In the following essay, I am sharing some personal information publicly for the first time. Some has been shared with a very few close friends and disciples. Some has been shared on a listserver to which I’ve contributed for nearly 15 years, mostly in bits and pieces. Some has never been shared before, with anyone.
The purpose is to normalize these experiences for everyone. So much has been written on this topic which makes it seem as though these things only happen to legendary people, not to common folks like you and me. This is not true. I have known many people who have had similar experiences to my own; we tend to recognize each other. Once I got over the taboo against speaking about such things, I discovered more and more people who shared them. What a delight! We are all normal people, mainly. None of us are famous legends. None of us have big, well-known ashrams. Most of us have one or two students or disciples, people who trust us and accept suggestions from us. The same thing would be true if we were accomplished painters or musicians, so that’s really no big deal either.
In some ways, my life is a koan. I have known for some time that part of my purpose on this earth, in this lifetime, is to speak openly about these things. I want everyday people to know that you don’t have to be a saint, you don’t have to be a mythological creature, you don’t have to have magical powers, in order to experience these spiritual states of awareness. They are your birthright. They are already there, at your core, if you only remove the barriers to recognizing them. For many spiritually inclined people, the largest barrier is the falsehood that “such things don’t happen to me or people I know.” This is basically a statement of low self esteem, but your true self has nothing to do with this kind of abnegation.
Trust yourself. Follow your heart. Don’t sell yourself short. If someone like me can travel down this path, you can too. Here is some information about what the path is like, or has been for me.
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To simplify matters a bit, there are three basic types of Samadhi: Bhava Samadhi, Savikalpa Samadhi, and Nirvikalpa Samadhi. While all of these states of consciousness are very difficult to express in ordinary language, I can give some clues as to what they mean.
First, think of the classic Sanskrit formulation of what Samadhi is like: Sat Chit Ananda, or Being, Consciousness, and Bliss.
Bliss, of course, is a state of mind in which one is completely suffused with joy.
Consciousness refers to the state of awareness itself. Not only are you having an experience, you are aware that you are having it. It is a very pure state of awareness, in which there is no object other than awareness itself.
Being refers to the identity between, as the Upanishads say, Brahman and Atman. Brahman is that absolute state of being, the non-differentiated, that which precedes existence, upon which existence is grounded. The Atman is my individual Self, a particular facet of the manifestation which has sprung “from” Brahman and which knows that it is no different than Brahman.
In Bhava Samadhi, I experience the bliss of Samadhi, without the consciousness or the being. I am still aware of myself and may be aware of my surroundings. It is a very high state of mind which often precedes one of the other two. The bliss is so attractive that the unawakened mind naturally longs to return to it, and in doing so, the door to a fuller experience of Samadhi may be opened.
In Savikalpa Samadhi, there is both the bliss and the consciousness. One is fully engaged in Samadhi; there is no awareness of outside surroundings. However, one remains aware that there is someone having an experience. The sense of personal identity still remains, albeit in a highly tenuous or gossamer fashion.
In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, all three of the classical formulations are experienced: being, consciousness, and bliss. One knows that identity between Brahman and Atman. There is no longer any differentiation. Your awareness has passed all sense of the relative, and dwells for a time in the Absolute (or the Void – in this state of consciousness, the distinction is meaningless.)
When Samadhi first occurs, there is a beginning of enlightenment. It takes a while for the impact of this Samadhi to permeate one’s life, although the change is immediate and unmistakable. It is common for this to be Savikalpa Samadhi; more rarely, the aspirant leaps into Nirvikalpa Samadhi..Either way, upon returning to waking consciousness it is never the same. Over the ensuing months or years this influence transforms all of their life, every facet of who they are. Eventually, those who had Savikalpa Samadhi will have Nirvikalpa Samadhi, if not in this lifetime then in the very next.
Those who receive Nirvikalpa Samadhi may choose to reincarnate. If they do, they will have to do sadhana, because the human nervous system must be trained to receive Samadhi. However, it is easier and more spontaneous for those who return. They tend to have deep spiritual experiences from an early age, receive Samadhi at an early age, and integrate it into their lives more readily.
They may have repeated experiences of Samadhi, and learn to use it as a tool to benefit others and to further their own spiritual evolution. Patanjali calls this “doing samyama.”
