samAdhi in vivekachUDAmaNi


This is a response to Ramesam’s post ‘samAdhi Again – 1’. I have posted separately because 1) it is rather long for a comment; 2) I wanted to italicize the key phrases of quotations and 3) the authenticity of vivekachUDAmaNi merits a separate topic.

Dear Ramesam,

Congratulations on a thorough and erudite analysis – most impressive! Your Sanskrit knowledge and scriptural learning is much greater than my own, so I am reluctant to enter into any attempt to ‘argue’ in any way with what you have written. Certainly, I am aware that the word samAdhi is used with different meanings in different texts.

However, just in relation to the vivekachUDAmaNi, I have 13 versions of this and have looked at them all in reference to the section on samAdhi (verses 354 – 372 approximately – as you know, the precise numbering of verses varies between different translations) and any other references I could find. And I have not found anything to persuade me that the meaning of samAdhi does not tally with that used by Yoga philosophy, i.e. as the final stage of aShTA~Nga yoga, meaning ‘intense meditation, culminating in a state in which no duality is apprehended’.

John Grimes, in his translation, comments in verse 409 (kim api satata…): “SamAdhi or meditative enstasis is a state wherein one experiences the non-dual Bliss of the Self.” (Note that John is a Ramana adherent; he publishes an article in every issue of ‘Mountain Path’.) And he translates verse 474 (samAdhinA sAdhu vinishchalAtmanA…): “ Through one-pointed absorption in which the mind has been perfectly stilled…”

Swami Turiyananda, in verse 355 (shAnto dAntaH paramupataH…), translates: “Peaceful, quiet, controlled… he alone can attain samAdhi, and in that samAdhi feel the oneness with all. By that feeling of oneness with all, he does away with the darkness that comes from ignorance…”.  And in verse 356 (samAdhitA ye pravilApya…): “So, those who are engaged in samAdhi, they alone, by reducing the externals (the senses, thought, ego and all)…”. Also, he has a note under verse 357 (upAdhi bhedAt svayam…): “When one has been in samAdhi and comes out…”. Finally, in verse 365 (nirvikalpka samAdhinA…), he translates: “Only by that meditation which is free from all doubt (nirvikalpa samAdhi), one realizes the Self.”

Hari Prasad Shastri translates verse 354 (aj~nAna hRRidaya grantha):

“The knot in the heart formed by ignorance is only finally dissolved when there is a vision of the non-dual Self through that form of concentration (samAdhi) that is totally void of false imagination (nirvikalpa).”

Admittedly he does say that what is meant by samAdhi is nididhyAsana “developed to the highest possible extent” and that we should follow Shankara on this and not “be distracted by Patanjali” but he then spoils this by saying that our object is to “see the death of the mind consciously”. I don’t know who he thinks would see this if there were no longer a mind but that is a discussion for elsewhere! The fact that, in commentary on the next verse (tvam aham idam…) he differentiates savikalpa samAdhi as ‘samAdhi with ideas’ and nirvikalpa as ‘the state of deep concentration in which there is a total and absolute absence of the triad of knower, knowledge and known’ shows that he is still talking about Patanjali after all.

And he translates verse 361 (atIva sUkShmAM paramAtma …) as: “One cannot apprehend the extremely subtle reality as the supreme Self through worldy vision. It can only be known by noble souls of very subtle intellect through an extremely subtle modification of the mind brought about by yogic concentration (samAdhi).”

Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood do not analyze at verse level but still have a section on ‘samAdhi’. They say that “When the mind, thus purged by ceaseless meditation, is merged in Brahman, the state of samAdhi is attained. In that state, there is no sense of duality. The undivided joy of Brahman is experienced.”

