Five Pillars Yoga

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Samadhi

Week Eight: Nirvana, Bliss, Enlightenment, The Whole Enchilada

Back in April we launched a series of posts exploring the historical and philosophical foundations of yoga based on the writings of Patanjali, one of yoga’s foundational architects. Patanjali’s thesis, The Eight Limb Path, posits that yoga is a practice that starts with our behavior toward others and ends with connecting to divine, universal consciousness.

The links to all of those posts are below. They’re worth revisiting before we jump into the deep end that is the eighth and final limb, Samadhi. 






In reading about Samadhi I came across an article by the wonderful Judith Lasater. In it she joked that in tackling the topic she was tempted to leave that page of the article entirely blank. Encapsulating samadhi is a near-impossible task: It is a state most of us have glimpsed but cannot quite grasp, or an experience we can’t reliably translate for someone else.

The idea of Samadhi is shared across wisdom traditions. In Buddhism it is the last of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, the final step towards liberation from suffering; in Sikhism samadhi is the practice which produces complete concentration on God.

In the yogic lineage, samadhi, along with dharana and dhyana makes up Samyama, the perfected control of the mind. These three limbs are often studied together and are called Antaratma Sadhana, or the innermost quest. Grouping the final three limbs together makes sense: If dharana is about concentration on one point and dhyana is about absorption into that point, samadhi is about utter, uninterrupted, nonjudgemental immersion in all points at once.

Or, as Lasater puts it, “Samadhi is a state of being intensely present without a point of view. In other words, in samadhi you perceive all points of view of reality at once, without focusing on any particular one.”

Unattainable? It’s tempting to turn to the image of the levitating sadhu in his cave, high from oxygen and lack of food, and dismiss the pursuit of samadhi as something from a different time and place. But samadhi is essential to today’s world.

Think of the practice of samadhi as ego eradication at the highest level. In samadhi we dissolve the barrier between self and other and connect to the humming, vibrating chord that thrums through the whole universe. With universal awareness and consciousness as a goal, we can increase compassion, empathy, understanding, and hope.