As you pass through life, what’s important is not what you experience, but how you identify with or cling to what you experience.
Depending on your method, an experience may be figure or ground on your individual path. An experience may become a dominant theme, or it may be irrelevant. For example, when I was studying vipassana, or insight meditation, in Bodh Gaya, where Buddha became enlightened, with S.N. Goenka and Anagorika Munindra, pressure began to build up in my forehead. I thought it was a big spiritual advance, and I was thrilled at the prospect that my anja, my third eye, was opening.
Goenka said, “Thats just blocked energy. It’s no use to you. Go out into the garden, run it down your right arm and out through your fingertips, and send it into the earth.”
I followed his instructions. I saw a blue light come out of my fingertips, and the pressure was gone from my forehead. I missed it. But in the vipassana system it was irrelevant. In a shakti, or energy-oriented, system you would focus on it, push it higher, and work with the energy.
Ultimately every method gets you to the same place. There are many paths up the mountain, but the peak is the same. You don’t notice this at the bottom. We don’t hear much about the advanced part of most systems, because few people get to the peak.
An experienced Buddhist meditator told me that only after he meditated for many years was he ready to do metta, the meditation of loving-kindness, which opened his heart. He was only ready for the heart after he had quieted his mind. That was my experience too. After I got to a degree of concentration in vipassana, I was able to return to Maharaji with a more one-pointed love.
On the other hand, if you are a bhakti practitioner, only when your heart is so absorbed in loving the Beloved does your mind become capable of merging. You get there from another direction. You go up the mountain from a different side, but the view from the top where love merges with awareness is One.
To a subtle diagnostician of spiritual progress these experiences are all clues to where you’re not – yet. From the summit all these states are available, but you’re not clinging to any of them. You don’t define yourself in terms of any of them. You’re all of them, and you’re none of them. You’re no longer stuck in being the experiencer. It’s all just here.
Merging into Oneness transcends experience. That scares the hell out of people who are stuck in their ego. The ego doesn’t want that. The ego just wants to keep collecting more and more subtle experiences as a separate self. It makes people think the journey is just one subtle experience after another. The spiritual journey isn’t like that.
It’s scary for the ego when you start to merge. When I sat with Maharaji once and the energy started to rise, I started shaking so hard, I was afraid I’d break my neck. He said, “He’s not ready,” and the energy or whatever it was stopped. I saw the way my mind was holding me back. I still had work to do.
Our human conditioning makes the ego react against threats to survival. That’s why there aren’t very many liberated beings – because you have to let go. Lots of people like to be seeking God, but not too many want to actually get there.
– Ram Dass