Nirvikalpa, Sankalpa, and Sahaja Samadhi

Hey Ted,


I have a question, if you wouldn’t mind answering? I have read Dharma Combat, with the ‘Mountain-path Swami’ and our beloved Ramji a number of times, and now that ‘I’ have assimilated the knowledge it becomes clearer and clearer with each read! But anyway I digress. The Swami says that nirvikalpa-samadhi is ‘the best’ type of mind-state to assimilate Self-Knowledge and James argues that it is sankalpa-samadhi…and then we have Ramana Maharshi who says that it is sahaja-samadhi! So I was wondering, what with your brilliant intellect [I know that it is all Isvara], whether or not you could explain what Vedanta’s or indeed your thought’s [same thing, eh?] are on this subtle subject as I have become very interested in these little details nowadays, after all what else is there to be interested in, intellectually speaking? So Ted, if you would do your best to answer this question, I would be really thankful, not to mention ‘interested,’ to know!


All the best,






Hi, Nicholas.


Self-knowledge cannot be assimilated during nirvikalpa-samadhi because the buddhi or intellect has basically resolved into a state of dormancy within the causal body, so to speak. That is, the buddhi or intellect, which is the discriminating aspect of the antahkarana (i.e., the mind in general, which consists of manas, the function of indiscriminate perception and emotion; buddhi, the function of discriminative thinking and deciding; ahamkara, the I-thought that claims ownership of the body-mind-sense complex and its actions; and chitta, the memory) has ceased to perform its discriminatory function and abides in a state characterized by a single, subtle, unmodified thought. While this thought does offer a view of our limitless nature, the mind perceiving it is in a state that is essentially no different than the state of dreamless sleep, and therefore though the “experience” of limitlessness is had, the knowledge it “contains” is not consciously recognized and, therefore, does not get assimilated. The intellect is the instrument of knowledge, and thus if the intellect is not functioning, knowledge does not take place.


Sankalpa-samadhi differs from nirvikalpa-samadhi in that while the mind is sufficiently still to register an accurate reflection of the limitless awareness illumining it, the intellect is still active enough to “see” or recognize the generally unmodified character of the mind and is, therefore, capable of retaining the knowledge afforded it by the “glimpse” it has caught of the limitless awareness that is its true nature. Sankalpa-samadhi can occur while one is transacting “business” with the world, but it is more likely to occur during sessions of formal or “seated” meditation. Sankalpa-samadhi is the ideal platform for self-inquiry, and it was in a state of sankalpa-samadhi, in fact, that Ramana Maharishi had his famous near-death experience, the epiphany by means of which he realized the self.


Once the knowledge afforded through the experience of sankalpa-samadhi has been assimilated, then one is able to recognize and appreciate the underlying nirvikalpa nature of awareness that is one’s true identity even while engaged in one’s daily activities. This is sahaja-samadhi. This is the state that characterizes the jiva’s life within the context of the apparent reality after the assimilation of self-knowledge.


All the best,