This Chapter is taken From The Book ”Guru Ramana – Memories and Notes” by S.S.Cohen

The word Nirvikalpa came to connote, particularly in the minds of some Western students of yoga, the profoundest and most awful of mysteries, which none hazards to penetrate without running the risk of total annihilation.

One day in September 1936 I picked up from the Ashram library the Life of Ramakrishna by Romain Rolland and sat in the Hall turning its pages. My eyes fell on the Chapter dealing with Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s contact with the Bhairavi and Totapuri and strayed to other parts of the book. It was a fascinating chapter, full of dazzling rhetoric about the Impersonal, the Unmanifest, the Formless, the Unconditioned and the Absolute, of Whom, nevertheless, the author seemed to be extremely terrified. I was struck by its literary beauty, but frankly puzzled by some passages, notably the following:-

On page 58: “They both (Paramahamsa and Bhairavi), instinctively shrank from the blind vision, the last abyss, the Impersonal.”

“I have already said that the Formless God lay in wait for him (Paramahamsa) with all His terror and attraction.” (p. 59)

Of Nirvikalpa (pp. 81 and 82): “When young Naren importuned him to open to him the Nirvikalpa Samadhi – the terrible door leading to the gulf of the Absolute – Ramakrishna refused with anger.”

(While Vivekananda was meditating) “suddenly he lost consciousness and was absorbed into the Absolute. He had fallen into the depths of the terrible Nirvikalpa Samadhi.” (p. 307)

Of Muktas (pp. 58 and 59): “For a long time Ramakrishna, not without anguish, had felt prowling round him the formless God and the inhuman, the superhuman indifference of . . . those paramahamsas from those rarefied heights, detached forever from all things, terrible ascetics denuded of body and spirit, despoiled of the heart’s last treasure; the diamond of love of the Divine. During the early days of his stay at Dakshineswar he had felt the terrible fascination of these living corpses (sic!), and he had wept with terror at the idea that he too might have to come to a similar condition…. Such a man was to be forced to abandon the home of his heart and sink body and soul in the formless and the abstract! Such a train of thought must have been more alien to his nature than it would be to one of our Western scientists.”

“But he could not escape. His very terror fascinated him like the eyes of a snake.”

How beautiful and how “terribly fascinating like the eyes of a snake” is this description, but how utterly fictitious and misleading it appears to us, we who daily see before our eyes for years and years the Supreme Mukta, the Lord of Nirvikalpa Samadhi – Sri Ramana Maharshi – whose human heart, far from being a “living corpse”, coruscates with the most exquisite and the most brilliant “diamond of love of the Divine”, the splendour of which, we know, is only due to its “Impersonal and Formless Divinity”. One would expect Romain Rolland, a savant and a great lover of Indian philosophy, to resist the temptation of rising to such sublime heights of fatuity when dealing with Truth, which are bound to scare the unwary. I must confess that, although I had lived at the feet of the Maharshi for over six months, I felt a shiver down my spine when I read these passages. Hence I turned to the Master for relief, and, after reading to him some passages, I asked: “Is Nirvikalpa so terrible? Are we then undergoing all these tedious processes of meditation, purification, and discipline only to end in a state of terror, or turn into living corpses?”

Sri Bhagavan sweetly laughed and said: “People have all sorts of notions about Nirvikalpa. Why speak of Romain Rolland? If those who have all the Upanishads and Vedantic tradition at their disposal have fantastic notions about Nirvikalpa, who can blame a Westerner for similar notions? Some yogis by breathing exercises allow themselves to fall into a cataleptic state far deeper than dreamless sleep, wherein they are aware of nothing, absolutely nothing, and glorify it as Nirvikalpa. Some others think that once you dip into Nirvikalpa you become an altogether different being. Still others take Nirvikalpa to be attainable only through trance, wherein the world consciousness is totally obliterated as in a swoon. All this is due to their viewing it intellectually.

Nirvikalpa is Chit – effortless, formless Consciousness. Where does the terror come in, and where is the mystery in being oneself? To some people whose minds have become ripe from a long practice in the past, Nirvikalpa comes suddenly as a flood, but to others it comes in the course of their sadhana, which slowly wears down the obstructing thoughts and reveals the screen of Pure Awareness ‘I’-‘I’. Further practice renders the screen permanently exposed. This is Self-realisation, Mukti, or Sahaja Samadhi, the natural, effortless State.


June, 1936

1. Mr. C. wanted to know the exact meaning of samadhi.

Bh. Samadhi is one’s true nature.

C. Is it the same as Turiya?

Bh. Samadhi, Turiya, Nirvikalpa, all have the same implication namely awareness of the Self. Turiya literally means the Fourth State – the Supreme Consciousness – to be distinguished from the other three – the waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. The Fourth State is eternal, over, or in which the other three, come and go. In Turiya there is the awareness that the mind has merged in its source, the Heart, and is quiescent there, although some thoughts still impinge on it and the senses are somewhat active. In Nirvikalpa the senses are inactive and thoughts are totally absent; hence the experience of Pure Consciousness is intense in it; so is the bliss. Turiya is obtainable in Savikalpa Samadhi.

