In his illuminating text, The Yoga Sutras, the sage Patanjali introduces us to a systematic path to regain Higher Consciousness. This has since been called Raja Yoga or The Royal Path, a journey of techniques and lifestyle guidelines to awaken the mind to its true Self. Within the text, Patanjali gives us a concentrated set of instructions known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga, culminating in a state of freedom, liberation, ecstasy and enlightenment – Samadhi, the realization of all our spiritual practices.
Patanjali tells us that Samadhi is a state of meditative absorption, attained by the practice of Dharana (focused attention) and Dhyana (effortless meditation), when the True Essential Nature is known, without the distortion of the mind. It can be thought of as the culmination of our meditation process. Samadhi is the mind in its most concentrated state and can be compared to normal thought, as a laser beam can be compared to normal light. The awareness of the meditator, process of meditation and the object of our meditation have all merged into one. From knowledge, we have become knowingness. The mind in Samadhi possess power that a normal mind does not, making it the main tool the Yogi uses to achieve the end goal of yoga, the joining of the individual self with the Universal Absolute.
The Vedas tell us that everything in the Universe has awareness. Rocks, plants, animals and humans all have awareness, to a greater or lesser degree. The Vedas also state that only humans have the potential for self-awareness. Dogs, for example, don’t ask, “Who am I?”. This means that every human-being has the potential to become fully self-aware and reach the state of Samadhi. Whether we will all make it, is perhaps the topic for another discussion. However, we are cautioned that practice alone will not guarantee Samadhi. The Guru Gita says Moksha mulam, guroh kripa – the root of liberation is the Guru’s Grace. Grace of the Divine or its representative, an enlightened guru, is also required. To reach Samadhi, we have to deserve it.
Samadhi is beyond the normal mind and intellect, which makes describing it somewhat difficult and hence it can only be fully appreciated by direct experience.
Whilst reaching Samadhi will be a major spiritual achievement for any of us, Samadhi also has several levels of refinement through which we may ascend.
This first level of Samadhi has within it four different stages. The beginning stages of Savikalpa Samadhi are where, during meditation, we transcend all mental activity. Patanjali says that, for a short period of time we lose all human consciousness. In this state the conception of time and space is altogether different. For a minute, an hour or more we are completely in another world. Now we see that practically everything happens spontaneously, we have nothing to do. Thoughts and ideas do not affect us. We remain undisturbed, and our inner being functions in a dynamic and confident manner. However, this is not yet a permanent state and everybody has to return to ordinary consciousness. As we begin to integrate this undisturbed state of silence along with the disturbed states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, Patanjali describes the four stages of Savikalpa Samadhi that are possible.
Stage 1. Sarvitarka Samadhi – here the mind totally focuses on the gross aspect of a physical object. This is described as “examination” or learning the “inner secrets” of the object. In this stage, every aspect of the object is understood and we gain full knowledge of the physical object.
Stage 2. Savichara Samadhi – now the mind moves beyond the outer layers of the object and the subtle aspects of objects (tanmatras) are contemplated or “discerned”. The abstract qualities such as rednesses, beauty, love or the sound, texture, form, flavor, etc. of the object begin to be understood.
Stage 3. Sa-ananda Samadhi – now the mind is devoid of the objective world, we move beyond the intellect. Here there is no reasoning or reflection just the tranquility of the settled mind. The satvic (pure) mind is only aware of its own joy. The focus is on the inner powers of perception and within the mind itself. It’s known as a “Blissful Samadhi” filled with joyful peace.
Stage 4. Sa-Asmita Samadhi – here even the bliss has gone and we are just here. Only the satvic (pure) ego, the I-ness remains, the I AM. Simple awareness of individuality, we are here and aware of nothing else. This is the ‘ego-sense’ in its elemental form. No fear, no desire.
We can liken this Samadhi to what is known in the Shankara Tradition as Cosmic Consciousness. The mind becomes fully Awake, it is a state of witnessing of the material world and we become aware of the Divinity (Bliss) within ourselves.
