Samadhi – A Scientific Phenomenon?

YUVA SHAKTI BANARAS/ February 23, 2015/ Science & Spirituality/

 

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Since ages human creed has always tried to explore the cause of the life and how to make it happy. The ancient philosophy of Yoga, developed by various sages and yogis, has successfully established some key aspects related to the whole shebang.

Quite a lot theories put forth and experimental results obtained by the modern scientific community are in well agreement with the above mentioned aspects. What follows is an attempt to explore such correlations.

Ishavasya Upanishad starts with the mystic syllables of peace :

OM POORNAMADAH POORNAMIDAM POORNAAT POORNAMUDACHYATE; POORNASYA POORNAMAADAAYA POORNAMEVA AVASHISHYATE.
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih

Meaning : This is full. From full, the full is taken, the full has come. If full is removed from full, the full alone remains.

Om peace, peace, peace. [1]
(“Poorna” = Complete or Full.)

This explains one of the key principles of physics, Conservation of Energy. The word POORNA is nothing but the ultimate principle or the energy source of creation. The word Yog has been derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, means union. The union of life energy of an individual with the Poorna.

Sage Patanjali has elaborated eight dimensions of yoga in his Yogsutras as Yam (Observances), Niyama (Abstinences), Asana (Postures), Pranayam (Breath controlling), Pratyahar (Withdrawal of senses), Dharana (Determination), Dhyan (Meditation) and Samadhi (Self realization or Nirvana per Buddhist philosophy).

According to Sage Patanjali the Samadhi has three different categories Savikalpa, Asamprajnyata and Nirvikalpa or Sanjeevan. Savikalpa is an interface of trans meditation and higher awareness state, Asamprajnyata. In Savikalpa one can experience Vitarka (Guessing), Vichara (Thought), Anand (Bliss) and Asmita (Self awareness).

Results obtained by various researchers on effects of meditation on human brain can be explained on the basis of Savikalpa. In one of the experiments Buddhist monks, at a significantly higher state of meditation, were asked to impose thoughts related to compassion and in-situ medical imaging was performed. It was found that the left hemisphere was much prominent. This proves that at the interface stage thinking, self-awareness and guessing were active.

Another study showed that at the further higher state of meditation, different lobes of brain slowed down and the thalamus stopped signals from reaching to the lobes. This maybe considered as a step forward to the Asamprajnyata from Savikalpa. According to sage Patanjali Asamprajnyata is a higher awareness state with absence of gross awareness.

The Nirvikalpa or Sanjivan Samadhi is well explained by the greatest yogi, Dhnyaneshwar. In his treatise, Bhavarthadeepika or Dhnyaneshwari, Dhnyaneshwar has emphatically talked about relation between higher awareness and light or pure energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation. In the book ‘Swara Yoga’, Swami Muktibodhananda has clearly elaborated the correlation between electromagnetic radiations and consciousness on the basis of explanations given by the all time great physicist, Albert Einstein

Yoga is often considered as a journey from body to mind and from mind to soul or spirit or life energy. In other words Yoga is a journey from gross material energy to more refined form of the energy. This phenomenon of journey from gross material energy to more refined energy is apparently quite similar to the Bose-Einstein condensation. Noble prizewinner scientists have experimentally verified the Bose-Einstein condensation.

About Samadhi or Enlightened Consciousness

Samadhi is the highest state of consciousness attainable by men and women. Although many yogis claim to have achieved it, genuine Samadhi is an extremely rare phenomenon. Among the more perfect cases are those described in the principal Upanishads, the inner or mystic revelations that constitute the core teachings of Vedanta. Nowadays, however, the Samadhi attained is almost always only a self-induced hypnotic trance or a swoon-like state of which little or nothing can be remembered when the person returns to the normal state.

The forced ascent of Kundalini, even up to Sahasrara, cannot induce perennial turiya, the state of extended daily or diurnal consciousness which is the ultimate aim of Yoga. After a certain usually brief duration, Kundalini returns to the Muladhara chakra, reverting the yogi back to normal consciousness. This is the reason why, even in the Hatha-Yoga manuals, after initial success with the methods prescribed, practice of Raja Yoga is considered necessary for liberation. In other words, Hatha Yoga is just a preparation for Raja Yoga, the total path of mental and spiritual development.

