Samadhi – an end or the beginning?

Fractal graphic image
CC0 – Pixabay

In the monthly journey through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we have now arrived at the final limb/stage: samadhi. The previous two limbs (dhyana and dharana), have taken us on the journey of focusing the mind and meditating, and now the mind is suitably prepared for samadhi, which is interpreted as full absorption of the self. The actual sutra is translated by Iyengar as “When the object of meditation engulfs the meditator, appearing as the subject, self-awareness is lost. This is samadhi.” (Sutra 3.3)

Normally when you’re meditating, three things are going on continuously in your mind: (1) you know you are meditating, (2) you know what object you are meditating on, and (3) you know you are the meditator. In samadhi, these three parts merge and you lose awareness of your self. This absorbed state may last 1 second, 1 minute, or longer.

Er, what?

Well, when you are meditating you are aware of yourself, and the object you are concentrating on (e.g. the breath). So there is an observer (you), the process of observing (meditating), and an object being observed (e.g. the breath). If the observer become so focused on the object that it seems that there is only the object, then samadhi has been reached. Your self-awareness has merged with the object, and this merging of the subject (you, the person meditating) and the object (e.g. the breath) is samadhi. There is no sense of ‘I’ or ego.

This is described not only in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras but also in Theravada Buddhism, in the mindfulness of breathing practice, whereby initially the meditator may be conscious of each breath and themselves, but eventually they may feel that there is only ‘breathing’.

Everything becomes one, whole, and from a yogic philosophy, this is the reality of being, experiencing the oneness of existence, the unification of everything. In this state there is no time or space, there is only this moment.

Image CC0 Pixabay

And what’s the benefit of that? Well, being fully present in the moment has, in today’s interpretation of mindfulness, many benefits to our modern lives. Rather more esoterically, according to Patanjali there are various powers (siddhis) that can arise as a result of achieving samadhi, which read as a list of rather bizarre and mystical skills e.g. becoming invisible, being able to fly. Patanjali warns of the dangers of being enticed by the powers, and also for the need for the body and mind to be fully prepared prior to embarking on the next journey. Thus the relevance of the eight limbs of his system, preparing the mind and body of the yoga practitioner.

What this highlights is that whilst samadhi can be seen partly as a goal of yoga (yoga is translated as ‘to join, or yoke’), it is also only the beginning, taking the yoga practitioner on a deep and mysterious journey. The last three limbs (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) together are referred to as samyama. And through samyama it is possible to move closer to insight, wisdom, knowledge of the soul, and enlightenment.

For other people’s views on samadhi you might like to read Judith Lasater’s ariticle, or this one by Yoga International.

Samadhi and the four stages or types of objects are also discussed in sutras 1.17 and 1.18.

And so we can see that the eight limbs of yoga, from the codes for ways of living, through asana, pranayama and meditation, create an holistic, interconnected web of being.

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