Samadhi literally translates to total self-collectedness in Sanskrit, and is derived from the words sam (meaning “together” or “completely”), a (meaning “toward”), and dhe, (meaning “put”). When Samadhi is achieved, it is complete self-realization accompanied by a sense of interconnectedness. It is the final step of Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in which bliss is achieved when the individual and universal consciousness is in harmony and unison.
Types of Samadhi
There are 2 types of Samadhi:
1. Samprajnata Samadhi (Savikalpa)
2. Asamprajnata Samadhi (Nirvikalpa)
Samprajnata Samadhi (Savikalpa)
Samprajnata Samadhi (or Savikalpa) is a meditative state of peace and quiet. The practitioner temporarily experiences the union of the mind, body and soul only in meditation. Ordinary consciousness and decision-making takes over once the person leaves the meditative state.
There are 4 stages of Samprajnata Samadhi:
1. Sarvitarka Samadhi
In this stage, the mind focuses on every aspect of the object of meditation, such as a flame.
2. Savichara Samadhi
Once the object’s physical aspects are understood, the mind moves to understanding the more subtle aspects of the object, such as beauty, love, aura, etc.
3. Sa-ananda Samadhi
In this stage, the mind focuses on the joy and peace felt by one’s power of perceiving every aspect of the object of meditation by leaving behind the object and concentrating on the mind itself.
4. Sa-Asmita Samadhi
In this stage, only the satvic (pure) ego remains. The mind is now fully aware of the divine consciousness, and it’s connection with the higher Supreme power.
Asamprajnata Samadhi (Nirvikalpa)
In Sanskrit, a vikalpa is a thought-construct. Nirvikalpa translates to ‘without thought constructs’. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the ego is now dissolved, and only pure and empty consciousness remains. The mind transcends into a state of blissful self-awareness, leaving behind all attachments to the material world.
There are 3 stages of Asamprajnata Samadhi:
1. Nirvitarka Samadhi
This is the stage in which the mind has a complete understanding of the true nature of consciousness by leaving behind all material aspects. The mind is focused on the artha, or form, and disregards the fact that it is the knower. There is a greater control over the mind, its ideas and knowledge.
2. Nirvichara Samadhi
In this stage, the mind is free of all the thoughts that are not relevant, and concentration is almost laser-focused. The concepts of space and time lose their meaning in Nirvichara Samadhi.
3. Kaivalya Samadhi
This is the final stage of eternal union with the Supreme.
History of Samadhi
The Adhyatma Ramayan tells the journey of Lord Rama’s life in a spiritual context. It describes how the great prince was banished from the kingdom of Ayodhya after being denied the throne on the eve of his coronation. He is exiled to live as a simple man for 14 years along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. After his wife is kidnapped by Ravana, Lord Rama vows to rescue his queen and eventually, comes back to Ayodhya in a triumphant return.
In the Muktikā Upanishad, which is a canon comprising of the dialogue between Hanuman and Lord Ram, Sri Hanuman inquires about the different kinds of spiritual liberation, or Mukti:
“O Rama! I wish to know, for the sake of emancipation, thy nature as it truly is. O Rama! Be Thou gracious enough to tell me that by which I shall be easily released from the bondage of mundane existence, and by which I shall attain salvation.”
To this, Lord Rama answers that “the only real type [of liberation] is Kaivalya [Samadhi]”. He, then, introduces the list of 108 Upanishads (verses 26-29):
“But by what means does one attain the Kaivalya kind of Moksha? The Mandukya [Upanishad] is enough. If knowledge is not attained from it, then study the Ten Upanishads. Attaining knowledge very quickly, you will reach my abode. If certainty is not attained even then, study the 32 Upanishads and stop. If desiring Moksha without the body, read the 108 Upanishads. Hear their order.”
What Does Samadhi Feel Like?
The philosophy of yoga describes 3 states, or avasthas, of consciousness: waking, dreaming and sleeping. There is, however, a fourth state – the superconscious, or turiya awareness state, which is a union of the 3 states where the true self may be discovered. This is a state of inner peace and pure consciousness.
The माण्डुक्योपनिषद (Mandukya Upanishad) describes the nature and feeling of Samadhi, or the final stage of union with the Supreme.
Mandukya Upanishad Verse 7
नान्तःप्रज्ञं न बहिष्प्रज्ञं नोभयतःप्रज्ञं न प्रज्ञानघनं न प्रज्ञं नाप्रज्ञम् । अदृष्टमव्यवहार्यमग्राह्यमलक्षणं अचिन्त्यमव्यपदेश्यमेकात्मप्रत्ययसारं प्रपञ्चोपशमं शान्तं शिवमद्वैतं चतुर्थं मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥ 7 ॥
In English, the above Sanskrit verse can be read as:
naantah-pragyam na bahish-pragyam nobhayatah-pragyam na pragyaa-naghanam na pragyam naa-pragyam, adrishtama-vyavahaarya-magraah-yamalakshanam achint-yama-vyapadesh-yamekaatma-pratyayasaaram prapan-chopa-shamam shaantam shiva-madva-itam chaturtham man-yante sa aatamaa sa vigyeyah ॥ 7 ॥
Mandukya Upanishad Verse 7 Translation from Sanskrit to English
Here’s the translation of each of the above words of the verse:
naantahpragyam (नान्तःप्रज्ञम्) – na + antah + pragyam (न + अन्तः + प्रज्ञम्): Not inward knowable.
na bahishpragyam (न बहिष्प्रज्ञम्) – na + bahis + pragyam (न + बहिस् + प्रज्ञम्): Not outward knowable.
nobhayatahpragyam (नोभयतःप्रज्ञम्) – na + ubhayatah + pragyam (न + उभयतः + प्रज्ञम्): Not both side knowable.