There are varying degrees of Samadhi. In the case of individuals in whom the cerebrospinal system is not fully prepared for the new activity, it can be only a poor affair compared to the resplendent visionary experience of the mature Yogis. In the initial stages of awakening, brought about by Hatha Yoga practices, a pleasurable sensation is felt around the Muladhara chakra, rising higher and higher by small degrees with the daily exercise practiced by student. This is a very delicate operation and care has to be taken that the nerves involved are not damaged by too frequent repetition of the process.

The aim of meditation is to increase the power of attention to a point where the conscious center in the brain is pressed to a great and more sustained activity under the direction of the will. The ultimate effort of the constant exercise is the arousal of Kundalini. With the start of this new activity the normal strength and pattern of prana or bioenergy becomes insufficient to feed the brain. Then a supply from a new source becomes imperative to preserve sanity and life. This new and most potent source of psychic energy is provided by the reproductive system.

Just how the reversal of the action of the reproductive system, and the activity of the paranormal chamber in the brain, come into effect may only be answered when scientific research on Kundalini is undertaken in a serious and sustained manner. In Ancient India, the reversal of the reproductive apparatus was called Urdhava-retas. The term itself was synonymous with Enlightenment or Illumination.

The difference between the brain of an intellectual genius and an Enlightened mystic is only of degree. Therefore, Illuminated Consciousness can never be attained with a meditational trick or some magical device or gift of a guru. Attainment of Super-Consciousness or Enlightenment requires the same hard labor and hereditary predisposition as any other extraordinary faculty of the mind.

It is far easier for a highly talented individual to become Illuminated than for that of a person of low intelligence. Allowing the mind to wander or remain in a semi-awake condition is not the inwardly focused state of an awakened sage or seer. The ultimate state in Yoga, namely Samadhi, is a state of equipoise and calm, brought about by a tremendously enhanced awareness which soars beyond the regions fed by the senses and the mind. It is not a semi-conscious but a Super-Conscious state in which the interior of the Yogi becomes lustrous like the sun.

 

PATANJALI’S TEN TYPES OF SAMADHI

 

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In the Yoga Sutras different adjectives are added to the word “samadhi”, such as “sabija”, “asamprajnata” etc.  I.K Taimni, In The Science of Yoga, identifies ten types of samadhi in the Yoga Sutras.  All ten types of samadhi share in common the absorption of the yogi in the state of extreme concentration of the mind.  What distinguished the ten types is that each occurs at a different level of consciousness.  To understand the levels of consciousness, one must be aware of cosmologies that include the nonphysical worlds.

As a theosophist, Taimni was well-aware of the theosophical septenary scheme of the nonphysical planes.  As a scholar and translator of ancient Indian texts, he was aware of other maps of the nonphysical worlds, including the 4-fold scheme used in the Yoga Sutras (described in part 9 of What is Science?). As we show below, Taimni mapped the different forms of samadhi to both the 7-fold theosophical scheme and the 4-fold classical Vedanta scheme of the nonphysical worlds.

It is taught particularly in theosophy that one interacts with the nonphysical planes via nonphysical “bodies” or “vehicles”.  The physical body is an instrument allowing the mind to interact with the physical universe. The nonphysical bodies allow the mind to interact with the nonphysical planes, and have names such as the “astral body”, “mental body”, etc.  However, it is immaterial whether we think of the different levels of consciousness as occurring via nonphysical bodies, or just think of them as different global states of consciousness.  The effect is the same for all practical purposes.

Some of the methods of Raja Yoga serve to train the mind to operate at the different levels of consciousness. Other methods train the mind to transfer consciousness amongst the various levels.  Therefore, four types of samadhi are distinguished by the level of consciousness at which samadhi is performed.  Four types of samadhi are transition states between adjacent levels of consciousness.  The remaining two types of samadhi are very special states of consciousness.

 

Diving into the Depths of Consciousness

After the eight limbs (yama, niyama, asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) are mastered, samadhi is the means used to dive through consciousness. Learning samadhi is not the end of yoga, it is the beginning. This is very important to understand.  The ten types of samadhi form a sequence whereby consciousness descends from its superficial into its deeper layers, one after another.

It must be recalled that the goal of yoga is to “join”.  To join with what? To join with the infinite. In the Yoga Sutras the joining with infinity is called “Kaivalya”, which means “alone” or “isolated”.   This is a concept the Western mind calls “absolute infinite” and occurs in the intellectual context of Georg Cantor’s transfinite mathematics.  To the Western mind these are mere intellectual ideas.  In yoga, the experience of the infinite is the coveted reality.  It is called “Brahman” in Hinduism, but sometimes Parabrahman, sometimes Parashiva, sometimes Parameshwara.   Whatever it is called, it is the experience of everything.  That is why Patanjali called it “Kaivalya”, “alone”.  There is nothing beyond, beside, or outside of it.  It is all that is, was or ever will be.

