Q. Why I don’t see Samadhi as a way to Liberation (Moksha) | Advaita Vedanta | Shankara | Ramana Maharshi

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

Namaste
⁠🙏⁠🕉⁠


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)

Quieten your mind! (Shankara on Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Brahma-Vidya/Self-Realisation) Swami Chinmayananda’s commentary on Vivekachudamani

Vivekacchudamani Vivekachoodamani Shankara Swami Chinmayananda

Tom: I highly recommend this version of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, which is complete with detailed commentary by Swami Chinmayananda on every verse in case there is any doubt of the meaning of the text. You can download a copy of the text here but I recommend you buy a print copy:

Shankara’s Vivekachudamani, verse 366:

  1. By nirvikalpa samadhi the true nature of Brahman is clearly and definitely manifest, never otherwise, for then, the mind being unsteady, is apt to be mixed with other perceptions.

Swami Chinmayananda’s Commentary:

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.

To quieten the mind there are many methods. You may quieten your mind through devotion, or through knowledge, or through karma-yoga or through pranayama. Whether standing on the head or sitting down, whether by going to the Himalayas or by living in your own home – you have the freedom to choose these – but your mind you must quieten.

The mind’s nature is to be constantly active. ‘Thought flow’, it is called. Therefore, it is impossible to realise the changeless Self with the mind, which, by its very nature is unstable. Whenever you try to grasp anything through the mind and intellect, the object of knowledge gets entangled in your own thought patterns. Pure Self can never be understood [Tom: Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states that Brahman is unknowlable, see ‘Another definition of Jnana’ here for more], so all that you understand about the Atman through the mind and intellect is Saguna Brahman and not Nirguna Brahman.

The unconditioned Absolute is never understood; you just become It when the mind ends [Tom: also compare with Ulladu Narpadu – invocation verse 1 and verses 8, 12 and 21 which essentially state the same]. As long as you look at It through the mind. It is only the conditioned, the limited (Saguna) version of the eternal absolute Self.

Also see:

Do we need to turn away from the world of objects to realise the Self?

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

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

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

Turn Within? Really? Isn’t this dualistic and doesn’t this just strengthen the ego?

What is the difference between Laya, Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Sahaja Samadhi?

Question: Thank you for this post on Laya and Samadhi. What is the difference between ‘Laya’ and Samadhi? And what is the difference between Nirvakalpa Samadhi, and Nirvakalpa Sahaja Samadhi? Thank you. 🙏

Tom: There are several different definitions of each term, depending on the scripture and school (eg. yoga, vedanta, etc). However, in essence, when the mind has been made still but I-thought (ie. ego) has NOT been removed, that is laya, so the ego remains latent and does not end up being destroyed. Instead, once the samadhi is over, the ego sprouts up again and causes suffering. This ‘Laya’ is sometimes known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

Abiding as the self is to remain as the Self without the I-thought. This is called Mauna (Silence), and naturally, over time, leads to Moksha once the vasanas (egoic tendencies) are rooted out. This is because the root cause of suffering, namely ignorance or the ‘I thought’ is directly attacked in this practice. Moksha is also called Sahaja Samadhi (which roughly translated means ‘the natural state’), as it is unforced and natural, but there is no sense of egotism/I-thought.

Confusingly, these terms are often used in different ways, even within a single philosophical school such as Advaita Vedanta. Sometimes the word Laya is used to mean Moksha, for example, and Mauna, Self-Abidance and Nirvikalpa Samadhi are also equated at times. At these times it will be said that Nirvikalpa Samadhi does lead to Moksha.

Best wishes!

You should not go into Laya (trance)! Annamalai Swami | Ramana Maharshi

Here are some very important teachings from Annamalai Swami regarding some dangers of meditation and entering into laya, a trance-like state:

annamalai swami final talks

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.