Enlightenment vs The Enlightenment: an introduction to Samadhi and the Eightfold Path of Yog

Pantajali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga is one of the key ancient Indian yogic texts that we study today, contained within 196 Sutras (or ‘threads’) which was written over 2500 years ago. This path, described as Ashtanga (‘ash’ meaning eight and ‘anga’ meaning limb) outlines the eight-fold path to the ultimate goal of yoga: union or Samadhi.


The diagram below outlines the eight limbs. Beginning with the Yamas, the limbs go from the outer and most material, to the subtlest and most internal level.


Patanjali's Eightfold Path of Yoga

Believe it or not, only one of the limbs refers to the postures we mostly practice as “yoga” in the West today: the third limb, Asana, which loosely translates as “comfortable seat.” Pranayama through breathing excercises is another popular limb in the West today. However, in Pantajali’s Eightfold path, these physical-focused practices make up just two out of the eight components of "Yoga."


Like a flower, the petals must open one by one before we can fully smell its sweet fragrance. So, what is the ultimate, sweet smelling goal of yoga they call Samadhi?


Yoga translates as 'union' or to 'yolk.' Samadhi, the eighth and final limb of Pantanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga, is this union. It is oneness with God, or ultimate truth,what we might also refer to as "enlightenment."


What exactly is enlightenment? How does this compare to the Western Enlightenment we saw in Europe from the 17th century?


Well I am glad you asked, because learning about The Enlightenment (and its failures) can shed light on the yogic path to enlightenment (and perhaps explain why it is so popular today!).


In the West, the word “enlightenment” was first recorded coming in to use from the 1800s.


The Enlightenment refers to an intellectual movement which began in the late 17th Century in Europe. It is defined as a period of rigorous scientific, political and philosophical discourse characterising the great ‘Age of Reason’ which sought to shed light on the truth of the world.


The word enlightenment comes from the Latin prefix en meaning “in, into” and the noun lux meaning “light.”


To be enlightened can therefore be understood as coming "into the light.”

In a similar way that one may “shed light” on an object so it becomes clear, an enlightened person gains clarity of knowledge.


So, it would seem the goals of Samadhi and the Western Enlightenment of the 17th Century were fairly similar. Both seek to attain enlightenment and shed light on ultimate truth.


However, as we will see, they hold very different ideals of truth.


This difference is found in their opposing cosmologies: their differing ways of understanding the universe and themselves within it.


A Salon in Early Modern Revolutionary France. French Salons were a hub of intellectual and culture exchange. Here they are reading Voltaire's L'Orphelin de la Chine, a tragedy about Genghis Khan and his sons in the salon of Madame Geoffrin (Malmaison, 1812).
Quite the opposite of meditation: intellectual exchange at a French Salon during The Enlightenment