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 →
Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi
I do not know an awful lot about neo-Vedanta. The term is generally applied to the teaching ‘introduced’ by Swami Vivekananda and carried on by the disciples of the Ramakrishna movement. There has been much written on this topic (which I have obviously not read!) and those who are interested will know that there are many contentious issues. Refer, for example to the book ‘Neo-Vedanta and Modernity’ by Bithika Mukerji, which may be read or downloaded at http://www.anandamayi.org/books/Bithika2.htm.
However, one aspect that I am aware of is that neo-Vedanta claims that enlightenment is attained through the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi. They also insist that Shankara himself stated this, whereas what I would call ‘traditional’ Advaitins believe that Shankara’s teaching was that it is self-ignorance that obscures our understanding of the truth and that only self-knowledge can remove it. Thus, one of the key issues around the topic of neo-Vedanta is that of experience versus knowledge. Accordingly, at the risk of inciting acrimonious discussions (!), I would like to look briefly at this assertion that samAdhi is a sine qua non for enlightenment. Continue reading →
In case anyone has not yet heard, Swami Dayananda passed away yesterday, the 23rd September, at 22.18 IST in Rishikesh. Unquestionably the greatest teacher of Advaita in our lifetimes, he must certainly rank as one of the most important ever. Fortunately the legacy of his own writings and transcriptions, and that of the institutions he founded and the teachers he taught, will live on to the benefit of future seekers.
As a topical example of his teaching, I would like to reproduce the following pieces on the subject of manonAsha. These are extracted from the excellent book already recommended in these pages: ‘Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati – his uniqueness in the vedanta sampradaya’ by D. Venugopal.
manonaSha or Thought-free-mind Confusion
There is also a widespread contention among the adherents of aShTANga-yoga that the truth of the self is covered by vRRittis (thought-forms) and it has to be uncovered by stoppage of thoughts (citta-vRRitti-nirodha). Pujya Swamiji clarifies that thought is not the problem. He says:
“The confusion comes from the statement that AtmA is undivided (nirvikalpa). The vision of the ShAstra is that while the knower, known, and knowledge are not separate from AtmA, AtmA is independent of all of them. In MANDukya UpaniShad and in the kArikA, the dreamer is cited as proof that there is no real division (vikalpa) such as dreamer, dream and dreamt, even though during the dream, the division was taken to be real. Continue reading →