Forms of Samadhi

Forms of Samadhi

First, let’s define what Samadhi means. It is an experience of yoga or union with the Absolute. Oneness. Some definitions use it in terms of practice, but as that is a mental exercise, it cannot describe connection with what is beyond mind. We could say practice leads to samadhi which in turn leads to union. Patanjali defined different forms of samadhi or stages of union. He was an Indian Sage some 2,000 years ago who compiled the concise Yoga Sutras. This short book forms much of the basis of what we know today as meditation, including some misunderstandings of terms like dharana, confusing focus with effort. Many translations are in terms of a specific teaching, layering on their own philosophy. This makes finding unburdened interpretations challenging.

Patanjali names samadhi as one of the 8 limbs of yoga* (2.29). Not steps as is often confused, but done together, limbs. As he notes in verse 2.45, samadhi is achieved through surrender or allowing.

In other posts here, I have reviewed the stages of awakening. There are a series of stages of union – with the transcendent, with the soul, with the cosmic, with the divine, and with everything. Typically, samadhi is considered an experience that will lead to awakening or enlightenment. For awhile, I tried to match samadhis with states of consciousness but samadhi is the experience, the state is the result of such experiences. Dip the cloth in the dye until it is fast.

Some describe samadhis as stages of meditation. But while they are often first experienced in meditation, they will carry forward into activity. That is what creates the ground for emerging states of consciousness.  The goal is not samadhi, it is beyond the idea of a goal. It is statelessness, beyond practice or experience.

Notice how they are in progressive pairs. Some view the first pair as 2 classes into which the following fit, but if you see the progression, you’ll know that’s incorrect.

Verse Name Description
1.41 Samadhi the end of meditation is samadhi
1.17 Samprajnata samadhi Vitarka or pure thought, positive and peaceful, subject and object remain.
1.18 Asamprajnata samadhi A = not, so this is without thought. Latent impressions or seeds remain.
1.42 Savitarka samadhi Knowledge, name and meaning are mixed. Still illusion.
1.43 Nirvitarka samadhi Memory cleared, true nature seen. Without meanings added. No Past
1.44 Savichara samadhi As above but name and meaning with subtle objects. (like mantra)
1.44 Nirvichara samadhi Sound or sight alone. But objects and thus duality still present.
1.47: restful alertness, luminosity of self
1.48: filled with truth
1.49: direct knowledge, without senses
1.50: overshadows normal perception
1.51 Nirbijah samadhi Without seed or control. Latent impressions burnt. Freedom from rebirth and death.
3.8: Samyama** is external to this
3.38: Siddhis** are obstacles to this
4.29 Dharmamegha samadhi Release even highest knowledge, “rain of virtue”, no burden or drama. Everything is consciousness and that alone exists, free of contraction.

This leads to Kaivalya or enlightenment.

UPDATE: For clarity I have written a new article on the above here.

Other traditions refer to other forms of samadhi. Some use the term more broadly.

Savikalpa samadhi is like Savitarka, some refer to it as when subject and object remain.

Nirvikalpa samadhi is changeless, without time or thought or breath. Pure absolute transcendence. But as Ramana suggests, a temporary state after which ego returns. The mind witnesses the experience. When that begins to be experienced in activity, it is the silent witness.

And so on.

In the third book he speaks of **Samyama: intention (Dharana), meditation/openness (Dyana) and transcendent or samadhi together. A focused thought within expanded awareness, combining 3 of the 8 limbs*. He then defines specific intentions (siddhis or powers) and their result. In that context samadhi comes up again.

3.9 Nirodha Parinama Stillness of the mind
3.11 Samadhi Parinama Sustained focused attention, without distraction
3.12 Ekagrata Parinama Refinement of above, object flows continuously in attention.
3.13 Direct knowing, all time.

These would thus be stages of Samyama.

*The 8 limbs of yoga are Yama (truthfulness, etc.), Niyama (study, devotion, etc.), Asana (Postures), Pranayama (breath regulation), Pratyahara (inner attention), Dharana (effortless focus), Dyana (continuous attention or meditation), and Samadhi.

