Last updated on 11th July 2016
Disclaimer & disclosure: I personally have not had powerful mystical experiences that others have reported (e.g. losing body consciousness and feeling oneness with everything around, explosions into light) though I have had great feelings of joy as well as some Kundalini rising experiences which I did NOT pursue much due to some issues. So I clearly, as of now, have not had deep mystical experiences like others have reported, and currently, am not pursuing/desiring such mystical experiences.
I would like to share what I have written in a public document about my views on enlightenment/self-realization, from a Hindu scriptural point of view. So this is more of a student of scripture view rather than a view based on personal experience. Readers may not agree with my view but that's fine with me.
The document link is provided in this blog post of mine, "Some Shlokas from Chandogya Upanishad VI chapter including Tat tvam asi (You are That) Mahavakya, and comments on it", http://ravisiyer.blogspot.in/2015/03/some-shlokas-from-chandogya-upanishad.html. The pdf version of the document is put up here: https://iami1.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/chandogyachapter6someshlokas.pdf.
Relevant extract from pages 4, 5 & 6 of the pdf document are given below. Note that SSSB is Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, UV is Upanishad Vahini.
[SSSB, UV]: [Repetition of earlier comments for context: The “is-ness” may not be apparent to gross intelligences, for, it needs subtlety to realise it. The rosy colour which is manifested in the rose “is,” even in the absence of the flower.]
Similarly, the “is-ness” that is the Universal character of all objects persists even in the absence of objects. Prior to creation, there was only just this “is-ness.” There was no void then. There was this “is-ness” everywhere! When the “is” was reflected in Maya or Primal Activity, it resulted in Easwara who partook of that activity to manifest as the Universe with the three elements of Fire, Earth and Wind. All creation is but the permutation and combination of these three.
My Notes: In my earlier readings of this sixth chapter of Chandogya Upanishad, I had understood ‘the knowledge which if known, all things can be known’ to imply that a ‘selfrealized’ person knows everything even about the material universe. So I thought that a selfrealized person would, besides knowing his ultimate reality, also know about all physical sciences and about past, present and future of everybody including himself. But now my understanding is that Uddalaka tells Svetaketu that if you know the source (“is-ness”) then you know the cause of the material universe and knowing the cause/source is the only important thing worth knowing. Perhaps it is like how when we are caught up in a ‘sleep’ nightmare dream we get very worried while in the dream. But the moment we ‘wake up’ from the ‘sleep dream’ we realize that it was ‘just a dream’ and dismiss the ‘sleep dream’ experience. We then focus on the ‘waking dream’ experience as the only important thing worth worrying about.
So my understanding of ‘self-realization’ now is that the ‘self-realized’ person realizes that his reality is the changeless “is-ness” which projects his changing personality, mind and body as well as this entire (changing) material universe drama. He then stays aware of that changeless “is-ness” reality and lives out his/her life as a ‘waking dream’. He is not really bothered about material knowledge like, say, the laws of physics as they deal with the changing ‘waking dream’ world and not the changeless reality (“is-ness”). Of course as he lives in the material world he does need to have some level of material knowledge so that he (his mind & body) can survive and, in some cases, thrive. [Nisargadatta ran a ‘Tambaku/Bidi’ (Tobacco/cigarette) shop in Mumbai and so must have been quite knowledgeable about tobacco besides being ‘self-realized’ :-) ]. The self-realized perhaps look upon the world as the great Leela of the Lord and some of them, at least, may be enjoying this Great Play, this phenomenal and utterly wonderful creation that the Maya Shakti of the Lord has projected.
Further, IMHO, Ramana and Nisargadatta did not seem to have any knowledge about their own future let alone future of others. So once again, most ‘self-realized’ persons may just be watching their own mind, body and ‘material life’ go through various ups and downs but not getting affected by it as they are aware of and established in their experience of the ultimate reality of their existence as the changeless “is-ness”.
Of course, some great siddhas do have fantastic powers where they can do amazing things in the material world. And Avatars can do anything and know everything as they are Almighty God in human form. Devotees of the Lord can also, through their intense Bhakti, get the Lord to do amazing things/miracles. But many ‘Jnana’ marg ‘self-realized’ persons like Ramana or Nisargadatta did not seem to possess or be even remotely interested in possessing ‘siddhis’.
