Tuesday, March 11, 2008


This week we’ll travel beyond the more tangibly definable practices involving breath and posture, and delve into the ethereal world of meditation and enlightenment. Dharana, or concentration, was included with last week’s discussion, but it also belongs in a discussion of dhyana and samadhi. In fact, the three limbs of concentration, meditation, and enlightenment (dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) are together referred to as the practice of samyama in The Yoga Sutras.

Concentration is pretty easy, a concept most of us understand intuitively, but the other two facets of samyama are incredibly personal, as they occur entirely within the realm of an individual’s own psyche, and are therefore subject to limitless interpretation. I have found it very difficult to pin down a solid definition for either meditation or enlightenment, for although the Sutras in effect does define all of the eight limbs, the definitions are often akin to koans that leave the mind wrapping back around into itself. You know you’ve been shown something important, but just a whisper of an echo of the reality can be contained within mere words. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

It makes sense that concentration is a necessary step along the path to meditation, but what exactly is meditation? Put simply, it is just sustained concentration. It’s amazing how our monkey minds like so much to hop from tree to tree, even when we ask them nicely not to. I read somewhere that all it takes to achieve samadhi is the ability to sustain focus on the meditative object or idea for just twelve breaths. Last week I mentioned how yoga affords us the opportunity to start over when need be; the meditative limb virtually requires it, as the mind is pulled back, and back, and back again from the brink of distraction and returned repeatedly to the point of focus. People spend years, lifetimes, engaged in the practice of meditation, but very few are considered “masters.” So, through a continual effort at starting over, at gently reminding our minds (and by the way, who’s that beyond our minds, beyond our thoughts, asking our minds to quit being such monkeys?...) we learn to meditate, or at least we try again and again.

And eventually, hopefully achieve samadhi. Samadhi is actually described as a state of completely merging with the object of meditation, so that no distinction may any longer be perceived between the observer and the observed. This idea hints at the door to quantum physics that soon opens following the discussion of samyama in the Sutras. My personal interpretation of this idea of “absorption” is that this state provides a glimpse within the universal reality that, on a physical as well as a spiritual level, everything (all forms of matter, the air we breathe, and even our thoughts) exists as pure energy. In this light it doesn’t matter whether the object being meditated upon is a candle flame, or the sound of Om, or a mantra, or the breath. Because it’s all the same, it’s all energy, it is, if you prefer, all God -- so absorption in one is the same as absorption in another.

“Enlightened” individuals are often characterized as luminescent, bliss-filled beings hovering gracefully over the ground. Some experts in yoga philosophy suggest that the reality is much more accessible than the above image implies, that enlightened beings merely recognize the unity of all creation, they are one with the world in which they inhabit, and they flow easily and without resistance through the river of their lives. Others define this state as existing wholly in God-consciousness. Enlightened people no longer have to struggle, as they have learned to fully embrace the “oneness” experienced through meditative absorption. Before one achieves full enlightenment, however, individual, distinct moments of enlightenment may be experienced – perhaps we’ve all had them at one time or another?

These are obviously heady topics, and perhaps represent paths more oblique and seemingly impenetrable than some yogis care to explore. This is fine! It’s enough to let the ideas roll around unexamined in your consciousness if you so choose. Or you might, after investigating the more spiritual components of yoga, be inspired to begin a daily meditation practice. Yoga fits where you need it, whether that is only on the mat or inside of every moment of your daily life. It’s your life, it’s your yoga, you get to choose. Freedom. It’s a wonderful thing.


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