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Nirvikalpa Samadhi and Deep Sleep
Mani: James, would you please clarify for me what the differences are between nirvikalpa samadhi and deep sleep? If I understand it correctly, the mind is absent in both cases. If that is true, the person in nirvikalpa samadhi is not aware that he is in samadhi, just like when we are in deep sleep we are not aware of that state. Is my understanding correct? Thanks.
James: In terms of moksa, there is no difference, since the intellect needs to be available for Self-knowledge to take place. But there is a difference. In deep sleep there is an experiencer. It is called prajna, the deep-sleeper. It is not the waking-state entity, but it is a transformation of the waker into a “suksma vritti,” a subtle thought, that makes the experience of limitless/bliss without thoughts possible. In nirvikalpa samadhi there is no vritti, no vikalpa, so there is not even the experience of limitlessness. As far as the waker is concerned, the knowledge of the samadhi is only inferential, since the waker is a grosser transformation of prajna, the sleeper. In nirvikalpa there is no knowledge. The Self “experiences” itself without the aid of an experiencing entity, which is to say that it is an experienceless experience, i.e. not a discrete experience.
Mani: Does the absence of the intellect in deep sleep contribute to the ignorance about the deep-sleep content, which is that the Self is aware of the absence of objects?
James: I don’t understand the question. Could you rephrase it? Do you mean that because there is no intellect in deep sleep there is no knowledge that atman is illumining the absence of objects? If so, the answer to your question is yes.
Mani: I did mean to say that the Self, atman, illumines the absence of objects in deep sleep. Thanks for rephrasing the question. Does the atman then only illumine all the time, and it is not the knower, doer, experiencer or awarer at any time? It is only awareness – right?
James: Yes. It appears to be a knower, doer, etc. when looked at from the relative point of view.
Mani: In nirvikalpa samadhi, only atman remains, and there is no experience, but we do not know it to be so due to the absence of the intellect – is this correct?
James: At the time of the samadhi this is true. Once the samadhi is over, the presence of atman in the samadhi can be inferred by the intellect. Inference is a valid means of knowledge. But it is not correct to say that there is no experience. There is experience because the Self is present. The Self is existence/consciousness, which is always experienced, just not as a discrete object.
Mani: How can the intellect do the inference if it was absent in nirvikalpa samadhi? Does the inference proceed from memory and chitta (recollection)?
James: It knows that it was not present for some time, so it infers its absence, just like in deep sleep.
Mani: Does the atman know itself in nirvikalpa samadhi, and is this why inference is possible?
James: Yes. The atman is self-knowing. It requires nothing other than it to know itself, no object, no experience, no equipment, nothing. It is self-luminous. It is like a light bulb that shines endlessly without being connected to an electric grid.
Mani: But again, the atman is not a knower I have also read people describing nirvikalpa samadhi like the heart becoming larger than the universe, etc.
James: It depends on the meaning of the word “heart.” The heart is actually awareness, and it does not “become” anything, because it is everything already and beyond everything. It is the container for everything. It is larger than the universe, although “large” is a misleading world. It is neither large or small. The Upanishad says it is larger than the largest and smaller than the smallest, meaning it cannot be measured. It is simple, ordinary awareness.
Mani: If inference is possible after the samadhi, should the inference not lead to the conclusion that there was nothing there in the samadhi?
James: It will lead to the conclusion that the knower, the intellect, was not there. But it will also lead to the conclusion that something was there because something cannot come out of nothing. What that something is is not necessarily available by inference, although consciousness can be established by inference because everything except consciousness can be negated.
Mani: Or, since it is the waker, viswa, that is present in the samadhi, bodily functions like memory should be active to record the samadhi experience. I am quite confused, as you can probably tell!
James: Viswa is not present there. Viswa is a vikalpa, a thought. This samadhi is nirvikalpa. The Self is “there,” although the idea of “there” implies experience, and the experiencer is viswa. So there is no “there” there. It is accurate to think of the self as nirvikalpa, and try to understand what that means, since the Self is always present and does not require any means to validate it. It is obvious that you are. Nobody needs to prove it. You cannot see your eyes, but you know you have eyes because you see.