Samadhi, the final limb of the eight limbs, is a term for the state of consciousness achieved by practicing yoga.
It’s derived from the Sanskrit root meaning ‘to collect’ or ‘bring together’, referring to the bringing together or joining of all aspects of our being, the small self with the Universal Self.
It is a practitioner’s identification with the Absolute, seeing no separation with, or from, the external world – the meeting of Atman with the Paramatman.
For many yogis, the goal of Samadhi may feel somewhat elusive and far off. The concept can be pretty hard to wrap your head around, as it’s something that can only truly be understood from experience.
But that won’t stop us from giving our best shot at explaining it!
Remember, this is the final limb, so if you have no idea what we’re talking about when we say things like the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, or eight limbs, you’re better off starting here and reading each of our articles on the limbs before jumping in at the deep end with Samadhi.
So, let’s dive straight into these aspects of the final limb:
- What is Samadhi?
- Samadhi in the Yoga Sutras
- Obstacles to Samadhi
- Stages of Samadhi
- Achieving Samadhi
What is samadhi?
Samadhi is the highest state of meditation that one can achieve whilst in the physical body – complete meditative absorption.
It is a place in which there is no thought, ego, attachment, desires, fears, or concept of the body-mind at all.Through all the work done in the prior limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana), in the final stage, the yogi has become completely detached from the material world.
It is the journey through which the practitioner moves from a state of individual consciousness to collective consciousness, a total experience of oneness.
Samadhi is the experience of enlightenment when the self comes to rest in the Self.
By this, we mean that the self, at an individual level, no longer identifies as separate from the Source from which it came, and instead knows itself as that very Source itself.
Samadhi, together with dharana and dhyana, are collectively referred to as Samyama. They are inextricably linked as the practice of concentration leads one to Samadhi, yet in Samadhi the meditator would not be able to perceive even the act of meditation.
The first section of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is called Samadhi-Pada, this is because it’s the aim of the yoga practice.
Every practice needs a goal to work towards, no matter how big or small. If not, the practice itself has the danger of becoming fruitless if one does not know where they are going with it. Hence, the Sutras begin with the goal to abide in the state of the ‘seer’.
By the ‘seer’, Patanjali means abiding in a state of pure awareness. It is in this state of unchanging consciousness that one comes to know their true nature (Source itself).
If you recall our exploration of our previous limbs, one can only abide in the state of the seer by stilling the ‘fluctuations of the mind‘.
After Samadhi-Pada, the order is:
2. Sadhana Pada (how to get there)
3. Vibhuti Pada (what the practice achieves)
4. Kaivalya Pada (comes as a result of experiencing Samadhi, the liberated state)
Obstacles to Samadhi
Patanjali talks of nine obstacles to Samadhi in sutra 1.30 of his text. These are:
- imaginary ideation
- inability to reach milestones
Another obstacle to Samadhi, as prompted by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, is that we believe we are the doers:
All actions are being performed by my Prakriti. The fool, whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks, “I am the doer”Bhagavad Gita, 3.27
It is just our attachments to our body-mind that causes us to believe we are the source of these actions, instead of the modes of nature (Prakriti).
The liberated individual does not have any attachments, and the idea of individual agency is exactly this – an attachment.
Just take our vital organs, for example, we go about our life every single day without having to spend any time thinking about digesting our food, removing bodily toxins, or pumping the blood around our bodies.
Can we really say that we are the cause of all of these functions?
Once we let go of the idea that we (the individual self) are the ones that cause the state of Samadhi to happen, we become closer to attaining it.
Stages of Samadhi
According to Patanjali, there are 3 levels of Samadhi, which are broken down into sub-stages.
1. Savikalpa Samadhi
This is the stage in which the practitioner loses all human consciousness for a short time. Think of this as witnessing universal consciousness for a period of time, which, due to its infinite nature, is just far too big to fit into individual consciousness.
The bliss you experience in the first stage is called Rasasvada, which can be a barrier to further spiritual progression and full liberation.
A. Savitarka Samadhi
The mind identifies with a gross object of concentration. At this stage, many of the familiar mind’s processes remain unimpaired.
