Samadhi and Meditation: Yoga vs Vedanta

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.

~Talks 451

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.)

~Talks 451

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.

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

Here Swami Advayananda of the Chinmaya International Foundation explains the need for Nirvikalpa Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta and how to overcome the obstacles to it:

Gaudapada & Shankara: The Self is Attainable by ‘Samadhi’ | What is Samadhi according to Advaita Vedanta

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 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, for the mind (and other objects) are not present in Samadhi
  5. This Samadhi leads to Jnana

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:

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)…

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

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). Shankara also states clearly that Jnana (Self-Knowledge) arises in the absence of any objects being present.

So we can see that Samadhi is not simply a state of mind – Shankara states it is the absense of mind and thought and object. States of mind come and go, which is a part of Maya, whereas 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.

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. This Samadhi leads to Jnana

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)

Jiddu Krishnamurti on Yoga and Yogic exercises

Question: Are yogic exercises helpful in any way to human beings?

Jiddu Krishnamurti: I think one must go into this question fairly deeply. Apparently in Europe, as well as in India, there is this idea that by doing yogic exercises, practising virtue, being good, participating in social work, reading sacred books, following a teacher – that by doing something of this kind, you are going to achieve salvation or enlightenment. I am afraid you are not. On the contrary, you are going to be caught in the things you are practising, and therefore you will always be held a prisoner and your vision will be everlastingly limited.

Yogic exercises are all right, probably, for the body. Any kind of exercise – walking, jumping, climbing mountains, swimming, or whatever you do – is on the same level. But to suppose that certain exercises will lead you to salvation, to understanding, to God, truth, wisdom – this I think is sheer nonsense, even though all the yogis in India say otherwise. If once you see that anything that you practise, that you accept, that you develop, always has behind it the element of greed – wanting to get something, wanting to reach something, wanting to break a record – , then you will leave it alone. A mind that is merely concerned with the `how’, with doing yogic exercises, this or that, will only develop a sense of achievement through time, and such a mind can never comprehend that which is timeless.

After all, you practise yogic exercises in the hope of reaching something, gaining something; you hope to achieve happiness, bliss, or whatever is offered. Do you think bliss is so easily realized? Do you think it is something to be gained by doing certain exercises, or developing concentration? Must not the mind be altogether free of this self-centred activity? Surely a man who practises yoga in order to reach enlightenment, is concerned about himself, about his own growth; he is full of his own importance. So it is a tremendous art – an art which can be approached only through self-knowledge, not through any practice – to understand this whole process of self-centred activity in the name of God, in the name of truth, in the name of peace, or whatever it be – to understand and be free of it.

Now, to be free does not demand time, and I think this is our difficulty. We say “I am envious, and to get rid of envy I must control, I must suppress, I must sacrifice, I must do penance, I must practise yoga”, and all the rest of it – all of which indicates the continuance of self-centred activity, only transferred to a different level. If one sees this, if one really understands it, then one no longer thinks in terms of getting rid of envy in a certain period of time. Then the problem is, can one get rid of envy immediately? It is like a hungry man – he does not want a promise of food tomorrow, he wants to be fed now, and in that sense he is free of time. But we are indolent, and what we want is a method to lead us to something which will ultimately give us pleasure.

Hamburg, Germany 4th Public Talk 14th September 1956

Ramana Maharshi quoting Shankara on Bhakti (The path of love and devotion)

In talk number 428 from the book Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Ramana Maharshi selects 10 verses from Sivananda Lahari, a devotional work of 100 verses written by Sri Sankara. In it, Bhakti is described, and Ramana has provided his own free translations of the meaning of the verses. So, here in the following text we have in effect a combined statement on Bhakti from both Shakara and Ramana!

!Praise and blessings to Sri Ramana and Sri Shankara!

ramana-maharshi face
Sri Ramana Maharshi


(1) What is bhakti?

