close logo

Asparśa-yoga: A unique Vedantic technique of Mindfulness

1. Introduction

Mindfulness is a very popular practice today in the West. It is often understood as the psychological process of paying attention to, and consciously experiencing each moment in the present, in a non-judgmental manner (Baer, 2003). It is considered as a therapeutic process that involves among other things: mindful attention to one’s sensations, thoughts, and feelings and being non-judgemental (Leary, M., & Tate, E., 2007).

While its origins in the Buddhist meditation practices of Zen and Vipassanā are grudgingly acknowledged, the rich traditions of meditation and mindfulness in the Vedic tradition, which form the basis of even the said Buddhist practices are rarely written about.

This paper examines one such practice of Vedic meditation—the asparśa-yoga or the yoga of non-contact; that has been conceptualized in the Māndukya Kārikā of Ācārya Gauḍapāda and practiced in the tradition of Advaita Vedānta.

In section one, I examine the definition of the term asparśa-yoga and trace its textual origins. In section two, a detailed presentation of asparśa-yoga as a spiritual practice is given. In section three, I examine the different models of mindfulness and compare it with the spiritual practice of asparśa-yoga to establish asparśa-yoga as a unique practice of mindfulness.

2. Asparśa-yoga: Definition and Origins

Though the concept of asparśa-yoga is quite old and can be traced back to the major Upaniṣad­-s, the phrase itself appears for the first-time[i] only in the Māndukya Kārikā of Ācārya Gauḍapāda (GK), wherein it is mentioned twice, first at 3.39 and then again at 4.2.

The Yoga that is familiarly referred to as ‘contactless’ (asparśa) is difficult to be comprehended by anyone of the Yogis. For those Yogis, who apprehend fear where there is no fear, are afraid of it[ii]. (GK 3.39) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

I bow down to that Yoga that is well known as free from relationships, joyful to all beings, beneficial, free from dispute, non-contradictory, and set forth in the scriptures[iii]. (GK 4.2) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), Eight Upanishads with the Commentary of Shankaracharya (Vol. 1 & 2), 2012)

The term asparśa literally means without touch or contact. Sparśa or touch is one of the five senses, and it defines an individual’s everyday sense of selfhood. As Richard King (1992) notes: “one could lose any one of the other four senses and yet still grasp the idea of ‘externality’. However, if one had no sense of touch it is doubtful that the boundary between ‘self and ‘other’ would have developed at all.” But, at a deeper level, asparśa implies being ‘contact-less’ in every sense of the word- being devoid of all sensory contact and transcending the notion of duality (King, 1992). As Ācārya Śaṅkara notes in his commentary on the GK 4.2, asparśa means sparśaḥ sambandho na vidyate yasya yogasya kenacitkadācidapi– which has no touch, no relationship, with anything at any time. GK 3.38 itself defines the state as “where all mentation stops[iv]”. In short, it refers to the state of non-duality, to the state of jīvanmukta.

Scholars have speculated regarding various connotations of the term asparśa. T.M.P. Mahadevan (1960), for example, has expounded its correspondence to the yogic practice enunciated in Yogasūtra of Patañjali. V. Bhattacharya (1943), on the other hand, has equated it with the highest state of samādhi. Hixon has understood the term as a basis for GK’s theory of perception (King, 1992). While each of these interpretations is quite useful and could be derived to some extent from the source text; they do not represent the primary meaning of the term asparśa as used in GK and as understood in the commentary tradition.

In GK 3.40, the state of asparśa is enunciated as the state of fearlessness, a state without sorrow and with the knowledge of the Self and everlasting peace[v]. In GK 4.2, it is described as the state full of joy, beneficial, non-contradictory, and free from dispute. In his commentary on this verse, Ācārya Śaṅkara adds that asparśa-yoga is of the “very nature of brahman[vi]”. Further, in GK 3.31-32[vii], asparśa-yoga is described as the state wherein the mind becomes ‘no-mind’, and duality is no longer perceived as a consequence of the realization of the Truth of the Self that follows from the instructions of the teacher and the scriptures. It also terms such a state as ‘agraham’- free from all perceptions.

Thus, it is clear from GK that asparśa-yoga in its primary sense refers to the state of non-duality, and abidance in such a state as a jīvanmukta arises consequent to one attaining ātmajñāna. It is only in the secondary sense that asparśa-yoga can be understood as a practical path that leads to the state of asparśa, but even here it is different from both  Pātañjala Yoga and Nirvikalpa Samādhi (Comans, 2000, p. 144). We will explore this secondary sense of asparśa-yoga as a practical path in detail in the next section.

