Q: Should a person have compulsorily experienced nirvikalpa-samādhi in order to know that he has a mind which is prepared for jñāna? In other words, is experience of nirvikalpa-samādhi a must as a sādhana?
A (Venkat): Nirvikalpa-samAdhi is an experience of the absence of objects, for a finite period of time, which the experiencer eventually exits to re-perceive the world. As it is not permanent, it is not real. Any temporary experience that is witnessed cannot be a pre-requisite for j~nAna – since j~nAna is the permanent dissolution of the illusory I-thought.
“Abiding permanently in any of these samadhis, either savikalpa or nirvikalpa, is sahaja. What is body consciousness? It is the insentient body plus consciousness. Both of these must lie in another consciousness which is absolute and unaffected and which remains as it always is, with or without the body consciousness. What does it matter whether the body consciousness is lost or retained, provided one is holding on to that pure consciousness? Total absence of body consciousness has the advantage of making the samadhi more intense, although it makes no difference to the knowledge of the supreme.” – Sri Ramana Maharshi
“In thinking of what can’t be thought some form of thought is involved. So too that last remaining mode of thinking must be given up, to stand in truth where I abide.” (Ashtavakra)
When you begin to think of the unthinkable, the mind is thrown into a state of nothingness, accompanied by a sensation of peace as pleasurableness. This state is called samadhi which is nothing but a thought form. Ashtavakra and all other jnyanis advise you with one voice to ignore it altogether. According to the jnyani, one can never get out of one’s own real nature, whether in samadhi or in the waking activities. Therefore the jnyani is indifferent about both.” – Sri Atmananda
That the experience of nirvikalpa-samAdhi cannot be compulsory in the course of one’s investigation of ultimate truth and reality should be obvious. In fact, the intention towards or pursuit of such experience is itself an impediment, since it is the limited ego which so desires or intends, thus becoming tied up to that desire. The exception is any kind of ‘samAdhi’ – be it brief periods of complete peace with or without thinking or mentations – which are spontaneous, unsought for. Whether it is then a bonus in the course of one’s spiritual life is besides the point.
The following is a very apt description of (nirvikalpa) samAdhi by the sage Atmananda Krishna Menon in his ‘Spiritual Discourses’. At the end of the quotation reference to knowledge by the mind in contrast to the experience itself is quite relevant. On the other hand, ‘complete elimination of the mind’ is a strong statement which many will take exception to, but my surmise is that the author’s emphasis is on transformation, rather than elimination, of the mind.
VEDANTIC CONCEPTION OF SAMADHI (55)
Samadhi, as a result of the process of absorption, does not by itself take you to the Reality. Shri Gaudapada says: ‘Take away the mind from its tendency to go to samadhi to enjoy happiness and also from its tendency to enjoy the so called happiness supposed to be derived from sense objects, and it leads you to the goal.’
But how can this be done by the mind itself? It is never possible to reach the goal by any amount of effort on the part of the mind itself. By effort, you can prolong the duration of the samAdhi to a certain extent and do nothing more. The complete elimination of the mind is what you have to obtain, somehow.
For this, some principle higher than the mind itself has to be depended upon, namely the higher reason. Its function is discrimination. The higher reason proves to you that it is not from the mind itself that happiness is experienced in samAdhi, and that there is no enjoyer there. It is your own real nature of Peace, standing in its own glory, when the mind is temporarily stilled. It proves that the mind in any form only obscures the Reality. When you understand this correctly, your dependence upon the capacity of the mind to take you to that sublime Reality crumbles. This is how the mind is to be eliminated from the scene.
Samadhi is all right if the mind understands that samAdhi is complete identity with non-dual Atma, where there is neither the enjoyer nor enjoyment. And when the mind knows that, it is itself changed.
A (Ted): The idea that nirvikalpa-samAdhi, a state in which no thoughts arise in the mind, could be used as a sAdhana, a spiritual practice, suggests a fundamental misunderstanding concerning the nature of the mind. The appearance of thought-forms, the essential constituents of the mind, is not under the control of the jIva, the apparent individual person. Thoughts are the offspring of latent impressions abiding in a state of dormancy within the causal body, which enter the subtle body or arise in the mind unbidden as a result of the inviolable law of karma. For this reason, nirvikalpa-samAdhi is not an experience that can be controlled and, thus, used as a repeatable practice.
Admittedly, nirvikalpa-samAdhi is a highly revered experience—or, perhaps more accurately put, non-experience—in the spiritual world. It not only speaks to one’s having cultivated a sattvic, or sufficiently pure mind, but also is referred to by Vidyaranya Swami as “a raincloud of dharma” due to the fact that it allows for the spontaneous exhaustion of scores of vAsanA s. Since all experience is by nature limited (i.e., has a beginning and comes to a close), no experience itself can offer one the permanent peace and happiness that is the ultimate end sought through all of one’s spiritual pursuits. The value of experience, therefore, is not the quality of the experience itself, but the knowledge that is gained from it. In this regard, however, nirvikalpa-samAdhi is about as helpful and the state of deep sleep because the intellect is not functioning while in the throes of it. While the state is an accurate reflection of the unmodified limitlessness of the self, the intellect itself has resolved into a state of dormancy in the causal body, and therefore is not available to process the experience (or non-experience) and glean from it the knowledge it holds concerning the essential non-dual nature of reality and one’s true identity as limitless awareness.
