Does Swami Sarvapriyananda teach the same as Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna? | Swami Dayananda | Swami Satchidanendra Saraswati | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta

Note – you can find a summary of the essential points of the article at the end

It’s a funny strange world, and when we explore spirituality the mind boggles with all the different teachings that are out there, available for our consumption. One of the more popular teachers of Vedanta in recent years is Swami Sarvapriyananda, a monk from the Ramakrishna Order. This Order of monks was not set up by Ramakrishna, but was set up by Swami Vivekananda, a devotee and disciple of Ramakrishna, shortly after Ramakrishna’s death.

As a teenager I found a book of Swami Vivekananda’s on my parent’s bookshelf and started to read it. It was this book that propelled me into becoming a ‘spiritual seeker’ – the book was called Raja Yoga. After reading this book I started to read all I could on the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.

It is worth noting that Ramakrishna learnt and was initiated into traditional Advaita Vedanta from the monk Tota Puri, who is purported to have been part of a teaching lineage dating back to at least Adi Shankara – ie. Sri Ramakrishna was taught and initiated into Advaita Vedanta in a traditional way – this will become more relevant as you read on. Anyway, through reading so much of their material as a teenager, I became very familiar with the respective teachings of both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna.

More recently, having come across Swami Sarvapriyananda, who is currently the head of the outpost of the Ramakrishna Mission in New York, I was surprised to see that in some quite important ways what Swami Sarvapriyananda teaches departs from what Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna taught – I hope to demonstrate this below. I will also comment on how Swami Sarvapriyananda’s teaching differs to Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teaching, illustrating this with quotes.

As always, these articles are not written in order to put anyone down or criticise. Personally I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Swami Sarvapriyananda and what he is doing to share the teachings of Vedanta in such an accessible manner. I also understand that a range of teachings and teachers can be a part of one’s spiritual journey, and if you are finding a certain teacher or teaching to be helpful to you, who am I to say otherwise? In fact, I am happy for you! Ultimately it is all good, and if we are earnest and honest, we will find what we are looking for (ie. Liberation/Self-Realisation) – it is only a matter of time. Discussing the teachings of vedanta have always been part of the vedanta tradition and I only offer you my point of view in case it is of assistance to you.

Both Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna emphasised the need for samadhi for liberation, even in the path of Advaita Vedanta. In fact the frequent mention of samadhi is one of the most notable parts of the teaching that comes through when you read either of them and their respective teachings. However with Swami Sarvapriyananda, he discourages this very practice that is emphasised by his Gurus, stating that samadhi is not necessary for liberation, and that this is essentially a false path that one should not undertake.

The traditional view: samadhi is requried for liberation

This is a common trend that we are seeing more and more – the notion that samadhi is not needed for liberation for most people. However, for at least the last 1400-1600 years, the dominant traditional view in Advaita Vedanta was that Samadhi is required for liberation for most people, and this is what has been handed down generation to generation, century after century, for over a millenium. We have very strong evidence for this as many Advaita texts written during this time clearly state the need for samadhi to attain liberation. Prior to this time, there is very little written textual evidence that we have available to us, unless we go back much further to the Upanishads, several of which also state the need for Samadhi or equivalent. Note that the Upanishads are the highest authority in Vedanta teachings – in fact vedanta teachings strictly speaking refer to the teachings in the Upanishads, eg.

The knot of ignorance in the heart is broken completely only when one sees his Self as secondless through Nirvikalpa Samadhi
~ Adhyatma Upanishad 1.17

The mind severed from all connection with sensual objects, and prevented from functioning out, awakes into the light of the heart, and finds the highest condition. The mind should be prevented from functioning, until it dissolves itself in the heart. This is Jnana, this is Dhyana, the rest is all mere concoction of untruth.
~ Amritabindu Upanishad, verses 4-5

By the Nirvikalpa Samadhi the truth of Brahman is clearly and definitely realised, but not otherwise, for then the mind, being unstable by nature, is apt to be mixed up with other perceptions.
~ Shankara, Vivekachudamani verse 365

Note this above verse is one of a whole series of verses by Shankara in which he drums home the importance of nirvikalpa samadhi as being the only way to attain Self-Realisation, see this link to read the other verses in the series: Shankara on the the need for Samadhi. Here is another:

We see the same teaching given again and again in the Upanishads:

By expelling (from the mind) without any remainder all objects which are superimposed on one’s Atma, one becomes himself Parabrahman the full, the secondless and the actionless

~ Adhyatma Upanishad 1.21

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

When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the Supreme State [Brahma-Vidya or Self Knowledge]
~Katha Upanishad 2.3.10

In his commentary on Katha Upanishad verse 1.2.20 Sri Shankara writes:

‘…One whose intellect has been withdrawn from all objects, gross and subtle, when this takes place, this is known as ‘inactivity of the sense organs’. Though this ‘inactivity of the sense organs’ one sees that glory of the Self. ‘Sees’ means he directly realises the Self as ‘I am the Self’ as thereby becomes free from suffering’

Vidyaranya Swami (1296-1386), author of the wonderful Advaita Vedanta text Panchadasi and Shankaracharya (head monk in the Shankara-Vedanta tradition) of Sringeri Math, wrote another less well known text called Jivanmukti Viveka. In it he, in some considerable detail, outlines the path to Jivanmukti, or liberation in this life. He write the following:

This mind being ‘entirely at rest’ is what is meant by Nirvikalpa Samadhi or the Turiya state. To read more about Vidyaranya Swami see this link: Jivanmukti Viveka – The path to liberation in this life by Swami Vidyaranya

The two main great sages of recent times, Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) and Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) both stressed the need for samadhi in order for liberation to be attained, thus continuing this traditional view. eg. in Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi the following is recorded in Talk 226:

A visitor from Tirukoilur asked if the study of the sacred books will reveal the truth.
Sri Ramana Maharshi.: That will not suffice.
Devotee.: Why not?
Maharshi.: Samadhi alone can reveal it. Thoughts cast a veil over Reality
and so it cannot be clear in states other than Samadhi.
Devotee.: Is there thought in Samadhi? Or is there not?
Maharshi.: There will only be the feeling ‘I am’ and no other thoughts.
Devotee.: Is not ‘I am’ a thought?
Maharshi.: The egoless ‘I am’ is not thought. It is realisation. The meaning or significance of ‘I’ is God. The experience of ‘I am’ is to Be Still.

