Q.381 – Knowledge, belief and experience

Note: This discussion follows on from the last question on ‘Finding a Teacher’ (apart from the introductory paragraphs).

Many seekers think that the essence of enlightenment is ‘experience’; that they need to actually experience something for themselves before they can be regarded as enlightened. In line with this, they denigrate the notion that a teacher can convey whatever it is that the seeker needs by simply talking to them, answering questions and so on. Even worse, they feel, is the idea that enlightenment can be gained by reading a book!

Maybe the term ‘Self-inquiry’ is largely to blame for this misconception. Seekers attached to this idea think that subjecting their own experiences (perceptions, ideas, theories etc) to close examination is somehow the key.

Whatever is the case, such seekers are seriously confused and need to distinguish carefully between ‘experience’, ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. Below I provide a question and answer discussion I had early last year with a reader on this general subject. But first I would like to give an example from my own experience, which (for me) provided a very clear distinction between these three. (And I refer to this example in the question and answer session.)

The experience occurred about 30 years ago. You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain. Continue reading

Q. 367 – shraddhA – Is it necessary?

Q. I come from an atheistic upbringing, and in addition I have studied a good chunk of modern Western philosophy and science, and such a position has become my “default mode”. A day came a couple years back where I found myself in a deep existential crisis (one that is most certainly still ongoing), and so I looked for a spiritual path that could reconcile what I knew of philosophy/science with spirituality. Advaita seemed to be the one that not only fit the bill the best, but also resonated with me the most. But on this path, I find myself constantly slipping into the habits of thought that I am used to. I try to cling to the pieces that don’t fit neatly into the materialist story, but I’m very much aware that I’m hanging on to them because I’m worried, not because I have a strong belief in their truth. If there is a teaching that goes against the grain of most scientific thought, even slightly, I tell myself I must discard it – “otherwise you’re just fooling yourself”, I say.

I notice this thought process, and it’s disturbing to me. I want to be open to what Advaita has to offer, but it’s incredibly tough – I worry often that a spiritual path of any kind is not possible for someone like me. I have a good deal of mumukshutva, but no shraddha. Can someone without shraddha somehow gain it? How necessary is it? And how can I break through my old habits of thinking, and gain that faith that there’s something more than just this body? Continue reading

Beyond Stillness – Q. 331

Q : I am a “solo practitioner” of the advice of Ramana Maharshi, as I understand what I absorb of it. My enquiries move between an apophatic and cataphatic flavor.

 When I do this, I am moved to an absolute stillness. Upon ‘coming back’, there is a sensation of still not passing the barrier of stillness. I am not sure how to continue. Should I continue to practice just like this? Until I have destroyed differentiation? Should this be a lesson on what the real really is?

[Note (Dennis): Here are the meanings of those terms from my Oxford dictionary –

apophatic /ap’fatk/ – adjective Theology (of knowledge of God) obtained through negating concepts that might be applied to him. The opposite of cataphatic.

cataphatic /kat’fatk/ – adjective Theology (of knowledge of God) obtained through defining God with positive statements. The opposite of apophatic.] Continue reading