Cultivating the Inner Light of Yoga
Five Stages of Samadhi
A workshop in Two Parts
We are delighted to host Guy once again for an in-depth and enriching workshop. Guy, a teacher with more than 30 years of experience in teaching yoga, started in Patabi Joice,’s small shalla , continued to other worlds of yoga, taught for 25 years in his shalla in New York, day by day, a profoundly dedicated Mysore practice and now he is visiting us again, for a 2 part workshop. The amount of knowledge Guy has accumulated over the years is amazing and he is coming to share his wisdom and understanding with us. The workshop will include asana practice and meditation as well as conversation.
There are four levels of samadhi that depend on different types of meditation: 1. meditation on a physical object, 2. a subtle object, 3. meditation on bliss and 4. meditation on identity. These are known as levels of samprajnata samadhi, which are all related to the mind: they require an object as the focus for meditation, which results in a deep understanding (prajna) related to the object that is used.
The first level, which uses a physical object, is known as “vitarka” samadhi, which means “with thoughts” and the most useful objects for yoga practitioners are points in the physical body. Yoga practitioners are already focused on the body through asana practice and the use of drishti and bandha are good starting points for this type of concentration. If there are pains or other sensations, these are also good starting points for concentration.
There are two obvious challenges to meditation that we can feel right from the beginning – pain and discomfort in the body and thoughts that we cannot control. These two are related – body and mind are totally connected: when we have pain or tension in the body we also experience disturbance in the mind and vice versa. If we desire to get any further with meditation practice, we have to first face this challenge: we cannot move to higher levels of contemplation until we have first eliminated the tensions and pains in the body and then found a way to concentrate the mind.
The mind is connected to the physical body but it also belongs to the subtle body and the prana, so the mind is actually the target of the second level of samadhi – known as “vichara”. Getting absorbed in the physical body reveals the subtle underlying causes of both the thoughts in the mind and tensions in the body. As one gets more deeply absorbed and passes through the subtle causes, one enters the bliss level and then through the peace associated with this is revealed the samadhi of identity. In fact, all four levels of samadhi are connected when vitarka (physical object) is the starting point. Through meditation on the physical we are led to the subtle, the bliss (ananda) body and to the samadhi related to identity – asmita.
We should also acknowledge that no concentration is possible without the mind – we cannot have a samadhi related to the physical without using the mind. There is also a fifth level of samadhi, known as asamprajnata “without knowledge” – in this level, there is no meditation on an object, so there is no knowledge or “prajna”. This highest level of samadhi is a natural outcome of the other four: when there is a total peace in the mind and it stops all activity, then what remains is pure consciousness, the seer, the spirit or Self, which is beyond the mind.
We can say very little about the fifth level of samadhi because it is beyond the mind and beyond thoughts or concrete experience. We can only say that in the fifth level, the Self is experienced as it is, while under normal circumstances, the Self is experienced as if blended with the physical, subtle, bliss and identity experience.
This first workshop will concentrate on Vitarka Samadhi and working from asana practice, through pranayama and pratyahara we enter the internal limbs of yoga – dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Practice will be supported by the study of certain texts, a presentation of the theory and discussion. In Part II, which will happen over three days in December, we will explore the other three levels of cognitive samadhi in more depth.
Are we allowed to speak about samadhi? Why not? Samadhi is usually presented as an ecstatic state, something inaccessible to ordinary people – an experience that requires intense discipline, austerity etc.. However this is not completely accurate. Samadhi is not ecstasy – it is an intimate, internal state that happens in a condition of deep peace (enstasy), and everyone may have glimpses of samadhi though they may be momentary and unnoticed due to the busy nature of our lives. Having said this, the deepest levels do, indeed, require a significant transformation in lifestyle and habits for most people, however, everyone has the possibility to have a small taste, something that can gradually deepen and expand over time.