Q: I am trying to get a clear understanding of samadhi. Would you explain it in simple, nontechnical terms? How do we train our mind to reach samadhi?
A: A perfectly still and tranquil state of mind is called samadhi. The word samadhi comes from samahita. Sama means “perfectly, completely”; ahitam means “that which is placed properly in its container in every respect.” Thus samadhi is a state in which all the mind’s roaming tendencies have become contained and calm—stilled in every respect and from every direction.
In a state of samadhi, you are completely at peace. You are fully aware of the divine within. You are happy with what you have and do not grieve over what you have lost. You are excited about your quest and have no anxiety about its outcome. You know how short-lived worldly pleasures are, yet you are fully present while you enjoy them. In other words, you are in samadhi when quietude permeates your every thought, speech, and action.
You do not go into samadhi; samadhi emerges in you. You prepare the ground for samadhi to emerge by training and taming your mind. To do this, practice quieting your mind and focusing it on a single object, such as a mantra or a prayer. At first the mind will tend to wander. For example, let’s say you are focusing on a mantra. Soon you will notice that the mind is also contacting many other objects. You do not want to contact these other objects, but out of habit your mind is doing it anyway. That is distraction—the mind’s tendency to contact various objects at a rapid pace and to forget the main object on which it is supposed to remain focused.
No matter how distracted your mind is, continue to bring it back to the mantra. Through constant practice—by focusing on the mantra and bringing the mind back when it strays—you will develop the habit of maintaining that object in your mindfield for longer and longer periods of time. When the mind stays focused on the mantra longer than it strays to other, distracting objects, that is called dharana, concentration.
The unbroken flow of the stream of awareness is meditation.
If the objects that distract your mind crowd out the mantra most of the time, you are not concentrating—you are significantly distracted. Concentration and distraction go side by side and one stream is always stronger than the other. When the stream of concentration is stronger, heavier, and fuller than the stream that is carrying various distractions, you have attained a state of concentration. You attain this state by practicing concentration patiently and diligently for as long as it takes to train your mind to remain focused on your mantra or other chosen object.
As concentration matures, it turns into dhyana, meditation. Simply put, meditation is prolonged concentration. Much has been said and written about the point at which the process of concentration turns into meditation, but what many saints and yogis tell us is that if the mind remains concentrated on one object for at least 12 breaths, concentration has matured and becomes meditation.
The analogy most often used is that meditation is like pouring oil from one container to another—the unbroken flow of the stream of awareness is meditation. When the same process deepens further, it matures into samadhi. Concentration, meditation, and samadhi are part of a single continuum. When samadhi emerges in you during your meditation practice, the trinity of meditator, meditation, and object of meditation merges and becomes one. No part of your mind is left to maintain the awareness of anything other than the object of your meditation—that is samadhi. When that state of stillness—the core of your own being—emerges in you, you acquire that stillness, which infuses all aspects of your life.