Samādhi (Hindi pronunciation: [səˈmaːdʱi]), also called samāpatti, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and yogic schools refers to a state of meditative consciousness. In the Yogic traditions, and the Buddhist commentarial tradition on which the Burmese Vipassana movement and the Thai Forest tradition rely, it is a meditative absorption or trance, attained by the practice of dhyāna. In the oldest Buddhist suttas, on which several contemporary western Theravada teachers rely, it refers to the development of a luminous mind which is equanimous and mindful.
Common Chinese terms for samādhi include the transliterations sanmei (三昧) and sanmodi (三摩地 or 三摩提), as well as the translation of the term literally as ding (定 "fixity"). Kumarajiva's translations typically use sanmei (三昧), while the translations of Xuanzang tend to use ding (定 "fixity"). The Chinese Buddhist canon includes these as well as other translations and transliterations of the term.
The origins of the practice of dhyana, which culminates into samadhi, are a matter of dispute. According to Bronkhorst, dhyana was a Buddhist invention, whereas Alexander Wynne argues that dhyana was incorporated from Brahmanical practices, in the Nikayas ascribed to Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. These practices were paired to mindfulness and insight, and given a new interpretation. Kalupahana also argues that the Buddha "reverted to the meditational practices" he had learned from Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta.
The term 'Samadhi' derives from the root sam-a-dha, which means 'to collect' or 'bring together', and thus it is often translated as 'concentration' or 'unification of mind'. In the early Buddhist texts, samadhi is also associated with the term samatha (calm abiding). In the commentarial tradition, samadhi is defined as ekaggata, one-pointedness of mind (Cittass'ekaggatā).
Buddhagosa defines samadhi as "the centering of consciousness and consciousness concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object [...] the state in virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered." According to Buddhaghosa, the Theravada Pali texts mention four kinds of samadhi:
Samadhi is the last of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path.[web 1] It is often interpreted as referring to dhyana, but in the suttas samadhi and dhyana are not the same. While samadhi is one-pointed concentration, in dhyana this samadhi is used in the initial stages, to give way to a state of equanimity and mindfulness. The practice of dhyana makes it possible to keep access to the senses in a mindful way, avoiding primary responses to the sense-impressions.
The Suttapitaka and the Agamas describe four stages of rupa jhāna. Rupa refers to the material realm, in a neutral stance, as different form the kama realm (lust, desire) and the arupa-realm (non-material realm). Each jhāna is characterised by a set of qualities which are present in that jhana.[note 2]
According to Richard Gombrich, the sequence of the four rupa-jhanas describes two different cognitive states:
Alexander Wynne further explains that the dhyana-scheme is poorly understood. According to Wynne, words expressing the inculcation of awareness, such as sati, sampajāno, and upekkhā, are mistranslated or understood as particular factors of meditative states, whereas they refer to a particular way of perceiving the sense objects:
Thus the expression sato sampajāno in the third jhāna must denote a state of awareness different from the meditative absorption of the second jhāna (cetaso ekodibhāva). It suggests that the subject is doing something different from remaining in a meditative state, i.e. that he has come out of his absorption and is now once again aware of objects. The same is true of the word upek(k)hā: it does not denote an abstract 'equanimity', [but] it means to be aware of something and indifferent to it [...] The third and fourth jhāna-s, as it seems to me, describe the process of directing states of meditative absorption towards the mindful awareness of objects.[note 8]
The Noble Eightfold Path is a condensation of more elaborate descriptions of this path, which starts with a householder who hears the dhamma and leaves home (either literally or figuratively), and after preparatory practices starts with the practice of dhyana.[note 9] The Pāli canon describes eight progressive states of jhāna: four meditations of form (rūpa jhāna), and four formless meditations (arūpajhānas), though the early texts do not use the term dhyana for the four formless meditations, calling them instead āyatana (dimension, sphere, base). A ninth form is Nirodha-Samāpatti.
