The final step in Ashtanga yoga is the attainment of samadhi. When we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something that our mind becomes completely one with it, we are in a state of samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge”. In samadhi our personal identities completely disappear. At the moment of samadhi none of that exists anymore. We become one with the Divine Entity.
Samādhi is described in different ways within Hinduism such as the state of being aware of one’s existence without thinking, in a state of undifferentiated “beingness” or as an altered state of consciousness that is characterized by bliss (ānanda) and joy (sukha). Nisargadatta Maharaj describes the state in the following manner:
When you say you sit for meditation, the first thing to be done is understand that it is not this body identification that is sitting for meditation, but this knowledge ‘I am’, this consciousness, which is sitting in meditation and is meditating on itself. When this is finally understood, then it becomes easy. When this consciousness, this conscious presence, merges in itself, the state of ‘Samadhi’ ensues. It is the conceptual feeling that I exist that disappears and merges into the beingness itself. So this conscious presence also gets merged into that knowledge, that beingness – that is ‘Samadhi’.
The initial experience of it is enlightenment and it is the beginning of the process of meditating to attain self-realization (tapas). “There is a difference between the enlightenment of samādhi and self-realization. When a person achieves enlightenment, that person starts doing tapas to realize the self.”
According to Patañjali samādhi has three different categories:
Savikalpa – This is an interface of trans meditation[clarification needed] and higher awareness state, asamprajñata. The state is so named because mind retains its consciousness, which is why in savikalpa samādhi one can experience guessing (vitarka), thought (vicāra), bliss (ānanda) and self-awareness (asmita). In Sanskrit, “kalpa” means “imagination”. Vikalpa (an etymological derivation of which could be ‘विशेषः कल्पः विकल्पः।’) connotes imagination. Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras defines “vikalpa” saying: ‘शब्द-ज्ञानानुपाति वस्तु-शून्यो-विकल्पः।’. “Sa” is a prefix which means “with”. So “savikalpa” means “with vikalpa” or “with imagination”. Ramana Maharshi defines “savikalpa samādhi” as, “holding on to reality with effort”.
Asamprajñata is a step forward from savikalpa. According to Patañjali, asamprajñata is a higher awareness state with absence of gross awareness.
Nirvikalpa or sanjeevan – This is the highest transcendent state of consciousness. In this state there is no longer mind, duality, a subject-object relationship or experience. Upon entering nirvikalpa samādhi, the differences we saw before have faded and we can see everything as one. In this condition nothing but pure awareness remains and nothing detracts from wholeness and perfection.
Entering samādhi initially takes great willpower and maintaining it takes even more will. The beginning stages of samādhi (laya and savikalpa samādhi) are only temporary. By “effort” it is not meant that the mind has to work more. Instead, it means work to control the mind and release the self. Note that normal levels of meditation (mostly the lower levels) can be held automatically, as in “being in the state of meditation” rather than overtly “meditating.”[clarification needed] The ability to obtain positive results from meditation is much more difficult than simply meditating.[clarification needed] It is recommended to find a qualified spiritual master (guru or yogi) who can teach a meditator about the workings of the mind. As one self-realized yogi explained, “You can meditate but after some time you will get stuck at some point. That is the time you need a guru. Otherwise, without a Guru, there is no chance.”
Samādhi is the only stable unchanging reality; all else is ever-changing and does not bring everlasting peace or happiness.
Staying in nirvikalpa samādhi is effortless but even from this condition one must eventually return to ego-consciousness. Otherwise this highest level of samādhi leads to nirvāṇa, which means total unity, the logical end of individual identity and also death of the body. However, it is entirely possible to stay in nirvikalpa samādhi and yet be fully functional in this world. This condition is known as sahājā nirvikalpa samādhi or sahājā samādhi. According to Ramana Maharshi, “Remaining in the primal, pure natural state without effort is sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi”.