Embracing Infinity: The Meaning of the Word “Nirvikalpa”

When I tell people about Nirvikalpa: The Center for Human Potential, I’m often asked what the word “Nirvikalpa” means.

I usually answer, “Beyond the limitations of the mind”. Sometimes I am met with an incredulous or surprised look. After all, most of us have come to believe that the mind is our greatest asset, and that any development of our potential should be through the development of the mind.

However, the word Nirvikalpa suggests another perspective of the mind. A perspective that is shared by mystical faiths , both East and West – from mystical Christianity, to Sufism, to Hinduism, Buddhism, to the Kabbalah, Existential philosophers, Jungian psychology, and more recently, some psychiatrists and neurophysiologists: the perspective that our mind is a construct; that instead of helping us in our path towards a higher consciousness, our mind in fact prevents us from evolving further, holding us back, limiting us, even imprisoning us in old patterns and old ways of being.

So what does the word “Nirvikalpa” mean?

The answer, which doesn’t really go down well at your average cocktail party ( I tried it one time and the host asked me what I had been smoking…) is as follows:

Like many Sanskrit words, the word “Nirvikalpa” is actually composed of smaller words strung together, like pearls on a necklace. By itself each word has its own meaning, but when strung together, the meaning is transformed into something larger, more profound.

So, Nirvikalpa = Nir + Vi + Kalpa

Depending on how one interprets each component (Nir, Vi, and Kalpa), Nirvikalpa can mean many different things.

Kalpa means a unit of time, and according to Vedic cosmology, is 4.32 billion years. After each Kalpa, according to the Vedas, the world dissolves, only to begin again.

Kalpa, is also closely related to the word,”Kalpana”, which means imagination.

There can be no imagination without time, the word suggests.. And no time without the imaginations of the mind.

The word “Kalpa”, then, suggests that time itself is a figment of the imagination, a construct of our linear mind.

But Kalpa has another meaning – it can also mean “Rule” , or ” “Ordinance”.

So, if we add the prefix “Vi” to Kalpa, we get the word “Vikalpa”.

(It so happens that the prefix “Vi” in sanskrit can either intensify the meaning of a word, or, paradoxically, diminish the meaning of the word – and people say English is confusing!)

The word Vikalpa is then best translated as ” A state of mind that exists within the framework of linear time” or “A state of mind that understands the world and objects by language and constructs, but does not see the ultimate reality that lies beyond language and thought” or even , ” A mind that is not free of social constructs, prejudices, and preconceptions.”

Which finally brings us to Nirvikalpa

The prefix “Nir” in Sanskrit, means “Without”, or “Beyond.”

So Nirvikalpa then is best translated as ” A state of mind and being that exists beyond the limitations of time, space, and individual consciousness.”

Nirvikalpa is the absolute unfettered freedom of consciousness that exists beyond the limitations of the mind.

The word tell us that if we could break free from all our limitations, nothing is beyond reach.

It hints at the possibilities that exist within us. If we go beyond the mind. If we embrace infinity.

May 10, 2009 | 1:38 am | By Dr Shyam Bhat