Swami Madhavananda on verse 354 (aj~nAna hRRidaya grantha): “When the Atman, the One without a second , is realized by means of the nirvikalpa samAdhi, then the heart’s knot of ignorance is totally destroyed. In verse 355 (shAnto dAntaH…): “…devoting himself to the practice of samAdhi…”; verse 356 (samAhitA ye…): “…attaining samAdhi…”; verse 362 (nirantarAbhyAsa…): “When the mind, thus purified by constant practice… samAdhi passes on from the savikalpa to the nirvikalpa stage…”.

Raphael devotes several pages to explaining the levels of ‘condition’ of the mind in Yoga philosophy, beginning “samAdhi is the end of many yoga paths. There are different types of samAdhi…”

Swami Ranganthananda translates in verse 355 to “…devoting himself to the practice of samAdhi…” and comments “His mind is free from modifications (nirvikalpaH)” and “devoted to the practice of perfect concentration of the mind (samAdhi)”. In his commentary on 362, he says: “This samAdhi gives us the infinite bliss of non-dual experience.” (Unfortunately, he also goes on to say in 364 – shruteH shataguNam… – that “The three steps are: attentive hearing about the truth from scriptures (shruti), reasoning (yukti), and firsthand experience (anubhUti). And Vedanta always lays the greatest emphasis on the third step, i.e. experience.”) This really cannot be Shankara! Later he says: “But the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi is infinitely greater than even meditation.”

The translation by Mohini M. Chatterji contains no commentary and adds nothing to this discussion. That by John Richards is also without commentary. He speaks of ‘cultivating imageless samAdhi’ and of ‘understanding the reality of the supreme Self “by means of a mind made extremely subtle by meditation”. Then “samAdhi, now freed from images, experiences in itself the state of non-dual bliss.” Jay Mazo also speaks of “imageless samAdhi” and verse 366 reads: “So, established in meditation, with the senses controlled, the mind calmed and continually turned inwards, destroy the darkness of beginningless ignorance by recognising the oneness of Reality.”

Pranipata Chaitanya translates verse 363 (nirantarAbhyAsa…): “Thus purified by constant practice when the mind merges with Brahman, then Samadhi passes from the Savikalpa to the Nirvikalpa stage, leading directly to the experience of the Bliss of Brahman, the Non-dual.” and gives the usual Yoga definitions: “Savikalpa samAdhi is absorption with conceptual distinctions of knower, known and knowing intact. In nirvikalpa samAdhi, these distinctions melt away.”

As I have argued exhaustively elsewhere, enlightenment means Self-knowledge – it is not an experience of any kind. And Swami Paramarthananda points out in his talks on vivekachUDAmaNi:

“Self-knowledge requires buddhi intact; by transcending the buddhi; you will not get any knowledge; by stopping the buddhi, you cannot get any knowledge; that is why we say nirvikalpaka samādhi cannot produce any knowledge because to remove the vikalpa or division, you have to resolve the intellect; and how can any knowledge take place in nirvikalpaka samādhi. That is why it is not considered a source or means of knowledge.”

All of this supports the contention that, despite this text being extremely good on other topics, it is not so hot on samAdhi, and this is one of the reasons why many think that it was not written by Shankara. For what Shankara actually thinks about samAdhi, one can turn to the Brahma Sutra bhAShya, about whose authorship no one has any doubts. In 2-1-9, there is a discussion in which the Purvapakshin objects that, if all distinctions merge in Brahman at the time of final dissolution (pralaya), there would be no reason for the re-emergence of the world. Shankara replies that that is untenable because:

“As in natural slumber and samAdhi (absorption in divine consciousness), though there is a natural eradication of differences, still owing to the persistence of the unreal nescience, differences occur over again when one wakes up.” BSB 2.1.9 (Trans. Swami Gambhirananda)

Best wishes,

P.S. If you want to read a brilliant essay specifically on the subject of samAdhi in Advaita, see

5 thoughts on “samAdhi in vivekachUDAmaNi

  1. Dear Dennis,

    Many thanks for your very kind words on my Post.
    It is your large-heartedness that shines much better than my own limited abilities.

