Samadhi—Merging into One
Samadhi means “to place together.” The term refers to the state in which the subject (the meditator) and the object (of meditation) merge into one. It is the ecstatic condition in which the limited sense of individuality fades away. This is the last anga (limb) of the eightfold path described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali. It is also the last stage in the process of samyama (direct knowledge through identification).
Therefore, samadhi is the ultimate step before final liberation, or yoga (union with God). Expressing it in a very simplified way, the progression from dharana (concentration) to dhyana (meditation) to samadhi could be as follows:
- We concentrate on an object (for example, a candle flame), again and again, bringing our mind back to this object whenever other thoughts appear.
- Meditation occurs, and we find ourselves in a peaceful, effortless state in which the candle flame constantly flows in our awareness, repeatedly calling our attention. It is as if the flame fascinates us.
- The state of samadhi arises, and there is no separation between the candle flame and us.
In higher forms of samprajnata samadhi (samadhi with gnosis), we realize that the center of all “objects” is the same essence. Thus, through samadhi (complete merging with the object), individual consciousness disappears and merges with the entire Universe. Therefore, samadhi is a state of consciousness entirely different from the three ordinary states (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep).
Samadhi Is Unconditional Bliss
This state is most commonly referred to as ecstasy, unconditional bliss, or cosmic consciousness. Samadhi without an object (a superior form of samadhi) can be related to the state we experience every night in deep sleep, when all thoughts, fears, desires, and worries are forgotten, the mind and personality are transcended, and the subject is one with the peace that is always present. However, unlike in deep sleep, in this state, we are completely aware.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali offers two definitions of samadhi. The most frequently cited expresses a merging of subject and object: “When the object of meditation only shines forth in the mind, as though devoid of the thought of even the self (who is meditating), then that state is called samadhi.” (3:3)
The second suggests a full transparency of mind, like that of a crystal (the absence of personal filters): “When the fluctuations of the mind are weakened, the mind becomes like a transparent crystal. Thus, it can easily take on the features of the object of meditation—whether it be the one who cognizes (the observer), the instrument of cognition (the means of observing), or the object cognized (the object observed)—as does a transparent jewel, and this identification is called samapatti.” (1:41)
A Return to the Natural
In the Yoga Sutras, samapatti (absorption or identification—psychic and mental consubstantialization—between the subject and the object) is another term for samadhi.
Ramakrishna also characterized the samadhi states that he experienced as a return to what is natural: “What is the state of one’s mind in samadhi? It is like the state of bliss that is experienced by a live fish which, after being kept out of water for some time, is again put into it.”
Ecstasy or Enstasy?
Western yoga scholars have proposed various translations of the term samadhi, including “position of the psyche” (J. Filliozat), “the culmination of contemplation” (P. Masson-Oursel), and “perfect focus” (O. Lacombe). The most common translation is “ecstasy.” However, the word “ecstasy” comes from the Greek “ekstasis,” which means “to be or stand outside oneself.” Therefore, the term is not very appropriate—in states of samadhi (especially in forms of samadhi without object, like nirvikalpa), yogis are not outside themselves but completely turn inwards and, as the Upanishads say, “take up residence in the lotus of their own Heart.” Also, even though ecstatic bliss usually accompanies states of samadhi, it is not their main feature.
Thus, perhaps the most adequate approximation of the true meaning of samadhi is Mircea Eliade’s neologism “enstasis” (“standing within”). This term has the advantage of marking a clear contrast with “ecstasy,” but, although it may be inspiring, in states of samadhi in which knowledge is oriented towards an object, yogis do, in fact, “get out of themselves.” Only in nirvikalpa samadhi is there no “getting out” of Pure Existence, sat. Therefore, in Hridaya Yoga we use the term “ecstasy” for the lower forms of samadhi and “enstasis” for nirvikalpa samadhi.
The word samadhi also designates the circular tomb of a perfected yogi (whose body, according to the Hindu tradition, is not cremated but buried in a cross-legged position). It is also a substitute for the word “death,” especially for saints. Instead of saying that someone died, it is customary to say that they attained samadhi.
Learn more about samadhi in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive.