This series will build on our introduction to Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and dive deep into each limb or step on the yogic path to liberation. This article will focus on the eighth limb – Samadhi. Before we dive in, let’s look at the Eight Limbs system briefly as a reminder.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
The Eight Limbs of Yoga is a system of morals and techniques that helps calm the mind and stop the internal chatter. We dissolve the ego and attain Moksha (liberation) through mastery of our prana, mind, and body.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are:
What is Samadhi?
Samadhi is the meaning, or purpose, of yoga. It is translated as ‘realization.’ ‘liberation,’ and ‘bliss.’ But what does that actually mean? We can view Samadhi as ‘a state of awareness where the individual consciousness dissolves into the greater whole.’ The word ‘yoga’ means ‘unite,’ or ‘yoke.’ Therefore, if realizing Samadhi means that the individual consciousness dissolves into the greater whole, it reflects the true essence of yoga. But what does that mean in terms of our journey through the eight limbs? What does it mean in terms of practice and of life?
The Seeker and the Gap
We feel we are separate individuals, seeking something, or many things, at one time. Often these are material things; I need a new job, a new car, home, holiday. Or relationships; I want to find the right partner, have a child, make deeper friendships, etc. Sometimes it’s spiritual – I want to be better at meditation, have a calmer mind, feel more connected to the divine, know my purpose, etc.
Whatever we are seeking, whether material, emotional, or spiritual, our desires all stem from the same state of mind – we feel we are lacking in something, and we are seeking fulfillment. We are empty of something, and we seek it out in order to feel a sense of completion. We think that the thing we are seeking will ‘fill the gap’ we are conscious of. The gap makes us feel uncomfortable, unfulfilled, missing something. We feel that we are not whole, right now, as we are.
Who is The Seeker?
“I learned how to raise my voice in anger. Yeah, but look at my face, ain’t this a smile? I’m happy when life’s good, and when it’s bad I cry. I’ve got values but I don’t know how or why.
I’m looking for me. You’re looking for you. We’re looking in at other and we don’t know what to do.
They call me The Seeker, I’ve been searching low and high. I won’t get to get what I’m after, ’til the day I die.”– The Who
If I lack something and am looking for it to fill the gap, then who is the ‘I’ that is seeking? Who is The Seeker? This is a question that has been asked by millions of people and is sprinkled throughout popular culture in song lyrics, stories, art, and poetry. It is, and will remain, one of the fundamental existential questions people ask in order to try and make sense of the world, along with ‘what is the purpose of life.’
The feeling of lack, of constantly seeking, brings up suffering. We suffer when we experience Tanha or craving. This sounds like a negative state, and of course, it is, if we take it at face value. But we can go deeper into this craving, this feeling of lack, and use it for spiritual growth. To dig deeper into the question of ‘am I the seeker?’ means to question who you are. And this is the question that yoga and all spiritual practice inevitably leads to. The questioning of the individual self. ‘Who am I?’
Creating the Story
When we try to answer this question on a logical level, we tend to reel off a list of things we do or have done: (mountain climber, traveler, writer, sales representative, actor), relationships we have: (mother, sister, daughter, friend), or things we enjoy: (cooking, reading, meditating, working out, stamp collecting).
These components combine to create a story of our human life, past and present, and sometimes future if we strongly identify with our dreams and goals. But, does it really answer the question, ‘who am I?’ If we look deeper, the story is comprised of the very sense of incompleteness that we discussed earlier. We decide to seek the things we have done and currently do, the relationships we choose to enter into, the dreams and aspirations we have because we are being driven by that feeling of lack, of wanting to fill the gap, of coveting and craving. We try to end our suffering with the filling of the void.
But the ironic thing is, as long as we reside in the story, we will never truly find the fulfillment we seek. We won’t find it because we are looking in the wrong place. The story is always rooted in the past or looking to the future. ‘When I achieve xxx, I will be happy, I will feel fulfilled.’ ‘When I have had that experience, I will feel content.’ But, true fulfillment, the fulfillment that is the promise of Samadhi, can never be found in the past or the future. It is only available in the present moment.
