What is Samadhi?
Popularly known as bliss, liberation or enlightenment, Samadhi is the eighth and final stage of Ashtanga Yoga’s eight limbs of yoga. This is the stage where we have completely withdrawn from the outside world and connected with our inner world by reaching a stage of total bliss. ‘Sama’ means equal and ‘dhi’ means ‘to see’. When we reach this stage, we are not floating into another world, but rather finding and realizing the joy inside us. We are able to ‘see equally’ without external factors disturbing the mind, without perceptions of likes or dislikes, without judgements and without attaching ourselves to any particular object or situation. When we achieve this, we are in a state of true liberation.
Samadhi is not a permanent state. It is also not a state that can be achieved easily. It takes years, perhaps decades, of practice and following a yogic path before one can reach here. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras tell us that only when we are completely ready without any impressions, attachments, judgements and desires, and when the mind is pure, can we reach the stage of Samadhi. When the mind is completely pure, we can truly stay in the state of Samadhi for some time, then we attain a somewhat permanent state of moksha or mukti, which is liberation.
What happens in Samadhi?
To achieve Samadhi, three aspects come together, that is, the mind, the object of meditation and the process of meditation itself (Dhyana). All these three together get absorbed into pure consciousness. In this state of pure absorption, which is Samadhi, the mind can be described as being in a state of absence of fluctuations (chitta vrittis), transcendence of the mind and ego, complete awareness and the merging of ordinary consciousness with universal consciousness. A true realization of the nature of reality takes place.
Samadhi takes place in two broad ways, that is, Samadhi with a meditation object (called sabija samadhi, savikalpa samadhi, samprajnata samadhi, and “lower samadhi”) and Samadhi without a meditation object (called nirbija samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi, asamprajnata samadhi, and “higher samadhi”). There are, of course, various stages within each category. Various books and renowned yogis will have different approaches and theories as to how one goes through these stages. In short, a meditator progresses through all the stages one after the day, with time and practice. At any moment a practitioner can get distracted and drop back to an earlier stage of Samadhi, dhyana, or dharana.
During Samadhi, a practitioner may have little to no awareness of the physical body, see light while the eyes are closed, experience an abundance of joy, get a sense of being pulled or drawn into deeper meditation, a progression from a gross experience (readily perceptible) to a subtle experience to finally losing all sense of self, time, and space and a constant pure awareness of oneness with spirit, divine, God, that floods the entire being with bliss.
How can you achieve Samadhi?
Samadhi is a natural state that arises on its own with hours of meditation practice. It is natural, spontaneous and can surprise you. You cannot force Samadhi. They are both natural states that arise on their own.
Your practice to achieve Samadhi starts with Dharana. Practice concentrating on an object regularly and eventually you will progress to Dhyana and then Samadhi. To get closer to a state where Samadhi may come to you, practice the first five limbs of Ashtanga yoga regularly too. That is, yamas and niyamas, asanas, pranayama and pratyahara. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras tell us clearly that the eight limbs are a progressive path. We have to experience each limb from the beginning. Apart from this, do the various cleansing practices (Shat Kriyas) regularly, follow a balanced routine and diet, get quality sleep and live in alignment with your purpose. Practice Karma yoga, the yoga of action or giving regularly, too.
Give yourself time to experience and progress. Stay dedicated in your path and gradually one may achieve Samadhi.
How does Samadhi fit into modern-day life?
Attaining a state of liberation seems like a far-fetched idea and unrealistic in today’s world. You might be thinking you’re happy practicing yoga asanas and pranayama. But here’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to make any changes to your life or move away from the city to achieve this. You can live your life as this state unfolds. Initially, Samadhi will come to you in only small moments. With self-awareness you will notice this pure consciousness in yourself and in everything around you, in people, nature and in animals. Gradually, with practice, you will move past the mind that is attachment, has judgements and desires to a place of pure bliss and contentment even when you are doing a daily activity like riding the subway or going to the supermarket.
Over time, every moment will be one where you can practice Samadhi. Of course, it will take immense preparation, dedication and discipline to the practice, and to stay present and aware.