A Yogi’s Non-dual Realization

An Insight into Paramahansa Yogananda‘s Poem on Samadhi

In the realms of spirituality, it is commonly asserted that mere knowledge, without experience and insight, cannot lead one to personal realization. However, within recognized philosophical systems, many of the Yogis’ mystical experiences are denied the necessary ontological status due to such experiences being subjective in nature. Furthermore, they are rarely given any epistemic value outside the subject’s dedicated following as the means to its replication is not commonly available.

Nevertheless, an experience such as Samadhi is regarded with certain degree of interest across all the varied Indian philosophical schools. Either through specific practices or through purification of mind, Samadhi is extolled to be such an experience that bestows on the subject the highest state of realization (unless it is just a heightened sensory experience or lower degree of Samadhi in which case it may not result in personal transformation or wisdom of the ultimate reality in the subject). Ramana Maharshi, Swami Vivekananda and several other Saints are evidence that after their respective Samadhi experiences, there was an irrevocable personal transformation in their lives. 

Among the popular philosophical schools of India, there appears to be a growing consensus that the culmination of all spiritual endeavors has to be the non-dual realization of one’s own true nature. To this extent, the zenith of devotional path is a form of non-dualism in that the seeker loses the egoic identity and attains oneness with God, the supreme source of all life. Thereby several scholars and teachers of philosophy make exemptions and give validity to mystical experience only if the experiencer endorses the ultimate non-dual reality to be of greater importance than the nature of experience itself. Swami Vivekananda had remarked that that after his sublime experience, he “could no longer deny the conclusions of Advaita philosophy.”

The systems of Yoga (as in Patanajali Yoga), Sankhya and Vedanta have different perspectives on the philosophical triad of “Jiva (individual), Jagat (world) and Ishvara (God).” While Vedanta relies much on Upanishads to conclude the oneness or non-distinctiveness of these seemingly distinct entities, Yoga relies much on the Sankhyan model of distinctiveness between Purusa (individual consciousness) and Prakriti (Nature or the entity that sustains creation).

Many perceive the path of Yoga to be that of the individual (Purusha) gaining freedom from the grasp of Samsara, the cycle of births and deaths, or that of the individual entity striving towards the union of the lower self (jiva) with the higher Self (Atma or Paramatma). Such a path is different to the non-dual model wherein the individual consciousness is considered in essence to be same as the One Universal Consciousness, which is ever untainted and free from bondage of samsara.

Self-realization, the goal of non-dualists, is nothing but this ‘direct knowing’ that one is not separate from God’s omnipresence. However, strict followers of Patanjali yoga system or the Sankyan philosophy shun talking about Self-realization (Atma Jnana) as that doesn’t quite fit into their version of liberation.

What better way to inquire into this than to study the Samadhi experience of one of the great masters and yogis of India, Paramahansa Yogananda. Although he did consider himself to be a Yogi and that the nature of his teachings reflect it, his own understanding and realization was clearly not limited to the Yoga school of philosophy. This is evident from one of his poetic expressions of the highest spiritual experience of Samadhi. In that he refers to several standard Vedantic terms and concepts, especially that of negation of self and the world, and the assertion of God as Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence, Consciousness and Bliss), Jagat mithya, Brahma Satya.

By carefully scrutinizing his poem on Samadhi from his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, I intend to show that the culmination of Yoga sadhana does indeed lead to the same ultimate reality as pointed out among the non-dual schools of India, particularly of Advaita Vedanta of Shankara (the other well known non-dual traditions in India are seen in some schools of Buddhism, Kashmiri Shaivism, and variations of Vedanta philosophies such as the Visistadvaita of Ramanuja and so on). As a note of disclaimer, I want to appeal to the readers that they read this with an open mind taking anything that might be of value and rejecting those that might be contrary to their understanding of either PY’s teachings or of Indian philosophical systems.

As a prelude to his narration of his Samadhi experience, Paramahansa Yogananda (PY) qualifies who is entitled to such an exalted experience. “Mere intellectual willingness or open-mindedness is not enough. Only adequate enlargement of consciousness by yoga practice and devotional bhakti can prepare one to absorb the liberating shock of omnipresence.”