Just as the ankola fruit falling from the tree rejoins it or a piece of iron is drawn to magnet, so also thoughts, after rising up, lose themselves in their original source. This is bhakti. The original source of thoughts is the feet of the Lord, Isvara. Love of His Feet forms bhakti. (Verse 61)

(2) Fruit of bhakti:

The thick cloud of bhakti, formed in the transcendental sky of the Lord’s Feet, pours down a rain of Bliss (ananda) and fills the lake of mind to overflowing. Only then the jiva, always transmigrating to no useful end, has his real purpose fulfilled. (Verse 76)

(3) Where to place bhakti?

Devotion to gods, who have themselves their origin and end, can result in fruits similarly with origin and end. In order to be in Bliss everlasting our devotion must be directed to its source, namely the Feet of the ever blissful Lord. (Verse 83)

(4) Bhakti is a matter only for experience and not for words:

How can Logic or other polemics be of real use? Can the ghatapatas (favourite examples of the logicians, meaning the pot and the cloth) save you in a crisis? Why then waste yourself thinking of them and on discussion? Stop exercising the vocal organs and giving them pain. Think of the Feet of the Lord and drink the nectar! (Verse 6)

(5) Immortality is the fruit of Devotion:

At the sight of him who in his heart has fixed the Lord’s Feet, Death is reminded of his bygone disastrous encounter with Markandeya and flees away. All other gods worship only Siva, placing their crowned heads at His feet. Such involuntary worship is only natural to Siva. Goddess Liberation, His consort, always remains part of Him. (Verse 65)

(6) If only Devotion be there – the conditions of the jiva cannot affect him.

However different the bodies, the mind alone is lost in the Lord’s Feet. Bliss overflows! (Verse 10)

(7) Devotion always unimpaired:

Wherever or however it be, only let the mind lose itself in the Supreme. It is Yoga! It is Bliss! Or the Yogi or the Bliss incarnate! (Verse 12)

(8) Karma Yoga also is Bhakti:

To worship God with flowers and other external objects is troublesome. Only lay the single flower, the heart, at the feet of Siva and remain at Peace. Not to know this simple thing and to wander about! How foolish! What misery! (Verse 9)

(9) This Karma Yoga puts an end to one’s samsara:

Whatever the order of life (asrama) of the devotee, only once thought of, Siva relieves the devotee of his load of samsara and takes it on Himself. (Verse 11)

(10) Devotion is Jnana:

The mind losing itself in Siva’s Feet is Devotion. Ignorance lost! Knowledge! Liberation! (Verse 91)

Q. Can you briefly define Jnana Yoga vs Bhakti Yoga and how they relate to Advaita and Vedanta?

Krishna The ignorant speak of yoga as different from the path of knowledge

Q. Can you briefly define Jnana Yoga vs Bhakti Yoga and how they relate to Advaita and Vedanta?

Tom: Jnana yoga usually refers to the use of (intellectual) knowledge in the mind used to remove ignorance, a thorn to remove a thorn, and then the thorn of ‘knowledge’ is itself allowed to fall away; Bhakti yoga is faith, love and devotion from the heart to Self/Guru/God. These 2 yogas seem different at first, but then they quickly merge together to remove ignorance and end suffering, which is what the word ‘yoga’ means of course. Both of the above are part and parcel of Advaita Vedanta as per the Upanishads, Gita, etc.

Q. What about Advaita vs. Jnana?

Tom: Advaita Vedanta, as a traditional teaching is the general term used to refer to the teachings of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras and a few other traditional texts. Jnana yoga refers to one part of the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. Other aspects of Advaita Vedanta include Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga and several other teachings found in the above aforementioned texts.

Advaita, literally means not-two. Jnana means knowledge. Jnana can either mean relative knowledge in the mind, which is the means of jnana yoga, or it can refer to the Absolute, which is not really knowledge per se as it is beyond ideas/conceptualisation, but the word Jnana is sometimes used nonetheless. This ‘absolute Jnana’ is synonymous with Advaita and points to that which is beyond both Advaita and Jnana, ie. God or True Self! It is also known as Parabhakti (divine love), Aparokshanubhuti (direct experience), Moksha (freedom) and various other terms, none of which fully capture what is spoken of!