Enlightenment is the nature of every being. You don’t have to develop or import it. Man is very fortunate that he is able to realize this supreme state. All beings in the world are permeated through and through by the divine principle but they are not aware of it. Man alone has become aware, and he has been developing this awareness right from the beginning of civilization.

The divine experience

If you would ask what is the real form of enlightenment at the point of realization, some would say light and others knowledge. I think the best term for it is 'experience'. But experience of what? Experience of totality, one without a second. That experience cannot be described. If you have eaten mangoes and I have never tasted them, you are not going to be able to explain their taste to me. In the same manner, if I have experienced enlightenment and you have not, I can never explain it to you and you can never understand it.

The divine experience is very different from the mental experience of pain and pleasure, the emotional experience of love and hate, or the sleep experience. After that experience, man no longer remains an experiencer. When salt merges in water, it becomes one with the water. In the same way, when the experiencer experiences the non-empirical experience, he no longer exists as what we call an ordinary experiencer. The knower of Brahman or God becomes God. He loses his individuality, his limitations. That is the divine experience which man has when he becomes purified.

Enlightenment is something like a state of becoming. You become that, you live that, you are that. You are not a seer, a knower, or a witness of that experience and you cannot exercise it. That is why many saints have lived like fools. People either call them mystic visionaries or crazy men. There are many names for enlightened people. In the West they are known as cynics, and in India they are called avadhoots.

Objective awareness

In yogic terminology this divine experience is known as samadhi. Samadhi is not a state of ecstasy, trance or unconsciousness, as some people believe. It is a state of awareness, beyond time and space, where the mental body no longer functions. The state which we are experiencing now is not samadhi, because there is simultaneous awareness of so many things. We see, taste, smell, listen, feel, think and know. These mundane experiences are an expression of the interaction between the senses, mind and object.

Experience takes place because of duality, and ego creates this duality. Transcending duality is the main purpose of spiritual life. Duality does not refer only to two, but more than two — multiplicity. It means perception after perception, where the experience, experiencer and experienced are all taking place concurrently.

Many people have fantastic experiences which they mistake for the divine. For example, one may be able to hear music clearly and completely without the aid of the ears. This is an experience, no doubt, but it is not the ultimate. One can have thousands of similar experiences during meditation, but none of them are absolute because you are experiencing them. As long as there is experience and experiencer, there is ego; and where there is ego, there cannot be absolute.

Journey of the ego

Ego is a very subtle principle of life which follows the soul like a shadow follows the man. Throughout the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, the same ego migrates in different names and forms. At the time of death, the ego withdraws itself from the manifested state to the unmanifest state. It enters into the causal body as dormant potential, and the moment you are given birth by your mother, the ego manifests. With the additional experiences and impressions which accumulate in the course of daily life, the ego becomes more and more fixed.

In yoga, the ego is known as asmita or I-ness. It is the normal self-awareness by which you know yourself as an individual. It is the ego which brings you back each morning from your death-like sleep. It is because of this principle that dreams are broken and sleep is disturbed. In pratyahara, although the mind is dissociated from the sensory nerve channels, the ego is still present. In dharana, when concentration takes place and you begin to see visions, there is still ego, otherwise you would have no awareness, no knowledge of the experience.

Ego remains with you right up through the early stages of samadhi. There is a point when samadhi begins, and another point where it becomes full. Between these two points there is a large range of human behaviour, and at one stage, different emotions of human life become very keen. Fear comes out, ego becomes very terrible, sexual fantasies become immense. There are references to these experiences in the lives of Buddha and Christ. It is said that Christ was tempted by Satan. Mara, or the devil, came to Buddha and troubled him the whole night. From the yogic point of view, these references describe the stage after the awakening of enlightenment, when samskaras and karmas quickly burst out.

The last animal vestiges come out, and passion, anger, greed, ego, attachment, vanity, pride, jealousy, neurosis, fear of death and many other things may appear. That is the reason why it is recommended that when the awakening begins, up to the time it becomes stable, the aspirant should cut himself off and go into seclusion. Otherwise it will create chaos. He will abuse everybody, and do all kinds of funny things. That is also the rule when there is awakening of kundalini. The sadhaka should seclude himself, and minimize his worldly activities.

Due to the play of Satan, many yoga practitioners develop very big egos. Such people should seclude themselves from social interactions for a while and perfect their samadhi. When a person is steadfast in spiritual awareness, then he becomes fully illumined. When samadhi becomes stable, virtues automatically bloom forth and the behaviour is divine. You will never find such a person criticizing or abusing. He will have innate humility. He will not only show love, but will have love for all.

The range of savikalpa samadhi

The moment you start to lose awareness of sense objects, samadhi begins. But this is not the final experience. The awareness must plunge deeper into this domain until ultimately it reaches the sphere of pure consciousness. Here the experiences are completely withdrawn just as in deep sleep. There is no motion, no object to be perceived by any medium or channel of the senses.

