Samadhi, Enlightenment, Situationism, and Developing the Center

Ebook versions of Samadhi The Great Freedom finally available. For now on ashtangayogabooks.com but soon also here on this site. Here another excerpt that explains the difference between what’s called enlightenment and samadhi and how the path towards samadhi can be explained in psychological terms. You will also find what Lord Krishna’s and G. Gurdjieffs view on the subject was.

“In this chapter I will clarify misconceptions about samadhi and show that there are varieties of samadhis, not just one type. Firstly, samadhi is not enlightenment. The term “enlightenment” was borrowed from the European Enlightenment movement of the 18th century and emphasized reason. Today it is often used to de- scribe the spiritual state of completion that Gautama Buddha or other Buddhist luminaries had reached. The term is not used in yoga. Patanjali uses the term “kaivalya,” which means freedom, liberation, independence, or even insulation. Let me explain the connotations here so that we know exactly what samadhi is not. In common parlance there is a mix-up of the state of spiritual liberation and samadhi, but the two must be differentiated.

Both the Buddhist “enlightenment” and the yogic or Hindu “liberation” imply finality, a completion. They imply that the practi- tioner has developed a center that is no longer shaken by outside circumstances. The psychological theory of situationism has it that our thoughts, actions, and choices are brought about by outside cir- cumstances or situations. If you change a situation, then the per- son’s choices and their behavior will also change. This is parallel to the postmodernist concept of a self that is fluid; for example, when I get up in the morning, I no longer have the same sense of self or personality that I had when I went to bed. This is something you can easily observe when studying your own mind. One day you may think you have solved all the problems of humanity, but a mere 12 hours later you may battle depression and self-loathing.

The Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff clarified this phenomenon when he said that we do not currently have a steady and developed center from which we act. Although he did not use the same concepts as modern psychologists, he basically agreed with situationism, in that there is no constant agent within us from whom decisions are made. Gurdjieff’s work aimed to create such a center and, in this context, spiritual freedom is reached when the yogi is unshaken by circumstance or situation and confident in the knowledge of themselves as purusha, or consciousness.

At first, circumstance determines our choices. As yogic practice takes hold to a greater extent, we become insulated from situations and circumstances, and the quality of our decisions remains the same. This is what Krishna is talking about when he says,

“He who does not reject neither exultation, attachment, nor ig- norance when they present themselves or desire them when they are absent, who is not wavering and disturbed through all these changes, remaining poised, who is established in the self and welcomes as the same happiness and distress, who looks upon a clod of earth and a piece of gold equally, who retains his equanimity whether presented with the de- sirable or undesirable, praise and blame, glory and shame, who treats even both friend and foe, and who has stopped identifying with outer activities, he is said to have tran- scended the modes of nature” (Bhagavad Gita XIV: 22–25).

Krishna describes a person who is completely independent from circumstance and situation and asks that we find within us what is not cut by weapons, burned by fire, drowned by water, or blown away by wind (Bhagavad Gita II.23). It is this very essence from which great mystics, including Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus Christ, have acted. Because not even death can destroy this center, many mystics displayed otherworldly strength, such as showing no signs of concern when their life was under threat. Thus it is clear the mystics managed to escape the dilemma of situationism by developing this center that is entirely insulated from circumstance. Yogis practice samadhis as the means to develop this center (apart from the preparatory exercises of asana, pranayama, and Kundalini meditation); and just as the Yoga Sutra lists eight limbs of yoga (i.e. asana, pranayama, and the other limbs), so, too, does it list eight separate states of samadhi. Right from the beginning we need to understand the samadhis are not the goal of yoga; the goal of yoga (to use Gurdjieff’s language) is to develop a permanent center, and such a center develops from the practice of samadhi. It may be said that this center already exists in all people, but this is true only in a theoretical sense. If this center, which the Yoga Sutra calls purusha, or consciousness, were fully developed in everyone, it would be easy to sit in occasional meditation and spontaneously discover it. But for the vast majority of people, this is out of the question. The lack of a center is also represented in Vyasa’s model of the five stages of mind. While the out-of-control (kshipta) and material- istic (mudha) minds are swept away by circumstance and are entirely under the sway of situationism, the oscillating (vikshipta) mind is beginning to develop this center; however, as soon as external obstacles become strong, it is lost. This center has only become a reliable player once the single-pointed (ekagra) mind has arrived, at which point it finally experiences its culmination in the suspended (nirodha) mind. Only the nirodha type of mind acts naturally from this center.”

A short excerpt from my 2015 text Samadhi The Great Freedom. Please understand that in this short passage many issues are raised that are not discussed to completion. Most of them are treated adequately in the text itself.

About Gregor Maehle

Gregor Maehle started his yogic practices over 38 years ago. For almost two decades he yearly travelled to India where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Gregor spent 14 months in Mysore, India, and in 1997 was authorized to teach Ashtanga Yoga by K. Pattabhi Jois. Since then he has branched out into research of the anatomical alignment of postures and the higher limbs of Yoga. He obtained his anatomical knowledge through a Health Practitioner degree and has also studied History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Gregor lived many years as a recluse, studying Sanskrit, yogic scripture and practising yogic techniques. He has published a series of textbooks on all major aspects of yoga. His mission is to re-integrate ashtanga vinyasa practice into the larger framework of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers trainings, retreats and workshops worldwide.
Posted in Ashtanga Yoga, Meditation and Samadhi, Yoga Philosophy.

Ask a Question or Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *