1. What do we mean by a spiritual experience ?

Whatever we experience beyond the five senses, mind and intellect constitutes a ‘spiritual experience’. Even if we can perceive an event through the five senses, mind and intellect but the reason behind it is beyond the gross intellect of mankind, it still constitutes a spiritual experience. That which is experienced through the medium of the five senses, mind and intellect is an ‘experience’.

2. What do we mean by an experience and a spiritual experience and how do we perceive it ?

We experience the gross world through the five senses, mind and intellect. Corresponding to the five senses, mind and intellect that we are well aware of, we also have the five subtle senses, a subtle mind and a subtle intellect, which when developed or activated, help us to experience the subtle world or subtle dimension. This experience of the subtle world is known as a ‘spiritual experience’.

When we smell a bunch of jasmines and experience their fragrance it constitutes an experience as there is a definite source to the fragrance. Whereas if all of a sudden there is a strong fragrance of sandalwood as you are relaxing, looking into the vastness of the sky and in fact there is no apparent source for the fragrance then this is a spiritual experience. In this case, the fragrance is emanating from the subtle dimension and experienced through the medium of the subtle sense organ of smell.

A spiritual experience can also be perceived through the other four subtle sense organs of taste, touch, sound and vision and also the subtle mind and subtle intellect. This extra perception that we get, is known as our sixth sense. As mentioned earlier, even if we perceive an event through the five senses, mind and intellect but the reason behind it is beyond the gross intellect of mankind, it still constitutes a spiritual experience.  An example could be having the desire of eating mango in the off season and feeling the taste of mango in the mouth ! A doctor diagnoses a patient with metastases on biopsy and looking at the chest x-ray film, she returns to her home-town and visits shrines and prays fervently. After a couple of months when she goes for a check-up the doctor is surprised to see that the lesions in the repeat chest x-ray film have cleared completely. Such an incident defies medical explanation and is not explainable by the intellect. Experiences such as these too fall in the category of spiritual experiences.

“Spiritual experiences are God’s way of letting us know of His Divine presence.”- His Holiness Dr. Athavale

3. Spiritual experience related to the five subtle sense organs and five Absolute cosmic elements

We perceive spiritual experiences and the subtle world though our sixth sense. More information on this will be provided elsewhere in the website. The world is made from the five Absolute cosmic elements. These Absolute cosmic elements cannot be seen but make up all of creation. As we progress in our spiritual practice our sixth sense gets activated, and we begin to get the experience of these Absolute cosmic elements progressively, beginning from the most gross to the most subtle. Thus we are able to experience them in the order of the Pruthvi (Absolute Earth), Apa (Absolute Water), Tej (Absolute Fire), Vayu (Absolute Air) and Akash (Absolute Ether) elements through our subtle sense of smell, taste, vision, touch and sound respectively.
The following table provides examples of positive and negative spiritual experiences that we may perceive through our sixth sense that is, through the medium of the five subtle senses.

TABLE

When a person perceives something through a subtle sense organ, e.g. smell, the source could be from a positive energy like a Deity or a negative energy like a ghost.

When a person perceives something through a subtle sense organ, e.g. smell, the source could be from a positive energy like a Deity or a negative energy like a ghost.

4. Spiritual experience and spiritual level

Though there is a relationship between the spiritual level and types of experience through the various subtle senses, it is important to note the following:

  • When somebody acquires a spiritual experience of subtle smell, it does not necessarily mean that he has attained the spiritual level of 40%. More often than not, it is a case of momentary or transient rise in spiritual level or ability, either because of intense spiritual practice like chanting the Name of God, being in the company of Saints etc.
  • There could be other factors contributing to the experience. For example, if a negative energy wants a person to get the smell of urine around the house to frighten him, it could use its spiritual energy to make it happen. This is without the necessary rise in spiritual level of the targeted person.
  • It does not mean that all persons at 40% spiritual level will necessarily perceive a subtle smell. The spiritual level of a person is the net function of many attributes; sixth sense is just one of them.
  • It also does not mean that these persons can perceive up to 100% of all the varieties of subtle smells available or that they can perceive it all the time and at any time.
  • It also does not mean that a person at a spiritual level of 40% or above will necessarily perceive a subtle fragrance. A person could progress to Sainthood without having perceived through the five subtle senses. One of the reasons for not getting such an experience could be that this person has already had these experiences in the past life and does not need them now. All Saints however have the sixth sense that pertains to the subtle mind and intellect. The subtle sense of touch and sound are only perceived at higher spiritual levels. The reason for this is that they are more subtle among the five subtle senses.

