Knowledge and Experience

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Few people understand the difference between knowledge and experience. They read about God and discuss Him, but they have no experience. They may be able to talk about many different subjects without ever having had any personal contact. That is knowledge. Experience requires personal involvement and to experience something which is not present at the moment is a great achievement. This is a faculty which is not developed in most people. If one is able to develop the mind to this extent, one will have what is called a creative mind.

Often when I go out, I listen to music. Back in my room in the ashram, I can hear the same tunes as if they were being sung. I can hear the sounds so well that sometimes I feel the person who is next to me must also hear them, because they are so loud. That is an inner experience.

Creating an experience

Once a swami had to be operated on for appendicitis and he refused anaesthetic. In India, people believe swamis can manage pain. The operation was performed and everything went well. Afterwards, when asked how he had managed it, he replied, "I was just thinking that my disciples were massaging my feet and I was experiencing that."

What a beautiful idea. He was able to counteract one living experience by creating another living experience. This has important implications for people's lives. Perhaps by mastering this art, they can also counteract one living experience by developing another.

Lord Shiva versus Sri Krishna

Once there was a sadhu who was a devotee of Lord Shiva. He meditated on him for many years, but without success. One day he read in one of Swami Sivananda's books that if one cannot concentrate on Lord Shiva, one should try to visualize his life, deeds, and way of living. So he began to feel that he was sitting beside Lord Shiva and Parvati.

He continued to imagine this for many days, until one day in his meditation, Lord Shiva was smoking ganja, and even though that was not the sadhu's habit, he had no option but to smoke it. Lord Shiva is said to smoke ganga mixed with cannabis indica, a violet flower which is deadly poisonous. Once it is taken, one doesn't come back to one's normal senses for years and years. That night the sadhu had smoked this mixture, and after meditation he was out of his mind. Although he had not actually smoked anything, he had developed the experience to the point that it became a reality.

After that, the sadhu gave a lot of trouble to everyone until a wise person suggested to him, "Why don't you stop meditating on Lord Shiva and meditate on Sri Krishna instead. Whenever he goes to steal butter and curd, you also go." So after a few weeks he saw himself with Sri Krishna. Whenever the boy could not reach the bowl of curd, he climbed up on the sadhu's shoulders, took a little curd for himself and put some into the sadhu's mouth. In his meditation the sadhu was taking so much butter and curd that the effect of the cannabis indica was completely counteracted, due to the cooling effect of butter and curd.

Power of the mind

These stories show how an experience can be brought to the forefront of the mind. By mastering the quality of one's experiences, one can create a constructive, creative intelligence. That is the purpose of the practices of yoga. They should not be considered as mere tools of hypnotic suggestion. Once a master of these experiences, one can counteract the mental influences. The mind is powerful, no doubt. It can create disease in the body, agony in the mind, or blocks in the flow of energy. However, just by creating one experience, all these can be eliminated in one stroke.

—printed in YOGA, Vol. 18, No. 8 (August 1980)