The Yogic View of Consciousness 29: Doing Samadhi


YVC 29 cover 2What do we in the West know of samadhi as a first-person experience? Not much. The final chapters sound the clarion call for the Western cultures to rediscover samadhi.

Contents for The Yogic View of Consciousness:

Intro Ch 1 Ch 2 Ch 3 Ch 4 Ch 5 Ch 6 Ch7 Ch 8
Ch 9 Ch 10 Ch 11 Ch 12 Ch 13 Ch 14 Ch 15 Ch 16 Ch 17
Ch 18 Ch 19 Ch 20 Ch 21 Ch 22 Ch 23 Ch 24 Ch 25 Ch 26
Ch 27 Ch 28 Ch 29 Ch 30 Ch 31 Ch 32 Ch 33


We now come to the final topic in our yogic view of consciousness. What is samadhi? This topic makes up the final four chapters of our yogic view of consciousness. Again, I’ll show my outline so you can see where I am going with this:

Chapter 29: Doing Samadhi: Review and summary of samadhi.

Chapter 30: Ingredients of Samadhi: Case studies highlighting aspects of samadhi.

Chapter 31: A Recipe for Samadhi. Putting ingredients together.

Chapter 32: Reflecting on Samadhi. A perspective on what samadhi means.

Sidebar: One note before we begin. If you don’t know the outline and terminology of Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga, the rest of this discussion will be hard to follow. Please read my summary of Patanjali’s methods to get the background to appreciate what follows. Reviewing Chapter 10 and the terminology of the 10 types of samadhi won’t hurt either.

Let’s Get Started
Of course we talked a lot about samadhi in previous chapters (particularly in Chapter 10). We used our faithful model of the yogic view of consciousness from Chapter 2 as a skeleton around which we fleshed in the details. The final result was an abstract, fantastical picture of the world as it is revealed through samadhi.

But all of this is just theoretical understanding. It is ironic to say “just” because, even as “just” theory, the yogic view of consciousness weaves together ideas Eastern and Western, ancient and modern, in a tapestry that none of them alone offer. But now we want to go beyond just theoretical ideas.

The last topic we address in this book is to think about samadhi as something you do. Because, in the end:

Samadhi is the fulcrum on which the truth or falsehood of the whole yogic view of consciousness rests.

And…I am now in over my head. I have never intentionally induced samadhi. So I am now talking about something for which I have no 1st-hand experience.

The one thing I can say in my defense is that at least I’ve had experience with altered states of consciousness, which is probably more than a lot of authors on samadhi can claim. My experiences in altered states are precisely why I take the Yoga Sutras so seriously. The Yoga Sutras provide a framework for understanding altered states superior to anything the West has come up with. We’ve surveyed a variety of Western ideas and seen that they provide piecemeal glimpses of what is otherwise described fully and systematically in the Yoga Sutras.

Therefore, even though I’ve not experienced samadhi myself, I am not intimidated to talk about it. Hearkening back to the words of Heinrich Zimmer used in the Introduction (note to blog readers, this refers to the upcoming book), the best we can do today is try to rediscover samadhi in our own way and in our own terms. Towards this end, the Yoga Sutras serves as something akin to a treasure map.

Why bother to try to figure out what samadhi is? First, to repeat (because it is so important): all of the claims of yoga rest on the reality of samadhi. Second, and where the next three chapters will land is this: samadhi is the ultimate use of the human mind. Remaining confined to surface consciousness is our Fall From Grace, our state of being banished from the Garden of Eden. If we wish to escape the shadow-consciousness of paranga cetana, if we wish to escape Kant’s phenomena, we have no choice but to figure out how to do samadhi. The only way out is in.

Review of Samadhi
For many years I was confused about samadhi. Some authors I read equated samadhi with enlightenment itself (i.e. Kaivalya). My confusion was only dispelled when I understood Taimni’s interpretation in The Science of Yoga, much of which has been outlined in previous chapters. We saw that samadhi is a complex thing in the Yoga Sutras. It is not just one thing. It is a graded series of states that provide a type of “ladder” to Kaivalya. Yet in these various states, there are common features that allow them all to be called “samadhi”.

