Swami Vivekananda

Mystical Experience of Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), born Narendranath (“Narendra”) Datta, was an Indian monk, philosopher, author, Advaita Vedanta teacher, and a direct disciple of the Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda played a pivotal role in introducing Advaita Vedanta and Yoga to The West.

According to Belur Math, Swami Vivekanada’s “speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’. After the Parliament, Swamiji spent nearly three and a half years spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, mostly in the eastern parts of USA and also in London.”

The following account, from Readings of the Vedantasara, by Swami Yatiswarananda, occurred while a young Narendra was having a discussion with a friend about Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings:

One day Sri Ramakrishna tried to bring home to Narendra the identity of the individual soul with Brahman, but without success.  Narendra left the room and, going to Pratap Chandra Hazra, said, “How can this be?  This jug is God, this cup is God and we too are God:  Nothing can be more preposterous!”  Sri Ramakrishna, who was in the room in a state of semi-consciousness, hearing Narendra’s laughter came out with his cloth under his arm like a child.  “Hallo!  What are you talking about?”, Ramakrishna said, smiling.  Ramakrishna touched Narendra, who then plunged into samadhi.  Narendra described the effect of the touch as follows (from The Life of Swami Vivekanada by His Eastern and Western Disciples):

“The magic touch of the Master, that day immediately brought a wonderful change over my mind. I was stupefied to find that really there was nothing in the universe but God!  I saw it quite clearly but kept silent, to see if the idea would last.  But the impression did not abate in the course of the day.  I returned home, but there too, everything I saw appeared to be Brahman.

I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything,—the food, the plate, the person who served, and even myself—was nothing but THAT.  I ate a morsel or two and sat still.  I was startled by my mother’s words, ‘Why do you sit still? Finish your meal!’—and began to eat again.  But all the while, whether eating or lying down, or going to college, I had the same experience and felt myself always in a sort of comatose state.

While in the streets, I noticed cabs plying, but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way.  I felt that the cabs and myself were of one stuff.  There was no sensation in my limbs, which I thought were getting paralysed.  I did not relish eating and felt as if somebody else were eating.  Sometimes I lay down during the meal and after a few minutes got up and again began to eat.  The result would be that on some days I would take too much, but it did no harm.

My mother became alarmed and said that there must be something wrong with me.  She was afraid that I might not live long.  When the above state altered a little, the world began to appear to me as a dream.  While walking in Cornwallis Square, I would strike my head against the iron railings to see if they were real or only a dream.  This state of things continued for some days.

When I became normal again, I realized that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaita [i.e., non-dual] state.  Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaita philosophy.”

The following video about The Tree of Jiva and Atman, which appears in the Vedic scriptures, provides a brief sample of Swami Vivekanda’s teachings:

Swami Vivekananda explains the Mundaka Upanishad’s Two Birds On A Tree 

Source:  https://www.vedanta.gr/

Sri Yukteswar Giri

Mystical Experience of Sri Yukteswar Giri

Sri Yukteswar Giri (1855 – 1936), born Priya Nath Karar, was a Kriya yogi, Vedic astrologer, scholar of Vedantic texts, educator, author of The Holy Science, and astronomer.  He was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya and a member of the Giri branch of the Swami order.  Sri Yukteswar was also the guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, his most famous disciple and the author of Autobiography of a Yogi.  

In his book, The Holy Science—which aimed to explain the underlying unity between the scriptures of Christianity and of Sanatan Dharma (i.e., the eternal truth and teachings of Hinduism)—Sri Yukteswar Giri described the unitive mystical state as follows:

“In [the state of Kaivalya, oneness], all the necessities having been attained and the ultimate aim effected, the heart becomes perfectly purified and, instead of merely reflecting the spiritual light, actively manifests the same.  Man, being thus consecrated or anointed by the Holy Spirit, becomes Christ, the anointed Savior.  Entering the kingdom of Spiritual Light, he becomes the Son of God.