(The entirety of the poem is presented at the end of this work.)

PY’s poem starts with the words, “Vanished the veils of light and shade

PY sets the tone for his poem on Samadhi by establishing non-duality to be the essence of his samadhi experience. Nature of duality is expressed in extremes such as the one used here by PY of ‘light and shade.’ ‘Good and bad,’ ‘happiness and sorrow’ and so forth are similar indicators of dualistic experiences in the world. Several verses in Bhagavad Gita also points out that the highest goal for the spiritual aspirant is to rise above such duality, as in Gita 2:38 “Having made — pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat — the same….” (sukhaduḥkhe same kṛtvā lābhālābhau jayājayau)

PY continues, ‘Lifted every vapor of sorrow’

Adi Shankaracharya, the well known proponent of Non-dual philosophy, claims that one of the eventual goal of spiritual pursuit is ‘atyantika dukka nivritti,’ eternal freedom from all forms of sorrows and this is gained by realizing the ultimate truth. In his works (such as Vivekachudamani), this Vedantic scholar commends the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi as a definite means to realize the nature of Brahman or ultimate reality. PY expresses the same thought here in a different vein that this state of Samadhi dissolves all forms of sorrow from his mind.

Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.

Suffering of any kind is linked to our notions of happiness gained through senses and the sense-dependent mind. But just as how every object in this world is impermanent, so also the joy experienced in the mind through association with these objects (or people and situations) are limited and has to eventually come to an end. But when the senses are turned inward and the mind is anchored in one’s true nature then one becomes indifferent to outward pleasures and pain. Even the past mental conditioning (samskaras) which propels one to seek after certain pleasures fall away at the dawn of wisdom. Just like an oasis seen in a desert due to mirage, all sensory indulgences promise much but leave one with disappointment.

In order to confirm that the joy of Samadhi is not merely a state of elation or a mental state of temporary joy brought about by a sublime experience, he writes on,

Love, hate, health, disease, life, death:
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.

The effects of spiritual practices are not only a gain in afterlife but also that it brings about the end of ignorance and freedom in this very life. Although one’s path may begin with the motivation to seek a higher form of love or happiness but the goal is to ultimately transcend them as well and be free from all forms of dualistic entanglements between the seeker and the sought.

The storm of maya stilled

Maya is a word that finds extensive description in Advaita Vedanta school of Adi Shankarcharya where he suggests that despite it being ‘anirvachaniya’ (inexpressible), it can be understood to be the cause for the world appearance. Maya is that force which the creator Ishvara deploys to bring about and sustain creation. Ofcourse, in the highest wisdom of Non-duality, the word Maya seems to be a concession as admitting it’s reality is in itself a sign of ignorance. Nevertheless, Maya, as the force of nature or the illusory veil that brings forth the expression of Consciousness as world and its objects, is essential for explaining the non-dual philosophical system. What is worth noting here is that going by strict Yoga and Sankhya philosophical terms, PY should have instead used the world ‘prakriti’ or ‘pradhana.’ But by using the word Maya, he has very clearly chosen to align his experience from non-dualistic perspective.

By magic wand of intuition deep.

Among the sad-darshans of India (six philosophical systems that are aligned with the Vedas), none of accept intuition to be a valid means of knowledge (Pramana). Yet Yogis refer to ‘Yoga pratyaksha,’ a subtler form of perception in one who is adept in yoga. Patanjali mentions it in Yoga sutras’ chapter on Samadhi (1.49) as ‘rtambara prajna’ and suggests that it yields higher wisdom than other commonly used means of knowledge (such as reasoning and testimony).

In colloquial language however, the word ‘intuition’ has come to be a means of knowledge for knowing something about the past or future, and especially for making insightful decisions in our lives. However, PY’s use of the word intuition, in this context, is not for gaining worldly wisdom but for unveiling the higher truth as is evident in the following words in his poem (…past, future, no more for me). It is said that the ancient sages ‘heard’ the Vedas directly without any intermediary medium (apaurusheya). To directly know the ultimate reality, intuition of this kind is the only means as the nature of that reality is acknowledged to be “beyond words and mind” (yato vacho nivartante aprapya manasa sahaTaittiriya Upanishad).

Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.

