Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
Wilber's description of enlightenment as "sahaj samadhi" derives primarly from Da, who in turn appropriates the term from the writings of Ramana Maharshi. For Da, "sahaj samadhi" denotes a non-exclusory samadhi, i.e., a samadhi that does not "discriminate" the contents of consciousness from consciousness itself. Rather, in "sahaj samadhi" the contents of consciousness are seen as manifestations - "arisings," as he calls them - of consciousness itself. Compare Wilber's description of "non-dual mysticism":
"To experience oneness with all phenomena arising in gross, subtle and causal states is a typical non-dual mysticism." Integral Spirituality, p. 93.
Drawing on the cosmogonic images of Kashmiri Shaivism, Da refers to sahaj samadhi as "open eyes samadhi." This is a reference to Shiva's post-meditative state wherein he creates the cosmos - represented by the image of Shiva with "open eyes" (unmilana). The idea here is that sahaj samadhi denotes a state that does not "discriminate" meditative trance, or Shiva with closed eyes (milana), from "ordinary" states of consciousness, or Shiva with open eyes (unmilana).
Both Wilber and Da tend to understand the requirement that there be such a "samadhi" in terms of the "logic" of the concept of non-duality. In Integral Spirituality, Ken writes:
"A typical response is to say that Enlightenment is being one with that which is Timeless, and Eternal, and Unborn.... But all that does it create a massive duality of Spirit - the timeless and eternal vs. the temporal and evolving...." Integral Spirituality, p. 95 and p.235.
Wilber largely derives this interpretation of enlightenment from the works of Da. His indebtedness to Da here can be seen in the following passage, which nicely summarizes the interpretation of Buddhism that we find in Nirvanasara:
"In the Theravada, or early Buddhism, this formless state of cessation (nirvikalpa, nirvana, nirodha) is taken to be an end in itself, a nirvana that is free from samsara. Mahayana Buddhism went further and maintained that such a view is true but partial...." Integral Spirituality, p. 108.
The requirement of non-duality is easily transposed into the Upanishadic requirement of permanence, and vice versa, since both non-duality and permanence denote a search for totality. Thus, in Integral Spirituality, Wilber also describes enlightenment in terms of a modified version of the idea of the Witness:
"If an individual has taken Wakefulness from the gross into the subtle, causal, and non-dual states, so that those states are mastered to some degree..., then they would be able to realize the oneness with all those general states as well." Integral Spirituality, p. 244.
In the above passage, the requirement of non-duality is combined with the need for permanence, which here appears as the continuity of "Wakefulness." But whereas traditional Advaita Vedanta understands identification with the Witness as identification with that which is Timeless, and Eternal, and Unborn, Wilber understands the continuity of "Wakefulness" as the "realization of oneness" with those states.
Wilber's conception here is closer to the Shaiva tinged Neo-Advaita of Ramana Maharshi than it is to the classical Advaita of Shankara. Compare Ramana's interpolation of a passage from the Vivekachudamani, a work attributed to Shankara that is actually a 15th century pastiche of traditional Advaita, classical Yoga, and tantric Shaivism:
"The essence of the Vedanta scriptures can be condensed into the following points:
First:...I alone am....
Second:...I alone am the Truth....
Third:...All that seems separate from me is myself...
Although all three of these standpoints are aids to Realization, the third, in which one conceives everything as oneself, is the most powerful." The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi , p. 165.
Whereas Shankara understands the Witness as the transcendental condition for the possibility of experience (that, as such, cannot be experienced), Wilber understands it as a certain type of experience, or to be precise, capacity to invoke a certain type of experience. In Integral Spirituality he describes it as:
"...a capacity to witness all of the other states; for example, the capacity for unbroken attention in the waking state and the capacity to lucid dream." Integral Spirituality p. 74.
Like the Neo-Vedantins, Wilber tends to view enlightenment as essentially an experience. Since enlightenment is an experience and since it must be permanent, the experience of enlightenment must continue throughout all states. It is for this reason that we find the appearance of the jackalope "lucid deep sleep" in Wilber's account.
