“Nobody can say ‘I am in samadhi.’ One cannot talk or communicate. Samadhi is an experience where the existence of ‘I’ disappears. Explanations can come only through the presence of ‘I,’ so samadhi cannot be explained.” – B.K.S. Iyengar, Light On Life
This is the final entry in our series delving into the eight limbs of yoga. If you missed an entry in the series, you can catch up here: Exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga
Now we are reaching into the 8th limb, samadhi. This limb, like dhyana and dharana, is based around internal experiences, rather than physical practice, making it more difficult to work towards. Patanjali speaks of multiple levels within samadhi, each more refined than the last. This 8th limb will only come as glimpses for the vast majority of us – while in our most absorbed state after years of dedicated practice and inner work. The deepest experience of samadhi comes from a place informed by lifetimes of dharma and samskaras, as well as the experience of being with a guru. After witnessing a devotee enter a state of samadhi in the presence of Neem Karoli Baba, onlookers asked how this was possible. He responded, “You have no idea how many lifetimes he has been with me.” All of this is to say, don’t put too much pressure on yourself if it doesn’t come naturally. It, like so many other aspects of bettering ourselves, can only come with a freedom from desire.
Contributing to the complexity of samadhi is its internal nature- understanding comes through direct experience. With asana, your yoga instructor can walk up and correct your alignment and there are blocks for support- external supports. Even with pranayam, you can use the tangible movements of your body to correct and grow your practice. With samadhi no one can enter into your mind and offer feedback, your supports are internal, developed from practicing the other limbs. The experience comes down to a felt sense within, a transpersonal experience where you have left your self behind, for a bigger connection between mind, body, soul, and something divine. Some writings explain this experience as one that takes the little self, into the big Self… attaining a sort of freedom from your individual identity into something bigger. It’s a simultaneous disintegration of ego self and union, with a divine essence or truth.
Samadhi moves us deeper into a soul space
Samadhi can’t be comprehended by the rational mind rather, it exists within a realm where thoughts and emotions are subjective and depersonalized. It makes sense that this is the 8th limb, the pinnacle of growth from the practice of the other limbs, all of which make pliable the rigid boundaries of body and mind. We are working towards a liberation from attachments to thoughts, reactions, emotions, in a way that fosters the freedom to see clearly. With this clarity we are given choice in how we live our lives, treat one another, and ourselves. The body and mind are liberated from the struggles they have within themselves and one another, allowing us to move deeper into a soul space. They are now able to collaborate and work towards something bigger. A purification has taken place and there is freedom from judgment imposed by a dominant ego.
The deepest state of samadhi cannot be attained without the purification through the other limbs, the guidance of a guru, and being deserving of the state as dictated by your dharma and samskaras. I think these components can be viewed as either a blow to the work you are doing or a liberation. When looking at your yogic path, your work towards samadhi, what is driving you? Is there a drive? Is there a need for achievement? Is there a desperation for liberation? Where are you on your path? Where do your attachments lie?
Samadhi and Spiritual Bypassing
B.K.S. Iyengar makes poignant statements in his book Light on Life, regarding the spiritual path towards samadhi and spiritual bypassing. When our intention is not pure, when we are not clear of our own attachments to a perceived way of being, it may be that we are working towards planes of higher consciousness as a means of escaping the deeper inner work required of us. Reflecting on this as we practice methods and gain greater insights is integral. The spiritual bypassing occurs when we lose sight of attachment to these methods and choose to overlook our areas in need of growth- choosing to focus only on inner divinity and altered states.
And here is a crucial point- There are those of us who try to reach these altered states as a means of escape or avoidance, which is not liberation or unity with a greater consciousness. There are those of us desperate for reprieve from the state of our mind, and the hindrances it causes us within our lives but as Patanjali says, you must learn to be in the world, but not of it. You begin to do things without hinging your efforts on outcome or reward. You do them because there’s an innate inner sense, enhanced by your yogic practices, that drives you in the right direction. This is your dharma and you have answered the call and chosen to engage with it. The ideas you held around what it means to take action have changed from a doing to a sense of being… present with what is, no judgment, no expectation… right action and living your truth. From what I have gathered, being the non-enlightened being I am, this way of living forms the fertile ground for any glimpse we may have of the 8th limb.
The limbs offer themselves to us as a true path that has remained the same for hundreds of years, offering methods for unity with the divine and true self. They teach surrender, strength, witness, compassion, right action, and develop a core within you that you will return to again and again. It is a value system that brings us back to ourselves and the transpersonal pieces of us that long to reunite with something more meaningful, something divine. Although there is a progression in their practice, there is no linear path to the 8 limbs, instead, we may find ourselves moving back and forth, coming back to some practices, while others lose their meaning at times. Samadhi is not something to aspire to, we will either find ourselves feeling into it or not, but the path to it holds many gifts.
Amanda Hart is currently studying art therapy and clinical mental health counseling in the graduate school of Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University.
She is a 250-hour RYT born in the Blue Ridge and transplanted in the Rockies.
**This article was written for Be Here Now Network and is not to be replicated without consent of the author or the site.
Images via Dana Lynne Anderson