On the question of the origins of asparśa-yoga, both GK and Ācārya Śaṅkara’s commentary onthe same, state that it is well known in the Upaniṣad­-s. In 3.39, GK uses ‘vai’ alongside asparśa-yoga, which Ācārya Śaṅkara explains as denoting that the concept is well known in the Upaniṣad­-s[viii]. Further, GK 4.2 notes that asparśa-yoga is set forth in the scriptures. While we do not find such a phrase anywhere in the Upaniṣad­, we find the term asparśa in Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.15 and many of its synonyms spread across the Upaniṣad­-s. Most notably, asaṅga which also means ‘contactless’ or ‘without any relation’ finds multiple mentions in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad[ix]. The state of ātmajñāna and jīvanmukti are well known and well-described across Vedantic literature. The Īśopaniṣad has a particularly interesting description of the state of jīvanmukta in verses 6-7 that clearly show the Upanishadic basis of asparśa-yoga.

He who sees all beings in the Self itself, and the Self in all beings, feels no hatred by virtue of that (realisation)[x]. (Īśopaniṣad verse 6) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), Eight Upanishads with the Commentary of Shankaracharya (Vol. 1 & 2), 2012)

When to the man of realisation all beings become the very Self, then what delusion and what sorrow can there be for that seer of oneness?[xi] (Īśopaniṣad verse 7) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), Eight Upanishads with the Commentary of Shankaracharya (Vol. 1 & 2), 2012)

The Upaniṣad  describes the state of jīvanmukta as a state wherein the Self alone is perceived without any perception of objects and is, in fact, a state that transcends duality. This is very similar to the description of the state of asparśa in GK 3.31-32. Further, by stating that for a “man of realization, all beings become the very Self” and he becomes the “seer of oneness”, the Upaniṣad is explicitly enunciating the state of asparśa. For sparśa to happen, there must be duality. When one attains non-duality, there can only be asparśa.

We find similar references to asparśa-yoga in Bhagavad-Gītā, most notably in chapter 2 and chapter 5 with a specific allusion to the term ‘sparśa’ and how non-attachment to it leads to bliss at 5.21.

One whose mind is unattached to external objects gets in the internal organ that which is bliss. With his internal organ fixed in self-absorption in brahman, he acquires undecaying Bliss[xii]. (Bhagavad-Gītā 5.21) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2013)

From this, it is clear that the origins of asparśa-yoga clearly lie in the earliest of the Upaniṣad­-s and the concept is fairly well-known across Vedic literature and as Comans (2000, p. 143) notes it is not “as mysterious as some would make out[xiii].”

3. Asparśa-yoga in Practice

We noted in the previous section that asparśa-yoga primarily refers to the state of jīvanmukta and only in a secondary sense it refers to the path that leads one to that state. GK from verse 3.40 to verse 3.46 provides a description of asparśa-yoga as a spiritual practice leading to the ultimate state of non-duality. Ācārya Śaṅkara in his commentary on GK 3.40 notes that the verses containing instructions about the practice of asparśa-yoga (i.e. 3.40-46) are meant for those yogi-s who have an inferior or intermediate outlook, and think of the mind as being different from the Self; and are devoid of the Self-knowledge[xiv].

For all these Yogis, fearlessness, the removal of misery, knowledge (of the Self), and everlasting peace are dependent on the control of the mind[xv]. (GK 3.40) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

Just as an ocean can be emptied with the help of the tip of a blade of Kuśa grass that can hold just a drop, so also can the control of the mind be brought about by absence of depression[xvi]. (GK 3.41) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

With the help of that proper process one should bring under discipline the mind that remains dispersed amidst objects of desire and enjoyment; and one should bring it under control even when it is in full peace in sleep, for sleep is as bad as desire[xvii]. (GK 3.42) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

Constantly remembering that everything is full of misery, one should withdraw the mind from the enjoyment arising out of desire. Remembering ever the fact that the birthless Brahman is everything, one does not surely perceive the born (viz. the host of duality)[xviii]. (GK 3.43) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

One should wake up the mind merged in deep sleep; one should bring the dispersed mind into tranquillity again; one should know when the mind is tinged with desire (and is in a state of latency). One should not disturb the mind established in equipoise[xix]. (GK 3.44) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