Non-duality is the transcendence of space, time and objectivity (desha, kala, vastu). This leaves one with the experience of ‘aparokshanbhuti’ (a direct perception of “I am”). By revealing that the sense of past and future is transcended in his Samadhi experience, PY is pointing to the nature of aparokshanubhuti wherein the Omnipresent and Omniscient reality is non-distinct from one’s own ever experienced Self. We can also infer that this Samadhi is not just a sublime spiritual experience but the transcendence of every kind of experience, good or bad.  

Planets, stars, stardust, earth……………

Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being.

Sarvam Kalvidam Brahman is the bold assertion of Upanishads which claims that all that there is, is only Brahman or Atman. The perception of the world is a manifestation of Prakriti according to Sankhya system. From that philosophical perspective, the world is real and a separate entity from ‘Purusha.’ But in Vedantic terms the world is illusory, nothing but a mistaken perception like that of a snake for a rope. Although the use of the phrase, ‘my own one Being’ could also be interpreted according to Sankhya as a real world arising out of Nature (prakriti), this phrase nevertheless rejects the notion of Nature being distinct from Consciousness. Energy, even if it vibrates at different degrees to bring about different manifestations, cannot exist without the illumining Consciousness. Furthermore, all mental states (anger, greed,…) are possible due to that projecting individual Consciousness from which it arises and into which it eventually dissolves just as how various characters emerge out of the dreamer’s mind and dissolves back into that same mind upon waking.

Thou art I, I am Thou,

Tat-tvam-asi is one of the mahavakyas (great sayings) on which Vedanta’s non-duality is demonstrated. Tat stands for Thou (God), Tvam represents the individual or the jiva, and asi establishes the union of the two, or can be taken to be the common denominator. By use of this phrase, PY clearly reiterates that his realization is not one as expressed in ‘Visistadvaita’ (Qualified Monism) of the ‘Atma’ being a part of ‘Paramatma’ but that the ‘Atma is Paramatma.’

Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
The duality is at times broken down into trinity as PY has done here. This helps to reveal the ‘knowing’ aspect of our dualistic experience as being distinct from the subject and object. But by relegating all the aspects of knowing to “one,” PY once again affirms the non-dual nature of Samadhi experience.

Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
……Not an unconscious state

Is Samadhi just another experience like Deep Sleep? Vedanta clearly distinguishes between the two as does PY here by reiterating that it is ‘not an unconscious state’ like deep sleep. Although one experience a sense of joy in sleep, one remains unconscious of oneself and thus it is considered a state of ignorance. In constrast to it, Samadhi is a state of being Superconscious.

Yet there are spiritual experiences of Yogis wherein one experiences a state of bliss which continuing to retain a sense of ‘experiencer.’ To clear this and to also negate that it isn’t merely a state of being blissed out without any experiential insight, he states:

Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in Me.

Here PY clearly adds that the nature of Samadhi is what is classified as a Nirvikalpa Samadhi (and not a Savikalpa samadhi) where one realizes the nature of Brahman, the transcendental nature of the true Self in which the little ‘I’ is merely a projection.

The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,

“Sarvam AUM-kara eva – everything is AUM (or OM)” claims Mandukya Upanishad. In Gita and other Upanishads, manifestation of the world is likened to an upside tree with the roots on top of the branches and leaves. The roots are a metaphor for Brahman or God, the source of all life and samsara. Through AUM, one unravels Brahman to be the underlying truth of this world.

Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.

Bliss is an aspect of the Supreme as Sat-Chit-Ananda. When the reality of the world is seen through, all that remains is this Existence-Consciousness-Bliss aspects of God. Some schools of Vedanta, and the Sankhyan philosophy, goes as far to say that “God or the creation principle remains hidden behind the world.” This attributes a distinctiveness to the world and a necessity for the individual to seek out the Supreme beyond this world. But by affirming that the ‘gross world vanishes’ and the ‘all-pervading bliss’, PY sees clearly in his experience that Consciousness-Bliss is the essence of this world, which is nothing more than a dream-like appearance. Ofcourse, such understanding is also a compromise of the ultimate non-dual truth that God or Consciousness alone is, all else is naught. The next lines in PY’s poem point to this highest realization.  

