The Significance of Mahasamadhi - An Exposition by Mark McLaughlin

From Mortality to Immortality

Mahasamadhi, “the great merging,” takes place when a Siddha sheds the mortal body and merges into Brahman, the all-pervasive Consciousness. By this process, a Siddha—one who has mastered the pull of the senses, stilled the mind, and become one with the supreme Self—completely breaks free from the cycle of birth and death. This moment is of paramount significance as it marks the culminating and permanent freedom of the Siddha: the transition from jivanmukti, liberation while living, to videha-mukti, unbounded liberation. Such a being goes from mortality to immortality.

The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad describes this culminating event in the life of a perfected being:

One who is without desire, . . . whose desire has been attained, whose desire is the Self, their prana does not reincarnate. Being Brahman, they go to Brahman.1

The scriptures of India explain that the immortal realm can be attained by one who is a yogayukta, that is, one who is “yoked to yoga.”2 There are two classical definitions for yuj, the root of both yoga and yukta. The first is “yoke” or “join together.” The second definition of yuj concerns this practice of “yoking” or “joining together” on a subtle level; the root yuj then indicates the practice in meditation, of yoking the mind to an object to the point of complete identification with that object—a practice termed samadhi. Thus, it is by means of samadhi that a Siddha attains mahasamadhi.

Samadhi and Mahasamadhi

The word samadhi denotes both the process and the goal. Etymologically, samadhi derives from sam-a-dhā, which means “to put or place back together.” In this context, samadhi, the state of ultimate absorption in the Absolute, is attained by “putting” or “placing together” the senses and the breath in a disciplined way conducive to stilling the mind to the point at which one merges into Consciousness. The mind is thereby yoked to yoga, the state of union with the divine.

This is the definition of yoga found in the Katha Upanishad:

When the five senses together with the mind stand still, that they say is the highest state. That they consider yoga…3

In this way, one who is yogayukta is “yoked to samadhi” for the purpose of taking mahasamadhi. Even Lord Krishna chose to leave his earthly body in this way. According to the Mahabharata, when Lord Krishna decided that his earthly mission had completed its purpose, he drew together his senses, speech, and mind and reached mahayoga (that is, mahasamadhi) and departed.4

The Great Departure

The practice of meditation, mastered and taught by the Siddha Yoga Gurus as the means for the student to reach Self-realization, is the very same method a Siddha uses to merge with Brahman when the time has come to give up the mortal body.

The Vedas describe a central channel in the subtle body of each living being that runs up through the crown of the head.5 In the Upanishads the process of transcending the limitations of the body is understood to occur when the prana ascends along this channel, passing through the crown of the head to the realm of Brahman beyond.6 The yogi, by drawing the senses inward and focusing the breath on this central channel, becomes able to induce his own ascension, ultimately piercing the crown of the head and entering the immortal realm.

Lord Krishna, in chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita, describes how to attain the immortal realm upon departing from this world. The Lord says:

At the time of death, with unmoving mind, and yoked with devotion by the power of yoga, having caused the prana to enter the middle of the eyebrows, such a one goes up to the divine Supreme Being…
Having closed all the gates to the body, and restrained the mind in the heart, having placed the vital breath in the head, established in yogic concentration, uttering “AUM,” the single syllable that is Brahman, remembering me, one abandons the body and goes to the Supreme.7

If we compare this scriptural description with Baba Muktananda’s eyewitness account of the mahasamadhi of his Guru, Bhagavan Nityananda, we can recognize significant parallels with the teaching from the Bhagavad Gita. Baba writes:

Dr. Nicholson was gently rubbing Shri Gurudev’s palms, and I was gently rubbing his feet. The flow of prana left the feet. The doctor let go of his hands. The time of great liberation had come. The prana was rising upward. I caught hold of Shri Gurudev’s hands.
His face took on the same appearance that we had seen in the early days—the shambhavi mudra, an outward gaze with an inward focus. He cast a loving look, full of grace, at the devotees on all sides, and then turned his eyes upward. The sushumna-nadi throbbed between his eyebrows. The sound of Om, beautiful and melodious, was heard, and his life-breath, his prana, merged with the cosmic Consciousness.8

By becoming absorbed into samadhi, a Siddha allows the body to naturally pass away. Only by leaving the body in this way does one reach complete freedom, merging into pure Consciousness.

The Samadhi Shrine—A Sacred Space

In Hindu traditions it’s customary to cremate the body of a deceased person. The body of a Siddha is, however, buried. This tradition corresponds to the understanding that such a great being’s body has already been fully purified by the fire of yoga. The internal tapas, or heat, generated through a sustained and perfected practice of yoga has consumed the latent karmic impressions, or samskaras, thus rendering the body taintless. Moreover, the body of the realized sage who has attained Brahman is revered as a tirtha, a sacred site. The Kubjikamata Tantra states:

Those who are made perfect by the realization of wisdom, who are able to procreate wisdom—the place on which they take their stand, that is a tirtha in the supreme sense of the word… All tirthas are there where a Guru is present.9

With such notions in mind, we can begin to consider why the burial place of the realized sage is held to be so sacred. When average people die, it is by means of prana that they transmigrate to other realms and eventually take birth again. Moreover, it is by means of prana that the karmic impressions of a person’s past actions and merit (punya) are carried forward to bear fruit in future lives. Not so with the realized sage who has attained Brahman—such a being has no future births. What happens to the prana and the immense merit accrued by a great being?