Let’s summarize the characteristics common to the several forms of samadhi. Expressed as concisely as I can, the characteristics of samadhi described in the Yoga Sutras are:

1 Samadhi occurs in an altered state of consciousness devoid of perceptions of the waking world of the senses.
2 Samadhi is the extreme-most concentrated state of the mind: single-mindedness.
3 The dichotomy of observer/observed is absent in samadhi: “knowing by being”.
4 Samadhi alternates between samprajnata and asamprajnata types, which is to say, there are two qualitatively different types.
5 There are various levels or degrees of samprajnata samadhi that reflect the content of the experience. In the Yoga Sutras, these levels are described as vitarka, vicara, ananda, asmita, and nirbija.
6 Samadhi is not an end in itself, but is a method/technique that allows voluntary control over moving through altered states of consciousness.
7 Samadhi appears to be the only technique that allows voluntary access to Kaivalya (with the one caveat being bhakti, which was discussed in Chapter 6).

Samadhi is a Set of Graded Experiences
The following two aphorisms, 3.2 and 3.3, define the consequences of learning samadhi.



Aphorism 3.2 says that mastery of samadhi brings knowledge of the higher worlds of consciousness (which I’ve been calling the “inner worlds”). Aphorism 3.3 says that samadhi is applied or employed in stages. The stages of samadhi were outlined in Chapter 10 (and also here) where pratiprasava, the dive through consciousness, was described to resemble harmonic transitions (or quantum jumps), through the four phases of the gunas.

Taimni’s View of Samadhi as a First-person Experience
Recall the idea of the pratyaya: this is the object of meditation, the “seed” of sabija samadhi. The pratyaya is the thought in the mind of the yogi during samyama. The pratyaya seems to serve as something like a rope or ladder that can be dropped to the center of the mind.   In The Science of Yoga, Taimni gives us this picture and describes it thus:


Figure 1: Taimni’s schematic of pratiprasava

“A, B, C are different objects which can serve as ‘seeds’ of Sabija Samadhi. A’, B’, C’ are respectively the realities of these objects which can be found in the Divine Mind through Samyama. O is the Centre of Divine Consciousness [e.g. the Mahabindu –Don]. It will be seen that in every case the essential process is the same, namely, proceeding from the periphery along a radius to the centre until the intervening circle is reached. But different objects [i.e. pratyayas – Don] which are represented by different points on the outer circle make it necessary to proceed along different radii to the centre. In proceeding in this manner consciousness automatically touches the reality of the particular object when it reaches the level of the Divine Mind. So the ‘seed’ merely determines the direction along which consciousness has to sink in order to reach the corresponding reality in the Divine Mind. It does not make any difference as far as the essential process of Samyama is concerned but merely guides the consciousness to the reality which is the object of the search.”

All roads lead to Rome.  Potentially, any object of thought can serve as the pratyaya in meditation. In aphorisms 1.32 to 1.39, Patanjali tells us about the various pratyayas. I’ll dispense with showing the Sanskrit, and use Taimni’s English translations directly (more translations can be found at the Yoga Sutra Study web site).

1.32  For removing these obstacles there (should be) constant practice of one truth or principle.

1.33  The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness, compassion, gladness and indifference respectively towards happiness, misery, virtue and vice.

1.34  Or by the expiration and retention of breath.

1.35  Coming into activity of (higher) senses also becomes helpful in establishing steadiness of the mind.

1.36  Also (through) serene or luminous (states experienced within).

1.37  Also the mind fixed on those who are free from attachment (acquires steadiness).

1.3   Also (the mind) depending upon the knowledge derived from dreams or dreamless sleep (will acquire steadiness).

1.39  Or by meditation as desired.

The really important one in this list is 1.39.  It basically says “whatever works for you”.  So the point being that a very diverse and wide variety of pratyayas can potentially be used as the rope or ladder in samadhi. Taimni depicts this above by the outer circle, which represents the diversity of manifested things and stuff.

From Man, God and the Universe, Taimni illustrates the “sinking process” that samadhi allows with the following image, and describes it thus:


Figure 2: Taimni’s other schematic of pratiprasava

“All that happens is that our consciousness sinks into the greater and greater depths of our own centre of being. That centre as we have seen is concentric with the Great Centre [i.e. the Mahabindu – Don] in which the whole universe in all its depth, richness, beauty is contained. So sinking into our centre really means sinking into that Great Centre in which the universe in all its fullness is contained.”

“The fact that centres of consciousness or bindus of all Jivatmas or Monads are concentric with the Centre of Divine consciousness or Mahabindu is of great significance in the realm of practical Occultism [You can substitute “yoga” for “occultism”…get it over it – Don]… It is through this common centre of the vehicles of a Jivatma working on different planes of the solar system that the yogi is able to pass from one plane to another. In Samadhi when consciousness rises from the lower to the higher planes there is no movement in space but only a sinking of consciousness into its own deeper levels. This sinking takes place through the common centre of all the vehicles… this sinking of consciousness into deeper levels during the different stages of Samadhi is shown as taking place along a vertical line AO because it is not possible to show diagrammatically the sinking into a point. But this does not represent the process correctly because it will really mean that consciousness moves in space when it recedes into its deeper levels. Actually, it remains centred in the common centre of its vehicles and its rising from one plane to another merely means that while remaining centred in its bindu, it begins to function at a different level.”

