The Unbroken Samādhī underlying thoughts

In course of many years of meandering in the world of spiritual practices and beliefs, I eventually found a home that made perfect sense and confirmed the intuitive understandings and knowledge that arose from time to time in the most mysterious and yet the most mundane manner.

I wrote about how, after being initiated by my Master, the veil of the transactional existence that seems to obfuscate a clear view of our Self from us, was parted for this limited me.

There are many theories abound about the nature of the universe, of what the spirit is, the spiritual realms (lokas), of experiencing various supra-phenomena such as astral traveling, seeing and interacting with divine beings (deities) and so on. All of them are grounded in a much larger perspective than the five senses of the human being can ever provide.

It is surprising how diverse the landscape of spiritual conceptualizations is. In the dualistic framework (ie duality of subject-object, duality of individual soul and God), the fact that there is diversity, is clearly understood. However, that there seems to be wide diversity even in the context of nondual frameworks is quite perplexing.

To understand the difference between duality and non-duality, let me summarize the following —

Duality implies there is a separation of subject and objects. The subject is independently existent, as are the objects. Experience is the interaction between subjects and objects. In fact, subjects themselves are objects of other subjects, and so on. This is a world of manifestation – infinite objects, infinite subjects. Add to this the concept of God (creator) who made the subjects and objects (so the insentient universe and the sentient beings).

The subjects of our interest (human beings) are children of this God, and many theories abound, about the gender, form (or lack thereof), the authorized agents and agencies of said God and the official/most accurate teachings of this God (ground rules of how his/her children should behave).

Nonduality implies that there is no separation of subject and object. This is primarily and clearly prevalent in Indic (e.g., Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism) and sino-indic traditions (Vajrayana Buddhism, Zen, Daoism). The outcome of this is that everything that is experienced, i.e. phenomena are considered “unreal” or in the level of relative reality, while the Self (Brahman/Atman/Buddha Nature, Primordial Awareness, Dao) is absolutely real.

But the reality and unreality of Indic Nondual (Advaita) traditions is very clearly predicated on whether one can have independent Self-nature or is dependent on another “something” to exist. For something to be called “unreal” per the Indic traditions doesn’t deny its existence. It only denies its independent existence.

Other types of duality (such as Yin/Yang, Consciousness/Energy) are resolved by these meta-frameworks of Advaita in general. For instance, in Advaita Vedanta, one could argue that Brahman and Māyā seem to be separate. Brahman, the Primordial Awareness (Self) appears to itself as the individual selves (Jiva) as a result of avidyā, which is due the veiling effect of Māyā, which seems to be existent, unborn and never-ending just like Brahman. However, Māyā is not independent of Brahman, but rather, is the veiling nature of Brahman; just like Light is not separate from the Sun, but is the nature of the sun.

So now when people start making wild comments about what “nonduality” means in one or other of these traditions, and how say Kashmir Shaivism’s Nonduality is separate from Advaita Vedānta’s nonduality, it starts to look dubious to me. I get the feeling that the traditions being compared are not properly understand.

There is no denying differences in methods. As we know, the Bhagavad Gīta clearly indicates the different paths to liberation, namely – Jñāna (using the intellect), Bhakti (using devotion and love), Karma (using selfless action) and Rāja (using meditation, āsana, prānayāma etc). But just because the means are different, does it imply that the ends are different too?

If you are struggling to understand the problem, think about it this way. Let’s say that there are two different approaches to solve a mathematical problem. But the answer always leads to zero. How would it seem, if people formed opinions about which zero is “more zero”, or method A leads to a zero that is different from the zero from method B because of X, Y and Z reasons?

But I digress. The article’s title says “The unbroken Samādhī underlying thoughts” and that’s what i want to discuss today.

In an advanced text on Advaita Vedānta called the Tripurā Rahasya, there is a very enlightening discourse on what samādhī is. The claim is that everyone experiences samādhī constantly, whenever their minds are bereft of thoughts. The state of Nirvikalpa samādhī is one where there are no thoughts, no objects and just pure awareness.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 17  of the text – a conversation within a story being narrated by Sri Dattatreya to Parashurama, about a conversation between Ashtavakra and Janaka.

