Mystical experiences were on my mind today, after someone left a comment on a blog post inquiring about whether I'd gone inside while meditating or heard sacred sounds.
I replied. But then I thought, "What's the big deal with supposed mystical experiences?"
Most religions, forms of spirituality, and philosophical systems don't pay much attention to them. Most Christians or Buddhists aren't out to see fantastical scenes of the astral plane, or bliss out on a supernatural light and sound show.
Their goals are to become better people; to learn what reality is all about; to be of service to humanity; and other thoroughly non-mystical aspirations.
I don't agree with most of Christian dogma, and much of the Buddhist viewpoint. However, I've come to appreciate that if any good is to come from pursuing an organized form of spirituality, it should manifest as evident goodness in how the practitioner relates to other people and the outside world.
For many years I was a member of an India-based organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), which emphasized meditation aimed at hearing divine sound and seeing divine light. Quite a few other offshoots of the Sant Mat movement preach the same gospel.
I had a few experiences along those lines, but I can't say they had any spiritual significance.
Lots of people hear bell tones, ringing, and such inside their head. They're tinnitus sufferers. And even if inner sounds or lights arise from some other source, like sensory deprivation via lengthy meditative withdrawal from perceptions of the outside world, what's the big deal with them?
When I was in college during the 60's (decade, not my age), I had many mystical experiences. You can too. Just find some LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, peyote, or other psychedelic substance, ingest it, and wait a little while.
Did those experiences have any lasting effect on my personality, my character, my relationships, or anything else? No. Likewise, do non-drug-aided mystical experiences have any similar lasting effects? Sometimes, it seems, judging from the number of "I almost died and saw Jesus" books on the market.
However, those almost died and went to heaven purported experiences are much different from meditating and hearing some sounds, or seeing some lights. In my thirty-plus years of talking with lots of fellow RSSB meditators, I can't recall anyone who said he/she had become a markedly different person after a mystical experience(s).
My observations of high-ranking RSSB disciples bore this out. Those who had been in the organization the longest, and who presumably had the most meditation to their karmic credit, didn't demonstrate laudatory qualities lacking in ordinary people.
This included the guru himself, who is considered to be the very essence of divine light and sound. I found him to be an interesting, charismatic guy, but not any wiser, ethical, or compassionate than countless other human beings.
Again, what's the big deal with mystical experiences if there's no sign that those who purportedly have had them are any different from, or better than, ordinary folks?
David Chapman makes this point in his typically creative fashion in "Wholeness, Connection, and Meditation: Competing Visions." Excerpt:
And as for connection:
- Monism promises “total connection with the Absolute Infinite” (or with “the whole universe,” as though that were a single thing). But meaningful connections can only be made with specific, finite beings in this here-and-now world.
- To achieve unity, internalizing meditation deliberately cuts you off from everyday reality, which is supposedly a distraction and not spiritual enough.
- You are supposed to “turn inward,” to find a “profound inner experience” that connects you with the divine reality. This is nonsensical. Experiences are not connections; connections aren’t inside you; you can’t connect yourself with all things by cutting yourself off from them.
- In practice, monists’ relationships with other people, and with their physical environment, usually become godawful messes. Monist practice makes you self-obsessed, unreliable, and unwilling to deal with mundane practicalities.