Swami Gambhirananda, the former president of Ramakrishna Mission who translated all of Sri Shankara’s commentaries from Sanskrit into English, wrote in his introduction to Shankara’s commentary on the Chandogya Upanishad on page xxxii that ‘Brahman is realised in the state of Samadhi‘.

However, more recently, mainly only in the twentieth century, a new line of thought has arisen which claims that the traditional view is incorrect, and that samadhi is not really a requisite for liberation for most people. The idea is that samadhi can be a helpful practice for some, but for most it is not needed. Moreover, they state that this view that samadhi is not required is the actual traditional view that was distorted and corrupted some c. 1400 years ago. ie. they state that the traditional view that has been ongoing for at least 1400 years, if not longer, is not the actual traditional view, and that their view is actually the traditional view that was corrupted c.1400 years ago.

It seems that is is this school of thought that Swami Sarvapriyananda loosely belongs to. The other prominent recent teacher who teaches that samadhi is not required is Swami Dayananda Swaraswati. Of note, Swami Dayananda’s guru, Swami Chinmayananda was of the view that Samadhi is required for liberation for most people, so Swami Dayananda has effectively broken away from the teaching tradition that he was initated into. This means that he is the first Guru in a new teaching ‘tradition’, and that this new teaching ‘tradition’ claims to be a traditional teaching tradition! As far as I can tell, the so-called teaching ‘tradition’ of Swami Dayananda’s unique vedanta teaching (unique because it is unlike other vedanta teachings before it) only dates back to the 1980s.

So here is a summary of various more recent teachers and their views on Samadhi with respect to liberation:

Teachers who state samadhi IS required
for liberation
Teachers who state samadhi is NOT required
for liberation
Sri RamakrishnaSwami Dayananda Swaraswati (disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, left)
Sri Ramana MaharshiSwami Paramarthananda (disciple of Swami Dayananda, above)
Swami VivekanandaSwami Sarvapriyananda (of the Ramakrishna Order, see left)
Swami Sivananda
Swami Chinmayananda
(disciple of Swami Sivananda, above)
Almost all the Sages and Gurus of
Advaita Vedanta for the last 1400-1600 years (there
is very little documenation of Advaita Vedanta before
this time unless we go back to the Upanishads themselves)

We should see the irony that many of the gurus of those in the right column, are in the left column, so some of these teachers in the right column have actually left the teachings of their lineage and set up a new teaching in its place!

Just to be clear, all of the above teachers say that Meditation and Samadhi can be a useful part of one’s spiritual practice, but the teachers/sages in the left column stress the necessity of turning inwards away from objects which culminates in samadhi whereas the teachers on the right say turning inwards and samadhi are not essential to Self-Knowledge/Self-Realisation/Moksha/Liberation.

Why is this important?

Well essentially, without extreme purity of mind and turning within, the teachings remain predominantly on the intellectual level and realisation does not dawn. This means the blissful and infinite nature of the Self is not really revealed, and duality continues. The Jnana (knowledge) of the scriptures is not mere intellectual knowledge, but a synonym for Self-Realisation which is beyond any intellectual comprehension and does not depend on the mind/thought. This, for most, is revealed only when the mind is turned within towards the Subject-Self and made extremely pure and subtle, as we shall see below.

What is Samadhi according to Swami Vivekananda?

Well to confuse things further, there are various definitions as to what constitutes samadhi, but as this post is focussing on Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sarvapriyananda, we will see what Swami Vivekananda states about samadhi and the need for it. You will see that Swami Vivekananda is of the view that Samadhi is needed for both liberation as well as it being an essential part of the Advaita Vedanta path. Here are a few quotes from Swami Vivekananda which explain his view – all the following are from Swami Vivekananda:

The conclusion of the Vedanta is that when there is absolute [ie. nirvikalpa] samadhi and cessation of all modifications, there is no return from that state’

‘When the mind proceeds towards self-absorption in Brahman, it passes through all these stages one by one to reach the absolute (Nirvikalpa) state at last. In the process of entering into Samadhi, first the universe appears as one mass of ideas; then the whole thing loses itself in a profound “Om”. Then even that melts away, even that seems to be between being and non-being. That is the experience of the eternal Nada. And then the mind becomes lost in the Reality of Brahman, and then it is done! All is peace!

Concentration is Samadhi, and that is Yoga proper; that is the principal theme of this science, and it is the highest means. The preceding ones are only secondary, and we cannot attain to the highest through them. Samadhi is the means through which we can gain anything and everything, mental, moral, or spiritual.

[Tom: In the next quote we can see that Swami Vivekananda clearly is stating that in the path of Jnana (knowledge), not just in Yoga, the culmination is in Nirvikalpa Samadhi:]

While the aspirant in the path of Jnana, pursuing the process of Neti, Neti, “not this, not this”, such as “I am not the body, nor the mind, nor the intellect”, and so on, attains to the Nirvikalpa Samadhi when he is established in absolute consciousness.

[Tom: we can see in the next quote that Swami Vivekananda is stating how we have to turn away from objective phenomena and only be with the Pure Consciousness devoid of objects, and that state is Samadhi]

‘In order to reach the superconscious state in a scientific manner it is necessary to pass through the various steps of Raja-Yoga I have been teaching. After Pratyahara and Dharana, we come to Dhyana, meditation. When the mind has been trained to remain fixed on a certain internal or external location, there comes to it the power of flowing in an unbroken current, as it were, towards that point. This state is called Dhyana. When one has so intensified the power of Dhyana as to be able to reject the external part of perception and remain meditating only on the internal part, the meaning, that state is called Samadhi.’

