Is it the First or Final Realization?
By Gerard Menzel
In this essay on the final goal of yoga I will discuss the historical context of enlightenment plus the inner machinery or the methodology of that task and modern yoga.
What is Samadhi?
“Samadhi (Sanskrit, lit. "establish, make firm") is a Hindu and Buddhist term that describes a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object,and in which the mind becomes still (one-pointed or concentrated) but the person remains conscious.” 1.See wikipedia www.wikipedia.com
As stated by Patanjali; “Yogah cittavrtti nirodhah”- Yoga is to stop the fluctuations of the mind. See Samadhi Pada by Patanjali 1.2
The study of consciousness is one of, if not the major point of yoga and if we are to strive toward Samadhi, otherwise referred to as self realization or enlightenment then one must know what the essence of consciousness is.
Yoga can be seen as the study of Ha and Tha or the energies of prana and apana. These forces move up and down the body on the right and left sides of the spine ida and pingala as the mind fluctuates. Prana and apana either stimulates or slows the right of left hemisphere of the brain. If we are able to find inner harmony and a cessation of the energy movement then the energy moves from ida and pingala to the centre of our spine called the susumna or shushumna nadi. Usually the right or left hemisphere is affected by the movement of vritti or waves of energy, more or less, and this is what creates fluctuations in the mind. When energy moves equally up and down the spine via the susumna nadi ( also called Shiva’s veena ) equipoise is achieved.
This is no mean feat and it sounds quite simple when rolled off the tongue, but oh how difficult and torturous is the task. Let us look at an analogy.
The state of Samadhi is like the face of a calm lake on a still night with a full moon reflecting on it. If the Self is that moon reflecting in the water then this state of oneness (like the still lake) is the perfect state of absorption, in the universe, In this state of affairs the Self, is unaware of itself being reflected and unmoved. This lack of awareness is not a negative position but illustrates the individuals detachment from the personal, the finite and the mortal self. It is a state of ego detachment.
The Path of Samadhi ; If we look at yogic scriptures and manuals there is ample literature on the mechanics of finding enlightenment. However one could probably assume that no two enlightenment experiences / journeys are the same for the very reason that no two humans are the same. Therefore we are left with the somewhat daunting task of self exploration, trial and error.
The Yogic physiology of Samadhi teaches that at the base of the spine is a place where the coiled serpent calledkundalini resides. Shakti as it is known is the divine female cosmic force whose destiny is to rise upward. This Kundalini is the powerful force which rises up the middle of the spine called the susumna nadi ( also in the vernacular called shiva’s veena; a veena being a stringed instrument similar to a sitar)
The Self and emptyness; One of the most common teachings in every style of yoga whether it be Hatha, Bhakti, Siddha, kundalini etc is that once the state of samadhi is achieved then the person is no longer attached to the ego. The ego binds us to the material /gross level of consciousness. The state of enlightenment is often described in the terms of; the feeling of complete aliveness and vitality, of euphoria and contentment and a fresh awarenes of experiencing the connectedness to nature and everything in the universe.
This is precisely the feeling of not being divided, detatched or separate from life. Most of us are ruled by our ego with its desires and this consciousness divides us from full immersion in our universe. Ego centred consciousness simply creates a world image where the individual is the centre of the universe. Ideas, motives and actions flow from the premice that I have to be satisfied.
As our ego developes from infancy we learn to posess and own things, and we try to control our environment in accordance with our emotional experiences. For example negative emotions like excessive fear creates jealousy or lack of confidence and leads to aggression or anger or more fear. When we are detatched from these emotions then Samadhi can be arrived at.
I often wonder if we were once in the state of Samadhi in the womb or when we were small as children playing happily with our toys innocently self absorbed. In children we often see a state of mental and physical oneness and contentment with the small things of life, a doll, a toy car, a pen, a ball before the ego began to develop. When a childs mind is not yet developed socially then there would be no terminology or experiencial data built up in the brain which would create the sensation of isolation, fear or jealousy, anger and posessiveness which all make one feel alienated / separated from someone or something. Therefore I wonder as we become older when we discover the Yogic path of samadhi or the Budda’s enlightenment then it is a yearning for something that we already have an inkling of, something remotely memorable in our sub-conscious that we would love to return to. Alternatively is it a completely new mind dimension that we have to move toward?
Jesus Christ an avatar of huge proportions said that if we are to achieve a state of enlightenment (enter the kingdom of God) then we have to be like little children. Maybe he was refering to the innocence and trust of children before they become aware of the dangers of life and its traps.
On this subject the Zen masters often say; before samadhi the mountain is a mountain and after samadhi the mountain is still a mountain. This connates the idea that everyday life is enlighten life if we are just able to see it, AS IT IS. It meaning that which is before us when we look, before us when we touch it, around us as we hear it, near us as we smell it and on our tongue as we taste.
If Samadhi is somewhat mysterious then it is even more difficult to verify because those who make the journey are speechless. If one spoke after being struck by the Union of Oneness then the blessing would instantly evaporate. The words, “I am here or I have reached the goal” would be an anathema. This is due to the fact that words are essentially a way of conveying to the other a concept that the self exists separate from something. This is why the Taoist Lao Tse said ; “The Tao that is spoken is not the real Tao.”
You ( the I or ego ) wants to convey to; the outside world otherwise there would be no other reason for words. Therefore if the enlightened ones are speechless and humbled by the experience then it is highy impossible for the dellatante, aspirant to know mentally where he/she is in relation to this dilemma. The question remains. What does it feel, and mean to be in a state of samadhi? Well realisticly one will only know when one is there. It is really the pentultimate question. Only those who are not enlightened dare to ask the very question. What is it like to be a prince? One can only speculate unless one had the chance to be one for a day.
