“Experience leaves only memories behind and adds to the burden which is heavy enough. You need no more experiences. The past ones are sufficient. And if you feel you need more, look into the hearts of people around you. You will find a variety of experiences which you would not be able to go through in a thousand years. Learn from the sorrows of others and save yourself your own. It is not experience that you need, but the freedom from all experience. Don’t be greedy for experience; you need none.”
Many spiritual paths emphasize “direct experience” over a mere conceptual understanding of the nature of the universe. However, the possibilities and permutations of experience are endless, though rarely does any experience itself yield a truly transformative consequence. Rather, experiences alone (even sublime ones) invariably serve to merely fatten the file of memories which ego-mind habitually employs to confirm its existence.
Any experience in and of itself, however transcendental or even terrible, is nothing but a transitory modification of consciousness, with no inherent or enduring significance, except for that which the interpretive mind might grant it. As such, experience can never amount to any enduring truth, although if we pay attention, we can all learn from our experiences, particularly in the conventional sphere. However, even realizations resulting from profound awakening experiences, if not consciously embodied in the way we live and relate, inevitably become mere figments of memory.
Real wisdom begins to awaken with the realization that memory itself is ephemeral and even arbitrary, and therefore reliance on any experience or collection of experiences to construct and support an independent identity (even an “enlightened” one) is ultimately an adventure in futility. What becomes obvious is that all the ego-mind is really doing is employing memory and experience to endlessly renovate the same self-concept, as if a different costume might somehow grant the illusion some believable solidity.
With the benefit of True Inquiry, it becomes apparent that attachment to any self-image whatsoever, based as it is on conditioned interpretations of experience, is like settling down in a house of cards, and believing one has arrived home. When all such dreamy constructs crumble (as they must), what is left is not an experience, is not time-durational, and cannot be grasped nor clung to nor fashioned into a more subtle and impervious identity.
Such a realization deeply frightens and offends the sense of independent and enduring self that seeks the secure haven of any identity, even a “divine” one, within the infinite theater of experience. In its ensuing desperation, ego-mind will go to increasingly frantic lengths to assert its cherished existence until the very lynchpin of belief — the assumption of a separate self — is ultimately revealed to be nothing but a fantasy, a child’s sand castle assembled from filtered bits of experience and memory, and propelled by the relentless engines of hope and fear.
Behind that everyday desperation, most of us humans seem to be searching for some sort of experience that we hope would resolve our deepest yearning, whether through material acquisition or the exploitation of relational possibilities. Nevertheless, we will invariably discover (if we persist in the investigation), is that mere experience, regardless of how glorious and profound, will never truly satisfy our longing at the heart.
No matter how seemingly sublime or remarkable, all experiences are still essentially temporary modifications of consciousness, filtered through the conditioned perceiving apparatus of the senses, whereas genuine awakening reveals the emptiness of consciousness itself, as well as of the senses.
As the Buddha noted in the Bahiya Sutta: “In the seen, there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard, in the sensed, there is only the sensed, in the cognized, there is only the cognized. Thus you should see that indeed there is no thing here; this is how you should train yourself. Since there is for you in the seen, only the seen, in the heard, only the heard, in the sensed, only the sensed, in the cognized, only the cognized, and you see that there is no thing here, you will therefore see that indeed there is no thing there. As you see that there is no thing there, you will see that you are therefore located neither in the world of this, nor in the world of that, nor in any place betwixt the two. This alone is the end of suffering.”
In reality, there is nobody there. In reality, nothing happens. However, such a tacit recognition is not satisfying at all to the ego-mind, which wants to be elevated and confirmed by special and unusual experiences. In fact, it is quite a disappointment — a crushing blow to the ambitions of the seeker — which paradoxically attests to its authenticity.
The seeker hopes that there will be some experience that will settle their boredom and doubt, and relieve them of all discomfort. However, persistent and honest investigation will inevitably reveal that there is no experience we can have that will equal truth, since truth is not an experience. It is not something that happens to a character in a dream, though that very same character turns out to be the “me” we take ourselves to be in our amnesia.
Moreover, dreaming does not end with the release of the physical body to the elements, since we are not now nor have we ever been the physical body exclusively, except in a dream state that most call “my life” – an adventure on the material plane for which the body-mind serves as a kind of bio-vehicle. This became vividly apparent in the course of what some call a “near-death experience”: all that seemed to constitute an “I” was revealed to be essentially without substance or reality – or as the illumined Kashmiri poetess Lalla once noted, “only a somewhat something moving dreamlike on a fading road.”
Of course, it might be interesting to hear stories of other people’s anecdotal experiences, but such tales often merely add to the conditioned expectations mind has been long accumulating, which in turn keep the dream-weaver weaving and the sense of a permanently separate “I” alive and thriving.
That sense of separation includes the programmed belief that we are incomplete, and that the full truth of our being can only to be discovered elsewhere, outside of us — perhaps in some experience that is still waiting to materialize, if only we press the right spiritual buttons, pull the right practice levers in the right order, or maybe gain some special favor with the “higher-ups” and so be granted our hoped-for boon.
What we invariably fail to do, however, is to take the time to inquire into the root of experience itself. After all, who or what is having these experiences, regardless of whether they are perceived as good or bad, desirable or not? That’s the one question ego-mind fears the most. And why? Because such an inquiry plunges us into the unknown, and that’s the last place mind wants to venture. It cannot control the unknown. Instead, we dash off pursuing mind’s proliferations and projected manifestations through endless realms of experience, in this world and countless others, exhausting ourselves in the process.
On the other hand, if only we were willing and able to bring that search to a halt one day, long enough at least to take a good look into our own mirror, we might finally realize that we are the one that we have been seeking all along – we’ve been chasing our own tail. As Ramana Maharshi said: “We think that there is something hiding our reality and that it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. It is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.”
True Inquiry (or Real Meditation) helps to establish an inner availability which in turn becomes the grounds for the subconscious mind to recognize its error and so cease projecting the fantasy narrative of a “me-story”. Subsequently, all experiences are then recognized as holographic figments appearing and disappearing within the space of our unchanging awake awareness, Love’s knowing presence. Moreover, they are spontaneously self-liberated in that recognition. From the very beginning, there was nothing to grasp or hold on to. All efforts to do so merely crimped the flow.
Once this is directly seen, we have the opportunity (especially if we are fortunate enough to have qualified guidance) to cultivate such realization until it becomes fully integrated, transforming our experience from mere self-confirmation to luminous wisdom. In such recognition, life’s experiences need not be employed to construct some new and improved version of “myself”, nor clung to as if they had some enduring significance. Instead, they can be welcomed as the non-binding gifts they truly are, granted to us for the purposes of deepening and broadening our appreciation and awareness.
Even saying “our awareness” is not quite accurate, however, for it is only when we try to claim any of it as “mine” that clinging and attachment are spawned, which in turn create the illusion of a separate “me”. Conversely, the more profoundly we awaken to an authentic compassion beyond the separate self-obsession, the more we are able to serve as transparent prisms for Spirit’s true nature, which is our own true nature – pure and unconditional love – to illumine all experience within the sphere of life and relationships.
“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”