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Can the Truth ever be experienced?
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
20 min
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यत: सर्वाणि भूतानि प्रतिभान्ति स्थितानि च| यत्रैवोपशमं यान्ति तस्मै सत्यात्मने नम:|| ~ योगवाशिष्ठ: (वैराग्यप्रकरण श्लोक 1)

Translation: Salutations to that calm effulgence which is endless and unlimited by space, time, etc., the pure consciousness which can be known by experience only. ~ Yogvashishtha Vairagya Prakaran Verse 1

Acharya Prashant: The first part of the verse and the second obviously, must be read together. That calm radiant brightness, radiant and bright only in a sense of not being dark, dark symbolically, bright symbolically. Darkness is a symbol of ignorance. It does not represent anything particular in space-time. Rather it represents the illusion that space-time itself is. So, when darkness is symbolic, the use of the word effulgence or radiance or brightness or tej too is necessarily symbolic. It must not lead the reader to believe that light, physical light as such, or brightness of color as such or anything that is perceptible through the eyes or not perceptible through the eyes has anything to do with the Truth itself, the Ātman.

It is made very clear that the subject matter being addressed does not belong to space-time and hence cannot be contained in any activity of thought. Now, that makes things very interesting for us because towards the end the verse says, ‘The pure consciousness which can be known only by experience.’ If not understood properly, it will be a very misleading verse, misleading not because there is any imperfection contained in the verse but because the human mind is used to reading everything as per its own limitations. So, when it is said that the Self, the Truth, the Ātman is the pure consciousness that can be known only by experience, it must not lead the listener to believe that any kind of experience is an experience of pure consciousness. Seekers through centuries have been wandering in search of spiritual and mystical experiences and that trend, that desire has gained even more momentum today. Not only are there people who really believe that there is an experience of the divine, there are also people who claim that they can provide an experience of the divine, of the spiritual, of the mystical. Such people often take the shape of teachers, teachers who are making very lucrative promises. And to bolster their claims and promises, they would not hesitate to make use of verses like these. ‘Pure consciousness that can be known only through experience.’

Let it be absolutely clear that there is no experience of Truth, for the simple matter, for the simple reason that all experience is contained in space-time. And the first half of the verse itself makes it very clear that we are talking of something which does not belong to space-time. Is this part clear? In fact, if this becomes clear, we need not even take up the next four verses. Because this itself is the central disease of the mind. What is the central disease of the mind? The disease is to search for liberation in objects, to search for liberation within the domain of space-time. We say, “We are going to meet somebody holy.” We say, “We are going to now read something holy.” We say, “This particular activity that I am now doing is a special activity, is a divine activity.” This exactly is the misconception that prevents the liberation of the mind, that blocks that liberation of the mind which is anyway mind’s nature. Are you getting it?

It is extremely easy to interpret the second half of the Śloka as something referring to personal experience. The ego would quickly want to latch onto it. Then you would say, “See, this is what sage Vashishtha is saying. He is saying that you can know Truth only through your own personal and individual experience.” But the fact is that all experience requires an experiencer and that experiencer is nobody but the Ego. That all experience requires something separate from you to be experienced and hence all experience is necessarily in duality. Can there be experience without somebody to experience? And that somebody is surely going to be limited because what he is experiencing, the object of experience will be outside of him. Hence, we are necessarily talking of duality. Hence, we could not be referring to the non-dual Truth. This is the malaise of the spiritual seeker and this is also the malaise of the worldly man. Both are suffering from the same disease. The worldly man tries to find salvation in money, in material, in body, in everything that has an ostensible name and form. Is the spiritual man, the so-called spiritual seeker also not committing the same mistake? He says, “I am out to find Īśvara.” And what is Īśvara if not a product of your mind? And if you want to contest that then just pay attention to the fact that when you are deeply asleep, then there is no Īśvara for you. It is only in the waking state of your consciousness that you start conceptualising anything like Īśvara. So, whatever you are seeking is necessarily mental. Whatever is mental is material, all contained in space-time. What is a product of the mind is not going to liberate the mind. We are easy to dismiss, we are quick to dismiss the pursuit of material but we are equally inclined to take up the pursuit of the holy, without realizing at all that this is nothing but a divisive activity. Again, we have located the holy within the space of our mental field. The mental field has a great and wide expanse; it is another Ākāśa (sky). Just as there is a great domain, a field that is perceptible through the senses, similarly there is a great domain, chidakasha which is not perceptible to the senses but which exists as the mind. Now whether the object is located geographically somewhere in front of you here or there, or the object is located mentally, ultimately it is just an object; it will not liberate you. Then why is Vaśiṣṭha saying that that particular pure consciousness can be known only through experience? His words must be approached with great attention. He is saying, “Pay attention to experience, look at the experience itself.” ‘Pure consciousness known only through experience.’ So, experience will become the tool, the method. Pure consciousness is known only through experience. So, experience is the method, and he is giving us a great insight into the methods of spiritual inquiry. He is also telling us what can be probably the only and the highest possible method of meditation. He is saying experience. Experience is what will open the doors of your consciousness to you. What is this experience? Is this any special extraordinary experience that he is referring to? No, he is referring to our daily life. He is saying, you are experiencing anyway, 24 hours. What you call as existence is nothing but experience. If you are existing, you are experiencing. Is there any moment, is there any activity which is sans experience? No, there is not. If you can be attentive to this whole stream of experience that you are, then That, the Truth, that purity will show up. I repeat, the Truth by itself is no experience. But because we are beings of experience, hence paying attention to experience, not creating a new experience—because any experience is just another experience. We have been committing this mistake for centuries. In the name of holiness, we create special, exotic experiences. Somebody says, “I know a special form of divine dance.” Somebody says, “I know an especially holy place.” Somebody says, “I know a special bodily method.” All these are just more and more experiences. But why do you need more experience? You are already so full of experiences. Your life itself is an experience; every passing moment is an experience; every relationship is an experience; every breath is an experience. We are experiencing beings, are we not?