5. What is the importance of spiritual experiences

The following points summarise the importance and main benefits of spiritual experiences :

5A. Generation of belief and faith in the theoretical aspect of Spiritual science

Intellectual or theoretical knowledge in words has only 2% importance while 98% importance lies in the experience of those words. When we undertake the appropriate spiritual practice based on the basic principles of Spirituality we make spiritual progress and get spiritual experiences. Spiritual practice bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge obtained from books and spiritually experiencing it.

However hearing the narration of spiritual experiences facilitates the development of faith.

Theoretical knowledge only assists those curious about Spiritual science in gaining some belief. It is a necessary step in the stages of spiritual development, however when we get spiritual experiences, we develop faith in the theoretical knowledge.

It is for this reason that spiritual experiences are discussed during satsangs (spiritual meetings). Seekers attending satsangs realise that what is taught there in terms of spiritual knowledge is not mere information but that it can be actually experienced.

5B. Awareness of spiritual progress

Spiritual experiences confirm that we, as seekers of God have adopted an appropriate spiritual practice and getting progressively higher spiritual experiences confirm that, we are making spiritual progress. Spiritual experiences act like milestones and encourage us in our spiritual journey. Suppose we were to discontinue our spiritual practice, we would not continue to get spiritual experiences. If we were to stagnate in spiritual practice, we would not get higher spiritual experiences. By stagnation in spiritual practice, we mean, doing the same spiritual practice for several years, without increasing it qualitatively or quantitatively. This is God’s way of telling us that we have to augment our spiritual practice further.

Note: When doing spiritual practice according to a particular path if we do not get any spiritual experiences for three years, then we should ask a spiritually evolved person, if our chosen path is right or not.

5C. Reduction of ego by impressing the greatness of God

In the early stages of our spiritual journey, if we get to hear many co-seekers narrating their spiritual experiences, the variety and depth of spiritual experiences can be quite mind-boggling. We begin to realise how insignificant we are in comparison to God who gives each one of us unique spiritual experiences to generate faith. As a result, our ego about our abilities gets reduced when compared to God’s ability. Reduction in ego is a primary requisite for spiritual growth.

6. What is the importance of documenting spiritual experiences ?

  • By documenting and publishing spiritual experiences, other seekers of God get to know about the various types of spiritual experiences obtained as a result of spiritual practice. Thus it gives seekers more enthusiasm to do spiritual practice.
  • It re-enforces the importance of spiritual practice on the mind and intellect and convinces us to persevere with our spiritual practice.
  • If we get a unique spiritual experience then there is a possibility of doubting its genuineness. However if we know about similar spiritual experiences obtained by others, then faith is generated. We are convinced that there is some science behind it, thus prompting us to undertake the study of Spiritual science.
  • We can also enrich our own spiritual practice by studying what exactly was done by that particular seeker from the viewpoint of spiritual practice to derive that spiritual experience.

7. What are the limitations of spiritual experiences in enhancing spiritual practice ?

All said and done, spiritual experiences do not necessarily enhance or augment spiritual practice. Even if people were to witness a miracle it does not necessarily mean that they would start spiritual practice. 30% of people despite having spiritual experiences either stop active spiritual practice or stagnate at the same spiritual level. To actively pursue spiritual practice, we need to develop the conviction that, ‘I must evolve spiritually in this very birth’. Spiritual experiences do not necessarily assist the intellect in this. For this attitude to develop, we require the study of Spiritual science to provide us with a framework for sustainable spiritual practice. Any study of spiritual science needs to be undertaken with an open mind that is not biased by pre-conceived opinions.

8. Why is it that sometimes we do not obtain spiritual experiences despite spiritual practice?

The reasons for this are as follows:

  • Spiritual experiences are indicators of our spiritual progress. However our spiritual progress may not begin as soon as we begin spiritual practice. The reason for this is that our spiritual practice may be utilised to reduce the intensity of prarabdh (destiny) which could be severe, or that of sanchit karma (accumulated account), instead of solely for spiritual progress. As a result, spiritual progress does not occur initially and hence we do not get spiritual experiences. However persistent spiritual practice enables us to overcome this initial phase.
  • To develop faith in God or when our faith begins to waver, to fortify it God bestows spiritual experiences. If our faith is strong then we may not require spiritual experiences.