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Varieties of Yogic Experience


Among the important programmes which ICPR has been pursuing on a priority basis is the one related to states in consciousness. For promoting this theme, ICPR had organised during the last year a seminar at Shillong on Varieties of Yogic Experience, and this Seminar was fruitful, considering eminent scholars who attended and presented valuable papers which were presented and discussed. At the end of the Seminar, it was felt that there is a need to hold one more Seminar on the subject so as to cover the remaining aspects of the theme.

It is, therefore, proposed to hold the next Seminar on Guwahati from 18th to 20th October 2005. More than 20 scholars have been approached, and at least 15 of them are expected to participate in the Seminar. The scholars invited to the Seminar include, Professor Usha Chaudhary, Dr. Raj Kumari Trikha, Dr. Shashi Prabha Kumar, Professor Tassadduqhusain, Professor Rama Jain, Professor K.N. Subramanian, Professor N. Veezhinathan, Professor Pandurangi, Professor Kutumb Shastri, Professor Francis X. D’Sa, Professor Manoj Das, Professor Jodh Singh, Dr. A.K. Merchant, Professor Kireet Joshi, and Dr. Mercy Helen.

Three issues will receive special attention at the proposed Seminar:

  1. Epistemology of Yogic Consciousness;
  2. Descriptions of Yogic experiences which have been authentically documented in the following systems of disciplines of Yoga:
Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience
  1. Yogic equality,
  2. Karmayoga in the Gita
  3. Yogic experience in Nyāya Vaiśeşika
  4. Hatha Yogic Siddhis
  5. Yogic Experience in Patanjali Yoga Sutras
  6. Yogic Experience in Yoga Vasistha
  7. Yogic Experience in Advaita
  8. Yogic Experience in Dvaita
  9. Yogic Experiences in Viśişţa-Advaita
  10. Yogic Experience in Māndukya Upanishad
  11. Yogic Experiences in Kundalini
  12. Yogic experiences of Śuddhādvaita
  13. Spiritual Experiences of Christian Saints
  14. Spiritual Experiences of Guru Nanak and other Sikh Gurus
  15. Spiritual Experiences of eminent Muslim Saints
  16. Spiritual Experiences in Bahaism

In addition to the above, it is also proposed to cover some other schools of yoga, which are less known and yet very important in themselves.

It may be mentioned that in the previous Seminar on the same subject, ICPR was benefited by contributions on the epistemology of yoga, varieties of yogic experiences, yogic experiences in the Veda, yogic experiences in the Upanishads, yogic experiences in Buddhism, yogic experiences in Jainism, yogic experiences in Tantra, yogic experiences connected with Shambhala

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

tradition, yogic experiences in Vaishnavism and yogic experience in Baul tradition.

The papers which are presented in the above Seminar are being revised by the respective authors, and a valuable book containing these papers as also the papers which will be presented in the proposed Seminar, after proper editing, can be brought out by the ICPR in due course. This will be a very well contribution of ICPR to the contemporary research in the theme of consciousness which is occupying today as one of the frontier subjects in cognitive science and evolutionary epistemology.

An important problem connected with varieties of yogic experiences, which will receive consideration can be stated briefly as follows:

If we make a studious and critical study of the important literature on yogic experiences, we can formulate some important general statements, and formulate also some questions which would necessitate further research, and which would also involve discussions of important issues in science, philosophy, ethics, religion and even occultism. For yoga aims at knowledge and claims validity for the knowledge acquired through yogic methods, and if this claim is sustained, it will have far-reaching consequences not only for the domains that aim at the knowledge of the truth, but also for a possible change in the climate of the contemporary civilisation which suffers from various forms of crisis, some of which are related to conflicts of culture, conflicts of religions and conflicts relating to claims regarding truth. It is in this context that the subject of varieties of yogic experiences deserves to be

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

brought forth as one of the central subjects that must be pursued by all sincere seekers of truth and of the highest welfare of civilisation.

1. One general statement that can be made is that yogic experience runs everywhere on the same lines, even though it should be admitted that there are, not one line, but many. Still the broad lines are the same everywhere and the intuitions, revelations, inspirations, and mystic phenomena are the same in ages and countries far apart from each other and even though systems were practised quite independently from each other. The experiences of Saint Teresa, those of Andal or of Mirabai are precisely the same in substance, however, differing in names, forms, or cultural colouring. It is a fact that they were not corresponding with one another or aware of each other’s experiences and results as are modern scientists in different parts of the world. This would seem to show that there is something there identical, universal, and presumably truth – however, the colour of the translation may differ because of the differences of mental language.