One should not enjoy happiness in that state; but one should become unattached through the use of discrimination. When the mind, established in steadiness, wants to issue out, one should concentrate it with, diligence[xx]. (GK 3.45) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

When the mind does not become lost nor is scattered, when it is motionless and does not appear in the form of objects, then it becomes Brahman[xxi]. (GK 3.46) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

In its description of asparśa-yoga as a spiritual practice, GK first lays out “control of the mind” as the basic means to attain the state of asparśa that is described as the state of fearlessness that is free from misery and is full of knowledge and everlasting peace in verse 3.40. Then, in verse 3.41 it is noted that such ‘control of the mind’ is only possible through diligence and untiring effort. After thus positing ‘control of the mind’ that is achieved through untiring effort as the defining feature of the spiritual practice of asparśa-yoga, GK now enunciates what exactly this spiritual technique of ‘control of the mind’ involves from the standpoint of practice in verses 3.42-43.

In verse 3.42, GK notes that the mind which either remains dispersed amidst objects of desire and enjoyment, or remains absorbed in the state of sleep, must be brought under control and discipline, and then in verse 3.43, it provides two staged technique to be adopted to accomplish this:

Stage 1: Withdrawal of the mind from worldly objects and pleasures by constantly fixing up the mind in the recollection (anusmṛti) of the fact that the empirical world is full of misery.

Stage 2: Refocussing the mind upon brahman, by recollecting (anusmṛti) the fact that birthless brahman, who is non-different from ātman– the innermost Self is everything.

While Stage 1 refers to what Vedānta literature calls as vairāgya and uparati, Stage 2 refers to what Vedānta literature calls nididhyāsa.

Then, in verses 3.44-45, GK describes what happens when the practice of asparśa-yoga progresses, how should one wake up the mind absorbed in deep sleep, and how must one be diligent to bring the mind to steadiness and tranquillity again and again, until the final goal is attained. GK verse 3.46 describes this ultimate goal of asparśa-yoga as the mind ‘becoming brahman’ i.e. jīvanmukti.

A similar description of asparśa-yoga is found in GK 2.35-36 as well, where the Stage-2 is explicitly highlighted.

This Self that is beyond all imagination, free from the diversity of this phenomenal world, and non-dual, is seen by the contemplative people, versed in the Vedas and unafflicted by desire, fear, and anger[xxii]. (GK 2.35) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

Therefore, after knowing it thus, one should fix one’s memory on (i.e. continuously think of, smṛti) non-duality. Having attained the non-dual, one should behave in the world as though one were dull-witted[xxiii]. (GK 2.36) (Gambhirananda (Tr.), 2012)

A similar 2-staged practice to attain jīvanmukti is suggested in Īśopaniṣad verse 1 as well.

The Lord inhabits here everywhere, whatever is there, all the created objects in this universe. Renouncing that (tyaktena), one must enjoy (the Self) (bhuñjīthā). Do not covet anybody’s wealth[xxiv]. (Īśopaniṣad verse 1)

It is interesting to note that the language of GK 2.35-36 is very similar to the language of Īśopaniṣad verse 1, though the latter brings out the two stages more explicitly and in the same way that GK enumerates these stages in verse 3.43. The Upaniṣad­ notes that a spiritual aspirant after knowing that Lord, who is brahman alone pervades everything, should renounce worldly pursuits and instead enjoy the bliss of Self by becoming steadfast in the Self. That is, the Īśopaniṣad posits renunciation of worldly desires and enjoyment of the Self characterized by the terms ‘tyaktena’ and ‘bhuñjīthā’ as the two staged process to attain jīvanmukti. It is the same two-staged technique that GK mentions in verse 3.43 as the practical process involved in the practice of asparśa-yoga.

Similarly, verse 5.21 from the Bhagavad-Gītā quoted before mentions non-attachment and absorption in meditation on brahman as two conditions giving rise to ‘undecaying bliss’.

Thus, GK, as well as older texts like Īśopaniṣad and Bhagavad-Gītā have clearly laid out asparśa-yoga as a two-staged spiritual practice involving detachment from worldly desires and uninterrupted recollection of the Self as a means to jīvanmukti.