There is another dimension to "sahaj samadhi" and that is its relation to the hagiographical component of Neo-Advaita. In the Neo-Advaita "satsang" movements we find a pronounced tendency to extol the sanctity and sagacity of the Guru. Besides the obvious practicality of the bhaktic element here, I think the function of this hagiographical component has, in large measure, to do with the status of the Guru vis a vis the problem of authority in Neo-Vedanta and Neo-Advaita. In Neo-Vedanta/Advaita, authority is shifted from traditional sources, such as scripture and teachings of the founding acharya, onto the shoulders of the living sage. This is one reason, I would suggest, that we find so many "God-men" and "Christ-like Saints" in modern Hinduism, as well as so many claims to enlightenment.
In the modern movements, the enlightened "God-man" enjoys the status of a kind of truth-conferring body, and the basis of this authority is his "enlightenment experience." Thus, in order to establish a reliable truth-conferring body, the sage must be in effortless, radical communion with brahman at all times. But since the realized sage is "one" with brahman, this all becomes possible. Of course there are benefits that go along with this. Since brahman is defined as bliss, the realized sage enjoys that bliss at all times; and so on. All of these components, which follow from the idea that enlightenment is an experience, are summed up by the term "sahaj samadhi."
I would now like to explore the semantic range of the term "sahaj samadhi" by looking its possible rhetorical and pedagogical senses. This will require some introductory considerations.
In the Brhad Up, we read of the "wandering" (carana) of the soul between the waking and dream states. This wandering through the states (avastha) serves as a kind of metaphor for the wandering of the soul from birth to birth (samsara). Brhad Up 4.3.19 compares this roaming of the soul among its states to the flight of a bird, and likens the roosting of the bird in its nest to the "return" of the soul to the state in which it "craves no pleasure, and sees no dream," i.e., to deep sleep, the "natural" state of the soul, which Shankara glosses as its "own-self" (sva-atman).
Along these same lines Ramana (now in his guise as a classical Vedantin) writes:
"Bliss and the Self are not distinct and separate but are one and the same... When the mind is externalized, it suffers pain and anguish.... In deep sleep, in spiritual trance (samadhi), when fainting...the mind turns inward and enjoys the Bliss of Atman. Thus wandering astray, forsaking the Self, and returning to it again and again is the interminable and wearisome lot of the Mind." The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, p. 45.
Here, Ramana basically glosses the view of the Brahma Sutras. Like Ramana, Shankara also associates the state of samadhi with deep sleep. What is noteworthy about this association is that it implies that in samadhi, as in deep sleep, the self returns to its "natural" state.
The image of the bird soaring high in the sky and then returning to its nest reappears in the Doha-kosha of the siddha Saraha. But in the Doha-kosha, the state of samadhi is likened to a bird soaring high in the sky. In other words, Saraha inverts the Upanishadic image, and the implication now is that meditative trance is not the "natural" state of the soul. In fact, Saraha considers samadhi a mere artifice, and accordingly he heaps ridicule upon its practice. Over against such cultivations (bhavana), which typify monastic life, Saraha, who wore his hair long and lived with a consort, extols living life in accordance one's natural (sahaja) state.
Another work that depreciates the practice of samadhi is the Ashtavakra Gita. Like Saraha's Doha-kosha, the Asthavakra Gita regards samadhi as artificial or "contrived" (krtrima). And like the Doha-kosha, the Ashtavakra Gita inverts a number of traditional images. For one, it takes the aimless "wandering" (carana) of the self and turns into a way of life, not unlike Chuang Tzu's "crooked path." Indeed, the name "Ashtavakra" means "crooked in eight limbs," and we can take this as an indirect slight of eightfold paths like Buddhism and Ashtanga Yoga, which represent the "straight and narrow."
Interestingly, the Ashtavakra Gita refers to and recommends "akrtrima samadhi." The term "akrtrima" means "non-contrived" or "natural." As such, it is a virtual synonym for "sahaja." The term "samadhi" can be and is used to refer to any ultimate end (nihshreya), including the passing of a spiritual personage. In the context of the Ashtavakra Gita, this would appear to be how it is being used. In other words, "akrtrima samadhi" is no "samadhi" at all. The nominal "samadhi" is being used here figuratively, and its placement in juxtaposition with "akrtrima" suggests an ironic intent. We should therefore read it as "akrtrima
This, I would suggest, is another possible rendering of "sahaj samadhi."