There are different forms of samadhi. Patanjali lists nine and they are all based on the experienced fact of the reality of the world and its causes and effects. So, when the state of meditation, with its exaltation and freedom ends, the meditator comes back to a real world.
In Patanjali’s system the objective is limited to escaping from suffering of being identified with a real body and mind in a real world. To that extent he is like a doctor whose purpose is to get the patient out of the suffering condition and back into society. The doctor does not inquire what the patient will do when the patient is healed. In the Advaita system of Shankara, there is the same purpose of relieving the immediate suffering of those who are sure that the world is real, and to this extent the Yoga system of Patanjali is authoritative. But in the Advaita there is a further step, namely the penetration into the truth of the world, whether it is real or unreal, and whether the true Self is individual or Universal.
In Patanjali’s system, Prakriti, the world, is as real as the Self, and the aim of the yoga practise is to separate the two. The illusion which has to be dispelled is, the idea and actual experience that the Self is entangled in it. Their ultimate samadhi-meditation is on Knowledge-of-the-difference (viveka-khyati). Finally that too is no longer needed, and the released Selves have no involvement with, or finally even awareness of, the world, though it continues to exist for those still caught up in it.
But in Vedanta, there is a step beyond Knowledge-of-the-difference and this isolation of the Seer. As Shankara says, when the yoga meditation has made the mind clear and focused, Knowledge arises from the Lord as grace from outside or as a stirring within. What is first known as a witness-self of things apart, finds its fulfillment in the truth of the holy texts as the Universal Self. The world itself is known as what is called “mithya”, of shadowy indeterminate character. It is not wholly real nor wholly unreal.
What does this mean? A TV play, though it is unreal yet it affects us, and if it’s well done, it can affect us powerfully. So it cannot be completely unreal. The world is like that. The resemblance between the teachings of Patanjali and Karma Yoga is, that the latter too is based, as Shankara says in his Gita 12.12 commentary, on the idea of a real world. That is the practical conviction. But when the Karma Yoga of Advaita is complete, this conviction of a real world thins out, and Knowledge arises. Then the meditations change into Knowledge meditations; they cannot be complete till the whole world-process is known to be no more than a rainbow or a mirage, or the illusions created by a magician. In the final liberation, as Shankara says, even these shadows melt away and Brahman stands clear in his own glory.
In Dr Shastri’s book The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching, it says, ‘Try to take your mind above the trio thinker, thought, thinking. To let yourself be in any of these categories is to slip into the realm of maya, illusion, suffering. As long as you have consciousness of time and space, you will not be able to perceive the light of Atman, your Universal Self. The feeling, “I am not the body” is a prerequisite for yoga and the complete relinquishment of body-consciousness marks the attainment of Samadhi.’
Though there are some resemblances, when the yogi comes out of Patanjali meditation, the world is as real as it was before. After a successful Advaita Vedanta experience, however, described above, the world is no longer what it was. Knowledge has arisen and though there is a world, it is only an appearance projected onto the Universal Self.
In some cases the one who knows continues to take part in the world as a sort of sport, as we would take part in a game. The yogis give the example of chess where distinct powers are projected onto pieces of wood. They are all known to be merely wood, but they are treated differently: with a bishop all that is expected and permitted of it is a diagonal move. With a rook, straight lines. We know to win is unreal and yet we try very hard and that is the interest of the game.
Swami Rama Tirtha made a list of samadhi-meditations on Knowledge. In some of these there may still be a shadowy knowing process, and known object, but they are no longer real. He calls them vikalpa, which means a theoretical and illusory construct. Shankara uses a pair of terms: `with-vikalpa’ (sa-vikalpa) and without-vikalpa (nirvikalpa). The term Brahman-with-vikalpa emphasizes, that supposed attributes of Brahman the Absolute, are in fact Maya-illusion; Brahman-without-vikalpa means the Absolute without illusory attributes. Rama Tirtha adopted the extended use of the terms in his samadhi chart. One of the with-vikalpa samadhis is merely to watch unmoved the changing world, as its Light so to say. He calls this a Phenomenal samadhi. Another, which he calls Noumenal, is to meditate: `I am Existence-Consciousness-Bliss’. Another, the world and its values are accepted as a Sport and the yogi takes part in that world.
In the with-vikalpa meditations, some shadowy appearances still arise from unfulfilled karma-involvements of the past; no new ones are created, but the momentum of the past ones may persist for a time. The individual self, said Dr. Shastri, becomes like a burnt handkerchief – the form goes on for a little but there is nothing solid there. The Universal Self alone remains, a mass of light and bliss.
In the text called Gaudapada’s Karikas, that teacher reassures would-be yogis who are frightened at the idea of transcendence and going beyond their individual self. They fear that it would be an oblivion, like falling asleep, or losing consciousness. He explains the point in terms of the sanskara seed-bed at the base of the mind. Sanskara-s are dynamic latent impressions, laid down by past actions, and not normally accessible to conscious inspection. He says that a mind trained in samadhi remains in control when it enters the realm of sanskara-s, whereas in sleep, there is no control. So the sleeping man’s mind is dispersed, at the mercy of sanskara-s of ordinary delusive life, which consequently form a thick veil. But not so in practised samadhi. It may resemble sleep and such states in that the mind is largely withdrawn from the senses and the mind is not moving in thoughts. But the sanskara-s are becoming purer and thinned out, so that streaks of the cosmic light of intelligence find their way through. Perhaps Goethe was referring to his own discovery of this when he wrote to Humboldt: `The secret of inspiration is, consciously to enter the unconscious.’
In Gaudapada’s Karikas, Books 2 and 3, there are several verses on this. The essence of the individual self is not lost but expands, finally into the Universal Self. Fear of losing individuality is therefore unjustified.
But when first heard, the maxim `Go above thinker, thinking and thought’ is a shock. An inner voice says: `These things are my life. If they go, what will be left? I can feel nothing else, there is nothing else.’
Here the holy tradition, which embodies the experience of many centuries, tells us that there is something else, as yet realized only intellectually and not in living feeling. An example of a potentiality, theoretically known but not felt is this: If in sleep you lie on your arm, it goes numb. As you get up, the arm seems dead and you can’t move it. Now though your thought tells you, `This is me’, your feeling says `it isn’t’. When the blood circulation returns, you no longer have to insist by thinking, you feel vividly that it is you. It is not a matter of knowing by words but of knowing by being.
Such an experience can give us a tiny hint about the yoga process: the spirit within seems merely theoretical. By changing the life to centre it on one Avatar-form – holy Rama or Jesus or Krishna – the spiritual circulation begins to return. The meditation image, at first merely a mental creation, becomes in samadhi a channel for the divine. What follows is given in beautiful descriptions, different yet clearly the same. Krishna says: `I take my stand in the hearts of my devotees, and destroy all ignorance and darkness with the luminous flame of wisdom, as my compassionate gift.’
Jesus says: `Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. But I am going to wake him.’ Then Christ comes to the soul, and awakens the dead.
© Trevor Leggett