‘…It is the highest and last stage of Yoga. Samadhi is perfect absorption of thought into the Supreme Spirit, when one realises, ‘I and my Father are one.”

Samadhi is the means through which we can gain anything and everything, mental, moral, or spiritual.’

‘The powers of the mind should be concentrated and the mind turned back upon itself’

Samadhi in traditional scriptures

To see what traditional scriptures state about the need for samadhi to attain realisation, see these links:

What is Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta?

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

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self? Advaita Vedanta & Upanishads

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

Sri Ramana Maharshi – Turn Within (Guided Meditation & Quotes)

Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on Shankara’s Vivekachudamani: Nirvkalpa samadhi is the only way

Swami Saravpriyananda on Samadhi/Turiya – ‘a fatal error’

We can see how Swami Vivekananda emphasises the need for meditation in Advaita Vedanta, in which we turn away from the world/objective phenomena, and that this culminates in Samadhi, which in turn leads to liberation. Later we will see how Sri Ramana Maharshi and others state the same. However we see something different from Swami Sarvapriyananda.

I specifically wanted to see what Swami Sarvapriyananda states about verse 7 of the Mandukya Upanishad as this is often cited by some as being as the most important verse in the most important Upanishad in all of Advaita Vedanta. Here is verse 7 of the Mandukya Upanishad:

‘Turiya [the forth] is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self in the three states, It is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non—dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realized.’

Most vedantins, historically and at present, interpret this verse as showing the need to turn within, away from gross and subtle objects, to discover and realise the Self within, in which all phenomena have ceased to appear. This turning within away from objects towards the Self goes by many names such as ‘Self-Enquiry’, ‘abiding as the Self’, ‘Turiya’, ‘Samadhi’, ‘Nididhyasana’, ‘Diving inwards’, etc. Here is Ramana Maharshi talking about this in Letters From Sri Ramanashramam, 8th September 1947, letter 138:

Questioner: It is stated in the Mandukya Upanishad that, unless Samadhi ,i.e., the 8th and last stage of Yoga, is also experienced, there can be no Liberation (Moksha) however much meditation (dhyana) or austerities (tapas) are performed. Is that so?

Sri Ramana Maharshi: Rightly understood, they are the same. It makes no difference whether you call it meditation or austerities or absorption, or anything else. That which is steady, continuous like the flow of oil, is austerity, meditation and absorption. To be one’s own SELF is Samadhi.

Questioner: But, it is said in the Mandukya Upanisahd that Samadhi must necessarily be experienced before attaining Liberation (Moksha).

Sri Ramana Maharshi: And who says that it is not so ? It is stated not only in the Mandukya Upanishad, but in all the ancient books.

So I would expect that when commenting upon this verse 7 of Mandukya Upanishad, the teaching given would be to turn within away from objects, as per verse 7 which states Turiya, which is ‘the cessation of all phenomena’, is to be realised. However Swami Sarvapriyananda has a different interpretation. Here is a video of his in which he discourages this type of meditation or turning inwards (please go to timestamps 24:58 and 33:49) and states that this is a ‘fatal error’, or see the transcript I have written out below:

Here is what Swami Sarvapriyananda states:

[timestamp 24:58] I would like to correct possibly what might be called a fatal error – a lot of people make it – a deep misconception which even people who should know better in Vedanta, who have been studying, they make it…you see the nature of the error is this – I am warning you in advance so that we don’t fall into that….

[timestamp 33:49; Swami Sarvapriyananda now describing what he sees as being the ‘fatal error’] ‘Now you have got this idea you have to go into the fourth state [ie. Turiya or Nirvikalpa Samadhi] which is a separate state and find the real self, the Turiya, and then they will go further to link it to that state is the nirvikalpa samadhi.

It will not help to sit in class in the Vedanta society with your books open, eyes open – no, you have to close your eyes, not fall asleep, not to dream, but go into a deep meditative state called the fourth state [Tom: note this is what Swami Sarvapriyananda is saying we should NOT do!].

Some people are nodding, no! Don’t nod! This is this is wrong! What I’m saying [ie. about the need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi above] is wrong. It’s a nice selling point, it’s [ie. liberation is] available at the fourth state that you will attain through esoteric meditation practices and then you will be realized – no no no! You have forever shut the doors to enlightenment...!’

You can see that Swami Sarvapriyananda is stating that one should not turn within, or rather, that this ‘turning within’ to enter into Nirvikalpa Samadhi/Turiya is not required for liberation.

More than that, he is stating that if you take on this view, you will have ‘forever shut the doors to enlightenment’. He does not even acknolwedge that this turning inwards and attaining samadhi is another path to liberation, but categorically states this path is a false path and does not lead to liberation. This is in direct constrast with the quotes from Swami Vivekananda above which advocate the attainment of Samadhi as a valid means to liberation and as an integral and essential part of the Advaita Vedanta path.

Now contrast what Swami Sarvapriyananda has said with the quotes I have given above, both in the links and from this article, or with the following from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

Ramana Maharshi: Conscious Immortality – here Sri Ramana emphasises the need for repeated meditation, entering into samadhi and the need to turn away from objective phenomena (what he calls here ‘nama-rupa’ or ‘name and form’). Here is an excerpt from the above article, the following is a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate…It is not by a single realisation that “I am not the body but the Atman” that the goal is reached. Do we become high in position by once seeing a king? One must constantly enter into samadhi and realise one’s Self, and completely blot out the old vasanas and the mind, before it becomes the Self’

Sri Ramana Maharshi also wrote an essay in which he outlines the entire path to liberation and summarises the Advaita Vedanta teachings of Shankara. In that essay he states that Nirvikalpa Samadhi leads directly to liberation, as follows:

Just as butter is made by churning the curds and fire by friction, so the natural and changeless state of Nirvikalpa samadhi is produced by unswerving vigilant concentration on the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken flow of oil. This readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed, and Universal perception of Brahman, which is at once knowledge and experience and which transcends time and space.

