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.
|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]