Samadhi: A Unified Mind
Whenever I come across the translation term, meditative stabilization, for the Sanskrit word, samadhi, it always strikes me as such a mouthful of multiple syllables. Such is the tough job of translation–being faithful to the original and meaningful to the new audience at the same time. Quite often, it pleases neither.
One way of understanding the original term samadhi is to view it as made up of: “sam” (together or integrated), “ā” (towards), and “dhā” (to get, to hold). This would yield “to acquire integration, wholeness, or truth,” as its meaning, according to Wikipedia. I understand it as an unification of all the energies of our mental attention, so that they are directed towards the same object and work harmoniously in sync with one another. This is the very opposite of how our mind functions in our daily life, where our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions, jumping from one thought to another–a fragmentation of our mental attention.
A useful analogy is to think of light generated by an electric bulb: the light waves emitted from it travel in different directions and oscillate at different phases from one another. Compare this to a laser, where the energy of light is focused into a narrow beam with the light waves moving in phase with one another. Notice just how much more power is made available in a laser than in ordinary light.
Similarly, a mind in samadhi would be much more powerful than our ordinary mind, when its mental energies are gathered back and directed to a single focus, and the different aspects of the mind are working coherently with one another. The scriptural text described samadhi as “a one-pointedness of the mind with respect to an imputed thing.”
I prefer to imagine it as bringing together and unifying the different mental functions so that they settle onto the same object, as opposed to an image of forcing the mind to focus on a single point or object. The result of such an unification of mind is a sense of rest, ease, and well-being that comes from healing the fragmentation of our mind.
The text also mentioned that samadhi “has the function of acting as a support for knowledge.” When the mind is unified and focused, it naturally reveals its power to penetrate and to see clearly. Therefore, samadhi is regarded as the necessary condition for penetrative insight into reality, the so-called knowledge in the quote.
That just leaves one last thing, “the imputed object,” which is supposed to be the focal point of samadhi. This term simply implies that in deep samadhi, the object we engage in is a creation of the mental consciousness; it can be a visual image, an auditory one, or a purely conceptual one. However, it isn’t one that we engage directly with our physical senses. This is because in such unification of mind, our physical sensory consciousnesses have temporarily ceased to function. Think of it as in deep sleep, except that you are wide awake.
Published on September 26, 2011.
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