yoga sutra

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

Yantra

Yantras are sacred geometric diagrams that are used in tantric practice. They could be seen as the visual equivalent of Mantras. They are used in rituals and also just as objects of meditation and contemplation. Different deities or powers will have different Yantras and every Yantra will have distinguishing features. However, there are some basic components of all Yantras that can be identified and understood.

Generally, Yantras can be understood as maps of the progression from subtle unmanifest essence into concrete manifest reality. The center of the Yantra represents the unmanifest and the very outside is the final culmination into manifestation. Yantras may be worked with by starting from the center and proceeding out, mirroring the process of creation, or they may be worked with by starting on the outside and working inward, tracing a path of return to source through dissolution.

At the center of the Yantra, there is a dot that represents the unmanifest essence that is called the Bindu. It is analogous to the pure puruṣa/prakṛti avyakta” principle of Sāṃkhya.

Outside of the Bindu, there are interlocking triangles or occasionally other pointed shapes that represent the creative forces. They are the underlying laws that allow for manifestation to take place. They are analogous to the buddhi or mahat level of the Sāṃkhya cosmology. Generally, upward pointing triangles are considered “masculine.” They orient energy from the individual into the Cosmic. They can thus be seen as dissolving. The downward pointing triangles are “feminine” and they orient energy from the Cosmic down into the individual. They are creating. The exact interplay between the two will depend on the individual Yantra. Some Yantras emphasize the masculine component and some the feminine and these components might overlap and interact differently depending on the arrangement.

Outside of the triangles will be a circle, which represents a unity or the infinity of possibilities that exist in this still potential form.

Petals emanate from the circle out in all directions and these are the first manifestations of subtle reality. They are often identified with the senses and other subtle elements of mind. So, this connects to the lower aspects of the Antaḥ Kāraṇa and to the Tanmātras. Depending on the individual Yantra, the number or exact arrangement of petals might vary.

Finally, the outside square of the Yantra is called the Bhūpura. It connects to the elements, the Bhūtas, and our final concrete manifest reality. The cardinal directions, which place us on this Earth are located in the four gates that are on each side of the Bhūpura. These are the access points to enter into the Yantra.

“Book Knowledge” v. “Yogic Knowledge”

जातिलक्षणदेशैरन्यतानवच्छेदात् तुल्ययोस्ततः प्रतिपत्तिः || ५३ ||

Jāti-lakṣaṇa-deśair anyatā’navacchedāt tulyayos tataḥ pratipattiḥ III:53

“From this, one gains the ability to discern between two identical things that are not distinguishable by their outward characteristics.”

Patanjali and Vyasa argue throughout the Sutras that although knowledge of facts and knowledge gained from books can be useful, it is limited in that it can only tell you about the characteristics of categories of things. It can never tell you about the actual particularities of individual objects. So, you can learn that mammals have fur and breastfeed their young, you can even learn what distinguishes different *kinds* of mammals from each other, but this type of knowledge will never allow you to *fully* understand any unique individual instance of a mammal.

The claims to “powers” that are presented in the Yoga Sutras are neither mere peripheral things to gloss over (there are in fact a lot of Sutras devoted to speaking about them) nor are they meant to be ways of achieving worldly ends. Instead, they are guide posts that are meant to show that we have deeply understood and integrated a Yogic concept.

So, Patanjali’s claim that, through meditative practice, one gains the ability to discern between two identical objects, indicates that the Yogi has, at this point, transcended ordinary “book knowledge.” He or she is able to actually perceive things as they are and not merely as examples of a certain category or type. What were once just different examples of a kind of object are now seen in their full individuality.

This is illustrated creatively in the story of Gorakh’s rescue of Matsyendranath, where Gorakh produces 108 clones of Queen Mainakini and Matsyendra’s son Minanath. Gorakh asks the Queen to choose her real son and, when she is unable to do so, he says, “If you’re not able to recognize your own son, how can you call him yours?” (Munoz, Adrian. Matsyendra’s “Golden Legend”)

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?

What is Ayurveda?