According to Bronkhorst, the four rūpa jhāna may be an original contribution of the Buddha to the religious landscape of India. They formed an alternative to the painful ascetic practices of the Jains. The arūpa jhāna were incorporated from non-Buddhist ascetic traditions. According to Crangle, the development of meditative practices in ancient India was a complex interplay between Vedic and non-Vedic traditions.
A core problem in the study of early Buddhism is the relation between dhyana and insight. The Buddhist tradition has incorporated two traditions regarding the use of jhana. There is a tradition that stresses attaining insight (bodhi, prajna, kensho) as the means to awakening and liberation. But it has also incorporated the yogic tradition, as reflected in the use of jhana, which is rejected in other sutras as not resulting in the final result of liberation. The problem was famously voiced in 1936 by Louis de La Vallee Poussin, in his text Musila et Narada: Le Chemin de Nirvana.[note 10]
Schmithausen discerns three possible roads to liberation as described in the suttas, to which Vetter adds the sole practice of dhyana itself, which he sees as the original "liberating practice":
This problem has been elaborated by several well-known scholars, including Tilman Vetter, Johannes Bronkhorst, and Richard Gombrich. Schmithausen[note 11] notes that the mention of the four noble truths as constituting "liberating insight", which is attained after mastering the Rupa Jhanas, is a later addition to texts such as Majjhima Nikaya 36. Both Schmithausen and Bronkhorst note that the attainment of insight, which is a cognitive activity, cannot be possible in state wherein all cognitive activity has ceased. According to Vetter and Bronkhorst, dhyana itself constituted the original "liberating practice". According to Alexander Wynne, the ultimate aim of dhyana was the attainment of insight, and the application of the meditative state to the practice of mindfulness. According to Frauwallner, mindfulness was a means to prevent the arising of craving, which resulted simply from contact between the senses and their objects. According to Frauwallner, this may have been the Buddha's original idea. According to Wynne, this stress on mindfulness may have led to the intellectualism which favoured insight over the practice of dhyana.
Grouped into the jhana-scheme are four meditative states, referred to in the early texts as aruppas. These are also referred to in commentarial literature as immaterial/formless jhānas (arūpajhānas), also translated as The Formless Dimensions, in distinction from the first four jhānas (rūpa jhānas). In the Buddhist canonical texts, the word "jhāna" is never explicitly used to denote them, they are instead referred to as āyatana. However, they are sometimes mentioned in sequence after the first four jhānas (other texts. e.g. MN 121 treat them as a distinct set of attainments) and thus came to be treated by later exegetes as jhānas. The immaterial are related to, or derived from, yogic meditation, and aim more specific at concentration, while the jhanas proper are related to the cultivation of the mind. The state of complete dwelling in emptiness is reached when the eighth jhāna is transcended.
Although the "Dimension of Nothingness" and the "Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception" are included in the list of nine Jhanas taught by the Buddha, they are not included in the Noble Eightfold Path. Noble Path number eight is "Samma Samadhi" (Right Concentration), and only the first four Jhanas are considered "Right Concentration". If he takes a disciple through all the Jhanas, the emphasis is on the "Cessation of Feelings and Perceptions" rather than stopping short at the "Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception".
According to Buddhaghosa, in his influential standard-work Visuddhimagga, samadhi is the "proximate cause" to the obtainment of wisdom. The Visuddhimagga describes 40 different objects for meditation, which are mentioned throughout the Pali canon, but explicitly enumerated in the Visuddhimagga, such as mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) and loving kindness (metta).
Several western teachers (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Leigh Brazington, Richard Shankman) make a distinction between 'sutta-oriented' jhana' and 'Visuddhimagga-oriented' jhana. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has repeatedly argued that the Pali Canon and the Visuddhimagga give different descriptions of the jhanas, regarding the Visuddhimagga-description to be incorrect. Keren Arbel has conducted extensive research on the jhanas and the contemporary criticisms of the commentarial interpretation. Based on this research, and her own experience as a senior meditation-teacher, she gives a reconstructed account of the original meaning of the dhyanas. She argues that jhana is an integrated practice, describing the fourth jhana as "lucid awareness," not as a state of deep concentration.
