The focus of discussion in my yogic philosophy class is usually on samadhi: “a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In yoga this is regarded as the final stage, at which union with the divine is reached.” Samadhi is essentially the goal of yoga and is what serious pracitioners work towards: superconscious awareness. Yet even within Samadhi there are various levels, the highest of which is ‘Dharma Megha Samadhi’, which liberates the practitioner from all limitations of body and mind (perhaps this is when we learn to levitate!). Thankfully, there is a step-by-step guide to reaching samadhi, often referred to as ashtanga yoga, which literally translates as the ‘eight limbs of yoga.’ Whilst these 8 steps are often considered as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life, they are also the eight steps towards spiritual fulfilment. Enlightenment comes when the mind is unbounded: free from distraction and attachment to the material world.
Whilst I love the idea of finding a deep meditative state and getting in touch with my true self (atman), the reality is far less attractive. What I have come to realise is that in order to reach these states of mental bliss, you have to be willing to surrender your entire life to the cause. At first I presumed this involved detachment from material possessions, but in fact the sacrifice is far greater. In order to reach samadhi you have to free yourself from all worldly attachments- including relationships and family- because these are seen as distractions from the path to enlightenment. Yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Well what’s the point of life if it’s not about family and friends? For the yogi seeking to unlock their superconsciousness, everything serves as a distraction from the higher path. Whether that be tasty food, alcohol, sex or love. This is due to the belief that real contentment can only be found within ourselves. To some extent I support this belief because it explains how some of the world’s poorest people are some of the happiest. And it is the equation for a healthy relationship: two people coming together but not reliant on each other for their individual happiness. However, I don’t think that you need to detach yourself from people, places and things in order to find self-contentment. My attachments to people – and the emotions they bring- are by far my greatest achievement. Even though my emotions can make me weak, they give my life colour and meaning. Funerals, sad as they are, show how loved someone was, and for me this suffering is the price I am willing to pay for a life full of love and attachment. For the yogi, the emotional rollercoaster of relationships provides too much distraction, which will only pull them back to worldly attachments (and away from samadhi). So disconnection is essential for serious spiritual seekers.
Yogis who are able to disconnect from worldly attachments and reach a higher level of consciousness are believed to gain total control of the senses (including thirst, digestion, hunger and breath). Some yogis can go years at a time without eating because they are able to slow down their metabolism (check out this guy- apparently he hasn't had any food or drink since 1940: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prahlad_Jani !) This not only proves that the mind is a miraculous power but highlights how limiting it can be (apparently 95% of us never access this 'higher state'- so you’re not alone!) Yogis are free from a life of sense attachment, whereas I am continually plagued by the mid-morning munchies, fuelled by a world of temptations. Sense detachment happens during sleep (and explains why we don't need to snack) because we aren't overwhelmed by the sights and smells of food! So I can certainly see the benefits to sense detachment (also known as pratyahara), as I’d certainly be more productive without hunger pangs (e.g. during my yoga philosophy class when my mind wanders away from enlightenment and onto lunch!) Yet withdrawal of the senses is far harder in this day and age as the internet ensures we are constantly bombarded with advertisements that fuel our attachments and desires. We see the world through the lens of our attachments and associate them with the senses of the unconscious. Perhaps this is why many devote yogis remove themselves from society, because normal life and samadhi seem utterly incompatible. Whilst I can see the benefits to sense detachment, particularly where addictions are concerned, I am not remotely tempted to give up my worldly attachments, in particular family, food and fun. What would be the point of leaving my life behind in order to find enlightenment alone in a cave? The notion of isolating myself from the world in order to seek out my superconsciousness seems incredibly selfish, as I am completely ignoring the collective consciousness and focusing solely on myself. Surely it would be better if I helped others to disconnect from some of their more unnecessary worldly attachments, so that they are able to share a sense of the same bliss? If I do ever reach enlightenment (and if it is as amazing as the hype) I would want to share that knowledge with others, not sit on my own in silence. Although samadhi helps you to uncover the true self it seemingly separates you from society. And for me, that is a compromise I am not willing to make (at least not at the moment!)
Nevertheless, following a simple, yogic lifestyle has awakened my awareness to these conscious and sub-conscious behaviours. We live in a world where it seems we can never have enough and constant cravings and unrestrained desires stop us from living in the now. We just want more and more and more. I want to be happy with where I am and with what I have. I don’t want to miss another moment worrying about the past or the future. I want to live in the now.
Surely that’s some sort of samadhi...
Meditating in the Dalai Lama's temple (yet still thinking about lunch!)
While some paths of yoga do teach celibacy and isolated mediation in order to gain enlightenment, other paths do not agree. If you have not read any books by Osho, he is an amazing guru that makes yoga practical for today's world. One of my favourites on this topic is "Being In Love." Here's a quote from the book that I really love:
“The capacity to be alone is the capacity to love. It may look paradoxical to you, but it's not. It is an existential truth: only those people who are capable of being alone are capable of love, of sharing, of going into the deepest core of another person--without possessing the other, without becoming dependent on the other, without reducing the other to a thing, and without becoming addicted to the other. They allow the other absolute freedom, because they know that if the other leaves, they will be as happy as they are now. Their happiness cannot be taken by the other, because it is not given by the other.”
-Hariakhan Baba Maharaj is a famous Himalayan cave yogi, said to have lived for thousands of years: http://www.cosmicharmony.com/Sp/Babaji/Babaji.htm
-The Eight Limbs of Yoga: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/beginners/the-eight-limbs/
-"Samadhi is the beginning, not the end of Yoga": http://www.tm.org/blog/meditation/samadhi-yoga/
-"Love, sex and non-attachment", a modern-day Buddhist perspective: http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/love-sex-and-non-attachment
-"Being in Love", Osho: http://www.amazon.in/Being-Love-Awareness-Relate-Without/dp/0307337901