Survey of Meditation (cont.)

1. The Four Basic Characteristics of Samadhi

The English word "meditation" is not a good equivalent for the Sanskrit words Dhyana or Samadhi. In common English usage meditation means "to muse," "to plan," or "to think things over," which is not at all the meaning of Dhyana or Samadhi. Although Dhyana is derived from the root dhi, "to think" or "to contemplate," it does not mean to think things over in the ordinary sense. The Chinese translation of the term Dhyana is chin lu, meaning "contemplation in quietude"; the Tibetan is bSam gTan, meaning "the stabilized mind," which is perhaps a better rendering of the central idea of Dhyana.The Sanskrit word Samadhi means "putting things together," or "union of the meditator with the object meditated upon." In short, both Dhyana and Samadhi denote a state of perfect mental concentration. Samadhi is usually considered by "Hinduism" as the highest stage of yogic accomplishment—the state of Mukti, or the final liberation from Sangsara. Buddhism, however, considers Samadhi as merely a higher state of mental concentration, having little to do with liberation or Nirvana.This is witnessed by the fact that the names of hundreds of different samadhis are listed in the Mahayana sutras.

The following are some of the basic characteristics of Samadhi:

1. In Samadhi the yogi's mind is absorbed in perfect concentration on the object upon which he is meditating. It is a state of fusion, or unity, of the meditator and the object meditated upon.

2. In Samadhi the yogi always experiences an intensely blissful sensation, which is both physical and psychic. The intensity and profundity of this blissfulness is far greater than any bliss which the average human being has ever experienced. Allegedly it is many times greater than any rapture known in the sexual experience.

3. In Samadhi the yogi invariably experiences the presence of a great "illumination." This is not a vision of a luminous nature, but the clear and bright aspect of the awareness of his own consciousness, an experience almost impossible to describe. All one can say is that the very universe itself seems to vanish into one great whole of transparency and light.

4. In an advanced stage of Samadhi no thought arises in the yogi's mind, not even a thought of the object originally meditated upon. This is because every thought is a complete process, containing the stages of arising, subsisting, and dissipating; and this "perishable" process is the very thing that meditation aims to subjugate in order to bring the mind to a state of "no-thought." This "thoughtlessness" of Samadhi is not torpidity or insensibility; it is a stabilized, illuminated awareness, devoid of any thought-in-motion. In short, human thought is awareness in motion, while Samadhi is awareness at rest.

Points (2), (3), and (4), namely, blissfulness, illumination, and "thoughtlessness," are the three basic experiences of Samadhi. If any one of these is lacking, the Samadhi is incomplete.

5. Another major characteristic of Samadhi is the stoppage of breath. Without a complete cessation of breathing, the progressive thought-flow will never cease its perpetual motion. A number of different names have been used to designate Samadhi, one of them being "stopping the breath" (Chinese: chih shi), which unmistakably points to the fact that Samadhi is a state related to this condition. The reason for this common and very natural phenomenon of Samadhi is clearly expounded by Tantrism in its theory of the "Principle of the Identicalness of Mind and Prana, according to which every individual thought is brought into play by a particular Pranja-in-action. If the Prana is pacified or halted, so is the mind, and vice versa. More detailed explanations of this theory have been given in my "Yogic Commentary," pp. xli and xlii, in Evans-Wentz's Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines.2


The foregoing five experiences may be regarded as the five cardinal features of Samadhi.

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