After being born on this planet we pursue many things and accumulate a host of materialistic possessions. However, we rarely try to sincerely discover the mystical force that is behind everything - the Ultimate Truth…God. All sorts of illusions cloud our vision during our lifetime. Most people feel the need for some sort of ‘enquiry’ only at the fag end of their lives. They miss out on a most worthwhile search, the pursuit of which is so enriching that it can enable us to lead our lives contentedly and die peacefully. Discovering Him is indeed a mystical experience. Most religions prescribe some method (say, meditation) to help feel His presence. Mysticism is defined as a spiritual discipline aimed at union with the Divine through deep meditation or trance-like contemplation. Many years ago I had gone to Meerut to meet the mother of my very dear friend. She was 80+ and well, but had been confined to bed due to a knee problem. Now she had suddenly stopped taking any food for the past 10 days and was restless. Relatives and friends had come from near and far. I sat at her bedside and held her tender hand in my hands. She seemed to feel comforted, and within a few seconds her restlessness was gone. Then, ‘mysteriously’, she took her last breath and bid adieu to us all. Had she been waiting for a ‘healing’ touch? Was I the ‘carrier’? I could not separate myself from the experience. Suddenly, and without warning, something invisible seemed to be drawn across the sky, transforming the world about me into a kind of tent of concentrated and enhanced significance. However, I did not feel like sharing it with anyone. What had been experienced was ‘mine’, though at a level where ‘I’ was no longer the familiar ego. I felt that while my words may inform and illuminate, they were as likely to obscure and mislead. The concern was not simply an intellectual one - my peers might regard my experience as ‘confused and groundless speculation’ or ‘superstitious self-delusion’. However, within hours of the experience I found myself talking with friends, desperately attempting to convey something that I could not myself understand. They did not, as I had feared, question either my sanity or my sincerity. Rather, much to my amazement, the telling and retelling of the experience kindled a small ‘spiritual movement’, which began with some youth and then spread to the adults as well. Whenever I spoke of the experience I tried to be intellectually cautious and spiritually responsible. I found myself incessantly repeating the following refrain: “It was like this, but not really; it was sort of like that, but not in the way that you might initially think.” Unfortunately, as I quickly learned, many of these people heard what they wanted to and disregarded the rest. What I offered as fumbling, grossly inadequate descriptions, became concretised in their minds as authoritative expressions of first-hand experience. I gradually shied away from providing any description at all, drawing nourishment from the experience that was – inexplicably and paradoxically – still with me, and began to explore the paths of contemplation and inward reflection.
Mystical experiences seem to last for a relatively brief period of time, but reveal an otherwise hidden or inaccessible knowledge. They seem beyond the range of human volition and control and give us a sense of oneness and wholeness…and timelessness. Mystical experiences seem to reveal the nature of our true, cosmic self. My ‘mystical’ experience has helped shape the many contours and colours of my life. In this connection, my ‘background’ may be relevant. I was nurtured on the milk of Hinduism. My parents took me to a temple on a weekly basis on Tuesdays and I had genuinely tried, as best I could, to accept the teachings and doctrines that I had learned in the process. I knew that religion was immensely important to my grandparents as well as my parents, but it never ‘clicked’ at a personal level. Searching for answers – as well as a deeper understanding of my family – I had read the great Gita at a go, cover to cover. However, despite a willing spirit and an open mind, the answers were not forthcoming. The more I reflected on the matter, the more difficult it became to reconcile faith in God with the widespread, unwarranted and undeserved suffering in the world. I was especially troubled by the suffering of innocent children. Though I was not entirely convinced that God did not exist, I refused to accept the pain and suffering that He had ‘created’. In short, not only was I not looking for a ‘visit’ from God, I had even taken back the welcome mat. Maybe these elements laid the foundation for my ‘experience’. They may even have ‘prepared’ me in some important sense. Even so, the experience itself was unsolicited, unexpected, and – in terms of occurrence, phenomenology and content – intensely surprising. However, as odd as it may sound, the experience was both reassuring and unsettling. Although I had never taken a class in mysticism or philosophy, I had thought deeply about philosophical as well as religious topics. I tried desperately to make sense of the experience. Eventually, having emptied my conceptual toolbox, I quit struggling….and chose the phrase ‘intensely surprising’. Maybe I should have left the experience as just a feeling, for mystical experiences are essentially ineffable, beyond expression - in fact their expression seems in some sense forbidden. Many mystics agonise over their inability to conceptualise or express – even to themselves – what they regard as fundamental cosmic truths (states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect). In common parlance I might say “I had a mystical experience” but, phenomenologically speaking, it would be more accurate to say, “A mystical experience engulfed (had) me.”
William Blake, the English mystic, poet and painter captured the notion of ‘The One in the All and the All in the One’ in four memorable lines:
‘To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour’.
If one is to take seriously the possibility of union with God, one must be prepared to affirm the possibility of attaining a spiritual state in which feelings such as ‘God and I are one’ or even ‘I am God’ are neither merely metaphors nor blasphemy. To achieve such a union, the mystic typically cultivates a path – not of exultation, but purgation. The Upanishads have taught us that everything in the entire universe – heaven, earth and beyond – is contained in a small space within the heart: ‘in this body, in this town of spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus and in that house there is a little space…’. Heaven, earth, fire, wind, sun, moon, lightning, stars - whatever is and whatever is not… everything is there.
Dr. Rajesh Bhola is President of Spastic Society of Gurgaon and is working for the cause of children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com