The sage Patanjali did not waste much time in defining yoga. In the second stanza of the “Yoga Sutras” he said, “Yoga is the complete cessation of the modifications of the mind”.
And what happens when the mind becomes still? This is answered in the next stanza: “Consciousness then resides with the Self”.
The ultimate aim of yoga is to achieve the state where all thoughts have ceased. This state is known as Samadhi. The first Samadhi that a Yogi achieves is known as “Savikalapa Samadhi”.
In Savikalapa Samadhi thoughts have ceased but there is an awareness of one’s separate identity. The ego still exists along with the mind even in this state of complete calm. The person is not “realized” and remains trapped in the mind. The meditator remains at the “doorstep of God” while not quite opening the door.
“Vasana” is an yogic term for our attachments and desires. Vasanas are caused by the ego and are our source of bondage and separation from the Self. In Savikalapa Samadhi Vasanas still exist. And when the yogi comes out of this Samadhi she is like any other normal human. Effort is needed to get into this Samadhi and remain in it.
James Lynn was a disciple of Yogananda and he meditated everyday for at least three hours based on the instructions given by Yogananda. He was a busy millionaire businessman but he still made time for his meditation and because of his diligent effort he achieved Savikalapa Samadhi in just a few years.
The ego remains intact in Savikalapa Samadhi and when one comes out of the Samadhi all the desires and attachments return. The yogi may attain some extraordinary powers known as Siddhis, and if she is not careful, this may result in a strengthening of the ego as in, “I am such a super spiritual person!” and the Savikalapa Samadhi may become difficult to attain again.
If however one persists in meditation without letting Siddhis be a distraction then slowly Vasanas are weakened. At some point the yogi reaches a state of Samadhi where the ego and mind are temporarily suspended. This is a “non-dual” state and is known as “Nirvikalapa Samadhi”. However transitioning from Savikalapa to Nirvikalapa is a discontinuous process. For most it is a scary experience and the meditator usually tries to jump back to the familiar and comfortable state of Savikalapa Samadhi. She experiences the Nirvikalapa state as no more than a trance or a swoon.
If the yogi persists then eventually she becomes bold enough to resist the shock of transitioning into the Nirvikalapa state of Samadhi. A complete state of non-duality is experienced and the experience of Self is realized. In this state the mind is completely arrested and the ego and mind are suspended. This is a state of breathlessness. The yogi is able to hold this state for periods of up to 30 minutes at the outset. During these periods “transcendental bliss” is experienced in a new state of consciousness. This non-dual state of consciousness is known as Turiya.
After Yogananda passed away, James Lynn, struggled with his meditation. He was unable to proceed beyond Savikalapa Samadhi. He faced many difficulties and doubts and there was a period of three days when he experienced “complete spiritual blackout” where he could not hold his Samadhi at all. But he did not give up and continued with his effort. Eventually he was able to breakthrough into Nirvikalapa Samadhi and experience Turiya for the first time.
When the Yogi comes out of the Nirvikalapa Samadhi the ego and the mind that were suspended come back. The Vasanas are also back. In the beginning the yogi is unable to make much sense of the experience and finds it difficult to explain it to others. Again care must be taken, as downfall is possible from here too. It is easy to slide back into the land of duality and ego. If this happens then the yogi is no longer able to attain the Turiya state of consciousness again.
The great Yogi Paramahamsa Hariharananda said that true meditation begins when the Nirvikalapa state of Samadhi is reached. One has to continue with meditation, as the final goal has not yet been realized. If one continues the effort, slowly the Vasanas are eliminated one by one. The soul slowly disentangles itself from all its attachments and desires. Slowly our experience deepens and the state becomes more permanent, requiring less effort. Even now the yogi is experiencing Turiya as a “fourth state of consciousness” separate from normal consciousness, dreaming, and deep sleep.
Eventually the yogi reaches a state of complete liberation, when all Vasanas are eliminated. No longer any effort is needed to experience Turiya, which becomes permanently established even in deep sleep. Now there is only one state of consciousness and it is Turiya. The ego and the mind are completely dissolved and no longer a state of breathlessness is required to hold Turiya. The state of Samadhi achieved now is known as “Sahaja Samadhi”. The soul is completely liberated from all its entanglements and merges with God. Many yogis who reach such a state quietly pass away. Some have to stay back and do so by living out their lives completely anonymously. A very few are impelled to let others know about their state and inspire them to follow their path.
Here is the dilemma the rest of us face: How do we know what state of Samadhi the yogi has reached? How do we know that the yogi is speaking with ego and ambition or not? Just because an advanced state of Samadhi has been achieved does not mean that all the Vasanas have been conquered and the ego does not exist. Even when a Yogi has reached the ultimate state, the Sahaja Samadhi, even then it is difficult to understand and interpret her words. The Yogi is speaking from a non-dual point of view and we are hearing these and interpreting them from our dualistic perspective. There is great room for confusion and error. It is therefore important not to get into endless debates of some finer points. Or try and pit the teachings of one Guru versus another.
The key is to take the bigger message and run with it: Yoga is about doing and not debating. Yoga is about self-transformation. This self-transformation relies on progressively silencing the chatter of thoughts. The ultimate aim of Yoga is to reach a state of peace where our awareness transcends the ego and the mind, and merges with the Creator.
Related: What Is Enlightenment?