The earliest extant Indian Mahayana texts emphasize ascetic practices and forest dwelling, and absorption in states of meditative oneness. These practices seem to have occupied a central place in early Mahayana, also because they "may have given access to fresh revelations and inspiration."
In the Indian Mahayana traditions the term is also to refer to forms of "samadhi" other than dhyana. Section 21 of the Mahavyutpatti records even 118 samadhi. The Samadhiraja Sutra for example has as its main theme a samādhi called 'the samadhi that is manifested as the sameness of the essential nature of all dharmas' (sarva-dharma-svabhavā-samatā-vipañcita-samādhi).[note 12]
Indian dhyana was translated as chán in Chinese, and zen in Japanese. Ideologically the Zen-tradition emphasizes prajna and sudden insight, but in the actual practice prajna and samādhi, or sudden insight and gradual cultivation, are paired to each other. Especially some lineages in the Rinzai school of Zen stress sudden insight, while the Sōtō school of Zen lays more emphasis on shikantaza, training awareness of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.
Samadhi is the main subject of the eighth limb of the Yoga Sutras called Samadhi-pada. They resemble the Buddhist jhanas.[note 13] According to David Gordon White, the language of the Yoga Sutras is often closer to "Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, the Sanskrit of the early Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, than to the classical Sanskrit of other Hindu scriptures." According to Karel Werner,
Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvastivada Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika."
Robert Thurman writes that Patañjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox. However, it is also to be noted that the Yoga Sutra, especially the fourth segment of Kaivalya Pada, contains several polemical verses critical of Buddhism, particularly the Vijñānavāda school of Vasubandhu.
Samadhi is oneness with the object of meditation. There is no distinction between act of meditation and the object of meditation. Samadhi is of two kinds,[web 5] with and without support of an object of meditation:[web 6]
According to Ian Whicher, the status of sananda and sasmita in Patanjali's system is a matter of dispute. According to Maehle, the first two constituents, deliberation and reflection, form the basis of the various types of samapatti. According to Feuerstein,
"Joy" and "I-am-ness" [...] must be regarded as accompanying phenomena of every coginitive [ecstacy]. The explanations of the classical commentators on this point appear to be foreign to Patanjali's hierarchy of [ecstatic] states, and it seems unlikely that ananda and asmita should constitute independent levels of samadhi.
Ian Whicher disagrees with Feuerstein, seeing ananda and asmita as later stages of nirvicara-samapatti. Whicher refers to Vācaspati Miśra (900-980 CE), the founder of the Bhāmatī Advaita Vedanta who proposes eight types of samapatti:
Vijnana Bikshu (ca. 1550-1600) proposes a six-stage model, explicitly rejecting Vacaspati Misra's model. Vijnana Bikshu regards joy (ananda) as a state that arises when the mind passes beyond the vicara stage. Whicher agrees that ananda is not a separate stage of samadhi. According to Whicher, Patanjali's own view seems to be that nirvicara-samadhi is the highest form of cognitive ecstasy.
According to Taimni, dharana, dhyana and samadhi form a graded series:
Sahaja samadhi is a state in which a silent level within the subject is maintained along with (simultaneously with) the full use of the human faculties.
Kevala nirvikalpa samadhi is temporary, [web 8][web 9] whereas sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi is a continuous state throughout daily activity. This state seems inherently more complex than sāmadhi, since it involves several aspects of life, namely external activity, internal quietude, and the relation between them. It also seems to be a more advanced state, since it comes after the mastering of samadhi.[note 24][note 25]
Sahaja is one of the four keywords of the Nath sampradaya along with Svecchachara, Sama, and Samarasa. Sahaja meditation and worship was prevalent in Tantric traditions common to Hinduism and Buddhism in Bengal as early as the 8th–9th centuries.
The term Samadhi refers to a state of mind rather than a physical position of the body. The Scriptures explain: