Swami Niranjanananda: Everyone is having experiences all the time, even now. Your skin is feeling the heat, it is an experience you are having. The hardness of the floor, it is an experience you are having. The sweat on the face, it is an experience you are having. The peacefulness of being here, it is an experience. The agitation you feel when you go to the kitchen is an experience. Anything that changes the condition, quality and behaviour of mind is called an experience. The problem is, you are not aware of the experiences.
Are you aware of the hardness of the floor? Not until it begins to hurt you. Are you aware of the sweat on your face? Not until it begins to drip. Are you aware of the heat in the environment? Not until you begin to sweat. Therefore, only when an experience reaches its peak do you become aware of it. The peak triggers three responses: raga, dwesha and neutral. Raga means attraction, dwesha means repulsion, and neutral is neutral. Example: after Swami Prembhava’s visit to Europe, people have been writing of their experience of the sessions. One letter from Europe said:
“I’ve been living in this city since my birth for the last forty years. I go from my house to my workplace walking every day. I walk down the same footpath every day. However, it was only after doing the yoga ecology course that for the first time I noticed the trees lining the avenue. I noticed the greenness of the leaves, the sturdiness of the trunks. For forty years they were there, but for the first time I actually saw them.”
This account indicates that something opened up a different perception. Whether it was asana, pranayama, aradhana, meditation or the environment, it opened up another door of perception, and the person suddenly saw the trees lining the footpath he had been walking for forty years. Until now they had not registered. Suddenly they registered, ‘Wow! These trees are here. Look, the leaves are green. Look, the trunk is solid and sturdy. What a surprise that for forty years of my life I never noticed them!’ This is an experience of yoga lifestyle, where you become aware of the experience. The example is a neutral experience: recognition of something that exists.
Then there is the raga experience. Now I don’t travel much, but when I used to be a peripatetic sannyasin, with my address on the road or in the air, many people would come and talk about their practices of yoga. Many meditators would also come and say, “Swamiji, I’ve been learning how to meditate for some time. For many months I did not see anything in my meditation, and then one day I saw an angel and light. I was totally intoxicated by that vision and experience. It has happened only once, it hasn’t happened again. How can I have that experience again?” I would ask, “When you are not seeing the angel, what are you seeing?” The response would be, “I am making the effort to go back to that state of consciousness where I saw the angel. I want to go back there.” This means the per son was not meditating; they were only striving and making the effort to go back to a state. Would that qualify to be an experience?
Another example: imagine that you see the angel and hear the divine trumpets blaring away in your meditation. You open your eyes, then again close them and think, ‘I shall deepen that experience.’ You try to recreate what you saw and experienced. Now you are recreating it, you are not seeing it again. It is not darshan any more, it is now a creation of your own mind, and that is not an experience.
Experience is that which happens spontaneously and automatically, without information to you, “I am coming.” If you expect the experience to come on the 10 o’clock train when you sit down to meditate, then definitely that is not going to happen. It is not going to come at that prescribed time. Yet the mind has changed. The mind is now attracted to repeating the same experience where you felt that first bliss and happiness, where you felt, ‘Now I have become truly spiritual. I can see angels. I can hear the divine music. I have become a prophet and I can profit from it!’ The entire attitude of meditation changes into that of imaginative fantasy. That is not deepening the experience, that is going on your own imaginative journey, following the shadow of an experience that you had when you did the right meditation. Without any expectation or anticipation, you came to a stage where suddenly the vista opened up before you. Now, when you are making the effort, the vista is not opening up any more; it is only a refection of your raga.
Then there is the opposite, the dwesha experience. There are people who come to me and say, “Swamiji, I have stopped meditating.” Why? “Because every time I meditate, something negative comes out of me.” The negative that was being released has stopped the individual from going through the experience. When you see bad things, you think, ‘I am doing something wrong.’ Seeing the devil doesn’t fit in your understanding or in the jacket that you have made of the experience, therefore you do not want to continue. That is dwesha.
People also feel that in order to deepen an experience, they have to go in and in and in, become more focused, more concentrated, more acutely pinpointed in a dot, sharpen the pencil so that it comes to a sharp tip. People think the more they sharpen their pencil and the more pointy the tip becomes the more the concentration will improve, the awareness will improve, everything will improve. What they do not understand is that when you reduce the lead to a point, your awareness has actually reduced; it has not expanded. You have reduced your awareness by going into it and focusing more.
