If you decide to walk the eight-limb path of Yoga and study Patanjali’s sutras, you’ll eventually come to Samadhi, (well, we hope to get there at some point anyway)…. Samadhi is understood by many as a state of bliss or enlightenment, and the end goal or result of a long and dedicated Yoga practice. When looking at Patanjali’s system of Yoga, the other seven limbs (moral vows and personal practices, physical work, breath techniques, concentration and absorption, respectively yamas and niyamas, asana, pranayama, dharana and dhyana), are all preparation for this eventual enlightened state of Samadhi.
What if however, we turned those limbs upside down and started with Samadhi? Dive into the world of Transcendental Meditation or ‘TM’, founded by Maharishi Mahesh and you’ll discover that for them, Samadhi is the beginning – not the end – of Yoga.
Samadhi: A Top-Down Process?
Dedicated TM practitioner and writer Neil Dickie explains why we may have misunderstood the intention of the eight limbs;
“Despite the fact that Ashtanga translates as eight LIMBS, and not eight STEPS or stages, many have thought Patanjali meant that his eight-fold approach should be practiced only in this step-by-step, sequential order, starting with the personal virtues and observances, and culminating in meditation for the purpose of gaining Samadhi”.
When Maharishi Mahesh travelled the world teaching TM some forty years ago, he revolutionised many people’s understanding of Yoga and meditation. His technique was able to bring practitioners to a state of calmness and clarity in a short amount of time, showing people that a complete change in state of mind wasn’t as far off as they may have perceived. To Maheshi, Patanjali’s sutras had become ‘badly misinterpreted’, and in his own words, he had said;
“The practice of Yoga was understood to start with yama, niyama and so on, whereas in reality it should begin with samadhi. Samadhi cannot be gained by the practice of yama and niyama. Proficiency in [yama and niyama] can only be gained by repeated experience of samadhi.” To put it simply, Maharishi Mahesh was saying that being non-violent, truthful, pure, disciplined and surrendered wasn’t the best way to reach Samadhi, and instead being non-violent, truthful, pure, disciplined and surrendered in the world should come from a place of Samadhi and an enlightened mind. He explained that the ability to behave well and live morally came more easily from a state of unity, bliss and equanimity.
Interestingly, the different directions these two systems travel in can have a huge impact upon our entire practice and understanding of Yoga itself. For those who follow Patanjali’s system, the journey starts from the outside and moves inwards, and for those practicing TM, the journey starts from the inside and moves out into the world. Whilst Patanjali’s journey includes effort, control and discipline in order to ‘still the mind’ and calm the fluctuations of it through meditation, Maharishi Mahesh’s way is to use a repeated mantra in order to give the mind a focus, and is often thought of as an ‘easy’ or ‘effortless’ way to practice meditation. If all roads lead to One however, does it really matter who gets there first and fastest?
Using Sanskrit To Understand ‘Samadhi’
To really get the most out of Yoga philosophy, it can be helpful to understand a little more about the language of Sanskrit. Known as the ‘mother tongue’ and the place many of our English words originate from today, Sanskrit is an ancient language used mostly by high-caste Brahmins, and reserved largely for spiritual texts and rituals.
Sanskrit is said to be a vibrational language, with each word and syllable holding the very essence and intention of what the word is describing. Ayurvedic physician and author Dr. Vasant Lad describes Sanskrit as a ‘precise phonetic language’ and when speaking Sanskrit, you’ll realise the mouth is used in an entirely different way to how it is used for language today. Many sounds seemingly emitted from the throat and using different positioning of the tongue in this ancient verse have been entirely lost in most modern languages.
If we delve into the word, intention, vibration and essence of Samadhi then, perhaps it’ll become more clear as to why so many people see this as a starting point, and not as unattainable as it may seem. Samadhi is comprised of two words: Sama and Dhi. Sama means ‘same’, ‘equal’, ‘neutral’, ‘honest’ and ‘even’, whilst Dhi refers to ‘understanding’, ‘reflection’, ‘mind’, ‘intelligence’ and ‘intellect’. By linking these two meanings together, we can reason that the word and true essence of Samadhi could really be ‘equal understanding’, ‘even mind’, or ‘honest reflection’.
Honest Reflection & Clear Perception
It’s no secret that the world each of us sees in front of us is slightly different. We all see our own perception of life. What you perceive as ‘good’ I might think is ‘bad’, and what is attractive and joyful for one person could be the complete opposite for another. We each see the world subjectively, we have our own ‘truths’ and our own sense of ‘reality’.
What we see in others is a reflection of ourselves. This statement is something many of us may have heard before, but it’s one that really sheds lights onto so many aspects of why we might experience such difficulty in life or turbulence in the mind. We look out into the world, and we see what we expect to see. We see things based upon past experiences, fears, attachments and opinions, what we’ve been told by someone else, or what we’ve learned throughout life.
When we look at a friend, lover or relative, we don’t necessarily ‘see’ or understand them in reality; we perceive them according to our own minds. Perhaps in this way of thinking then, Samadhi isn’t about pain-stakingly climbing to the top of a ladder of practises and experiencing the bliss and fireworks of enlightened happiness, perhaps it’s more about being right here and right now, removing what’s in the way of reality (i.e. our expectations and opinions) so we can see clearly and far more simply.
Perhaps Samadhi is not about adding more practices and complicating things even more, but making space to actually just sit, listen and really look at someone the next time you have a conversation with them, to go for a walk and really see and sense where you are, to see things for what they really are instead of what we think they are. Perhaps this whole state of enlightenment and equanimity isn’t something we have to run towards and search for, perhaps it really isn’t far away at all, but just like searching for those reading glasses already perched on the top of your head, it’s been there all along….