Thus, the picture Taimni paints is that the yogi, by concentrating on the pratyaya, “sinks” through the bindu, through deeper and deeper levels of consciousness. The penultimate state—nirbija samadhi—is not described by Taimni, but I have repeatedly quoted van der Leeuw’s description of nirbija samadhi and do it again now:

“When thus we sink back into the depth of our own consciousness we come to a state in which nothing seems to be any more, in which we ourselves seem to have lost name and form and all characteristics. We come to the great Void.”

“When we reach the Void within, the state in which nothing more seems to be, it would appear as if we were surrounded on all sides by a blank wall and as if it were impossible to proceed any further.”

After this comes dharma mega samadhi and the transition to Kaivalya:

“Then comes the moment when we must break the habit of ages and, like the prisoner in the cave, dare to turn our faces the other way and find the way out of the cave, find reality, freedom.”

“We have to move in a dimension we did not know before…to pierce through that center and find the reality which, acting on that center produces the world-image in the cave of our consciousness.

“The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us. In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion, or conversion, in which that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us.”

“We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously.”

Who knows how to do what is described above? Do you? I sure don’t, as I said in my confession above. What is described above is a more or less clearly expounded regurgitation of what is described in the Yoga Sutras.

But what the Yoga Sutras does not tell us is how to actually do these things. It provides a lot of hints, but, unlike the modern way of communicating (mainly in science writing) the Yoga Sutras does not provide detailed step-by-step instructions. It is well-appreciated among all who know of the Yoga Sutras and its surrounding traditions that the step-by-step methods were to be imparted to the student by the guru by direct instruction.

The Rhythm of Creation is the veiling of the Absolute as the Relative, and the revealing of the Relative as the Absolute. There is thus no other justification needed to say the following. In the modern world, we need to rediscover samadhi. We need to rediscover how to do it, and not just sit around and talk about it as if it is some airy-fairy abstraction.  It is not.  Samadhi is a mental technique utilized for the purpose of intentionally moving through the indescribable and unimaginable worlds hidden beneath our surface consciousness.

Every night when we dream we get only the faintest glimpses of these worlds in a totally random and haphazard manner. In the previous few chapters we saw there are non-yogic means that open our surface mind to the hidden inner worlds. But the results of using the non-yogic means are haphazard and uncontrollable, and they lead to delusion. The West has no framework to make sense of these experiences. To overcome this hurdle, we need to relearn what samadhi is and how to do it.

In Chapter 30 I’ll discuss natural experiences that provide plausible foundations for samadhi, what I will call the “ingredients” of samadhi. Chapter 31 will combine these ingredients to formulate a recipe for the practical induction of samadhi.

I will not rediscover samadhi on my own, so don’t get over-inflated expectations. My goal is smaller. I wish only to open doors so that all of us interested in undertaking this adventure can work together, and each of us, as little cogs in a much larger historical wheel, can add to the ever-growing rediscovery here in the West of this ancient and profound technology of the mind that is called samadhi in the Yoga Sutras.

Go to Chapter 30.

3 thoughts on “The Yogic View of Consciousness 29: Doing Samadhi

  1. PeterJ

    I wonder if we could get forty days of contemplation included in the National Curriculum. I know one or two young people who think it would be a good idea.

    “We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously.”

    The topology is fascinating. Likewise, Plotinus describes a hypersphere for which we are on the surface with God at the centre, and then denies that the sphere is extended.

    • Hi Peter! Nice to hear from you!

      There are some college profs here in the USA who have begun to incorporate yoga into college curricula. Ed Sarath at University of Michigan, comes to mind. You should google him and watch some of his stuff. Ed is awesome. He gave a guest lecture in an advanced neurophysiology class I run at the med school and he amazed the students, all at the Masters and PhD level. So yes, there is certainly something in the students to which this kind of thing appeals.

      Do you have a link for Plotinus? van der Leeuw quotes him a bit in Conquest of Illusion, but I would be interest to read if he too refers to the dimensionless hypersphere perception. I’ll be showing another example of that in the next chapter of YVC. I am convinced it is the same thing that yoga and samkhya call Kaivalya.

      Be well, Sir!


  2. PeterJ

    This is annoying. I wrote a piece on Plotinus’ hypersphere and now cannot find it. It is described in the Enneads. I’ll keep looking and may come back with more info.

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