C. What is the difference between Sahaja and Nirvikalpa samadhi? Bh. Sahaja is also Nirvikalpa. You are probably meaning Kevala Nirvikalpa, which is temporary, while the samadhi lasts. The Sahaja Nirvikalpa is permanent and in it lies liberation from rebirths.

There are two Nirvikalpas: the internal and the external. In the former the mind completely merges in the inmost Being and is aware of nothing else. This is compared to a lamp protected from wind. But in the latter, although the mind is absorbed in the Self, the sense of world still prevails without a reaction from within, and has the calm vastness of a waveless ocean. In both, the Self is realised in its nakedness and the essence of bliss experienced. When the waveless ocean of the external and the steady flame of the internal Nirvikalpa are realised as identical, the ultimate goal, the Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi is said to have been reached. Nirvikalpa is effortless, whereas Savikalpa is attended with effort.

C. Is the internal Nirvikalpa absolutely necessary before the attainment of Sahaja?

Bh. Abiding permanently in any of these samadhis, either Savikalpa or Nirvikalpa is Sahaja. What is body- consciousness? It is the insentient body plus consciousness. Both these must lie in another consciousness which is absolute and unaffected, and ever-abiding, with or without the body-consciousness. What does it then matter whether the body-consciousness is lost or retained, provided one is holding on to that Pure Consciousness? Total absence of body consciousness has the advantage of making the samadhi more intense, although it makes no difference in the knowledge of the Supreme.

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July, 1936

2. Mr. C. May I have a clear idea, Bhagavan, of the difference between Savikalpa and Nirvikalpa?

Bh. Holding on to 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. Remaining permanently in the primal state without effort is Sahaja. Like Nirvikalpa, there is an internal as well as an external Savikalpa, depending on whether the disturbing thoughts are from outside or from inside.

C. Should all vasanas (mental habits) be completely overcome before Self-Realisation takes place, or may some remain for Self-Realisation to destroy?

Bh. Vasanas which do not obstruct Self-Realisation remain.

In Yoga Vasishtha two classes of vasanas are distinguished: those of enjoyment and those of bondage. The former remain even after Mukti is attained, but the latter are destroyed by it. Attachment is the cause of binding vasanas, but enjoyment without attachment does not bind and continues even in Sahaja.

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13th March, 1936

3. Mr. C. and Major C. differed among themselves about whether or not the meditator can be affected by physical disturbance during Nirvikalpa Samadhi. They referred the matter to the Master.

Bh. Both of you are right. The one refers to Kevala and the other to Sahaja Samadhi. In both cases the mind is immersed in the bliss of the Self. In the former physical movements may cause disturbance to the meditator, because the mind has not completely died out, but is still alive and can, as after deep sleep, at any moment be active again. It is compared to a bucket, which, although completely submerged under water, can be pulled out by the other end of the rope which is tied to the pulley. Whereas in Sahaja, the mind, having sunk completely into the Self, like the bucket which has got drowned with its rope in the depth of the well, there remains nothing in it to be disturbed or pulled back to the world. One’s activities then resemble that of the child who sucks its mother’s milk in sleep, and is hardly aware of the feeding.

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25th February, 1949

4. Two young men, Sri Chakravarty and Sri Jivrajani, who have been performing sadhana in this Ashram since about a year, today had an animated discussion among themselves about Kevala and Sahaja Nirvikalpa, which attracted partisans on both sides. Finally they submitted their cases to the Maharshi. The younger, Jivrajani, led:

Jiv. Is the experience of Kevala Nirvikalpa the same as that of Sahaja, although one comes down from it to the relative world?

Bh. There is neither coming down nor going up – he who goes up and down is not real. In Kevala Nirvikalpa there is the mental bucket still in existence under the water, which can be pulled out at any moment. Sahaja is like the river that has linked up with the ocean from which there is no return. Why do you ask all these questions?

Go on practising till you have the experience yourself. Next day Sri Chakravarty, hearing Sri Bhagavan talking to a sadhaka about the above question, came forward and said:

Ch. I wish to make our point clear, Bhagavan. Is it possible for a person, who, once had the experience of satchidananda in meditation, to identify himself again with the body when out of meditation?

Bh. Where is the body? Is the body apart from the Self? If it is, then the world also will be apart from it, which is absurd, for you would not be aware of it – awareness being the Self. A sadhaka begins by taking himself as the body, but when he gets at the Self, he will realise himself to be Pure Intelligence – even the body will then appear as that intelligence, as the variously shaped jewellery are

nought but gold. . . (pensively) Yes, it is possible for a sadhaka who has experienced the Self to continue identifying himself with the body when out of meditation, but he gradually loses the identification in the course of his practice. In the floodlight of the Self the darkness of illusion dissipates for ever