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Spiritual Experience vs Spiritual Realisation || Acharya Prashant (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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Questioner (Q): First of all, Acharya Ji, you are very focused on scriptures, especially the authentic scriptures—Upanishads, more specifically. So, what do you consider more important, spiritual knowledge or spiritual experience?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, there is nothing called as spiritual experience. Experience by itself is a thing in duality and has to be understood. What is experience, first of all? There exists the ego tendency inside and it keeps projecting a world all around itself, and that's what it calls as experience—to take cognizance of the world that it's seeing, touching, feeling, thinking.

So, experience consists of these two entities: the experiencer that we call as the self or the ego, and the world that is experienced. So, there is the self, there is the world and there is the interaction between the two. That is the process of the experience. Now, the thing is that the one who experiences is himself quite fictitious. The more you examine the experiencer, the more you realize that the experiencer is itself a product of time and situations and the entire process of condition.

So, this experiencer itself is a product of the process of conditioning. For example, we have this India vs South Africa cricket match going on these days. So, let’s say, I'm an Indian and you are a South African and we have this big TV screen showing the match. Let's say, India is winning the match. The same happening is experienced very differently, almost in opposite ways, by the two of us. I’ll feel elated by what is happening on the screen and you might feel annoyed or even depressed. So, then what is the worth of the experience? Experience depends on your time, place, conditioning, what you have been made to go through.

If somehow it happens that we could swap our nationalities, then our experiences will also change. So, spirituality is not about passing through special or exotic experiences. It is about understanding the experiencer itself and once you understand the experiencer, you stop putting any emphasis on having any special kind of experience. Otherwise, the ego is such a dissatisfied entity in life that it keeps clamouring for more and more and special experiences. Is that not what everybody is trying for —Somebody wants to go to an exotic place for a special vacation, somebody wants a new job, somebody wants a new car, somebody wants to try a new kind of food. All this is nothing but our continuous search for fantastic experiences. So, this myth of spiritual experiences has to be busted. There is nothing called a spiritual experience. There is only a realization and in realization, the experiencer is revealed or exposed or you could even say ‘dismantled’. Getting rid of the experiencer is the entire objective of spirituality.

Q: Agreed, but here at the same time, we do begin with the ‘might’ that whether it's through the study of scriptures or by trying to gain some kind of a spiritual experience which can lead our onward path. So, I do agree that, at one point, when you do realize the experiencer within, everything boils down to a myth, whether it's a spiritual experience or whether it's something you gain by reading a text. But at the same time, we cannot nullify the value of these experiences because they do herald our journey, like for a beginner, for anybody who is wanting to gain some insights into the absolute Truth.

AP: If you cannot nullify them, you will keep believing in them and no experience will ever say that “I am meaningful only on a temporary basis.” You see, that's what Maya is. All experiences come to you claiming that ‘we are important,’ why will you take any so-called spiritual experiences seriously if you realize in advance that this is nothing but a myth and I’m supposed to drop it later on? If you know that, that experience itself loses its attraction. So, one falls for spiritual experiences precisely because there is a belief in their sacredness, in their eternity, in their truth, otherwise, they would not be impactful and purposeful and attractive, even in the beginning. So, it's not as if one begins with special kinds of spiritual experiences, please understand, the ego is always hunting for esoteric kinds of experiences including spiritual experiences, and when that happens, there is a definite risk of moving on from one kind of world and creating another world for oneself called the spiritual world. If there’s one person who puts a lot of emphasis on worldly experiences, and another person who says, “No! I value spiritual experiences more,” these two are not fundamentally different. In fact, there is nothing called a spiritual experience.

All experiences are just mental and worldly, so, these have to be avoided right from the word go, otherwise, these things become catchy. One can cling to them, and clinging to something that is subtler is more dangerous than clinging to even material objects, because the material objects are visible, one can test them, one can investigate and whatsoever is about them as fact can be known and exposed. But when it comes to the so-called inner things, they cannot even be properly tested because they exist all in the mind in a subtle way. So, the danger of one becoming too absorbed, attached, obsessed with the inner experience thing is very real. I would have met hundreds of people who start living in their own spiritual world and the pleasure of their spiritual experiences probably proves to be a bigger problem than dealing with people who are obsessed with outer experiences. Somebody loves to have the experience of delicious food, that is one problem. Somebody has become obsessed with closing his eyes and thinking of something and that thought or that process gives pleasure. Getting this second person de-addicted is a bigger problem.

Q: Then how is an enlightened person or somebody who is a seeker of Truth supposed to live his life? Because we are experiencing all the time. Even now I’m sitting before you and experiencing that I’m talking to you or there is a table in front of me or there is a light. So, we are experiencing nonetheless all the time and if we are to cut ourselves from all kinds of experiences, so what is going to be the state of such a person?

AP: No, that's easier said than done that we are cut ourselves from all the experiences. The thing is to have one eye towards the world where the usual Prakritik process of cognizing is always happening and another eye towards the experiencer. So, even as you look at the table, you must also know that there is someone within who is making sense of the table, associating memories with the table, raising hopes with the table and all that is happening kind of behind your back, and because it happens behind your back, it deceives and enslaves. That’s the way. You cannot stop experiencing as you said previously, but you can stop being blind to the process of experience.

When that process happens, know how it is happening. Something comes as a stimulus in front of your eyes—you receive a piece of news, and then there is a sudden eruption from within, an instinctive reaction from within—you must know where that reaction is coming from, immediately. And when that reaction comes you then disidentify with it. You now know the experiencer is a product of the body, education, society, and several influences and experiences one has had, so you feel no obligation to keep standing with the experiencer and keep empowering it with your energy or keep giving it your own name. You just step back and you say, “Let the experiencer do what she wants to do.”

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