4. Asparśa-yoga as a Vedantic technique of Mindfulness

The term ‘mindful’ is defined as ‘inclined to be aware’ in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Mindfulness itself has been often described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 1994)” or as “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis (Marlatt, G. A & Kristeller, J. L., 1999)”.

Comparing the approaches to understanding mindfulness with the Indian proverb of six blind men, Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston write:

“Mindfulness is like the Indian proverb about the six blind men trying to describe an elephant: As each one touches a different part, he describes the elephant differently. If we look across the scientific literature, there are aspects of mindfulness described in research on creativity, intuition, self-awareness, insight, and positive psychology, to name only a few areas of focus. Yet to research mindfulness we must have a working definition and then ways to measure it objectively. The working definitions of mindfulness all include “an awareness or attention to present experience.” Added to this basic definition are certain qualifiers describing the kind of attention or awareness a person has (receptive, open) or his or her orientation during the experience (impartial, curious, nonjudgmental, accepting) (Smally, Susan & Winston, Diana, 2010)”.

Shapiro, Et al. (2006) have proposed a model of mindfulness where they identify three components (called axioms) of mindfulness as (a) intention, (b) attention, and (c) attitude (IAA). According to this IAA model, “Intention, attention, and attitude are not separate processes or stages—they are interwoven aspects of a single cyclic process and occur simultaneously (Shapiro, S.L., Carlson, L.E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B.S, 2006, p. 375).”

Intention refers to the reason or motivation which drives one to practice mindfulness and this intention has a significant impact on the outcome of the practice. Shapiro, Et al. note: “Those whose goal was self-regulation and stress management attained self-regulation, those whose goal was self-exploration attained self-exploration, and those whose goal was self-liberation moved toward self-liberation and compassionate service (Shapiro, S.L., Carlson, L.E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B.S, 2006, p. 376).” Attention involves “observing the operations of one’s moment-to-moment, internal and external experience (Shapiro, S.L., Carlson, L.E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B.S, 2006, p. 376).” This is the heart of the mindfulness practice. Attitude refers to the character or the attitudinal foundation of the practitioner. They are the mental traits one bring to the act of paying attention. Shapiro, Et al. note that one could approach mindfulness practice with a cold, critical attitude, or with a compassionate, open-hearted attitude (2006, p. 376).

A similar model has been proposed by Mark R. Leary and Eleanor B. Tate (2007). Instead of three, they propose five components of mindfulness: (a) mindful attention, (b) diminished self-talk, (c) non-judgment, (d) non-doing, and (e) a particular set of philosophical, ethical, or therapeutic beliefs. While, mindful attention and a particular set of philosophical beliefs corresponds to Shapiro, Et al.’s axioms of attention and attitude, respectively, Leary and Tate have highlighted three more aspects of mindfulness practice. On diminished self-talk, they note that “only by quieting self-chatter-the running flow of mental commentary, thoughts about the past and future, self-evaluations, judgments, and other extraneous reactions-can people remain highly attuned to their present experience (Leary, M., & Tate, E., 2007, p. 251).” Similarly, mindfulness also involves reducing making judgments about one’s current conditions or clinging to one’s present experiences, and preventing oneself from making an attempt to do something or experience something particular during the practice (Leary, M., & Tate, E., 2007, p. 252).

Mapping asparśa-yoga using these two models of mindfulness would show that asparśa-yoga is not merely a meditation or a spiritual practice, but is, in fact, a full-fledged practice of mindfulness.

Consider Shapiro, Et al.’s model. Asparśa-yoga has all three axioms. GK 3.40 sets out the intention, in fact, four motivation factors for undertaking the practice of asparśa-yoga: fearlessness, removal of misery, knowledge of the Self, and everlasting peace. Likewise, GK 3.46 posits ‘becoming brahman’ as the ultimate goal of the practice of non-contact. Attention is, of course, the central element of asparśa-yoga in both its stages as enunciated in GK 3.43. In the first stage, attention is towards the fact that everything in the world is full of misery, and in the second stage, attention is towards the fact that birthless brahman is the only reality. While we have spoken of these two processes involved in asparśa-yoga as two stages, in practice they may happen either successively or simultaneously. Also, the first stage which involves complete detachment, renunciation, and withdrawal from worldly desires acts as the attitudinal foundation for the second stage of asparśa-yoga. It is through detachment and renunciation one must approach and practice asparśa-yoga. Vedānta texts, in fact, provide a series of mental qualities and attitudes that one must master before undertaking the pursuit of the ultimate goal of jīvanmukti or asparśa. These are called sādhana-catuṣṭaya—four-fold qualities and include (a) viveka (discrimination between real and unreal) (b) vairāgya (detachment, dispassion, and renunciation) (c) A group of six qualities that include control of mind and senses, forbearance, withdrawal from worldly desires, one-pointed concentration, and faith. (d) mumukṣutva (burning desire for liberation). The last tenet mumukṣutva corresponds to the Intention of Shapiro, Et al.’s model.

