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The word Samadhi seems to show up regularly in things related to Zen and Buddhism, but what does it mean, what role does it play, major or otherwise, in either or both? Before we get too deep into such a discussion, it should be clarified somewhat what Samadhi IS in the firstplace, where it came from, and how it became, or is an integral part of the "path."...


The word Samadhi became a part of the vocabulary of a number of Western intellectuals toward the end of the 1930s and from there filtered down into the general lexicon. Two well-known writers, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood, were impressed by Eastern and specifically by Indian thought. They did not find Indian spirituality by journeying to India, however--rather it was India which found them; and the variety of Indian spirituality with which these Englishmen came into contact in California in the late 1930s was that of the Vedanta Society, founded by Swami Vivekananda and his followers, who were monks of the Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Order of India.


Although Buddhism and Zen Buddhism have a long history of the use and knowledge of Samadhi from their origins in the Indian tradition, nobody had heard much of or the need or use of it before Huxley or Isherwood. That doesn't mean it did not exist, only that it did not play a major or high profile role. It must be remembered that for the most part Buddhism and Zen was not well known as a general concept prior to World War II.


The first point to be noted is that the word Samadhi does not occur in the ten major Upanishads upon which Sankara has commented. This is not a matter to be lightly passed over, for if the attainment of Samadhi is central to the experiential verification of the Vedanta, as we can gather it is, judging by the statements of some modern Vedantins such as those cited above, then one would legitimately expect the term to appear in the major Upanishads which are the very source of the Vedanta. Yet the word does not occur.


Duality, such as the fundamental distinction between subject and object, is obliterated in deep sleep and in Samadhi, as well as in other conditions such as fainting, but duality is only temporarily obliterated for it reappears when one awakes from sleep or regains consciousness after fainting, and it also reappears when the yoga arises from Samadhi. The reason why duality persists is because false knowledge (mithyajana) has not been removed.

  • The attainment of Samadhi is not a sufficient cause to eradicate false knowledge, and since false knowledge is the cause of bondage, Samadhi cannot therefore be the cause of liberation.

Zen Master Seung Sahn(4) speaks of two stories that illuminate the dangers of attaching to Samadhi