Samadhi is the beginning, not the end of Yoga

by Neil Dickie on June 30, 2010

This article is for yoga people—for the throngs who have re-discovered this ancient yet very sophisticated approach to exercise. Tens of millions have taken up yoga because it’s gentler and kinder to the body, yet fun and challenging, and effective in promoting overall fitness. People also appreciate yoga for its settling effect on the mind. The unhurried pace of yoga practice and the focus on the concrete details of stretching, balancing, breathing, helps a person leave behind the concerns of a busy life and enjoy the present moment.

Though practicing yoga poses (“asanas”) can be quite enjoyable, many yoga practitioners suspect that they could take their practice to a higher level by learning to further integrate body, mind and spirit through the experience of deep meditation. There’s good reason for the notion that meditation can make yoga, a good thing, even better. For one thing, almost every system or school of yoga recommends meditation, at least theoretically. But yoga students often put off starting meditation, perhaps fearing that they lack the steely discipline and laser-like concentration assumed to be essential for success.

YogaOne reason many assume meditation to be difficult is a common misunderstanding of the eight-limbed or Ashtanga system of yoga laid out in the revered Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In the text of the Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of yoga are presented in the following order:

1) the five yamas or personal virtues, such as ahimsa or non-violence, and satya, truthfulness

2) the five niyamas or rules of life, including shaucha, purification, and swadhyaya, study

3) pranayama, the breathing practices

4) the asanas, the poses of yoga

5, 6, 7,) the three stages of mental practice, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana or meditation.

8 ) Samadhi, the union of the busy thinking mind with its deepest, most silent level, the unified field of consciousness, the Self. Think of an individual wave settling down and experiencing the unbounded ocean.

However, 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.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi created a stir in the world yoga community some 40 years ago when he traveled the world teaching the Transcendental Meditation program, a simple, easily-learned technique to bring the direct experience of samadhi. Maharishi was teaching anyone interested, even if they were completely new to yoga. In Germany, a delegation of yogis came to Maharishi and asked him about this.

Maharishi welcomed the delegation and began by establishing common ground with them—respect for the authority of Patanjali. He then, however, explained his view that Patanjali had, due to the long lapse of time, become badly misinterpreted. The order of Patanjali’s famous eightfold yoga had, he said, become the reverse of what Patanjali intended. “The practice of Yoga was understood to start with yama, niyama (the secular virtues), and so on,” Maharishi said, “whereas in reality it should begin with samadhi. Samadhi cannot be gained by the practice of yama, niyama, and so on. Proficiency in the virtues can only be gained by repeated experience of samadhi.” In other words, it is mistaken to think that improved morality and behavior is required to reach samadhi; rather, Maharishi said that better behavior and morality comes as a result of the experience of that most unified and blissful level of life.

For example, Maharishi said, one can only truly progress in ahimsa or non-violence as one grows in the consciousness that there is a common unity of all things. This unified reality of life is directly experienced in samadhi. Similarly, he said, asteya or non-covetousness can only be truly achieved when one feels fully contented, and the most stable inner happiness naturally comes through repeated experience of the eternal field of bliss-consciousness in samadhi.

Yoga-SamadhiBliss consciousness: this is the higher level that yoga is meant to take us to. Yoga means union. One definition of yoga is the union of body, mind and breath. Although that alone can bring good results, there is a higher level of meaning: the union of the thinking mind, or small “s” self, with the big Self, cosmic intelligence. The result of that, according to the Yoga Sutras, is serious bliss.

Commenting on the experience of union with the Self through meditation, Maharishi says, “The intensity of happiness is beyond the superlative. The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss-consciousness, nor can bliss-consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self-sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself, fulfilled in eternal contentment.” (from Maharishi’s translation and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, 6:20)

Back to why people could think that this natural, blissful process could be difficult—unfortunately, as meditation is generally taught, this perception is all too accurate. Patanjali defines yoga as “the complete settling of the mind” (Yoga Sutras, 1.2). However, because most types of meditation available today involve some degree of concentration, effort, control, they tend to prevent the mind from completely settling down. The Transcendental Meditation program, in contrast, is a technique of no-doing—it does not involve trying of any kind, and so it allows the meditator to easily dive within.

