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. I do 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. 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. However, for at least the last 1400-1600 years, the dominant traditional view in Advaita Vedanta was that Samadhi is required for liberation, 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.
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’
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.
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. 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, 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|
|Teachers who state samadhi is NOT required|
|Sri Ramakrishna||Swami Dayananda Swaraswati (disciple of Swami Chinmayananda, left)|
|Sri Ramana Maharshi||Swami Paramarthananda (disciple of Swami Dayananda, above)|
|Swami Vivekananda||Swami Sarvapriyananda (of the Ramakrishna Order, see left)|
(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!
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 – ‘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. Here is a video of his in which he discourages this type of meditation (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’
Sri Ramana Maharshi also wrote an essay in which he outlines the entire path to liberation. 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. 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:
If you are interested in learning more about these teachings there is a recommended reading list I have compiled here:
Still not convinced?
I recommend you read The Path of Sri Ramana which can be downloaded for free on this link below. 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. I do 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 you.