Thus, asparśa-yoga perfectly fits in Shapiro, Et al.’s model. Likewise, it fits well into Leary and Tate’s model as well. Withdrawing from worldly desires and actions through dispassion and instead, paying attention to birthless brahman as the only reality implies diminished self-talk, non-judgment, and non-doing. The importance of renunciation of all actions in Vedantic practice is well known and this corresponds to the three components of non-self-talk, non-judgment, and non-doing. Moreover, the very term asparśa or non-contact implies all these three components of mindfulness.

It is no surprise then that GK 2.36 and GK 3.43 uses the term smṛti (or anusmṛti) while describing the practice of asparśa-yoga, the very same term or its Buddhist equivalent sati from which the modern term ‘mindfulness’ as well as the practice of mindfulness has been derived.

However, asparśa-yoga differs from both modern mindfulness practices developed in the west and the traditional vipassanā practices of the Buddhists in significant ways.

Modern mindfulness techniques developed in the west are mostly aimed at deriving medical and therapeutic benefits. The intention in such practices is mainly self-regulation and stress-management. Attention is limited to paying attention to one’s behaviours, feelings, thoughts, and present experiences. They have designed many mindfulness practiced based interventions to cater to various medical and therapeutic purposes. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Dialectical behaviour therapy, Acceptance and commitment therapy, Relapse prevention—these are some of the examples of mindfulness-based interventions.

Asparśa-yoga differs from these modern techniques both in its intention as well as attention components. The goal of asparśa-yoga is neither self-regulation nor stress-management. It does not aim at resolving any medical issue or providing any therapeutic benefits. These could be, at best, considered as secondary unintentional benefits that happen on their own. The primary and the only intentional goal of asparśa-yoga is the attainment of birthless brahman and as such, the attention is directed towards continuous recollection of the fact that brahman is everything as noted in GK 3.43. Though in the first stage of the practice, a practitioner would start by paying attention to one’s breath, feelings, and experiences, it does not stop there. The purpose of the practice is to withdraw from the notions of duality and become established in non-duality. So, contrary to modern techniques, one does not limit oneself to witnessing the experiences as a subject that involves a firm identification with oneself as a subject. But instead, in asparśa-yoga one seeks to go beyond the duality of subject-object and attain the state of no-contact. Asparśa-yoga differs from modern techniques with respect to attitude as well. It requires the practitioners to be endowed with specific mental qualities like detachment etc. discussed before for them to make progress in the practice, whereas these qualities may not be required in many of the modern mindfulness-based interventions.

Though asparśa-yoga has many similarities with the Buddhist vipassanā practices, especially regarding how both systems recognize that the empirical world is impermanent, ever-changing and the source of sorrow; and hence, one must withdraw from the worldly desires, there is one major difference between the two systems as noted by Swami Sunirmalananda:

“The aim of both Buddhist and Vedantic techniques is the same: to see the ‘Player’ behind the play. But there is a crucial difference. As we saw above, the Buddhist technique leads to viewing the void (śūnyatā) or emptiness. Behind this entire enchanting scene that enamours us, there is nothing at all! The Vedanta is positive in approach. It doesn’t lead to śūnyatābut to pūrṇatāor fullness. So all Vedantic methods of sādhanāare aimed at attaining fulfilment or completeness or the Absolute or Brahman. If there is no fulfilment already, how can it be discovered? So the fundamental axiom of Advaita Vedānta is that this enchanting universe and our body and mind are all false superimpositions on the eternal, positive Self- Atman of Brahman[xxv] (Sunirmalananda, 2005).” [Italics and diacritical marks added].

Thus, asparśa-yoga is a unique technique of mindfulness practice evolved in the tradition of vedānta that is aimed at attaining jīvanmukti or the state of asparśa.

