asana

Types of Samādhi

Samādhi

Samādhi  is the state of Yogic Absorption which is the culmination of the practice of Yoga. In the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali it is seen as analogous with the state of Yoga itself. It is a state of meditation where the mind is free of fluctuation[1] to the point of seeming devoid even of its own nature[2]. This can seem like a rather difficult thing to grasp, but Patañjali spends quite a few verses detailing the distinctions between different types of Samādhi. Aside from being able to document them properly if they do arise, they are useful to understand to gain insights into deeper aspects of how our minds function and how this functioning can be “hacked” in order to foster our spiritual development, achieve liberation, or even unlock the abilities of the mind to comprehend and influence the world around us.

Following the lead from Patañjali, we can say that there are 8 types of Samādhi. They are:

1.      SavitarkaConceptual gross level of awareness

2.      NirvitarkaNon-conceptual gross level of awareness

3.      SavicāraConceptual subtle level of awareness

4.      NirvicāraNon-conceptual subtle level of awareness

5.      Sānanda Bliss level of awareness

6.      SāsmitaPure I-sense level of awareness

7.      Asaṃprajñāta/Nirbīja“Seedless” or Completely absent of Fluctuations/Vṛttis

8.      Dharmamegha – “Cloud Raining Virtue”

There are two main subtypes of Samādhi. They are Saṃprajñāta and Asaṃprajñāta.

The first 6 types of Samādhi listed above are all types of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi.

Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi is a deeper state than Saṃprajñāta.

The final type of Samādhi, Dharmamegha Samādhi, is beyond even Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi.

 

Saṃprajñāta Samādhi

Saṃprajñāta Samādhi is Samādhi “with Discernment,” also called Samādhi “with Seed” (Sabīja Samādhi). This is when Samādhi is achieved through one-pointed focus on an object. It is considered to be “with Discernment” because it is accompanied by a kind of accurate knowing that provides us with wisdom. When we focus our mind in a still way onto a single object, then we are able to ascertain deeper truths about that object. The development of this discernment is said to proceed gradually, in stages.[3]

It is said to be “with seed” for two different reasons. The first is that it requires an object, a kind of thought pattern, or vṛtti, to coalesce around. Vyāsa also calls this an ālambana, or “support,” for the mind. So, it could be said that it requires a “seed” to “grow.”

It can also be understand that it is “with seed” in that it still produces new karmic impressions. Likely these will be beneficial impressions, but they still keep us on the ongoing wheel of karma. It is also notable that the creation of certain beneficial karmas is usually seen as a necessary precondition to eventually escaping the wheel. Sometimes this is likened to using soap to clean clothing. The soap is necessary to remove the dirt, but then the clothes still have a residue on them. They need to be rinsed after that to lose the residue of the soap itself.

There are different types of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi depending on how the mind perceives the object that it is focused on. These proceed into subtler and subtler aspects of how our mind can perceive objects. They are:

1.      Vitarka – Gross level awareness

2.      Vicāra – Subtle level of awareness

3.      Ānanda – The bliss level of awareness

4.      Asmita – The pure I-sense level of awareness.

This is further subdivided depending on whether the frame of mind is “conceptual” when it is perceiving. Conceptual awareness refers to when there is still the intermixing of the object with its name and meaning as well as the knowledge and imagination of the practitioner. “Non-conceptual” awareness is defined as when the memory is purified until the mind seems empty of its own nature and the object alone is shining forth.

A gross level of awareness refers to the physical aspects of reality. Samādhi with a gross level of awareness that is conceptual is called Savitarka and when it is non-conceptual, as understood above, it is called Nirvitarka.

The subtle level of awareness refers to the underpinnings of the physical reality that we experience. Here we can look to Sāṃkhya Philosophy for guidance. The most apparent aspect of subtle reality is the Tanmātras, the germs of sensory perception that allow us to encounter physical objects. These are Sound, Touch, Form, Taste, and Smell[4]. We might want to notice here that, according to this system, “subtle reality” begins with the phenomenological. It is not some distant otherworldly thing, but, being tied to the senses, is something closer to how we actually encounter objects within our awareness. Subtle reality would extend from there to the operations of the qualities of Nature[5]. It can become progressively more subtle to include the inner Intelligence[6] and the possible subtlety extends all the way to primordial unmanifest Nature itself[7].

Similar to gross level awareness, subtle level awareness can be conceptual or non-conceptual. This is referred to as Savicāra and Nirvicāra respectively.