“The ‘is-ness’ may not be apparent to gross intelligences, for, it needs subtlety to realise it.” I think this distinction between gross intelligence and subtle intelligence is crucial. This chapter (VI) of the Upanishad starts with Uddalaka pricking the puffed up ego of Svetaketu who thinks that by learning the Veda for 12 years he has become very learned. This ‘gross intelligence’ learning pride balloon is burst when Uddalaka asks about the knowledge by which what is unknown gets known (6.1.3). Then Svetaketu becomes ready to receive the ‘subtle intelligence’ related knowledge (self-realization related knowledge) which Uddalaka imparts.
In the Jnana marg, unraveling the mind and eventually making it disappear, and thereby experiencing the “changeless is-ness” seems to need extremely subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality. That is very tricky business as it usually would unravel one’s material life as well :-). And most people are too comfy with their material lives to pursue the subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality to that extent.
I guess people involved in family life/ regular material life (‘samsara’) would typically find it almost impossible to do subtle analysis of ‘experiential’/’existential’ reality as the pulls and pushes of family life/normal material life would not be conducive to creating a detached and serene mental space which seems to be necessary for such subtle analysis of one’s reality. That may be why, in ancient days, the Upanishads (and the ‘aranyakas’) were ideally supposed to be read after withdrawing from ‘samsara’ and moving to the forest. However just moving to the forest alone would not guarantee serenity :-). Serenity may perhaps get achieved only after the arishadvargas of Kama (desire/lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Infatuation/delusion), Mada (Pride/Arrogance) and Matsarya (Jealousy) are conquered or, at least, tamed.
---end first extract ---
Here's another extract from pages 7 & 8 of the pdf document [Note that MM is Prof. Max Muller, SBE is Sacred Books of the East]:
‘That Being which is this subtle essence (cause), even That all this world has for its self. That is the true. That is the Atman. That thou art, O Svetaketu.’ ‘Revered sir, please explain it further to me.’ ‘So be it, dear boy’ said (the father).
[MM, SBE]: 'Now that which is that subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.' 'Please, Sir, inform me still more,' said the son. 'Be it so, my child,' the father replied.
[SSSB, UV]: The sweetness and fragrance of many flowers are collected and fused into one uniformly sweet honey, where all the manifold individualities are destroyed.
My Notes: The ‘Tat tvam asi’ Mahavakya comes from this Upanishad. Like the other Mahavakyas, the full import is stunning, ‘You are (or your ultimate reality is) the subtle essence, the cause of all this world!!!’ Some mystics claim to have had such an experience of their reality, their truth. What an awesome, mind-blowing and staggering experience that must be? I feel that there are degrees of self-realization. I know others may laugh but that’s how I feel as of now. The lesser degree is attained when a person realizes his “changeless is-ness”. But experiencing oneself in all and all in oneself seems to be a distinctly higher degree of self-realization.
--- end 2nd extract ---
So the above captures my bookish view of enlightenment. Specifically, I think that experiencing oneself as a changeless entity which is separate from one's changing mind-body complex is one stage of enlightenment. Experiencing oneness with all is a higher stage of enlightenment. By the way, in my view, Moksha/liberation is another term for self-realization.
Some additional thoughts of mine on this topic:
I think there are higher stages of spiritual experiences beyond being free of ego. Famous mystics across the ages DEMONSTRATED their experience of being in others, by letting people around them know of such matters. Shirdi Sai Baba is famous for remarking that when a dog ate food prepared by his devotee for Shirdi Sai Baba, it had filled his stomach (even though the dog was not within his physical sight at that time). Sathya Sai Baba demonstrated, again and again, his knowledge of what people around him were doing away from his physical presence. I have had DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of these powers of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. If I recall correctly, when John Hislop asked Swami how he could do that, and whether it was because Swami was the same consciousness that was present in him (John Hislop), Swami answered that yes it was because Swami was the same consciousness that was in Hislop. So, to Swami, it was not merely theory of the same consciousness being in all, it was everyday experience!
