Atman and Brahman

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Jul 28 01:43:36 CDT 1998

Dear all,

I have been away from the list for some time, due to work pressures.
Still, I used to check the archives once in a while, just to be in touch
with what members were saying. I've rejoined the list, but can't promise
that I'll post very often. Part of the reason is that I want to control
the bahish-pravRtti (movement towards the external) that is necessary, in
order to post, and another part is of course still due to work pressures.

Meanwhile, I would like to comment on one rather heated discussion that is
going on here. I hope everybody will take this in the right spirit,
without giving way to agitation of the mind.


On Sun, 26 Jul 1998, Gummuluru Murthy <gmurthy at MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA> wrote:

>"I AM" is the only entity that remains while in nirvikalpa samAdhi. After
>coming out of this samAdhi and getting to the body level, the jeeva
>wonders (particularly when the experience is a fleeting experience)
>whether what was experienced is real. [This is  speculative on my part,
>but based on my readings and contemplation.] The jeeva is still unsure of
>the experience. During the samAdhi, there is no need of any pramANa
>because of revelling in the Atman. After coming out of the samAdhi, a
>proof is asked by the intellect. The natural source of the proof is the
>shruti and the mahAvAkyAs in there. Thus shruti as pramANa is there only
>at the intellectual level. (Shruti itself is there only at the
>intellectual level. In samAdhi, there is no shruti).
>Once samAdhi is established in the jeeva as a recurring experience,
>ajnAnam is removed. AjnAnam, once removed, cannot come back to the
>jeeva. The entity becomes an embodied jnAnam (jeevanmukta).

It seems to me that whether in the 10th century or in the 20th century,
the same old problems recur in all philosophy, couched in different
language, and motivated by different concerns. The above underlined
position has been discussed in great detail, by SankarAcArya and
sureSvarAcArya, at various places. The old version was called

If one says that ajnAna is removed only when samAdhi becomes a recurring
experience, it opens up a whole list of problems. What is the entity that
enters into samAdhi and goes out of it? If there is a beginning and an end
to samAdhi, why can't one apply gauDapAdAcArya's reasoning to it? Namely,
AdAv ante ca yan nAsti, vartamAne 'pi tat tathA - that which does not
exist at the beginning and at the end, also does not really exist in the
middle. If so, isn't this samAdhi also an illusory entity? What causes the
entering into and coming out of samAdhi? Is it the Atman which experiences
samAdhi for a short/long while, or is it the mind-intellect complex
(antaHkaraNa) which does so? If the former, doesn't the Atman change,
whereas we are told it is changeless? If the latter, why is this samAdhi
any different from the other recurring states, namely waking, dreaming,
sleeping, or feelings of hunger and satisfaction, aversion and passion,
love and hate etc? How many recurrences of samAdhi does it take, to remove
ajnAna? If ajnAna is not removed the first time one knows that the Atman
alone exists, how can it be removed simply by repetition of this
experience? What happens if physical death occurs after two such samAdhi
events, as compared to a hundred recurrences? Is the first "less
liberated" and the second "more liberated?" What decides "full liberation"

The answer to all these questions is astonishingly simple. The Atman is
always in a state that can be called samAdhi, and there is no "coming
into" or "going out of" such a state. But this requires one to redefine
the notion of samAdhi. One needs to slightly move away from a Yogic notion
of samAdhi as forced citta-vRtti-nirodha, but recognize that once the
Atman is known, citta-vRtti-nirodha follows, of its own accord. In other
words, ajnAna is removed, not by making samAdhi a recurring experience,
but simply by knowing the Atman. Of course, to know is to be - brahmavit
brahmaiva bhavati. In this connection, one must definitely read what
SankarAcArya says in his commentary on the bRhadAraNyaka upanishad 1. 4.
7-10, and in his prakaraNa grantha named pancIkaraNa. The upanishad
commentary is on the sentence "aham brahmAsmi" and the pancIkaraNa
redefines samAdhi as follows - "brahmaiva aham asmi ity abhedena
avasthAnam samAdhiH" - Abiding in the non-dual state, in the form "I am
Brahman" is samAdhi. Now, this is really the natural state of the Atman,
but identification with the mind/sense_organs/body causes an ignorance of
the true state of being. It would be very advisable to pay particular
attention to what SankarAcArya has to say about citta-vRtti-nirodha and
Atma-jnAna, in the commentary to the upanishad, at 1. 4. 7. The discussion
here is in the context of injunction, but remains valid even if you remove
it from the pUrva mImAmsA positions that are being refuted here.

