Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Belief vs Experience
Philip T. Mistlberger

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The following is extracted from the above book, 'A Natural Awakening: Realizing the True Self in Everyday Life', which can be purchased from Philip's website. N.B. Only a few copies left!

Q: Do you believe in God? What happens to religious belief in the face of enlightenment?

A: I’m not all that interested in belief, but more so in direct experience. Belief is an aspect of identification with thinking, and especially with memory. Direct experience is always fresh, of the moment. Belief may be useful in practical matters—I believe it is almost always safe to cross a street if the walking signal is flashing on the traffic light—but in the realm of spiritual awakening, direct experience is the ticket.

By direct experience versus belief, I’m referring to the crucial role that interpretation has in any sort of spiritual revelation. For example, it’s a common thing for a sensitive, intelligent person to have a mystical experience of some kind—whether while spending time in nature, in prayer or meditation, or even listening to music or reading great literature or looking at great art. These rapturous peak experiences are more common than assumed, but because they are not generally supported by mainstream society most people remain private about them, and one of two things most typically occurs: either we develop our own personal, private spirituality, or we are drawn to a group of people who have interpreted these experiences in a similar fashion.

For example the powerful energetic and blissful feelings connected with Christian “born-again” experiences are, in terms of pure energetic force, likely no different than what a practitioner of kundalini Yoga in India may experience, or someone undergoing conversion to the Will of Allah in Islam, or someone experiencing ecstatic breakthrough to satori while undergoing a Zen Buddhist retreat, or someone experiencing profound spiritual purification during a four day Native Indian Vision Quest, and so forth. The power of the inner spiritual revelation, fuelled by accessing that universal field of Energy/Presence known by many names (the universal Spirit-Force), is enough to convince the mind that finally, the true way has been found—precisely because the experience seems at the time to be so overpowering and ego-shattering.

That is why the aftermath of such an experience is crucial, along with the interpretation brought to bear on it. If the mind, encouraged by the particular group-milieu it finds itself in, interprets the experience as meaning a certain thing (for example, “Allah is the only true God,” or “Jesus is the Only Way”), then the seeds of potentially violent fundamentalism and prejudice are born. Some of the most violent people in history had profound mystical experiences that they simply failed to interpret correctly, utilizing the experience in the service of an ego-agenda that managed to survive the inner experience itself.

This does not mean that the statements “Jesus is the Only Way” or “Allah is the True God” are wrong per se but the collective craziness begins with attacking others for not sharing the same interpretation. Thus a beautiful inner experience is ruined by being attached to an ego agenda to make others wrong simply because they are different. The ego has hijacked the personal spiritual revelation and has used it for its own purpose—to reinforce separation.

That’s what I meant by my interest in direct experience, which by nature is free of interpretation altogether. To witness a wild flower on a hillside—simply to witness it without any mental interpretation at all—is to begin to realize and see its natural form, and, at the same, to begin to realize our own natural state. That is because if I’m only twenty-five percent present when looking at the flower, then the flower is only going to be twenty-five percent present as well—dull, with hardly any fragrance. However, if I manage to be one hundred percent present when witnessing this flower, then so too is the flower one hundred percent real—vivid, brilliant, with wonderful fragrance.

Such direct experience imposes no mental forms or concepts on the flower, and makes no attempt to interpret the bare experience of witnessing it. Only then is the true magnificence of the flower revealed—its natural form. And, it is a magnificence that in no way depends on the belief of the observer. Any thoughts about whether the rose is the true flower, or the marigold is the only way to God, are rendered meaningless in the tremendous light of simply witnessing the truth of the flower in the moment, free of mental filters.

To me, this direct experience is the true meaning behind Jesus’ comment about “becoming as a child again in order to enter the kingdom .” To see the world free of delusion or filters of any kind is to experience it with an innocence and clarity that is the same thing as if looking upon it for the first time ever.

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012