Q: I’ve heard that as we approach samadhi, we can become fearful of losing ourselves. We start to wonder, “Who will I be once I reach samadhi? Will I still be myself?” and turn away before we reach the highest state. How can we prepare ourselves so that fear doesn’t create an obstacle to samadhi?
A: The final moments of our inward journey, when we are approaching samadhi, are very mysterious, as this beautiful story about Krishna illustrates. In his early childhood, Krishna was mischievous. One day he gave his mother so much trouble that she decided to punish him. But he ran away when she tried to catch hold of him. She happened to be holding a small rope, so she thought, “When I catch him, I’ll tie him to a post so I can do my work in peace.” She ran after Krishna but no matter how fast she ran, he was always a fraction of an inch ahead of her.
The great sage Narada, who was standing invisible in the sky, watching the whole chase, replied, “Maya, Mother, this last portion is tiny but it’s still a big distance. Whether you’re a million miles away or a quarter of an inch away, as far as the actual accomplishment is concerned, you’re still far, far away.”
Krishna’s mother renewed her effort to catch Krishna and the chase went on. Finally, she sank to the ground, totally exhausted and sobbing in frustration. Instantly, Krishna came up to her and said, “Here I am, Maya, Mama. Please don’t cry. Tie me as much as you want.”
The same thing is true of reaching samadhi—grace and self-effort go hand in hand. The last moments of our spiritual journey are mystifying. Our job is to try, and keep on trying. As Patanjali tells us in sutra 1:13, the enthusiastic commitment (yatna) to doing whatever is necessary to achieve a state free from thoughts (sthiti) is the definition of practice (abhyasa). As long as you’re trying to understand how not to be afraid, it means you have not yet put 100 percent of yourself into your effort to reach samadhi. You are not yet exhausted. Maybe 1 percent of your strength and energy is still left. Invest every ounce of self-effort (yatna) into your practice and that descending grace will come pick you up.
The Yoga Sutra reminds us that samadhi comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara, the ever-present guiding intelligence (2:45). Trustful surrender simply means opening ourselves to the unconditional love and guidance that flows from the Divine Being. It is a guiding, nurturing force.
Samadhi comes from trustful surrender to Ishvara, the ever-present guiding intelligence.
Always remember that there is a higher divinity. This higher divinity was never in bondage, will never be in bondage, and is free from all karmas and fruits of karmas. This extraordinary being knows exactly who you are and what you are made of. Due to her infinite knowledge, understanding, love, and compassion, this Divine Being knows you better than you know yourself. Her concern for your fulfillment and freedom is infinitely more refined and focused than your concern for yourself. By understanding the living grace this extraordinary being is constantly showering on you, sooner or later you will find life’s purpose.
No matter how far you have come in your practice, don’t let yourself be fooled by your distorted sense of self-identification. That’s what the Yoga Sutra is telling us: you are afflicted with ignorance (avidya). It’s not that you are ignorant about a particular thing. You are ignorant, period. Put simply, avidya is our deep unfamiliarity with ourselves. We know little or nothing about the divine intelligence that constitutes our core being, yet we identify ourselves as the proprietor of intelligence and as the owner of our body, mind, and senses. This confused self-awareness is asmita, our distorted sense of self-identity. Under the influence of this petty I-am-ness, we become attached to what little we know of ourselves and blind to the unconditional love and guidance flowing from the Divine Being.
Invest your strength and energy in your practice. Work with your mind. As long as these questions are there, remind yourself, “What I have come to know so far is much smaller than what I do not yet know. Divine grace is my constant companion.”
In time you will come to a state of realization where you no longer have any interest in these questions. This means you have come quite close to samadhi. You have absolutely no interest in knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, where you will go after you die, or what your state of existence will be after death. You are absolutely at peace with yourself. Your sense of I-am-ness, which had been incessantly defending its own self-existence, loosens and begins to flow inward toward the very core of your being. Now your sense of I-am-ness is fully illuminated by the light of pure consciousness. As soon as you reach this stage, there is no possibility of turning away from samadhi.
Source: Khajuraho Sadhana Immersion Q&A (Khajuraho, 2015)