Once in a while someone emails me a description of a marvelous mystical experience they've had. Usually the person is a devotee of the organization I belonged to for about 35 years -- Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB).
RSSB is led by a guru who is considered to be God in human form, in much the same way as Jesus is viewed by Christians. Except, the guru is alive. Once initiated by the guru, supposedly he places his "radiant form" within the disciple's consciousness.
Then the radiant form leads the mind/soul of the disciple through various higher stages of reality until they reach Sach Khand (roughly, heaven) together. At least, that's the way it is supposed to work. Demonstrable evidence of this actually happening is, charitably, slim.
More accurately, I'd say, non-existent.
Still, there are quite a few personal tales like the one below. I'm assuming the person who contacted me is fine with his experience being shared since he speaks of "wanting to give non-believers a different perspective."
By and large I agree with what Sam Harris said in his critique of Eben Alexander's claim that he almost died and went to heaven.
As many of you know, I am interested in “spiritual” experiences of the sort Alexander reports. Unlike many atheists, I don’t doubt the subjective phenomena themselves—that is, I don’t believe that everyone who claims to have seen an angel, or left his body in a trance, or become one with the universe, is lying or mentally ill. Indeed, I have had similar experiences myself in meditation, in lucid dreams (even while meditating in a lucid dream), and through the use of various psychedelics (in times gone by). I know that astonishing changes in the contents of consciousness are possible and can be psychologically transformative.
So I also generally assume that when someone shares a profound mystical experience, he or she actually had the subjective perceptions, feelings, and such being described. But this is a long way from what the person wants me and others to believe about the experience.
Namely, (1) that it reflects objective truths about reality that exist outside of the person's brain/mind, and (2) is an experience that should be as meaningful to others as it was to the person.
Regarding (1), lots of people have described their experiences of seemingly supernatural realms beyond the physical. For example, a brief bit of Googling led me to a Jesus Evidence web site containing some detailed descriptions of heavenly encounters.
I found myself walking in this beautiful place where I felt safe, secure, and a great love and peace over me. As I began to look around I saw a river, clear and transparent almost crystal. The green grass was as deep as an emerald stone, the sky was so beautiful as the light was so bright. Then I looked to see who was holding my hand. It was Jesus. His eyes were like fire and ever so kind, so full of the purest of love that you could ever imagine. His hand was so big compared to mine. It had light coming out of the scar where the nail had gone through his hand. He took me to this wonderful place where I saw lots of children. As the other children gathered around Jesus and myself, He talked to us.
So are we supposed to believe all of these many varieties of spiritual/mystical experiences, some of them, none of them? My view is, none of them, unless there is convincing evidence that what a person experienced points to hitherto unknown truths about objective reality.
Dreams can seem real while we're having them. So can hallucinations. Ditto with drug-induced visions. The brain/mind frequently conjure up subjective sensations and perceptions that don't exist outside of a person's cranium.
Again, though, this doesn't take away from the reality of the experience as experienced by the experiencer. As you can read below, the person who contacted me is convinced that he had a blissful vision of the guru and supernatural realms.
Which leads to the second issue: whether anyone else should view a mystical experience as deeply meaningful. Put differently, if another person had the same experience (leaving aside the question of whether it is subjectively or objectively true), would it seem as profound to them?
I suspect not.
I say this based on a lifetime of having people tell me things like, "You've got to see this TV show; you'll love it!" After which I watch it, and don't love it at all. Same is true in reverse, of course. I enjoy things that other people find distasteful.
Riding a motorcycle or scooter, for example; this makes me profoundly happy, while the few times I got my wife to ride with me, she hated the experience.
Now, I think that if I had experiences like those described below -- in a dream, say -- I'd find them enjoyable and interesting. But there's no way to know whether they'd be as meaningful to me as they were to the person who emailed me.
Since I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus, having a vision of him probably wouldn't mean a whole lot to me. But to a Christian, likely it'd be a Wow! experience.
Thus my reaction to the description below basically is:
It's great, guy, that you had such an enjoyable experience. Hope you can understand why, without solid evidence, I can't believe that this is anything but your personal subjective experience, not a reflection of objective reality. It was deeply meaningful to you, but you're you, and everyone else is who they are.
Here's the message I got:
Hello Brian trust all is well in your karmic dance of life.
Feel - know that must put the negativity of your website into perspective .
My first visit to your website was ‘accidental” ... in that had read your Sant Mat recommended book ... was searching to see what else you had written.
As a result of reading your site at the time ... felt an impulse to respond to one of your articles (cannot remember which one now)
My response was simply … that had been a long time initiate ... had satisfied self from inner experiences ... that what was in the Sant Mat books is genuine.
So to now ...
this am during meditation had a “knowing” to go to your website to read the articles in the last few years ... here is my response.
Though it is not advisable to share ones inner experiences ... am about to do so to give non believers a different perspective given out of love not ego!
This experience in 2004 was 7 years after my initiation on 26/7/1997 by Beloved Babaji’s representative ...had diligently followed Beloveds guidelines ... have had other inner experiences prior-since but this is the one that is not so personal .
Experienced such indescribable Joy-Bliss ... Beloved Babaji’s Blessing in Meditation ... such energy surges from the feet up my whole body racked by spasms ... tingly heat ... eventually lost all bodily feeling ... like being paralysed ... such ringing inside my head ... colours-flashes of very bright white .
Saw self from above self … from above the planet trailing a silvery thin cord ... self was in the form of an embryo attached to the earth with a mothers umbilical cord...
Rushing starriness ... moon ... then went straight through the sun ... then beautiful landscape ... rocky gentle river, fir trees, meadows, high snow flecked mountains ... like in the Canadian Rockies ...
Master took off his turban ... he smiled as he flicked his beautiful, glistening shoulder length hair ...no trace of grey in hair-beard ...thought how beautiful-radiant ... reminded me of Master Jesus ...
Through the whole experience was doing simran … felt so Contented, Joyful, Blissful ...then seemed to zip back into my body ... like a genie into a bottle ... once again could move ... elapsed time 1 hour 20 mins 10 pm
It’s wonderful how Master answers one through the books … subsequently read what Master Sawan Singh wrote which substantiates this experiences …
"When by repetition of the names, with attention fixed in the eye focus, you have become unconscious of the body below the eyes ... your attention will catch the sound current ... select the church bell, and discard all other sounds ... slowly your soul will leave the body and collect in the eyes ...
When the concentration is complete, it will appear as if you are separate from the body... the starry sky will appear in time ... fix your attention in the bright star and continue repetition ...
When approached it will burst, and your attention will penetrate through it ... the starry sky has been crossed ... in the same manner the sun and the moon ... after the moon, Masters radiant form appears, fix your attention, and hand yourself over to Master .
~ Based on my 18 years of experience ... if initiates do not have inner experiences ... there are probably 3 reasons
I They are not doing the daily time required ... at initiation made the commitment to do 3 hours daily ... once made did not have to make a daily decision
II They are not doing it properly ie falling asleep...not concentrating etc
III They do not go with the FLO ... Faith Love Obedience ... Meditation is Devotion ... there should be no expectations ...
Beloveds Grace will come when the time is right
At beloved Babajis request all references to RSSB were removed …
Trust this information will help some