The sage is advising us, this experience itself will become the gate; this experience itself will become the method. Look at the whole flow of your experience, not only a small part of it. Attention is not something that you can restrict to 30 minutes a day. So, you have to look at the whole floor. How you wake up? What are you thinking? How does it feel when the television set is switched on? Why do you rush to the newspaper every morning? What is your relationship with the housemaid? What is the relationship with the street vendor? What is the relationship with the landlord? What is the relationship with your husband, your wife, or children? What is your relationship to your livelihood, your job? These are the experiences within which we are located. These are the experiences that shape us. These are the experiences that constitute our ‘I’, our ego. Or does the ego come from anywhere else? No, it is the product of experience; it is the product of time. All experiences are time. So, the sage is saying, let experience become your tool, your method. Pay attention to your daily life. Be honest, see who you are. See, why you indulge in something. See, why you are afraid of something. See, why you are attracted towards something. See, why you resist something. Are you getting it?

Divinity does not consist of visiting a temple, because in visiting a temple you very carefully and very mischievously declare that outside the boundaries of the temple, the temple does not exist. You have restricted holiness to a small field of land, right? You say, “Let me take out, let me get rid of my slippers at the entrance of the temple.” Don’t you see what your mind is telling to you and what you are telling to your mind? That this area belongs to the lord. And if this area belongs to the lord, surely, you’ve appropriated the rest of the area for yourself. So, the Ego is saying, “Let me give you 1% and in giving you 1%, I now become qualified to claim the remaining 99%.” Is that also not we do when we reserve our special time for worship? So, this time belongs to a divine activity, and what about the rest of the day? “You see, practically it is not possible.” What do you mean by practicality? So, you are saying the rest of the day you are the one who has to take care of yourself. In those 30 minutes, you submit and surrender to the Truth, and the rest of the day you have to take care of your shop, of your livelihood, of your money, of all your mental concerns.

If you pay attention to what Vaśiṣṭha is saying, all these myths will be dynamited. Vaśiṣṭha is saying, “Experience the totality of experience, the continuity of experience. Pay attention to that.” Are you getting it? It is a very smart trick of the Ego to divide and fragment. You see, you go to people's houses and what do you find? One small area is appointed as the Pūjā room, and the Pūjā room is very distinct from the drawing-room and bedroom. Now, you can very comfortably continue with all your rubbish and mischief in the drawing-room and in the bedroom. Not only can you continue with all that, but you are also now very secure that you are doing all this under the supervision of the lord. You are saying, “You see, we paid obeisance to the lord in the morning, so now the entire day we have his blessings and we can continue on our old ways.”

I was a kid, one priest once blessed me. He said, “You are a bright boy. May you be successful in whatever you do. May God bless you.” Now, the fact was, that even as he was saying this, being the naughty one that I was, I was actually, wanting to run away from his presence, to go out, to play, to do all the ordinary and small things that kids are fond of doing. Now he says that with the blessings of God, may you be successful in whatever you want to do. It immediately came to me that at this moment what I really want to do is run away. So, you are blessing me that may I be successful in running away from you. Anyway, I didn’t say that. I was probably too small to clearly enunciate what was coming to me.

But, is that not what is happening? Will the Truth bless us to be successful in whatever we want to do? Or will the Truth decide what we must do? Yes? But that is what we wish when we approach the Truth. We say, “I have my desires and if I am coming to you; it is with the expectation that my desires will be fulfilled.”

“Come, read the scriptures.”

“Yes sir, but why?”

“They will help you achieve your goals.”

Seriously? Will they? Or will they totally dissolve and destroy my goals? Is that not what the scriptures themselves say? But if you say that then people won't come to you. If you say that then your popularity will be threatened. So, you never say that. You say that, "You know, if you come to me then you will be a successful man." Successful in what? You know, take the example of few terrorists who are trying to enter a building in order to kill everybody present there. That has happened quite frequently in the recent past. Now before entering that building, the terrorists pause for 5 minutes, close their eyes and try to calm down their mind. In some way, they are meditating. And this actually does help. Now they are not thinking about this and that. This activity has helped them become better terrorists. That is how the Ego wants to use even the Truth, even godliness. "My objectives must remain and the Truth must be a tool to fulfill my desires. If I use the Truth then I will come closer to my personal goals. That goal is bigger than Truth. I will not allow the Truth to direct or dictate or resolve that goal. But because the goal is so significant and sacred, I will take the help of Truth. I will use the Truth as a tool. I will take the help of God to reach my own goal."

