Samadhi (Sanskrit: समाधि), in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and yogic schools, is a state of meditative consciousness. In the yogic traditions, and the Buddhist commentarial tradition on which the Burmese Vipassana movement and the Thai Forest tradition rely, it is a meditative absorption or trance, attained by the practice of dhyāna. In the oldest Buddhist suttas, on which several contemporary western Theravada teachers rely, it refers to the development of a luminous mind which is equanimous and mindful.
In Buddhism, it is the last of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path.[web 1] In the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, it is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Various interpretations for the term's etymology are possible:
Common Chinese terms for samādhi include the transliterations sanmei (三昧) and sanmodi (三摩地 or 三摩提), as well as the translation of the term literally as ding (定 "fixity"). Kumarajiva's translations typically use sanmei (三昧), while the translations of Xuanzang tend to use ding (定 "fixity"). The Chinese Buddhist canon includes these, as well as other translations and transliterations of the term.
According to Rhys Davids[note 1] the first attested usage of the term samādhi in Sanskrit literature was in the Maitri Upanishad probably composed in late 1st millennium BCE .[web 3]
The origins of the practice of dhyāna, which culminates in samādhi, are a matter of dispute. According to Bronkhorst, dhyāna was a Buddhist invention, whereas Alexander Wynne argues that dhyāna was incorporated from Brahmanical practices, in the Nikayas ascribed to Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. These practices were paired to mindfulness and insight, and given a new interpretation. Kalupahana also argues that the Buddha "reverted to the meditational practices" he had learned from Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta.
|English||concentration; meditative consciousness; 'bringing together'|
|Chinese||三昧 or 三摩地 or 定 |
(Pinyin: sānmèi or sānmóde or dìng)
(Wylie: ting nge 'dzin)
(Chữ Nôm: 定)
|Glossary of Buddhism|
|Table: Uses of samādhi|
|(based on AN IV.41)|
|four jhānas||pleasant abiding|
in this life
of light (āloka)
|knowing (ñāṇa) and|
|arising, passing, fading
of feelings (vedanā),
and thoughts (vitakkā)
|arising and fading of the
five aggregates of clinging
of the taints (āsava)
The term ‘samādhi’ derives from the roots ‘sam-ā-dhā’, which means 'to collect' or 'bring together', and thus it is often translated as 'concentration' or 'unification of mind'. In the early Buddhist texts, samādhi is also associated with the term samatha (calm abiding). In the commentarial tradition, samādhi is defined as ekaggata, one-pointedness of mind (Cittass'ekaggatā).
Main article: Dhyāna in Buddhism
Samādhi is the last of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path.[web 1] It is often interpreted as referring to dhyāna (Pali: jhāna), but in the suttas samādhi and dhyāna are not the same. While samādhi is one-pointed concentration, in dhyāna this samādhi is used in the initial stages, to give way to a state of equanimity and mindfulness. The practice of dhyāna makes it possible to keep access to the senses in a mindful way, avoiding primary responses to the sense-impressions. During the second rūpa-dhyāna there is pīti ("rapture") and non-sensual sukha ("pleasure") as the result of samādhi (samādhi-ji, "born of samādhi") which is free from vitarka-vicara ("discursive thought") and provides inner tranquility.
|Table: Rūpa jhāna|
|Kāma / Akusala dhamma
(sensuality / unskillful qualities)
|does not occur||does not occur||does not occur|
(along with distress)
|does not occur|
(no pleasure nor pain)
|unification of awareness
free from vitakka and vicāra
|does not occur||does not occur|
|Upekkhāsatipārisuddhi||does not occur||internal confidence||equanimous;
equanimity and mindfulness
Buddhagosa defines samādhi as "the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object [...] the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered". According to Buddhaghosa, the Theravada Pali texts mention four attainments of samādhi:
According to Buddhaghosa, in his influential standard-work Visuddhimagga, samādhi is the "proximate cause" to the obtainment of wisdom. The Visuddhimagga describes 40 different objects for meditation, which are mentioned throughout the Pali canon, but explicitly enumerated in the Visuddhimagga, such as mindfulness of breathing (ānāpānasati) and loving kindness (mettā).
Further information: Śūnyatā § Meditative state
Buddhist Pali texts describe three kinds of samādhi which the commentarial tradition identify as the ‘gates of liberation’ (vimokṣamukha) or, in the Chinese Buddhist tradition, the ‘three doors of liberation’ (sān jiětuō mén, 三解脫門):
These three are not always cited in the same order. Nagarjuna, a Madhyamaka Buddhist scholar, in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra, listed apraṇihita before ānimitta in his first explanation on these "three samādhi", but in later listings and explanations in the same work reverted back to the more common order. Others, such as Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Thien Buddhist teacher, list apraṇihita as the third after śūnyatā and ānimitta. Nagarjuna lists these three kinds of samādhi among the qualities of the truly enlightened (bodhisattva).
