Monday, January 07, 2008

Allowing Nirvikalpa

There's an interesting comment from an earlier post that I thought was worth responding to. It's from mayagaia, who has an interesting website worth checking.

“I've spent the last couple of years in a fairly intensive effort to rationally integrate a Nirvikalpa Samadhic experience I had over 35 years ago. My modis operandi is to subject accounts of realization from various religious disciplines and contemporary "knowers" and see what "sticks" based on my revelation. I can see why the Mellon-Thomas Benedict account has been embraced so ardently because embedded in its convuluted scenario witnessed from a state of dual consciousness are many of the revelations found in the non-dual traditions. But my issue regarding its credibility as original source is the fact that it issued from a consistantly dual state of consciousness. In the case of Ramana- I take issue with his change of heart regarding the significance of Nirvikalpa Samadhi to realization as he developed his discipline for Self-inquiry where he eventually dismissed it as being no better than a "drug experience or going to sleep" He further confused the issue by adopting the Sikh sahaj and redefining it as a superior state because in rising to it all (bad) vasanas are destroyed. In my opinion he simply failed to understand that authentic NS is just the start of the immediate challenge of integration- where only few assimilate tradition to the degree that they become jivanmukta or tahagata and most reamain partially enlightened but all having experienced the same samadhi. Realize this may not stay posted but liked your posts on the forum where you were eventually banned!"

Cheers mayagaia
Mayagaia is referring to an extraordinary mystical experience that spontaneously occurred in 1970, when he was forty-two, a full description of which can be found here, with a number of links to his long study of the subject, and speculations as to its meaning found in links from that page. All of it looks quite genuine and well-considered. I can't offer much more than my own particular take on these descriptions, which may not be worth much, but the subject matter is interesting in any case.

In the first place, Mayagaia mentions that this experience took place after a particularly ecstatic and loving sexual encounter with a woman he was very close to at the time. There's certainly a history of people using sexual energies to stimulate experiences like this, but it doesn't appear that Mayagaia was consciously intending such a result, or even practicing “tantra” in any formal sense at all. He simply found himself in an uncommonly relaxed and ecstatic state, and allowed this ecstasy to overwhelm him. One way these kinds of experiences are looked upon is some kind of end result of a long search and disciplined exercise of one's faculties – an attainment of sorts. This doesn't appear to have been the case here. Another way of looking at these experiences is that they are simply natural to us, but held at bay by the constant activities of mind and ordinary seeking that generally prevent us from knowing ourselves as we really are. That would be Ramana's view on such things. When we relax the mind and allow attention to fall into its natural state, these experiences spontaneously appear. They are merely a sign, in this view, of what is already the case, of who we already are, and of what the world is really about.

What we see and experience and understand in these experiences depends upon the depth of our surrender, our simple relaxation, so reports always vary. In Mayagaia's experience, his spontaneous surrender appears to have been deep enough that he entered the famed “nirvikalpa samadhi”, meaning “formless bliss”. Now, one cannot presume that all forms of nirvikalpa are the same, but they do indeed tend to have a very similar descriptive content – meaning, in effect, no content at all, other than non-dual bliss and infinite ecstasy. The content of such experiences usually involves what led up to nirvikalpa, and what followed. Often there is something profoundly insightful in these before and after periods that reveals something about the nature of the mind, life, and even the cosmos. One could look upon these experiences as something like “atom smashing events”. In other words, when scientists want to look at the deeper structures of matter, then use high energy machines to smash sub-atomic particles together, and the results show all kinds of spontaneous by-products. In Mayagaia's case, he shows a particular kind of by-product that he has been trying to analyze for quite some time. This is natural enough. However, the question is, are these byproducts the real point of the experience?

Mayagaia asks me to explain Ramana Maharshi's views on these matters. Of course I can't speak for Ramana, I can only offer my sense of his teachings on these matters. In general, I'd say that Ramana would consider the analysis of these personal and cosmological by-products of the experience to not be the real point of them. Ramana's basic view is that focusing on the content of experience is of little value insofar as spiritual realization is concerned, that instead of focusing on content, we need to look at the structure of our experience, which means the structure of the “I” that experiences. While it is of course almost irresistible to investigate and explore the various meanings and correspondences of these experiences, this tends to take our focus off the transcendental nature of what is at the core of the experience, which is the formless reality itself, the very Self that is left over after all content is removed, which is what occurs in nirvikalpa samadhi. There's not much to say about formless reality, of course, so we tend to focus on content, meaning, history, and relationships to other content in the world of religion, history, etc. Which as I say is almost irresistible, and I've done it myself as much as anyone, so I certainly have plenty of experience on this road, most of which I can't be too proud of.

