If you are at all familiar with yoga or with any of the major Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, or Sikhism, you’ve heard of samadhi. As with most Eastern religious terminology, samadhi can be confusing to understand, especially as it’s been somewhat overused by modern yoga practitioners and studios. So, what exactly does this term mean?
What is Samadhi?
You’d be forgiven to think that samadhi is simply a type of yoga or meditation but it’s more than that. Instead, samadhi is a state of being – a mental concentration achieved during meditation that is so full and comprehensive that it helps bring the person closer to Enlightenment.
In Sanskrit, the term roughly translates as a state of total self-collectedness or, more literally as a state of the original balance. The term is widely used in Hinduism and Buddhism in particular as a description of the highest possible state one’s consciousness can reach while still being bound to the physical self.
Samadhi in Hinduism and in Yoga
The earliest known use of the term comes from the ancient Hindu Sanskrit text Maitri Upanishad. In the Hindu tradition, samadhi is viewed as the Eight Limbs of the Yoga Sutras, the main authoritative text on the practice of yoga. Samadhi follows the 6th and 7thsteps or limbs of yoga – dhāraṇā and dhyāna.
Dharana, the 6th step of yoga, is the first major step of meditation. It’s when the practitioner manages to purge all insignificant wandering thoughts and distractions from their mind and focus on a single thought. That thought is called pratyaya, a term referring to the person’s innermost consciousness. This is the basic first step of medication novices are taught to strive for.
Dhyana, the 7th limb of the Yoga Sutras and the second major step of meditation, teaches the practitioner to focus on the pratyata once they’ve successfully achieved dharana and have removed all other thoughts from their mind.
Samadhi is the final step – it’s what dhyana transforms into once the practitioner has managed to maintain it for long enough. Essentially, samadhi is a state of fusion of the practitioner with the pratyata, their consciousness.
The ancient Hindu sage Patanjali and author of the Yoga Sutras likens the sensation of samadhi to placing a transparent jewel onto a colored surface. Just as the jewel takes on the color of the surface beneath it, so does the yoga practitioner becomes one with their consciousness.
Samadhi in Buddhism
In Buddhism, samadhi is understood as one of the eight elements that comprise the Noble Eightfold Path. While the repetition of the number eight can be confusing, the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path are different from the eight limbs of the Hindu Yoga Sutras. In Buddhism, these eight elements include the following concepts in this order:
- Right view
- Right resolve
- Right speech
- Right conduct
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right samadhi, i.e., the right practice of meditative union
The repetition of the word right is key here because, in Buddhism, the natural connection between a person’s mind and body is viewed as corrupted. So, a Buddhist needs to “right” that corruption by working on their view, resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and meditation. The Noble Eightfold Path is usually represented via the famous Dharma wheel symbol or the dharma chakra wheel with its eight spokes.
Q: How is samadhi achieved?
A: In Hinduism, as well as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, samadhi is achieved through continuous meditation. The way one can accomplish this is by managing to completely divorce themselves from all their other thoughts, impulses, emotions, desires, and distractions.
Q: Is samadhi the same as Nirvana?
A: Not really. In Buddhism, Nirvana is the complete state of “non-suffering” – it’s a state one must achieve if they want to progress on their road to Enlightenment and it’s the opposite of the samsara state – the suffering caused by the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Samadhi, on the other hand, is the state of deep meditation through which one can achieve Nirvana.
Q: What happens during samadhi?
A: Samadhi is one of those sensations that need to be experienced to fully understand. The way most yogis describe it is the merger between the self and the mind, and the experience of spiritual enlightenment that advanced the consciousness forward in its development.
Q: How long does samadhi last?
A: This depends on the practitioner, their experience, and how well they manage to maintain the samadhi state. At first, it usually lasts somewhere between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. For the truly experienced, however, it can last much longer than that.
Q: How do you know if you’ve reached samadhi?
A: It’s impossible for someone on the outside to tell you if you’ve achieved samadhi. It’s similarly impossible to give you a surefire way of identifying the experience. The simplest way to say it would be that if you’re not sure you’ve experienced samadhi, you likely haven’t.
Samadhi is a simple yet often misunderstood concept. Many view it as just the Sanskrit word for meditation while others think it’s the feeling of calmness they experience during meditation. The latter is closer to the truth but samadhi is more than that – it’s the full merging of the self with the mind, not just a temporary state of mindfulness.