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Epiphanies and the Bliss of Self
Jeff: Another point of interest for me that I want to mention is the fact that I understand what James means when he goes to great length to impress on us about any epiphanies and experiences we might have or want. However, in my case, because I have experienced strange but wonderful things – it proves to me that there is something else for us to learn here. I guess you could call it a signpost of sorts, perhaps not necessarily pointing the way but indicating for a brief moment that our existence probably isn’t what we believe it to be and those moments can inspire us to look further.
Sundari: Vedanta holds that intense mystical experiences are caused when the filter between the microcosmic unconscious mind and the macrocosmic (causal body) temporarily lifts, affording a glimpse of Isvara. If the control is damaged, too much information floods through and serious mental health, such as schizophrenia and madness, can result. Our brains cannot cope with that much input. Our normal workaday consciousness is a slim and selective vision of reality, and it must be this way, but this is very limiting of course. Nobody likes to be limited, because we all know we are the limitless Self. So, without Self-knowledge, we seek freedom by whatever means. “Out-of-body,” peak experiences or epiphanies give you a world so different that you find it hard to believe your brain could put on a show like that, yet what “blows the mind” is the realization that this brain of yours is putting on a show all the time. But you have no normal access to its vastness, which is the whole Field and beyond it. That is very seductive.
As Aldous Huxley pointed out, it can be daunting to face a “reality greater than the mind.” He said: “The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum,” [borrowed from German theologian Rudolph Otto] as he called the macrocosmic unconscious, Isvara.
His book The Doors of Perception (1954) took its title from a William Blake line: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it really is, infinite.” But, if you have that experience on drugs and have no understanding of what it means or know how to benefit from that knowledge in your ordinary life, what use is it? It will cause more harm than good because you will be convinced you must repeat the experience to gain the freedom you believe the experience offered. But that is not freedom, it is bondage. Any experience is only as good as the knowledge assimilated from it. You may keep trying for the next fix to get it back, but it will always be out of reach because all experiences happen in time and end. But Self-knowledge never ends, because it’s not in time.
Epiphanies and other extrasensory, far-out experiences are wonderful, and they do point to the awesome beauty and power of the Self, but they are nonetheless objects known to the Self. If you identify with them, you are getting caught by duality again and will suffer because you will be chasing something outside of yourself to make you feel happy or complete. As you know, this never works, because happiness is not outside of yourself, it is you. So enjoy the experiences for what they are, know they never last and you don’t need them to rest in the perfect satisfaction that is your true nature, full and complete, needing nothing. This is often a tough thing for inquirers to assimilate – that Self-knowledge is not feeling-dependent. The bliss of Self-knowledge is based on unshakeable knowledge. The problem lies in the misunderstanding of the word “bliss.” There are two kinds of bliss: ananda, which is experiential bliss, and anantum, which is the bliss of the Self. The bliss of the Self, that which is always present, unlimited and non-changing, is not an experience, because it is your true nature, anantum.
The bliss of Self-knowledge can be experienced as a feeling though, such as the bliss of deep sleep, which is inferred when you wake up, or as parabhakti, where love is known to be you, your true nature, meaning consciousness, the Self. Parabhakti is having all you could ever want and knowing that it will never leave you. It is love loving itself. It is limitless satisfaction, parama sukka or tripti are words used in the texts.
The nature of something is different from the attributes of something. People often confuse the two. Nature is the essential essence, something that is intrinsic to or inherent in something and cannot be removed, without which a thing could not be a thing. An attribute is a property, which may or may not be essential to the nature of a thing. The nature of something is the non-negotiable or unchanging variable, whereas a property is usually a changing variable, like the nature of sugar is sweetness. If you take sweetness away, sugar is no longer sugar. Or the nature fire is heat. If you take heat away, fire is no longer fire. Thus the nature of the Self, awareness/consciousness, is parama prema svarupa. Parama means “limitless”; svarupa means “nature” and prema is “the love the makes love possible.”
When I know I am awareness, I am prema, limitless love. This love is knowledge because awareness is intelligent. Prema is only known when Self-knowledge has negated the doer. That is not to say that the bliss disappears when Self-knowledge is firm. It does not matter whether the experience of bliss is present or not, because the bliss of Self-knowledge is always present because the bliss of Self-knowledge is the bliss of the Self. In fact you could be half-dead, broke, with no one in the world who cares much, and still feel fine because knowing who you are as the Self means you are fearless and need nothing to be happy. While it’s nice to have people we love care about us and our karma going smoothly, and certainly one prefers that to its opposite, it is not essential to our peace of mind. Happiness, freedom from all feeling-based identities, including the negative ones such as depression or any other mental illness, means freedom from dependence on objects for your happiness. No fine print.
Jeff: I have no idea how on earth I stumbled across James on YouTube… it must have been some sort of divine intervention… Isvara?
Sundari: Definitely – what else?! Finding Vedanta, especially a teacher like James, is grace. And grace is earned.
Jeff: Prior to my discovery of Vedanta, I used to meditate a lot, due to my interest in the spirit world. (My involvement with the mind-body-spirit world no longer exists, by the way.) During those times, I would ask for help to raise my kundalini. I’m not sure if that caused anything to happen, but I did start to see things differently and find amazement in the simplest of things. I would stand and stare at walls in amazement. The bricks or paint would fascinate me. I would stare at trees and buildings and did feel in a sort of weird state. I would sometimes just stare at my hand in amazement. My noisy neighbors one night suddenly made me feel happy and I smiled as I fell asleep with their shouting and music ringing in my ears. I had just prayed for help because they did drive me to despair, and no sooner had the thought been made that I was engulfed in a strange loving energy that lasted all the next day. I’m only writing all this because… even though these are just experiences, they presumably were a glimpse of me, the jiva, experiencing the world and the jiva as me, awareness?
I have listened to and read the advice that James gives about the kundalini. I think I’m correct in saying that it is something not to mess or experiment with. I haven’t meditated for a few years now or given the kundalini any thought either.
Sundari: Yes, they are pointers to the Self, nothing more. Any experience, no matter how elevated, happens in the Field, so it is reflected awareness. One of the lovelier sides of these high-energy experiences is that they fill the mind with shakti, which feels pretty wonderful, given the mundane nature of the reality as experienced from a dualistic perspective. But as seductive as they are, they are best not chased, because you will develop binding vasanas for them, believing that you are not the Self if you are not feeling blissful or having these extraordinary experiences. But it does not feel like anything to be the Self; all feelings are known to it. Being the Self is the most ordinary thing because it’s the only thing. Many spiritual types get lost or stuck in what we call the ‘golden cage of sattva.” They erroneously believe that these experiences make them superior and they are hooked on them. It tends to breed spiritual arrogance, a pernicious kind of narcissism.
~ Much love, Sundari