Mayagaia says that Ramana called nirvikalpa samadhi “worthless”, and I'm not familiar with that quote and would have to ask for the actual quotation and some context, if Mayagaia is still lurking out there. But in general, I think Ramana is merely talking about whether nirvikalpa samadhi leads, in itself, to realization. His view is that it doesn't, that nirvikalpa samadhi, however deep and profound, is only temporary. In other words, no matter how many times one experiences nirvikalpa samadhi, one will come out of it, the mind will return with all its attendant desires and distractions, and one will have to consider the basic truths once again. One has to realize that Ramana was addressing himself to a spiritual culture in which nirvikalpa samadhi is intentionally sought as a means for realization by large numbers of aspirants. I don't think he was trying to suggest that nirvikalpa is literally worthless, only that the intentional seeking and attainment of nirvikalpa is not a path that actually leads to realization, and it can therefore be as deluding as any other experience, from drugs to sleep. One also has to realize that Ramana felt that sleep itself was quite instructive, and offered an excellent opportunity for spiritual understanding and growth, particular the moment just as we are losing consciousness and falling asleep, or just waking up. In the same vein, he'd probably consider drug experiences to have some value, at least in that they reveal the underside of the structures of our consciousness. But in general, yes, I think he would equate the repetitive seeking of nirvikalpa with repetitive seeking through drugs.

The greater point of Ramana's teaching is to direct our attention to the “I”, to the self we feel and think ourselves to be, rather than to achieve profound experiences, either worldly or spiritual, even non-dual experiences such as nirvikalpa. If there's a value to these experiences, it's merely to convince us of the reality of non-dual reality, and give us a taste at least for what that is about. But we will not grasp that nature through any experience, even that of nirvikalpa. What is required in his view is an intensive, one-pointed investigation of the simple experience of “I”. He calls this self-enquiry, a concentration in the “I”-thought, until all other thoughts and experiences subside and are resolved into the root “I”-thought. At that point, Grace moves us beyond the “I” into the Self, the transcendental Source of the “I”. If we have not resolved the “I” which experiences, we will constantly be thrown back into experience in the dualistic fashion, as a separate “I” that experiences a separate “world”, unable to comprehend our state, but seemingly confined by it and propelled into a destiny beyond our control.

This is why Ramana described realization as “Sahaj” Samadhi, meaning “natural”. In other words, ordinarily nirvikalpa requires a subtle force or effort to enter into or attain. Even spontaneous incidents like Mayagaia's are often the result of past karmas of spiritual search. They do not repeat themselves, generally speaking, without concerted effort and attention. What Ramana is saying, I believe, is that one would be far better served to put one's effort and attention into observing and understanding the “I”, through self-enquiry, than to trying to understand or analyze or repeat the experience of nirvikalpa. Or, put another way, real understanding of experiences like these would lead to a deep commitment to the practice of self-enquiry. That would be the sign that one had genuinely understood and made use of these nirvikalpa experiences.