Reflecting on the same Brhadaranyaka Upanishad verse cited at the beginning of this exposition, Baba Muktananda comments:

When an ordinary human being dies, the soul leaves the body and, according to its karma, goes on to take another form. But in the case of great beings who have realized their oneness with Brahman, with the highest Reality, with the all-pervasive Being, Consciousness, and Bliss (satcidananda), the prana does not travel to other planes; it does not leave the body.10

The punya, or merit, of a person is stored in the prana, and the prana of a realized sage remains in the crown of the head where they last concentrated it just prior to their departure from the body. Because their merit thus remains in their body, stored in their prana, the body is revered as a locus of sacred power which emanates the radiant presence of pure Consciousness. This radiant presence becomes the focal point of a samadhi shrine.

In this regard, Baba Muktananda says:

The tapasya of these great beings after realization of Brahman is not for their personal use, because they have nothing left to attain. It is for the benefit of others. This power remains in their samadhi shrines. Actually, this power is the same as the all-pervading pure Consciousness.11

As a locus of sacred power, the body of a realized sage is buried, the site is marked with a stone, and a shrine is built over the space. That such a space remains a conduit for the presence of the Siddha is reflected in the comments of the beloved Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi (1835-1918) prior to his own mahasamadhi. He assured his grieving disciples that “the stones of my samadhi will speak to you.”12

Baba Muktananda once said of Gurudev Siddha Peeth, “Until the end of time I am going to be sitting right here.”13 Baba is still sitting there, radiating his state of pure Consciousness from the very room where years earlier his Guru had him ritually installed. This is Baba’s samadhi shrine, and it is most definitely a tirtha.

The Celebration of a Siddha’s Mahasamadhi

The annual celebrations held on the anniversary of a Siddha’s passing are a form of remembrance through which students invoke the shakti of such a great being. These celebrations have deep roots in the Indian tradition. One of the earliest accounts of this practice is captured in an eyewitness description of the Maharashtrian poet-saint Jnaneshvar Maharaj taking mahasamadhi in 1296. According to his contemporary, the saint Shri Namdev, on the eve of entering samjivan samadhi—a self-willed “living” samadhi—Jnaneshvar Maharaj asked Lord Vitthal for one final wish. He requested that, every year on the date marking his mahasamadhi, devotees gather at the site to celebrate the greatness of Lord Vitthal, who, for Jnaneshvar, is the manifestation of pure Consciousness. Lord Vitthal obliged by declaring that the site where Jnaneshvar sits will forever radiate this pure state of supreme Consciousness.14

To this day, more than seven hundred years later, devotees come daily to Jnaneshvar's samadhi shrine to receive his blessings and his merit, which permeate his samadhi compound. And every year on the eleventh day of the dark half of the month of Kartik (typically falling in November), thousands of devotees gather to celebrate Jnaneshvar and his state of Self-realization.

Just as Baba Muktananda’s samadhi shrine serves as a physical conduit for his all-pervasive shakti, so too the full moon of October serves as a temporal conduit. This full moon marks the lunar anniversary of Baba’s mahasamadhi, and though his shakti is ever-present, it is said to be exponentially more radiant on this day, opening us to Baba’s presence in our lives. The collective focus of devotional celebration fans this luminous shakti into a powerful flame.

And so, on the full moon of October, Siddha Yogis and new seekers honor and celebrate the mahasamadhi of Baba Muktananda and we immerse ourselves in his radiant state of pure Consciousness. We remember Baba’s embodied presence in this world and experience his all-pervasive presence in our hearts. Countless are the stories of Siddha Yogis and new seekers experiencing great blessings, profound visions, and powerful darshans of Baba Muktananda on this radiant full-moon day of October each year.

1Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.6.
2David Gordon White, Sinister Yogis, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 33, n. 137; 60.
3Katha Upanishad 6.10-11.
4Mahabharata 16.5.18-25.
5Shatapatha Brahmana 10.5.2.8,13.
6Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.5-6.
7Bhagavad Gita 8.10-13.
8Swami Muktananda, Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 1996), p. 57.
9Kubjikamata Tantra 10.104b-108a, translated by Teun Goudriaan, “Some Beliefs and Rituals Concerning Time and Death in the Kubjikāmata,” in Selected Studies on Ritual in the Indian Religions: Essays to D.J. Hoens, ed. Ria Kloppenborg (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983), p. 98.
10Swami Muktananda, Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, p. 58
11Swami Muktananda, Conversations with Swami Muktananda: The Early Years, 2nd ed. (South Fallsburg, NY: Siddha Yoga Dham Associates Foundation, 1998), p. 115.
12Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage (South Fallsburg, NY: Agama Press, 1997), p. 125.
13Swami Muktananda, Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, p. 87.
14Śrī Nāmdev Gāthā [Sakaḷa Santa Gāthā], ed. N. Sakhare (Pune: Varda Books, 1990 [1923]), Verses 700-830.
iAll English translations by Mark McLaughlin, unless otherwise noted.
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