I’m certainly no expert but this is what is apparent to me now.

[Update: see followup in comments]

Last Updated on May 21, 2014 by

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    1. Davidya

      Thanks Sharon. I first read the Yoga Sutras over 30 years ago. The references are scattered across the text so it occurred to me it might be useful to chart them to get a better sense of it. Of course, outside of the context of the book, they can loose meaning. But approaching the text with a bigger picture can help understanding.

  1. Davidya

    NOTE – samadhi is not about perfect, it’s about the movement towards it. It is a natural state and research has demonstrated that it has a unique physiology. Dropping into the silence vaguely in a sleepy meditation or finding yourself in an undercurrent of happiness, these are samadhi. It does not take complete purity to awaken, that is simply not the nature of being in the world. Form requires fire and inertia. What it takes is just more purity, a clearing of some of the clouds. Then the brilliant light of consciousness can shine through and that in itself will take care of the rest of it.

  2. Davidya

    One other Samadhi that’s often mentioned – Mahasamadhi or great samadhi. This is the samadhi that takes place on the death of someone in Unity. The last remains of ignorance in the form of a body fall away.

  3. Davidya

    One of the things about samadhi is that it has its own unique physiology that some characterize as a unique state of consciousness. It is also variously known as restful alertness or transcendental consciousness.

    One is alert, yet the body is showing levels of rest much deeper than deep sleep. Something about this I touched on in Nirvikalpa above but which would be true of any of the Nir*’s, Even Asamprajnata. That is the complete cessation of breath. One stops breathing completely and the lungs shift to vibrating. This can last quite a long time.

    We’re not talking yogic powers but a natural state, normal enough that there has been a number of studies on it. It happens spontaneously. It’s also characterized by brain wave sync – the 2 hemispheres are working in unison.

    This may sound wild, but it’s normal.

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  18. Davidya

    Best way to look at this:
    The Vitarkas are subtle thinking (discrete)
    The vicharas are refined thinking (flow)
    Ananda is waves of asmita
    asmita is amness
    the samprajnatas are forms of transcendence. Isness – so these 2 are out of sequence of typical experience.

    The last 2 are establishments.

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      1. Ironically humility isn’t something you attain. It’s a consequence of letting go. It’s a seeing of how things are. 🙂
        Here, I share experiences and what I’ve learned but others have more expertise in the philosophy.

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  22. Michael Jaksch

    Hi David!

    Just read through your website. Interessting about the samadhis. In Kriyayoga they say that the highest samadhi is not only without breath but also without pulse. So it is called breathless and pulseless samadhi as the heartbeat stops.

    all the best

  23. Hi Michael
    In the link above your comment, I review them from a slightly different angle. Essentially, Patanjali is describing stages or degrees of samadhi. The point of the articles is more putting the list in some context than going into samadhi itself.

    We could say samadhi itself has 2 forms.

    The first is what you point to, where the above list is stages towards that. In pure samadhi, we can say the breath and heart stop, although that’s not perfectly true. It’s more true that they change modes.

    When this first happens and we’re unfamiliar, the immediate response can be for the mind to notice and become active and breathing to return. But as we settle more deeply into it, we’ll notice that the lungs are now vibrating very finely. The heart moving very slowly. This is a state of pure consciousness or transcendence in a very conscious way. Consciousness without content. This can continue for long periods of time, like hours, but typically only with extensive preparation (post nirbijah) and lots of rest. Like in a retreat environment.

    More typically, the deep settledness is soon distributed by some release, which reactivates normal breathing, etc.

    The other form of samadhi is when that pure consciousness is present even in activity. This is known as witnessing or being in the observer mode. That leads to Kaivalya, liberation.

    It’s worth mentioning what one teacher said – the Yoga Sutras were written in Treta Yuga. This is why the description of the process is quite distinct from the current age. He also leaves out a number of details, like breath stoppage, apparently because this was then obvious or covered elsewhere.

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