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Editorial : Experience and Expression
The mind has various levels differently called as conscious, pre-conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. The sages and yogis of India have experienced and added the higher super-conscious stages called samadhis. To really understand ourselves, we have to traverse back to our source. And when we do that, we shall find everything living and non-living has a common origin, the transcendental. All small ideas of ‘self ’ and its apparent death are then eradicated by this spiritual perception. Every religion and philosophy has tried to solve the problem of jiva, jagat, world, and Ishvara. These three entities appear distinct, but the rishis declare that in the highest experience all three are merged into one. Swami Vivekananda says: ‘Is not the whole universe you? Where is there any one that is not you? You are the Soul of this universe. You are the sun, moon, and stars, it is you that are shining everywhere. The whole universe is you. Whom are you going to hate or to fight? Know, then, that thou art He, and model your whole life accordingly; and he who knows this and models his life accordingly will no more grovel in darkness.’
Ordinarily, each sankalpa, thought, in the mind is a mixture of the conscious and the subconscious, or the external and the internal. This sankalpa is really a movement of the mind and expresses itself through language, signs, symbols, and body language. As the sankalpa becomes grosser we express it through literature, art, and architecture. The sages in India saw vaikhari, audible sound or speech, as the last of the series of vibrations emanating from deep layers of madhyama, middle, the subtle stage corresponding to the heart centre, where thoughts can be experienced. Still deeper is pashyanti, visualized, the causal stage corresponding to the navel centre, where words and thoughts are indistinguishable, and para, transcendental, which is the source of sound and is situated in the muladhara.
In the study of the inner world the ancient sages accepted the eternality and inseparability of shabda, sound, and artha, meaning, or object. Later the various tantric texts spoke of this combination as Shiva and Shakti respectively. This combination arises from shabda brahma, sound Brahman, which is the syllable Om and expresses itself in increasingly grosser vibratory forms to become this world and the objects. Thus the creative force of the universe resides in sound. The use of sound is employed by all religions as prayers, incantations, worship, and so on. In India it extended to all the arts as well, for the sages knew that true creativity in any form is spirituality expressing itself. Sacred places of pilgrimages are also an expression of God—it is God in one form.
Each stage of sound corresponds to a level of consciousness. The purer the consciousness, the higher is the experience of existence. This is the reason why purity in thought, word, and deed is stressed in all religions. The four stages of sound also are harnessed to the four states of jagrat, waking, svapna, dream, sushupti, deep sleep, and turiya, transcendental. In the transcendental stage there is unity of sound and meaning. The three lower levels of sound are connected to the three worlds of bhuh, earth, bhuvah, intermediate regions, and suvah, heaven.
In this way the sages showed how the individual is linked to the cosmos. Just as we express our thoughts, words, and deeds, so does the Creator express himself as the universe. Swamiji says: ‘If I tried to express all these by only telling you that God created the universe, it would have conveyed no meaning to you. Yet, after all this struggle, we have come back to Him, the Ancient and Supreme One.’
Every religion also has three stages, according to Swamiji: philosophy, mythology, and rituals. We can add another stage called institutional. In most religions the first three are mostly mixed up. But these stages are the result of experience and expression. All religions begin with the original experience of the rishis, prophets, acharyas, and founders of religion. It is a direct experience: ‘I know the infinite Purusha that is like the sun and which is beyond darkness.’ The experience can also take the form of: ‘I have seen God’, ‘God spoke to me’. In Buddhism, which does not believe in a personal God, we have Buddha having a transcendental experience too. So this transcendental experience can be of the personal God, or Saguna Brahman, or Nirguna Brahman. When this experience is remembered and written down, it becomes holy writ and unalterable. This then is the source of all world scriptures: direct experience of the Reality.
In order to make the experience concrete and intelligible to others, the founders express themselves in ordinary language or parables. This expression then becomes philosophy, theology, or doctrine, as it is seen through the intellect. The experience is further expressed in the language of the masses though stories, historical or otherwise, so that the experience can access larger audiences. Finally, that experience becomes even more concrete in the forms of rituals. The fourth stage of institutionalization comes when a class of people, priests generally, appropriate that experience and organize people around it through philosophy, mythology, rituals, and also through moral codes. In this way the original truth is spread among the general population. All these rules and regulations and moral codes mould the religious institutions, and in time, due to many factors like politics or economics, become powerful. Morality curbs violence, selfishness, and greed; that is why religion becomes a crucial factor in building civilizations. The priests then design sacred places, times, and persons, and the original experience, which is now almost unrecognizable, settles in society. Art, architecture, and literature proliferate through religious themes and this becomes a great cultural force.
The important thing to understand is that these stages of religious expressions are trying to recapitulate the original experience—this is the core of all religious doctrines. And that original experience takes various forms such as going to heaven, meeting the Creator, liberation, and so forth. The Hindus also says that everyone, without exception, is moving towards liberation and will in time be liberated. But it takes many rebirths, until finally we understand that we have come from God and have to go back to God. Swamiji says that religion is ‘the eternal relation between the eternal soul and the eternal God.’
Religion is entwined in individual life, just as the whole creation is. As we cannot dissociate ourselves from creation, we cannot, for the same reason, dissociate ourselves from religion or spirituality, for it is part of our transcendental divine nature. Religions stumble when they do not think there can be many experiences and expressions of the one Reality. It is now becoming increasingly clear that in every moment and movement of our ordinary life, we are experiencing and expressing, on our own level, the Reality.