The ten types of samadhi are the sequential stages one must pass through in moving from the relative existence of our waking consciousness to the state of infinity, or Kaivalya.

Let me say that again so it is crystal clear: yoga is the protocol, method, steps, by which we can directly experience the infinite.  The steps from the relative to the Absolute are the ten types of samadhi.

Let us first name and organize the ten types, then return back to how they cause this sequential passage from the waking world of relative-ness to the state of infinity or Kaivalya.

 

Categorizing Samadhi
Let us make an outline of the ten types of samadhi:

outline

We can make a flow chart that shows the relationships between the various forms of samadhi:

 

Figure 1: The relationship between the 10 types of samadhi

 

 

States and Transition States

“The actual point of intersection of our non-physical psyche with the physical world, this actual point … is a funnel, passageway, tunnel, or channel by which our primarily nonphysical psyche expresses itself in the physical world.  …[It] is somewhat analogous to what the heart is to the anatomy of the physical body; a valve, a place central to flow, a mechanism that drives circulation….

 …dynamic description of something more akin to spherical whirlpools spinning and swirling at any conceivable rate…… it is not a rotating motion that spins through 360 degrees and returns to its origin…it could be accurately called a “Möbius spinning”.  It is a spinning motion that seems to rotate through itself much the way a Möbius strip folds back onto itself.

 …the ego…has a very definite geometry…of the Möbius surface.  As the point of connection between the physical and nonphysical components of our overall anatomy, the ego is “pointing in both directions”, so to speak.  The ego points in the direction of our objective, outer physical experience, but it simultaneously points in the direction of our inner, subjective and nonphysical experience.  We can think in dualistic terms that there are two distinct “sides” to our experience, these being the objective and the subjective.  But such a view is obviously wrong in some sense because we dwell in both objective and subjective spheres simultaneously.…it does not have two distinct sides, but only appears to do so.…Thus we exist simultaneously in objective and subjective spheres of experience.

 

So, I got this much straight in my mind 20 years ago.  These insights were not mere speculation, but were rationalizations of both my sleep- and drug-related altered states experiences.  I was trying to describe in words things I have experienced.

Over the past 20 years I keep coming back to this idea of a Möbius point as something very fundamental, and my subsequent research and reading has borne this out.  The snippet here links this idea of the Möbius center of our consciousness to well-established ideas in Ashtanga Yoga, which is the yoga of Patanjali as described in theYoga Sutras. It also links to the idea of the Anu as described in Kashmiri Shaivism, which is related to the Hindu idea of bindu, or center of consciousness.

Background

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali teaches a technique called samprajnata samadhi (samadhi with a “seed”), in which consciousness becomes an unchanging dynamic equilibrium focused on the same thought (the thought focused on is called a “pratyaya” in Yoga Sutras).  The next step is to let the pratyaya fade away, but keep consciousness in the highly focused state (asamprajnata samadhi; samadhi without a “seed”). I.K. Taimni, in hisScience of Yoga, describes this thus:

Figure 2: Relationship between samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhi.

 

“Now, in Samprajnata Samadhi there is a Pratyaya (which is called a ‘seed’) in the field of consciousness and the consciousness is fully directed to it. So the direction of consciousness is from the centre outwards. In Asamprajnata Samadhi there is no Pratyaya and therefore there is nothing to draw the consciousness outwards and hold it there. So as soon as the Pratyaya (P) is dropped or suppressed the consciousness begins to recede automatically to its centre O and after passing momentarily through this Laya centre, tends to emerge into the next subtler vehicle. When this process has been completed the Pratyaya (P’) of the next higher plane appears and the direction of consciousness again becomes from the centre outwards.”

Taimni’s “Laya centre” is just another word for “bindu” or “center of consciousness”.  But what he is describing is quite amazing. It is not just “quite amazing”, it is unbelievable, incredible! He describes here in the clearest terms I have ever seen, the exact mechanism of how consciousness moves from one plane to the next! The man should get a posthumous Nobel Prize for writing the above lines!