But can an easy, effortless meditation be “real” meditation, leading to enlightenment? Yes. Some have misunderstood the simplicity of TM. The Transcendental Meditation program is actually the revival of meditation in its pure and original form. It is simple and easy because it is natural—in full accord with the fundamental nature of mind and body. That is also why it is so efficient. Nature is always extremely efficient. For example, all motion in nature follows the path of least action or effort. In the same way, one practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique effortlessly dives deep within the mind.

The cultivation of this topmost of the eight limbs of yoga nourishes the whole tree of yoga as no other can. Yoga practitioners who add the Transcendental Meditation practice to their daily routine report that it adds a deeply satisfying dimension of silence, consciousness, and appreciation to their asana practice, and to life. Samadhi is both the beginning and the essential ingredient of a truly blissful yoga practice.

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  • Ken Chawkin

    Well written article! And one final point: Not only would adding Transcendental Meditation to their daily routine add “a deeply satisfying dimension of silence, consciousness, and appreciation to their asana practice, and to life,” but the corollary is true too: regular practice of yoga asanas and pranayama before one’s meditation practice would also set one up to have an even deeper more settled experience of samadhi, eveness of mind, during TM.

    • Neil Dickie

      Yes, yoga asanas are great for deepening the experience of meditation! Thanks for the insightful comment!

  • Randy Anand

    Maharishi has brought out the true understanding of ashtanga yoga.
    Asana has been so emphasized in the west, that true meaning of yoga, which the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, has been lost. TM gives one the experience that is what yoga is in an effortless, natural way.

  • Stuart Knoles

    A revelation to have heard Maharishi summarize by likening the structure of yoga to a wheel with eight spokes; at the hub is Transcendental Meditation. If this is the reality of what is called intelligent design (Gods Creation), then each individual can therefore easily have the entirety of yoga. All that remains now are the genuine practical benefits of yoga for everyone. Due just to this key feature being lost and forgotten, yoga would have been attributed complexity, difficulty and remoteness. If it is mechanism of intelligent design, is it worship? Does it matter? Let’s get the wheels moving.

    • Neil Dickie

      That analogy of the wheel is really apt. It shows how samadhi nourishes all the other aspects of yoga. Thanks for sharing that!

  • vasantharao dusthakar

    maharishi has given everything that the individual, the society, the world needs in one simple practice TM
    maharishi has given the best wisdom in the shortest form in his new science, the science of creative intelligence
    with this help every day , every moment is a new life continuously evolving, the flower of knowledge blossoming ,providing deep insights into and unified understanding of most profound truths of scriptures and spiritual literature—without particularly studying any in the most spontaneous manner—
    as more and petals of this gnana prasoonam, sprout, individual is turning into a walking fountain of knowledge, wisdom , with all the more humility, and increased devotion to the almighty –who is no more a mysterious somebody –than the one residing in the heart as the pure self, giving the experience of aham brahmasmi–and manifesting his glory in the day to day life
    lucky i am, lucky is the world , all maharishi’ s blessings

    • Neil Dickie

      Beautifully said, Mr. Dusthakar! Jai Guru Dev

    • Rumi

      Nov. 2010
      Perfect!
      xoxo

  • kailas D. Patekar

    It is very essential in our life to practice TM . During practicing Tm one can understand the mind and body relation. I do early morning TM and enjoy my hole day peaceful.

  • http://www.iamronen.com iamronen

    I was happy to find this article as it appeared in my life shortly after my own journey into the same topic from a slightly different perspective.