According to Nagarjuna, concentration on 'emptiness' is the samādhi in which one recognises that the true natures of all dharmas are absolutely empty (atyantaśūnya), and that the five aggregates are not the self (anātman), do not belong to the self (anātmya), and are empty (śūnya) without self-nature.
According to Nagarjuna, concentration on 'signlessness' is the samādhi in which one recognises all dharmas are free of signs (ānimitta). According to Thích Nhất Hạnh, "signs" refer to appearances or form, likening concentration on signlessness to not being fooled by appearances, such as the dichotomy of being and non-being.
'Aimlessness', also translated as 'uncommittedness' or 'wishlessness' (Chinese wúyuàn 無願, lit. 'non-wishing', or wúzuò 無作, lit. 'non-arising'), literally means 'placing nothing in front'. According to Dan Lusthaus, concentration on 'aimlessness' is characterised by a lack of aims or plans for the future and no desire for the objects of perception. According to Nagarjuna, concentration on 'aimlessness' is the samādhi in which one does not search for any kind of existence (bhāva), letting go of aims or wishes (praṇidhāna) regarding conditioned phenomena and not producing the three poisons (namely, passion, aggression, and ignorance) towards them in the future.
The earliest extant Indian Mahāyāna texts emphasize ascetic practices, forest-dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative oneness, i.e. samādhi. These practices seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahāyāna, also because they "may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration".
Indian Mahāyāna traditions refer to numerous forms of samādhi, for example, Section 21 of the Mahavyutpatti records 118 distinct forms of samādhi and the Samadhiraja Sutra has as its main theme a samādhi called 'the samādhi that is manifested as the sameness of the essential nature of all dharmas' (sarva-dharma-svabhavā-samatā-vipañcita-samādhi).[note 2]
Indian dhyāna was translated as chán in Chinese, and zen in Japanese. Ideologically the Zen-tradition emphasizes prajñā and sudden insight, but in the actual practice prajñā and samādhi, or sudden insight and gradual cultivation, are paired to each other. Especially some lineages in the Rinzai school of Zen stress sudden insight, while the Sōtō school of Zen lays more emphasis on shikantaza, training awareness of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference. Historically, many traditional Japanese arts were developed or refined to attain samādhi, including incense appreciation (香道, kodõ), flower arranging (華道, kadō), the tea ceremony (茶道, sadō), calligraphy (書道, shodō), and martial arts such as archery (弓道, kyūdō). The Japanese character 道 means the way or the path and indicates that disciplined practice in the art is a path to samādhi.
See also: Samādhāna
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Main article: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Samādhi is the eighth limb of the Yoga Sūtras, following the sixth and seventh limbs of dhāraṇā and dhyāna respectively.
Main article: Samyama
According to Taimni, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi form a graded series:
Samādhi is oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation. Samādhi is of two kinds, with and without support of an object of meditation:[web 4][web 5]
According to Paramahansa Yogananda, in this state one lets go of the ego and becomes aware of Spirit beyond creation. The soul is then able to absorb the fire of Spirit-Wisdom that "roasts" or destroys the seeds of body-bound inclinations. The soul as the meditator, its state of meditation, and the Spirit as the object of meditation all become one. The separate wave of the soul meditating in the ocean of Spirit becomes merged with the Spirit. The soul does not lose its identity, but only expands into Spirit. In savikalpa samādhi the mind is conscious only of the Spirit within; it is not conscious of the exterior world. The body is in a trancelike state, but the consciousness is fully perceptive of its blissful experience within.
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, has compared the experience of seeing the earth from space, also known as the overview effect, to savikalpa samādhi.
According to Ian Whicher, the status of sānanda and sāsmitā in Patanjali's system is a matter of dispute. According to Maehle, the first two constituents, deliberation and reflection, form the basis of the various types of samāpatti. According to Feuerstein:
"Joy" and "I-am-ness" [...] must be regarded as accompanying phenomena of every cognitive [ecstasy]. The explanations of the classical commentators on this point appear to be foreign to Patanjali's hierarchy of [ecstatic] states, and it seems unlikely that ānanda and asmita should constitute independent levels of samādhi.
