Gaudapada & Shankara: The Self is Attainable by ‘Samadhi’ | What is Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta | Vedantic Samadhi

According to Advaita Vedanta, what is meant by Samadhi? And is this Samadhi necessary for Self-Realisation?

If you read the following carefully, you will see that Sri Gaudapada (in his Mandukya Karika) and Sri Shankara (in his commentary upon the Mandukya Karika) are both stating the following:

  1. The Self is realisable through Samadhi
  2. In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
  3. In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
  4. This Samadhi is not a state of mind, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
  5. This Samadhi leads to Jnana (Knowledge)

Whilst this is clearly explained in texts such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see here for the series of verses in Vivekachudamani that emphasise the need for Samadhi) and many other Advaita texts, there are a minority who dispute the authorship of these texts saying it was not the original Shankara but a later Shankara that wrote these other texts. So here I will quote from Gaudapada’s Karika (Gaudapada’s commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad) and Shankara’s commentary on this.

Both Gaudapada and Shankara are considered authorities in Advaita Vedanta and in the case of these texts there is no dispute in the authorship – ie. everyone agrees that Gaudapada authored the Mandukya Karika and that Shankara’s commentary on this was actually authored by Shankara – so we can be clear this is the correct teaching that represents their views. Let us see:

1. The Self is realisable only through Samadhi

The Self (Atman) is beyond all expression by words beyond all acts of mind; It is absolutely peaceful, it is eternal effulgence free from activity and fear and it is attainable by Samadhi.

~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37

Some people translate the last phrase differently, but when we look at Shankara’s commentary on the verse, we can see the meaning is made clear, ie. the above translation is the correct one – the Self is attainable by Samadhi. In fact Shankara goes further, he states the Self is only realised through Samadhi:

Shankara’s commentary from the above verse from Gaudapada 3.37 states:
…The Self (Atman) is denoted by the word Samadhi as it can be realised only by the knowledge arising out of the deepest concentration (on its essence), Samadhi. Or the Self (Atman) is denoted by Samadhi because it is the object of concentration, the Jiva concentrates his mind on the Self (Atman)…

[Edit: since writing this article it has been pointed out to the me that the underlined word ‘only’ does not appear in the original Sanskrit, but this was an overzealous addition by the translator of this verse, Swami Nikhilananda, when he translated the commentary into English]

2. In Samadhi no thoughts are present

Now others will say that Samadhi doesn’t mean that all thoughts should cease, as that is yogic samadhi, and vedanta samadhi is something different in which thoughts and objects of perception can be present. However, what do Gaudapada and Shankara say? If we read carefully and slowly we will see that this question is also clarified:

In the next verse Gaudapada writes in verse 3.38 of his Mandukya Karika that all thoughts have stopped and that this leads to Jnana (Knowledge). Note that this verse is a continuation following on from the previous verse which has just stated the Self can be realised by Samadhi:

There can be no acceptance or rejection where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self and is unborn, and it becomes homogenous

~Gaudapada, Mandukya Karika 3.38

We can see the emphasis is on cessation of all thoughts (‘all mentation stops’), implying this is what will happen in Samadhi. Then self-knowledge is established, the verse goes on to say, ie. once all mentation has stopped, then self-knowledge is established. Shanakra states this Self-Knowledge is unborn, meaning it was never created and is not subject to birth and death. This self-knowledge is also homogenous, meaning there are no differences in it whatsoever. This is another way of stating there are no objects perceived, for the presence of objects would make it heterogenous, not homogenous. Note that thoughts are also objects.

Again, some state this is not the correct interpretation of the verse, and that homogenous does not mean there are no objects present, but let us see what Shankara has to say in his commentary on the above verse:

Shankara’s commentary on this verse 3.38 is as follows:

…therefore there is no rejection or acceptance in It, where thought does not exist. That is to say, how can there be rejection or acceptance where no mentation is possible in the absence of the mind? As soon as there comes the realisation of the Truth that is the Self, then, in the absence of any object, knowledge (Jnanam) is established in the Self, like the heat of fire in fire. It is then birthless (ajati) and becomes homogenous.

Again, we can see that Shankara is clear that there are no thoughts, and therefore no mind (as mind is just the presence of thoughts, or the movement of thinking).

3. In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present

Shankara also states clearly that Jnana (Self-Knowledge) arises in the absence of any objects being present in the above quote, the commentary on verse 3.38.

Later on we see this same theme being repeated, ie. that there are no objects or appearances present in this Samadhi which leads to Brahman-Realisation (ie. Liberation):

‘…when the mind becomes quiescent and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman’
~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.46

Shankara clarifies this further in his commentary on Mandukya Karika 3.46:

‘When the mind brought under discipline by the above-mentioned methods, does not fall into the oblivion of deep sleep, nor is distracted by external objects, that is to say, when the mind becomes quiescent like the flame of a light kept in a windless place; or when the mind does not appear in the form of an object – when the mind is endowed with these characteristics, it verily becomes one with Brahman.’