If this is persisted in, one gets to the stage where deep Samadhi is available just by closing the eyes, and Bhava Samadhi – the Samadhi of bliss - becomes one’s normal waking state. Now, in order to continue to inhabit a human body in this manifestation, one must retain some karma, some imperfection, some personality quirks. So those observing someone who has entered this stage, known as Sahaj Samadhi, may be disappointed to see the enlightened one act like an ordinary person – irrationally, in other words. This is not a contradiction; it is simply a lack of understanding of the nature of incarnation in such a universe.
Should one persist in sahaj Samadhi long enough, one will become a Buddha, one for whom there are no more teachings, but whose life is his own teaching. He no longer has a teacher or guru, and no longer has any doctrine. His own wisdom flows spontaneously to fulfill the need of the moment. Whether he has no disciples or several million makes no difference at all.
When one has lived in the state long enough, there comes the Dharma Megha Samadhi. The Dharma Megha Samadhi is beyond form or emptiness. Absolute and relative have no meaning. Although all enlightened people have seen the emptiness of all polarities, the Dharma Megha Samadhi takes us beyond even that, to where polarity or no polarity no longer matters. There is no more enlightened one, no adept, no master, no arhat, no bodhisattva, no Buddha, no Brahman, no Atman. You just live. In this world, as it is.
In the summer of 2008, I was taken very deeply into a state of Samadhi unlike what I’d experienced before. It was like Nirvikalpa Samadhi, but seemed qualitatively different. As usual, time had no meaning, but upon arousal I found it had lasted for an hour. I wrote about it to some close spiritual companions at the time, saying that it felt like an initiation into something new, but I did not know what that could be.
Previously, such initiations had heralded an entry into a new state of consciousness. In 1976 for instance when I first had Savikalpa Samadhi, it ushered in the experience of enlightenment, learning to live in a new state of awareness of what relative and absolute do and don’t mean – reconciliation of the polarities, as it has been called.
Or in 1989, when I first experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi and began to comprehend what samyama is about. At that time, for a period of six weeks, there was never a time, waking or sleeping, when I was not in Samadhi. While sleep or at work, I was in Bhava Samadhi. While doing asanas or pranayama, I was in Savikalpa Samadhi. And in meditation, I'd drop spontaneously into Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Often, while doing asanas, my body would assume the seated position with no volition of my own and I'd enter effortlessly into Nirvikalpa Samadhi, sometimes for hours.
Or in 2000, when I entered into Sahaj Samadhi, my whole life having been so infused with samadhic experience that I came to know that I was always immersed in that state, that whatever else I might be doing, I was never not in Samadhi. You see, Samadhi is not something you do or don’t have, now you see it and now you don’t. Samadhi is our true, pure, primordial state, upon which are overlaid various other experiences of increasing illusion as they partake less and less of what is always going on at our core. Once you know that – not think it or believe it but experience it as ever-present reality – you are in the state of Sahaj Samadhi.
This was my goal. For decades I believed it to be the summum bonum of spiritual experience, the which than which there is no whicher. I was wrong.
Which brings me back to my abhishekha (Sanskrit: sprinkling, anointing, opening, initiation) of 2008. On the one hand, it felt more profound than anything I had previously experienced. On the other, there was no new state of consciousness as I had come to expect. If anything, all of that mattered less. My vision seemed clear, with a clarity like nothing before. My soul felt light, even buoyant. Everyday life had an attraction that it never had before. Spiritual teachings and pursuits did not have the same draw; I no longer needed them, although I still enjoy them very much. I am no longer this or that, no longer an “____ist” of any sort. I am just me. Certain gifts of which I have long been aware, such as the gift of healing, have been energized like never before. I am happier, and calmer.
I've since become aware that this is the fruit of the Dharma Megha Samadhi, which is what I experienced in the summer of 2008.
I can’t say that my journey is over. It doesn’t feel like it. I don’t think there is a final ending place, some state of consciousness in which you are all done. I used to think there was. What, after all, could come after Buddhahood? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. It just doesn’t need a name. It may not need a description. I’d say “I’ll let you know when I get there” but I suspect that there is no “there ” to get to. I hope not; I’m fully content with that.
We’ll see. Of that much I’m sure. If there is no destination, there remains the journey. See you on down the road.