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Samadhi (Sanskrit: समाधि) is a Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh technical term that usually denotes higher levels of concentrated meditation, or dhyana, in Yogic schools. In the Yoga tradition, it is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

It has been described as a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object,[1] and in which the mind becomes still (one-pointed or concentrated)[2] though the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.[3]

Within Hinduism, Samadhi can also refer to videha mukti or the complete absorption of the individual consciousness in the Self at the time of death - usually referred to as Mahasamadhi - as well as the mausoleum of a saint, or spiritual leader.


Nomenclature, orthography and etymology

Samadhi (समाधि samādhi, Hindi pronunciation: [səˈmaːdʱɪ]) is a Sanskrit term for the state of consciousness induced by complete meditation. Its etymology comes from sam (together or integrated), a (towards), and dha (to get, to hold). Thus the result might be seen to be to acquire integration or wholeness, or truth (samapatti). Another possible etymological breakdown of samādhi is samā (even) and dhi (intellect), a state of total equilibrium (samā) of a detached intellect (dhi).

Rhys Davis (n.d.: unpaginated) holds that the first attested usage of the term 'samadhi' (Sanskrit) in Sanskrit literature was in the Maitri Upanishad.[4]

In Hinduism

Samadhi is the main subject of the first part of the Yoga Sutras called Samadhi-pada. According to Vyasa, a major figure in Hinduism and one of the traditional authors of the Mahabharata, "yoga is samadhi." This is generally interpreted to mean that Samadhi is a state of complete control (samadhana) over the functions and distractions of consciousness.

Samadhi is described in different ways within Hinduism such as the state of being aware of one’s Existence without thinking, in a state of undifferentiated “Beingness" or as an altered state of consciousness that is characterized by bliss (ananda) and joy (sukha). Nisargadatta Maharaj describes the state in the following manner:

When you say you sit for meditation, the first thing to be done is understand that it is not this body identification that is sitting for meditation, but this knowledge ‘I am’, this consciousness, which is sitting in meditation and is meditating on itself. When this is finally understood, then it becomes easy. When this consciousness, this conscious presence, merges in itself, the state of ‘Samadhi’ ensues. It is the conceptual feeling that I exist that disappears and merges into the beingness itself. So this conscious presence also gets merged into that knowledge, that beingness – that is ‘Samadhi’.[5]

Daily meditation is required to attain samadhi. The initial experience of samadhi is enlightenment and it is the beginning of the process of meditating in samadhi to attain Self realization (tapas). "There is a difference between enlightenment [samadhi] and Self realization. When a person gets enlightenment, that person starts doing tapas to realize the Self."[6]

According to Patanjali[7] the Samadhi has three different categories

  1. Savikalpa - This is an interface of trans meditation and higher awareness state, Asamprajnyata. The state is so named because mind retains its consciousness. Which is why in Savikalpa samadhi, one can experience Vitarka (Guessing), Vichara (Thought), Anand (Bliss) and Asmita (Self awareness)[7]. In Sanskrit, Kalpa means imagination. Vikalpa (an etymological derivation of which could be 'विशेषः कल्पः विकल्पः।') connotes imagination. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutra defines vikalpa saying: 'शब्द-ज्ञानानुपाति वस्तु-शून्यो-विकल्पः।'. 'sa' is a prefix which means 'with'. So savikalpa means with vikalpa or 'with imagination'. Ramana Maharshi defines Savikalpa Samadhi as, "Holding on to Reality with effort".[8]
  2. Asamprajnyata is a step forward from Savikalpa. According to Patanjali[7], Asamprajnyata is a higher awareness state with absence of gross awareness.[9]
  3. Nirvikalpa or Sanjeevan - This is the highest transcendent state of consciousness. In this state there is no longer mind, duality, or subject-object relationship or experience. [10] Upon entering Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the differences we saw before have faded and we can see everything as one. In this condition nothing but pure Awareness remains and nothing is missing to take away from Wholeness and Perfection.