In my considered view, powerful mystics of the world reach higher stages of spiritual experience than simply being free of ego. They experience themselves as conciousness in OTHERS too, and thereby acquire that paranormal knowledge of knowing what others did, even if others are far away from their physical presence.
My view is that people getting transformed to having selfless love towards others as against being selfish, which is what almost all major religions including Christianity teach and exhort its adherents to do, will usher in a 'golden age'. In particular, my view is that like Pope Francis mentioned in his recent address to the US Congress, adherence to the Golden Rule ["So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets", Matthew 7:12, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%207%3A12&version=ESV] is what will be good for the world.
In my stay in Prasanthi Nilayam from Oct. 2002 onwards I saw that Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba laid enormous stress on serving people with love, with devotion in one's heart viewing the persons served as forms of God. I believe that Bhagavan laid this stress on service with love and devotion, as he felt that in today's world that is the best way for persons to move away from selfishness to selflessness and experience some unity with others, by doing selfless service.
When I was having doubts about what was the right path for me, while I was doing Seva Dal duty in Sai Kulwant Hall in the second half of the 90s (if I recall correctly), Bhagavan in his discourse declared forcefully, words to the effect that for those who desire spiritual progress he has three things to say. I perked up my ears thinking that now I will get direct guidance from Bhagavan about the order of importance of he gives to Jnana (wisdom), Bhakti (Devotion) and Karma (work/service) paths. Instead he said, Seva, Seva, Seva!!! That made it very clear to me that Bhagavan is telling me that if I want to progress spiritually, according to Bhagavan, I should do Seva, Seva, Seva (Service, service, service). I tried to follow that instruction of Bhagavan as well as I could, given my deep interest in Jnana and Bhakti paths.
I dug up some additional quotes of Bhagavan on these topics.
From http://www.sssbpt.info/ssspeaks/volume23/sss23-21.pdf, Discourse at the Summer Course in the Brindavan Campus on 31-5-1990 by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba:
Some devotees declare that although they have surrendered themselves totally to Swami, their troubles and difficulties have not ceased. In My view this does not indicate Saranaagathi (real surrender). If it is true surrender, there is no place for speaking about the continuance of troubles and difficulties. Some others claim that they have experienced moments of Samadhi during meditation.
What is samadhi? In common parlance, in the eyes of worldly people and in the books written by worldly individuals, Samadhi may be described in various ways. One may be in a state of trance during meditation. But this cannot be called Samadhi. It may be an emotional or mystical experience or it may be the result of a fit. It may even be due to weakness. It is not Samadhi.
Samadhi means merging the mind in the Atma. In that state, there are no two entities. Samadhi is a state of equal-mindedness. In that state there are no dualities like joy and sorrow, profit and loss, sin and merit, Nature and Paramatma. It is the state in which the oneness of everything is experienced. As long as differences and distinctions remain, there is no realisation of Samadhi.--- end Bhagavan discourse extract ---
Ravi: I think that the samadhi experience mentioned by Bhagavan above "in which the oneness of everything is experienced" is a higher stage of enlightenment.
From http://www.sssbpt.info/summershowers/ss1990/ss1990-11.pdf, Summer Showers 1990 by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba:
O Gudakesa!—Conqueror of sleep, Arjuna!
I am the Atma residing in all beings.
I am also the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.
Gita (ch. X, verse, 20)
Embodiments of Divine Love!
In the above verse of Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, “I am the Atma (the Self) residing in all beings; I am also the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.” That is to say, the entire Cosmos consisting of moving and non-moving objects is only the Atma. Nothing exists other than the Atma or the Self. What today’s man needs to do is to constantly contemplate on the Self, to realise the Self, to be firmly established in the Self, and to experience the bliss of the Self.
Atma is also known as “Awareness”. It is this awareness that is responsible for the “I” consciousness in all beings, which is called “aham”. When this aham identifies itself with the body, it becomes ahamkara. This is the false “I”, and not the real “I”. What hides the Atma always, is the mind. The clouds that are formed due to the Sun’s heat hide the Sun itself. Likewise, the mind, which is the offspring of the Atma, hides the Atma itself. As long as the mind is there, man cannot hope to understand anything about the Self, not to speak of realising and experiencing the bliss of the Self. That state in which one is established in the Self, at all times and under all circumstances, is called “Sakshatkara (Selfrealisation)”.