From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt

Joy is in infinitude and not in anything that is finite asserts the Upanishads (yo vai bhūmā tatsukhaṃ nālpe sukhamasti bhūmaiva sukhaṃ – Chandogya Upanishad 7:23:1). Every object in this world is finite in nature. But the subject, the consciousness, is the infinite all-pervading reality in which all objects appear. When the understanding of one’s infinitude dawns in the mind, then there is a sense of completeness. With this completeness and infinitude there is nothing else to seek after. All that arises, exists and comes to cessation is nothing but this infinitude-bliss. It is only in ignorance that one perceives oneself to be separated from one’s true nature as Joy.

Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves

Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Lift aright.

Whether we take the Vedantic version of Ishvara or the Sankhyan model of Prakriti as the Creator and creation principle, the ultimate causation remains veiled as long as one is in ignorance. But when the little mind of the individual unites with the Cosmic mind in the state of Samadhi, it not only yields the knowledge of the oneness of Consciousness but also reveals the tangible workings of the efficient cause of Creation (energy-principle).

I, in everything, enter the Great Myself.

Here again PY is referring to the manifested creation when he says ‘in everything.’ The phrase ‘enter the Great Myself’ can have incomplete meaning from the Yoga Philosophy wherein Ishvara is not seen as either the material or the efficient cause of creation. He is the special ‘Purusha’ who is uncontaminated by Prakriti. Thus, through the Samadhi experience when one becomes this pure ‘Purusha,’ he remains as the witness consciousness (tada drstu svarupe avasthanam) according to Patanjali Yoga Sutra 1.3. How can that which is a witness partake in what is witnessed?

Yet this phrase ‘enter the Great Myself’ with respect to creation makes perfect sense when we turn to the Upanishads. We find a similar expression in Taittiriya Upanishad (2.6) wherein Brahman, the supreme entity, is said to undertake ‘tapas’ or strive towards bringing about creation. Having created what He desired, He ‘enters’ into His own creation. Shankaracharya’s commentary to that verse clarifies that having projected the Universe through the power of Maya, Consciousness is itself seen to be manifesting as the creation. Thus, viewed from the Creator’s eyes, the world is His or Her own one form and the author’s use of the phrase ‘I, in everything’ makes perfect sense from this Vedanta perspective.   

Gone forever: fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory;

Spotless is my mental sky   below, ahead, and high above;

Memory is the one of the four components of inner instruments of mind that keeps us bound to body-mind limitation. This inner instrument is a result of past samskaras, unmanifest tendencies or mental formations. As the author rightfully points out, it is the mortal memory in this form that is to be shunned for regaining the innate memory of one’s Self. The Upanishads remind us that when our limiting ‘samskaras,’ and their bonds are broken, then all doubts or lack of knowledge of our true nature are ‘gone forever.’  Then one’s vision is purified and becomes spotless. (The fetters of the heart are broken, all doubts are resolved and all works cease to bear fruit, when He is beheld who is both high and low. Mundaka 2.2.8 ).

Note: Patanjali states (1.43) that when the memory of the mind is purified, then the object on which one is meditating upon shines forth. Yet this form of nirvitraka (without gross thoughts) samadhi is inferior and inconsistent with PY’s account of Samadhi. Here again the Upanishad’s account gives greater depth and meaning to PY’s expression.

Eternity and I, one united ray.

The ultimate truth expressed by Saints of all religions, either as ‘I and my Father are one’ or as ‘Aham Brahmasmi,’ is this non-dual realization, which is the culmination of all spiritual practices and knowledge. Eternity, symbolized by the farthest expansion of human imagination, is only a concept of the mind seeking to go beyond its limited vision. With the dawn of knowledge of Self, such concepts of time and space too fall away just as how the snake vanishes when one gets closer look at it, revealing in its place the harmless rope. Similarly, the Self itself is the essence of all that is experienced and perceived.

A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

Indeed, the bubble is nothing but a miniscule portion of the Sea. But the essence of both the bubble and the Sea is water. To know that the consciousness in the individual soul is the same Consciousness in the all-pervading Being is the non-dual wisdom. Thus, from this perspective, to ‘become the Sea’ is to realize one’s true nature.