In this state man comprehends his Self as a fragment of the Universal Holy Spirit, and, abandoning the vain idea of his separate existence, unifies himself with the Eternal Spirit; that is, becomes one and the same with God the Father.  This unification of Self with God is Kaivalya, which is the Ultimate Object of all created beings.”

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Sri Yukteswar described God to his disciple, Paramahansa Yogananda, as follows: 

“It is the Spirit of God that actively sustains every form and force in the universe; yet He is transcendental and aloof in the blissful uncreated void beyond the worlds of vibratory phenomena… 

Ever-new Joy is God. He is inexhaustible; as you continue your meditations during the years, He will beguile you with an infinite ingenuity.  Devotees like yourself who have found the way to God never dream of exchanging Him for any other happiness; He is seductive beyond thought of competition.

How quickly we weary of earthly pleasures!  Desire for material things is endless; man is never satisfied completely, and pursues one goal after another.  The ‘something else’ he seeks is the Lord, who alone can grant lasting joy.

Outward longings drive us from the Eden within; they offer false pleasures which only impersonate soul-happiness.  The lost paradise is quickly regained through divine meditation.  As God is unanticipatory Ever-Newness, we never tire of Him.  Can we be surfeited with bliss, delightfully varied throughout eternity?”

Source:  The Holy Science by Sri Yukteswar Giri and Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda (from www.crystalclarity.com/autobiography-of-a-yogi-yogananda/).

Adi Shankara

Mystical Experience of Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara (also known as Sri Shankaracharya) is widely regarded as being one of the greatest Indian saints and philosophers; he lived sometime during the fifth to eighth centuries. The name Shankara means “giver of prosperity”. Shankara is credited with the development and advancement of Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu spiritual and religious path that proclaims the unity of the Atman (the Self) and Nirguna Brahman, which is Brahman without attributes (the Supreme Reality). Shankara’s works elaborate on ideas found in the Vedas, Brahma Sutras, and Upanishads.

Most biographies state that Shankara was born on the 14th year of King Vikramaditya’s rule; however, it is not clear which particular king this was. Some of the suggested dates of Shankara’s birth range from 509 B.C.E. to 805 C.E. Shankara was born in the village of Kaladi in southern India. His parents were aged at the time of his birth, and his father died shortly after Shankara was born.

In his formative years, Shankara was taught by the sage Govinda Bhagavatpada, who was a disciple of Gaudapada, the author (or compiler) of the Maṇḍukya Karika, also known as the Gaudapada Karika. Shankara studied various works such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and Brahma Sutras which were pivotal in shaping his future philosophy and worldview.

It is reported that Shankara traveled widely across India to areas such as Bengal and Gujarat, although the chronology of his travels is not conclusive. During his travels, Shankara engaged in philosophical debates with advocates of different sects of Hinduism as well as other religious thinkers, such as Buddhists. Some biographies credit Shankara with establishing several monasteries that maintain his philosophy to this day.

Shankara is credited with writing over 300 texts and philosophical letters. The works cover a wide range of issues and fields, including poetry, spirituality, philosophy, and social commentary. Among Shankara’s most well-known works are The Bhagavad Gita with The Commentary of Sri Sankaracharya, The Crest Jewel of Discrimination, and Aparokshanubhuti (or Direct Experience of the Absolute). Shankara is believed to have died at the age of 32, although the location and details of his death vary in the different biographies.

Below are excerpts from Adi Shankara’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita (from Mysticism East and West) describing the mystical state:

“When the confusing play of ideas (chittam) has come to rest, and he thus, through himself (without the senses) through the purified “inward organ” apprehends the highest, which is wholly Spirit, essentially light, then he wins through to joy.”

In his book, The Crest Jewel of Discrimination, Shankara further wrote:

“Brahman [the Ultimate Reality of Consciousness, Existence, and Bliss] alone is real, the world is the appearance [of Brahman]; and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and Atman, the individual self.”