In Savikalpa Samadhi the samskaras (latent tendencies or past impressions which condition our lives and desires) have not been dissolved. They still remain in seed form. The Great Indian Saint, Ramana Maharshi, described Savikalpa Samadhi as, “holding on to reality with effort”.
In this Samadhi the concentrated mind can begin to access some of the “lesser” yogic powers (Siddhis). However, because the ego is still present, we must be careful how we choose to use these powers. If we use them with a pure motive, we can greatly serve humanity and will progress on our spiritual journey with humility. If we choose to use them for personal greed and ambition, we may cause harm and stall our spiritual progress.
Level 2 Nirvikalpa Samadhi
Nirvikalpa Samadhi is a higher state of awareness where the ego and samskaras have been dissolved and only Consciousness remains.
Patanjali says the material world has become like a shadow from which we are completely free. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi there is no mind as we know it, there is only infinite peace and bliss. Here nature’s dance stops, and the knower and the known become one. Here we enjoy a supremely divine, all-pervading, self-amorous ecstasy. We become the object of enjoyment, the enjoyer and the enjoyment itself.
Now the heart is fully Awake. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the first thing we feel is that our heart is larger than the universe itself. The universe appears as a tiny dot inside our vast heart.
Here, there is infinite bliss and infinite power. We not only feel bliss, but actually become bliss.
This Samadhi is similar to the Divine Consciousness described in the Shankara Tradition, a state of deep love for the world and everything in it, recognizing the Divinity in everything. It is entering a celestial realm. We experience Ritambhara Pragya, where our thoughts spontaneously
manifest into reality. The past and future are blended into the eternal present. Everything is ‘now’. Everything is ‘here’. Time and space have been transcended. The exulted blissful state may last for a few hours or a few days. Initially there is no wish to return from this state and it is said that if one stays at this level for twenty-one days, there is every possibility that the soul will leave the body for good. However, through continued practice, we are able to come down from Nirvikalpa Samadhi and immediately function normally in the world.
Both Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa Samadhis are considered temporary states in that we can only fully experience them by withdrawing from normal life. Even the Great Enlightened Yogis close their eyes to meditate. However, the Yogi’s “normal” life is not as most people experience it. He/she is living a life fully supported by the Unbounded Field of Infinite Possibilities. Imagine the whole of manifest creation is touching the front of your body and the unmanifest, Pure Awareness is touching your back. You lean forward and you are in the localized world but the non-local is fully there, supporting your every breath. To quote Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “It’s living 200 % of life”.
Level 3 Dharmamegha Samadhi
An even higher level of Samadhi is Dharmamegha or the “Cloud of Virtue” Samadhi.
Patanjali says that this level arises when we have lost even the desire to know God or to be Enlightened. This Samadhi cannot be gained by effort, it reveals itself when all effort has dissolved. It is a Divine Gift, beyond notions of Absolute and relative.
When even the temptations of the Yogic Powers cause no distraction, it is said that Pure Knowledge showers down like a “cloud of virtue”, bringing liberation and the Bliss of the Divine.
This is Jivanmukta – liberation while still in a physical body. The afflictions of all karmas have been removed, the Yogi becomes ever free and shines in his/her own glory. It is said that in this state, the Yogi sees without eyes, tastes without tongue, hears without ears, smells without nose and touches without skin. His/her mere intention can work miracles. He/she simply wills and everything comes into being.
Some contemporary saints such as Ramana Maharshi have also talked about Sahaja Samadhi.
This Samadhi could probably be placed between Nirvikalpa and Dharmamega Samadhis. It is where the inner silence is maintained along with normal daily activities. It is being able to maintain the experience of Nirvakalpa Samadhi at all times. Here we radiate Divine Illumination, the Divine is perfectly manifesting through us at every second. We are filled with Divine Grace. We can perhaps liken this to the Unity Consciousness of the Shankara Tradition.
With Samadhi as our goal, we should be regular with our spiritual practices, enjoy the blessings that each day brings and know that everything will be revealed at the perfect moment.