When Samādhi is achieved with a subtle level of awareness that is non-conceptual, that is with a memory that is purified until the mind seems empty of its own nature and the object alone is shining forth, then the pure Self is able to be glimpsed. Achieving this Nirvicāra Samādhi is thus considered to be an important stage of development. It brings about Wisdom, knowledge that is “filled with truth.”[8] This special kind of knowledge is totally different from that which can be gained by reasoning or study and the seeds that it plants bring about impressions that wipe out all other impressions.

When even these impressions left by wisdom stop then all impressions come to an end and this is the state of seedless Samādhi.

 

Ānanda & Asmitā

Ānanda and Asmitā Samādhi are never directly explained in the Sūtras. Even Vyāsa’s commentary is curiously silent on them. Vyāsa merely explains that Ānanda Samādhi is free from Vitarka and Vicāra and that Asmitā Samādhi is free even from Ānanda. He says that even in those states, however, the mind is still focused on an object.

Hariharānanda, in his commentary, states that Ānanda Samādhi begins out of the feeling of tranquility and well-being that arises from non-conceptual forms of Samādhi (Nirvitarka and Nirvicāra). He calls it a kind of Sattvic happiness and says that it has the special quality of reducing attachment to external objects of the senses because we feel our happiness radiating from within.

Asmitā Samādhi is the Samādhi that arises when the mind starts to focus on the experiencer rather than the experience. So, the “I” who is experiencing the bliss of Ānanda Samādhi becomes reflected within the mind. Because this “I” is just the experiencer, it is free even from the experience itself. Hariharānanda is quick to note that though this experience is beyond even Ānanda, or bliss, that does not imply that there is a lack of bliss in this state. This is why there is no “Nirānanda” state of Samādhi.

Why would Samādhi on the I-sense still be considered an object-based Samādhi if the I-sense is not the object but the experiencer of the object? This could be understood in two ways. First of all, the I-sense is not actually the “I” or the Self, it is merely the inner Intelligence, or Buddhi, operating within us. The second reason is that though the experiencer has become the focus of this Samādhi, achieving this state still depends upon an object that is being experienced.

 

Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi

This type of Samādhi is entirely free of an object and so is free even from this discernment or accurate knowing. It is cultivated by a determination to be beyond all thought. In that state, only the latent “impressions” which are the underlying cause of thoughts remain and it is these impressions, when they become activated, that would take the person back out of this kind of Samādhi and back into the ordinary state of a fluctuating mind.

It is also called “seedless” Samādhi. We must take care to be aware that, though this form of Samādhi has no object, it is entirely different from “zoning out” or being asleep because the awareness itself is still fully clear and present even if there are no thoughts.

It is usually assumed that this form of Samādhi generally only happens after the development of high levels of Wisdom arising from the experience of states of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi. Without this, the kind of supreme non-attachment towards all thoughts would not be possible, or at the very least, would only be the result of a kind of ignorance and so not lead towards liberation.

 

Dharmamegha Samādhi – The Cloud Raining Virtue

There is a further designation of Samādhi that refers to a kind of liberated state that an individual can reach while embodied. This happens when even the complete omniscience that can come from the full development of discernment is no longer compelling or interesting to the individual. This type of Samādhi is called Dharmamegha because it is likened to a cloud that rains virtue, or Dharma. From this Samādhi all afflictions[9] and karmas end. The Knowledge included in the experience of Dharmamegha Samādhi possesses such a magnitude that everything else that can possibly be known seems minor.

With the rising of this Samādhi, the qualities of Nature have served their purpose and their constant transformations end. The state of Liberation is achieved and the Self abides fully in its own nature.

 

References

For the Divisions of Saṃprajñāta Samādhi, see Chapter I, Verses 17, 42-51

For Asaṃprajñāta Samādhi, see Chapter I, Verse 18

For Dharmamegha Samādhi, see Chapter IV, Verses 29-34


[1] See Chapter I, Verse 2

[2] See Chapter III, Verse 3

[3] See also Chapter III, Verses 5 & 6

[4] Śabda, Sparśa, Rūpa, Rasa, Gandha

[5] The Guṇas of Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas

[6] Called Buddhi and in the Yoga Sūtras often referred to as Liṅga, or “mark,” because it is the first instance of manifestation.

[7] Called Prakṛti. In the Yoga Sūtras, it is sometimes referred to as Aliṅga, “without mark,” because of it pre-exists manifestation.

