Many misconceptions and misunderstandings appear to be prevailing about Yoga and samAdhi in Advaita. We shall take up in this Part of our Series, an assortment of those topics in no particular order and examine the possible correct position.
1. Yoga Terminology in Advaita:
The Sanskrit root “yuj” being common to words like ‘yoga, yukti etc. indicative of a union, we find that the Yoga terminology by itself is not an anathema for Advaita. The word “Yoga” appears in as many as 10 brahmasUtra-s (e.g. 1.1.19; 1.1.31; 2.1.3; 2.2.9; 3.1.26; 3.4.41; 4.2.17; 4.2.21 etc.). It is used 93 times with different meanings in Bhagavad-Gita. kaTha and svetAsvatara Upanishads too refer to ‘yoga’ practices and the latter particularly holds special praise for ‘yoga’ techniques. Shankara himself extols the effectiveness of practicing Yoga in his commentary at brahmasUtra (BS) 1.3.33.
We shall present in this Part – 2 how the word samAdhi is used in Yogavasishta (Yogavasishta is available as a pdf at this site). The word samAdhi occurs very ubiquitously in this text. It is used both in its Yogic and Advaita Vedanta meaning. A few select citations are illustrated below.
[We may, however, note that the original Commentator Shri Anandabodehndhra Swami Ji and also the current author Shri K. V. Krishna Murthy whose version is followed here belong to the tradition of Shankara. Hence we can expect the influence of Shankara in their interpretation.]
1.samAdhi is obtained through the practice of controlling the mind. Control of the mind can help to bring about the arresting of the senses from running after the worldly objects. So the Yogi’s desires for worldly things may disappear. Unless one realizes that all percepts are unreal and non-existent, practicing only samAdhi will not stop the yogi from going back to the worldly things when he is out of samAdhi. Just being in samAdhi will not bring about the knowledge that the visible world is untrue. It is necessary that one has to realize the false appearance of the world in order to be liberated. So one cannot attain liberation from the practice of deep meditation alone. It requires the Knowledge of Self.”
samAdhi is a highly specialized term in Yoga and also in Vedanta. However, paradoxically, the word does not stand to convey the same ‘concept’ in a rigid and fixed manner in all its occurrences across different scriptural texts. Like all other Sanskrit words in the scriptures, the word attains a lot of fluidity and delicate malleability in the hands of the Sages and ancient authors to convey a very precise and what is otherwise inexpressible philosophical idea. Such flexibility in the use of technical words is unknown and unimaginable in the West, particularly so if one is trained in the modern science. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind that one cannot nail the meaning of the word as per one single definition when comparing its usage across different texts by different authors of different times. ‘anubhava’ and ‘anubhUti’ usually rendered into English as “experience,” often used in association with samAdhi, is another such word that needs care in handling.
As we are aware, the teacher to disciple communication was predominantly oral in the ancient times and the meaning of a word smoothly and innocuously changed as per the context and the lineage of the teacher. Hence, it was considered that a disciple must approach a competent teacher and s/he has to be tutored face to face by the teacher as per the recension followed in that lineage. Jumping across different lineages or intermixing diverse systems of teachings without fully adhering to a specific one till the end can only result in confusion. Book-learning is also almost an impossibility in the absence of a teacher who would provide the authentic word meaning as can be understood from the famous example of the same word ‘satyam’ occurring twice in the same sentence in the same mantra but with two different meanings: Continue reading →
Here is the 364th verse of the vivekachUDAmaNi, as translated by Swami Ranganathananda, of Ramakrishna Math: “Reflection should be considered a hundred times superior to hearing, and meditation a hundred thousand times superior even to reflection, but the nirvikalpa samAdhi is infinite in its results.” The verse is referring to shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana initially and, traditionally, this is the ‘complete set’, taking one all the way to realization and jIvanmukti. But here, it goes on to imply that nirvikalpa samAdhi is vastly superior. As Swami Ranganathananda puts it: “Our first hand experience of the non-dual reality is infinitely greater than meditation. They can’t be compared… no wise man would give up the infinite bliss of non-dual experience and revel in unsubstantial things like reading and thinking. Reading, thinking and meditation are nothing compared to the direct experience of the reality.”
