samAdhi is a highly specialized term in Yoga and also in Vedanta. However, paradoxically, the word does not stand to convey the same ‘concept’ in a rigid and fixed manner in all its occurrences across different scriptural texts. Like all other Sanskrit words in the scriptures, the word attains a lot of fluidity and delicate malleability in the hands of the Sages and ancient authors to convey a very precise and what is otherwise inexpressible philosophical idea. Such flexibility in the use of technical words is unknown and unimaginable in the West, particularly so if one is trained in the modern science. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that one cannot nail the meaning of the word as per one single definition when comparing its usage across different texts by different authors of different times. ‘anubhava’ and ‘anubhUti’ usually rendered into English as “experience,” often used in association with samAdhi, is another such word that needs care in handling.
As we are aware, the teacher to disciple communication was predominantly oral in the ancient times and the meaning of a word smoothly and innocuously changed as per the context and the lineage of the teacher. Hence, it was considered that a disciple must approach a competent teacher and s/he has to be tutored face to face by the teacher as per the recension followed in that lineage. Jumping across different lineages or intermixing diverse systems of teachings without fully adhering to a specific one till the end can only result in confusion. Book-learning is also almost an impossibility in the absence of a teacher who would provide the authentic word meaning as can be understood from the famous example of the same word ‘satyam’ occurring twice in the same sentence in the same mantra but with two different meanings:
सत्यं चानृतं च सत्यमभवत् । — 2.6.1 of taittirIya
‘satyam cha anRtam cha satyam abhavat.‘
Shankara at that mantra explains that the word ‘satyam‘ in its first appearance implies empirical reality (vyavahAra-viShayam) and in the second it refers to the Absolute Reality (paramArtha satyam).
In the PPt Slide presentation on “dhyAna and samAdhi” posted at this site, the Slides at # 47 – 72 give the definitions of samAdhi “as used in different texts like aparokshAnubhUti, vivekacUDAmaNi, Yogavasishta etc.” Further, it is also established that “the terms “dhyAna and samAdhi,” though highly technical, have been used to mean different things by different teachers historically and that there is no rigorous standardized universally accepted process or method that the words indicate.”
The word samAdhi appears twice in Bhagavad-Gita (BG) and once in mANDYUkya kArikA of Gaudapada. We do not come across that word in the major Upanishads.
Introducing the verse at 2.54, BG, Shankara says that Arjuna asks Krishna “with a desire to know the characteristic marks of one who has attained wisdom in steady contemplation (samAdhi).”
स्थितप्रज्ञस्य का भाषा समाधिस्थस्य केशव ।
स्थितधीः किं पृभाषेत किमासीत व्रजेत किम् ॥ — 2.54, Bhagavad-Gita
[What, Kesava, is the description of one of steady knowledge, who is constant in samAdhi? How does he speak, how does he sit, how does he move ?]
Commenting on the verse, Shankara says: “How a man who has a firm conviction that he is the Supreme Brahman, and who is Self-absorbed (in samAdhi) – how is such a man spoken of by others? How does the man of steady knowledge himself speak? How does he sit? How does he move ? … …”
We see that “samAdhi” is used here to connote the position of one who is a sthita prajna, who is a Self-realized individual. The second occurrence in Gita is at 4.24. Here too the word is used to refer to one who is focused on brahman (ब्रह्मकर्मसमाधिना).
samAdhi is used by Gaudapada in his kArikA at 3.37 in the sense of brahman.
सर्वाभिलापविगतः सर्वचिन्तासमुत्थितः ।
सुप्रशान्तः सकृज्ज्योतिः समाधिरचलोऽभयः ॥ — 3.37, Gaudapada kArikA
Shanakara writes: “The Atman is denoted by the word samAdhi as it can be realized only by the knowledge arising out of the deepest focus or Atman is denoted by samAdhi because the individual concentrates his mind on Atman.”
Explaining the same, Swami Nikhilananda adds a note to say that the word samAdhi is the state of complete identity with brahman as a result of discrimination and negation of the phenomena. He clarifies that this usage is the Vedantic concept of samAdhi and is different from the mystical or mechanical state described in the Yoga system.
Shankara sticks to the same explanation for samAdhi in the verses 124 and 125 in his highly revered treatise ‘aparokShAnubhuti.’
निर्विकारतया वृत्त्या ब्रह्माकारतया पुनः ।
वृत्तिविस्मरणं सम्यक्समाधिर्ज्ञानसंज्ञकः ॥ — 124, aparokShAnubhUti.
[Swami Vimuktananda’s translation: The complete forgetfulness of all thought by first making it changeless and then identifying it with brahman is called samAdhi, known also as Knowledge.]
Shankara’s use of the word samAdhi in vivekacUDAmaNi also follows the same understanding. The verses at 255 to 264 end with the refrain “brahma tattvamasi bhAvayAtmani” which means “You are that brahman; meditate on this in your mind.” It can be understood that Shankara is referring to nididhyAsana in these verses.
Nearly a hundred verses later at the verse 363 does the word samAdhi appear.
निरन्तराभ्यासवशात्तदित्थं पक्वं मनो ब्रह्मणि लीयते यदा ।
तदा समाधिः सविकल्पवर्जितः स्वतोऽद्वयानन्दरसानुभावकः ॥ — verse 363, vivekacUDAmaNi
Meaning: Thus purified by constant practice when the mind merges with brahman, then samAdhi passes from the savikalpa* to the nirvikalpa stage, leading directly to the experience of the Bliss of brahman, the Non-dual. (Trns: Pranipata Chaitanya).
[*savikalpa samAadhi is absorption with conceptual distinctions of knower, known and knowing in tact. In nirvikalpa samAdhi, these distinctions melt away.]
The 34th Pontiff of Sringeri observers in his commentary on vivekacUDAmaNi at verses 363 – 367 that the samAdhi here means the cause for the elimination of all the vAsanA-s such as the notion of “I.”
From the above it is clear that nirvikalpa samAdhi is regarded as the perfection of nididdhyAsana and has nothing to do with Patanjali’s Yoga.
Ramana distinguishes between sahaja samAdhi and kevala samAdhi. As described in the book, Mahayoga by Who, Ramana explains the difference between the two with the aid of two beautiful similes.
sahaja is like a river that has joined the sea. It cannot come back again. He avers that this represents the true position of a “realized” Sage. Such a Sage is free once for all and cannot be bound again. But the position of a yogi who is in kevala is like that of a bucket immersed in the well water. Just like the bucket gets pulled back by the rope attached to it, the seeker also gets pulled back into the world by his mind. IOW, the causal factors for the generation of a mind have not been annulled fully in that seeker.
We shall next examine the usage of the word samAdhi in Yogavasishta and the explanations given by Sage Vasishta.
(To continue … Part – 2)