Spiritual seekers, especially in the West, tend to assume that the goal of Self-Realization ought to be not only very distant ,even unreachable but downright unfathomable. But from all I have read on the subject from realized spiritual masters past and present, not only is Realization not so unreachably far away, but in fact many of us have already, by Grace, had experiences which amount to fleeting glimpses of it. Remembering and re-living those experiences is supposed to be one of the fastest ways towards that Goal, namely a way of “practicing Realization”.
I do not know what experiences you, the reader have had. What I do know is that whenever I’ve shared my own experiences with others, I have often caused them to remember similar experiences they once had. So, I’m going to list a number of my personal experiences here, hoping some of them will remind you of yours. All but the last one came prior to my consciously entering the spiritual life. (To list my experiences afterwards would fill a book-sized paper.)
Age 5 probably
I tried to ask my father whether when he thought “I” and when I thought “I” it was the same ‘I’ or two separate ‘I’s or “selves”, but I could not explain my question well, or he thought it was a stupid question perhaps, and said they were two separate I’s, “…of course”; however , I was convinced they could not be separate, since “I is just I”.
Comment: Indeed, realized masters tell us that there is really only one ‘I’, only one ‘self’, the Universal Self.
Age 7 probably
I tried to explain to my father that children at school were so very different from one another; that the fact that their faces were so different was not enough to account for how immensely different they were, but I could not put my finger on it, and explain how I perceived them as being so much more different than their faces were different.
My father thought the observation was stupid; that indeed some had big noses, some small noses, and so on.
Comment: I was “seeing” their souls.
Age 9 probably
My father was answering my physics questions all the way down to sub-atomic particles.Then I asked him, how an electron “knows” that there is a positive charge nearby, and that it must be attracted to it. My father thought this was a stupid question, and that the electron doesn’t need to “know”, but that it ‘suffers’ the attraction without any need for conscious awareness. However, I had the conviction that there was a need for the electron to be “informed” of the attractive charge, somehow.
Comment: Indeed, it was discovered soon after that forces are communicated by messenger particles called ‘Bosons’.
Walking towards the train station in my hometown, early morning after a rainy night, I wanted to fully enjoy the beauty of the trees and the plants and the water droplets on the leaves. My mind, however, wanted to talk, talk and talk. Trying to stop the mind was not working; I realized that my mind was disobedient and unruly. A fight ensued; We fought like wrestlers until finally I won. I got my mind into a lock of constant attention, and then I managed to enjoy the beauty of the scenery. But from that I realized, for the first time, that my mind and my self were NOT one and the same.
After wrestling with my mind and winning, something made me ponder the question “Who AM I?” After long debate I concluded it could not be answered by my mind. At that point I decided to throw the mind aside, and simply look directly inwards at this “I”, and try to “see” who or what I was. After about a minute of intense effort, I felt as if I was “falling inwards”, lost control of my consciousness, became very small, like a particle inside my chest; then suddenly felt the surge of something like an elevator, which took me up to the top of my head, and continued on above my head, and then suddenly I became of infinite size, and there was bright white light everywhere in the universe, everything had consciousness and “I”- being was knowing -was happiness -was beauty. I had some answers to personal questions, too, which I had asked minutes earlier, such as what would have happened had my parents never met? I was shown a family in a house not too far from where I lived, and was let know that these would have been my parents of second choice.
Age 13 probably
I was wondering how I knew that I existed in the first place. Then a feeling of total sureness and conviction came with the thought that if I did not exist, the universe would not exist either, that we were like two sides of a coin. The’ I ‘that had to exist for the universe to exist, however, was not a personal self, but rather a non-personal “I” which transcended this person.
I joined a school of politically conscious occultists, a spin-off of the Theosophical Society; and being still a new student at that school I attended an all-night meditation. It was a mantra recitation. I did not know the mantra or what it meant, but by 3 am or so, I was concentrating on the sweetness of one syllable of the mantra, and then I lost control of my consciousness, became very small, and got ejected from my body through my forehead. Then, free from the body, I suddenly knew that I could see anything I wanted to see I was given a choice. I said “the Universe”. Immediately my vision began to zoom out and zoom out by factors of like 10 each time, but countless times, until the whole universe (I thought) was in view. There was an immense, luminous sphere, but it was not homogeneous but highly granular and dynamic. It was bright white, but inside the whiteness there were rainbows of color of intricate form, like the rainbows you see on the surfaces of soap bubbles. I thought this was too much detail to grasp at once, so I zoomed back in to try to understand what I was looking at. Then I saw that the vast expanses of bright substance were made of like streams or rivers of luminous fluid, each stream corresponding to a living being, constituting its sense of self, its consciousness. This immense being then took human form, and I understood this ‘person’ to have infinite love, compassion, forgiveness, etcetera, but also infinite knowledge and intelligence, integrating, yet going far beyond human science.
Years later I learned that the particular mantra was the Gayatri mantra, which supposedly opens the “Third Eye” chakra, and “reveals the Inner Sun”. I remained a committed Atheist, in spite of this vision.