To further cement this point, here is a quote from Swami Chinmayananda from this link, who says the complete opposite of Swami Sarvapriyananda. Please note that Swami Chinmayananda is explaining Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta teachings here – he states that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the only way:

‘In the condition of nirvikalpa samadhi alone can this great Reality be apprehended with certainty. With cent per cent certainty you apprehend the Truth when all the waves and ripples in your mind have ended. Sankara is positive and declares, ‘Never by any other method’; bringing the mind to quietude is the only method‘.

Swami Sarvapriyananda advises against Sri Ramana’s teaching of Wakeful Sleep (Jagrat Sushupti)/Turiya

Note that when Swami Sarvapriyananda states in the video/transcript above ‘you have to close your eyes, not fall asleep, not to dream, but go into a deep meditative state called the fourth state.’ – Swami Sarvapriyananda here is describing what he sees as the error – ie. he is advising that this is not the way. This teaching he is denouncing here as being false is the teaching of wakeful sleep (Jagrat Sushupti) that Sri Ramana Maharshi often used to teach.

The idea of this teaching is that one should not fall asleep or go into dream, but one should stay conscious and awake but without any thoughts. This teaching is clearly found in the Upanishads and also explained in more detail by Sri Ramana Maharshi – see this link for details. It shows that Swami Sarvapriyananda is fully aware of this teaching but is advising against it, in direct contrast to Sri Ramana!

The text Guru Vachaka Kovai (Garland of Guru’s Sayings) is, according to Sri Ramana Ashram, ‘the most precise, systematic and authoritative exposition’ of Sri Ramana’s teachings. Here is verse 17 of Guru Vachaka Kovai where Sri Ramana equates wakeful sleep with Turiya, and refers to Tuirya as being a state to attain:

17. To those who look within, the highest good gained by the Master’s grace is wakeful sleep, the turiya state, the undying flame, the sweet, uncloying fruit forever fresh.

Here are some more verses on Turiya from Guru Vachaka Kovai which speak of Turiya as a state to be attained:

196. The unlimited Space of Turiyatita which shines suddenly, in all its fullness, within the Heart of a highly mature aspirant during the state of complete absorption of mind, as if a fresh and previously unknown experience, is the rarely attained and true Shiva-Loka [i.e., Kingdom of God], which shines by the Light of Self.

Here Sri Ramana states Turiya is to be attained when the mind and senses are brought under control ‘day and night’:

685. If the inner instruments of knowledge [ie. mind, intellect, chittam and ego] and the outer instruments of knowledge [ie. the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin] have been brought under control day and night [i.e. always], the supreme Reality which shines in the inexpressible state of turiya will dawn.

Here again Sri Ramana equates Turiya with waking sleep and also with Jnana:

940. Whether it is called a grand sleep devoid of waking, or a single waking untouched by in-slipping sleep, it will aptly fit the venerable Jnana-turiya.

You can see that the teachings are in direct contrast. Sri Ramana, in the verses above and in many other places, speaks of Turiya as a state to be attained through turning inwards and not attending to sense-objects. This indeed is the traditional view found in Advaita Vedanta texts for many centuries. Whereas Swami Sarvapriyananda is stating that this is a false teaching and that people who teach this ‘should know better’.

Ok, one more quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi, from a text he himself wrote called Vichara Sangraham (Self-Enquiry), in which prolonged meditation is advocated in order to attain Turiya:

The experience of Self is possible only for the mind that has become subtle and unmoving as a result of prolonged meditation. He who is thus endowed with a mind that has become subtle, and who has the experience of the Self is called a jivan-mukta. It is the state of jivan-mukti that is referred to as the attributeless Brahman and as the Turiya.

We see the same teaching in the Upanishads, which are the highest authority in Vedanta teachings, eg. from the Annapurna Upanishad:

2.12. The quiescent state of the attenuated mind, free from all objective reference, is said to be the deep sleep in wakefulness (Jagrat-Sushupti).
2.13. This state of slumber, O Nidagha, fully developed through practice, is styled the Fourth (Turiya) by the best knowers of Truth.

Swami Sarvapriyananda on Self-Enquiry

You will find similar differences in the teachings given by Swami Sarvapriyananda on other areas too – eg. you can find for yourself a video where Swami Sarvapriyananda explains how to do Self-Enquiry. Then you can compare this with what Sri Ramana wrote in the text ‘Who am I?’, which is a text in which Sri Ramana instructs us on the method of Self-Enquiry, and you will see the teachings are actually very different.

For some reason I have found that many seekers I come across are often not able to discern these differences in the teachings, especially in the text ‘Who Am I?’ or think that they are pointing at the same thing in different ways, but if you listen carefully, you will see the differences. And these differences can make all the difference!

Please note that I am not trying to denigrate anyone, rather I am just attempting to make clear the path to liberation, in my view, as taught in the vedanta scriptures and by Sri Ramana Maharshi. I am simply presenting this information to you and you can make your own descision on this topic thereafter for yourself.

As many seekers do not see these differences upon reading ‘Who Am I?’, which is a very concise text with the teachings densely packed in, I recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana – Part 1 which makes the teachings much clearer and gives much fuller explanations of the method of Self-Enquiry and how Sri Ramana maintained that it is the only way to liberation (ie. there are many ways to liberation, many paths, but they all eventually lead to Self-Enquiry). This book also makes it clear what the teachings are not, which is just as important in today’s world where lots of conflicting teachings are available for us to consume.

Here are also a couple of videos I have created to explain the teaching. The first one is a teaching from me given spontaneously during satsang. The second video contains quotes read out loud that explain the practice of Self-Enquiry clearly and concisely.

Swami Sarvapriyananda on the Four Qualifications (Sadhana Chatustaya)

Similarly you will see how Swami Sarvapriyananda has to change the definitions, as found in scripture, of the four qualifiations, as the definitions found in scripture support the view that one needs to turn away from objects towards the Self and this then culminates in Nirvikalpa Samadhi/Turiya.

This is also true of all the Vedanta teachers in the right hand column of the table above – they all have to change the definitions given in the scriptures of various terms in order for their versions of the teaching to make sense. I’m sure you can find videos online of how these teachers describe the four qualifications and compare their definitions to the scriptural ones (see link above) and see how they are different. Let me know in the comments if you agree!