In Mysticism East and West, the late Theologian Rudolf Otto explains that Shankara’s view is that “Atman [the Self] is not capable of proof nor does it need any… [it is] ‘self-proven’”. Otto further explains Shankara’s ideas about Atman: “For itself, inconceivable, it is the ground of every possibility of conceiving, of every thought, of every act of knowledge. And even he who denies it, insofar as he thereby thinks, considers, and asserts, presupposes it. But above all, Shankara holds that knowledge based on the scriptures is merely the finger which points to the object and which disappears when it itself is looked upon.”

Quoted from Mysticism East and West by Rudolf Otto and The Crest Jewel of Discrimination by Adi Shankara.


Mystical Experience of Svetasvatara

In India, sometime during the first millennium B.C., the Vedas, a large body of Hindu religious texts, were finally collected and put into an organized written form. An additional, much later, collection of philosophical writings by the rishis, or seers, were appended to those earlier hymns and religious precepts, and thereafter regarded as an integral part of the Vedas. These philosophical appendages were called the Upanishads.

Of the 108 Upanishads said to exist, twelve are generally regarded to be of primary importance. In philosophical purity and persuasiveness, these few represent what, for most, are the Upanishads. Their names are the Isha, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Aitareya, Taitiriya, Svetasvatara, and Maitri Upanishads. The authors and exact dates of authorship of these separate spiritual treatises are unknown; we know only that they were written, by various anonymous sages who had realized that Truth of which they speak, sometime between 1200 and 400 B.C.

While the Upanishads vary in length and in style, their one common theme is the inner realization of the identity of the Atman (Self) and Brahman (the one universal Consciousness). We may strive to know God, or we may strive to know our Self; but, say the Upanishads, when you find the one, you shall also find the other; and it is this discovery which constitutes enlightenment consciousness.

Perhaps the most celebrated and often cited Upanishad is the Svetasvatara Upanishad, written sometime between 500 and 200 B.C. and attributed to the sage Svetasvatara, whose name is included in the closing text of the work. No other information about Svetasvatara is known to exist.

Below are excerpts from part six of the Svetasvatara Upanishad, describing Svetasvatara’s mystical consciousness:

“The non-dual resplendent Lord resides
As the Self in all creatures and all things.
He impels all to action and witnesses all.
While pervading everything, He remains ever free…

He is the Eternal within the temporal, the Infinite within form.
He’s the One within many, who grants all desires….
Only those who see Him within themselves
Obtain the gift of eternal Peace….”

Quoted from History of Mysticism by Swami Abhayananda

Image Credit: artist’s depiction of Svetasvatara from www.esamskriti.com.

isaac watts

Mystical Experience of Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) was a minister, theologian, and logician born in Southampton, England. After studying at the Dissenting Academy at Stoke, in London, he served as a tutor, assistant to a minister, and, in 1702 a full pastor, a role in which he was known for his inspirational oratory. In 1712, due to a health matter, Watts went to stay with Sir Thomas Abney in Hertfordshire; he would remain with the Abney family for the remainder of his life.

Watts was a highly prolific hymn writer who is credited with authoring approximately 750 hymns. His works include “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “Joy to the World”, and “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”. Watts is widely regarded as the “Godfather of English Hymnody”. Many of his hymns are read today, having been translated into numerous languages.

Isaac Watts wrote the following about his mystical experience:

“Far in the Heavens my God retires:
My God, the mark of my desires,
And hides his lovely face;
When he descends within my view,
He charms my reason to pursue,
But leaves it tir’d and fainting in th’ unequal chase.

Or if I reach unusual height
Till near his presence brought,
There floods of glory check my flight,
Cramp the bold pinions of my wit,
And all untune my thought;
Plunged in a sea of light I roll,
Where wisdom, justice, mercy, shines;
Infinite rays in crossing lines
Beat thick confusion on my sight, and overwhelm my soul.

Great God! behold my reason lies
Adoring: yet my love would rise
On pinions not her own:
Faith shall direct her humble flight,
Through all the trackless seas of light,
To Thee, th’ Eternal Fair, the infinite Unknown.”

Quoted from “The Incomprehensible” by Isaac Watts.

