Question: Why I don’t see Samadhi as a way to know Aham Brahmasmi [I Am Brahman, ie. Self Knowledge or liberation]. First of all let me discuss what is Samadhi and the types of Samadhi which are possible. Samadhi simply means having your mind concentrated. So Samadhi is of the following types. Savikalpa Samadhi and Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Savikalpa Samadhi means that our mind has become one with the object on which we concentrate. Nirvikalpa Samadhi means that all thoughts are rejected. This means that even Sushupti [deep sleep] is not present in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. What remains is the Pure “I” unassociated with anything. Now both Samadhis do not give the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi, reason is this. Savikalpa Samadhi mind is merged with object. There is no recognition of “I am the universal”. In Nirvikalpa Samadhi there remains Pure “I” but however the only interpretation possible post coming out of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi is that “I am different from body and mind” this is very much possible. But it does not give the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi I am the whole, the objects are not merged into the subject. But however the Samadhi is useful in Brahma Vidya, so Gaudapada suggests that as long as your mind works you see the world, if your mind does not think you see no world. Hence the world is Mithya. Hence practice of Samadhi makes the conviction of Vedanta stronger. But Samadhi per se will not give us knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi. Then what gives knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi is the methodology of superimposition of the Shastra and then removal by it. This helps is gain the knowledge of Aham Brahmasmi.
Response from Tom: A key scriptural method for the attainment of Moksha is superimposition and removal – but what does it mean? It is a technical way of saying using a thorn to remove a thorn and then throwing both away. The first thorn is ignorance, ie. that which causes duality and suffering – the scriptures tell us that this same ignorance is also known as Maya. The teaching/scripture is also a thorn, ie. a form of ignorance/maya, which is a form of superimposition. The difference is that it is the one part of Maya that if followed leads out of Maya. The scripture tells us to remove all superimposition by attending to the Self. This total removal of superimposition (ie. all objective phenomena), which also means eventually discarding the scripture/teaching itself, eventually leads to ‘Jnana’ or ‘Knowledge’. This total removal of superimpositions (ie. objects) is also called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. It is also called ‘Silence’.
eg. from the Amritabindu Upanishad: ‘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 [Brahman]. 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.’
eg. from Gaudapada Karika: ‘When the mind…remains unshakable and does not give rise to appearances, it verily becomes Brahman.’
However the thinking mind cannot comprehend how such a ‘void-like’ state such as Nirvikalpa Samadhi can lead to ‘knowledge’, as all it knows is the subject-object knowledge of the thinking mind (ie. ego). ie. all the mind knows is duality, therefore it cannot understand how something like nirvikalpa samadhi can lead to realisation. The mind therefore creates a new version of the teaching that is non-scriptural and states there is no need for samadhi/total removal of objective phenomena from the mind, even though the scriptures clearly state time and time again this is needed. The mind’s new teaching, which doesn’t work, ie. it does not reveal the Self that we are, perhaps makes more sense to the mind but usually is more complex and has many more concepts than the simpler more direct original teaching that actually works.
The scripture/true teaching is like a treasure map. We have to have faith in it and follow it and it will lead us to the treasure. But the mind, if it is not able to see how the map works, creates a new version of the map that makes sense to it (ie. makes sense to the ego-mind), but this version of the map only leads to more Maya, so suffering does not end and liberation is not ‘perceived’. In following the ego-made treasure map, the ego feels more secure, but the treasure of the Self that we already are is not revealed.
From Katha Upanishad: ‘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 [Brahman]’
Shankara writes in his commentary on Katha Upanishad:
‘…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’
And again from Shankara’s commentary on Katha Upanishad:
‘…the perceiver sees the external objects which are not-Self/not the Atman, such as sound, etc., and not the Self within. Though this is the nature of the world, some (rare) discerning man, like turning back/ reversing the current of a river, sees the Self within…The group of sense organs, beginning with the ear, should be turned away from all sense-objects. Such a one, who is purified thus, sees the indwelling self. For it is not possible for the same person to be engaged in the thought of sense-objects and to have the vision of the Self as well.’
From Amritabindhu Upanishad:
‘As mind emptied of the objective leads to liberation, one desirous of liberation must always try to wipe off the objective from the plane of his mind.’
There are so many other quotes like this, but I hope you get the point. What is needed is faith in the scriptures and then to follow them. Only then, once the teaching is put into practice, is it realised how Nirvikalpa Samadhi can directly lead to Jnana or Realisation. Otherwise we are doing the equivalent just standing on the sidelines talking about playing tennis without ever picking up the racket!
‘Strenuously withdrawing all thoughts from sense objects, one should remain fixed in steady, non-objective [ie. subjective] enquiry. This, in brief, is the means of knowing one’s own real nature; this effort alone bring about the sublime inner vision.’
~Sri Ramana Maharshi
‘…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. This perception is Self-realisation.’
~Sri Ramana Maharshi
Wishing you well