~ Shankara in his commentary on Gaudapada’s Mandukya Karika 3.46

We can see that Shankara is stating in Samadhi, which was earlier advocated as the means to liberation, is devoid of objective phenomena when he writes ‘the mind does not appear in the form of an object’ above. We can also see that he is stating there are no thoughts in Samadhi, when he writes ‘when the mind becomes quiescent’.

Anandagiri, a 13th century commentator on Shankara’s works, confirms this in his comments on Karika 3.46:
‘The external objects are nothing but the activities of the mind itself.’

So we can see that mind activity and external objects are one and the same, and that samadhi is devoid of both

4. This Samadhi is not a state of mind, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi

So we can see that Samadhi is not simply a state of mind – Shankara states it is the absense of mind and thought and objects. How can samadhi be a state of mind if there is no mind present in Samadhi? Samadhi is beyond the mind. Samadhi is the Self.

States of mind come and go, and the mind, being an object, is a part of Maya. However Samadhi is to abide as Self.

This is the meaning of nididhyasana – to abide as Self, the pure Consciousness that we already are. It is explained in detail in traditional advaita texts like Vivekachudamani and Advaita Bodha Deepika, and Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings point us unwaveringly to this same teaching too.

5. This Samadhi leads to Jnana (Knowledge)

Well I have no further quotes for you in this section – you should hopefully already be able to see from the quotes given above that Jnana arises from Samadhi, and this Samadhi is devoid of thoughts and objects. However, in this section I will re-present the above quotes with the emphasis on Samadhi leading to Jnana. In order to do this I have abbreviated some of the quotes (as indicated by ‘…’), the unabbreviated versions being present above:

Eg. here Gaudapada states the Atman can be attained through Samadhi.

‘The Self (Atman)…is attainable by Samadhi.’ ~ Gaudapada, Mandukya Upanishad Karika 3.37

Shankara goes further and states that only Samadhi leads to Knolwedge in his commentary on the above verse:

…The Self (Atman)…can be realised only by the knowledge arising out of…Samadhi.’

Then Gaudapada also states that when all thought ceases Knowledge arises:

‘…where all mentation stops. Then knowledge is established in the Self…’ ~Gaudapada, Mandukya Karika 3.38

Shankara’s commentary on this above verse 3.38 unsurprisingly states the same:

in the absence of any object, knowledge (Jnanam) is established in the Self…’

Conclusion

So hopefully we can now clearly see that, according to Gaudapada and Shankara:

  1. The Self is realisable only through Samadhi
  2. In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
  3. In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
  4. This Samadhi is not a state of mind that comes and goes, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
  5. It is only this Samadhi that leads to Jnana (Knowledge)

I hope the above verses are of help for you. The above is just one of a series of articles I have written on this topic – please see below for some of the other posts that discuss this further.

Namaste

Tom

Also see:

The need for nirvikalpa samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta – Swami Advayananda | Swami Chinmayananada

HOW SWAMI SATCHITANANDENDRA SARASWATI (SSS) DEFINES NIDIDHYASANA (VEDANTIC MEDITATION)

Shankara: How to Meditate for Self-Realisation |Nididhyasana | Samadhi

Advaita Vedanta: Gaudapada’s Method (Mandukya Upanishad Karika)

Recommended Reading: Books for Enlightenment, Liberation and Self-Realisation

What exactly is Jnana (knowledge) according to Shankara and Gaudapada and the scriptures?

Shankara: how to Realise the Self (Shankara’s commentary on the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

8 thoughts on “Gaudapada & Shankara: The Self is Attainable by ‘Samadhi’ | What is Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta | Vedantic Samadhi

    1. Abiding as Self is the same as Samadhi. Self enquiry can be thought of as leading to Self-Abidance, or it can be thought of as Self-Abidance itself, depending on how you use the term

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Appreciated for sharing your thoughts Dear Tom, but there is long way to analyze in what sense Shankara use the Samadhi. This can be better understand by reading last chapter of Aparokshanubhutu by Shankara where he emphasis only on knowledge of the self and centering on that knowledge irrespective of states of the mind that he means Samadhi.
    For more on this pls. check full length article from Blog
    http://vedicwisdomandphilosophy.in/2021/05/10/aim-of-meditation-and-its-accomplishment-in-patanjali-yoga-and-vedanta/

    Like

    1. Thank you for your comments. As I mentioned in the post, Shankara discusses Samadhi in detail in texts such as Vivekachudamani (note that in Aparokshanubhuti, Shankara only mentions Samadhi brieflt right at the very end of the text), but a minority of people dispute the authorship of these texts whereas everyone agrees that Shankara is the true author of the texts I have mentioned in this post.

      Vivekachudamani is a far superior text when it comes to understanding Samadhi in Vedanta compared to Aparokshanubhuti – please see this link below for more, thank you:

      Shankara on the Mind, Samadhi (stillness of mind), Manonasa (destruction of mind), and Liberation

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.