The Limbs of Yoga: Enlightenment
Patanjali describes this eighth and final stage of ashtanga, samadhi, as a state of ecstasy. At this stage, the yogi merges with their point of focus and transcends the self altogether. A profound connection to the divine is realised and there is an interconnectedness with all living things. Read this not as a lofty and unachievable religious or spiritual goal. This merging is with that divinity that delivers us peace, contentment and happiness. Not just for ourselves, but through knowing that this is a state bestowed on all things. The state of enlightenment isn’t like falling through a rabbit hole into the inky nothingness of thoughtless ecstasy, samadhi is a state of action and equanimity. This is why you pursue your dharma. It is a thoroughly ambitious undertaking, delivering you to a place far greater than the individual ‘I’, as you provide service to the world and gain samadhi as a result. As Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita, there is a certain kind of action that leads to freedom and fulfilment.
Krishna and the Gita are full of kernels of wisdom for the dharma seeker that reinforce the peril of stasis. Reiterating the call to arms for those of us who have begun to wake up and feel the creeping sense of dissatisfaction with the things (and they are things) that we used to think brought happiness. Denying your yearning for something more meaningful is in itself an action, and as we have discussed, karma is accrued with all actions. If action is unavoidable, we might as well make sure that it is action that points us in the direction of our own divinity.
The trick of the light is that divinity is, should, and can be, a very everyday event. It is in fact the everydayness of it that makes samadhi a worthwhile and achievable goal. In trying to snap Arjuna out of his malaise, Krishna is continually reiterating that the pursuit of dharma is the way to divinity—and a portal to samadhi when done right. What is clear from Krishna’s message in the Gita is that finding your dharma happens through taking action, and is one of the action steps not attached to the fruits of labor.
The combination of action with the idea of a lack of attachment as we have trained ourselves for in the previous eight limbs of the Sutras is essential in your preparation for the creation of your good hustle. The single act of mastering non-attachment is in itself a form of samadhi. What better way to experience the absence of suffering than not being a slave to endless litanies of objects and emotions built on a foundation of your own destructive fictions.
This is freedom.
With surrender to the known unknown and selfless service as the motivator to all action, there is little that can’t be achieved. As Krishna says in the Gita, ‘Performing action without attachment, [wo]man shall attain the Supreme.’ When the ‘I’ of the ego isn’t attached to action, the limitations are removed. You don’t attach your inner patterns of not being enough to what you are doing, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure and shame. You merely get on and begin, knowing that you are being guided by your inner wisdom, which is now a clear, strong voice after the training of the Sutras.
One long-time yogi I spoke to was strongly of the opinion that we shouldn’t even consider samadhi in our yogic practice; she felt it was not ever reachable. I counter this belief (which came from her context of spiritual practice) with the view that we can find our heavens on earth. What Patanjali in the Sutras and Krishna in the Gita have described as the completion of the yogic path is, I believe, what, deep down, all of us aspire to: peace and contentment. A sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. This ultimate stage of yoga—enlightenment—can’t be bought or possessed. It can only be experienced, and as such, it is the process of the practice, and is far more accessible than realised.
As you set out on your mission to find your dharma and become yoga, your strategy begins within. The first step is knowing who you are. You need to have a guiding motivation that you have surrendered to in love, and the courage of knowing that you can’t fail when you are living in your dharma. The idea of failure is defunct when you aren’t being measured against limited beliefs. You need to be confident that your nirvana, or samadhi or union with the divine, doesn’t happen at the end of the rainbow. It is the rainbow and the reason for stepping out of what we experience as being human, and into the place of being for humanity instead.
When you truly begin to break your attachment to objects and permanence, and realise the impermanent nature of everything, your loose grip on life will make everything simpler and you more content. If you can’t control it, you don’t have to worry about how you are going to, so you flow along and take opportunities as they present themselves, rather than as you create them. When you do create them, you do so with courage and without limitation, looking always to the single guiding principle that your motivation is to serve others with love, and contribute to the peace and happiness of all sentient beings.
This is the blueprint to life as yoga. As Krishna broke it down in the Gita for Arjuna: find your dharma, look to it, as in look within. Stay committed and disciplined to getting your mind in order until you have the clarity to see without doubt what is your calling. When you have seen that vision of your own capacity unlimited by your mortal flaws, do not let anything obscure your pursuit of delivering that goal to the world. ‘Relinquish the fruits of your actions.
Give the outcomes and expectations away, and simply be nourished by the intention and the daily joys found in the present moment. Dedicate all of your actions to honoring your divinity, however you understand and experience that. It may be offering your actions to Krishna or a similar entity, it may be offering them to your own inner wisdom and limitless potential, or any combination of what your spirituality entails. This isn’t an endgame, as the possibilities are such that you will experience moments of the essence of samadhi, moments of peace and contentment, that will push you along, and compel you to keep going until there is only keeping going, and what compels you is the sheer imperfect perfection of living in your dharma.