For the past while we’ve been looking at each of the eight limbs of yoga. Through this, we’ve learnt how yoga practice can take us on an ever-subtler journey inwards. This starts with how we live our lives (yamas and niyamas), to our bodies (asana), to breath (pranayama), to internal absorption (pratyahara), to concentration (dharana), and then to meditation (dhyana). So here we are at the eighth limb of yoga: samadhi, a state of oneness and liberation.
Where the River Meets the Sea
This is a state which is built up or worked towards over time, as we have seen on our whistle-stop tour of each of the limbs. We’ve made ample use of analogies, using all sorts of images including monkeys, cars, stepping-stones, dartboards and rivers. So to work samadhi into our analogies – we can say that we have now reached the sea. Dharana is the rain, dhyana is the river, and at long last we have emptied out into the sea of samadhi.
The analogy of the sea is a beautiful and useful image. There is a sense of destiny, in that all rivers empty out into the sea. The sea also gives the sense of how vast the destination actually is. The size, depth and power of the ocean is an enormous concept to take in. Perhaps we could say that everyone is on a track of conscious evolution which will see them arriving at a grand destination at some point.
Is Samadhi Something You Do?
It appears that we can only use our own effort up to the point of dharana or concentration. This concentration becomes effortless in dhyana, and then in samadhi you lose the feeling of doing something, or of meditating at all!
Swami Satchidananda says that the practice of samadhi only becomes possible after a person has achieved perfection in concentration and meditation. The mind must have acquired one-pointedness and must have been brought completely under control, because the entire mind must be used in the practice of samadhi.
The yoga sutras go on to describe two types of samadhi: with and without an object, which in turn are then broken down into even subtler aspects… Is your head hurting yet?
Let’s Leave It To The Experts
I thought it best to leave further descriptions to some of the great yoga teachers. In fact even Swami Satchidananda says in one of his commentaries that there is not much he can say about it. He only says that if you have experienced it, you will know it.
Yogi and mystic Sadhguru, explains that ‘sama’ means equanimity and ‘dhi’ refers to intellect. If you reach an equanimous state of intellect, it is known as samadhi. He says:
In a samadhi state, your discriminatory intellect is perfectly in shape but at the same time you have transcended it. You are not making a distinction – you are simply here, seeing life in its true working. The moment you drop or transcend the intellect, discrimination cannot exist. Everything becomes one whole, which is the reality. A state like this gives you an experience of the oneness of the existence, the unification of everything that is. In this state there is no time or space. Time and space is a creation of your mind. Once you transcend the mind as a limitation, time and space doesn’t exist for you. What is here is there, what is now is then. There is no past or future for you. Everything is here in this moment.
Osho gives a few different perspectives:
Patañjali says that deep sleep and samadhi are similar. Because in samadhi the individual disappears and in deep sleep also the individual disappears. In deep sleep you become part of the unconscious, collective unconscious. In samadhi also you become part of the collective superconsciousness.
In samadhi the ego is dropped. Now you don’t have any limitation, no definition, you are merged with the whole — but merged with the whole in a tremendous awareness. You are not asleep. Worries have disappeared, because worries exist only with the ego. So there are two ways to drop the worries — either become part of a group, or become part of the superconscious plane.
Swami Vivekananda explains in his treatise on Raja yoga:
In order to reach the superconscious state in a scientific manner it is necessary to pass through the various steps of Raja yoga I have been teaching. After pratyahara and dharana, we come to dhyana, meditation. When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called samadhi.
When the mind goes beyond this line of self-consciousness, it is called samadhi or superconsciousness.
Back To The Beginning
So maybe you’re left now inspired by these descriptions, or maybe you feel overwhelmed and confused. Either way, let’s go back to basics. In the introduction to the eight limbs, I paraphrased the first few yoga sutras, which explains what yoga is, and what it might give us:
“I’m about to tell you about yoga. Yoga happens when you stop identifying with the ‘monkey-mind’. When you are not identified with the ‘monkey-mind’, you can be calm, and you can know who and what you are. When you are identified with the ‘monkey-mind’, you may get confused, and become a victim to ‘the monkey’, who may drag you off to all sorts of strange places you don’t want to be.”
No More Monkey-Mind
So let’s say at the samadhi stage of the game, we’re free of the monkey-mind. We know who and what we are, and the mind is calm. Sounds pretty good right?
How to get there?
- Start with the aspects you can get your head around, such as the first limbs of yoga.
- Find a good teacher who will help you on your journey.
- Get recommendations of good books and training courses from teachers and other students.
- Never stop practicing — Sri Pattabhi Jois says that yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice. So it seems the best thing to do is to throw yourself into the practice.