2. As in science, so here in this field, we are required to accumulate experience on experience, following faithfully the methods laid down by the teacher or by the systems of the past. As in science, so here, we are required to develop intuitive discrimination which compares the experiences, see what they mean, how far and in what field each is valid, what is the place of each in the whole, how it can be reconciled or related with each other, even though at the first sight might seem to contradict each other. As in science, so here, we need to continue to conduct many related inquiries until we can move with some secure knowledge in the vast field of yogic phenomena, – and to permit even further development of fresh knowledge.

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

3. It is extremely important to underline the fact that yoga does not admit dogma, either in its own method of inquiry or even in the philosophical systems which can be built up on the basis of the data of yogic experiences. Yoga may not combat dogmatic assertions when they are put forward as dogmatic assertions which cannot be questioned, but if the contents of dogmatic assertions are to be admitted in the field of yoga, yoga has to test them on the anvil of the criteria of repeatable and verifiable experiences.

4. It is also to be noted that yoga has developed a number of methods which have been tested, and which have been found justified on the ground of the knowledge gained of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the realisation. These methods have something of the same relation to the cognitive, affective and conative and other psychological workings of the human apparatus as has the scientific handling of the natural force of electricity or of steam to the normal operations of steam and of electricity. These methods have been developed over thousands of years and have been formulated by regular experiments, practical analyses and constant results.

5. It is true that yogic experiences have so far remained accessible to a small minority of human race, but still there has been a host of independent witnesses to them in all times, climes and conditions, and many of them are the greatest intelligences of the past, and some of them world’s most remarkable figures. These experiences must, therefore, be taken into account seriously and honestly and must not be immediately dismissed simply because they are not only beyond the average man in the street but also not easily seizeable even by many cultivated intellects or because their methods are more difficult than those of ordinary sense or reason.

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

6.  It is true that the field of yogic experience, if it is seized on by unripened minds, it lends itself to the most perilous distortions and misleading imaginations. In the past these distortions and misleading imaginations have encrusted a real nucleus of truth with such an accretion of perverting superstitions and irrationalising dogmas, that they thwarted all advance in true knowledge.

7. It is also true that during serious debates, arguments have been advanced which rely only on sporadic intuitions or revelations or inspirations, instead of those which have been tested on the anvil of scrupulous methods of verification which are available in the vast body of knowledge that yoga possesses. Arguments based upon yogic experiences have great relevance to the search for the truth, but all seekers must examine all aspects of evidence impartially and in the pure spirit of the search of truth and truth alone.


In this context, it is necessary to distinguish between occultism and yoga. It is true that occultism is concerned with occult phenomena and the laws governing those phenomena; occultism is the science of secrets that govern the phenomena that we normally experience but the underlying roots of which we do not normally experience. In a sense, even physical sciences can be regarded as occult sciences and can be grouped under occultism, considering that these sciences have also revealed and demonstrated the secrets which lie behind the truths of quantities and qualities, of the speeds and measures, of the real nature of elements, compounds and various kinds of combinations which are found in nature or which can be found by laborious effort or which can even be fabricated by the operations of the

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

human intelligence. But what is distinctly called occultism, in the present stage of development of knowledge, is related to the phenomena and realities of supra-physical ranges of the subtle-physical, subliminal vital and subliminal mental, as they are found in human psychology or in worlds that are supra-physical but which have their own organisations and complex formations of existence and movement. These supra-physical domains are distinct from the domains of the psychic consciousness, spiritual consciousness and of supramental consciousness, – all of which are above the physical, subtle-physical, vital and mental domains of existence. In strict terms, the field which makes yoga distinctive is its field of psychic consciousness, spiritual consciousness and supramental consciousness. It is true, however, that yogic quest is often prefaced by an entry into the fields of subtle-physical, inner vital and inner mental, – even as yogic quest is often prefaced by a serious quest in philosophy, science, religion, ethics or aesthetics. But even if this prefatory quest in these fields happens to be necessary in most cases, it has to be underlined that the central field, – the distinctive field, – of yogic experiences is that of the psychic, spiritual and supramental. It is for this reason that many yogins, in order to keep their quest absolutely direct and unmixed, discourage occultism and even aşta siddhis, many aspects of which are limited to attainments of occultism. At the same time, there are yogins, and even accomplished yogins who, in a more comprehensive search of knowledge do not lay down any limitations in regard to the field of their quest, but with due discrimination, and without diluting their rigour of quest of their own specialised field, they explore occultism, even as they do explore many fields of inquiry such as those of science, philosophy, art and others. Nonetheless, many of the adverse judgements against yoga issue from indiscriminate clubbing of the occult