It is important to recognise that as long as the mind is there, desires will not leave you. As long as you have desires, the false notion of “I” and “mine” will not leave you. As long as the feeling of “I” and “mine” is there, ahamkara (your wrong identification with the body) will not leave you. As long as ahamkara does not leave you, ajnana (ignorance) too will not leave you. In effect, it means that there is no way other than the annihilation of the mind to attain Atma jnana (knowledge of the Self), or Atma darshan (vision of the Self), or Atma ananda (bliss of the Self), whatever you may choose to call it.--- end Bhagavan discourse extracts ---
Ravi: The ahamkara mentioned above can, in a broader sense, be viewed as identification with the mind-body complex. In other words, ego. Removing this false identification with the mind-body complex, i.e. the ego, is vital for attaining Atma jnana (knowledge of the Self).
Bhagavan also tells us that being established in this Self, at all times and under all circumstances, is called Sakshatkara. So a fleeting experience where one has managed to get rid of the mind-body complex and experienced the Atma/Self cannot be viewed as one being enlightened/self-realized. One has to be able to be anchored in that Atma/Self experience at all times and all circumstances to be viewed as truly enlightened/self-realized.
My understanding of the above is that the removal of the ego (removal of the mind) results in Atma Jnana (knowledge of the Self), even if it may be a transitory experience (as to stay anchored in that may need more effort/practise/Grace). But will a transitory experience of Atma/Self, also give a person a (transitory) oneness with all experience? I think that may not be the case. Perhaps an anchored (and deeper?) experience of the Self/Atma may give a onenness experience.
Of course, the above are my bookish views, and so I could be wrong, or even very wrong :-).
I thought I should also share an extract of a fairly recent discourse (2006) of Bhagavan, related to Moksha/liberation.
From http://www.sathyasai.org/discour/2006/d060223.pdf, Prasanthi Nilayam, 23rd February 2006, by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba:
May you make proper use of the panchabhutas (the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether). May you control your panchendriyas (five senses). Then God will be constantly with you guarding and guiding you.
Divinity cannot be attained merely by offering prayers and doing bhajans. Along with these sadhanas (spiritual exercises), you must also develop a pure heart and offer it to God. Let your mind, intellect, and chittha (subconscious mind) be constantly associated with God wherever you are and whatever work you are undertaking. Then your very mind, intellect, and chittha will be transformed into Divinity.
When God is present right in front of you in the form of panchabhutas [Ravi: I think by panchabhutas here Swami means the material world which is composed of these panchbhutas], where is the need for searching for Him separately? There is no scope at all for such a feeling! It is a serious mistake to think that God is separate from the panchabhutas [Ravi: material world]. Considering God as your everything and sole refuge, dedicate your senses to Him. This is an easy method to reach God. When you follow such an easy path, you will attain moksha (liberation). After all, what is moksha? Moha kshaya is moksha? (coming out of delusion is liberation). There is no use chanting “Ram, Ram, Ram” when your mind is full of moha (delusion).
Whatever work you undertake, do it with a sense of Bhagavad preetyartham (to please God). Whomever you come across, consider them as an Embodiment of God. Even the beggar standing in front of your door is an Embodiment of God. He may be a beggar from the point of view of the physical body. But he is really an Embodiment of Divinity from the Atmic sense. Whether one is a king or an emperor or a beggar, the same Divinity permeates every individual. May you dedicate your lives to win the love of God and His grace. Undertake every activity as an offering to God. Even your reading your textbooks can be done with such a sense of dedication to God. You will surely pass your examinations in 1st class. I am happy that you are all good boys. But one caution, you must exhibit the same good behaviour in your higher secondary school as in the primary school.--- end extract from Bhagavan discourse ---
Ravi: I have heard Moksha being explained as a combination (but not a proper Sandhi or combined word in Sanskrit; more of an acronym type of combination) of Moha (infatuation/attachment) and Kshaya (destruction). So Moksha can be viewed as destruction of infatuation (with the material/external world) OR as destruction of attachment (with the material/external world).
[I thank sathyasai.org & sssbpt.info and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]