This is where the role of SAstra comes in. Have no doubt that ajnAna can
be removed by a single hearing of the upanishadic truth. The reason we are
taught tat tvam asi so many times, with the use of so many examples, is
not because mere repetition of the mahAvAkya will induce repeated samAdhi,
which will then remove ignorance. Rather, the repetition in the Sruti is
to illustrate the central truth with different examples, so that Svetaketu
can grasp it through uddAlaka's teaching. Once the central significance is
known, there should be no more ajnAna, and consequently no more doubt. If
there is any more doubt, it indicates that the central truth has not been
properly understood. The first, and possibly fleeting, experience of
samAdhi that you refer to, may be of such a kind. It may open up a window,
but only draw a curtain across, as it were. Repeated events of such
samAdhi may come and go, without any development of the proper
understanding of Atman. Or, the very first time one hears the truth of the
Atman, at that very moment, proper understanding can develop. It is this
fundamental jnAna that destroys ajnAna, nothing else is effective. This is
why one needs SAstra as a pramANa.

If SAstra operates only at an intellectual level, do remember that the
entity which goes in and out of samAdhi is also only at an intellectual
level. The Atman is always in a natural state which may be figuratively
called samAdhi. What SAstra does is to reveal this truth to the intellect.
There is no jIva over and above the complex of mind-intellect-sense_organs
etc, all of which has the brahman/Atman as the foundation. Just as one
diamond cuts another, and also inferior subtances, which are softer than
the diamond, the proper understanding of the SAstra by the intellect cuts
asunder the bondage of the jIva, and then the blinding light of the Atman
shines forth. In some ways, the doubt about the truth of the Atman is an
attempt to avert one's mental eyes from this blinding light. But when you
know that this light is itself your very own nature, there need be no
fear. That is why the SAstra and the bhAshyas use words like sva-prakASa
and abhaya.

You cannot view the samAdhi experience as an independent thing that is
above other pramANas. Inasmuch as it is an "experience," it is also
amenable to the intellect and to understanding. The reason for this is in
the last paragraph of this mail. However, all of this is not meant to
underestimate the importance of meditation or nirvikalpa samAdhi. It can
be very useful in overcoming the effects of prArabdha karman, and
SankarAcArya does recommend a steady recollection of Atma-vijnAna as a
sAdhana, in the bhAshya quoted above. It can also usefully supplement
vedAntic study, and when followed according to the advice of the proper
guru, it can help you overcome various kleSas (afflictions). And abiding
in such samAdhi may also be the preferred state of many jnAnis, as they
have no desire to participate in worldly life.

However, one does not really become a jIvanmukta by repeated occurrence of
samAdhi. It is only jnAna which liberates, so that one who knows the Atman
can be said to be a jIvanmukta. The true jIvanmukta is always in a state
of being into which there is no coming and out of which there is no going.
You can call this samAdhi if you wish, but note that it is quite beyond
what people generally mean by this word. Now, the shoe is on the other
foot, as it were. Atma-jnAna is itself the means to such a state, where
there is no citta-vRtti. Where there is no Arambha (beginning) of
citta-vRtti, there is no need to talk of nirodha (suppression) of
citta-vRtti. Still, with respect to the previous state of ignorance, the
state of knowledge can be figuratively described as citta-vRtti-nirodha or
as samAdhi.

I am reminded of a conversation between two monks. The junior one asks the
senior, "I don't see you following any strict regimen at all. When do you
meditate?" The other replied, "When am I not meditating?" I am also
reminded of the very concise answer re: samAdhi, given by Sringeri
Mahasannidhanam, Swami Abhinava Vidyatirtha, in conversations with Shri
R. M. Umesh of Madras. His widespread reputation of mastery over Yoga
would make one think that the Acharya endorses samAdhi as an enlightening
experience. However, the Acharya's thoughts about samAdhi are extremely
intriguing to those who view it to be over and above the authority of
SAstra as a pramANa. Perhaps Rama or somebody else who has ready access to
the relevant book can post excerpts. Unfortunately, my copy is half a
world away, in Mumbai.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the phrase, "revelling in the
Atman" with respect to nirvikalpa samAdhi. Again, one must ask oneself,
what is the entity that revels in the Atman? If it is the Atman that
revels in the Atman, then it follows that this has to be the natural
state (svabhAva) of the Atman, and consequently, it should be independent
of whether one is in samAdhi or not. If it is the manas or the buddhi that
revels in the Atman, then there is clearly an adjunct to the Atman, even
in the state of nirvikalpa samAdhi. If one says that one experiences
Ananda in the state of samAdhi, then this also shows that there has to be
an adjunct which qualifies such experience. This is the reason why even
the samAdhi experience is amenable to the buddhi, which is also the same
faculty that understands the SAstra. The Atman is sadA-Ananda by svabhAva,
as shown by Sruti, and never loses this nature, all through the states of
jAgrat, svapna, sushupti, mUrchA, savikalpa samAdhi and nirvikalpa
samAdhi. All this is known only by properly understanding the Sruti.
Therefore, one can multiply numerous reasons to show the importance of
SAstra as a pramANa, while at the same time, holding that even SAstra
operates at the intellectual level. What one should try to do is to bring
the same mental-intellectual-discriminatory-reflective analysis, which one
uses to understand Sruti, to bear upon the state of samAdhi as well.
Without it, the true content of true samAdhi, i.e. the natural state of
the Atman, cannot be properly understood.

svastir astu,

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