Logically speaking, the past and the future do not exist except in the present. They are constructed of thoughts. The past was the present when you were living it, and that’s all it ever was. It will never exist again and can never be anything other than a memory. The future does not exist yet; it is your present yet to come. So, the past and the future are merely thoughts you have in the present.
Thus, you can redirect your thought energy, focusing entirely on your experience in the present moment. You can only do this by letting go of thoughts of ‘achieving’ (the future) or worries that you haven’t progressed as much as you wanted (the past) – by surrendering to the present moment. That is how you fill the gap. That is where the opportunity lies to enter into this state of awareness where the individual consciousness dissolves into the greater whole—the state of Samadhi.
You Are That Which You Seek
The truth is, we are already part of the greater whole; of this universal consciousness that we seek to re-join. We just need to realize it. We see ourselves as individual, as separate entities. But really, there is no separation, that’s just the story we have created. In actuality, we are an expression of life, of universal consciousness.
And when we surrender completely to the present moment, using Dharana and Dhyana as tools to help us, we experience this feeling of wholeness, the truth of who we are. We do not ‘attain’ it, because it is already there, already true. We just let go of the story and fully experience that which we are – cosmic consciousness and universal life force energy. Shiva and Shakti.
The True Meaning of Samadhi
We know that Samadhi is the final step of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. It is the goal of the whole system, the purpose of yoga. As stated at the beginning of this article, we translate Samadhi as ‘realization, ‘liberation,’ and ‘bliss.’ Sometimes, also ‘enlightenment.’ We often see it as something mystical and unattainable for regular folk like us. But as we have discussed, Samadhi is not something you can ‘attain,’ it is something you are.
Let’s look at the translation of Samadhi. Firstly, we’ll deconstruct the word. ‘Sama’ = same, and ‘dhi’ = to see. So, the word ‘Samadhi’ literally means: ‘to see we are the same.’ Samadhi’s usual translation of realization, liberation, and bliss, perfectly reflects its literal translation ‘to see we are the same.’
This is because in melting into the moment and letting go of the story of the past and future, we ‘realize’ that we are already whole, that is, we ‘see we are the same.’ This realization answers the fundamental question of ‘who am I?’ And the understanding of who we are, that we are already divine cosmic consciousness expressing as a human story, brings liberation from suffering, and in turn, bliss.
Realizing Samadhi Every Day
It is all very well to learn the truth of who you are on a logical level, but if you do not apply this knowledge in a practical way, you will not fully absorb and experience it as the truth. So, knowing this, how do you express the truth of who you are day-to-day?
Firstly, you need to accept the truth as truth. If you continue to resist this as fact, you maintain your identification with the temporary story you have created and preserve the idea of individuality and separateness. It is only through acceptance of the truth that you can experience it.
Secondly, you must cultivate presence as much as you can, day to day, in everything you do. You need to practice in order to change habitual thinking. By being aware of the story, and that it is, in fact, a story, and realizing the consciousness that has created the story, you become better at letting go, at sinking into that which you already are, into divine cosmic consciousness.
Samadhi on the Mat
You can express this truth during your practice, and this is, in fact, a brilliant place to start, because you are already entering into a peaceful, mindful state. Throughout every asana, every transition, every breath, focus your awareness on your experience, just as it is in that moment. Let go of the habitual thoughts about how you did that pose better last week, or how much you want to achieve that challenging inversion. None of that matters, and none of that helps you to experience yoga’s real purpose.
Whenever you feel yourself slipping back into these old thought patterns, stop and refocus your attention on the present moment experience. You need not do anything else. As you practice, it will become easier and easier to maintain this focus. That concentration is essentially Dharana, which, as we know, leads to Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Patanjali perfectly designed this system to work – all we need to do is follow his instructions, and we will realize that which we are. The seeker will dissolve, the gap will be filled, and we will experience yoga’s promise of liberation and bliss.
Samadhi is not something we can ‘do’ or ‘achieve.’ It is something we ‘realize.’ We ‘see that we are the same’ as that which we seek, that there is no separation. And when we realize this truth, our individual consciousness dissolves into the greater whole, and we experience the bliss and liberation of answering the fundamental question – ‘who am I?’
We hope you have enjoyed this series exploring Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. In case you haven’t read the rest of the articles, here are the links:
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