There is also another interpretation that one can take from this concluding sentence.  As long as one is seen to be an embodied being, to assert that one is itself the infinite space of Consciousness from which everything arises may condescend the omniscient Being to one’s ego self. Instead to point out the potential for one’s limited nature to be ensconced in the Divine nature and to strive towards such perfection, is a message that great teachers convey to spiritual aspirants. In his own humble and compassionate nature, it is an apt means for PY to wrap up his elucidation of the experience leading to the highest wisdom.

Lastly, PY’s use of the word ‘become’ could be literally interpreted to be a kind of Yogic Siddhi, a metaphysical attainment, wherein the little mind of the Yogi has temporarily expanded into the One Cosmic Mind. However, going by the import of the entire poem, it is clearly not just an attainment but a state of wisdom wherein the author now identifies his true nature to be that infinite spirit or the single substratum of all. Such siddhis or miraculous powers are common to many realized Saints who are able to transcend space and time. But for such realized masters, such attainments are the natural fruition of Self-realization and not a separate attainment in itself.

In conclusion, every mystic experience may or may not lead one to the ultimate truth. Thus, all Yoga Siddhis or samadhis may or may not indicate that the subject is liberated. In this, the various philosophical schools are justified in not giving importance to spiritual experiences and invalidating it as an effective means of knowledge (pramana). Yet, the lives and experiences of the recent Saints of India such as Ramana Maharshi and Ramakrishna Paramahansa attest to the fact that not only did they experience the highest Samadhi but also were able to realize their true nature to be that ultimate non-dual reality. Thereby, we can infer that while the highest Samadhi of Yoga sadhana may yield to a range of powers, its final destination, the ultimate reality, is not different from a Jnani’s realization of the non-dual truth. Through the written words of this Self-realized master, we can draw inspiration that the path to wisdom doesn’t need to be merely a dry intellectual rigmarole but one that reveals through direct experience the vedic truth of Brahman, expressed here as “From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy, I melt.”

Notes:

Traditional texts such as “Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras,” “Sankhya Karikas,” and several other Upanishad texts have been referred to.

The Samadhi Poem is as published in the book, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramahansa Yogananda, Yogoda Satsanga Socieity of India/Self-Realization Fellowship, Jaico Publishing House, India

Vanished the veils of light and shade,
Lifted every vapor of sorrow,
Sailed away all dawns of fleeting joy,
Gone the dim sensory mirage.
Love, hate, health, disease, life, death:
Perished these false shadows on the screen of duality.
The storm of maya stilled
By magic wand of intuition deep.
Present, past, future, no more for me,
But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.
Planets, stars, stardust, earth,
Volcanic bursts of doomsday cataclysms,
Creation’s molding furnace,
Glaciers of silent X-rays, burning electron floods,
Thoughts of all men, past, present, to come,
Every blade of grass, myself, mankind,
Each particle of universal dust,
Anger, greed, good, bad, salvation, lust,
I swallowed, transmuted all
Into a vast ocean of blood of my own one Being.
Smoldering joy, oft-puffed by meditation
Blinding my tearful eyes,
Burst into immortal flames of bliss,
Consumed my tears, my frame, my all.
Thou art I, I am Thou,
Knowing, Knower, Known, as One!
Tranquilled, unbroken thrill, eternally living, ever-new peace.
Enjoyable beyond imagination of expectancy, samadhi bliss!
Not an unconscious state
Or mental chloroform without willful return,
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in Me.
Mobile murmurs of atoms are heard,
The dark earth, mountains, vales, lo! molten liquid!
Flowing seas change into vapors of nebulae!
Aum blows upon vapors, opening wondrously their veils,
Oceans stand revealed, shining electrons,
Till, at the last sound of the cosmic drum,*
Vanish the grosser lights into eternal rays
Of all-pervading bliss.
From joy I came, for joy I live, in sacred joy I melt.
Ocean of mind, I drink all creation’s waves.
Four veils of solid, liquid, vapor, light,
Lift aright.
I, in everything, enter the Great Myself.
Gone forever: fitful, flickering shadows of mortal memory;
Spotless is my mental sky  below, ahead, and high above;
Eternity and I, one united ray.
A tiny bubble of laughter, I
Am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.

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