Samadhi is a technical term that has become a part of the everyday language of yoga practitioners. Samadhi is a technical term that relates to an aspect of consciousness. Just as ‘quark’ is a technical term that relates to an aspect of matter. It’s a technicality that is quite difficult for non-physicists to understand. Its not that easy to understand what a quark is, and how come there can never be one quark by itself. We don’t understand these things because we are not physicists: we don’t have the training.
The term samadhi is similarly used without any understanding of what it means. Its treated as if it were a prize for the victor ludorum at the end of the race; as if he who gets furthest fastest gets samadhi. That’s the implicit, and incredibly dangerous, assumption. However, Patanjali makes a very clear statement about what samadhi is. He doesn’t relate it to physical prowess. He doesn’t relate it to mental prowess. He relates it to something everyday. Something so absolutely and utterly everyday that we overlook it.
When we hear that word we think it is pointing to something with which we have no familiarity. Therefore we must try to find it. So we set off on a journey to find it. This word samadhi can be replaced with the word enlightenment, liberation, freedom. People set off looking for something which actually isn’t anywhere but where they already are. And isn’t anything, but what they most deeply are.
Patanjali’s very concise definition of samadhi is “apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness”. This is one of the most packed statements ever uttered. A whole book could be written on that. An encyclopaedia would be required to explain all that implies. Apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. Every single word is loaded with understanding of the way things actually are.
That’s all. With understanding of the way things are. Nothing special.
This is not like Einstein’s “e=mc2” statement. That is a statement so loaded with obscure and difficult knowledge that we have no access to. That we have no possibility of understanding without a lot of deep and difficult study. But apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness points to what we deeply know already. Too deeply to normally notice perhaps. But this knowledge, to which Patanjali refers, is not unknown or unknowable to us.
Yoga postures are a fantastic invitation to clarify that knowing, to uncover that knowing. To demonstrate, to prove to ourselves, that we don’t need an interpreter. That we don’t need to rely on any authority other than our own experience. We may need a guide to help us to get there but we don’t need an interpreter to tell us what it is. Perhaps we do need a little help: but the help that we need is just to point out where the door is. The door is already here. You don’t have to make the door. The door is the body. There is no way you can leave your body and become free. There is no way you can leave your body and enjoy your life.
The body is the doorway through which you can find what Patanjali means when he says apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. What Patanjali means by apparent form is that our experience of the body, or anything at all, is not an accurate expression of the nature of our body, or whatever the ‘thing’ in question may appear to be. That the form of our body, the way that we experience the body, is a function of perception. It is how the body appears to our everyday perception. It appears to be contained by the three dimensions of space. It appears to have depth, breadth and height. It seems to be solid. This is only an appearance.
This is actually one of the implications of Einstein’s “e=mc2” statement. Everything is relative. Everything is a function of perspective. Everything is an appearance determined by our perspective. This doesn’t mean that nothing exists. This doesn’t mean that nothing is real. It just means that we create our own reality. We create it through our simulating mechanism, our perceptual apparatus. Which is basically the same for all human beings. So we all share a common reality. One in which objects act on each other over time in space. However this is only a perspective. One in which our most precious object, our very own self is constantly embattled.
Patanjali is inviting us to challenge that perspective. To contextualise our everyday perspective with a deeper one. One that resonates with Einstein’s perspective or Theory of Relativity. According to which: “Time and space are not conditions under which we live, but modes whereby we think”.
Samadhi is apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. This is yoga posture practice. This is what happens when we become intimate with out bodies in sensitive, integrated action. Each part of the body dissolves into its indivisible wholeness. Each part of the body becomes quiet. Because it is happy. In its quietness we don’t feel it. No part of the body needs our help, our attention. We no longer experience the body as a conglomerate of parts. We are taken by its intrinsic indivisibility. We are taken by the indivisibility of its wholeness. This is emptiness. This is becoming intimate with apparent form, with the appearance of solidity, of space time and number.
When we become truly comfortable in a posture this happens. When we become truly comfortable in our body this happens. We don’t actually need yoga postures to experience this. It’s just that we are otherwise usually too distracted to notice. Yoga practice focuses our attention. Deep inside our body. In doing so we encounter the interpretative mechanism of the mind. We notice mind interpreting sensations as physical experiences, actions and objects. We realise that the parts of the body, the form of the body is a simulation in the mind. We realise that what we experience as our body is an appearance. If we go deep into this dynamic, into this simulation, into our experience of the body we end up at emptiness. This is not a deprivation vacuum. It is a formless abundance. An unconditional fullness. This is shunyata, the void of the Buddha. It is not in any way uncomfortable. To experience this emptiness requires that you feel totally safe, totally comfortable, totally relaxed.
