What is freedom from experience?

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Question: Sir, does spirituality means that the experiences that I have in my life will have more intensity?

Acharya Prashant: I cannot say about the instances. I cannot say whether particular happenings and particular experiences will increase or decrease in your life. If that is what you are asking that “Would non-duality or would spirituality would lead to occurrence or non-occurrence of something?”, no, nothing can be said about that. All that is beautifully unpredictable. We must not say anything about that. But we can say something about something else. Nothing can be said about the experiences, assuming that experiences are objective, but something can be surely said about the experiencer. Irrespective of what happens, irrespective of what the experience contains, the experiencer will not suffer. And funnily, when the experiencer is not suffering in any experience, that changes the experience itself.

Is the experience the same if the experience does not put you down, if the experience doesn’t make you sad? In fact, you must see that what we experience is not the external happening but something that is internal to the experiencer. When you say, for example, on tasting a soup that the soup is sweet, it appears as if the soup is sweet, as if there is an objectivity about the taste, but is the soup, sweet if you’re not tasting it? And is the soup really sweet for someone who is addicted to sweetness? So the internal feeling that you get in a particular situation, in a particular happening is itself the experience. The experience does not lie outside of you. Are you getting this? Now a feeling of hesitation, suspicion despair, all of these are clear indications of suffering. Now just so that I do not start sounding negative or positive, let me add to this list: happiness, excitement and hope. Which means that the very presence of the experiencer is an indication of suffering because what else will the experiencer experience? On one side of the table is sadness; you said you experience sadness, it is a proof that you are lost; on the other side of the table is happiness; you said you experience happiness either that to prove much the same thing. Getting it?

On one side is the pain and on the other side is pleasure. It doesn’t matter either you experience this or that. Which means every single experience, if it really means something to you, is a proof of you not yet been settled. In all this, the mistake is made when we talk of observation as observing the experience.

Observation is not so much about observing what is going on outside;

observation is about seeing what is happening to the one who is observing.

That requires a certain courage!

You just observe what is happening outside, it won’t help much. It won’t harm, but the utility would be limited. But when the same faculty looks at itself, when the observing faculty looks at itself then something, a little special has happened. That is called witnessing.

Listener 1: The very approach that we are talking, let me call it the spiritual approach, when we tend to reach a state where we do not experience any happiness or any sadness, a moment just comes and passes by, is that also not a hollowness?

AP: Well said, and it’s great that you quickly brought us to this. Whenever I talk about freedom from experience, this is the danger. Danger is that freedom from experience would be interpreted as becoming impervious to experience. No, I am not saying that, but it is interpreted that because we know only these two states: we know either drowning in the river or a distance from the river. That’s the kind of swimmer that we are. Either he becomes so excited that he goes, jumps and drowns or he remains so afraid that he stands at a distance from the river. I am talking of neither of these. I am talking about something else. Freedom of experience doesn’t mean that you maintain the distance from experience. Alright, we would go into it from an example. When you are afraid of something, really afraid of something can you ever experience it fully, go into it fully, yes?

 L1: No.

AP: And when you are very-very fond of something, so fond of something that you don’t want to loose it, would you dare to go deep into it and let its truth be revealed? Tell me, please.

 L1: No, we turn blind.

AP: You have a diamond on which your life depends — that’s what you have thought of your life — ‘my life depends on this diamond’. And then somebody comes and says kindly to check the diamond, it might be fake. Would you be inclined to check? Remember, you feel you have no substitute and you also feel that if the diamond is gone then you too are gone. Would you be able to go deeply into the diamond and experience whether it really is? Would you? It requires a great deal of courage. You see, this is what our everyday life is about. It is not a life of really experiencing. The image that we have in our mind is that the worldly man lives the life of experience and the spiritual man lives the life of detachment from the experiences. It is from that framework that your question is coming. You are asking: “Would not the absence of experience means a hollow life?” Yes, of course, it would. The way it is usually, spiritually advocated. The way it is usually, spiritually advocated is nothing but a hollow life — “Don’t experience, renounce, give up! Don’t touch, don’t eat; no pleasure, no pain; no coming, no going; don’t hold! We are anyway not experiencing. Our hands are anyway empty. Empty not like the hands of Buddha, empty like the hands of a beggar. What is there to drop? What have we anyway experienced?

We are so afraid that we cannot experience anything, and we are so attached that we dare not to experience anything.

Now would you suggest non-experiencing to someone who is anyway incapable of experiencing? Is that wise? Yes? You see all of us are now ripe time-wise. We are all mature adults here. Have we really experienced life? In bits and pieces, half-halfheartedly, huh? Sometimes life has come and touched us, that too without our consent. Left to us, we would disallow even that. You would say no. The other day there was this gentleman and he was saying that he has this peculiar problem. He said he is very compassionate. “My problem is that I am very compassionate”, I said, fine, but kindly explain me how is that a problem? He said, ‘You see, I drive from my place to my office, in between I find many of these small kids all around doing this, doing that. I immediately feel an urge to stop and talk to them.’ He wants to play with them. ‘Sometimes to take them to school and get them admitted. They are at many places along the way but you know what, I am unable to push the breaks. There is a certain momentum that keeps me dragging to the office. The car doesn’t slow down. I keep on feeling that I must stop, but it doesn’t stop.’

Are we capable of experiencing?

Do you know the kind of courage for the gentleman to pull his car to the side, to step down and miss office for a day? We don’t dare experience, just as our window panes are pulled up so that we don’t experience the air outside, similarly, there is something that is continuously pulled up so that we don’t experience the world outside of the mind’s own fiction. So please absolve yourself of this crime. You have not committed it. None of us are good enough to commit this crime. Committing this so called crime requires guts.

Being drenched with experience requires a particular youthfulness in the heart.

Most of us have left it far behind. We don’t experience anything. We are numb. We are permanently anesthetized.

I am not talking about renouncing experience; I am talking about freedom from experience. And freedom from experience enables you to dive deeply into experience. Freedom from experience means freedom in middle of experience.

That’s how it is more correctly put. Even though you are experiencing everything yet you know fully well that the experience cannot add something in you, neither it reduces you, so you feel free, empowered. To experience, come, what may. Whatever comes I am prepared to take it, to go through it, really live it and prepare to live it because how does it matter? Does it matter? It does not. Jump-jump. If it matters, then you cannot jump. You can jump only if it doesn’t matter. Remember that, if you say that you are not going to jump because you are spiritually inclined then it only means that it still matters, the world to you.

Only the one who can jump in a carefree way, in a way that can be described both as devotion and disdain, only that one really lives. Lives and lives free of experience while experiencing. These two go together. If you find somebody avoiding experience then you must immediately know that that experience means too much to him; otherwise, he couldn’t have avoided it. If you find somebody chasing the experience then you should know the same thing. He couldn’t have chased had it not meant much to him. And then there is the third quality. A totally different quality, a quality that both welcomes experience and does not quite welcome it. Thanks but no thanks. You know what that means, right? “Yes, come on in. You don’t want to come! Fine. If you come it would be wonderful, it would be great. If you don’t come, it would be equally wonderful.”

If it rains, we start to celebrate; if it doesn’t, we celebrate.


Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: Caste, Identities and Spirituality


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