Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Undescribed Spiritual Experiences?

Buddhist teacher Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche has an article in Tricycle where he talks about the importance of letting go of one's spiritual experiences in order to avoid fixating on them and getting derailed from the path of realization. He writes that there is a difference between spiritual experiences and spiritual realizations, and that the latter are far more valuable because they represent a transformation in the way a person sees the world. Experiences may precipitate realizations, or they may not, but either way fixating on the experience can stall a person's progress by obscuring the larger truth(s) that may be contained in the experiences.

This is a useful rebuttal to the "phenomena junkie" trap:  the trap whereby spiritual practitioners focus on collecting the novelties of cool stuff happening either for the fun of it or in order to indicate their mad spiritual powerz. It's one trap among many on the Path.

Importantly, Rinpoche argues that so long as we have not let go of our attachments to concepts--to our very need to immediately make meaning out of an experience by putting it in terms we already understand--we can not fully understand (or experience!) the experience in an unmediated way:

Eventually, in order to be totally free, we learn to let go of concepts. Ultimately, we need to relinquish our fixation on the reification of concepts, of things being "this" or "that." Thinking of this and that binds us to a particular way of experiencing things. Even spiritual experiences will not be given complete, spontaneous, unmediated expression as long as the subtlest kind of conceptual distinction is present. Experience will still be mediated, adulterated, and tainted by all kinds of psychic content when we make discriminations. Therefore, it will remain impossible ever to be truly free.

 This is where Buddhism and other similar religious teachings pose a profound challenge to the social sciences:  they assume a realm of direct, unmediated experience and knowing. There's a broad (but by no means universal) consensus in the social sciences and humanities that all knowledge and experience is somehow mediated; that no one has a direct line to "the truth," even if there is something like "the truth" out there. What Rinpoche argues here is that by letting go of our very attachment both to know and to experience, we can, paradoxically, directly experience and know. He continues,

The ultimate goal of the spiritual journey is to realize the union of your mind and ultimate reality. You discover eventually that not only are you in reality, but that you also embody that reality.

 A pretty profound teaching on experience. Have you found that it works out for you?

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