2-3. Ashtavakra asked: O King! Please tell me in greater detail what you call fleeting samadhi in the wakeful state, so that I may follow it up in order to achieve enduring samadhi.

Thus requested, Janaka replied:

4-11. Listen, O Brahmin! The following are instances of that state: When a man remains unaware of ‘in and out’ for a short interval and is not overpowered by the ignorance of sleep; the infinitesimal time when one is beside oneself with joy; when embraced by one’s beloved in all purity; when a thing is gained which was intensely longed for but given up in despair; when a lonely traveller moving with the utmost confidence is suddenly confronted with the utmost danger; when one hears of the sudden death of one’s only son, who was in the best of health, in the prime of life, and at the apex of his glory.

[Note: They are examples of samadhi in raptures of happiness or of pleasure and in spasms of fear or of sorrow.]

12-14. There are also intervals of samadhi, namely the interim period between the waking, dream and sleep states; at the time of sighting a distant object, the mind holding the body at one end projects itself into space until it holds the object at the other end, just as a caterpillar prolongs itself at the time of leaving one hold to catch another hold. Carefully watch the state of mind in the interval.

He (Janaka) then explains to Ashtavakra, by quoting various traditions, that this Samadhi is nothing but the Self.

15-18. Why dilate on these intervals? All happening will be brought to a standstill if intelligence be homogeneous. They are made possible when a certain harmony reigns in intelligence which ordinarily is repeatedly broken.

Therefore the great founders of different systems of philosophy have said that the difference between the Self (i.e., Abstract Intelligence) and intellect (individualistic) lies only in their continuity. Sugata (i.e., Buddha) considers the Self to be the stream of Intelligence broken up, of course, at short intervals; Kanada says that it is intellect which is characteristic of the Self.

Anyway, when once interruptions in the stream of Intelligence are admitted, it follows that these intervals between the various modifications of the intellect into objects, would represent its unmodified, original state. O son of Kahoela, know that if one can become aware of these broken samadhis, no other samadhi need attract one.

Now, perplexed, Ashtavakra asks King Janka —

19-23. The Brahmin youth asked further: O King, why are not all liberated if their lives are so iridescent with momentary samadhi, if it be the enlightener of the unmanifest void in sleep? Liberation is the direct result of unqualified samadhi. The Self being pure intelligence, why does it not recognise itself and remain always liberated?

Ignorance is dispelled by pure intelligence, which issamadhi, and this is the immediate cause of salvation.

Please tell me, so that all my doubts may be set at rest.

The king replied as follows:

24-26. I will tell you the secret. The cycle of births and deaths is from time immemorial caused by ignorance, which displays itself as pleasure and pain, and yet is only a dream and unreal. Being so, the wise say that it can be ended by knowledge. By what kind of knowledge? Wisdom born of realisation (viz., ‘I am That’).

[Commentary: An aspirant for wisdom first turns away from the pleasures of life and absorbs himself in the search for knowledge, which he learns from a Master. This is hearsay knowledge. In order to experience it, he ponders over it and clears his doubts. Then he applies the knowledge to himself and tries to feel his immortal being, transcending the body, mind, etc.; he succeeds in feeling his Self within. Later he remembers the Vedic teaching imparted by his Guru that the Self being unqualified, cannot be differentiated from God and experiences his unity with the Universal Self. This is in short the course of wisdom and liberation.]

27-29. Ignorance cannot be expelled by means of knowledge devoid of thoughts, for such knowledge is not opposed to anything whatsoever (including ignorance). Knowledge devoid of thoughts is like the canvas used in painting; the canvas remains the same whatever picture may be painted on it. Unqualified knowledge is simple light; the objects are manifest by and in it.

[Commentary: The mirror is clear and uniform when there are no objects to reflect; the same appears variegated by images reflected in it. So also the Self is pure intelligence and clear when not contaminated by thoughts. This state is called nirvikalpa. When soiled by thoughts, it is savikalpa.]

30. Ignorance is only that knowledge which is called savikalpa (with thought) and nothing else. That (ignorance) exists in many ways in the form of cause and effect. (For ignorance is only the original contamination,i.e. cause, continuing as effect).

