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Signposts of Progress in Meditation
Part II: Mystical Experiences

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In this new feature of our website, we present every week a new selection of the teachings of Vedanta, taken from a variety of sources – lectures and writings of Swami Adiswarananda, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Literature, and other spiritual texts.







Swami Adiswarananda

Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center

New York


Regarding mystical experiences, the Svetasvatara Upanishad mentions the following: "When yoga is practised, the forms which appear first and which gradually manifest Brahman are those of snow-flakes, smoke, sun, wind, fireflies, lightning, crystal, and the moon." In other words, while practicing meditation the aspirant sees within, one after another, the visions of a snowfall, radiant smoke, and the brilliant sun. Then he feels within him a strong current of wind, followed by intense heat. Sometimes he sees in meditation the sky filled with fireflies or a dazzling flash of lightning, and sometimes the serene luster of a crystal or of the moon. These visions indicate an aspirant's progress in meditation.

Spiritual experiences vary from person to person, depending upon the extent of the progress made. Some of these relate to hearing. At a certain stage of concentration, an aspirant often experiences such phenomena as hearing within himself the pulsations of sound, the melody of bells ringing at a distance, and vibrations rising out of the depths of space, just like ripples produced in a pond when a stone is thrown in it. At a more advanced stage of concentration, he may hear the anahata dhvani, the eternal and uninterrupted vibration of the cosmic mind.

Another measure of progress is the vision of inner light. Visions of inner light include the vision of the form of the object of concentration. As his meditation deepens, an aspirant is able to picture within himself the object of concentration with more and more clarity and distinctness. For a beginner in meditation, the object of concentration is more imaginary than real; this becomes reversed as he progresses in concentration, and the object of concentration gradually begins to appear more real to him than any tangible object.

Meditation is a process of devolution in which the aspirant voluntarily and consciously transcends the states of waking, dream, and dreamless sleep, finally reaching turiya, or Pure Consciousness. Spiritual visions and experiences during meditation are faint glimpses of the state of Pure Consciousness. In order for these to be genuine indicators of progress, they must be conscious realizations, distinguishable from involuntary experiences in a dream. Spiritual experiences in dreams have no significance unless they serve as inducements for the practice of meditation and moral purification during the waking state.

Sri Ramakrishna describes the following spiritual experiences as indicators of progress in meditation:

Man, looking outward, sees the gross; at that time his mind dwells in the annamayakosha, the gross body. Next is the subtle body. Functioning through the subtle body, the mind dwells in the manomayakosha and the viinanamayakosha. Next is the causal body. Functioning through the causal body the mind enjoys bliss; it dwells in the anandamayakosha This corresponds to the semi-conscious state experienced by Chaitanya. First of all, the mind loses itself in the Great Cause. It disappears. It merges in the Great Cause. What one experiences after that cannot be described in words. In his inmost state of consciousness, Chaitanya enjoyed this experience. Do you know what this state is like? Dayananda described it by saying, "Come into the inner apartments and shut the door." Anyone and everyone cannot enter that part of the house.

I used to meditate on the flame of a light. I thought of the red part as gross, the white part inside the red as subtle, and the stick-like black part, which is the innermost of all, as the causal.

By certain signs you can tell when meditation is being rightly practised. One of them is that a bird will sit on your head, thinking you are an inert thing….

A person can achieve such single-mindedness in meditation that he will see nothing, hear nothing. He will not be conscious even of touch. A snake may crawl over his body, but he will not know it. Neither of them will be aware of the other.

In deep meditation the sense-organs stop func­tioning; the mind does not look outward. It is like closing the gate of the outer court in a house. There are five objects of the senses: form, taste, smell, touch, and sound. They are all left outside.

At the beginning of meditation the objects of the senses appear before the aspirant. But when the meditation becomes deep, they no longer bother him. They are left outside. How many things I saw during meditation! I vividly perceived before me a heap of rupees, a shawl, a plate of sweets, and two women with rings in their noses. "What do you want?" I asked my mind. "Do you want to enjoy any of these things?" "No," replied the mind, "I don't want any of them. I don't want anything but the Lotus Feet of God.”

Sri Ramakrishna further describes his own experiences:

There are certain characteristics of God-vision. One sees light, feels joy, and experiences the upsurge of a great current in one's chest, like the bursting of a rocket. …

I had all the experiences that one should have, according to the scriptures, after one's direct perception of God. I behaved like a child, like a madman, like a ghoul, and like an inert thing.

I saw the visions described in the scriptures. Sometimes I saw the universe filled with sparks of fire. Sometimes I saw all the quarters glittering with light, as if the world were a lake of mercury. Sometimes I saw the world as if made of liquid silver. Sometimes, again, I saw all the quarters illumined as if with the light of Roman candles. So you see my experiences tally with those described in the scriptures.

To be continued

[Copyright Swami Adiswarananda]


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