[Advaita-l] Vikalpa, Savikalpa, and Nirvikalpa

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Aug 21 00:26:56 CDT 2012

On Mon, 20 Aug 2012, shriharsha chatra wrote:

> I want to have a better understanding of Vikalpa, Savikalpa, and Nirvikalpa
> wrt vedantic perspective.

savikalpa and nirvikalpa are adjectives which are usually used to qualify 
the noun samadhi.  What is samadhi?  In the Samkhya/Yoga system, the soul 
or purusha is eternally distinct from nature or prakrti.  This prakrti is 
primordially unmanifest (avyakta) but manifests into the three gunas 
sattva, rajas, and tamas whose various interactions cause the phenomenal 
universe.  When the gunas are out of balance, the purusha becomes "stuck" 
in trigunatmaka prakrti like a fly gets stuck in amber.  Liberation in 
that system consists of bringing the gunas into balance whereupon the 
purusha becomes free.  This state is called samadhi achieved through yogic 
disciplines and is the highest goal of Samkhya/Yoga.  How does the Yogi in 
samadhi view Prakrti and its manifestations (vikalpa)? If he still sees 
multiplicity that is called savikalpa samadhi but if he only observes 
unity, that is nirvikalpa samadhi.

Advaita Vedanta disagrees with Samkhya/Yoga on some key issues.  It does 
recognize a fundamental distinction between the soul and the creation. 
Rather these are both manifestations of one Brahman misunderstood due to 
ignorance.  Liberation requires knowledge (jnana) of the oneness of all. 
The problem with nirvikalpa samadhi is that although it is an experience 
of oneness it is not necessarily knowledge of the same so it is subject to 
the possibility of reversion to unbalanced states whereupon the Yogi is no 
better off than before.  This is not to say nirvikalpa samadhi is not 
useful state.  As a practical matter, one is more likely to get jnana if 
one is already experiencing oneness but they are not the same thing.  As 
an analogy, you can learn Vedanta in a cave in the Himalayas or in the middle 
of a busy street.  Obviously as a practical matter, the cave is more 
likely to be free of distractions but you cannot claim that the cave 
itself is the cause of learning Vedanta.

So Advaita sadhakas do not aim to achieve nirvikalpa samadhi as a goal in 
itself but they can make use of it if it is available.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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