Awhile back, I wrote an article on the samadhis listed in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali*. At the time, I explored definitions from several translations. The result however was less than clear. Let’s try again. First, we’ll explore samadhi.
Samadhi or Transcendental Consciousness (TC) is that silence we experience in meditation where the breath pauses, the mind goes silent and we experience profound peace. If it’s a longer samadhi, we may notice the breath stopped and the lungs vibrating. The brain goes very quiet. A wave of soma (sweetness) may be tasted in the throat. The skin can take on a kind of glow (ojas).
Samadhi is unqualified silence. This is why the experience cannot be easily described. Some associate ecstasy with samadhi. Ecstasy or bliss is initially experienced entering and leaving samadhi as the liveliness is like the “edge” or event horizon. That enlivenment is more than easily described as Rumi and many others illustrate.
(note that these sorts of experience are more common on retreats when you have a chance to get the body very well rested. They may be occurring briefly in regular meditation but are not noticed by a foggy mind.)
The experience of bliss during samadhi is a later stage when silence and activity can be supported at the same time. Earlier on, the subtlest noticing or liveliness pops one out. Eventually, the silence and bliss are carried forward into all of our daily life.
Patanjali names 8 degrees of samadhi. He first defines it as the “end of meditation”.
Notice how he describes most of this in pairs.
(Sa is with, A or Ni is without)
The first samadhi he names is Samprajnata samadhi (v1.17 )= with an object of attention. The sutra describes going from gross to subtle to bliss to “amness”. (via meditation)
Asamprajnata samadhi (without an object) is the result of repeated experience but still impressions remain.
Then in more detail:
Savitarka samadhi (v1.42): vitarka is fine directed thought. The mind is moving from sound to idea to object. This is the first stage of absorption.
Nirvitarka samadhi (v1.43) is the not version. The object remains but not the associations. The memory is cleared. The second stage of absorption.
Savichara samadhi (v1.44): vichara = flow of attention to Self. Not caught in an object/thought, the attention is inner directed. There is just a subtle object of attention, like the mantra or intention.
Nirvichara samadhi only the subtle object remains, without meaning or reflection.
The next verse tells us subtle objects extend into the formless.
The verse sequence that follows is useful to note – in brief:
1.47: restful alertness, luminosity of self
1.48: filled with truth, the intellect that knows only truth
1.49: direct knowledge, without senses
1.50: the impression of the above prevents new impressions
This illustrates how potent samadhi is.
Then we come to Nirbijah samadhi (v1.51), literally without seed. This is the pure silence one. This burns the latent impressions and liberates one from rebirth. We could say the individual goes completely off-line during.
Note that these are all descriptions of temporary states reached during meditation, one of the 8 limbs of Yoga he defines in v2.29 and following. V2.27 mentions 7 stages. This is not a reference to the 8 limbs to reach samadhi but rather the 7 samadhis listed above.
Patanjali comes back to samadhi in v4.29 with Dharmamegha samadhi. “Continuous discriminative awareness”, undisturbed samadhi. Samadhi carries forward into activity so we live silence and activity together. Ultimately, the result is Self Realization, Cosmic Consciousness or awakening.** I explore the layers of the witness experience here.
I hope this makes some aspects of this wonderful text and the way meditation leads to awakening a little more clear.
*I recommend the Thomas Egenes translation. He properly shows the Devanagari (Sanskrit), the transliteration, the word for word translation and English result. The translation is not littered with false ideas of hard concentration, limbs as rungs, and so forth. He’s the author of the dominant western texts for learning Sanskrit.
**Note that some consider the witness or observer experience of silent, continuous awakeness during activity and deep sleep to be the hallmark of Cosmic Consciousness. While it is an aspect, this can occur while one is still identified with the ego and is thus not yet an actual full awakening. One teacher described this as “soul awakening”. See the ‘layers’ link above for more detail of this process.