The experience of nirvikalpa-samAdhi, of course, can be quite valuable in terms of one’s sAdhana if it is “used” correctly. In other words, subsequent contemplation of the “experience” of nirvikalpa-samAdhi, the experience of the temporary absence of the appearance of any thought-forms in the mind, may bear fruit if one is able to “see” (i.e., understand) by means of subtle analysis that the “experience” was simply a reflection of the limitlessness that is one’s own essential nature and that such is the ever-present “background” or “screen” of pure awareness on which all thought-forms are projected. Nevertheless, Vedanta offers a litany of prakriyA- s, methods for analyzing experience, that allow one to reach an understanding of the true nature of reality. In one sense, we might say that each of these prakriyA- s produces an experience of nirvikalpa-samAdhi, so to speak, but none necessarily annihilate all thinking for an extended period of time. The bottom line is that the “experience” of nirvikalpa-samAdhi as such is not a requirement for self-knowledge.
The fact of the matter is that nirvikalpa-samAdhi is your true nature. You are pure awareness. The mind-body-sense complex that you erroneously identify as yourself is nothing more than an inert mechanism that spontaneously performs a variety of functions—namely thinking, feeling, and doing—when illumined by awareness (i.e., you). The subtle objects or vRRitti-s, thought-waves, arising within the scope of the component of the mind are not yours. They are projections of mAyA. You, all-pervasive awareness, are by definition incapable of executing actions, and thus you, awareness, are not thinking thoughts. You, awareness, are always and ever completely thought-free. When you, by means of the mechanism of the mind, are able to clearly discriminate between yourself and the objects/thoughts appearing within the scope of your being, then you will recognize yourself as the thought-free being you already are. And, ultimately, when you have fully assimilated the knowledge of your fundamentally thought-free eternality (i.e., unborn and self-luminous existence that is altogether transcendent of the parameters of time and space, which are themselves but the two subtlest apparencies) despite the presence or absence of objects/thoughts, you will stand with unshakeable conviction in your true identity as pure, limitless awareness, and thus “attain” the freedom that you already have.
In this way, you will “see” that simply by virtue of the fact that it is your essential nature, you are already always and ever “experiencing” nirvikalpa-samAdhi.
“In the previous mantra, Upaniṣad had mentioned the necessity of mind control or concentration of the mind known as citta-ekāgrata, a mind that is free of wandering and preoccupation. In order to achieve this, the scriptures have already mentioned two sādhanas, among which one is saguṇa Īśvara upāsanā, and the other is aṣṭāṅga yoga abhyāsa. A person is supposed to have gone through them before coming to jñāna-yoga. Such a person will require only śaravaṇam and mananam to gain jñāna and jñāna niṣṭhā. However, in present times, both these sādhanās are not usually practiced, thus citta-ekāgrata is lacking. So, SM alone is insufficient for jñāna-niṣṭhā and hence nididhyāsanam is required…. upāsana is bheda-dhyāna, while nididhyāsana one does abheda-dhyāna, till such time that the bheda-jñāna is removed not only from the conscious mind, but also from the sub-conscious mind.
This nididhyāsana can be done in two ways, either through brahma-rūpa-abhyāsa, which is re-hearing, re-writing, teaching etc; or through samādhi-rūpa-abhyāsa, a constant meditation in samādhi upon the thought “I am that Brahman which is sarva adhiṣṭhānam, or jagat is mithyā”.
Vidyāraṇya Swāmi in his book Pañcadaśī in 7th chapter, says that brahma-rūpa-abhyāsa is better and superior to samādhi-rūpa-abhyāsa. Only those who do not get the full impact of the teaching, but take it mechanically as academic information, require this samādhi-rūpa-abhyāsa.
Mantras 10 and 11 of this chapter talks of samādhi-rūpa-abhyāsa-nididhyāsanam alone, talking about it as yogaḥ. The state of highest absorption, in which the mind and sense organs remain without distraction, where I the meditator and the object of meditation have become one, is called nirvikalpaka samādhi. Śaṅka inroduces these two verses saying that this samādhi is required for citta-ekāgrata but does not produce jñāna by itself.”
Śuka – thus it is clear that samādhi experience is required for those to whom the full impact of the teaching is not generated. That judgment, I suppose, is subjective.
A (Dennis): I’m not aware of any such requirement specified in scripture. I would say not. Of course, a good degree of mind and sense control is required (as part of sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti) before the mind is capable of taking on board the teaching of Advaita. But nirvikalpa samAdhi is a practice of Yoga or neo-Vedanta and leads nowhere. Meditation is perhaps necessary – it is certainly an invaluable practice for the mind – and NS may well come as a result of this. But it is important not to be diverted or seduced by the experience; only Self-knowledge matters in the final analysis.
Here is a quote from ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’: “Swami Paramarthananda jokes that it is called nirvikalpa samAdhi if you are in a sitting position and sleep if you are lying down! And, if you think about it, they do have to be the same – you cannot have two types of non-duality! The bottom line here is that enlightenment cannot be an experience. We are already the non-dual Self; we just don’t know it. Accordingly, enlightenment has to be simply Self-knowledge.”