That said, I think a lot of what Mayagaia has grappled with in trying to understand his experience is valuable and true. I'd point in particular to something he has singled out from his experience, this admonition that he had to literally allow this death-like surrender to occur. It reminds me of my own earliest nirvikalpa experience, which occurred when I was sixteen, and had just arrived in Switzerland after leaving home to begin my own grand spiritual odyssey. It occurred during a very dramatic lucid dream that I can never forget, and I won't bother with the details here, but essentially it involved me being mortally wounded and dying. As I lay on the ground bleeding for an excessive period of time, wondering why I wasn't dead yet, I finally realized that I could not die without granting permission to die. I had to literally allow myself to die. When I did so, and gave myself permission to die, I suddenly felt myself blasting off like a rocket ship. As in one of those classic OBE experiences, I left my body and rose up with great speed. I could see my body lying on the ground, then the surrounding landscape, then the the earth itself as I blasted off into space, then the solar system, then the galaxy, and then the universe itself, all of which simply vanished into a tiny point, a singularity, and then this point itself vanished. I was left in an infinite vibrating field of pure energy and bliss, with no objects, no experience, no memory of anything at all, no world, and no movement to do anything or go anywhere else, since there was nowhere else. However, in retrospect I could see that there was, indeed, a very subtle sense of ego, of individuated self, remaining, and experiencing this. For what occurred was that out of this infinite vibrating energy a single form began to materialize. It took the shape of a single porcelain tea-cup, and as it materialized into form, I realized that it represented all my attachments to form, to living in a world, and that it meant that I would have to return to the world to work out and be released from my attachments. And then I too began my “descent” back into the world, and woke up from this visionary dream feeling deeply moved by it. As another parallel to Mayagaia's experience, even though there was no sexual content to the dream at all, I woke up realizing rather quickly that I had ejaculated during the night, probably during the experience itself. Of course, I was sixteen at the time, and wet dreams were pretty common for me back then, so it may not mean much of anything, but there is probably a connection to sexual energies in any case.

Whatever the meanings of such dreams, I think there is indeed something to this notion that we have to consciously allow ourselves to surrender in order to know ultimate truth, or even to be successful in the practice of self-enquiry. The fear of death is perhaps the primal barrier we must cross, and to cross it, we have to allow the “I” to die, both psychically and spiritually. This is of course not the death of who we really are, but the death of an illusion we cling to. Clinging to the “I” is the primal attachment, from which all other attachments follow. Ramana's method was not to try to eliminate all our peripheral attachments, but to concentrate on the primal attachment, cut it off at the root, and let all the others fall away as a consequence. This is why he considered it the quickest and most direct path.

Anyway, I thank Mayagaia for sharing his experiences with all of us.


Anonymous said...

Ya know, after all this, I don't think it matters what you investigate. It all leads to the same place. You are spending lots of energy and effort here trying to indicate what is the correct mode of enquiry to accomplish whatever, but in the process, very little actual enquiry seems to happen. It's all a definition of terms and picking of nits.

This kind of thing smells like something you inherited from Frank the Crank, as he was obsessed with it and no doubt found it most effective for entrancing certain mentalities. One suspects (and this has been intimated before) he even bequeathed to you a scepter, saying "Go and do likewise," so much does the same flavor seep through. Or otherwise, it's merely a psychically parasitical influence of sorts that remains from those days. Has anything really changed from the days of advocacy? A sincere question, not a putdown.

Anyway, rather than debating the precise form of enquiry to be engaged, and in the end not engaging any, how about documenting an actual enquiry in real time?

You mentioned, "What is Brahman?" What happened to that? To begin, how does the question arise? We have heard the term "Brahman" somewhere. Why should we care what it is, if anything at all? So that is probably not going to vitally engage us.

On the other hand, enquiry is not really going to get us anywhere, is it? As they say, "In maya, no answer; in Brahman, no question."

Enquiry and truth actually have no relation. Enquiry is maya.

maya-gaia said...

Conrad: Thanks for your post about my commentary.

my resources relating to Ramana in my websites at>
Just to clarify: At no time did I have any desire whatsoever to repeat or return to the samadhic state while alive as I had absolute certainty that it revealed the ultimate state of 'death'. So the notion that authentic samadhi engenders any addictive desire or that enlightened sages reputedly go in and out of samadhi at will seems to me incomprehensible. That is one of the reasons I find the term singularity appropriate to describe the Godhead experience as it relates to all dimensions- conscious, sentient, space-time, immanent and transcendent. This explains why I 'chase the ontology to it's depths' as the more this awareness sinks in- the greater the awe and exhiliration in my living consciousness to its realization and my gratitude for life.

Am very impressed with how insightful and eclectic your blog is and included your link at my page

Anonymous said...

Just a correction on the URL to my page with the link to your site>

maya-gaia said...

After June, 2009 the URL for maya-gaia Nirvikalpa Samadhi will be

Anonymous said...

...buddha talked a lot about the formless - the unconditioned state- - in that it contrasted with the form or sankhara (the conditioned) - the way to reach it was to "let go" of form - to let go of the attachment to form....this consisted also of the panna or understanding - the wisdom that forms are insubstantial - impermanent in their nature - so that attachment leads nowhere...letting go is in fact the nature of "release" or vimutti....