The word Samadhi means to collect, or to come together (Access to Insight). To practice Samadhi involves meditative mental training and one-pointedness of mind leading to a state of effortless serenity and flow.
Imagine a time when you were doing something you loved and were totally consumed in doing what you were doing. Nothing interrupted your total awareness of that action, even your notion of self and possibly of your surroundings dropped away, until all that was there was the object of meditation. This state of absorption is Samadhi.
Samadhi is developed progressively, so there are varying degrees of Samadhi. However even the most advanced levels of Samadhi is not awakening in itself. Ven. Anzan Hoshin Roshi explains:
“Samadhi means ‘complete concentration’, to be fully and completely engaged. In the Buddha Dharma, it is taught that concentration, dwelling upon any particular state, any state whatsoever, is simply part of the game of self-image, the charade of self-image, the charade that there is anything that can be held on to. Dwelling within a samadhi state and propagating and continuing that state, it is taught, does not lead to liberation.”
Samadhi is similar to Jhana in this sense in that they are both impermanent, but blissful states, and therefore are in the realm of suffering. Once the blissful states end, the experiencer will suffer because they desire what they do not have.
Like all aspects of the 8 Fold Path, Samadhi has potential for whole (samma) and wrong (miccha) orientation. Buddha Net points out that whole or wrong samadhi depends on the object or activity of our concentration:
One-pointedness of mind can be of the right or wrong kind, because the power of the concentrated mind is enormous and can be directed toward harmful activities if not governed by wisdom.
In an article on Buddha Net written by J. Krishnamurti, S.N. Goenka is quoted speaking about the difference between right and wrong samadhi:
“A mind filled with craving is not wholesome, a mind filled with aversion is not wholesome, a mind filled with ignorance is not wholesome. When the mind is concentrated with the help of an object of craving, aversion or ignorance, it will achieve concentration, but it will be neither balanced nor equanimous. Such concentration of the mind is not proper, not pure, not conducive to happiness. Concentration that is dependent upon craving, aversion or ignorance is the absorption of an unbalanced mind-how can it be beneficial? […]
For the attainment of pure samadhi, an object based upon any kind of emotional fervour is not suitable. By this, the equanimity of the mind will be lost, the balance of the mind will be disturbed, the mind will become immersed in sentimentality and attachment that is full of craving. Even though the mind will become concentrated, purity will be missing…..”
How does one work with Whole Samadhi? For those practicing with Tibetan deities, Namgyal Rinpoche suggests:
“Perfection of Samadhi (which is the path of concentration developed, for example, by the practice of uniting consciousness with an object of meditation) is accomplished by working with Vajrapani. He is a bit wrathful on occasion. Sometimes force is needed to move into calm states. […] Vajrapani [is] for overcoming anger.”