My view

My own personal view is that I have found Sri Ramana’s teachings to be entirely liberating and to be completely in line with the Upanishads and Advaita scriptures, but other teachings that teach something different almost invariably lead one to stay entrapped in maya.

The teaching can be very subtle, and for some reason (ok…the reason is the ego or maya!) many seekers are not able to discern a true teaching even when it is clearly taught to them. The teaching is also easily distorted by third parties, even if this isn’t their intention, as the presence of ego (ie. ignornace) is a distorting factor.

Many want liberation without having to engage with practice/sadhana/meditation. Many want liberation without having to dissolve their ego-mind in samadhi/turiya/self-abidance. And so they advocate teachings that state that you do not need to do these things. Note how these teachings remain predominantly on the level of the mind-intellect (ie. ego).

How to know if this is what you are doing? Answer: the suffering keeps on coming back. Until the true teaching is discerned, and then followed, the suffering will keep on returning and the illusion of duality/multiplicity will persist.

For some of you this may seem to be an exageration, but I try to explain in more detail why this is the case in this video here – this video explains the fundamental difference between teachings that lead to libertion and teachings that do not – let me know what you think! Some people have told me that this is one of the most important videos of mine they have seen:

I have also written an article here that also attempts to explain the difference between liberating and non-liberating teachings:

HOW TO END EGO-SUFFERING (and why other spiritual paths tend not to ultimately work)

If you are interested in learning more about these teachings there is a recommended reading list I have compiled here:

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

Article summary

Traditionally for over 1500 years and in the present day most Vedantins state that Samadhi is required for liberation for most people. Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda also emphasise the need for Samadhi. However it seems that Swami Sarvapriyananda has departed from this view from what I can see – he states that Samadhi may be helpful in some ways but is not essential for liberation.

eg. Swami Chinmayananda states that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the only way, the following is Swami Chinmayananda explaining Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta teachings (link to full text above):

‘In the condition of nirvikalpa samadhi alone can this great Reality be apprehended with certainty. With cent per cent certainty you apprehend the Truth when all the waves and ripples in your mind have ended. Sankara is positive and declares, Never by any other method’; bringing the mind to quietude is the only method‘.

The traditional teaching is that without Samadhi, the limitless nature and blissful aspect of the Self will not be apprehended, and the teachings will remain at the mental level; suffering and duality will continue, even if genuine insights have been made. eg:

The knot of ignorance in the heart is broken completely only when one sees his Self as secondless through Nirvikalpa Samadhi
~ Adhyatma Upanishad 1.17

I give quotes from the Upanishads, other prominent teachers of Vedanta and Sri Ramana Maharshi to make my points. Please note that this article is not intended to criticise anyone – personally I have the utmost respect for Swami Sarvapriyananda and the way he is sharing the vedanta teachings. However discussing teachings in this way has also been a long time part of the vedanta tradition. This article aims to clarify the teachings being presented and offer my view on this in the hope that it may be helpful for some of you.

Still not convinced?

I recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana which can be downloaded for free on this link below. Not only is this a great book on Sri Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, it is also one of the best primers I have come across to understand the true Vedanta teachings. It is the book I most often recommend, and having read this you should at least be able to see the differences between the two main types of Vedanta being prescribed, as per the table above. You can then, having seen for yourself the difference in the teachings, decide which one is for you:

The entire path explained: the Path of Sri Ramana (Parts 1 and 2; PDF downloads)

Please remember, these articles are not written in order to put anyone down or criticise. Personally I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Swami Sarvapriyananda and what he is doing to share the teachings of Vedanta. However discussing teachings in this way has been a long time tradition in Vedanta. I also understand that a range of teachings and teachers can be a part of one’s spiritual journey, and if you are finding a certain teacher or teaching to be helpful to you, who am I to say otherwise? In fact, I am happy for you! Ultimately it is all good, and if we are earnest and honest, we will find what we are looking for (ie. Liberation/Self-Realisation) – it is only a matter of time.

In the meantime I only offer you my point of view in the hope that it is helpful to at least some of you.



31 thoughts on “Does Swami Sarvapriyananda teach the same as Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna? | Swami Dayananda | Swami Satchidanendra Saraswati | Sri Ramana Maharshi | Advaita Vedanta

  1. To Tom: excessive intellectualism! without reaching nirvikalpa samadhi you will have no conviction. what is most important is that you are not addicted to samadhi. A single achievement of Samadhi is sufficient. From there you just have to remember or visualize that state until it becomes your natural condition //


    1. Hi, you say excessive intellectualism, but then you respond with a theory of your own that a single achievement of Samadhi is sufficient followed by recollection of that state. How is that not just as intellectual! I am simply pointing out differences in teachings that are fairly obvious to me when I come across them, but perhaps may not be obvious to others. You are welcome to have a different view of course.

      Personally I do not feel I am excessively intellectual, but this kind of post necessitates quoting various sources to make the point clear. Perhaps it gives the wrong impression? In this vein, see here, a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi:

      ‘It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate…It is not by a single realisation that “I am not the body but the Atman” that the goal is reached. Do we become high in position by once seeing a king? One must constantly enter into samadhi and realise one’s Self, and completely blot out the old vasanas and the mind, before it becomes the Self”

      To read the entire quote and context see here:

      Wishing you well



      1. This information you have given is absolutely true, I have also found in Sarvapriyananda’s lectures that he explains Samadhi in a totally wrong way.
        And I have also seen the lectures of Self Inquiry which do not match at all with the Direct Method of Self Inquiry as taught by Shri Ramana Maharshi.

        “When we enquire within ‘Who am I?’ the ‘I’ investigated is the ego. It is that which makes vichara (enquiry) also. The Self has no vichara. That which makes the enquiry is the ego. The ‘I’ about which the enquiry is made is also the ego. As the result of the enquiry the ego ceases to exist and only the Self is found to exist.”( Reference Gems from Bhagwan, Who Am I?)