Ian Whicher disagrees with Feuerstein, seeing ānanda and asmitā as later stages of nirvicara-samāpatti. Whicher refers to Vācaspati Miśra (900–980 CE), the founder of the Bhāmatī Advaita Vedanta who proposes eight types of samāpatti:
Vijnana Bikshu (ca. 1550–1600) proposes a six-stage model, explicitly rejecting Vacaspati Misra's model. Vijnana Bikshu regards joy (ānanda) as a state that arises when the mind passes beyond the vicara stage. Whicher agrees that ānanda is not a separate stage of samādhi. According to Whicher, Patanjali's own view seems to be that nirvicara-samādhi is the highest form of cognitive ecstasy.
According to Sarasvati Buhrman, "Babaji once explained that when people feel blissful sensations during sādhanā, on a gross level the breath is equal in both nostrils, and on the subtle level pranic flow in ida and pingala nadis is balanced. This is called the sushumna breath because the residual prana of the sushuma, the kundalini, flows in sushumna nadi, causing sattva guna to dominate. "It creates a feeling of peace. That peace is ānanda". In sānanda samādhi the experience of that ānanda, that sattvic flow, is untainted by any other vrittis, or thoughts, save the awareness of the pleasure of receiving that bliss".
According to Maehle, asamprajñata samādhi (also called nirvikalpa samādhi and nirbija samādhi)[web 5] leads to knowledge of purusha or consciousness, the subtlest element. Heinrich Zimmer distinguishes nirvikalpa samādhi from other states as follows:
Nirvikalpa samādhi, on the other hand, absorption without self-consciousness, is a mergence of the mental activity (cittavṛtti) in the Self, to such a degree, or in such a way, that the distinction (vikalpa) of knower, act of knowing, and object known becomes dissolved — as waves vanish in water, and as foam vanishes into the sea.
Swami Sivananda describes nirbija samādhi (lit. "samādhi" without seeds) as follows:
"Without seeds or Samskaras [...] All the seeds or impressions are burnt by the fire of knowledge [...] all the Samskaras and Vasanas which bring on rebirths are totally freed up. All Vrittis or mental modifications that arise from the mind-lake come under restraint. The five afflictions, viz., Avidya (ignorance), Asmita (egoism), Raga-dvesha (love and hatred) and Abhinivesha (clinging to life) are destroyed and the bonds of Karma are annihilated [...] It gives Moksha (deliverance from the wheel of births and deaths). With the advent of the knowledge of the Self, ignorance vanishes. With the disappearance of the root-cause, viz., ignorance, egoism, etc., also disappear".[web 5]
Nirvikalpaka yoga is a term in the philosophical system of Shaivism, in which, through samādhi, there is a complete identification of the "I" and Shiva, in which the very concepts of name and form disappear and Shiva alone is experienced as the real Self. In that system, this experience occurs when there is complete cessation of all thought-constructs.
Ramana Maharshi distinguished between kevala nirvikalpa samadhi and sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi:[web 7][web 8]
Sahaja samadhi is a state in which a silent level within the subject is maintained along with (simultaneously with) the full use of the human faculties.
Kevala nirvikalpa samādhi is temporary, [web 7][web 8] whereas sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi is a continuous state throughout daily activity. This state seems inherently more complex than sāmadhi, since it involves several aspects of life, namely external activity, internal quietude, and the relation between them. It also seems to be a more advanced state, since it comes after the mastering of samādhi.[note 11][note 12]
Sahaja is one of the four keywords of the Nath sampradaya along with Svecchachara, Sama, and Samarasa. Sahaja meditation and worship was prevalent in Tantric traditions common to Hinduism and Buddhism in Bengal as early as the 8th–9th centuries.
In Hindu or Yogic traditions, mahāsamādhi, the "great" and final samādhi, is the act of consciously and intentionally leaving one's body at the moment of death. According to this belief, a realized and liberated (Jivanmukta) yogi or yogini who has attained the state of nirvikalpa samādhi can consciously exit from their body and attain enlightenment at the moment of death while in a deep, conscious meditative state.
Some individuals have, according to their followers, declared the day and time of their mahāsamādhi beforehand. These include Lahiri Mahasaya whose death on September 26, 1895, was of this nature, according to Paramahansa Yogananda. Paramahansa Yogananda's own death on March 7, 1952, was described by his followers as entering mahāsamādhi. Daya Mata, one of Yogananda's direct disciples, said that Yogananda on the previous evening had asked her "Do you realize that it is just a matter of hours and I will be gone from this earth?"
Further information: Dhyāna in Buddhism
Patanjali's description of samādhi resembles the Buddhist jhānas.[note 13] According to Jianxin Li, samprajñata samādhi may be compared to the rūpa jhānas of Buddhism. This interpretation may conflict with Gombrich and Wynne, according to whom the first and second jhāna represent concentration, whereas the third and fourth jhāna combine concentration with mindfulness. According to Eddie Crangle, the first jhāna resembles Patanjali's samprajñata samādhi, which both share the application of vitarka and vicara.
