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What Is True Spiritual Experience?

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Spiritual Experience: Why Settle for Less?

Sentient beings–long before reaching the level of human birth and after–are immersed in a chain of never-ending experiences, many of them absolutely illusory with no basis of any kind.

Yoga philosophy goes further and says that all experiences are delusions. Some, such as hallucinations, have no objective reality at all, and other experiences may be based on some degree of actuality, but our misinterpretation of them turns them into delusions as well. “Maya” is not outside us, but an interior condition.

Wandering in illusion

The yogi’s fervent aspiration is to experience the Real, the Truly Existent (Sat) which we call Brahman, the Paramatman. So immediately he is confronted with the crucial question: What is true spiritual experience? This must be answered lest he wander for future lifetimes through delusional experiences he mistakes for realities.

Since yoga deals with the mind–the major source of illusory experience–the yogi is very susceptible to mistaking the unreal for the real, just as he was before becoming a yogi! The masters of yoga have given us clear information as to the nature of real spiritual experience.

Real Spiritual Experience: Pure Consciousness

When Gorakhnath asked Matsyendranath: “What is the abode of knowledge [jnana]?” the Master replied: Consciousness [chetana] is the abode of knowledge” (Gorakh Bodha 21, 22). Shankara defines correct meditation as “meditation established in the perception of the nature of Spirit alone, pure Consciousness itself.”

Yoga Sutra 3:55 tells us: “Liberation is attained when the mind is the same as the spirit in purity.” That is, when through meditation we are permanently filled with nothing but the awareness of pure consciousness, liberation is attained. “That is the liberation of the spirit when the spirit stands alone in its true nature as pure light. So it is.” This is the conclusion of Vyasa.

Pure consciousness alone prevails. True spiritual experience, then, is the experience of pure, unalloyed consciousness that is the nature of spirit and Spirit, of the individual and the cosmic Self.

Non-dual Consciousness

True spiritual experience is the non-dual experience of Spirit. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:

“When there is duality, as it were, then one smells another, one sees another, one hears another, one speaks to another, one thinks of another, one knows another. But when everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, what should one think and through what, what should one know and through what? Through what should One know That owing to which all this is known–through what should one know the Knower?” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2:4:14).

The Chandogya Upanishad tells us:

“Where one sees nothing but the One, hears nothing but the One, knows nothing but the One–there is the Infinite. Where one sees another, hears another, knows another–there is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal” (Chandogya Upanishad 24:1).

Regaining our lost control

The atman-Self is never anything but consciousness, yet it, like God, has extended itself outward as the many levels of our present state of being. Unlike God, we have lost control over just about everything, and by becoming absorbed in awareness of our external being have caused it to take on a virtually independent existence, dragging us along with it.

Conversely, by keeping ourselves centered in the pure awareness, the witnessing consciousness that is our real Self, we will begin the process of turning all those levels back into pure spirit.

Our intention in meditating is to center our awareness permanently in the consciousness of who we really are–in the spirit whose nature is itself pure consciousness. We center or merge our awareness in the consciousness which is the Self.

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