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

a subtler sense in us and only derivatively to the outward physical senses. It is true that sometimes, this derivative objectivisation happens to occur, and if there is an association of action of the material body and its physical organs, then the supra-physical can become outwardly sensible to us. This is what happens, for example, in regard to the phenomena which have been studied in regard to the workings of faculties such as those of second sight. In certain occult phenomena, we seem to see and hear by the outer senses but which are not sensed inwardly through representation or interpretation of symbolical images which bear the stamp of an inner experience or an evident character of formations in a subtle substance. In the field of yoga and in the field of occultism, there are various kinds of evidences of the existence of other planes of being and communication with them. These include objectivisation to the outer sense, subtle-sense contacts, mind-contacts, life-contacts, and contacts through the subliminal in special states of consciousness existing in our ordinary range.

It is argued that the entire field of the supra-physical experience is a field of subjective experience or of subtle-sense images, and these can be easily deceptive. In regard to this argument, it may be admitted that there is a too great a tendency to grant credibility to the extraordinary and miraculous or supernatural at its face-value. Hence, it is necessary to apply greater rigour in scrutinising these phenomena and finding out strict standards and characteristic appropriate and valid means of verification. But mere liability to error cannot be a reason for shutting out a large and important domain of experience, since error is not a prerogative of the subjective experience alone; error is also an appanage of ordinary instruments of sense-organs and of the mind which relies on the evidence of the sense-organs. Error is also to

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

be found in the domain where objective methods and standards have been erected. It may, therefore, be reasonably acknowledged that there can be and there are in the yogic field standards of judgement and criteria of verification which are appropriate to the supra-physical fields. The basic point that we need to underline is that the physical or supra-physical truths must be founded not on mental belief alone but on experience, – but in each case, experience must be of the kind, physical, subliminal or spiritual, which is appropriate to the order of the truths into which we are empowered to enter. Their validity and significance, as Sri Aurobindo points out, “must be scrutinised, according to their own law and by a consciousness which can enter into them and not according to the law of another domain or by a consciousness which is capable only of truths of another order; so alone can we be sure of our steps and enlarge firmly our sphere of knowledge.”[1]


There is, however, an important problem which arises from the phenomena of the varieties of spiritual experience. In the course of the history of yoga, there has been great detailed investigations of the object of knowledge, status of yogic knowledge that has been obtained through yogic processes, and the results of yogic experiences for the highest well-being of the individual and the world at all levels of existence, spiritual, mental, vital, and physical. In this course of development, the field of inquiry would have been much easier and much simpler if methods were uniform and if the knowledge of the object inquired into were also uniform. This would have rendered unanimity in this field of inquiry more easily. But the yogic field is

[1] Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, Centenary Edition, Vol. 19, p.774.

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

marked by varieties of lines of development, varieties of method and varieties of reports in regard to the truth or reality of the objects that have been pursued by yogic processes and methods. Again, the difficulty would have been not very serious, if there would have been some kind of understanding and agreement, based on verifiable truth, that all experiences in yoga are valid, even when they are varied. But when we examine the history of yoga, we find differing claims, even conflicting claims, and even denials in regard to the veracity of the rival claims.

It is this situation which necessitates the study of varieties of yogic experience with a more searching and critical sense. And even though this subject is very vast and very difficult, we need to bring forth, although briefly, certain facts in regard to the varieties of yogic experience.

Let us, first of all, admit that when we attempt to put ourselves into conscious relations with whatever supreme or universal Being there exists concealed or manifest in the world, we arrive at a very various experience and one or other variant term of this experience is turned by different intellectual conceptions into their fundamental idea of existence.

There is, for example, the crude experience of the Divine who is claimed to be seen quite different from and greater than ourselves, quite different from and greater than the universe in which we live; in this experience, all that is phenomenal seems a thing other than the infinity of the self-conscious spirit and all that is phenomenal seems an image of a lesser truth, if not an illusion. The question is whether this crude experience is scrutinised by yogic methods and whether this experience is the final experience of the Divine. It is true that if one dwells in this experience, we arrive at an intellectual conception, when we try to philosophise on the basis of that experience, of

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

the divine as extra-cosmic. But we find that in the yogic field, there are other experiences also, and one of them is that in which it is found that all phenomena are contained in the Divine, and that no phenomenon is outside the Divine. Another yogic experience affirms one self of all and of all that we have consciousness and the vision. In the light of that experience, we can no longer say or think that we are entirely different from him, but that there is self and there is a phenomenon of self-existence. There is also an experience that all is one self, but all is variation in the phenomenon. There are reports of yogic experiences in which one can dwell in exclusive intensity of a union with the self as a result of which one may even come to experience the phenomenal existence as a thing dreamlike and unreal. But, again, there is a report of the yogic experience of a double intensity in which one may have the double experience of a supreme self-existent oneness with the self or the Divine and yet of oneself as living with that self or the Divine and in many relations to him in a persistent form, an actual derivation of his being. In that experience, the phenomenal universe, as also our existence in the universe, become to us constant and real forms of the self-aware existence of the Divine.