5. Conclusion

This paper makes a significant contribution to understanding meditation and mindfulness practices available in the Hindu Vedic tradition. It demonstrates with the example of asparśa-yoga that meditation practices are as much rooted in the Vedic tradition as they are in the Buddhist tradition. Asparśa-yoga is, in fact, traced back to the earlier Upaniṣad-s like Īśopaniṣad that predates Buddhism.

The paper also examines the different meanings and connotations of the term asparśa-yoga and shows how it primarily refers to the state of jīvanmukta and only in a secondary sense, does it refer to the spiritual practices that lead one to jīvanmukti. A detailed analysis of asparśa-yoga as a spiritual practice was also undertaken and it was shown to be a two-staged spiritual process.

Two different models of modern mindfulness practices were examined and compared with asparśa-yoga practice. It was demonstrated that asparśa-yoga contains all the axioms of modern mindfulness practices like intention, attention, and attitude, and hence must be understood as a mindfulness practice and not just as a spiritual or meditation practice.

However, it was also demonstrated that asparśa-yoga is a unique mindfulness practice and it differs from both traditional Buddhist vipassanā and modern mindfulness practices in significant ways, especially with respect to intention and attention axioms.

End Notes

[i] Though the term asparśa finds mention in Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.3.15, the phrase asparśa-yoga is mentioned for the first time in GK.

[ii] asparśayogo vai nāma durdarśaḥ sarvayogiṇām ।

yogino bibhyati hyasmādabhaye bhayadarśinaḥ ॥ 3.39 ॥

[iii] asparśayogo vai nāma sarvasattvasukho hitaḥ ।

avivādo’viruddhaśca deśitastaṃ namāmyaham ॥ 4.2 ॥

[iv] graho na tatra notsargaścintā yatra na vidyate ।

ātmasaṃsthaṃ tadā jñānamajāti samatāṃ gatam ॥ 38 ॥

[v] manaso nigrahāyattamabhayaṃ sarvayogiṇām ।

duḥkhakṣayaḥ prabodhaścāpyakṣayā śāntireva ca ॥ 3.40 ॥

[vi] saḥ asparśayogaḥ brahmasvabhāva eva vai nāmeti

[vii] manodṛśyamidaṃ dvaitaṃ yatkiñcitsacarācaram ।

manaso hyamanībhāve dvaitaṃ naivopalabhyate ॥ 3.31 ॥

ātmasatyānubodhena na saṅkalpayate yadā ।

amanastāṃ tadā yāti grāhyābhāve tadagraham ॥ 3.32 ॥

[viii] vai smaryate prasiddha upaniṣatsu

[ix] Many verses like 3.8.8, 3.9.26, 4.2.4, 4.4.22, 4.5.15 etc. mention asaṅga in Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (Comans, 2000, p. 159). Most notable though is verse 4.3.15-16: “asaṅgo hyayaṃ puruṣa iti” that explicitly describe puruṣa as being without any contact or relationship.

[x] yastu sarvāṇi bhūtāni ātmanyevānupaśyati ।

sarvabhūteṣu cātmānaṃ tato na vijugupsate ॥ 6 ॥

[xi] yasminsarvāṇi bhūtāni ātmaivābhūdvijānataḥ ।

tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvamanupaśyataḥ ॥ 7 ॥

[xii] bāhyasparśeṣvasaktātmā vindatyātmani yatsukham।

sa brahmayogayuktātmā sukhamakṣayamaśnute।।5.21।।

[xiii] Many scholars have expressed doubt regarding the attribution of authorship of the commentary on GK to Ācārya Śaṅkara because he mentions asparśa-yoga as being well-known in the Upaniṣad, yet not finding an explicit reference to the exact phrase in the Upaniṣad-s. For example, Richard King notes “In the two instances where the Gauḍapādiya-kārikā explicitly uses the term ‘asparsayoga’, it draws particular attention to the fact that it is a specific, yet well known, designation. The commentator also mentions this fact, as we have seen above, saying that the term is well known to the knowers of Brahman. This perplexity has cast doubt on

the authenticity of the commentary as one of Śaṅkara’s works for the term ‘asparsayoga’, far from being a well-known Vedàntic term, is not to be found in any of the classical upanisads, nor, to my knowledge, can it be found explicitly in any work prior to the Gauḍapādiya-kārikā (King, 1992, p. 99).” But, such speculations are without basis as we find a wide prevalence of the concept of asparśa-yoga in the Upaniṣad-s and in Gītā as has been illustrated in the paper. See also (Comans, 2000, p. 143)