Walking without any particular place to go, I suddenly had the inspiration that perhaps the best way to live life would be to always try to be good, do good, and that I could do no wrong if my motive and goal were for The Good, always.
Comment: Sainthood, or the love of sainthood, I feel, is like a hidden human instinct that does not depend on spiritual beliefs or religious faith.
I was in the Army. I was riding at the back of a Unimog truck on a trip to a road check; driving at night through forested hills, with a bunch of other soldiers. The sub-officer opened the cabin window and asked for a volunteer to go on top of the roof posted as guard. I volunteered.
The air was humid and chill and my face hurt from the coldness. I was looking at the stars, as we drove. Nothing too mystical; in fact, I was trying to de-mystify the stars, trying to realize that they are made of hydrogen, helium, lithium, and so on, which can be found here on Earth.-nothing esoteric.
I was also trying to demystify distances to myself. Star distances are huge, of course. How many of us can imagine a light-year? And we’re talking about hundreds of light years just for the stars in our immediate neighborhood. BUT, and this was the thing, those distances were finite, no matter how big. I was trying to realize that if I multiply the distance we were driving by 1000 that would be like the distance around our planet; and multiplying that by another 1000 might be roughly the distance to the sun, and that multiplying again by 1000… In other words, it takes a few multiplications by large numbers, but it ends, and so if I were to travel that distance I could see another star up close, and it might not be all that different from the sun.
And this ‘demystification work’ was helping me feel the reality of the stars in the sky. Finally, I made an effort to feel they were totally real, and that my life and my problems here on Earth were totally insignificant, given the large distances and time-spans of stars.
Suddenly it was as if my heart had jumped out of me, become space and the stars, and the stars had jumped and become me. Then I was looking at myself on earth through the “eyes” of a number of stars.
At the lookout near the Hollywood sign on the hills North of Los Angeles, I was looking down at the city, and realized that in less than 100 years every person down there would be dead, inexorably, but that new people would have replaced them, I suddenly felt that there was a plan, an order, a mechanism that had been put in place for a particular reason, and the mechanism looked like a wheel. This immense wheel was constantly at work- people being born, people dying;-nothing any of us can do about it, in spite of so much science and military hardware. Yet modern man does not see our comparative powerlessness. We laugh with skepticism at all things “spiritual”, yet the spiritual side of life is gigantic, majestic, all powerful, and, ironically perhaps, plainly obvious.
Later I made the connection between what I “saw” and the Buddhist “wheel of rebirth”.
Age 26 maybe
Walking in a shopping mall where I had never been before, I was on a collision route with another person coming my way. I tried to move aside but the person mirrored my move. I tried the other way… same thing. I looked at the person with already a bit of anger, and found I was looking into a big mirror wall, and guess who the guy was? Laughter aside, for a moment I also realized that my perception of this person as “him” had NOT been in error, but that in fact it was the other way around: that momentary “mistake” was actually THE true perception, –the “objective” perception, whereas the more common, or “normal” perception, –of this person being “me” (self) was the one that was in error.
Age 33 approximately (already on a spiritual path)
I had been consciously trying for days to realize that even as I look at somebody else’s back and say “it’s him”, somebody else walking behind me is looking at this person saying “it’s him”,and that the observers outnumber the observed, and therefore their perception is democratically correct that we are all “him” or “her” but never “I” or “me”. Then I took a shower, and as I was stepping out of the shower, for a moment the whole universe was “me, and this person, and everybody, formed a luminous continuum.
Also, throughout my life, on multiple occasions the following occurred:
* I had immediate urges to silence my mind’s chatter, or to stop all mental activity;
* Had perceptions of transcendental purpose, when looking at starry skies;
* Had moments of disbelief that only I should be experiencing what I was experiencing. Why would the rest of the world miss this ?(even if it’s something as mundane as walking down a flight of stairs, but still a unique experience);
* Took my whole perception of the place and moment and felt the absurdity of “me” having such a particular experience, as opposed to having either ALL experiences or none;
* Briefly would become sharply aware of all sensory data, with like a torrent of consciousness accompanying it; yet feeling as if it was all meaningless, or unreal, like a movie being projected onto a high definition screen, but for only one movie-goer, whom I wasn’t even sure was really “me”;
* Occasionally became fully aware of “this person” being just one person among millions, rather than “I”; –i.e. that millions out there are claiming to be “I”, and all are wrong, including this person, yet all are right to the extent that by “I” they mean “in the inward direction, wherever it goes”, as opposed to a private inward direction.
NOTE: Some of my descriptions may seem rather philosophical. That comes from having thought about them long enough, and now trying to explain them in words… in words for people like you to read. There’s a temptation to explain things as well as possible; which may make things sound more intellectual than is typical of “brief feelings or sensations”, however strong or clear.
I hope some of these have resonated with you, and reminded you of your own “glimpses of realization”. I once read that all people get such experiences, but that the majority of them forget them. Recalling them and making the effort to re-live them (don’t expect quick success, though), is like an express train to Realization Station.