    I would not label meditation as an easy or effortless practice. I do believe that it is the most subtle of the 8 limbs – and that the most profound practice is actually Yama and that the “end game” of Yoga is engaging life with a quality of samadhi. It is much easier to experience samadhi in the supportive cushions of a practice, it is much more challenging to bring it’s quality into the frictions of day-to-day life.

    http://www.iamronen.com/2010/07/yoga-sutra-chapter-2-sutra-31/

    • Neil Dickie

      I absolutely agree with your main point, that “the ‘end game’ of Yoga is engaging life with a quality of samadhi.” Yes, the whole point of practicing meditation and repeatedly diving into samadhi is to bring that breadth of perspective, and infinite bliss, and lively silence of pure consciousness into daily life. This is enlightenment. In order to attain it, it’s absolutely necessary to engage in activity after meditation. This, Maharishi explains, is what brings the absolute phase of life into the relative field. It is like the ancient method of dying the cloth: you dip the cloth into the dye (enjoy the transcendent silence of meditation), then raise it to dry in the sun (act in daily life), which fades it, but makes the color that remains colorfast. With successive dippings and exposures to the sun, the cloth gains the rich shade of the dye, and the color becomes permanent.
      I would, however, suggest trying Transcendental Meditation in order to experience that meditation can not only be effortless, but completely effortless, and that when it is so, it is also highly effective.

      • http://www.iamronen.com iamronen

        Thank you Neil.

        Is there a quality and practical online (I do not have access to a teacher nore the means to travel to one) guide to TM? I am curious to learn more about the “completely effortless” practice you are referencing.

        • http://www.asherfergusson.com Asher

          I don’t think there is anything online since you need to learn from teacher in person but if you go to http://www.tm.org/contact-us you can request a teacher have a call with you to explain more about the technique.

          Best Wishes,

          Asher.

  • Jean-Pierre DENIS (from France)

    I love your article ; it is very well written, beautiful, elegant and convincing. I will send it to a friend of mine who is a renowned yoga teacher in the town I live in (Strasbourg), hoping she understands English!

    • Neil Dickie

      You are very kind. Do let me know if she has any comment. I very much wrote this blog for people who do yoga–very dear folks!

  • http://www.knitwitsalley.com Alli Barrett

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article Neil! You are a very talented writer, the way you express yourself makes for very fluid reading, the ideas portrayed are precisely clear to the mind and deliciously informative. Now I feel that I should take up Yoga! :o )

    Love you Cuz!
    Li’l Sis
    Alli

    • Neil Dickie

      Hey Alli, Thanks so much. You’ve always been such a kind supporter!

  • Michael Yankaus

    Dear Neil, regarding your comment on EFFORTLESSNESS:

    Because the actual nature of the experience of Samadhi is that of a state of perfectly settled, “non-active”, and “non-changing” level of consciousness, then logically stated, any practice that “increases” mental activity is in effect actually opposed to this non-active area of mental experience. This is why meditation techniques that require one to actively focus or control the mind—which essentially means “increasing” directive mental activity—do not come close to producing the deep levels of mind-body peace that the Transcendental Meditation technique “allows” to happen.

    During the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, Samadhi is achieved spontaneously—without directive effort—by using a meaningless sound (Mantra) which allows the mind to freely move in any direction it would like to go., and is known through tradition to have a naturally settling effect on mental experience. The spontaneous result is that the effortless and undirected use of the Mantra allows the mind to follow its natural tendency to move in the direction of greater charm. And since the eternal silence of consciousness in its least excited state always offers the mind the most peaceful state of experience possible, the mind settles spontaneously into Samadhi as assuredly as a stone will settle to the depths of a pool of water through the pull of gravity.

    Therefore, far from being superficial, Transcendental Meditation as taught by the Vedic Master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, should be viewed as being a highly sophisticated mind-body technique that is astutely based on the essential Natural Laws that govern spontaneous transcendent experience. The global emergence of the Transcendental Meditation technique actually represents the modern revival of the original meditation technique referred to in all of the Vedic teachings, including the Yoga Sutras, and therefore should be enthusiastically pursued by anyone interested in Yoga practice. In this light, the effortless of the TM technique doesn’t make it a superficial form of Yoga, by any means! Rather, it reveals that it is the logically essential and core teaching of Yoga, which will benefit all students of Yoga practice, everywhere—regardless of Asana system or school.