[8]Ṛtambharā,” See Chapter I, Verses 48-50

[9] Kleśas

Pranayama

“This life is empty breath.

If I can hear one clear truth,

I’ll be fortunate.” – Lalla

 

“If you live on the breath,

You won’t be tortured

By hunger and thirst.” – Lalla

 

Prāṇāyāma

Prāṇāyāma is introduced as a discrete practice in the 49th verse of the second chapter of the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Patañjali begins by pointing out that some āsana work must precede praṇāyāma practice, so that we have a stable and comfortable foundation in our physical body. This does not mean that’s necessary to perform any elaborate acrobatics, but just the ability to maintain a basic posture with the back straight.

In our comfortable and stable posture, we can begin to practice prāṇāyāma by extending and regulating the inhale and exhale. The breath is through the nose and the qualities that we are aiming for are slowness, relaxation, evenness, and smoothness. Gradually, we can extend the breath in this way and extend the pauses between breaths.

Yogic breath practices imply that there is some concentration of mind as well. The breath itself is seen as a cause for the concentration of the mind, so the act of each inhale and exhale bring the mind back to our focus and object of meditation. This should be done first with inhales and exhales, ensuring that the breath meets the criteria above and that some basic focus can be maintained, then we can begin to practice in the stops of the breath as well. The retention of breath should be seen as a close holding of the mind on the object as well.

“The object of concentration should be present in the mind during each act of inhalation and exhalation, or the inhalation and exhalation are to be looked upon as the predisposing causes bringing the thought of the object of concentration; thus union between the breath and the object of concentration has to be practised. When this becomes habitual, then the suspension of the movement (of breath) has to be practised. During this practice, the mind has also to be kept fixed on the object of concentration. That is, suspension of breath and the mind’s fixation on the object of concentration should be made as a single effort. Or the idea has to be entertained that by the suspension of breath the object of meditation itself has been held tightly in mental embrace. This form of suspension of movement of the mind, as long as the suspension of breath is maintained, indicates one real Prāṇāyāma.” – Swami Hariharananda, The Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali 258-259

When retention of breath is practiced after the exhale, it is called an external hold. When it is practiced after the inhale, it is called an internal hold. It can also be practiced at any point within the cycle of breath and this is called a stationary hold.

Holds can be measured by their location, time, and number. The aim is to make the breath long and subtle.

Location

Location can refer simply to the depth of breath that is practiced, but it is usually take to mean where the sensation of breath is felt during the course of the breath cycle. Swami Hariharananda  recommends a pattern where we bring the sensation to the entire body during the inhale, felt especially on the skin, palms of hands, and soles of feet, and then to bring the sensation inward to the central channel or heart space during the exhale. He says this brings a sense of ease to the body.

The breath can also be inhaled into the belly and then exhaled out to a foot in front of the nose. This technique is taught in the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra and is often taught by Dr. Lad.

Hariharananda argues that location can also be observed as a way of increasing subtlety of breath by imagining that the range of the exhale is shorter and shorter to the point where a fine cotton wool placed in front of the nose would not be disturbed.

Time

Time refers to how long the breath is suspended. This can be observed by counting. Certain ratios can be adopted such as a count of four for the inhale and four for the exhale. We can also include the holds and count four for the inhale, four for the internal hold, four for the exhale, and four for the exhale hold. When the count is even in this way, it is called a samavṛtti prāṇāyāma, or even timing. If we practice with a more complex ratio, such as four for the inhale, sixteen for the internal hold, eight for the exhale, and eight for the external hold, then this is called viṣamavṛtti, or uneven timing. The length of the count can be extended and longer holds can be maintained, but the practice should always feel relaxed and easy to perform.

Rather than simply counting, it is especially effective to use a mantra for keeping track of the time of the breath cycle. For example, the mantra could be internal recited twice during the inhale and twice during the exhale to maintain a simple samavṛtti prāṇāyāma. This practice allows the mind to become fixed in the flow of sound, facilitating both concentration and the rhythmic timing.

Number

Number refers to how many breath cycles are practiced. One could simply count, one could roughly keep track by practicing over a set period of time, or one could use a japa mālā to count repetitions of mantras or breaths.

Gradually through practice, the breath becomes slower and less perceptible, quieter and smoother.

