In the stage of samadhi the soul finds its true home. Having shed the three encircling bodies of the flesh, light, and thought (physical, astral, causal), the soul merges back into the Great Light of God, the Infinite Spirit, Bliss eternal. But there are various stages of samadhi as taught in the scriptures of India. Paramhansa Yogananda simplified, and clarified, these stages into two.
The first stage, sabikalpa samadhi, is reminiscent of our description of the seventh stage, dhyana. In sabikalpa samadhi the soul achieves Oneness with God but returns to ego awareness. While the same is said of dhyana, the difference is that in samadhi the soul passes beyond the 3 bodies, beyond the 3 cosmoses and into the Bliss sphere of God, beyond all duality and vibration. In dhyana, the Oneness achieved is Self-realization as the soul, not as the Infinite. The soul here being that individualized spark of the Infinite that exists within creation.
Yogananda taught that like the caged bird finding the door open, the soul flies into sabikalpa for brief periods at first. The progression from sabikalpa to nirbikalpa is one that, to my knowledge, he did not give an account of. He did teach that the soul is not yet free in sabikalpa and can yet fall again, spiritually, by attachments and desires which may yet be stimulated.
As the bird takes time to gain confidence in his flying from the cage, we cannot say how much "time" is required to achieve final liberation once the soul experiences sabikalpa samadhi. As yet the book of life is not yet ended.
In sabikalpa samadhi the physical form is inert, fixed, and appears even to be sleeping or dead to the casual or unknowing observer. But, by and by, with ever deeper forays into the Infinite Spirit, the soul sheds ever more its more limiting identities and attachments. At one point, though it returns to ordinary wakefulness, it retains its awareness of its Infinite source and identity. Thus is achieved the final stage of nirbikalpa samadhi and one becomes a jivan mukta (freed while yet living incarnate).
Yet at this point, past karma remains. The jivan mukta forever freed from ego affirmation or fresh new desires has a train of box cars of past incarnations to unravel the knot of ego-identity and doership. The soul now has no compelling need to rush, as time and space have been transcended. Yet if the soul wishes he can work out such past karma in any number of ways: on the causal plane, by incarnating into multiple bodies (for speed and efficiency), or by just taking his time. Perhaps the jivan mukta uses the karmic chain to remain and to help close disciples.
Yogananda taught that we cannot achieve liberation without liberating at least six others. This apparently simultaneous equation is hopefully semantics more than literal, but the point remains that we cannot achieve freedom for ourselves alone. What else would be Infinity if not union with all souls, in sympathy, love, and compassion?
Still, most souls, once freed from past karma as well, are said to vanish into the Infinite. Only if called forth by the devotion's frost of prior disciples and the will of God, would such souls appear. When at last the jivan mukta achieves final freedom, he becomes a siddha. If a siddha returns to physical form it is only to assist others and such a one becomes an avatar -- a savior. Some do so in the public eye, others unseen, each according to the divine will and the unique patterns of such soul's eternal thumbprint.
An avatar is said to have unlimited spiritual power to uplift other souls whereas a jivan mukta may have only a few disciples or a siddha somewhat more limited scope.
I've seen in my own service of teaching and of spiritual community that one can see how different souls are attracted together in seemingly mysterious ways which, over long (perhaps vast) periods of repeated incarnations, can evolve into a guru-disciple relationship. Thus it is not difficult to imagine how each soul helps free other souls, even, more or less simultaneously. Also, however, one soul may fall spiritually, perhaps greatly (or so it would appear). Yet that soul's guru-to-be by the inextricable linkage of karma finds that soul and in some way renders spiritual and material aid.
There are stories of the disciple who advances faster than the guru and who, therefore, in the bond of spiritual friendship, helps the guru who may have fallen. Here, then, we do not refer to the "sat guru" but, well, lacking a term, a guru-to-be. Indeed one's sat (savior-avatar) guru may be, say, Jesus Christ, but one may have a twin soul with whom one's path of ascension is linked. But here we edge toward an abyss of unaswered questions.
Apparently it must be so that to liberate (at least) six others, one need not be an avatar. One might be part of a larger spiritual family the head of which is an avatar, however. Swami Kriyananda writes that upon the death of one of Yogananda's most advanced disciples (Sister Gyanamata), Yogananda pronounced that she was free. Then, answering a silent question that arose in Kriyananda's mind ("Well, then, where are her six disciples?"), Yogananda added, "She had disciples." Clearly Yogananda was the sat guru, you see?
Terms such as salvation, freedom, liberation, or enlightenment have various meanings according to intention and context. Ultimate freedom will always be the state of nirbikalpa samadhi from there is no loss of beatitude, regardless of whether incarnate or in the Bliss sphere. But such usage can also mean "final" freedom, even from past karma. It just depends. Certainly many who are considered saints are not liberated in the sense of nirbikalpa samadhi: they may be wise, compassionate, devotional, or self-sacrificing. The state of samadhi may be withheld from them as they perform their God-given, karma-guided earth duties. Only later, perhaps on the astral plane, do they receive their reward, or, late in life, or, upon death.
It's very likely that among church-ordained "saints" few have achieved (in that incarnation) nirbikalpa samadhi. Thus it is that the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" can manifest long before final liberation. No doubt that's why the church abstains from its blessing until the saint is safely dead and buried! Yogananda said very few of the saints he wrote about (other than his own line of gurus) in "Autobiography of a Yogi" were free.
When, in daily life, we act with the consciousness that we are part of all, we partake of the attitude of samadhi. Yogananda recommended that we read and memorize his poem, Samadhi. (You may email me for a free copy taken from the original edition of his autobiography as published by Crystal Clarity Publishers.) I recite it everyday and have found its subtle influence growing steadily together with his presence.
He said he wrote it on the New York subway, riding up and down the line, unnoticed by anyone! His poem, Samadhi, is the latest in the line of mystical literature given to us by the great ones down through the ages. Attempting to describe the undescribable, it uses our English language and images we can relate to in this day and age. It is vibrant with spiritual power.
Think Samadhi; feel Samadh; radiate Samadhi to all.
Thank you for participating in this 8-fold blog series. I don't write for sound bites but only from inspiration, but I would be happy to receive any suggestions.
Blessings to all,