If you have been practicing yoga for some time already, you have come to understand that yoga is much more than doing postures and getting flexibility. Yoga is a philosophy and lifestyle described in the eight limbs of yoga. While some things are straightforward to understand, others can be confusing, for example trying to figure out what is the difference between the last two limbs of yoga: Meditation and Samadhi?
Samadhi is the highest state of consciousness a person can achieve, and meditation is a practice to reach it. In other words, Samadhi is a trance-like state that happens spontaneously and cannot be practiced, whereas meditation is a practice of concentration.
Samadhi is the eighth limb of yoga, and meditation (Dhyana) is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga. This article will break down the difference between meditation and Samadhi and how they interrelate to help you unravel this part of yoga philosophy.
What is Samadhi?
In the book Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Indian Sage describes Samadhi as a state of meditative absorption. The Sanskrit word Samadhi means ‘bring together’ and is translated as ‘concentration’ or ‘unification of mind.’ As the final limb of the eight limbs of yoga, it suggests that Samadhi is enlightenment and the end goal of yoga.
The Yoga Sutras also claim that all the previous seven limbs, including Dhyana, which refers to meditation, are tools that a yoga practitioner can use to enter the state of Samadhi. However, as Dhyana comes directly before Samadhi, it is believed that regular and long-term meditation practice is the most effective way of reaching enlightenment.
The term Samadhi is not only mentioned in Yogic tradition but also in Buddhism. Samadhi, also known as Samatha in Buddhism, is the last stage of the Noble Eightfold Path. There are three levels of Samadhi, initial concentration, access concentration, and absorption concentration, which lead to a state of awareness without any object or subject as the primary focus.
Samadhi is not a permanent state, nor can it be forced. It happens spontaneously after years of dedication and effort practicing the lower seven limbs of yoga or the Noble Eightfold Path. Many people also believe reaching Samadhi to be a sign that you have conquered meditation.
The 3 levels of Samadhi
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali goes into detail about reaching Samadhi, providing guidelines, and breaking the eighth limb into three levels.
The first level of Samadhi is called Savitarka Samadhi. It is when you start to transcend all mental activity, but the ego is still present. This level can be broken down further into four sub-stages:
- Sarvitarka – The first stage is about coming engrossed in a physical object and gaining full knowledge of it.
- Savichara – The second stage relates to moving past the physical layer of an object and understanding its abstract qualities.
- Sa-ananda – The third stage is about moving beyond the intellect into the tranquillity of the settled mind.
- Sa-Asmita – The fourth stage is simple awareness of individuality, becoming a witness of the material world and the divinity within you.
The second level of Samadi, called Nirvokalpa Samadhi, is when you reach a state of consciousness that removes all attachment to the ego and dissolves all samskaras. On this level, you are entirely above your mind, and your mind is fully awake. As a result, you feel infinite peace and bliss. Moreover, there is no past or future as everything becomes the eternal present.
The final level of Samadhi, Dharmamegha Samadhi, is said to arise when all effort is dissolved, and you move past the desire to be Enlightened. It is essentially liberation while still in a physical body, and at this level, it is believed that all your karmas are removed.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a broad term. In Yogic tradition, meditation is known as Dhyana, a Sanskrit word meaning “the application of the mind to the chosen point of concentration.” Unlike Samadhi, a general state of awareness, meditation is about maintaining your focus on one thing while staying aware of what is going on around you.
In Buddhism, Dhyana is a component of the training of the mind described as “a state of one-pointed absorption.” This is similar to how we see meditation today, as a practice of concentrating on one thing to bring calm and still the mind. This could be on our breath or a mantra as a way.
Although you can practice Buddhism without meditation, monks use meditation as a tool to reach enlightenment/nirvana, which is also known as “Bodhi.” Likewise, Dhyana (meditation) is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga, and it is believed practicing regular meditation will lead to the state of Samadhi.
The different styles of meditation
In the 21st century, you can find many different styles of meditation. Some relate to the ancient understanding of Dhyana, and others have a different concept. Below are a few of the most popular (and traditional) types of meditation you can practice to get closer to Samadhi:
- Traditional breath meditation – Observing and maintaining focus on the breath.
- Mantra meditation – Repeatedly reciting a specific word or phrase.
- Mindfulness meditation – Observing thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that arise without thinking about or judging them.
- Chakra meditation – Using mantra, mudras, and visualizations to evoke the energy in one or all chakras.
- Walking meditation – Walking in a slow, mindful way with complete attention to the movement of the feet.
Meditative practice is a very personal experience, too, unique and different from others. Among so many different styles of meditation, it is possible to choose the one to create your own personal practice. Moreover, most modern-day meditators practice meditation with a different intention than ancient yogis and monks. For example, they meditate to find stillness in their hectic lifestyles, calm their busy minds, or disconnect from external stimuli rather than reach Samadi.
What does Samadhi feel like?
Samadhi and the feeling it gives is difficult to describe in words as it cannot be understood. It can only be experienced. Moreover, as described above, a person entering Samadhi will feel different throughout all three stages.
A common belief about Samadhi is that the state dissolves the egoic self and replaces it with a sense of oneness, the feeling of being connected with the entire universe. In 2013, a study was carried out on a Buddhist practitioner to see if the brain reward system plays a role in the feeling of ecstasy and joy reported from reaching Samadhi.
During this study, researchers saw a decrease in parietal lobe activation, which is involved in receiving sensory information and related to the identification of the self. In addition, they saw that the blood flow to this area decreased further throughout the stages of Samadhi, which supports the belief that the state of Samadhi evokes a feeling of unity with everything around you.
Can anyone reach Samadhi?
A common question among yoga and meditation practitioners is if it is possible to reach Samadhi in modern-day life. Clearly, Samadhi is not an easy state to experience, or you would see enlightened beings walking around everywhere!
However, like meditation, Samadhi is a personal thing. Many people feel they have experienced Samadhi for short periods, whether during meditation or when engrossed in a creative activity. And as no one knows for sure what Samadhi feels like, there is no way to know how many people have experienced it in the 21st century.
If you think about it, you may recall a time when you felt a deep stillness as you went about your day, a lasting feeling of being connected to nature and all beings, or a sense of inner peace that was so strong it felt overwhelming. Who is to say that this was not Samadhi?
Interestingly the advancement of technology may present the opportunity to not only reach a state of enlightenment but to fast-track your way there! For example, several tech companies have recently launched neurofeedback devices, which help you train yourself to regulate your brain waves and, thus, track your meditation progress.
Other techno boost products use electric currents to target specific brain areas and change their behavior. Then there are synthetic psychedelics, which are lab-created versions of natural drugs like ayahuasca, created to help everyday people experience Samadhi.
The final two limbs of yoga – Meditation and Samadhi- indeed share a connection, but they are not the same thing. Meditation is a practice of focusing on one thing, and Samadhi is a state of enlightenment that may arise when the mind becomes still and calm. Therefore, the best way to experience Samadhi is to train your mind to remain calm and still with a daily meditation practice.