        ” True Knowledge is Impossible without Samadhi . Brahman, the Absolute and Unconditioned is realized in Samadhi alone and than it is all Silence ,all talks and ignorance is hushed. ~ Shri Ramakrishna

        When the non-dual Self is realized in nirvikalpa samadhi the heart‘s knot of ignorance is completely destroyed.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sir, who is going to achieve “samadhi”? Absence of that achiever is called “samadhi”. One can go upto the thought-free state with practice but beyond is not in the ego’s hands. It has to happen naturally as the sleep happens. Practice is needed but the realisation is not due to practice. Practice is to remove the dust in eyes.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Interesting reading and overall I can’t say I disagree. Also, I am most grateful for all that went into this on your part. My response is this. There is a kind of wildcard that deserves mentioning and that is Grace. In a kind of one fell swoop suffering ended here. Samadhi/Hridaya happened naturally, organically, and unequivocally. No meditation, no inquiry, no nothin, but there was a deep knowing after a powerful satori decades before. Suffering however was also deep with a suicidal ideation and it all came to a complete stop. Sat-chit-ananda was what was. Deeply peaceful, blissful, and suffused with love. In fact, I retired to ‘IT’. Ramana made it clear that what would be would be no matter what one did. It was written or destiny. In the meantime meditation, inquiry, witnessing, etc. certainly can’t hurt. There is a deep desire and conviction not of thoughts, ego, i want. It is there in ‘What Is’. No one can teach it. A glimpse of destiny, perhaps. Again, thanks for all you’re doing. Great stuff!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t talk from the real of intelect. 🙏🏼🙏🏼❤️
    maybe I can tell you that here what comes out comes straight from pure reason or high intellect . it’s not theory


  3. Forget about who said what, and why they did what they did?
    You want liberation…say I will get it for you somehow….what will you do with it, next? Become a mad day dreamer of some sort or what else that you have in mind about liberation that you feel is distant within you? The more fragmented you are in whatever means (perception/cognition/etc) the more miserable you will be and what it appears here is liberation is also fragmented in aspiring as achievement. In advaitha as I understood, grow beyond the ONE…..after being the ONE. Ask any guru about the reasons for creation….they have no clue other than saying its the ONEs leela or pass time. No one knows, and once you are liberated and be ONE with ONE, in literal sense do you think you are still liberated in knowing why behind what you do? Best of luck. When someone gives you a goal, first learn why is that a goal in their context, before mapping to your own context and then worry about achieving it……for me the manifestation of goal itself is achievement there is no further requirement to achieve it. Does total or blind faith or surrender ring a bell? I can keep going on….but try and understand what you are aspiring to liberate from or have freedom from…ultimately yourself from oscillating like pendulum. Stay still, to chill and have thrill.


  4. It’s best not to indulge in who says what, and to bring upon another layer of conditioning on yourself. All paths lead to the ONE. The more logic or intellect we try to bring in, the more emphasis we are placing on the mind..and the more hindrances we create in our path of realising the truth.


    1. @Abhishek, your own words…”in our path to realizing the truth”…let me tell you the real fact there is no path whether it is yours or mine or other. There is only truth, whether you believe or not its a choice and there is no compulsion. Existence, and non-existence co-exist in some fashion. The point is there is no new realization required if you believe in what you believe. Only problem is can you stick to it without getting sucked into some system of others, which are nothing but your own wavering gimmics? If you ever had trouble with whats’ uttered here, please do know there are friends to help, and the way you approach them is seek “O” who are the public servants currently in-charge of mother Earth on behalf of believed TRUTH. Just one caution though, when you approach seeking time as in living then make sure there are no gimmics on your end otherwise you will be sucked into theirs in a very friendly way, for you to realize. – A Friend.


  5. The Eastern traditions have a rich tradition of debate. Adi Shankara went directly to Kumarilla Bhatta, went directly to Mandana Mishra, interacted directly with Buddhists and Kapalikas and others. If there is a difference of opinion, debate is encouraged; that is how knowledge grows. As a teacher myself, when I have a difference of opinion with a colleague, I approach the colleague directly; I don’t stand in the hallway and vent to passing students or the custodian. And if that doesn’t work, I go up the chain to the dean or principal. These academic points are not for half-baked discussion with an ill-informed public. Do take it up directly with Swami Sarvapriyananda or with Belur Math, if you feel strongly enough about it. I am not knowledgeable enough to defend Swami Sarvapriyananda’s position, but where’s the fun in feeling superior to me?


    1. Thanks for you comments Padma! Belur Math is very much aware of these issues already. As I mentioned in the post, there are broadly 2 different views in Vedanta that are present today, and as this is a personal blog, I am happy to share my personal point of view freely whilst respecting others who may hold other views. Namaste


  6. Namasthe,

    Interesting point of view about Swami Sarvapriyananda. In this context, a contemporaryVedanta teacher, James Swartz claims to teach authentic Vedanta. Sri Tom Das can u plz share your views about this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Amar – Namaste

      Thanks for your comment and question. If you read the above article carefully you should hopefully be able to decide for yourself which of these paths is right for you (as well as discover my view on such things).

      Or you could take my suggestion and read The Path of Sri Ramana Part 1 (if you haven’t already) and make up your own mind on these types of issues.

      The key is to follow your own intuition on these things, as what I deem to be a false path in an ultimate sense may be of benefit for you depending on where you are in your journey…
      …or if you are lucky enough to have faith in Sri Ramana Maharshi (as I do), then my suggestion is simply to understand and follow his instructions (Upadesa) with love and devotion for Him.

      Best wishes & Namaste



  7. If i may, i think this is a misunderstanding of what Sarvapriyananda expresses.

    “Many want liberation without having to engage with practice/sadhana/meditation. Many want liberation without having to dissolve their ego-mind in samadhi/turiya/self-abidance. And so they advocate teachings that state that you do not need to do these things. Note how these teachings remain predominantly on the level of the mind-intellect (ie. ego).”