In another yogic experience there are relations of differences between individual souls and the Divine, and there are also relations of differences between the Divine and all the other living or inanimate powers of the Eternal, and there are also relations in the dealings of the individual with the cosmic self in the nature of the universe. In philosophical terms, these relations are other than those of the supra-cosmic truth; they are derivative creations of a certain power of consciousness of the spirit. If one dwells in the yogic experience of the difference between the self and the forms of self,

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

one may come to regard the Self as a containing an immanent reality, and one may admit the truth of omnipresent spirit, and yet the forms of the spirit, the moulds of its presence may affect us not only as something other than it, not only as transient, but as unreal images.

There is also the yogic experience of the Spirit as the divine being immutable and ever-containing in his vision the multiplicity of the universe; there is also the yogic experience of the separate, of the simultaneous or the coincident experience of the divine immanent in our selves and in all creatures. There is also another yogic experience in which one sees all things as the very Divine, not only that Spirit which dwells immutable in the universe and its countless creatures, but all this inward and outward becomings are seen as divine Reality manifesting Himself in us and in the cosmos. If one dwells on this experience, one gets the pantheistic identity, the One that is all.

At first sight, these spiritual experiences seem vastly different from each other or even opposed to each other. Records of yogic experience show us that this situation of the variety of yogic experiences has been acknowledged, and they are also shown to be reconcilable in some yogic experiences of synthesis of integrality. This synthesis is strikingly present in the synthesis of yoga as we find in the Veda, Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, and this synthesis is reflected even in short phrases as ekam sad viprā bahudhā vadanti,[1] that reality is one but the knowers of that reality speak of it in different ways, tad ejati tannaijati[2], that moves, and that moves not; dvāvimau puruşau loke kşaraś ca akşara eva ca[3], uttamah

[1] Rigveda, I.164.46

[2] Ishopanishad, 5

[3] Bhagavadgita, 15.16.

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

puruşastvanyah paramātmetyudāhŗtah[1] – there are two puruşas, one perishable and the other imperishable, but other than these two is the purushottama, called the highest self. The condition of this reconciliation or synthesis is to cease to press on one or the other exclusively, and if it is seen, as it is seen in an integral yogic experience, that the divine Reality is something greater than the universal existence, but yet that all universal and particular things are that Divine and nothing else, – significative of him, and not entirely That in part or some of their appearances but still they could not be significative of him if they were something else and not term and stuff of the divine existence. That is the Real; but they are its expressive reality.

This means that in the yogic śāstra, there is recognition not only of variety of yogic experience but also of a hierarchy of yogic experience. Indeed, the experiences from the commencement of any process of yoga and experiences related to gradual advancement in the development of yogic accomplishment, there can be understandably a hierarchy of experiences, and degrees of approximation leading up to the culminating experience in any lines of development. But if all the culminating experiences of all lines of development speak of the union with the highest, and if all the yogic experiences speak of the highest as indivisible, then there should be unanimity among these experiences. This argument is admitted in the yogic śāstra, but it is pointed out that there are certain culminating experiences. Which when they touch that mental substance in its state of utter silence or love or utter passivity overwhelms that substance with such intensity and perfection that that aspect or quality of the indivisible infinite that is in the forefront in the experience is felt to be final or ultimate. But, if the mental

[1] Ibid., 15.17

Varieties of Yogic Experience

Varieties of Yogic Experience

substance is further deepened or widened or heightened, new experiences revealing other aspects of the Infinite join the previous states of realisation, and this process can continue and the mind gives place to the supermind, where integrality of the Supreme becomes ever-manifest. It is in connection with this integral experience that the Upanishad gives us the famous description:

That is perfect, this is perfect, from the Perfect rises the perfect, if the perfect is subtracted from the perfect, the perfect is the remainder.[1]

In the light of this integral experience, the other culminating experience or realisations are seen as penultimate realisations and that even if these penultimate realisations sublate the other lower experiences belonging to their own lines of development as also of those belonging to others, even then differences among them continue, and differences are reconciled only in an integral experience in which all the penultimate realisations are integrated in a vast integrating experience.

[1] Bŗhadāraņyaka Upanishad, V.1

Varieties of Yogic Experience

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