Emptiness is what form or appearance implies and signifies. Emptiness is the significance of doing yoga postures. Emptiness is the significance of establishing relationships between your body parts, then clarifying those relationships so that the perceptibly separable parts of the body no longer impinge themselves on awareness as separate. Then non-separateness is happening. Then non-separateness is experienced rather than separateness. This non-separateness is the overt face of emptiness. Emptiness is indivisibility. The indivisibility of wholeness. That means the finger becomes empty of its separate identity. The wrist becomes empty of its separate identity. The shoulder becomes empty of its separate identity. The lung becomes empty of its separate identity. From the point of view of going deep into your body there is no little finger, wrist, shoulder. There is no lung. That doesn’t mean that one can’t be recognised if somebody’s looking.
It’s a matter of deep, intimate experience. This is what Patanjali means by emptiness. Patanjali is not a nihilist. The Buddha was not a nihilist. Yoga is not nihilism. All yoga practitioners know this emptiness that is a fullness. We all do. It’s the main reason we keep coming back to the mat. It’s what makes our practice so nourishing, so compelling, so welcome. Even when we are tired. Even when we are exhausted and anxious. It is samadhi that calls us.
Samadhi is not something esoteric, exotic, exceptional. It is the experience of apparent form radiating the singular significance of emptiness. This can happen when sitting watching the sunset. It can happen when you get absorbed by the wind blowing through your skin and into your cells. It can happen in tadasan, sirsasan, savasan.
Samadhi is the conscious experience of the nonduality of form and emptiness. The non duality of consciousness and its content. The nonduality of the finite and the infinite.
This nonduality is not so hard to come by. It happens whenever we are relaxed and attentive enough. It happens all the time. So often that we barely notice it. We are not usually fully conscious of it. Not conscious enough to gather its implications and recognise its signficance. Even if we do notice it we don’t attach any special significance to it. Why should we? It happens all the time. We just have to sit down and watch the sunset.
We don’t have to achieve samadhi. We can’t achieve samadhi. We don’t have to make samadhi happen. We can’t make samadhi happen. Samadhi is what happens when we let go. When we let go completely. When we let go so deeply of our need to do that we let go of our need to know. When we let go of our need to analyse, recognise, identify objects and actions. This doesn’t make the world disappear. It doesn’t make our body disappear. It is only our mind that has come to rest. All the objects and actions that mind recognises to help us make decisions and take actions dissolve into their ground. They melt back into the ground of awareness from which mind, by its nature, plucks them so that we can get on with life.
Sometimes however we don’t need to get on with life. Sometimes we need to let go of all that striving, all our efforts, all our intentions. All of them. Then samadhi can happen. Then samadhi will happen. If we are paying attention. As the objects around, and within, us melt they don’t necessarily disappear. They simply become less solid, less heavy. They become transparent. We see through them. We see the luminosity of their ground. We see the luminosity that is normally obscured by our obsessing with objects, even though they are only revealed by that luminosity. Now that luminosity radiates through the forms we conjure up in and with our minds. That luminosity is awareness, consciousness. Consciousness is emptiness. Consciousness of is form, appearance. Samadhi is where we encounter the light of awareness itself in and as its objects. This is sabija samadhi. Objects revealing the light of awareness by which they themselves are revealed. This does not happen through effort, skill or knowledge. It happens only when we are safe enough, secure enough, relaxed enough to let go. For the body to let go of its ability to take action. For the mind to let go if its ability to interpret, to simulate, to make shapes out of shadows.
When that safety peaks even the light of awareness dissolves, along with all that it reveals. Consciousness settles into its own light. Which is emptiness. Which is darkness. This is nirbijasamadhi. We can’t make samadhi happen. Neither sabija samadhi nor nirbija samadhi. They happen as a function of our attentive relaxation. Of our being present as we relax.
When they happen they nourish us. When they happen we are nourished by the significance of emptiness. The significance of emptiness is that it is the ground, source and nature of every apparent form. Of every perceived object, action, event or situation. Of every though, feeling, decision and action. Emptiness is what we most deeply, most truly are. The singularity of this significance, the significance of emptiness, is that we are each and every one of us emptiness. We are each and every one of us consciousness itself.
This is not so hard to realise. It is not so hard to intellectually understand. Yet intellectual understanding is not enough for the singular significance of emptiness to actually nourish us. We need to experience it for it to be real for us. To realise the singular significance of emptiness we need to be become deeply familiar with samadhi. We need to regularly and deeply let go of all our intentions and actions. We need to relax into the deep, subtle nature of body, mind and awareness.
This we can not do. This can only happen when all our doing, however subtle, comes naturally, spontaneously to an end. All our yoga practice is of little value if it doesn’t bring us to this place. Arriving at this place does not come from the effectiveness of our action. It does not come from how well we straighten or bend an arm or leg. It does not come from what we do. It comes only when we have been brought to the end of our doing.
We can not bring ourselves to the end of doing. That would be more doing. We can not practice nondoing. We can not effectively decide to give up doing. We cannot practice surrender. Surrender happens. When our desire, our need to do stops. This is when samadhi happens. When we have let go. When all our doing has revealed itself to be useless.