But here, one has to ask the question: who is experiencing what? And, if it is an experience (i.e. in time), it has a beginning and necessarily an end also. How does this stack up with the idea that NS equates to Self-realization? Swami Satprakashananda even says later in the book that few seekers attain NS and even fewer return to ‘normal consciousness’ subsequently. “Their experience of NS is, as a rule, of short duration and hardly repeated. They leave the body in that state and attain Liberation (videha mukti). In exceptional cases the body stays alive in NS for twenty one days at the most, and then drops like a dry leaf.” Continue reading →
It was about 300 years ago. A Brahmin pair from Andhra Pradesh region moved to the banks of the river Kaveri worshiping Gods to bless them with a child. The couple were Mr. Somasundar Avadhani Moksha and his wife Mrs. Parvatamma. They were overjoyed when finally their prayers were answered and a boy was born to them. He was named Shiva Ramakrishna. He was the apple of their eyes and they were very fond of him.
However, even as a little kid, Shiva Ramakrishna seemed to be very disinterested in worldly things and showed a detached attitude towards everything. This got his parents worried. So they decided to get him married early. They found a suitable girl and celebrated the marriage when he was seventeen years old. After a few years when the girl attained puberty, Mr. Shiva went to visit her and also celebrate the first night. It was quite late in the evening and already very dark by the time he reached. He was hungry and so he headed straight to the kitchen. His Mother-in-law, however, told him that it would take a little more time and requested him to wait outside. Continue reading →
VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal
Part 54 looks at Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’ practice and explains that the ‘I thought’ cannot be removed by self-investigation. It also explains that we do not have to get rid of vAsanA-s in order to gain mokSha.
There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the great master of Advaita who lived in the early part of the 8th Century said, “Brahma satya jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva naparah”. It means Brahman (name of the Ultimate Reality) is the only truth, the world is illusory, and there is ultimately no difference between the individual Self and the Brahman.
Mithya means neither true nor false. The world cannot be false because we all clearly see and perceive it. Shankaracharya says that the world is not true either, because it is constantly changing and everything that the world has to offer is temporary, transient and impermanent.
A fine dining experience gives us joy. Try doing it continuously for a few days and one would start nauseating. A trip to a nice resort is highly relaxing. After just a few days the charm of the place wears out. Eagerly awaited vacation trip to someplace, after hectic running around and visiting various tourist sites for days, finally the heart cries “Home! Sweet Home!!” and longs for the comfort of the home.
That’s why Shankara calls this world as Mithya which means anything in this world can only give temporary happiness and not permanent happiness. Continue reading →
Q: Will an ‘upload’ be capable of giving mokSha to a computer? By ‘upload’ I am referring to the Science Fiction concept of scanning the contents of a human brain down to the quantum level, and then simulating that complex entity in a virtual environment. Ray Kurzweil is a key proponent who claims this will be possible sometime within the next few decades.
A: The mind is rather more than just data, and more than processing-software running on brain hardware. Although all these things are ultimately Consciousness alone, there has to be something there to reflect the light of Consciousness in order for a thing actually to become conscious. And it has to do this very well indeed before it can become self-conscious. And it has to do it brilliantly in order to gain mokSha! I don’t think uploads satisfy these criteria!
Q: I agree with your answer, but I suppose the answer will depend largely on the assumptions one makes in thinking through the problem. Can reflected consciousness arise in a silicon-based entity? Or only carbon-based creatures like ourselves? It’s actually a pretty stimulating question, and it touches on the ‘hard problem’ as defined by David Chalmers, etc. If you ever do get around to reading his book, he has an interesting thought experiment on the principle of organizational invariance, where neurons are one-by-one replaced with silicon equivalents. At what point does consciousness (which here would only be reflected) disappear in this process? Not asking for an answer from you – just wanted to mention this aspect of the question.
A: You are still assuming that consciousness relates to the gross body – replacing carbon with silicon. The mind is the subtle body in Advaita. Having said that, I see no reason why there should not be silicon-based life forms associated with subtle bodies elsewhere in the universe…
Q: Good point, thanks. It makes me wonder though, if the mind is the subtle body and doesn’t relate to the gross body/brain, then why is the subtle body affected at all when the brain becomes physically damaged? I was thinking in terms of reflected consciousness arising in the ‘mirror’ that consisted of gross + subtle body.
A: Good point, too. I guess the metaphor of computers does come into play here, the mind needing the hardware of the brain in order to manifest (better word than function, since it retains the autonomy of the subtle body, which is supposed to migrate to a new body after the death of the existing one).