Understanding ignorance, death, meditation and samadhi

The Tree of Life

This article explains the difference between ignorance, death, meditation and samadhi.


"If you understand only these issues — ignorance, death, meditation, and samadhi — everything will be revealed to you. No book can go beyond this."

Swami Rama in Path of Fire and Light 2, Chapter 3


It is not enough to read the scriptures or their commentaries to understand ignorance, death, meditation and samadhi. These dark words do have not the power to enlighten us and free us of our ignorance. To know the meaning of ignorance, death, meditation and samadhi, you need direct experience and a guide who has a comprehensive knowledge and experience of the same. These teachings are revealed gradually to sincere students who are have made a commitment to the path and have a burning desire for direct knowledge. 

The diagram of the yogic anatomy is a visual representation of these teachings. It can take many years of systematic meditation to gain direct insight into the deeper meaning of this diagram. 

The mortal self

The mortal self is made of three parts:

  • the senses
  • the body 
  • the conscious mind 

The senses

The most gross and outward oriented aspects of the body are the senses. These objects of the world are food for the senses. The senses feast upon the objects of the world.

Yoga Darshan, the science leading to union of the Individual Self and the Universal Sef, recognizes 10 senses unlike modern science which recognizes only the five cognitive senses.

The five cognitive senses of Yoga Darshan are the same as in modern science. In Yoga Darshan they are known as Jnana Indriyas. These are:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch

Additionally in Yoga Darshan there are five active senses known as Karma Indriyas. These are:

  • Speech
  • Locomotion
  • Grasping
  • Sexual reproduction
  • Elimination 

Note: In the diagram only five senses shown for the sake of simplicity. There are however a total of ten senses. 

The body 

The physical body is an instrument you use to live out the desires that are stored in the active and latent unconscious mind and therefore, it is important you take care of your body. The body is also the residence of the true Self and should be treated like a temple. When you treat your body as something sacred you will never abuse it in any way.  

The breath

The breath is a bridge between body and mind. Contrary to popular belief, pranayama is not done at this level, which is rather superficial. Only breathing exercises are done at this level. True pranayama as practiced by the masters is practiced at a much deeper level. The breath however is a barometer of the mind and vice versa. Thus, the breath is of great importance for those interested in knowing and developing a relationship with the mind.

The conscious mind

The conscious mind is your waking state. It is a bunch of habitual thinking patterns with which you relate to your external world.

The senses, body and conscious mind are aspects of the mortal self. This means that when a person dies, the mortal self falls away. 

The partially mortal self

The unconscious mind has two aspects, active and latent as known in modern psychology. Yoga Darshan knew of and had a comprehensive knowledge of both the active and latent unconscious mind already thousand years ago. These states of consciousness have been recorded in the Mandukya Upanishad and are known as Taijasa and Prajna respectively. 

The unconscious mind is semi-mortal. When an ordinary mortal dies, the partially mortal self carries information, such as desires, fears and emotions to another life. This information is recorded in the form of samskaras that lead us to further action (karma) in life and upon death, the same samskaras lead us to another birth. It is the unconscious mind that is the cause of the cycle of death, birth and death. It is this cycle that is considered as bondage. 

The immortal Self

The unconscious mind is purified when the internal conflicts within the unconscious mind are resolved. As the desires in the mind are fulfilled, fears attenuated, and all the impressions of the mind eventually burnt in the fire of knowledge, the Individual Self is freed from bondage of reincarnation. Through the practice of systematic meditation an aspirant can reduce the impressions, until he can finally “burn” them in the state of samadhi. This is the fire of knowledge and when this happens, the atman (the center of consciousness) is free. This free Individual Self or Atman realizes it is one and the same as the Universal Self, Paramatman or God. 

In the diagram the center of consciousness is yoked to the partially mortal self and mortal self. This is Adi Prana, the first unit of life. True masters know the secret of Adi Prana and thus have a completely different understanding of pranayama.

Avidya (or Ignorance)

The paradox about ignorance is that the ignorant does not know he is ignorant. You know you were ignorant only after you have come out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of knowledge. This is only possible with the direct experience of Samadhi, even though it may be only a brief glimpse. 

Ignorance is not knowing that you are pure consciousness and everything is transient. It means you are constantly identifying with objects of the world, body or mind and holding on to these as though they were permanent and changeless.

With reference to the diagram ignorance means you are focussed on the senses on the extreme left hand side and remain identified with the objects of the world. It also means you have no direct awareness of the extreme right hand side of the above diagram, that is, the center of consciousness or pure consciousness. 


Samadhi is the opposite of Avidya or Ignorance. Samadhi means having direct knowledge of the true Self. This is not about intellectual or book knowledge. When you are established in pure consciousness and a Witness to all things transient you are in a state of samadhi. 

With reference to the diagram, this means you are identified with Pure Consciousness on the extreme right side of the diagram. Everything else in the diagram, that is the not-Self, is witnessed. 

 Systemactic meditation goes from gross to subtle

Systematic Meditation

Now that you have a basic understanding of ignorance and samadhi, you can understand meditation. Meditation is that systematic method, using complementary practices, that leads from ignorance to samadhi. Put differently, systematic meditation takes the practitioner gradually from the gross to the subtle to the subtle-most Self. 

Systematic meditation is not the same as meditation techniques that help in stress management. These are superficial.


Death is separation


Impelled by one's own mental habit patterns also known as samskaras, an ordinary mortal, lives an unconscious life, believing he has choices, when in fact, he is merely a slave of his own mind patterns called samskaras. When the body is no longer a useful instrument to live out the mind patterns the mortal dies.

Death is separation. It is the separation of senses, body and conscious mind from the unconscious mind and the true Self. The unconscious mind is also called jiva.The Self is called Atman. The jiva and Atman together are called jivatman. The jivatman is a vehicle that travels from one life to the next until it is freed from its own bondage. Thus, physical death is not the end of the journey; it is only a temporary separation of the jivatman from the conscious mind, body and senses. The jivatman is reborn in a new body that is suitable to live out the remaining impressions. Generally, the jivatman evolves with every birth to higher levels of consciousness, until it frees itself from the impressions in the unconscious mind.

The one trapped by the mind patterns of the conscious mind and the impressions in the unconscious mind has little or no free will. Such a person dies an unconscious death repeatedly. 

A sage transcends the habit patterns of the conscious mind and has become fully conscious of the impressions in the unconscious mind. Only such a being is immortal, since he is established in the center of consciousness and can consciously leave his body. He wears the body like a garment and can drop it when he chooses. The sages who leave their bodies consciously in a state of samadhi are called jivanmuktas. The sage witnesses the process of separation from the mortal self. Such a conscious process of dropping the physical body is called mahasamadhi. This is no ordinary death.


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