The final limb of yoga, samadhi, is said to be a state of enlightenment.
The ancient yet practical application of yoga
Over 1,700 years ago an ancient sage going by the name Patanjali brought together his observations of life into a set of clear guidelines.
These guidelines, he claimed, would not only to lead a good life, but an optimal life.
These guidelines are the eight limbs of yoga, and go far beyond the physical nature of what the Western world typically associates with yoga practice.
Letting go of self
The final limb of yoga, samadhi, is possibly the most difficult to comprehend, but is said to be where the
‘yogi has departed from the material world and is merged with the Eternal. There is no duality between the knower and the known for they are merged like camphor and the flame’.1
It is what I most associate with ego death; a place where there is no distinction between me and the world. Complete dissolution, without any fear because ‘self-awareness is lost’.2
Is enlightenment really possible?
The state of samadhi is spoken about as a place of bliss; a state of enlightenment.
And yet, the very seeking of that state is likely tied up with ego, striving and achievement.
Bit of a catch-22.
So what to do?
Maybe it’s a case of ‘don’t chase it’. If it happens, it happens. Indeed, this surrender may make it more likely to happen (but don’t surrender just to experience samadhi, because, well, you’re back to chasing).
There is somewhat of an unspoken rule that says when you experience a moment of enlightenment, you keep the experience close. Keep it quiet. Keep it to yourself.
Likely this is why you’ll struggle to find in-depth ‘enlightenment’ accounts from experienced meditators and yogis.
The ego has, after all, bowed out by this stage, so no need to brag that you got there, right?
But if practitioners decide not to share their experiences and so few accounts exist, it does beg the question: is samadhi even attainable? How do we know?
If we consider each of the eight limbs of yoga as steps to enlightenment, a whole lot of work needs to happen before reaching that final step.
More realistically, every-day-people like you and me will focus on different steps depending on what’s going on for us in life at that time.
I’ve just had a baby, for example, so the physicality of asanas doesn’t make sense for me right now. Meditation, on the other hand, lends itself well to days spent nursing a newborn.
Confusing the bliss of meditation with enlightenment
In my personal practise I’m still continuously returning to focusing my mind (dharana) alongside working with different types of meditation (dhyana).
Life is busy; my mind is busy. Sometimes I manage to focus it momentarily, long enough to be steady enough to meditate. Sometimes I’m able to meditate long enough to notice the calming effect it has on my day-to-day life.
But any glimpses I may have had of samadhi have been fleeting.
Indeed, maybe those glimpses were but the bliss of dhyana, the deep peace of deep meditation.
References & further resources
- Iyengar, BKS. Light on Yoga. Revised ed. Schocken Books; 1979.
- Iyengar, BKS. The Path to Holistic Health: The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide. 3rd edn. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2014.