[xiv] ye tvato’nye yogino mārgagā hīnamadhyamadṛṣṭayo mano’nyadātmavyatiriktamātmasambandhi paśyanti, teṣāmātmasatyānubodharahitānāṃ manaso nigrahāyattamabhayaṃ sarveṣāṃ yoginām

[xv] manaso nigrahāyattamabhayaṃ sarvayoginām |
duḥkhakṣayaḥ prabodhaścāpyakṣayā śāntireva ca || 40 ||

[xvi] utseka udadheryadvatkuśāgreṇaikabindunā |

manaso nigrahastadvadbhavedaparikhedataḥ || 41 ||

[xvii] upāyena nigṛhṇīyādvikṣiptaṃ kāmabhogayoḥ |
suprasannaṃ laye caiva yathā kāmo layastathā || 42 ||

[xviii] duḥkhaṃ sarvamanusmṛtya kāmabhogānnivartayet |
ajaṃ sarvamanusmṛtya jātaṃ naiva tu paśyati || 43 ||

[xix] laye saṃbodhayeccittaṃ vikṣiptaṃ śamayetpunaḥ |
sakaṣāyaṃ vijānīyātsamaprāptaṃ na cālayet || 44 ||

[xx] nā”svādayetsukhaṃ tatra niḥsaṅgaḥ prajñayā bhavet |
niścalaṃ niścaraccittamekīkuryātprayatnataḥ || 45 ||

[xxi] yadā na līyate cittaṃ na ca vikṣipyate punaḥ |
aniṅganamanābhāsaṃ niṣpannaṃ brahma tattadā || 46 ||

[xxii] vītarāgabhayakrodhairmunibhirvedapāragaiḥ |
nirvikalpo hyayaṃ dṛṣṭaḥ prapañcopaśamo’dvayaḥ || 35 ||

[xxiii] tasmādevaṃ viditvainam advaite yojayetsmṛtim |
advaitaṃ samanuprāpya jaḍavallokamācaret || 36 ||

[xxiv] īśāvāsyamidaṃ sarvaṃ yatkiñca jagatyāṃ jagat |
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasyasviddhanam ||1||

The translation of this verse has been taken from author’s own yet-to-be published English translation and commentary on Īśopaniṣad

[xxv] While Swami Sunirmalananda does not specifically compare asparśa-yoga with the Buddhist vipassanā, his comments on the difference between vipassanā and Vedantic practices equally applies in the case of asparśa-yoga as well since, all Vedantic practices are based on same philosophical principles.


Baer, R. A. (2003). Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 125-143. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpg015

Bhattacharya, V. (1943). The Àgamasâstra of Gaudapáda . Kolkata: University of Calcutta.

Comans, M. (2000). The Method of Early Advaita Vedānta: A Study of Gauḍapāda, Śaṅkara, Sureśvara and Padmapāda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Gambhirananda (Tr.), S. (2012). Eight Upanishads with the Commentary of Shankaracharya (Vol. 1 & 2). Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama.

Gambhirananda (Tr.), S. (2013). Bhagavad-Gītā: With the Annotation Gūḍhārtha-Dīpikā by Madhusūdana Sarasvati. Mayavati: Advaita Ashrama.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

King, R. (1992). Asparśa-Yoga: Meditation And Epistemology In The Gauḍapādīya-Kārikā. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 20(1), 89-131. Retrieved from

Leary, M., & Tate, E. (2007). The Multi-Faceted Nature of Mindfulness. Psychological Inquiry, 18(4), 251-255. Retrieved from

Mahadevan, T. M. (1960). Gaudapàda : A Study in Early Advaita. Chennai: University of Madras.

Marlatt, G. A & Kristeller, J. L. (1999). Mindfulness and meditation. In W. R. (Ed.), Integrating spirituality into treatment (pp. 67-84). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Shapiro, S.L., Carlson, L.E., Astin, J.A., & Freedman, B.S. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. Journal of clinical psychology, 62( 3), 373-86.

Smally, Susan & Winston, Diana. (2010). Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Sunirmalananda, S. (2005, November). Vipassna and Vedanta. Retrieved June 13, 2019, from eSamskriti:

(This paper was presented at the seminar on “Vedic Mindfulness” in July 2019 organized by Indic Academy and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi) 


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Indic Today is neither responsible nor liable for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in the article.

Leave a Reply