    You are suggesting this of Sarvapriyananda? With his vast amount of content talking literally on the four qualifications of advaita… how?

    What Swami Ji is touching on here, is an expression of proper detachment and discernment; he is advocating for, not speaking against, proper and complete sadhana chatushtayam.

    He actually stresses proper practice, rather constantly. He has said around the topic of knowledge, directly in relation to tattva jnana, manonasa and vasana ksaya, “even if the preparations are not complete, the breakthrough can still be made; but after you must go back and complete those preparations”. He has actually talked directly about the concern of the neo-advatic satsang movement lacking the inner work. He’s understands quite well the psychological danger of advaita, for its potential that it can lead the unqualified to think these practices aren’t necessary; to counter that misunderstanding he has often pointed to the fact that despite Adi Shankara’s very existential and detached advaita, he still practised devout meditation, bhakti, etc.

    He isn’t advising here that the conceptions/practices around turiya are “not the way”; he understands they are very much necessary, but they only come alive through viveka/vairagya. He is saying that if we lack discrimination/detachment towards jagat (which still includes our spiritual frameworks), then we are in bondage. Attachment to these concepts can pose pit-falls, just like the advaitic shuffling around them. Therefore, as per advaita tradition, it is essential to cultivate this intellectual discrimination first, then the actual practice can begin.

    He is essentially pointing to what is understood as Turiyatita, as always present (just as Vasistha reminding Rama hes already liberated). The four states arise through ignorance of self. Hes not really saying anything new, the scriptures do a phenomenal job in reminding us that we are self-illuminating and spotless already

    “Where there is no third nor Fourth state, where all is known as the Self, where there is neither righteousness nor unrighteousness, how can there be either bondage or liberation?” – Avadhut Gita

    “For Me, established in my own glory, there is no dreaming or deep sleep, no waking nor Fourth state beyond them, and certainly no fear.” Asthavakra Gita

    “Abide as That in which there are no Holy Scriptures or sacred books, no one who thinks, no objection or answer to it, no theory to be established, no theory to be rejected, nothing other than one Self – and be always happy, free from the least trace of thought.” – Ribhu Gita

    This is what i hear him; not discouraging, but rather encouraging via proper understanding.


    1. Hi Cody, thanks for your comment.

      If you simply listen to Swamiji’s definition of Sadhana Chatustaya (the fourfold qualifications) and compare it to the scriptural definitions you will see how the teachings are distorted. You can find the standard scriptural definitions on this link here:

      Shankara: 4 things you need to do in order to attain spiritual liberation (the 4 Qualifications according to Advaita Vedanta)

      If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read Sri Sadhu Om’s text The Path of Sri Ramana and then see what you think.

      That said, if you find Swamiji’s teachings to be encouraging for you, then who am I to say otherwise!

      Appreciate you giving your view here



      1. Thank you for the reply Tom. I do enjoy your videos!

        I have been listening to swami sarvapriyananda ji for quite a few years now, as well as other voices from my local swami chinmayananda and ramakrisha/vedanta study centers, and i do not personally find any distortions in his expression on the four qualifications. So, perhaps this comes from the study i have and then hearing what i want to from, i am not sure; but i do know he has staunchly stressed proper sadhana many, many times. I have never heard him advocate shortcut paths; he has, though, spoken out against there potential pitfalls, and relating it to the reasons why we have traditions, guru-shishya, etc etc.

        Did you not have a video or two with him? Did you bring this up? I do not remember

        Again, thanks for the quick reply and link

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear Tom,
    I appreciate your discussion of this important topic. I have been studying Vedanta, mostly following the teaching of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. His teachings on Self knowledge, as you point out, are consistent with Swami Sarvapriyananda’s. They both emphasize that one does not need any “special experience” to know that he/she is non-separate from the Brahman, i.e., I do not need to attain samadhi to realize the truth of Tat Tvam Asi. This can be realized through the Vedantic teaching methods of Drg-Drshya viveka, Avasthatraya vicara, etc. To assimilate and to abide in this knowledge requires purity of heart (sadhana chatushtaya) and constant practice of Nididhyasana. In fact, Swami Sarvapriyananda (timestamp 35:37) says that Vedanta is not against samadhi or transcendental experiences,but only that such experiences are not necessary for knowing the self. The Self is ever blazing forth, in all states and all moods. Why do we need to transcend anything to know that which is Self evident?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Ravi

      Many thanks for your comments and question.

      Essentially, without turning within towards the Subject-Self, the True Nature of the Self is not really discovered at all, and so duality and suffering do not end. The infinite, deathless and blissful nature of the Self is not really discovered at all.

      I explain this in more detail in this video here, so take a look if you are interested:

      Without turning inwards, the notion ‘I am the Self’ is merely an intellectual understanding in the mind – please note that this ‘intellectual understanding in the mind’ is not what is meant by Jnana or Vidya (Knowledge) in the Vedanta scriptures, as they categorically state. This is why the Upanishads always emphasise the Subject-Self and the need to turn towards it – see this post for a selection of examples of this:

      I have also extensively blogged about this topic so feel free to explore the other articles I have written on this. eg. here is a post explaining what Jnana (Knowledge) means according to the Vedanta Scriptures:

      Best wishes and I am very glad you have found Vedanta!




      1. Dear Tom,


        My humble salutations to the Divinity in you.

        Thank you for your bold, critical and open comments on Swamy Sarvapriyanandaji’s teachings about the unimportance of reaching Turiya state to get the True and Real experience of Reality ie our True Self, the Pure Consciousness. He has been my online Guru wrt teachings on various Spiritual topics and I stand benefitted to a great extent after my Self Realisation because they keep me exposed to and soaked in pure spiritual thoughts and Ego free and keep me abide in my True Me which are the purposes of Satsung.

        You are absolutely correct in saying that deep meditation which leads to thought-less, no-mind, Still and breathless state is the very state which our scriptures call as the Fourth state experience which is the aim of Raja Yoga and which is the eight limb of Patanjali Yoga.