[Commentary: Pure intelligence (God) in His insentient aspect functions as Maya or the self-contained entity, projecting ignorance as creation.]

31-34. The casual ignorance is said to be of the nature of absence of knowledge of the wholeness of one’s own Self. The Self that is Consciousness should only be whole on account of the exclusion of limitation. For, it is that which brings about time and the rest which are the causes of limitation. That kind of knowledge of the Self which exists as the non-wholeness (of the Self) can alone be the causal ignorance of the nature of ‘I exist here at this time’. That is the embryonic seed from which shoots forth the sprout of the body as the individualised self (growing up into the gigantic tree of the cycle of births and deaths). The cycle of births and deaths does not end unless ignorance is put to an end. This can happen only with a perfect knowledge of the Self, not otherwise.

35-38. Such wisdom which can destroy ignorance is clearly of two sorts; indirect and direct. Knowledge is first acquired from a Master and through him from the scriptures. Such indirect knowledge cannot fulfil the object in view. Because theoretical knowledge alone does not bear fruit; practical knowledge is necessary which comes through samadhi alone. Knowledge born of nirvikalpa samadhi generates wisdom by the eradication of ignorance and objective knowledge.

39-47. Similarly, experience of casual samadhi in the absence of theoretical knowledge does not serve the purpose either. Just as a man, ignorant of the qualities of an emerald, cannot recognise it by the mere sight of it in the treasury, nor can another recognise it if he has not seen it before, although he is full of theoretical knowledge on the subject, in the same way theory must be supplemented with practice in order that a man might become an expert. Ignorance cannot be eradicated by mere theory or by the casual samadhi of an ignorant man.

Again, want of attention is a serious obstacle; for a man looking up at the sky cannot identify the individual constellations. Even a learned scholar is no better than a fool, if he does not pay attention when a thing is explained to him. On the other hand, a man though not a scholar but yet attentive having heard all about the planet Venus, goes out in confidence to look for it, knowing how to identify it, and finally discovers it, and so is able to recognise the same whenever he sees it again. Inattentive people are simply fools who cannot understand the ever-recurring samadhis in their lives. They are like a man, ignorant of the treasure under the floor of his house, who begs for his daily food.

48. So you see that samadhi is useless to such people. The intellect of babes is always unmodified and yet they do not realise the Self.

Meditators, after stilling their minds like described in the Patanjali Yoga Sūtras, enter nirvikalpa samādhī. That is when the yogi realizes his true nature of being Pure unconditioned awareness. This is considered a great step towards enlightenment. However, Tripura Rahasya states that this state of nirvikalpa samādhī is neither the ultimate state of enlightenment/Self-realization, nor is it that useful besides eliminating all doubts about the nature of the Self (as Awareness) to the intellect of the yogi. It says, even though people encounter this state everyday, they are unable to recognize it. Therefore, it is of no use to them.

It says that after entering nirvikalpa samādhī once, the practitioner should enter savikalpa samādhī (the meditative absorption state where thoughts are present). It is in the savikalpa condition, that the seeker is able to fructify and finalize his/her Self-realization. After the full and final realization of the Self, the seeker/sage remains in sahaja samādhī, or in other words, he is constantly abiding as the Self, not misidentified with this or that.

49. Nirvikalpa samadhi clearly will never eradicate ignorance. Therefore in order to destroy it savikalpa samadhi must be sought.

50-52. This alone can do it. God inherent as the Self is pleased by meritorious actions which are continued through several births, after which the desire for liberation dawns and not otherwise, even though millions of births may be experienced. Of all the things in creation, to be born a sentient being requires good luck; even so, to acquire a human body requires considerable merit; while it is out of the ordinary for human beings to be endowed with both virtuous tendencies and sharp intellect.