Sometimes we use more complex and specific breath patterns for prāṇāyāma, such as alternating nostrils, but the practice can also be quite simple as well. With specific breath practices, sometimes internal engagements, called bandhas, or locks, must be employed to practice correctly. These can allow the suspensions of breath to be held for much longer. This is the means employed by Haṭha Yoga, the more “forceful” type of Yoga, where the stilling of prāṇa is used to still the mind. The softer forms of Yoga instead employ the gradually stilling of mind as a means of allowing the breath to become more still. Swami Hariharananda explains this by saying that focus and devotion bring about an intensity of joy that we get a strong desire to hold it as if in embrace and this will cause the breath to become more still on its own accord.

“Through practice of devotion to God and Dhāraṇā of the Sāttvika type, the intensity of joy that is felt in the innermost being, gives rise to a strong desire to hold it as if by an embrace of the heart, which producing a Sāttvika form of contraction of the nerve-centres may stop the activities of the Prāṇa. Just as in the process of Haṭha-Yoga the impulse of contraction is externally produced, in this process it is internally induced.” – Swami Hariharananda, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali p.262

Through whichever means, as the breath becomes almost imperceptible, it seems to disappear on its own. Here we can enter a fourth type of retention that is said to transcend internal and external.

In higher states of meditation, we can start to feel that even the movement of the breath is a disturbance to our concentration. When everything is quiet in our mind, the breath can start to sound like the loudest thing around. So, progressively making it subtler until it starts to almost disappear would be useful for that depth of mental stability.

This special fourth kind of prāṇāyāma can also be interpreted to mean that the movement of life force, or prāṇa, in the body can now be extended to subtler realms and not merely cycled inside and out of the body. The projection and absorption of this energy starts to make ordinary distinctions between outer and inner lose some of their import.

Through this kind of prāṇāyāma, the veil over inner light is thinned and the mind becomes fit for concentration.

Vyasa argues that there is no tapas superior to prāṇāyāma. It removes impurities and makes the light of knowledge shine. He says that the karmas which cause ignorance and prevent clarity of discernment dwindle away due to the practice of prāṇāyāma. This limb can be seen as an elaboration on the breath meditation that was mentioned in the first chapter.

Rubbing Elbows with the Powerful: Invitations from the Gods

Much of human life is spent in social relations and a good portion of our thoughts are spent navigating our social field. This can definitely be a very lovely thing and it is probably also true that a good portion of our day to day satisfaction and nourishment comes from or through our social fields.

However, Power does tend to sour this a bit and we do sometimes find ourselves in situations where we socially interact for our advancement and perceived benefit rather than out of the pleasure of doing it, whether it’s to network, schmooze, or just that we have to play nice with someone because they have power. As a general element of life, this could be an ordinary enough thing and I’m not suggesting we distress ourselves too much over it, but it is still important to remember and recognize that deep or abiding satisfaction does not usually come through worrying too much about our social standing.

I might even argue that some part of our spiritual practice should involve a deliberate (if only momentary) stepping away from modes of thinking that are concerned with social standing.

The Yoga Sūtras provides a nice contextualization for this by drawing a rather firm and hard line on the subject. What Patanjali argues is that, not only should we not care unduly about what other people think of us, but even if the gods themselves were to be impressed by us, we must not let this cloud our view with any excessive pride.

Depending on your metaphysical orientation, you can feel free to take this as a hyperbole to make a point or as a quite literal precaution on your path.

The Sūtra itself is verse 51 from Chapter III:

Sthānyupanimantraṇe saṅgasmayākaraṇaṃ punaraniṣṭaprasaṅgāt III:51

“Even the invitation of Celestial Beings should be disregarded and not cause any pride or arrogance because it can bring about undesirable consequences.”

This is one of the places where the Bhāṣya commentary goes into a rather lengthy narrative description. I find it rather fun, so I will quote it here:

“The celestial beings in high places noticing the purity of the intellect of those who . . . have attained unalloyed truth try to invite them by tempting them with enjoyments available in their regions in the following manner:--‘Oh Great Soul, come and sit here and enjoy yourself. It is lovely here. Here is a lovely lady. This elixir prevents death and decay. Here is a vehicle which can take you to the skies. The tree which fulfils all wishes is here. This is the holy river Mandākinī and here are the perfected Siddhas and the great seers. Beautiful and obedient nymphs, supernormal eyes and ears, body of adamantine strength, are all here. You have earned all these by your virtues. Come, take all these. This is everlasting, indestructible, undying, and beloved of the deities.’