HG Wells

Mystical Experience of H.G. Wells

Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) was a novelist, sociologist, and historian born in Bromley, England. Although he grew up under the constant threat of poverty as the son of domestic workers who later became small shopkeepers, Wells was a voracious reader and an ambitious young man. He won a scholarship to study biology at the Normal School of Science (now part of Imperial College), in London, when he was 18. Wells graduated from university in 1888 and then became a science teacher.

The first book that Wells published, in 1893, is entitled Text-Book of Biology. He published his first novel, The Time Machine, in 1895. That work was an immediate success and Wells subsequently wrote a series of science fiction novels, propelling his writing career. Prolific in several genres, Wells is best known for The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, both science fiction novels, as well as the comic novels Tono-Bungay and The History of Mr. Polly.

As World War I, raged on, H.G. Wells wrote the following about mystical experience (presumably based on his own experience):

“Suddenly, in His own time God comes. This cardinal experience is an undoubting, immediate sense of God. It is the attainment of an absolute certainty that one is not alone in oneself. It is as if one was touched at every point by a being akin to oneself, sympathetic, beyond measure wiser, steadfast and pure in aim. It is completer and more intimate but it is like standing side by side with and touching some one that we love very dearly and trust completely. ‘Closer is He than breathing, nearer than hands and feet.’”

Quoted from H.G. Wells’ God, the Invisible King by A. Eustace Haydon in “The Significance of the Mystic’s Experience”.

Image Credit: H.G. Wells by Granger/Shutterstock.


Mystical Experience of Kabir

Kabir Das (1440 – 1518) was a 15th-century Indian mystic, poet, and saint who is revered by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. Kabir was born in the city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India, and he was raised in a Muslim family. Later in his life, Kabir was heavily influenced by the Hindu bhakti leader, Ramananda. He was a weaver by profession.

Kabir is known for being critical of both organized religion and religions. Kabir questioned what he regarded as meaningless and unethical practices of different religions, and those of Hinduism and Islam in particular. Kabir taught that to know the Truth, one must drop the sense of “I”, the ego. Today, Kabir is widely known for his poems, specifically 100 Poems of Kabir. Most of Kabir’s work is concerned with devotion to God, mysticism, and discipline.

Kabir wrote the following about mystical consciousness:

“The river and its waves are one surf: where is the difference between the river and its waves?

When the wave rises, it is the water; when it falls, it is the same water again. Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction?

Because it has been named as wave shall it no longer be considered as water?

Within the Supreme Brahma, the worlds are being told as beads:
Look upon that rosary with eyes of wisdom.”

Kabir also noted the ineffability of mystical states, writing:

“It [the Supreme Truth] cannot be told by the words of the mouth. It cannot be written on paper. It is like a dumb person who tastes a sweet thing—how shall it be explained?”

Quoted from Kabir’s One Hundred Poems of Kabir.

Image Credit: Kabir from https://vsktelangana.org.

edward carpenter

Mystical Experience of Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter (1844 – 1929) was an English poet and philosopher who was educated at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, Carpenter was elected a fellow and was ordained in 1869. In 1870, he became the curate for the theologian Frederick Denison. However, Carpenter tired of the religious and social conventions of his time and, in 1874, he became a traveling lecturer for the newly founded university extension movement, teaching in various industrial towns in northern England.

An early activist for gay rights and prison reform, Carpenter also advocated a vegetarian diet, and he stood against the practice of vivisection. In 1883, Carpenter bought a small farm in Derbyshire; he would live there for the next 39 years. A prolific writer who authored dozens of works, Carpenter was particularly known for his essay “Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure”, in which he wrote of civilization as a type of disease through which human societies pass.

Edward Carpenter wrote the following regarding his mystical consciousness:

“Thus at last the Ego, the mortal, immortal self—disclosed at first in darkness and fear and ignorance in the growing babe—finds its true identity. For a long period it is baffled in trying to understand what it is. It goes through a vast experience. It is tormented by the sense of separation and alienation—alienation from other people and persecution by all the great powers and forces of the universe: and it is pursued by a sense of its own doom. Its doom truly is irrevocable. The hour of fulfillment approaches, the veil lifts and the soul beholds at last its own true being….. At last there comes a time when we recognize—or see that we shall have to recognize—an inner equality between ourselves and all others; not of course an external equality, for that would be absurd and impossible, but an inner and profound equality. And so we come again to the mystic root-conception of Democracy.”