In my mind, there are two distinct, though connected, ways of understanding Ayurveda. The first way is to look at it in its historical and cultural context and the second is to see its broader universal aspect. I believe both of these are important for truly understanding Ayurveda and in the end they feed and nourish each other.

 

Historical Background

 

Understanding the historical and cultural place of Ayurveda allows us to see how it has germinated and flourished in our actual physical world as a distinct school of thought and practice. It is especially important for us Westerners who are approaching Ayurveda to respect that it did not appear in a vacuum. There is a prevalent tendency in the West to appropriate elements of other cultures and divorce them from their origin. This not only prevents us from understanding deeper significances, but it is also a direct insult to cultures that have developed and preserved these traditions. It doesn’t help that often, as is the case with India, they are cultures that have been historically oppressed and manipulated by Western countries. This does not mean we all have to go become Indians or even that we have to wholesale accept all elements of Indian culture, it just means that we have an obligation to come to Ayurveda and other such traditions with an attitude of respect and with a sincere desire to learn and not just project our pre-existing ideas.

 

With that out of the way, most simply Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical and healing tradition. It has evolved over thousands of years in India and is considered to be the oldest continually practiced medical system. Ayurveda has informed many other healing disciplines throughout the ages. Elements of Ayurveda show that the system was in conversation with neighboring Chinese medicine, with information likely travelling back and forth between them. Many modern Western medicines have been developed by isolating components from herbs used in Ayurveda. The modern discipline of plastic surgery is even said to have originated from the discovery of a description of a nasal reconstruction surgery in an Ayurvedic text. Though it has different strengths than modern medicine, it is important to note that even on the grounds of straightforward clinical descriptions, Ayurveda was in many places more advanced than Western medicine up until a hundred or so years ago.

 

But Ayurveda is a fundamentally different kind of medical science than modern medicine. It is, at its base, a qualitative system as opposed to a quantitative system. It relies on a system of principles and concepts, many of which are common to other Indian traditions. These are often very simple ideas which are overlaid one another to produce a vast and quite nuanced network.

 

The Five Great Elements

 

The easiest place to start with these is with the concept of the Five Elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. It is probably unnecessary, but I want to point out that the Five Elements weren’t some primitive precursor to the periodic table. The Indians (or the Ancients in the West) were not under the impression that all things literally contained Fire or Water. However, they saw certain qualities present in all things and labeled these with common examples which were emblematic of them. In the Indian system, these elements are seen as an evolving manifestation, and so the elements are not even considered precisely separate. Space represents the expanse and potentiality of existence; Air is the beginning of the movement in that expanse; that movement creates friction which makes heat and allows for transformation of state, which is Fire; Water is the downward flow of precipitation which comes from the changed state; and Earth is the solidification of that substance into a stable form. All of these elements are, at least to some extent, in all things. Even the physical “fire” that we know of requires space to exist in, oxygen (Air), has some flow to it (Water), and requires physical fuel and leaves a physical residue of ash (Earth).

 

Techniques & Application

 

Perhaps you can already intuit that even though we can say all things are made of all five elements, they do not necessarily have them to the same extent. So, to use our earlier example, even though fire may actually contain all the elements, it is still more “fiery” than a rock. This rock is in turn more “earthy” than a lake. To take this further, a melon is more watery than a peanut and the fire element of a food will be increased if it is cooked.

 

This forms the basis for the Ayurvedic analysis of everything from foods to people’s individual constitution to the applications of various medicines. It becomes further refined in the system of gunas (qualities), doshas (similar to the often misunderstood Hippocratic concept of humors), and dhatus (the bodily tissues). I’ll go into these in a later blog, but for now suffice it to say that Ayurveda uses these principles to organize a diverse and comprehensive array of possible therapeutic interventions. These include diet and lifestyle, external therapies such as bodywork, and one of the most extensive pharmacologies in the world, employing herbs, minerals, and other substances. India has an incredible abundance of medicinal plants, but the real beauty is that the Ayurvedic method for classifying herbs can be applied to plants anywhere in the world.