“Thus accosted he should, however, ponder over the danger of their companionship in this way—‘Baked in the fierce flames of birth and rebirth, and tossed between life and death, I have somehow obtained the light of Yoga which destroys the darkness of afflictions, but this thirstful atmosphere of attachment is antagonistic to that light. Having got that light why should I again be deluded by this mirage of pleasure and make myself a fuel of that burning fire of the cycle of birth and death? Oh, ye pitiable, dreamy seekers for pleasures, may you be happy.’ Being so convinced in mind, concentration should be practised. Not having formed any attachment, let him not also feel a sense of gratification that he is coveted by the celestial beings. Through self-gratification a false sense of security arises and man forgets that death has got him by the hair. In that way delusion would creep into the mind, as it is ever watchful for a chance, and strengthen the afflictions and make recurrence of mischief possible.

“By avoiding attachment and the feeling of pride in the above manner, the Yogin becomes firm in his contemplation which would lead him eventually to the object contemplated upon.”

To the Yogi, even the allure of Heaven is to be regarded with a bit of suspicion. It is always worth noting that this passage doesn’t say that ‘nice things’ are a problem in and of themselves, but just that they become problems to us when we fall into a “thirstful atmosphere of attachment.”

Even aside from some of the more extreme examples that more or may not have become the subject of recent Netflix documentaries, we find that in our spiritual communities, it is common enough for people to become “celebrities” and develop a following that is based around their personality more than their teachings.

It is not even about deprecating these people, it is only to recognize that there may be other ways to engage. If we want our practice to truly help us develop, we can’t mindlessly reproduce “middle school” style social environments in our communities. The mythical Yogis were not even impressed by what the gods could offer them, why are we so easily swayed by what every huckster with a “large brain” and the “best words” has to say?

Sama

सम – Sama

Yogathaḥ Kuru Karmāṇi Saṅgaṃ Tyaktvā Dhanaṃjaya |

Siddhyasiddhyoḥ Samo Bhūtvā Samatvaṃ Yoga Ucyate || II:48

“Fixed in Yoga, perform your actions having abandoned attachment and being indifferent to either success or failure. It is said that evenness of mind is Yoga.”

Generally, if you ask someone who knows a thing or two what Yoga is, they will usually refer to Patañjali and say, “Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind.” This is a very good definition and there are good reasons why it is the standard. However, there are other possible classical definitions to which we can also refer. Definitions of Yoga as “union” of microcosm and macrocosm abound and can be another excellent way to frame the process or state. The Bhagavad Gītā has a few of its own definitions. One is the line quoted above, that Yoga is “samatvam” the quality of being “sama.” The word “sama” comes from the same root as our English word “same” and so we could define this to indicate that Yoga means “sameness” or “evenness” in a particular sense. The word can be more distinctly defined as “balance.”

Sama” is a word that also makes a notable appearance in Āyurveda, particularly in Suśruta’s definition of Health:

Sama Doṣāḥ Samāgniśca Samadhātu Mala Kriyāḥ |

“Balanced physiological processes (doshas), balanced digestion (agni – fire), balanced tissues (dhatus), balanced action of elimination (mala kriya).”

Here the word is repeated enough to indicate that Suśruta regards balance as the key to health of the individual.

Proper balance is important for health and probably useful in any context, but in the above verse from the Gītā, Lord Kṛṣṇa specifies that the balance of Yoga is an attitude of sameness towards the successes and failures of one’s own actions. Can we do what is right without a need for external validation? Can we take a success or even a compliment without letting it inflate our ego? Can we learn from a failure or even an insult with deflating into defensiveness? Are we afraid to act because we are too worried that we might fail? Can we begin to see clearly without our perceptions being muddled by our attachments and aversions?

The Yogi aims to retain balance in all things, not merely to be thrown about by the varying circumstances that are encountered. The guidance for our actions should be our internal sense of what is truly right at that moment, rather than merely what is popular, easy, or will give us what we want. So, practicing balance and equipoise is essential.

We even see this in the physical practice of Yogāsana, where balance in a physical sense is required in almost any posture. We practice balance directly when we stand on one leg in Vṛkṣāsana, or tree pose, and we can even see balance in the simple but poised posture of someone sitting tall in their meditation seat.

Mahendranath in the first of his Twilight Yoga trilogy wrote that Sama is one of the key words that “express the essence” the Nath Yogi’s approach to life. The other three are Samarasa – Equanimity, Sahaja – Naturalness, and Svecchacara – the Path of one’s True Will.