Quoted from Pagan and Christian Creeds by Edward Carpenter.


Mystical Experience of Chao Pien

Chao Pien (994 – 1070) was a highly regarded government officer of China’s Sung dynasty and a lay disciple of Fach’uan of Chiang-shan. Chao Pien was well-known by many for his integrity and benevolence. It is reported that every night Chao Pien put on his ceremonial robe, lit incense, and made offerings to submit the events of the day to The Divine.

One day, after Chao Pien’s official duties were over, he found himself leisurely sitting in his office when, all of a sudden, a clash of thunder burst on his ear, and he realized a state of satori (mystical consciousness). Chao Pien wrote the following poem to describe key aspects of his Zen experience:

“Devoid of thought, I sat quietly by the desk in my official room,

With my fountain-mind undisturbed, as serene as water;

A sudden clash of thunder, the mind-doors burst open,

And lo, there sitteth the old man in all his homeliness.”

Quoted from The Teachings of the Mystics by W.T. Stace.

Thomas Traherne

Mystical Experience of Thomas Traherne

Thomas Traherne (1636 or 1637 – 1674) was an English poet, Anglican cleric, theologian, and religious writer. Traherne was educated at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. He was ordained in 1660 and then served in a number of religious roles, with his final position being the minister of Teddington Church.

Traherne is best known today for “Centuries of Meditations”, a collection of short paragraphs first published in 1908. Much of Traherne’s writings explore the glory of creation and his relationship with God.

Thomas Traherne wrote the following of his mystical experience:

“WILL you see the infancy of this sublime and celestial greatness? Those pure and virgin apprehensions I had from the womb, and that divine light wherewith I was born are the best unto this day, wherein I can see the Universe. By the Gift of God they attended me into the world, and by His special favour I remember them till now. Verily they seem the greatest gifts His wisdom could bestow, for without them all other gifts had been dead and vain. They are unattainable by book, and therefore I will teach them by experience. Pray for them earnestly: for they will make you angelical, and wholly celestial. Certainly Adam in Paradise had not more sweet and curious apprehensions of the world, than I when I was a child.

All appeared new, and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger, which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was Divine. I knew by intuition those things which since my Apostasy, I collected again by the highest reason. My very ignorance was advantageous. I seemed as one brought into the Estate of Innocence. All things were spotless and pure and glorious: yea, and infinitely mine, and joyful and precious, I knew not that there were any sins, or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. Everything was at rest, free and immortal. I knew nothing of sickness or death or rents or exaction, either for tribute or bread. In the absence of these I was entertained like an Angel with the works of God in their splendour and glory, I saw all in the peace of Eden; Heaven and Earth did sing my Creator’s praises, and could not make more melody to Adam, than to me: All Time was Eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath. Is it not strange, that an infant should be heir of the whole World, and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Thomas Traherne further described his mystical consciousness in his poem, “My Spirit”.

“My naked simple Life was I;

That Act so strongly shined

Upon the earth, the sea, the sky,

It was the substance of my mind;

The sense itself was I.

I felt no dross nor matter in my soul,

No brims nor borders, such as in a bowl

We see.

My essence was capacity,

That felt all things;

The thought that springs

Therefrom is itself.  It hath no other wings

To spread abroad, nor eyes to see,

No hands distinct to feel,

Nor knees to kneel;

But being simple like the Deity

In its own center is a sphere,

Not shut up here, but everywhere.”

Quoted from The Third Century by Thomas Traherne, as available at www.ccel.org/ccel/traherne/centuries.iii.html (first selection above) and Vedanta, July-August issue (# 306), 2002 (“My Spirit”).

Photo Credit: Thomas Traherne from https://prabook.com.