1. Definition of an experience and a spiritual experience
The Spiritual Science Research Foundation (SSRF) defines that which is experienced through the medium of the five senses, mind and intellect as an ‘experience’. For example, the experience of eating one’s favourite dish, feeling love for one’s child, resolving a problem at work by using one’s intellect, etc., fall into the category of an ‘experience’. Experiencing something which is beyond the comprehension of the five senses, mind and intellect constitutes a ‘spiritual experience’. Even if one 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.
2. Experience versus a spiritual experience and how 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 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’.
In the above picture, we see a lady who smells a bunch of roses and experiences the fragrance of roses. This would constitute an experience as there is a definite source to the fragrance of roses i.e. the bunch of roses. In the other picture, we see a lady sipping her morning coffee, pondering over the start of her working day. All of a sudden and with no apparent cause, she gets a strong fragrance of sandalwood. She initially dismisses it, as she cannot see where it’s coming from and goes on to drink her coffee. However the fragrance follows her to her work place and lingers with her throughout the morning. She asks other people around if they can get the fragrance but no one does. This would constitute a spiritual experience. In this case, the lady actually perceived a fragrance emanating from the subtle dimension and experienced the fragrance through the medium of her subtle sense organ of smell.
Quite a number of us may have had an experience like this i.e. getting a fragrance without any apparent source, but dismissed it as we did not know better. 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 one 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.
An example of this would be when an object moves without any apparent external cause that can be viewed by anyone with their gross eyes (i.e. not their subtle vision). In common parlance these experiences are popularly known as paranormal. These experiences are called 'perceptions from the subtle dimension'.
Let us take another example of a mother whose child lies in critical condition in ICU following a gruesome accident. The doctors have tried everything but the child is just not responding. They are not promising anything. At her wits end, she fervently and continuously prays to God for her unconscious child. Then miraculously and without any medical explanation, the next day there is a noticeable improvement in the child. In time, the child steadily improves and moves out of danger. Here the child’s condition and the mother’s prayer are both in the gross, but the cause of the medical science-defying-improvement is not explainable by the intellect. Experiences such as these too fall into the category of spiritual experiences.
3. What is sixth sense and how do we perceive the unseen world?
We recommend that you refer to the article on sixth sense for a more in-depth explanation as to how we perceive spiritual experiences and the subtle world which is infinite compared to our known world.
4. Spiritual experience related to the five subtle sense organs and five Absolute cosmic elements
The world is made from the five absolute Cosmic Principles (Panchamahābhūtās). These Cosmic Principles 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 experience of these absolute Principles progressively, beginning from the most gross to the most subtle. Thus we are able to experience them in the order of the Absolute Earth(Pruthvī), Water (Āpa), Fire (Tēj), Air (Vāyu)and Ether (Ākāsh) 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.
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.
5. Spiritual experience and spiritual level
As our spiritual level goes on increasing, we are able to get spiritual experience of a higher and more subtle-level.
The table below shows the minimum spiritual level necessary to be able to experience each of the individual five subtle senses if one’s sixth sense was seen purely as a function of the spiritual level. For example, one can get spiritual experience of the subtle sense of smell at the 40% spiritual level.
While this bar graph serves as a guide to explain the direct 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 ghost (demon, devil, negative energy etc.) wants a person to get the smell of urine around the house to frighten them, 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 the 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. Refer to the article on spiritual level.
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 may attain Sainthood (i.e. the 70% spiritual level) without once 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.
You can also see from the graph that 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
6. What is the importance of spiritual experiences?
The following points summarise the importance and main benefits of spiritual experiences:
6.1 Generation of belief and faith in the theoretical aspect of Spiritual science
In reference to the quote at the top of this page, the intellectual or theoretical knowledge in words has only 2% importance while 98% importance lies in the experience of those words. When one undertakes an appropriate spiritual practice based on the basic principles of Spiritual science, one makes spiritual progress and gets spiritual experiences. Spiritual practice bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge obtained from books and spiritually experiencing it.
Theoretical information (intellectual 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 one gets spiritual experiences, one develops faith in the theoretical knowledge.
Please refer to article on stages of spiritual development.
It is for this reason that spiritual experiences are discussed during spiritual meetings (satsangs). Seekers attending spiritual meetings realise that what is taught there in terms of spiritual knowledge is not mere information but that it can be actually experienced.
6.2 Awareness of spiritual progress
Spiritual experiences confirm that we as seekers of God have adopted an appropriate spiritual practice and are getting progressively higher spiritual experiences because we are making spiritual progress. They act like milestones and encourage us in our spiritual journey. Suppose we were to discontinue our spiritual practice, we may not continue to get spiritual experiences. If we were to stagnate in the spiritual practice, we will not get higher spiritual experiences. By stagnation in spiritual practice, we mean, doing the same spiritual practice year in and year out, without increasing it qualitatively or quantitatively. This is God’s way of telling us that we have to augment our spiritual practice further.
Refer to articles ‘Spiritual Practice should be done on a daily basis’ and ‘Increasing the level of spiritual practice regularly’.
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 i.e. a Saint, if our chosen path is right or not. If you do not have access to a Saint, please read our article on chanting the Name of God according to your religion of birth as a suggested first step in your spiritual journey.
6.3 Reduction of ego by impressing the greatness of God
In the early stages of one’s spiritual journey, if one gets to hear many other co-seekers narrating their spiritual experiences, the variety and depth of spiritual experiences can be quite mind-boggling. One begins to realise how insignificant one is, as compared to God who gives each one of us unique spiritual experiences to generate faith. As a result, one’s ego about one’s own abilities gets reduced when compared to God's ability. Reduction in ego is a primary requisite for spiritual growth.
7. 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.
8. 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 doesn’t 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, one needs 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.
9. 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 our severe negative destiny or accumulated account (sanchit) 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.
Here we have used the term negative destiny to indicate destiny that results in experience of unhappiness. An example of severe negative destiny can be meeting with a serious accident. Thus when a person starts doing spiritual practice, the initial spiritual practice may be utilized in reducing the intensity of this particular destiny, i.e. meeting with a serious accident. Thus the seeker, just before meeting with the accident may get a premonition to slow down or go in some other direction, thus reducing the intensity of the accident and severity. The seeker may then survive minor or no injuries at all.
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. Refer to the article stages of spiritual growth which shows how spiritual experiences augment our faith.
10. Examples of Spiritual Experiences
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