Here are some very important teachings from Annamalai Swami regarding some dangers of meditation and entering into laya, a trance-like state:
A foreign woman came to see Annamalai Swami. While she was prostrating to him she seemed to become unconscious of her surroundings and she remained lying on the floor at his feet for about ten minutes. This was not the first time that she had fallen into this state while in Annamalai Swami’s presence. After watching her for some time, he shouted at her:
Annamalai Swami: You should not go into laya [a trance-like state] like this! It is becoming a habit with you. It may give you some kind of temporary happiness, but it is not a happiness that helps you spiritually. It is the same as sleep. Even worldly activities are better than this laya. Get out of this habit!
[Addressing the other people present]
People occasionally went into states like this in front of Bhagavan [Sri Ramana Maharshi]. He never encouraged them, even the ones who appeared to be in deep meditation. I remember one occasion when Bhagavan noticed a man who had been sitting motionless in the hall for at least an hour, apparently in a deep meditation. Bhagavan was not fooled. He called to Kunju Swami and others who were present, ‘Shout at him, shake him, and when he wakes up, take him on giri pradakshina This is no better than sleep. This state is not good for him. He is just wasting his time sitting like this.’
Bhagavan warned us about this state, and he often cited stories of sadhus who had been stuck in this state for years. One of the most frequently told was a story about a sadhu who asked his disciple for a glass of water. While he was waiting for the man to return, he went into a deep laya state that persisted for many, many years. He was in this state so long, his disciple died, the river changed its course, and different rulers came and went. When he opened his eyes, his first comment was, ‘Where is my glass of water?’ Before he went into laya, this thought was uppermost in his mind, and decades later, this thought was still there.
Bhagavan’s comment on this story was, ‘These states are not helpful. They are not samadhi.’
[The woman who had been in laya then asked the next question:]
Question: Whenever I start meditating, soon after I start, I fall into these states. How can I prevent these laya states from coming and taking me over?
Annamalai Swami: Keep practising self-enquiry. This is the way to avoid laya. The mind usually has two habits; either it is occupied with many thoughts and engaged in activities, or it goes back to sleep. But for some people, there is this third option, falling into this laya state. You should not indulge in it because once it becomes a habit, it becomes addictive.
[Tom – note the habitual nature of going into laya which becomes familiar to the mind and so becomes a familiar state of consciousness:]
It is a pleasant state be in, but if you fall very deeply into it, it becomes very hard to get out of it. You know what this state is like because you have been in it many times. As soon as you feel the first symptoms of an approaching trance, get up and walk around. Don’t remain sitting or lying. Walk around or do some work, and above all, keep up the practice of self-enquiry.
If you practise self-enquiry constantly, you will never find yourself falling into laya. You can conquer this habit. You just need to be attentive and to do self-enquiry.
[Tom – we see the same teachings in traditional Advaita texts too, eg. in Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mundakya Upanishad – see verse 3.44.]
Here Annamalai Swami gives a similar teaching, this time from the book Living by the Words of Bhagavan, page 345:
Questioner: It is clear that vasanas are not destroyed during sleep. Are they destroyed by nirvikalpa samadhi, or does this state have no effect on them?
Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan taught that we should aim for sahaja samadhi, not nirvikalpa samadhi. He said that it was not necessary to experience nirvikalpa samadhi prior to enjoying sahaja samadhi.
One form of nirvikalpa samadhi is like laya, like deep sleep. There is peace while the samadhi persists, but when the experience is over the mind rises and the vasanas become just as active as before.
Laya [temporary suspension of all mental faculties in a trance-like state] is virtually the same as sleep. Experiencing this state is not helpful to your sadhana. Laya is not meditation, it is unconsciousness; it is tamo-guna in a very strong form. Meditation needs an awake mind, not an unconscious one.
Sleep and laya increase the identification with the mind. You may feel a little peace during laya, but when you wake up from this state the mind becomes very active again and the peace is all lost.