Entering Samadhi in the beginning takes effort and holding on to a state of Samadhi takes even more effort. The beginning stages of samadhi (Laya and Savikalpa Samadhi) are only temporary. By "effort" it is not meant that the mind has to work more. Instead, it means work to control the mind and release the self. Note that normal levels of meditation (mostly the lower levels) can be held automatically, as in "being in the state of meditation" rather than overtly "meditating." The ability to obtain positive results from meditation is much more difficult than simply meditating. It is recommended to find a qualified spiritual master (guru or yogi) who can teach a meditator about the workings of the mind. As one Self realized yogi explained, "You can meditate but after some time you will get stuck at some point. That is the time you need a guru. Otherwise there is no chance."[11]

Samadhi is the only stable unchanging reality; all else is ever-changing and does not bring everlasting peace or happiness.

Staying in Nirvikalpa Samadhi is effortless but even from this condition one must eventually return to ego-consciousness. Otherwise, this highest level of Samadhi leads to Nirvana, which means total Unity and the logical end of individual identity (and also death of the body). However, it is entirely possible to stay in Nirvikalpa Samadhi and yet be fully functional in this world. This condition is known as Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Sahaja Samadhi. According to Ramana Maharshi, "Remaining in the primal, pure natural state without effort is sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi".[8]


In Bhakti

The Vaishnava Bhakti Schools of Yoga define Samadhi as "complete absorption into the object of one's love (Krishna)." Rather than thinking of "nothing," true samadhi is said to be achieved only when one has pure, unmotivated love of God. Thus samadhi can be entered into through meditation on the personal form of God, even while performing daily activities a practitioner can strive for full samadhi.

"Anyone who is thinking of Krishna always within himself, he is first-class yogi." If you want perfection in yoga system, don't be satisfied only by practicing a course of asana. You have to go further. Actually, the perfection of yoga system means when you are in samadhi, always thinking of the Visnu form of the Lord within your heart, without being disturbed... Controlling all the senses and the mind. You have to control the mind, control the senses, and concentrate everything on the form of Vishnu. That is called perfection of yoga" - A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [12]
"Meditation means to absorb your mind in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is meditation, real meditation. In all the standard scriptures and in yoga practice formula, the whole aim is to concentrate one's mind in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is called samadhi, samadhi, ecstasy. So that ecstasy is immediately brought by this chanting process. You begin chanting and hear for the few seconds or few minutes: you immediately become on the platform of ecstasy." - A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [13]

Bhava samadhi, or divine trance, is a state of samadhi induced through devotion and spiritual song. The individual manifests the divine being which is the object of his or her devotion. Shivabalayogi explained that bhava samadhi awakens spiritual awareness, brings about healing, and deepens meditation.[14]

As leaving the body

Yogis are said to attain the final liberation or videha mukti after leaving their bodies at the time of death. It is at this time that the soul knows a complete and unbroken union with the Divine, and, being free from the limitations of the body, merges effortlessly into the transcendent Self. Mahasamadhi (literally great samadhi) is a term often used for this final absorption into the Self at death.

Samadhi mandir of Meher Baba

As mausoleum

Samadhi mandir is also the Hindi name for a temple commemorating the dead (similar to a mausoleum), which may or may not contain the body of the deceased. Samadhi sites are often built in this way to honour people regarded as saints or gurus in Hindu religious traditions wherein such souls are said to have passed into maha-samadhi, (or were already in) samadhi at the time of death.

In Buddhism

Samadhi, or concentration of the mind (one-pointedness of mind, cittassa-ekaggata), is the third division of the Eightfold Path of the Buddha's teaching: pañña (wisdom), sila (conduct), samadhi (concentration) - within which it is developed by samatha meditation. Some of Buddhist schools teach of 40 different object meditations, according to the Visuddhimagga, an ancient commentarial text. These objects include the breath (anapanasati meditation), loving kindness (metta meditation), various colours, earth, fire, etc. (kasina meditation).