Let us say, I am an ant, a sannyasi ant. The owner of the house, God, brings a picture printed on a dot matrix printer, not on a laser printer but on a dot matrix printer. The picture is all pixelated, showing small squares of white, grey and black. God puts that picture on the floor, and tells me, “You ant Niranjan, walk up to that paper and see the picture.” This ant Niranjan begins to walk on the paper, trying to look at the picture, trying to deepen the experience of looking at the picture. However, he can only see white fields, grey fields and black fields stretching on endlessly; sometimes the white becomes black, sometimes the black becomes grey, yet he never sees the whole picture. God says, “Okay, my dear Niranjan ant, come onto my finger.” I somehow manage to climb on to His finger. He lifts me up high and says, “Now look down.” When I look, what was previously white, black and grey fields, in different shapes and hues, have suddenly taken the image of a person. I can see a face in the picture. This is what has to happen in order to deepen an experience.
I am giving you the opposite understanding. You have to rise above what you are experiencing to see the bigger picture. That is deepening the experience, where you are able to see not the pixelated form but the actual picture the pixels have made. To do that, you have to leave the paper and go higher. The experience is left down there and your observation, your drashta awareness, is up here. That is when you can see the full picture. If you try to deepen your experience while being on the field of black, grey and white, you will only try to dig deeper. If you dig in the white field, you will only go deeper into the white space. If you dig in the black field, you will only go deeper in the black space. If you dig in the grey field, you will only go deeper in the grey space. Your whole awareness will be restricted and contained, not expansive.
Thus, the first point is that you are having experiences continuously, irrespective of whether or not you are aware of them. It is a continuous process at physical, sensorial, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual levels. There are times when you cross a person on the road and say, “I got bad vibes from that person. I didn’t feel right when the person passed me. I felt something negative from him.” Was that a physical experience? Was that a mental or logical experience? Was that an emotional experience? No, it was a psychic experience. This is an example of how experiences are taking place all the time though you are not aware of them. When you become aware of an experience, you either desire or dislike it so much that you limit your perception and ignore all the peripheral and small experiences that continue to take place. You only try to recreate the one that you liked, as you have become attached to it, and that is your raga. In order to see the bigger picture, there has to be awareness of and detachment from the experience.
If you are doing bhujangasana, the cobra pose, and somebody says, “Experience your body,” where will your attention naturally go? To the lower back, since that is where the maximum tension is. You are not experiencing the posture; you are experiencing the tension in the lower back. Is that the experience of bhujangasana? Yet that is what each one of you, from the senior teachers to the junior practitioners, do. If you hear, “Experience your body in bhujangasana,” the attention will instantly go to the lower back, ‘It is aching. How much longer do I have to hold?’ That cannot be called full experience. This indicates that people do not realize the meaning of the word ‘experience’. They do not realize its complexity or vastness.
If I had to experience my body in bhujangasana, I would do it differently. I would visualize the whole posture, the whole body. I would experience the whole body from the top of my head to the tips of my toes in one thought, one glimpse, one idea, and not just focus on the part which is aching. I would see the whole picture. That is the experience of bhujangasana. If you are told, “Experience the pain in your back,” then you are free to take your awareness there, but that is not the instruction. You were told to experience your body in bhujangasana, and you are unable to do that as you are translating that into something else: be coming aware of what is hurting you and is unpleasant to you.
The same thing happens in meditation. What you don’t understand you reject, and then stop the practice. What you decide to accept, you chase. Deepening the experience, on the other hand, is an expression of everything. It is an understanding of all the expressions of the body and mind.
Experience is one thing, awareness of the experience is another thing, and understanding the awareness of the experience is a third thing. As it is said, “I know that I know.” Not just “I know.” You all know, yet you all forget what you know. Therefore it is no good saying, “I know.” If you can say, “I know that I know,” you are reaffirming and accepting that.
Thus, to deepen an experience, don’t go into it; rise above it. If you try to go into it, you limit yourself. The awareness which extended for miles has now been focused to a few inches. Instead, if the awareness which is a few kilometres wide can be increased to ten kilometres, that is deepening the experience. Now you are able to see a bigger picture, have a better perspective and understanding.
This is one reason people founder in meditation. They go in so deep that they are unable to extract themselves. If you say, “Come out of it,” they reply, “But I have been doing this for the last thirty years. How can I just stop and change everything?” You have to accept a different approach if you wish to realize that deepening of awareness is understanding, observing and knowing that you are undergoing that change, that transformation, that feeling, that experience.
22 October 2018, Munger Yoga Symposium