According to David Gordon White, the language of the Yoga Sūtras is often closer to "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, the Sanskrit of the early Mahāyana Buddhist scriptures, than to the classical Sanskrit of other Hindu scriptures". According to Karel Werner:
Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvastivada Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika".
Robert Thurman writes that Patañjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. However, the Yoga Sutra, especially the fourth segment of Kaivalya Pada, contains several polemical verses critical of Buddhism, particularly the Vijñānavāda school of Vasubandhu.
While Patañjali was influenced by Buddhism, and incorporated Buddhist thought and terminology, the term "nirvikalpa samādhi" is unusual in a Buddhist context, though some authors have equated nirvikalpa samādhi with the formless jhānas and/or nirodha samāpatti.
A similar term, nirvikalpa-jñāna, is found in the Buddhist Yogacara tradition, and is translated by Edward Conze as "undifferentiated cognition". Conze notes that, in Yogacara, only the actual experience of nirvikalpa-jñāna can prove the reports given of it in scriptures. He describes the term as used in the Yogacara context as follows:
The "undiscriminate cognition" knows first the unreality of all objects, then realizes that without them also the knowledge itself falls to the ground, and finally directly intuits the supreme reality. Great efforts are made to maintain the paradoxical nature of this gnosis. Though without concepts, judgements and discrimination, it is nevertheless not just mere thoughtlessness. It is neither a cognition nor a non-cognition; its basis is neither thought nor non-thought.... There is here no duality of subject and object. The cognition is not different from that which is cognized, but completely identical with it.[note 14]
A different sense in Buddhist usage occurs in the Sanskrit expression nirvikalpayati (Pali: nibbikappa) that means "makes free from uncertainty (or false discrimination)" ie. "distinguishes, considers carefully".
Bhāva samādhi is a state of ecstatic consciousness that can sometimes be a seemingly spontaneous experience, but is recognized generally to be the culmination of long periods of devotional practices. It is believed by some groups to be evoked through the presence of "higher beings". Bhāva samādhi has been experienced by notable figures in Indian spiritual history, including Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and some of his disciples, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his chief disciple Nityananda, Mirabai and numerous saints in the bhakti tradition.
Bhāva samādhi, sometimes translated as 'trance', has no direct counterpart in the English language, though "ecstasy" is the closest translation. The various translations that have been proposed all refer to an ecstatic state of consciousness, which is attained by channelling the emotions into one-pointed concentration (samādhi) during which the practitioner experiences devotional ecstasy. For example, in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta, recounts observing Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's introverted mood in which he became "unconscious of the outer world". Gupta later "learnt that this mood is called bhāva, ecstasy".
"Bhāva" denotes the mood of ecstasy and self-surrender which is induced by the maturing of devotion to one's 'Ishta deva' (object of devotion). "Bhava" in this context means "feeling", "emotion", "mood", or "devotional state of mind". This refers to the aspirant's emotional life, which in the practice of jnana or raja yoga is controlled in order to transcend the spheres of the mind and intellect. In bhakti yoga, however, bhāva is neither controlled nor suppressed, but is transformed into devotion and channelled to the Lord". Swami Sivananda states it is an "internal feeling" that needs to be developed through proper practice just like any other faculty of the mind e.g. memory or will power.
According to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa real bhāva can only be said to occur when the relationship with the Divine is so established that it remains fixed in our consciousness at all times, "whether eating, drinking, sitting or sleeping". Only when the bhāva has fully ripened does the sadhaka (spiritual seeker) experience "bhāva samādhi". Bhāva samādhi occurs when the emotions are perfectly channelled into one-pointed concentration on the object of one's devotion. It has also been described as "Absorption in meditation due to emotional cause, e.g. kirtan [devotional music]" and "sheer ecstasy, a condition caused when the heart is seized by the Divine embrace".
Devotional practices that can evoke bhāva, such as "bhajans" and kirtan (spiritual music), are standard practices in the bhakti tradition, and in the missions of many Indian saints including Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Shivabalayogi Maharaj. Shri Shivabalayogi often used the words "bhāva" and "bhāva samādhi" interchangeably. He explained bhāva as follows:
"Everyone is in some sort of bhāva of the guru because of their attachment to the guru. The mind's attachment and devotion is the true bhāva". “Bhāva is the beginning for samādhi and tapas. Higher souls induce it. Bhāva helps in physical, mental, and spiritual progress."