Important components of Buddhist meditation, frequently discussed by the Buddha, are the successively higher meditative states known as the four jhanas which in the language of the eight-fold path, is "right concentration". Right concentration has also been defined as concentration arising due to the previous seven steps of the noble eightfold path in the Maha-cattarisaka Sutta.[15]

Four developments of samadhi are mentioned in the Pali Canon:

  1. Jhana
  2. Increased alertness
  3. Insight into the true nature of phenomena (knowledge and vision)
  4. Final liberation

Post-canonical Pali literature identifies three different types of samadhi:

  1. momentary samadhi (khaṇikasamādhi)[16]
  2. access concentration (upacārasamādhi)
  3. fixed concentration (appaṇāsamādhi)

Not all types of samadhi are recommended either. Those which focus and multiply the Five Hindrances are not suitable for development.[17]

The Buddhist suttas also mention that samadhi practitioners may develop supernormal powers (abhijna, also see siddhis), and list several that the Buddha developed, but warn that these should not be allowed to distract the practitioner from the larger goal of complete freedom from suffering.

The bliss of Samadhi is not the goal of Buddhism; but it remains an important tool in reaching the goal of enlightenment. It has been said that Samatha/samadhi meditation and vipassana/insight meditation are the two wheels of the chariot of the noble eightfold path and the Buddha strongly recommended developing them both.[18]

Analogous concepts

According to the book "God Speaks" by Meher Baba, the Sufi words fana-fillah and baqa-billah are analogous to nirvikalpa samadhi and sahaj samadhi respectively.[19]

States of consciousness with some of the features of Samadhi are experienced by individuals with no religious or spiritual preparation or disposition. Such episodes occur spontaneously and appear to be triggered by physically or emotionally charged peak experiences such as in runner's high or orgasmic ecstasy, however even mundane activities such as reveling in a sunset, dancing or a hard day's work have, in rare instances, induced the entire range of Samadhi from Laja to Nirvikalpa.

The only distinction in these spontaneous secular samadhi from Hindu and Buddhist descriptions is that in the state of non-duality equivalent to Nirvikalpa, there is no record of any supernormal physical effects as purported in the literature such as the breath and heart-beat stopping or any degree of conscious control during the event. Also absent are siddhis-like special powers as an aftermath although virtually all experiencers report they became imbued with a holistic and compassionate worldview and no longer feared death.

See also


  1. ^ Diener Michael S. ,Erhard Franz-Karl and Fischer-Schreiber Ingrid, The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, ISBN 0-87773-520-4
  2. ^ (links directly to samadhi definition)
  3. ^ Richard Shankman, The Experience of Samadhi - an in depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambala publications 2008
  4. ^ T.W.Rhys Davis (n.d.). 'Introduction to the Subha Sutta'. Source: [1] (accessed: Thursday December 24, 2009)
  5. ^ See quotes from The Ultimate Medicine
  6. ^ Thomas L. Palotas, Divine Play: the Silent Teaching of Shivabalayogi (Lotus Press, 2006, ISBN 0-9760783-0-9), pp.45, 77-79.
  7. ^ a b c Parikshiti Mhaispurkar. "Samadhi - A Scientific Phenomenon?". 
  8. ^ a b Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. 2006. p. 391. 
  9. ^ Stein, Joel (August 2003). Time Magazine 162: 5. 
  10. ^ The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion. 1994. p. 251. ISBN 9780877739807. 
  11. ^ Palotas, Thomas (2006). Divine Play: the Silent Teaching of Shivabalayogi. Lotus Press. p. 226. ISBN 0976078309. 
  12. ^ ""This Movement Appeals Directly To The Soul", Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lecture (1971)". 
  13. ^ 'Center Society on Spiritual Profit' Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, lecture (1968)
  14. ^ Thomas L. Palotas, Divine Play: the Silent Teaching of Shivabalayogi (Lotus Press, 2006, ISBN 0-9760783-0-9), pp.83-89.
  15. ^ ("The Great Forty," MN 117)
  16. ^ Buddhaghosa, Bhadantācariya & Bhikkhu Ñāṇamoli (tr.) (1999). The Path of Purification: Visuddhimagga. Seattle, WA: BPS Pariyatti Editions. ISBN 1-928706-00-2; and, Visuddhacara (n.d.).
  17. ^ "Gopaka Moggallana Sutta". Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  18. ^ "Samadhi Sutta". Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  19. ^ "God Speaks" by Meher Baba, Dodd Meade, 1955, 2nd ed. p.316

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