    Your presentation giving a comparative analysis of the meaning and interpretation by different authors given to the word samAdhi occurring in vivekacUDAmaNi is highly scholarly and simply superb.

    Please allow me to come back to it after I am able to complete my write up on samAdhi.

    warm regards,

  2. Dear Dennis and Ramesam

    Thanks for this interesting dialogue on Samadhi.

    Just reading A. Ramamurthy’s “Advaitic mysticism of Sankara” – this is what he writes (drawn from page 48 and following):

    As the existence of the mind is based on ignorance, the realisation of the Self has nothing to do with the control of the mind. According to Sankara, the mind is known to exist in relation to the objects it reflects, and the objects are known to exist through the mind. As one is known through the other, in the absence of any one of them the other cannot be known to exist. For this reason, when the mind is completely withdrawn from the objects, realising them to be ultimately unreal, the mind becomes quiescent like the still flame of light kept in a windless place and does not manifest itself. It is the objectless state of the mind in which it is neither dissolved nor is it distracted by the sense-objects, but remains serene like fire without fuel to burn . . .

    Self-realisation is through right discrimination between the self and not-self, but not through the suppression of the mind and its activities . . .

    Brahmanubhava has nothing to do with nirvikalpa samadhi of Yoga. There is a possibility for misunderstanding the position of Sankara on NS of yoga, since in his Vivekachudamani and at other places, he speaks that the highest end of man (moksha) can be attained through NS . . . This contradiction is not real since the words “yoga” and “NS” as employed by Sankara carry a different meaning from what they mean in Yoga. For instance samadhi according to Sankara, is complete forgetfulness of all mental activity (vritti vismaranam), by first making the mind changeless (nirvikara), and then identifying it with Brahman (brahmakara) . . . Here the process of identifying the mind with Brahman is the same as the process of negating everything in the first instance to identify everything with Brahman finally.

    In the Vivekachudamani, it is said that samadhi destroys all tendencies born of ignorance, puts an end to all actions, and makes the Self shine spontaneously in its true nature (swarupa vishpurti), both within and without, everywhere and at all times. Such a state of samadhi is attained by those whose minds are transparently pure and subtle. It is attained through hearing, reflection and meditation of the scriptural texts.

  3. Dear Venkat,

    An interesting reference – thanks for that! I particularly like the first paragraph.

    I always worry, though, about statements such as “samadhi according to Sankara, is complete forgetfulness of all mental activity (vritti vismaranam), by first making the mind changeless (nirvikara), and then identifying it with Brahman (brahmakara)”. Sounds good but is this Ramamurthy’s own understanding derived from studying Advaita or does Shankara actually say this somwhere? (If so, where specifically?)

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Dennis

    He references Sankara’s Aparoksanubhuti v124 – which is consistent with the translation by Sw Vimuktananda.

    As an aside, Ramana’s Guru Vachaka Kovai v893, tallies with that first para above:

    “The mere non-perception by the senses of the gross differences of the external world is not by itself the excellence of perfect nirvikalpa samadhi. Know that the illustrious and prized nirvikalpa samadhi is only the non-arising of the subtle distinctions caused by mental movements in the Heart, owing to the total annihilation of vasanas”.

    Utter detachment would seem to rule the day!


  5. Dennis

    Just been digging into this a bit more . . . doesn’t Sankara’s commentary on MK4.80, say the same as this Apaorksanubhuti verse that Ramamurthy quotes:

    When the mind is withdrawn from all duality of objects, and when it does not attach itself to any objects, — as no objects exist — then the mind attains to the state of immutability [venkat: changelessness / samadhi?] which is of the same nature as Brahman. This realisation of the mind as Brahman is characterised by the mass of unique non-dual consciousness. As that condition of the mind is known (only) by the wise who have known the Ultimate Reality, that state is supreme and undifferentiated, birthless and non-dual.

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