The mind could still be disturbed.
B. Savichara > Nirvichara Samadhi
In Savichara, identification with the object becomes more subtle. The practitioner knows that they are a manifestation of energy that is meditating on another manifestation of that same energy.
Nirvichara is deeper, the yogi becomes one with the object of concentration in a practice of one-pointed focus.
C. Sananda Samadhi
The yogi enters into a complete state of balance during which the prana flows in the Sushumna Nadi.
This is also the state in which the practitioner experiences a feeling of complete bliss.
D. Asmita Samadhi
The yogi goes beyond bliss, leaving only identification with the sattvic (pure) ego.
The self is merged with the Universal Self, leaving simply the understanding of an all-pervading consciousness.
The samskaras have not yet been dissolved in this stage of Samadhi.
There is still the Triputi (the seer, seen, seeing/meditator, meditation, object of meditation). This means, there will still be an object of meditation (such as a mantra), but the mind will be completely absorbed in it.
2. Nirvikalpa Samadhi (Asamprajnata)
The point of turning completely inwards, unaffected by any stimulus in the external world. Unlike in Savikalpa Samadhi, the samskaras have been completely dissolved in this stage along with the ego and the mind’s conditioning.
It is a state of non-perception in which the mind merges with Brahman.
You become the seer, the seen, and the seeing itself, all at once, transcending time and space. Only the Supreme remains.
Ramana Maharshi says this stage is ‘merging in Reality and remaining unaware of the world‘.
3. Dharmamegha Samadhi
According to Patanjali, this is the stage at which a continuous flow of insight (viveka khyati) has been attained. This can only be achieved when the yogi is successful at the highest practice of para-vairagya (detachment).
Unlike the previous two stages of Samadhi, which are temporary, this is a permanent state of liberation.
The consciousness of the individual in Dharmamegha Samadhi takes on the same qualities as the Universal Consciousness – omniscience and omnipotence.
This comes from losing the desire for everything, even the desire to be enlightened itself. The end goal is not detachment or knowing God. The yogi renounces all powers, not through effort but through ceasing all effort.
This state removes all karmas and hence the yogi achieves Jivanmukta – the liberation achieved whilst remaining in your body (literally means liberated while living).
This is a natural Samadhi state that can be achieved in everyday life; while talking, walking, and eating. They believed that at all times one can be in this state and still be engaged in worldly activities.
Maharshi describes it as a ‘primal, pure natural state without effort… the mind is dead, having been resolved in the ecstasy of Awareness (Self)‘.
He spoke on the idea that we are that. Samadhi is our natural state, yet it is veiled by the illusion of the mind (maya).
How do i know if i’ve attained samadhi?
The important thing to know here is that, if you are searching or wondering ‘am I in Samadhi?’, it is not Samadhi.
Based on other yogi’s experiences of the eighth limb, here are some of their observations:
- the body becomes completely motionless
- the senses are transcended
- a feeling of oneness with everything
- a feeling of being pure awareness
- there are no thoughts/one thought does not trigger another thought
If this whole article has left you feeling like you have and will never be able to attain a state that feels so ambiguous, puzzling, or far off, fear not because you’re not alone! This is exactly how many practitioners feel.
As Patanjali tells us, our minds are simply not capable of comprehending the experience of Samadhi. The concept of Oneness and union with God can feel too big for our minds to imagine.
Samadhi cannot be practiced as it happens spontaneously, usually during (but not limited to) meditation. This is why following the other 7 limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga can support your journey to Samadhi.
This isn’t to say that you can’t achieve Samadhi without practicing the 7 limbs, but it certainly provides a useful framework to get you there.
All we can do is put our faith in the process and commit to a journey of self-discovery. There is still immense worth in striving towards Samadhi; shoot for the moon, and even if you fail you’ll still fall amongst the stars.
This path to samadhi will, inevitably, unveil the layers of ignorance that exist within us, which can only be a good thing.
Ultimately, Samadhi is born out of turning within. Into the inner calm and stillness of the self, like a mirror reflecting the nature of Absolute Consciousness.
More on the 8 limbs?
We recommend starting with reading our other articles on the 8 limbs, preferably in order!