na pragyanaghanam (न प्रज्ञानघनम्) – na + pragyaan + ghanam (न + प्रज्ञान + घनम्): Not unknown / Not unrecognized.
na pragyam (न प्रज्ञम्) – na + pragyam (न + प्रज्ञम्): Not knowable.
naapragyam (नाप्रज्ञम्) – na + a + pragyam (न + अ + प्रज्ञम्): Not unknowable.
ekaatmapratyayasaaram (एकात्मप्रत्ययसारम्) – eka +aatma + pratyaya + saaram (एक +आत्म + प्रत्यय + सारम्): Substance of the conception of the single self.
prapanchopashamam (प्रपञ्चोपशमम्) – pra + pancha + upashamam (प्र + पञ्च + उपशमम्): For extinction to five, where five are the elements of life; air, water, earth, fire and ether.
Compositing the translated words together, the result is:
Neither inward knowable, nor outward; not knowable from both ways. Neither unknown, nor knowable, nor unknowable. Invisible, non-interactable, incomprehensible, not having any characteristics, inconceivable, non-mentionable, the substance of the conception of the single self, the endpoint (of all): peaceful, auspicious, non-dual, deemed as fourth, he is Self (Atma), He is to be known.
Thus, Mandukya Upanishad Verse 7 can be simplified and translated from Sanskrit to English:
न अन्तः प्रज्ञम् न बहिस् प्रज्ञम् न उभयतः प्रज्ञम् न प्रज्ञानघनम् न प्रज्ञम् न अप्रज्ञम् ।
अदृष्टम् अव्यवहार्यम् अग्राह्यम् अलक्षणम् अचिन्त्यम् अव्यपदेश्यम् एक आत्म प्रत्यय सारम् प्र पञ्च उपशमम् शान्तम् शिवम् अद्वैतम् चतुर्थम् मन्यन्ते स आत्मा स विज्ञेयः ॥ 7 ॥
The fourth quarter is not conscious of the internal nor the external, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is neither conscious nor unconscious. It is unseen, unrelated to anything, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable, indescribable; it is one with the Self. It is a realm where phenomena cease to exist, which is peaceful, blissful, and non-dual. This Self has to be realized.
This fourth state of consciousness is known as Turiya, which translates to fourth state.
Process of Attaining Samadhi and Entering Turiya State
By entering a state of deep, conscious relaxation, a state of Yoga Nidra (योग निद्रा) is induced, which is a path to kaivalyam, or samadhi – as explained by Lord Rama to Sri Hanuman as a state of spiritual liberation. Yoga Nidra is also referred to as prajna in the Mandukya Upanishad.
Yoga Nidra literally translates to yogic sleep, and is a practice in which one moves awareness from the external world to the internal world. In this state of ‘deep sleep’, the intellect, mind and senses relax, and the concept of time and space no longer have much meaning.
When a state of Yoga Nidra is induced, the level of brain activity reduces and the body goes into a state of healing, in which toxins are released at a cellular level, the mind is refreshed, and the subconscious is freed of any bounds.
Thus, being in the state of Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, for one hour is believed to have the benefit of 4-5 hours of sleep. As the body enters a healing state.
By practicing shavasana (corpse pose) and through the process of meditation, one can enter the Turiya state.
Meditation for Entering Samadhi
The best way to attain Samadhi is to practice the Transcendental Meditation Technique, developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He referred to the state of Samadhi as Transcendental Consciousness, and described it as a state of consciousness that is separate from dreaming, waking, or deep sleep state of consciousness i.e. the fourth state of Turiya.
How to Know You've Attained Samadhi
Here’s how to know that you’ve achieved a state of Samadhi:
– you feel extremely calm and still throughout the day amidst all the chaos of the world
– your basic senses seem to have transcended
– a feeling of interconnectedness of all things
– a feeling of calm while concentrating
– you are able to control your sensory intake of information
Scientific Studies on the Benefits of Samadhi
The mind operates at 4 Brainwave States or Frequencies:
Alpha: natural waking state (for e.g. everyday activities)
Beta: light relaxation (for e.g. day-dreaming)
Theta: deep relaxation in which most of the conscious mind is switched off (for e.g. hypnosis)
Delta: extreme deep relaxation or sleep dominated by the subconscious mind (for e.g. deep sleep)
Scientific research recently concluded that practicing meditation in the Turiya state through transcendental meditation induced positive changes in EEG brainwave patterns in the theta state, and can treat different kinds of mental health disorders, especially anxiety disorders.
In fact, multiple scientific studies (such as this 2017 Military Medicine study and this 2018 study) concluded that military veterans who went through an 8-week transcendental meditation course experienced decreased symptoms of PTSD & depression, along with increased mindfulness, and an improved quality of life.
Why Samadhi is Important: Samadhi and Yoga Nidra
Samadhi is defined as the highest state of mental concentration that a person can achieve while still being in a physical body, yet being connected with a higher power.
Research is proof of the fact that the theta brainwave state that is altered when in turiya state results in deep awareness and healing. When we are in deep REM sleep, the delta brain waves that are present during deep sleep help the body naturally heal, thus allowing us to feel rested when we wake up. Research performed by studying yoga practitioners in the state of yoga nidra and turiya showed that yoga masters in the state of samadhi are able to stay alert and asleep at the same time, thus allowing them to alternate between theta and delta brainwaves – and consequently, allowing for greater benefits for mental and physical well-being.
Difference Between Samadhi and Deep Sleep
Samadhi is a state of self-awareness, or an awareness of the aspect of being. In deep sleep, even though we are in connection with the totality, we are not conscious. However, if you are consciously aware in a state of deep sleep, it is called samadhi.