We can see that he is showing the transition between two different types of samprajnata samadhi.  He is showing the “sinking through consciousness” process that samadhi allows.  As I stated before, Taimni shows in this diagram the exact mechanism that allows consciousness to transfer between its different global states.  This diagram applies as to the transition from the waking world to the dream state of an ordinary person as much as it applies to a yogi transferring consciousness between any of the four worlds.

It is an extraordinary diagram and one of the most important diagrams you will ever see.  So much is explained by this diagram it isn’t funny.  However, it’s not my intent here to dwell on the wide ranging implications, which I have done to some extent in my 2nd blog post.  Here I show this diagram specifically with respect to the four types of samprajnata and four types of asamprajnata samadhi.

 

The Four Worlds of Things and Stuff

The above diagram is meant to be viewed with respect to the following diagram, also from The Science of Yoga, that shows in a sequential fashion the descent from the surface to the center of consciousness:

 

Figure 3: The descent through consciousness via the 10 types of samadhi.

 

I think this diagram too is stunningly brilliant.  It is completely self-explanatory.  But I will walk the Reader though it anyway.

Let us begin with the column on the right. As seen at the top, he lists the precursors to samadhi: dharana and dhyana. Learning vitarka samprajnata samadhi (called savitarka samadhi) is an intermediate level of yogic skill.  This is the first form of samadhi learnt.  By practicing at this level, the yogi will eventually “dissolve” or “break through” the pratyaya at the vitarka level. This releases artha as was discussed extensively in “What is Science?

The dissolution of the pratyaya and accompanying release of artha at the vitarka level will create a momentary state where there is nothing in consciousness (nirvitarka samadhi).   This state is something like a vacuum. As depicted by the circles with arrows, the “direction” of consciousness moves from being outwardly directed, called paranga cetana, to inwardly directed, called pratyak cetana.  This is asamprajnata samadhi at the vitarka to vicara boundary or nirvitarka samadhi.

After some practice, the yogi will be able to fully transfer consciousness from the vitarka to the vicara level, where the pratyaya now takes on a different and deeper form. Samadhi now is called savicara samadhi. The yogi now must learn to “break through” the pratyaya at the vicara level.  Success leads to pratyak cetana at the vicara level, called nirvicara samadhi, which is the transition state from the vicara to the ananda level.

Analogous processes repeat at the ananda and asmita levels.  At each level of consciousness – vitarka, vicara, ananda and asmita – deeper and deeper levels of meaning are discovered in the pratyaya.

In this fashion, one can, in a simple minded way, think of the pratyaya as like a rope that the yogi uses to pull his or herself deeper and deeper into consciousness.

As seen in Figure 3 on the left, Taimni maps the 4-fold yogic cosmology to those of classical Vedanta and also to the 7-fold scheme of Theosophy.  It is to be noted that in each case, the lowest stage of samadhi – savitarka samadhi – occurs in the lower mental body.  This again reinforces the notion that all forms of samadhi are altered states.  Even in dreaming, we use the astral body, and not the mental body.  So, the lowest stage of samadhi is an altered state more subtle than the dream body we all experience when we dream during sleep.

It must be noted I am describing the mechanics of these processes.  The above descriptions gives no indication whatsoever of the actual contents in the consciousness of the yogi.  These are very extreme and unlike anything we experience when awake.  Sublime is an understatement of the highest order. But that is all I will say on this aspect since we are discussing only the mechanics.

 

From Relative To Absolute

At the asmita level, the yogi is now at the deepest possible level of conscious contents, the finest possible level of vrittis. There is nothing left of the pratyaya when asamprajnata samadhi is accomplished at the asmita level. A completely different effect results at this level of consciousness.  The only thing present at this stage is pure, empty consciousness: only self-aware being.  This is nirbija samadhi.  The yogi must struggle with this completely empty state of self-aware being until it is learned how to achieve the final stage.

In the Yoga Sutras, the aphorisms pertaining to nirbija samadhi and dharma megha samadhi are abstract, obscure and almost incomprehensible.  Patanjali seems to say that, in the state of nirbija samadhi, one comes to experience the (seeming) emptiness between the moments of time.  One learns eventually to perform samadhi on this emptiness between the moments of time.  When this is successful, one has mastered dharma mega samadhi.

One literally jumps out of time and into eternity.

I kid you not.  Go read the Yoga Sutras for yourself.  I recommend Taimni’s commentary because he was a scientist and put things in terms a scientifically-trained person can understand.  But even if you read other, less scientifically-oriented translations, they all translate these aphorisms similarly (see here).  The issue becomes: how are they interpreted? Surprisingly, there is often complementarity to the different interpretations, even if they seem superficially different.

