So the more spiritually minded folk will of spotted that I’ve taken a small liberty of rebranding the famous Zen quote (Before enlightenment chop wood carry water , after enlightenment chop wood carry water) for the Yoga posse out there. But it’s the same thing, or maybe it isn’t.
As Van Morrison sung ‘Enlightenment, don’t know what it is’
Neither do I Van my friend and neither do I know what Samadhi is either – and judging by the amount of folk I’ve met along the well-trodden dusty Avenue of Ashtanga Yoga neither does anybody else.
So what is Samadhi? What is Enlightenment – do they exist – are they like a magical place or a magical state of mind. My Zen teacher Brad Warner who has had such an experience insists Enlightenment is for ‘sissies’.
I don’t want to get too bogged down into the definition and etymologies of either Samadhi or Enlightenment I’m not clever enough for a start. But sticking to Ashtanga Yoga for now ( as I know slightly more about Yoga than I do Zen – and when I say know I mean you could write all of this knowledge on a postage stamp – and still have room left for the shopping list) I stumbled into this practice by default rather than design and was swept along with the promise of the illusive 8th limb. Guruji would make the statement that we would have to create strong bodies before we could consider our minds and therefore we are to practice the 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga . And then some.
So I’ve practiced and practiced and practiced some more, I have good days and bad with practice just like I have good days and bad days with life. When I do practice I feel better so I’m more inclined to get on my mat rather than make excuses not to. I don’t even think about the 8 limbs anymore – nor do I even think about where the practice came from. And without wanting to offend anyone – the physical practice does not come from Patanjali’ s Yoga Sutras – how do I know? I did the math…
Any to be brutally honest I think if you’re still clinging to the belief that the practice is 5,000 years old you’re missing the point – we should take a leaf out of the Buddha’s book when someone asked him ‘Is there a God or is there not a God’. Buddha’s reply was to remain silent. The silence was a demonstration of the ridiculousness of the question.
There’s a great quote from Matthew Sweeney who said the only reason that people get their knickers in a twist about The Yoga Sutras is because it has the word ‘Yoga’ in it (ok he probably didn’t say knickers in a twist but you get my drift). Have a think about that quote for a moment – go with this thought … imagine if they had been called ‘the deep absorptions of Patanjali’ would we (we as in yoga students) have ever read the bloody thing? Me thinks not. And please please any Yoga scholars / practitioners out there thinking about a new angle on a Sutra commentary do some asana instead. Do something that you can actually experience rather than writing about something you can only intellectually understand. Put it this way , would you trust a book about the qualities of sugar written by someone who has NEVER tasted sugar?
But if you like it read it ,chant it – go for it! I don’t have time for it personally, I think people are trying to put square pegs in round holes. In the words (or lyrics should I say) of Stephen Patrick Morrisey from the hit single Panic with his beat combo The Smiths…
‘It says nothing to me about my life’
What does resonate with me is when I see quotes like this one..
Yes I know this can be construed as another ‘pithy’ Zen statement but when I read it my brain re-interprets this for my yoga asana sensibility as another way of saying when you’ve done Surya Namaskar do it again. The Samadhi is in the doing not in the achieving. Let us not get carried away by thoughts of Samadhi or indeed being enlightened – and certainly let us not get carried away by our physical prowess or gymnastic ability.
Here’s yet another (pithy) Zen quote from the late great Alan Watts..
Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while peeling potatoes. Zen is just peeling potatoes.
I think we could rephrase that beauty to , maybe to something like this
Ashtanga Yoga is not in the pontification of the Yoga Sutras or even in the boring laborious debate about how old the practice is. Ashtanga Yoga is Ekam inhale Dve exhale etc
Perhaps we can also take a leaf out the book of Dogen the 12th century Japanese Zen Monk. Dogen basically said taking the posture of Zazen was enlightenment itself i.e. the practice of zazen and the experience of enlightenment were one. And so maybe to take (asana) practice is Samadhi.
I read somewhere that one Zen teacher on entering a Zendo (a place where people practice Zazen meditation) full of his students remarked ‘what a silly thing to do’ and then proceeded to join them. And I must say this thought (what a silly thing to do) crosses my mind a few dozen times during practice – usually in postures like Garbha Pindasana or Tittibhasana B when I’m looking up my own backside, I mean WTF …. But I do it and I do it again.
So keep climbing the mountain and keep digging for that bone Yoga warriors.. Samadhi is for sissies .
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