Final Stage of Jnana and Yoga
Samadhi is a thought-free, transcendent meditative state experienced by yogis and jnanis.
The nirvikalpa state is the final limit of jnana yoga practice, which is a completely thought-free meditative state of the pure satvik mind. This is the final goal of the Yoga Darshana by Maharishi Patanjali, and also the final stage of jnana as explained in the Aparokchanubhuti by Jagadguru Shanakaracharya.
The aim of both the paths of yoga and jnana is kaivalya moksha, absolute liberation that joins a soul with the impersonal aspect of God. To accomplish this, teachings from both the paths of yoga and jnana must be followed. Both compliment each other.
Through the discrimination developed through jnana of what is truth and non-truth, a yogi overcomes any confusion or pride he may develop from attaining yogic powers or siddhis and which could be a distraction to or stop his spiritual progress. Without the practices of yoga, a jnani can't fully establish true knowledge in his heart.
To attain full nondual realization, a yogi or jnani must pass through eight aavaran or barriers that are gross and subtle aspects of maya.
Nirvikalpa samadhi slowly develops in the meditation practice of a jnani or yogi as he passes through six of these barriers:
- Prithvi -- subtle earth element
- Jal -- subtle water element
- Tej-- subtle fire element
- Vayu - subtle air element
- Akash -- subtle space element
- Ahankar -- subtle form of the ego, also called the bliss sheath (anandamaya kosh)
After crossing the sixth barrier, subtle ego, the jnani or yogi enters the purest state of nirvikalpa samadhi. This is the final limit of the path of yoga and jnana that a practitioner can accomplish on his own. (In actual fact, a jnani or yogi is never alone. To reach even this spiritual height he must be practicing his meditation under the guidance of true yogi or jnani Saint.)
Certain scriptures on nondualism explain seven similar stages of the path of jnana. The first step is total renunciation from the world and the perfection of the eight stages of ashtanga yoga (8-limbed yoga). The remaining six stages correspond roughly to the above six phases of samadhi practice.
After crossing the subtle ego, a yogi or jnani is also considered an atma jnani, self-realized. His ego has become totally merged in the pure state of the satvik quality of maya. In this stage, the knower (his pure, satvik mind), the knowledge (existence of the soul) and the blissful experience (the proximity of the soul to the mind) merge into an unconscious, transcendent meditative state of pure mayic sattva.
In actual fact, the atma jnani experiences an ecstatic euphoria that is based on a reflection of the soul's existence. Although his pure mind is established in sattva, it is still material or mayic, and a material mind still can't perceive or understand what is Divine.
Plus, the seed of material attachment still exists in his mind, although in a predominantly dormant state. However, this seed could sprout if the yogi or jnani falls into wrong association or experiences negative sanskars from his past lives. Due to this, he could completely lose everything he gained spiritually.
In short, the function of jnana (knowledge) is only to remove ajnana (ignorance), and the highest attainment of yoga is nirvikalpa samadhi that is established in the purest form of material sattva. Both attainments are as yet incomplete as they leave their practitioner only part of the way to a Divine attainment.
Beyond these are two more stages that the jnani can't conquer or eliminate on the base of his own efforts. These are only eliminated through devotion and grace.
- Mahan or mahat tattva -- initial subtle manifestation of the universe
- Prakriti or maya -- the original material power