53-60. Observe, O Brahmin, that the mobile creation is a very small fraction of the immobile and that human beings form but a small fraction of the mobile, while most human beings are little more than animals, being ignorant of good and bad, and of right and wrong. Of sensible people, the best part runs after the pleasures of life, seeking to fulfil their desires. A few learned people are stained with the longing for heaven after death. Of the remaining few, most of them have their intellects bedimmed by Mayaand cannot comprehend the oneness of all (the Creator and creation). How can these poor folk, held in the grip of Maya, extend their weak sight to the sublime Truth of Oneness? People blinded by Maya cannot see this truth. Even when some people rise so high in the scale as to understand the theory, misfortune prevents their being convinced of it (for their desires sway them to and fro with a force greater than the acquired puny, theoretical knowledge. Knowledge, if strictly followed, should put an end to such desires, which flourish on the denial of oneness). They try to justify their practical actions by fallacious arguments which are simply a waste of time.

Inscrutable are the ways of Maya, which veils the highest Realisation. It is as if they threw away the real gem in their hands, thinking it to be a mere pebble.

Ramana Maharshi called nirvikalpa samādhī as manolaya (silencing of the mind). Whereas he said, one should work towards manonāsha (destruction of the mind). Tripura Rahasya, in chapter 19, too is pointing towards this. Furthermore, it provides guidance about the three different hurdles to self-realization. These are the three categories of Vasanas. The three being – Aparādha (Fault), Karma (Action) and Kāma (Desire).  Of the three, the text considers Fault and Action as the major hindrances. Desire is considered a minor one, which will automatically get resolved once the individual is able to abide in samādhī.

What is Fault?  Fault is very specifically defined. The mistrust of, and skepticism towards the spiritual teachings (texts) and the teacher. It clearly identifies the type of person who has this fault.

17-29. The disposition typical of the first group is diffidence towards the teachings of the Guru and the holy books, which is the surest way to degeneration. Misunderstanding of the teachings, due to assertiveness or pride is a phase of diffidence and stands in the way of realization for learned pandits and others.

Association with the wise and the study of holy books cannot remove this misunderstanding. They maintain that

there is no reality transcending the world; even if there were, it cannot be known; if one claims to know it, it is an illusion of the mind; for how can knowledge make a person free from misery or help his emancipation? They have many more doubts and wrong notions. So much about the first group

What is Action? Here too, action is defined very specifically.

There are many more persons who cannot, however well-taught, grasp the teachings; their minds are too much cramped with predispositions to be susceptible to subtle truths. They form the second group — the victims of past actions, unable to enter the stage of contemplation necessary for annihilating the vasanas.

What is desire?

The third group is the most common, consisting of the victims of desire who are always obsessed with the sense of duty (i.e., the desire to work for some ends). Desires are too numerous to count, since they rise up endlessly like waves in the ocean. Even if the stars are numbered, desires are not. The desires of even a single individual are countless — and what about the totality of them? Each desire is too vast to be satisfied, because it is insatiable; too strong to be resisted; and too subtle to be eluded. So the world, being in the grip of this demon, behaves madly and groans with pain and misery, consequent on its own misdeeds. That person who is shielded by desirelessness (dispassion) and safe from the wiles of the monster of desire, can alone rise to happiness.

Then it further expounds —


Of the three typical vasanas mentioned, the one of action is the most potent and is said to be ignorance.

80-83. Those are the best who are free from all of the vasanas, and particularly from the least trace of that of action. If free from the fault of mistrust of the teachings of the Master, the vasana due to desire, which is not a very serious obstruction to realisation, is destroyed by the practice of contemplation. Dispassion need not be very marked in this case. Such people need not repeatedly engage in the study of scriptures or the receiving of instructions from the Master, but straightaway pass into meditation and fall into samadhi, the consummation of the highest good. They live evermore as Jivanmuktas (emancipated even while alive).

The belief in, and surrendering to Karma (the fruits of past actions) is the biggest hindrance to Moksha. Second after that is that of diffidence, skepticism or indifference towards the teachings. However, one who is primarily consumed by desires yet has the other two vasanas with much less intensity, will be able to, via the power of the jnana, attain Self-realization.

NOTE: Special note of thanks to Pradip Da (Dr. Pradip Gangopadhyay) who caught a typo in the chapter of Tripura Rahasya being referenced originally listed as Chapter 8 is actually Chapter 17).

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