Samadhi is a Sanskrit term from the Vedic tradition that describes pure consciousness or pure being. Turiya (the fourth) or transcendental consciousness are other terms used.
Samadhi comes from the roots: sama = evenness and dhi = the intellect. In other words – a calm, even intellect and thus mind. A settled mind is also the meaning and purpose of Yoga.
It is not however a word to describe “spiritual experiences.” Rather it is about settling out of the content of experiences into consciousness itself.
Typically, samadhi is used to describe the shift in state that takes place during deep meditation. People can have spontaneous samadhi, but this is usually brief and less clear so less able to be described. Samadhi can trigger experiences and purification that can be described but those are effects, not the samadhi itself. Remember – samadhi is about consciousness rather than its content or experiences. (a similar distinction can be made with Awakening)
There are various prefixes added to samadhi to describe degrees of it. I wrote about Patanjali’s types of samadhi in the Yoga Sutra here. Complete pure consciousness he called Nirbijah Samadhi – without seed. This means without even impressions (seeds of action) to disturb the quiet.
Because it is a term to describe pure consciousness, it is inherently a temporary state. At some point, we have to return to activity again. When Self Realization dawns, consciousness (Self, Atman) is recognized as underlying all states of experience and becomes the ongoing backdrop of life.
Someone awake and clear would experience periods of samadhi often. However, they also experience day-to-day life content so this is not technically samadhi itself. Awakening is also called turiyatita – beyond the 4th.
Because samadhi is defined as ‘evenness of intellect’ – a quality of the awake – some relate the term to Self Realization (jivan-mukti). For example, I’ve seen the term Saguna Samadhi (with qualities) used for it – living pure consciousness in activity.
Further, it can be argued that the 8 limbs of Yoga become ongoing with time in Self Realization (non-attachment, truthfulness, contentment, etc).
However, samadhi is better used as equivalent to turiya rather than for the change in being too. Someone still has samadhi post-awakening. Our orientation to it changes because we’re not transcending or going somewhere anymore – it’s more settling into who we are within. But the process is the same and it becomes a little garbled to talk about samadhi in samadhi.
This becomes even more the case as further stages unfold.
Recently, I reviewed a talk Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made in 1962 on the subject. He described stages of samadhi like this:
Nirvikalpa Samadhi [without combination] – he described as eternal
Savikalpa Samadhi [with combination] – he described as “broken” ie: temporary.
He then defined 4 types of Savikalpa:
– Vitsaranugat – first state, when the mantra gets slower and slower
– Vitarkanugat – mantra ceased to be a specific thought, becomes a rhythm, hum.
– Anandanugat – no hum, just glow [ananda = bliss]
– Atmikanugat – pure consciousness, no content [atmi = Self]
Often, Atmi is just a blank space at first as it has no content. Gradually it becomes more clear. We may not notice a glow due to energetic fog. But we may notice a wave of happiness as we cross Ananda – the bliss body – often on the way back out. It’s a nice description of the process and corresponds with the koshas.
As Atmikanugat becomes established, we shift into empty Nirvikalpa. Then we can enjoy extended periods of content-less awareness, breath paused, and perhaps bliss blurbling up. For the duration, we are timeless, boundless, and at peace.
However, Maharishi also said that when Atmikanugat becomes ongoing beneath all states, then this is Nirvikalpa – eternal samadhi, Cosmic Consciousness. For reasons I mention above, I disagree with this approach. Samadhi is inherently a temporary state, although one that sets the platform for a permanent shift.