Samadhi commonly refers to the tomb of a holy man, or a place where his relics are stored, or a place where he was cremated, example Gandhi Samadhi. Traditionally, while most Hindus were cremated, a saint’s dead body is buried, and the burial site becomes a holy shrine.
Many Hindus believe that a holy man does not die, but is able to voluntarily liberate, through yogic practices, his life-force (jiva-atma) from the mortal flesh (deha) so that it unites with the cosmic infinite life-force (param-atma).
So, at a very young age, in the 13th century, we are told that the saint Dyaneshwara who wrote the first regional work on the Gita, took samadhi. The historian DD Kosami referred to this as ritual suicide annoying many devotees who refuse to see samadhi as suicide.
The idea of voluntarily killing oneself, or setting free one’s jiva-atma through starvation (sallekhana, in Jainism) or by drowning (jal-samadhi, observed by Ram in Ramayana) or by burning oneself (the infamous and now illegal practice of sati) is part of Indian lore, long before suicide came to be seen as ‘sin against God’ after the entrenchment of Christian mythology in modern thought.
But in the text Yoga Sutra, the word Samadhi is used at the final step of the 8-part yoga process (ashta-anga-yoga). And when gurus speak of it, they tend to be vague about what exactly it is.
A clue to what it is lies in the logic progression seen from step 1 of the yoga-sutra, which deals with relationships, to steps 3, 4, 5 and 6 which involves increased withdrawal using discipline, body, breath and sensory control, to steps 6 and 7 which deal with mental exercises such as awareness and attention.
Another way of looking at Samadhi is to realise that’s the path that enables the monk, who renounces the world, to return to the material world, at peace with the idea of death and suffering.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned leadership consultant, mythologist, author and communicator whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, religion, mythology, and management.