 

The Universal

 

Strangely enough, for an understanding of the universal side of Ayurveda it is useful to delve deeper into some specifics. First and foremost, the word “Ayurveda” is a combination of “Ayuh”, the Sanskrit word for Life and “Veda”, which means a system of knowledge. So, Ayurveda is translated as “Knowledge of Life” or even “the Science of Life”. Basically, this means the system is defining itself as being concerned with the workings of “life” in all its forms. This means that it is not just a medical system, but an Ecology. The sutras even define the scope of Ayurveda as being the study of the various things which can promote and preserve life as well as the things which are destructive to life. It is a science of cause and effect, specifically the effect on the life process.

 

This is, in and of itself, a neutral process, but once causes and their effect on life is known, they can be properly employed. Those causes which are helpful to the promotion of the life we wish to preserve can be utilized and those which are detrimental to it can be avoided or at least mitigated. This process can go quite deep and it transcends any specific context or set of teachings. It is a continuously unfolding and attuning of our awareness towards subtler and subtler connections. Whether or not a person ever even hears the word “Ayurveda”, they can tap into this timeless wisdom with the power of their own awareness and inquiry.

 

In this sense Ayurveda is not truly a “human-based” medicine, it is an attempt to commune directly with the underlying laws of Nature.

 

In Indian traditions, these types of attunements are called “Vidyas”, eternal wisdom systems which can be revealed through direct perception to the devoted student. The Vidyas are even personified as Goddesses, so the learning of Ayurveda is not merely studying texts, learning from teachers, or practicing, it is the worship and the development of a relationship with the Ayur-Vidya, the living Goddess of Ayurveda. From this perspective, what is learned through student’s own awareness is being taught directly by the Goddess herself. Of course, in practice, study and guidance are usually necessary for a proper unfolding of this knowledge.

Even as a specific cultural phemomenon, Ayurveda is a constantly evolving system, which is flexible enough to adapt to new knowledge and situations. Within the confluence of history and opportunity, its ancient wisdom is just as relevant and essential today as when its classic works were composed.

Types of Suffering

परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोध‌ाच्च दुःखमेवसर्वंविवेकिनः ||१५||

Pariṇāma tāpa saṃskāra duḥkhair guṇa vṛtti virodhāc ca duḥkham eva sarvaṃ vivekinaḥ II:15

“For the wise, everything is suffering because of the suffering that comes from change, pain, tendencies (saṃskāras), as well as the suffering of a mind that is constantly fluctuating due to the conflicting qualities of nature.”

There are two things that are being explained in this Sutra. On the one hand, Patanjali is outlining for us the different kinds of suffering that we can experience, which are increasingly subtle. They are:

1.         Pariṇāma – Change – The suffering caused by the fact that everything changes and nothing ever lasts.

2.         Tāpa – Pain – The direct suffering of physical pain.

3.         Saṃskāra – Tendencies – The suffering of being at the whim of our habits and tendencies

4.         Citta Vṛtti Virodha – Conflicting mental fluctuations – The suffering that comes from the inherent way in which a changing mind is always quarreling with itself.

Many of these types of suffering can be mitigated in life. We can cultivate an attitude of non-attachment and thus experience less disturbance when things change. We can regularly practice yoga āsanas in order to help reduce pain and discomfort in our body. We can do self-work in order to make sure that our habits and tendencies are less destructive or unconscious.

The controversial second part of the point that Patanjali is making here though is that, even if we do all of this, we are still at the best of the changing, quarreling, and conflicting nature of reality itself. This means that no matter what, even the most refined pleasure is still intermixed with some suffering.

I think whether we ultimately accept or reject the world (it could be arguing that Patanjali is taking a more “world-rejecting” point of view here, but it could also be argued that we don’t have to), this is something that is good to contemplate deeply on. All of the philosophies of India try to answer the question of how we can bring about an end to suffering. It may be desirable now to strive for worldly goals, such as righteousness, prosperity, and pleasure, but even these will prove to be limiting to us eventually. This is why we also have the concept of moksa, or liberation, our final freedom from even the subtlest forms of suffering.