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 🙏🕉
Q. Would you say that samadhi is a mental state? If so would Self Realisation be possible while not in that state after experienced?
Tom: Samadhi is not a mental state. Mental states come and go and are part of maya (illusion). Samadhi is beyond this. Samadhi is abiding as Self.
Q. I’m not clear on this for myself. From my understanding there are many jivas the world considers Self Realized that did not constantly operate out of a state of absorbtion/samadhi but were able to access it at will. I think that if Realisation is confined to samadhi only one could be justified in forgoing the Advaita path and shravana (hearing the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings) aspects altogether and aspire straight to a more meditative or Raja yoga path.
Tom: Regarding your first point, the Jnani is not the body-mind, but the eternal Self Within. There is only one Jnani – the Self. This Self is also called ‘Samadhi’. It is non-dual. It cannot be understood properly by the mind. This is why the Self can only be attained by Samadhi. The various so-called ‘realised-jivas’ are just illusion, or maya, appearance.
See a quote from Sri Ramana Maharshi here:
A Swami asked: I feel toothache. Is it only a thought?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Yes.
Questioner: Now there is the Sino-Japanese war. If it is only in imagination, can or will Sri Bhagavan imagine the contrary and put an end to the war?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: The Bhagavan of the questioner is as much a thought as the Sino-Japanese war. (Laughter.)
Now regarding your second point about yoga and meditation vs vedanta and sravana (hearing the teachings) and manana (reflecting upon the teachings):
’Fools, not the learned, speak of Sankhya [the path of knowledge] as being different to Yoga. Anyone who properly resorts to even one of these obtains the results of both’ ~Bhagavad Gita 5.4 ’The State that is reached by Sankhya is also reached by Yoga. He truly sees who sees that Sankhya and Yoga are one’ ~Bhagavad Gita 5.5
Krishna goes on to explain the path of yoga in the rest of chapter 5 and particularly in chapter 6 and how that leads directly to realisation. So yoga is another way. Have not all the great sages proclaimed this? It seems to be only the modern teachers with an intellectual appraoch who say otherwise. Sri Ramana Maharshi has said this – see the text he wrote called Self-Enquiry (Vichara Sangraham) where he describes how Raja Yoga can lead to liberation. Sri Ramakrishna, who was initiated and was taught Advaita Vedanta in a traditional way, also said the same, as did his disciple Swami Vivekananada. The purpose of Sravana and Manana is just to teach Nididhyasana (meditation). The purpose of all teachings is to come to Silence (mouna). Silence is just another word for Samadhi, or the Self, and is represented by the sacred symbol ‘Om’ above.
’All the texts say that in order to gain release one should render the mind quiescent; therefore their conclusive teaching is that the mind should be rendered quiescent; once this has been understood there is no need for endless reading.’ ~Who am I? by Sri Ramana Maharshi
See how much time Sri Ramana spends on Sravana and Manana in his teachings and writings – he always emphasised Nididhyasana, whereas the modern intellectual-type teachers of ‘Advaita Vedanta’ emphasise and spend most of the ri time on Sravana and Manana. Why do you think this is? As I said above, this point is also explained in the Bhagavad Gita Chapters 5 and 6 where Krishna explains how yoga leads to Moksha. It is also explained in a traditional text that Sri Ramana Maharshi recommended – Advaita Bodha Deepika – see Chapter 3 where this is also explained.
Please see these above texts if you wish to explore this further.
There are several views on this topic, but in this post we will see what the Advaita scriptures say and what Shankara has written on this in his commentaries.
In some texts that are attributed to Shankara, such as Vivekachudamani, the case is clearly presented – these texts clearly state that Samadhi is definitely required for Self-Realisation to occur. Whilst this is the most widely held view, and by far the dominant traditional view for at least the last one thousand years and more, and also the view of the four Shankara Mathas that have been entrusted with handing down Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta tradition to each generation, there are a minority who state that Vivekachudamani is not a genuine work of Shankara.
Therefore in this post we will look at what was written by Shankara in his commentaries, the authorship of which is not in doubt:
Please see this link hereto read the discussion of this topic.
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. 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. eg.
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, Vivechudamani 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:
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
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:
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.
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!
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
Swami Dayananda Swaraswati (disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, left)
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Swami Paramarthananda (disciple of Swami Dayananda, above)
Swami Sarvapriyananda (of the Ramakrishna Order, see left)
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.
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. 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 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 Samādhi, 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: Here we can see in the following quote 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.’
Samadhi in traditional scriptures
To see what traditional scriptures state about the need for samadhi to attain realisation, see these links:
Swami Saravpriyananda on Samadhi/Turiya – ‘a fatal error’
Whilst we can see how Swami Vivekananda emphasises the need for meditation in which we turn away from the world/objective phenomena, and that this culminates in Samadhi, which in turn leads to liberation, 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:
‘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, the teaching given would be to turn within away from objects, as per the verse 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.
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’
‘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. Swami Chinmayananda 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 explained in more detail by Sri Ramana Maharshi here. 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.‘
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
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 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!
I have also written an article here that also attempts to explain the difference between liberating and non-liberating teachings:
Traditionally for over 1500 years and in the present day most Vedantins state that Samadhi is required for liberation for most people. 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:
‘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.
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:
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.
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:
The Self is realisable through Samadhi
In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
This Samadhi is not a state of mind, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
This Samadhi leads to Jnana (Knowledge)
Whilst this is clearly explained in texts such as Shankara’s Vivekachudamani (see herefor 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…’
So hopefully we can now clearly see that, according to Gaudapada and Shankara:
The Self is realisable only through Samadhi
In Samadhi there are no thoughts present
In Samadhi there are no gross or subtle objects present
This Samadhi is not a state of mind that comes and goes, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
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.
The following is excerpted from The Sutra of Hui Neng (also known as the Platform Sutra), Chapter 5 entitled ‘On Dhyana’. My comments are interspersed in italicised red:
Learned Audience, what are Dhyana and Samadhi? Dhyana means to be free from attachment to all outer objects, and Samadhi means to attain inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects, our inner mind will be perturbed.
Tom: we can see Hui Neng has succinctly defined both Dhyana and Samadhi. In the next line he is essentially saying that these two are one and the same, in that when there is no attachment (ie. Dhyana), there will also be peace (ie. Samadhi):
When we are free from attachment to all outer objects, the mind will be in peace.
Tom: See if you can see the parallel with Sri Ramana Maharshi stating in ‘Who Am I?’:
‘Not to desire anything extraneous to oneself constitutes vairagya (dispassion) or nirasa (desirelessness). Not to give up one’s hold on the Self constitutes jnana (knowledge). But really vairagya and jnana are one and the same.’
Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure, and the reason why we are perturbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by the circumstances we are in.
He who is able to keep his mind unperturbed, irrespective of circumstances, has attained Samadhi.
Tom: Sri Ramana Maharshi states in ‘Who Am I?’:‘If only the mind is kept under control, what matters it where one may happen to be?’
In the above two lines Hui Neng hints that your True Nature, or what Hui Neng refers to as Essence of Mind, is already ‘unperturbed’, and essentially is always undisturbed and ‘pure’. Realisation of this naturally leads to Freedom:
To be free from attachment to all outer objects is Dhyana, and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to deal with Dhyana and to keep our inner mind in Samadhi, then we are said to have attained Dhyana and Samadhi. The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.” Learned Audience, let us realize this for ourselves at all times. Let us train ourselves, practice it by ourselves, and attain Buddhahood by our own effort.
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:
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’ herefor 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 21which 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.