Just for the heck of it, let’s show the aphorism pertaining to dharma megha samadhi and Kaivalya.  They are a trip.  Even if you don’t believe one iota of this stuff, these ideas make modern science fiction look totally lame.

 

Spoiler Alert: This is the End of the Yoga Sutras

Aphorism 4.29 defines dharma mega samadhi:

f4 a4.29

Taimni’s translation:

“29. In the case of one, who is able to maintain a constant state of Vairagya even towards the most exalted state of enlightenment and to exercise the highest kind of discrimination, follows Dharma-Megha-Samadhi.”

 

This is basically saying that the yogi is able to achieve nirbija samadhi at the asmita level and does not get trapped in the temptation of being omnipotent and omniscient in the worlds of relative becoming.   The big fish rejects the little pond.

After this stage, the yogi encounters the basic unit of change in Nature:

Aphorism 4.33:

f5 a4.33

Taimni’s translation:

“33. The process, corresponding to moments which become apprehensible at the final end of transformation (of the Gunas), is Kramah.”

 

Aphorism 4.33 should be of particular interest to those with an interest in physics, neuroscience, the philosophy of mind, or Kant’s transcendental idealism.  It is interesting this was written at least as early as 250 AD, if not much earlier; no one knows for certain when the Yoga Sutras were created.  Here Patanjali describes the quantum nature of time, and describes how to utilize this fact to escape from relative-ness.

At this point, everything gets so weird that it is worth repeating a good chunk of Taimni’s commentary on aphorism 4.33:

“According to Yogic philosophy the seemingly continuous phenomena which we cognize through the instrumentality of the mind are not really continuous and like the cinematographic picture on the screen consist of a series, of discontinuous states. Each successive change in the phenomenal world which is separate and distinct produces a corresponding impression upon the mind but these impressions succeed one another with such rapidity that we get the impression of continuity. The interval of time corresponding to each of these successive states is called a Ksana.  So Ksana may be called the smallest unit of time which cannot be broken up further.”

“The next word to be considered is Kramah. We have seen just now that the impression of continuous phenomena in our mind is produced by a succession of discontinuous changes in Prakriti around us. Kramah stands for this process consisting of a relentless succession of discontinuous changes underlying all kinds of phenomena. This process is ultimately based upon the unit of time, Ksana, as the projection of the cinematographic picture is based upon each opening and closing of aperture. As Ksana succeeds Ksana the whole manifested world passes from one distinct state to another distinct state, but the succession is so rapid that we are not conscious of the discontinuity.”

“It will be seen, therefore, that according to the Yogic philosophy not only is the whole basis of manifestation material—using the word material in its widest sense— but also that the changes which take place in Prakriti and which produce all kinds of phenomena are essentially mechanical, that is, based on a hidden, essentially mechanical process. The whole manifested Universe and everything in it changes from moment to moment by a relentless law which is inherent, in the very nature of manifestation.  If we have grasped the nature of the process indicated by the two words Ksana and Kramah it should not be difficult to understand the meaning of the Sutra under discussion. It means simply that the Yogi can become aware of the Ultimate Reality only when his consciousness is liberated from the limitations of this process which produces Time, by performing Samyama on this process as indicated in III-53. As long as his consciousness is involved in the process he cannot know his Real nature. It is only when he steps out of the world of the unreal into the Light of Reality that he realizes not only the true nature of Reality but also of the Relative world of Time and Space which he has left behind.”

 

Literally stepping out of time and into eternity.  WTF???

Anyway, the above is why nirbija samadhi and dharma mega samadhi are special.

Just to close this all out, here is the last aphorism of the Yoga Sutras where we see the world “kaivalyam” used, as well as the term “svarupa”, the real essence of…

Aphorism 4.34 (the final aphorism of the book):

f6 a4.34

“34. Kaivalya is the state (of Enlightenment) following reemergence of the Gunas because of their becoming devoid of the object of the Purusa. In this state the Purusa is established in his Real nature which is pure Consciousness. Finis.”

 

Wrap Up

So, it got a little kooky at the end there.  It can’t be helped.  I didn’t write the Yoga Sutras.  I’m just reporting on what they say.

Hopefully the above at least explicates the ten types of samadhi, and shows the sequential progression from the surface to the inner most depths of consciousness via samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhi leading to the empty state of nirbija samadhi, and finally to Kaivalya via dharma mega samadhi.