        Turiya can be experienced by all as Ramana Maharishi explained in the books on Who am I ? enquiry. He says that the Turiya state can be experienced in Deep meditation and also in the split second between two states viz Deep sleep state and Waking up state or Dream state and Waking up state before the onset of the activity of the mind. The Self can not be known by reading Scriptures alone or by meditation alone but by the combined practices of both only because to name the experience you attain in Meditation you have to have a knowledge of the Reality which can be had only by hearing discourses, studying the Scriptures and contemplating the teachings in them which in turn requires a pure, calm but alert mind.

        Swamy Sarvapriyanandaji has once admitted to a Questioner in one of his Q and A sessions that he is not an enlightened person. As per his suggestions Self Realisation is possible when ignorance is removed. But in his case it has not happened in spite of his vast knowledge about the Subject. What is the meaning of Direct experience in his spiritual dictionary? If Brahman can be experienced in all the 3 states why he says that he has not realised It yet. His insistence that Knowledge alone removes Ignorance and Self Realisation is possible by acquiring that does not hold good in his case. The solution is simple. He has to reach that Fourth state to have the direct experience of That. That is It.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Sri Ramana Teachings for all beings is in The Silence (Underlying Infinite consciousness, Turia)
    To initiate:- scriptural knowledge and the guidance of the Spiritual Teacher – all crucial
    Ultimately:- The Grace of the SatGuru sucks us to our essence – the Oneness – the “I” – Self – Atman, this is indescribable, only pointed in any (Nondual) Teaching. Acharya Goudapada, Sage Ashtavakra underlines that – the “I” – Self – Atman is Brahman.


  10. Hi,
    Thanks for the nice and elaborate article, but I think that there is a slight misunderstanding on Swami Sarvapriyananda’s opinion on Samadhi.

    What I believe Swami Sarvapriyananda here refers to is the Samadhi attained through Raja Yoga/Patanjali Yoga Sutra through the cessation of thoughts. I think he means to say that one doesn’t need to practice this yogic meditation way separately, FOR getting enlightened, but rather considers it as a tool(and a very powerful one) to help in the process of nididhyasana and becoming a brahma nishtha. I think this short reply in a Q&A session affirms his stance on samadhi. However, he has also remarked that most of the enlightened sages he knows went through a prolong period of nirvikalpa samadhi at the time of their enlightenment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Svatejas for your comments and the link to Swami’s video.

      I think you will see that I have acknowledged this very point you raised in my article already (see the text below the table comparing various teachers/swamis).

      In my view, the answer to the question in the video still contains all of the misunderstandings of vedanta teachings that I have tried to point out in the article, and also many more subtle points too. eg. the notion that there is a practice after realisation called ‘nididhyasana’ is another fallacy, as is the idea that there is a ‘yogic’ way to realisation and a different ‘vedantic’ way to realisation, as is the notion of what the nature of Nididhyasana and Jnana (spiritual knowledge) actually are (see my articles linked below)

      If you are interested, I encourage you to read some of the texts on my recommended reading list such as The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss and The Path of Sri Ramana which hopefully make the differences between the teachings clear…

      …or read the article I have written on the nature of Jnana here:

      …and the article on nididhyasana here:

      There are also all the other aspects of Vedanta teachings that have been distorted in Swamiji’s presentation (again, in my opinion), such as on the nature of self-enquiry and the 4-fold qualifications, which you are welcome to look into yourself if you are interested.

      I only point these differences out, not to denigrate, but only because in my view these differences convert a liberating teaching with great depth and transformative ability to a relatively superficial non-liberating teaching that remains predominantly on the intellectual level.

      That said, if you prefer or are attracted to Swamiji’s teachings over what I am suggesting, then that is fine, and probably these teachings will be useful for you, as I have stated in the article.

      Wishing you well

      Many thanks & Namaste


  11. The difference between samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhi cannot be explained in simple direct terms by advaitins who equate them, quite reasonably, to savikalpa and nirvikalpa samadhis. Sw. Sarvapriyananda used the neti-neti method of Ma.Up. 7 and obviously failed to explain nirvikapla samadhi in terms that make sense to you.

    Samprajnata samadhi is a progressive set of subtler samadhis. Asamprajnata, like nirvikalpa, samadhi is not progressive at all and eternally underlies _all_ possible states, including jagrata, svapna, and sushupti, _and_ the samprajnata samadhis. Put differently, but still incompletely, as. sam. is “experiencing” without memory and the other set is processed experiences. Or the indivisible “now” underlying the divided “past-present-future”.

    These simple and direct understandings come from Samkhya-Yoga philosophy. Since most advaitins do not take the time or effort to study Samkhya-Yoga on its own terms, they don’t know of the correspondence between the iti statement – yogah samadhih – from Vyasa’s commentary on PYS 1.1 and the neti statement of Ma.Up. 7.

    An abstruse Upanishadic concept like turiya is actually easier to understand intellectually using the more direct Samkhya-Yoga approach. It doesn’t mean the advaitic arguments are wrong, just that, like the Ma.Up. or the Karika, they can be incomprehensible without spiritual experiences.


      1. Hi Tom,

        Apologies – my comment seems to have confused than clarified.

        My point was that Sw. Sarvapriyananda does indeed describe turiya as nirvikalpa samadhi. His description as turiya not being a separate state like waking, dream, or deep sleep, etc., is precise and based on Ma.Up. 7. This is also the description given by Ramana Maharshi in some talks. Maharshi, of course, is more interested in taking the seeker to that ever-present experiencing by quietening the mind than in developing an intellectual framework. That aside, Maharshi does say in a few talks that self-realisation/turiya doesn’t have to be achieved. Letting go of the misunderstanding of non-realisation/non-turiya – in all three “normal” states of consciousness – is all that is needed.

        Advaita as a single, non-dual framework doesn’t distinguish between states of consciousness and states of the mind-field. This makes turiya more difficult to understand in Advaita than in Samkhya-Yoga where consciousness and mind-field are different.

        (I will have to leave it at that, I’m afraid. Hopefully this comment was more useful.)


        Liked by 1 person

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