    Respectfully,
    Michael Yankaus

  • Neil Dickie

    Beautifully put, Michael! I enjoy your very clear explanation of this very natural technique for transcending, and how it takes you straight to the heart of yoga.

  • http://www.mcu.edu.kh Hak Thoeurn

    I am happy program TM

  • Terry Bauer

    Dear Neil,

    This is great! Would it be possible to adapt it and publish it in the Yoga Journal?

    Thanks so much.

    Terry Bauer

    • Neil Dickie

      Thanks, Terry. I’ll think about that. I think I’d need some interviews with yoga enthusiasts who also practice TM, and I’m looking for same at the moment. I have actually found a few, and interviews are coming up. Might you know of any in addition?

      • Terry Bauer

        I don’t know of any, but if I think of some later I’ll let you know. Good luck.

      • Terry Bauer

        P.S. Be sure to mention some of the scientific research too.

  • muthukumar

    Hi Every body,
    It’s all very useful comments by everyone. I am excited to say that i also practice TM for last two years, and needless to say i am very lucky in this birth to have found this vedic knowledge, thanks to HH MAHARISHI Mahesh Yogi who brought this into this world.
    The world today has this one solution for all its varied problems. As MAHARISHI says, the world leaders, all those in the responsible positions of power should practice TM so that they can help bring this positive influence all over the place. It’s called MAHAISHI effect i.e., if the square root of 1% of the population do TM twice a day, the whole population gains greater harmony – It has been scientifically proven in terms of significant reduction in crime rates in chosen cities across world.
    I strongly encourage people to go for it.
    Thanks Regards
    Kumar

  • BillyG

    While it is true MMY stated the above, he was primarily talking about gaining ‘proficiency’ in the virtues, he never suggested they shouldn’t be practiced AT ALL! In his Bhagavad Gita he calls all eight limbs, *means* to achieving Yoga. And, as Samadhi is BOTH the means AND the end, ALL EIGHT LIMBS WERE MEANT TO BE PRACTICED, SIMULTANEOUSLY! MMY/Gita appendix/Yoga.

    Quote: “With the continuous practice of all these limbs, or means, simultaneously, the state of Yoga grows simultaneously in all the eight spheres of life,” MMY/Gita appendix

    Quote: “A close scrutiny of Patanjali’s exposition of Yoga reveals that the actual process of attaining the state of Yoga belongs not only to dhyana, or meditation,…but also to all the other limbs of his eightfold Yoga.” MMY/Gita appendix

  • Neil Dickie

    Point very well taken, Billy! I appreciate your bringing that out. Namaste.

  • http://www.tm-in-de-randstad.nl Imre Kortbeek

    Hello Neil!
    You did an excellent job in writing and publishing this article.
    Is it permitted to publish a Dutch translation on the website http://www.tm-in-de-randstad.nl? I am webmaster of this TM-website in the Netherlands and I received the article from dr. Gerritsma. I wil also add the URL of the original article.
    With kind regards,
    Imre

    • Neil Dickie

      Hi Imre,
      Thanks very much. You are welcome to use the article. I personally am happy to see it reprinted, and I know that this blog site will approve also.
      Best wishes to you, and also to Gerit.
      Neil

      • http://www.tm-in-de-randstad.nl Imre Kortbeek

        Hello Neil,
        I will send your wishes to Gerrit Jan, I speak him regularly. In april he will give a lecture on Maharishi Ayur-veda in The Hague.
        Can I get your photograph to publish it with the article?
        Best wishes,
        Imre

  • João Yoga

    Samadhisukham Lokanandah …
    - O deleite contínuo do estado de conhecedor de um Yogi, também imparte em deleite nos outros por sua vez …

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