In yoga there is a book of four chapters known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, in which it states that samadhi is not a static point, but a field of superconsciousness composed of three separate domains. The first domain is savikalpa samadhi, a relative state, in which the mind is still functioning with a slight vibration.

Patanjali has charted the territory of savikalpa samadhi thoroughly and has left us a good road map to follow. Savikalpa begins with the state of dhyana yoga in which a smooth, unfluctuating flow of concentration is maintained towards the object of meditation. As the samadhi becomes deeper and deeper, the aspirant enters finer and finer realms of consciousness, and the object of meditation becomes subtler and more cosmic, until finally it disappears entirely.

Within the broad region of savikalpa, we have several progressive states. The first is savitarka samadhi, the state where there is only thought and nothing else. Here the object of meditation is represented by words, knowledge and sense perceptions. Then comes savichara samadhi, a state of reflection which is devoid of language and thinking, in which only imagination and vision are functioning. Next there is ananda samadhi where you have a feeling of total bliss. Finally, you reach asmita samadhi, where you attain complete awareness and knowledge of the Self.

During the progressive stages of savikalpa, various experiences of a psychic nature occur, such as the experience of light, scents, fire, sun and the moon, angels, devas and divinities. Many people mistake these psychic experiences for the ultimate experience. They may have some fantastic vision and think that it is total enlightenment. But it is the small remnant of ego in the mind which is experiencing all these things. Therefore, they come under the category of savikalpa samadhi.

Asamprajnata samadhi

The second domain of samadhi described by Patanjali is asamprajnata samadhi, the intermediate state. This is an unconscious state, yet a very dynamic one. Here there is no experience of the self, of any events, or even of the unconscious but still consciousness is functioning in a very dynamic way. Just as fish can swim, unseen and unknown, under the surface of the water, the inner awareness can be active underneath the surface of human consciousness. Asamprajnata samadhi is an intermediary state in which consciousness is trying to evolve to a higher dimension. It is like leaving your car at the airport, and waiting for some time in the transit lounge before boarding the plane.

In order to get to the third and highest stage of samadhi, you first must cross the great barrier of asamprajnata. This state of vacuum is also known as shoonyata or the void. At this point you become totally unconscious, totally helpless. It is not within your power to move or think in any way. Your connection with the inner guru and light of your soul alone determines your movement during this intermediate state of shoonyata. It may be possible for you to come out of this void into the highest stage of samadhi, or you may return time and again to the stage of savikalpa samadhi. When you are in this state of unconsciousness, there is no experience. You only know when you return from it that you had gone into it and that you came out again. The experience of savikalpa can be noted, it can be known, but not the void experience of asamprajnata.

Nirvikalpa samadhi

After crossing the uncharted area of asamprajnata, one enters the third stage of nirvikalpa samadhi, the domain of infinity. This is a totally subjective state in which there is only experience but no experiencer. It is the essence of what is, not what can be seen or known. Here, you are no longer a participant in the drama of life, but a creator. Neither Patanjali nor anybody else has said much about this tenuous state except that it is a perfect, absolute dimension, where one is free from the effects of karma and further incarnations, and total knowledge is gained.

It is important to note that savikalpa can be attained by most people, but to reach this stage of samadhi is not a matter of personal or individual effort. It is impossible to say what decides success or failure in the final attempt to attain nirvikalpa samadhi.

Living in the world

Many people wonder what happens to man’s life after this experience. Of course, it will vary according to the different stages of attainment. At one stage, there seems to be aversion to desires, while at the next and higher stage there is an acceptance, with an understanding of desire in relation to a greater life rather than in relation to oneself.

At a certain stage of evolution there is no care for oneself, but immediately after that, at a higher stage, there is a greater awareness of this body, not as an individual unit, separate from everything else, but as a part of the cosmic body.

At a certain level in spiritual life, you may feel like renouncing all your possessions. But then at a higher level, you will again start accumulating everything, just as you did in the beginning as a householder. Previously you have been collecting things instinctively, you were not clear about their purpose or meaning for you were almost completely submerged in ignorance. When you became enlightened, however, you still accumulate property, friends, knowledge or desires but with an unselfish purpose. You develop compassion for all living things, not only for your own wife and children.

Things remain the same, but the background changes, the vision is completely purified. You learn to live as part of the cosmic being and to combine this greater awareness with everyday life.

According to all canons, samadhi is the state where one’s total being can operate. That is why samadhi is the ultimate and the summum bonum of life. Just imagine if you had only one leg to walk on, but after some time a surgeon came and made it possible for you to walk on both legs. What a great relief that would be! Or if you were blind and could not see this beautiful world, and a surgeon restored your eyesight. Can you imagine your happiness, your bliss? In the same way, the experiences of the senses, the mind and emotions are also limited. When samadhi lights up the soul, you experience infinite fulfilment, satisfaction and bliss. That is why people everywhere are taking up the practices of yoga in order to attain it.

21 January 1980, Munger