Countless sadhakas have mistaken their perceptions for genuine realization. If the perception can be described and conveyed to another, it is not perception of the Self. Perception of the Self is beyond words. Just remember this: no one can describe the taste of salt except to say that it is salty, and that conveys nothing. So if a material element such as salt cannot be described, what possibility is there for anyone to describe the transcendental Self?
Paramhansa Yogananda emphasized that the light seen in profound meditation is God, and that Light is the highest form of God, as he describes in the first chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi. The adept yogis of India insist that formless Light is the highest form of God, and that visions of various forms, however beautiful or fascinating, are greatly inferior. In Christianity for over a thousand years the only spiritual experience considered valid was the vision of infinite Light, and awareness that the mystic was one with that Light. This changed toward the end of the Middle Ages to the permanent and present detriment of the Western Church. However, this remained stable and traditional in the Christian East. Here is how Saint Ambrose of Optina, a nineteenth century Russian Orthodox saint, describes one of his visions.
“Suddenly I was in another world, quite unknown to me, never seen by me, never imagined by me. Around me there is bright, white light! Its transcendence is so pure and enticing that I am submerged, along with my perception, into limitless depths and cannot satisfy myself with my admiration for this realm, cannot completely fill myself with its lofty spirituality. Everything is so full of beauty all around. So endearing this life–so endless the way. I am being swept across this limitless, clear space. My sight is directed upwards, does not descend anymore, does not see anything earthly. The whole of the heavenly firmament has transformed itself before me into one general bright light, pleasing to the sight.
“But I do not see the sun. I can see only its endless shining and bright light. The whole space in which I glide without hindrance, without end, without fatigue, is filled with white light….
“…Not a single thought of mine is any longer enticed by anything earthly, not a single beat of my heart is any longer moving with human cares or earthly passion. I am all peace and rapture. But I am still moving in this infinite light, which surrounds me without change. There is nothing else in the world except for the white, bright light…
“My rapture at all this superseded everything. I sank into this eternal rest. No longer was my spirit disturbed by anything. And I knew nothing else earthly. None of the tribulations of my heart came to mind, even for a minute. It seemed that everything that I had experienced before on earth never existed. Such was my feeling in this new radiant world of mine. And I was at peace and joyful and desired nothing better for myself. All my earthly thoughts concerning fleeting happiness in the world died in this beautiful life, new to me, and did not come back to life again. So it seemed to me at least, there, in that better world.
“…This did not seem at all to be a dream. Actually, about earthly things I no longer had the least notion. I only felt that the present life is mine, and that I was not a stranger in it. In this state of spirit I forgot myself and immersed myself in this light-bearing eternity. And this timelessness lasted without end, without measure, without expectation, without sleep, in this eternal rest.”
Although in meditation we may see only darkness, light is at the heart, the core, of that darkness, and in time it will reveal itself. On the other hand, at the heart of material, earthly experience there is darkness, because it is an illusion, not reality. We can say it this way: There is light in inner darkness and darkness in outer light. We must learn which to trust.
Relative existence is actually darkness, but if we penetrate that darkness we will find light is its essence.
What is written in books is not worthy to be compared with personal experience, because such experience proceeds from our Self and we have no idea of the source of what is found in books, whatever claims might be made. Therefore we must seek to know for ourselves the way to higher consciousness. As Paramhansa Nityananda often pointed out, we were born with a brain but not a book.
To seek liberation in a book rather than in the Self is a vain endeavor. We must be much more intent on the illumination of our intelligence (buddhi) than on someone else’s words. Those who speak from books and not from brains are worthless indeed. In both East and West professional religionists speak as though they had a library of audiobooks in their head rather than a brain. I do not think there is anything more inane and tiresome than present-day Indian pundits and gurus that are what Yogananda called “spiritual phonographs” with never a glimmer of a functioning brain.
We can read all the spiritual books we like and read the descriptions of others’ spiritual experiences, but it will add nothing to our development. We must have divine experience for ourselves. Then we will be living books of spiritual wisdom. All true scriptures are written from the basis of the authors’ personal illumination. Nothing is true just because it is in a book, but a book can be a presentation of truth when it comes from an enlightened consciousness.
In his autobiography Yogananda tells of once visiting the great yogi, Nagendranath Bhaduri. “The saint and I entered the meditative state. After an hour, his gentle voice roused me. ‘You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava?’ He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. ‘Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.’”
Anubhava is direct, personal experience, especially of the yogi’s identity with Brahman.
Next in Living the Yoga Life: The Spiritual Teacher