Samadhi Explained: The Eighth Limb of the Yoga Sutras and the Gateway to Enlightenment

What happens when we consistently practice meditation? According to the Yoga Sutras, the eighth and final limb of yoga is known as Samadhi.

Samadhi can be translated as “bliss,” “union,” and “non-separation.”

While each of the previous seven limbs of yoga describe a practice or an outcome of that practice, this limb acknowledges the aspect of grace.

Coming from someone who cannot say with confidence that she has experienced Samadhi, I offer you my experiences and my interpretations of what teachers farther along the path than myself have described.

The first insight is this: Samadhi is not something we can do. Samadhi may come to us if/when we are aligned and open to it.

What Is Samadhi and How Does One Experience It?

One translation of the Yoga Sutras describes Samadhi as follows:

“Soon the individual is so much involved in the object [of meditation] that nothing except its comprehension is evident. It is as if the individual has lost his own identity. This is the complete integration with the object of understanding.” (Yoga Sutras 3.3, translated by T.K.V. Desikachar)

Reading this passage early in my yoga journey made me wonder what hope I had of successfully achieving the eighth limb of yoga (and losing my identity) when I was still struggling to balance in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and stay focused on my breath in meditation.

In answer, the renowned yoga teacher, B.K.S. Iyengar’s words found me:

“To discover the individual soul you need inspiration, the creative force of breathing in. To discover the Cosmic Soul you need the courage to release, to breath out, to make the ultimate surrender. Do not be discouraged. The Divine Will impels humankind to this end. Hold the soul, not just the breath.” (Light on Life, pg. 201).

With these words, I was reassured.

Silence Is the Music of Samadhi

We can’t will Samadhi to happen, but we can learn to recognize mile-markers on the path. Iyengar writes:

“We all want to develop and improve ourselves, we think of this as personal evolution, and a spreading of our wings. The true yogic journey is involution, or . . . folding one’s wings. If evolution is a preparation for yoga (the intention to unite with the soul), then involution is actual yoga (yoga itself).”

When consciousness dwells in absolute true knowledge, direct spiritual perception dawns.

In this description, yoga transcends self-improvement. Yoga becomes self-awareness, a deep listening, where silence is the music leading to Samadhi.

There Are Different Levels of Samadhi

The scope of this article limits detailed descriptions of the different levels of Samadhi. I encourage you to continue your study through readings with other teachers. Know now, however, that there are several levels of Samadhi.

The first levels are referred to as being “with seed” or Sabija Samadhi: they germinate, but eventually return us to ordinary consciousness. Contrastingly, Nirbija Samadhi, known as “seedless” Samadhi is possible. The gifted teacher, Nischala Joy Devi, writes of this experience:

“When consciousness dwells in absolute true knowledge, direct spiritual perception dawns. This absolute true knowledge is different from the knowledge gained by personal experience, inference, and insights from the wise.

When experiencing absolute true knowledge, all previous impressions are left behind and new ones prevented from sprouting. Nirbija Samadhi outshines all impressions and manifestations.” (The Secret Power of Yoga, pg. 89)


Samadhi: My Personal Experience

My personal understanding of what Samadhi is also comes from a very powerful event in my life. That experience was silent and the handful of people around me were unaware it was happening. It was an entirely internal experience.

I am vast. I am that.

It happened several days into my stay in a retreat center in the mountains of central Portugal where daily yoga practices, Ayurvedic meals, and time spent down by a stream were nourishing me on all levels.

At the end of a morning yoga practice on my fifth day in residence, I rested in Savasana surrounded on all sides by mountains and a piercingly blue sky. I was struck – like lightning-bolt-struck – by the sense that I was not separate from (nor less valuable than) the mountains around me.

The feeling was intense and with me for only a few moments, but it was indelible. The thoughts that followed this event were these: “I am vast. I am that.”

Samadhi: The Takeaway

A translation of the Mundaka Upanishad offers the following description of Samadhi:

“Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it, nor tongue utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind, grown pure and silent, merge with the formless truth. They who find it are free; they have found themselves; they have solved the great riddle; their hearts forever are at peace. Whole, they enter the whole.”

You, nor I, can predict, control, or maintain the experience of Samadhi. Because this experience is out of our control, we are free to offer ourselves to our yoga practice without expectation. We are free to humbly ask whatever Divine Source we believe in for help.

We can ask that our efforts be recognized and that we be ready and aware if and when Samadhi arrives. May we practice yoga and be made ready.

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Dhyana Explained: The Seventh Limb of the Yoga Sutras and the Final Step Toward Meditation
Dhyana: the final step toward meditation. When the anchor of your meditation practice remains constant. Learn all about this limb here.
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Hannah Leatherbury

​Yoga found Hannah in the midst of an existential crisis fifteen years ago. She now teaches in the metro-DC area. Her recorded meditations are freely available on her audio blog and through the Insight Timer app.

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