Then how can we achieve. If the sages are accurate and one must assume that they are, since they have been to enlightenment and back (often returning to daily life to heal and assist others rather than becoming a recluse). They suggest that the more you try the further away from the target you stray. One must assume the attitude of the “living dead” that is, we must live in the world but not be of the world.
How can the average yoga student benefit from the concept or goal of Samadhi? One of the most useful ways to get close to samadhi is to search for a teacher who is reputed to be enlightened and the stick close to his or her words and actions. In time it may rub off. In the yogic tradition this is called, keeping the presence of the exalted ones. The other very useful strategy is to follow very closely the traditional teachings of the Guru and the lineage teachings of your system of yoga. Each system has a strategic path which is tried and true. For example in Bhakti yoga the shishya or student is urged to identify with the icon or God of choice whether it be Lord Shiva or Ganesh or Kali. The student is to try and pray, and pay homage to the God in order to become one with the diety. Over time the diety and the student become one. In this tradition the devotee is urged to pray to, direct ones love, often bathe the diety in milk, provide food and offerings and to immerse all ones self into the icon. The diety is trusted to give everthing in life in return. This state of giving over ones life is the bridge. The tradition will have a mantra or mantras, rituals, prayers etc…used as vehicles for this crossing from unenlightened to enlightened.
In Hatha yoga the path suggests one go through a series of stages of cleansing including breathing or pranayama, physical exercises or asana, or mantras. The goal is to open the paths of shakti from the base of the spine to the lotus chakra at the crown of the head. Although this may seem like a mere physical activity it is in reality far from it. In the process of balancing our shakti the mind becomes more subtle, softer and more gentle as well as more elert. Our emotions enliven and we are able to feel energy around us more in the nature about us and between people. The state of enlightenment allows one to partake in the experience of living in its fullest sense. This requires enormous reserves of energy and also stability because one becomes a conduit for the life forces. Sages tell us of enormous amounts of shakti entering their consciousness and their need to ground it and be centred.
Hazarat Inayat Khan the Derwish teacher of the Chisti sect in India is said to have been able to go to a physical place and then be able to feel and experience happening again in that area that had taken place hundreds or thousands of years before. Once when travelling in a train thru France he became extremely perplexed as he passed through the battle fields. The enlightened one is like the metaphoric crystal of the universe for that stone has no colored form of itself but is clear. However the crystal reflects anything that is around it.
This brings us to the goal and practice of yoga in relation to Citta and Perusha. As stated in the yoga sutras fo Patanjali hundreds of years ago, the goal of Yoga is Samadhi. The state of Samadhi is attained when the self is fully absorbed in itself and not distracted by sense objects outside itself. Let us explain. We are all made up of body / prakriti, mind / manas and spirit / perusha. The spirit or Self is pure peaceful and radiant all the time. However in our daily life those who do not have the tools to stay centred get side tracked in the direction of our energies and we become absorbed, not in the self but in sense objects. Moreover we identify with these objects of the senses, ie; fame, fear,anger, power, lust, greed and therefore lose our peaceful state which is our primal childlike natural state.
The initial disslocation takes place when we first develop ego as I have discussed. If we have ego then the distractions in our citta are significant and powerful. First when we identify with our body then we divide the universe into them and us, this and that, here and there, the future and the past etc… When we are seated in the Self we have none of this divisiveness in our universe. This is where Yoga practice steps in and is useful. The practices of yoga are to bring ous back to the pure state of simplicity in ourselves. Yoga practice forces us to concentrate / darana, and not be attached / pratyahara and gives us a direction to tap into the union of life dhyana / meditation where the seen and the seer are one. That is, there is no difference in, or division between, the person witnessing the sunset and the sunset itself.
In this state of self absorption we find a blissful state of peace. This is the natural state of the soul, so in fact in returning to this state we are merely being as we should be. We are being as we always were since conception.
Yoga is not so much a linear progressive education process but a systematic heighening of the senses to the point where we no longer obscure ourselves from the source of natural inner peace.
In closing the process of Yoga is one of RETURNING, a return to the source of our inner vitality, our inspiration for life and our inner calm. The soul is shining within all of us yet we often do not have the capacity to see its radiance or to dwell in its abundant calm. This is due to our immature mental growth. We are simply distracted by the events of the world via the senses. Our mind becomes side tracked and we identify with the mind as being real. In fact all ego related sense objects are totally unreal insofaras they do not last forever. They have a life and a death. The only entity which is everlasting is atma or our individual spirit, Purusha or Soul. The soul of the universe is the same soul as the one within all of us. We just have to develop the skill and take time to see it.
Copyright Gerard Menzel
Vrittis - thought waves (Raja yoga)
Susumna - nadi which controls the central nervous system
ida and pingala - the right and left sides of the spine
citta - consciousness, the vehicle of observation attention, aims and reason. It has three functions, cognition, conation and volition as well as motion see Iyengar 2 p 45
Samadhi is also the Hindi word for a cenotaph, a structure commemorating the dead (akin to a tomb, but without remains). Sahaj samadhi is the effortless and continual state of perfection of a satguru.
1.See wikipedia www.wikipedia.org
2. a veena is a stringed instrument, a little larger than a sitar
- wikipedia encyclopedia www.wikipedia.org
- Light on the Yoga sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar
- Hatha Yoga Pradikpa by Swami Vishnu Devananda
Gerard Menzel has a Masters in Asia studies and is a yoga teacher who specializes in martial arts and Asian studies. Gerard has been studying intermittently in India for the past 30 years. See www.wildlotus.net for details. He has a SAIYT teachers certificate from S.A. Gerard also is an accomplished tabla player / musician.