control of elements through yogic absorption), he merges with that object and attains powers associated with the object. For example, meditating on the sun, the Yogi attains radiance (Tejas), vigour, heat, light and supreme wisdom as qualities. Sage Patajanjali has elaborated these powers in detail in the Yoga Sutras.

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