The qualities required for a genuine bhāva samādhi have been emphasized by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa when he said that a spiritual experience of a lower plane may be had by "the momentary exuberance of emotions" but the scriptures say bhāva samādhi is impossible to retain unless worldly desires have been removed and proper qualities have been established like renunciation and detachment.
There have been many misuses and controversies associated with bhāva samādhi. Firstly, bhāva itself has been mistaken to be an advanced spiritual state, whereas the great exponent of bhāva samādhi, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, made it clear to his disciples that bhāva is a preliminary state of consciousness; that it was not so important to experience such a temporary ecstasy (bhāva) and that on the spiritual path "true faith and renunciation are far greater". That bhāva is a preliminary experience has also been emphasized by Shivabalayogi Maharaj:
"During this all your bhāva (the mind’s feelings) will get concentrated on your favorite deity and thus your mind becomes more concentrated, more single-pointed. Then meditation itself becomes much easier and consequently one would take up meditation more willingly. "It's like giving chocolate to a child to make it go to school. But one should not settle just for the chocolate – one must go on to school. In the same way, one must meditate."
Secondly, people have falsely claimed to have spontaneously attained spiritual powers and experiences through bhāva, whereas bhāva samādhi is the culmination of a long period of devotional practice. Bhāva has even been used by people to falsely claim that they are "possessed by sacred deities" and to issue orders on behalf of these deities. If the bhāva is genuine, however, the person will become non-violent and introverted, and will not claim or give instructions through bhāva. Spiritual efforts should always enable the mind to recede and become quiet, going introverted toward the Self. Swami Vivekananda warned sadhaks (spiritual aspirants) to beware of claims made of bhāva experiences:
"He pointed out that Ramakrishna had been through long years of strictest self discipline and that his ecstasy was a fruit of that discipline, not a superficial emotionalism. "When people try to practice religion," said Naren "eighty percent of them turn into cheats, and about fifteen percent go mad. Its only the remaining five percent who get some direct knowledge of the Truth and so become blessed. So Beware."
Thirdly, genuine bhāva samādhi, which is an internal state of consciousness, has been identified with outer movements of the body, such as dancing and singing. It has been claimed that "the very nature of bhāva itself – sometimes having such vigorous outward expression in action and movement – had always meant that those who wished attention or status in a group would sometimes simply pretend to be in bhāva to obtain some personal gain". However, the depth of bhāva experience varies across different individuals and depends on the spiritual maturity of their minds. Mature sadhaks usually do not display outward signs of bhāva, which are indicative of the depth of their experiences. The problem of devotees attempting to make claims about their inner state of consciousness by imitating external indicators of genuine bhāva samādhi was addressed by Swami Vivekananda in the Ramakrishna Mission:
"It was discovered that several were actually trying to induce the outer physical symptoms of samādhi and also imitate the movements of one who is dancing in ecstasy. Naren reasoned with these devotees and persuaded them to stop starving themselves and eat wholesome food, and to try control their emotions instead of cultivating hysteria. The result was an increase in spirituality and a decrease in outer show."
The actions of people in bhāva samādhi, like dancing in ecstasy, can appear very strange to some. In Shri Shivabalayogi Maharaj's mission various levels of bhāva occurred to hundreds of people. Bhāva was controversial throughout Shivabalayogi's public programs, and his own statements on the phenomenon appear inconsistent. Although some were acting or misusing the experience, when people complained to Sri Shivabalayogi, he was intolerant of most criticism or interference. "It is not drama. It really happens".
To place bhāva samādhi into the correct spiritual context Ramakrishna Paramahansa said,
"If the depth of spiritual experiences is to be measured, it must be done from observing one's steadfastness, renunciation, strength of character, the attenuation of desires for enjoyment etc. It is by this touchstone alone, and no other means, that the amount of dross in ecstacy can be assessed."
In Sikhism the word is used to refer to an action that one uses to remember and fix one's mind and soul on Waheguru. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib informs:
The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind rather than a physical position of the body. The Scriptures explain:
The Sikh Gurus inform their followers:
The idea of Fanaa in Sufi Islam has been compared to Samadhi.
AIMLESSNESS The third concentration is aimlessness, apraṇihita. Without worry, without anxiety we are free to enjoy each moment of our lives. Not trying, not making great efforts, just being. What a joy! This seems to contradict our normal ...
Sangharakshita translates apraṇihita as 'Aimlessness,' while Conze uses 'Wishless', and writes in Buddhist Thought in India (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967) p. 67: "The word a-pra-ni—hita means literally that one 'places nothing in front' and it designates someone who makes no plans for the future, has no hopes for it, who is aimless, not bent on anything, without predilection or desire for the objects of perception rejected by the concentration on the Signless [animitta].