Sri Ramana distinguished Nirvikalpa from Savikalpa Samadhi in the following manner: “Holding onto the Supreme State is Samadhi. When it is with effort due to mental disturbances, it is Savikalpa. When these disturbances are absent, it is Nirvikalpa.” (1)
In Nirvikalpa Samadhi, there is no sense of a barrier between us and God. However, we also lose consciousness of the outer world and of differences. We cannot be said to “know” God in the Nirvikalpa state because we lose all awareness of ourselves and of knowing. The knower, knowing and the thing known become one. Another name for it is unitive consciousness.
Nirvikalpa Samadhi begins when the kundalini reaches the seventh or crown chakra but it continues until the kundaklini reaches the hridayam or spiritual heart. The first Nirvikalpa state is called by Sri Ramana Maharshi Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi and the second Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
Nirvikalpa is “the state in which objects are absent,” Sri Ramana tells us. (2) It is “effortless,” he says, and what we are aware of is not the world of form but of “formless Consciousness.” (3) A.W. Chadwick, whose spiritual name is Sadhu Arunachala, tells us that Sri Ramana used to advise his students to “make an effort to be without effort.” (4) That being without effort is Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
Nirvikalpa Samadhi can be considered knowledge of the Holy Father rather than of the Divine Mother. I’ve called the world of form the Divine Mother, the Phenomenal, which is known in Savikalpa consciousness; I’ve called the “formless Consciousness” the Holy Father, the Transcendental, which is known in Nirvikalpa consciousness.
I have on other occasions said that Nirvikalpa Samadhi is usually the seeing of a light beyond creation. It can also be experienced as consciousness. But that’s as far as we can go in asserting what is seen or experienced in the Nirvikalpa state.
Paramahansa Ramakrishna compared it to a salt doll who wants to measure the depth of the ocean. As soon as it enters the ocean, it dissolves and no one knows what its experience may have been. Or he describes Savikalpa as a man seeing God from on top of a wall. The man is observed to gasp in astonishment. But in Nirvikalpa the man jumps down from the wall onto the other side and no one ever sees him again. Therefore there is no one to describe the experience. (5)
Sri Ramakrishna’s life was said to be an illustration of all the truths of the scriptures. At one point he attempted to remain conscious during Nirvikalpa Samadhi to describe to his devotees what it was like. But, like the salt doll or the man who jumped down from the wall, he could not report back.
“‘So long as [the Kundalini] does not reach the brain, I remain conscious, but the moment it does so, I am dead to the outside world. Even the functions of the eyes and the ears come to a stop, and speech is out of the question. Who should speak? The very distinction between “I” and “thou” vanishes.
“’Sometimes I think I shall tell you everything about what I see and feel when that mysterious power rises up through the spinal column. When it has come up to this, or even this (pointing to the heart and throat), somebody stops my mouth, as it were, and I am adrift.
“’I make up my mind to relate to you what I feel when the Kundalini goes beyond the throat, but as I think over it, up goes the mind at a bound, and there is an end to the matter.’ Many a time did the Master attempt to describe this state, but failed every time.
“One day he was determined to tell and went on until the power reached the throat. Then pointing to the sixth centre, opposite the junction of the eyebrows, he said, ‘When the mind reaches this point one catches a vision of the Paramatman and falls into Samadhi. Only a thin, transparent veil intervenes between the Jiva and the Paramatman. He then sees like this –’ and as he attempted to explain it in detail he fell into Samadhi.
“When his mind came down a little he tried again, and again he was immersed in Samadhi! After repeated attempts he said with tears in his eyes, ‘Well, I sincerely wish to tell you everything, but [the Divine Mother] won’t let me do so. She gagged me!’” (6)
Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi, I believe (I’m not certain) can be considered the knowledge of Brahman or God and Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi the knowledge of Parabrahman or the Godhead.
Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi
Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi occurs when the kundalini reaches the seventh or brow chakra. Sadhu Arunachala described it this way:
“In [Kevalya] Nirvikalpa Samadhi one has attained to a state where the identity has been lost and sunk entirely in the highest Self. However long it may last it is only temporary, one must return eventually to one’s normal state of consciousness. One is unable to function in this state and so long as it lasts one is in a state of trance. It is usually preliminary to the final state.” (7)
The temporary and penultimnate state is Kevalya; the permanent and final state is Sahaja.
Sri Ramana Maharshi described Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi in this way:
“The involution of the mind in the Self, but without its destruction, is Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
“There are four obstacles in this, namely, vacillation of:
“ii. life breath or prana
“iv. Drishti [i.e., gaze, but also point of view]
“In Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi one is not free from vasanas [habit patterns of the mind] and does not, therefore, attain mukti.
“Only after the samskaras [impressions] have been destroyed can one attain salvation.” (8)
“Vacillations” in the mind, breath, body and gaze are the result of disturbances. Disturbances are the result of vasanas and samskaras, or latent tendencies and impressions in the mind. Their survival prevents the samadhi from being firm and one-pointed, and therefore permanent and natural. This is what distinguishes Kevalya from Sahaja and prevents liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Some readers may recall that the Buddha, when he had finished studying with all the Hindu masters he could find, had experienced Kevalya Nirvikalpa Samadhi and observed that there was still movement in the mind (“vacillations”). He therefore began a practice of what later became known as Vipassana, during which he observed the movement in the mind until all vacillation ceased. He thereby moved from the Kevalya to the Sahaja state.
Given that liberation does not occur at Kevalya, it’s often referred to as being halfway up the mountain.
We’ll look in the next article at Sahaja as freedom from the vasanas and samskaras. Only after one is liberated from them can one be said to have attained mukti or liberation, such as we shall attain upon Ascension. When one considers how precious mukti was to terrestrial sages and how much effort it took to attain it, one can begin to understand how precious the opportunity is that’s before us to ascend.
(1) Sri Ramana Maharshi in Ramananda Swarnagiri, Crumbs from His Table. http://www.ramana-maharshi.org. Downloaded 10 September 2005, n.p.
(2) Ramana Maharshi in Ganapathi, Vasistha, ed., Sri Ramana Gita. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanashramam, 1977, 27.
(3) Ramana Maharshi in S.S. Cohen, Guru Ramana. Memories and Notes. 6th edition. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1993, 82. [Hereafter GR.]
(4) Arunachala Swwami [A.W. Chadwick], A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam, 1961, 54. [Hereafter SRRM.]
(6) Paramahansa Ramakrishna, in Anon., Life of Sri Ramakrishna. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1977; c1924, 107-8.
(7) Sadhu Arunachala [A.W. Chadwick], SRRM, 47-8.
(8) Ramana Maharshi, GR, 89.