Human potential and samadhi states

In the last section, we provided a quote from William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience [4], in which he indicated the universality of the unitive experience. But James goes on to make the point that, despite its universality, there are clearly many different kinds of unitive experience:

But even this presumption from the unanimity of mystics is far from being strong. In characterizing mystic states as pantheistic, optimistic, etc., I am afraid I over-simplified the truth. I did so for expository reasons, and to keep the closer to the classic mystical tradition. The classic religious mysticism, it now must be confessed, is only a ‘privileged case’. It is an extract, kept true to type by the selection of the fittest specimens and their preservation in ‘schools’. It is carved out from a much larger mass; and if we take the larger mass as seriously as religious mysticism has historically taken itself, we find that the supposed unanimity largely disappears. To begin with, even religious mysticism itself, the kind that accumulates traditions and makes schools, is much less unanimous than I have allowed. It has been both ascetic and antinomianly self-indulgent within the Christian church. It is dualistic in Sankhya, and monistic in Vedanta philosophy, I called it pantheistic; but the great Spanish mystics are anything but pantheists. They are with few exceptions non-metaphysical minds, for whom ‘the category of personality’ [i.e., a personal God] is absolute. The ‘union’ of man with God is for them much more like an occasional miracle than like an original identity. How different again, apart from the happiness common to all, is the mysticism of Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Richard Jefferies, and other naturalistic pantheists, from the more distinctively Christian sort. The fact is that the mystical feeling of enlargement, union, and emancipation has no specific intellectual content whatever of its own. It is capable of forming matrimonial alliances with material furnished by the most diverse philosophies and theologies, provided only they can find a place in their framework for its peculiar emotional mood.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience [4]

The Hindu tradition contributes a taxonomy for classifying some of the various unitive experiences. In this tradition, such unitive experiences are given the name, samadhis. Samadhis are traditionally understood to be states of absorption in the Greater Reality:

Samadhi, yogic ‘enstasis’, is the final result of the crown of all the ascetic’s spiritual efforts and exercises. The meanings of the term Samadhi are union, totality; absorption in, complete concentration of mind; conjunction. The usual translation is ‘concentration’, but this embarks the risk of confusion with dharana. Hence we have preferred to translate it ‘enstasis’, ‘stasis’, and conjunction.

Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom [7]

These experiences are classified into various categories. For example, savikalpa samadhi, nirvikalpa samadhi, and jnana samadhi, are three distinct samadhi states, whose distinguishing features we will explore in Books 10 and 11. We shall distinguish those which are states of absorption in the Greater Reality (e.g., savikalpa samadhi and nirvikalpa samadhi) from those which are states of identification with the Subjective Substratum (e.g., jnana samadhi).

The emphasis on (many) samadhi states as states of absorption is useful, because it allows us to arrange along a single continuum both our conventional states, and these extraordinary samadhi states. That continuum is defined by the search for perfect unity and absorption through some object; only the object varies along the spectrum.

You cannot be silly, egoically “self-possessed” householders and still Realize everything. You talk about things that console you in the most mundane sense, as if they are great Samadhis. They are samadhis of a kind, states of absorption, bizarre ecstasies of egoic “self-possession” and utter distraction in which nothing else is noticed, like hormonally induced obsessions – “All I want to do is to have sex and fool around.” That is samadhi, but it is an absurd samadhi. It is not Great Samadhi. There is nothing Divine about it. It is the samadhi of distractedness by all kinds of emotional-sexual objects, patterning, and adaptation. Everything is excluded except the object of obsession, and you feel, “This is it, this is good, this is what life is all about, and what I should devote myself to. It feels perfectly good – why should I not just do it? What has anything else got to do with anything? I do not even know about anything else. All I know about is genitals!” Or household security – whatever your obsession may be. You are in a kind of samadhi! You are not yet involved in the advanced and the ultimate stages of life [and the greater samadhis] because you are involved in a lesser samadhi.

Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj, “The Samadhis of Egoity”, in Ishta [8]

NEXT: The multi-dimensional Greater Reality