Spirituality is surrender, surrendering to the Immense. You will not decide when to go to God. Because whatever your decision is, is just your own decision. You will not decide where to place a statue of God. You will not decide when to remember God. You will not fix up a time that this is my time to recite the holy mantras. But we create these divisions. Vaśiṣṭha is saying, “Kindly do not divide.” The activity of dividing is in itself an experience. See why you want to divide. See why you want to confine spirituality to a small room of your house. See why you want to confine meditation to half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. Seeing these divisive activities is coming close to the fact of the experience and experiencer both. Then you come to know who they are. And having known who they are, you are liberated from them. This liberation itself is purity.

Pure consciousness is not another state of consciousness; pure consciousness is a dissolved and surrendered consciousness. You will never experience pure consciousness. When 'you' are gone that is called pure consciousness.

You yourself are the impurity. With you present, how can there be pure consciousness? But that is our claim and our great desire. “You know, I have accumulated everything else in life. I am a successful man. Now I also want to conquer the spiritual domain. I have been a winner throughout. I have been a winner of men, of money, of resources, of wars. Now, I want to win God as well. So, let me enter the spiritual field now.” It happens with the most successful people. After a particular age, they say, “The next frontier is God, the last frontier.” Do not be misled. He won't be contained in a small mind. You would never be experiencing God. And anybody who has those kinds of claims - ‘I see divine lights’, ‘I hear divine bells’, ‘I feel something rising in my abdomen’, ‘I feel a tickle running down my spine, there is something that you know ascends up my neck and right up to my middle of the head, the kapaal .’

No experience is spiritual experience. All experience is mental because in all experience all you have are objects.

Is there any experience free of objects? I had a visitor yesterday. He said, “I have a problem.” I said, “What is the problem?” He said, “I feel I am Īśvara.” I said, “Is that a problem?” He said, “No, I also see a flute, I see the divine snake, I hear bells and I feel I can do anything that I want.” I said, “Great! Good enough. Now, what is the problem?” He said, “The world does not respect me. My parents have thrown me out. My wife is not with me for one year.” I said, “But you think you are Īśvara.” He said, “Yes, of that I am very sure." I said, “From somewhere that realization must have come to you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “From that source itself the solution to your problem will also come.” He said, “I knew that.” I said, “If you want to talk further, you can come again when I am a little free. I am a bit occupied right now.” He said, “No, I won’t come again. I anyway understand everything.”

Such is the Ego. It objectifies everything for the simple reason that it cannot go beyond objects. Because I cannot rise up to the Truth, I will bring the Truth down to my level. That is the whole effort of the Ego. Unfortunately, there are just too many avenues in the world where this approach is being continuously and apparently successfully applied. Are you getting it? Whole life is divine. See how you walk, pay attention to what you think, look carefully at your life decisions, and in that looking lies the divine. One is living his life like a machine, like an idiot, but he is very particular about his routine of worship. Is that sensible? Is that intelligent? Is that spiritual? Can spirituality and wisdom be dissociated? And if your mind is not radiating wisdom, how can you be spiritual?

Wisdom is not about uttering wise words; wisdom is about living a wise life.

“Yes, I know what I am doing. Yes, I understand the quality of my relationship. Yes, I know why I am collecting for the future. Yes, I know whom to respect. Yes, I know whom not to respect. Yes, I know when to let go. Yes, I know when to fight till death." This is wisdom. “Yes, I know detachment and yes, I also know how to plunge into love.” This is wisdom. Wisdom is not about donning a particular serene expression on the face, wearing a particular kind of clothes, knowing a few verses, having read a few books, being trained in a few methods. None of that is wisdom. And I am sure because we live, we experience and we suffer, your heart would resonate with this. Yes?

So, two things, one—the very first verse makes it clear that what would calm the mind down, what you are seeking is not within the domain of the mind.

That which would give peace to the mind is not of the mind.

And second, yet the gateway to that, the roadway to that is the mind itself; the mind and its daily experiences. Are you getting it? It’s a little paradoxical but this paradox must be totally understood. First, that which you are seeking is not of the world, is not of the mind. Second, though it is not of the world neither of the mind, yet only through the mind can you reach it, only through the mind. And you don’t have to do anything special in the domain of the mind because in the domain of the mind there is anyway continuous happening, just pay attention to it. You are living continuously, without break, without any intermission.

Pay attention to what you are doing. The strong gaze of attention has the purifying effect that results in the purity of consciousness, and that is the last thing. Pure consciousness is not about having a special kind of consciousness or mind or thought; pure consciousness is a dissolved mind. Pure consciousness is a surrendered mind. Pure consciousness is the mind that is not chasing its own personal goals. Are you getting it? So, you are not there because till the time you are there, your agendas, your identities, your goals, your likes and dislikes would persist.

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