I taught my first insight meditation retreat in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas in the autumn of 1974 with around 30 participants. I am not sure how many retreats I have given since then but at a rough guess around 750 – 1000 ranging from day long retreats to week-long residential retreats, plus longer ones.
A meditation teacher has the privilege of listening first-hand to an incredible range of human experiences – stress, suffering, ego, happiness, religious, mystical, spiritual and more. Meditation teachers who hold strictly to a method and technique will often confine their interest to the response and experience of the meditator to the technique.
Since the mid-1970s, I have the privilege of teaching with perhaps 70-100 teachers in four continents in this period. This includes new teachers and seasoned teachers. I cannot recall any teacher engaging in metaphysics or abstract ideas in their Dharma talks, guided meditations or instructions. Teachings and practice go together. One informs the other. Without practice, the teachings sound philosophical.
I prefer to be receptive to every experience of every shade of colour, so to speak. The listening to experiences on retreats take place in three primary forms.
One mode takes place via one-to-ones. I call these inter-views, rather than interviewing the meditator.
Second mode of listening occurs in small groups where people share their experience. People learn a lot listening to each other as I check their experience one by one.
Third mode takes place in the Dharma hall. I refer to this as Inquiry. A person can volunteer to come and sit beside me. We have a dialogue together until one of the two of us says thank you to close. A minute or two silence follows, I then ask if anyone else wishes to come to the front. I usually inquire with around three people over the hour or so.
As an international teacher who covered three or four continents a year until the pandemic, I have listened to countless number of accounts of remarkable experiences of meditators on retreats or prior to retreats in a wide range of environments. Teachings and practices include reflections on past experiences to dig out insights and understanding.
I reflected recently on the range of spiritual experiences I have heard. Spiritual serves as a classification of experiences, often not a feature (sadly)of daily life conversation. The spiritual gets excluded from conventional discourse and often not enough teaching on significance of deep spiritual experiences in meditation courses. Emphasis on reduction of stress and calming the mind serve as a small preparation for the depth of spiritual experiences free from self-improvement practices.
All these experiences also require a perception of them You can see the differences of perception/experience between one person and another. Regular meditators will have experienced the impact of several in the list below not just for a moment or two but as life changing events.
Some will regard their experience as the ultimate or transcendent experience. Others will agree or disagree.
Readers can see below a list of samples of deep spiritual experiences which I have listened to over the past five decades. It is important to recognise the genuine precious benefits and the limits.
Six Questions Arise on Spiritual Experiences
- Do all experiences, including spiritual experiences, and perceptions fall into the category of relative truth since the experience arise, stays for a while and passes?
- Do all these deep experiences listed below have equal status?
- Are some of these experiences more significant than others?
- If so, which ones do you prioritise based on your experience?
- If you have not had any depth of any of these experiences, why?
- Do you dismiss them all as lacking significance despite the transformations that occurred for people?
Do any of the 12 examples of spiritual experience confirm ultimate truth?
In these teachings, ultimate truth abides free from conditions, free from form and free from time.
In alphabetical order:
- Is consciousness the ultimate truth? Consciousness requires matter to confirm it and vice-versa.
- Is energy the ultimate truth? This is a selection of a specific phenomenon and giving it an ultimate status.
- Is evolution the ultimate truth? Evolution requires comparing what was with what is and what might be.
- Is God the ultimate truth? This is to take a concept viewed as transcending the world or imposing the concept upon everything.
- Is the here-and-now or the now the ultimate truth? If so, the here-and-now or the now become isolated from the past and future. The here-and-now or the now abides relative to two other fields of time.
- Is impermanence ultimate truth? This requires a perception of a thing which changes.
- Is knowing one’s True Self the ultimate truth? If so, who decides this is the true self and the other self was false?
- Is Mysterium Tremendum the ultimate truth? Do we settle for the view life is a mystery?
- Is nature ultimate truth? Nature is another generalised concept imposed on what manifests.
- Is non-duality ultimate truth? Non duality requires a duality to be determined as non-dual.
- Is oneness ultimate truth? Oneness belongs to an overview of differences, of multiplicity.
- Is the cosmos the ultimate truth? This is another generality of perception.
Life offers a phenomenal range of experiences. All above experiences can ignite profound changes and deep insights. Non-spiritual experiences have the same potential. Yet, we do not need to confine ourselves to experience/perception of experience, spiritual or otherwise or any event.
Liberating truth requires neither a spiritual experience, nor any other kind, nor a perception, nor resorting to views, nor an event.
join the Sunday evening session
on this theme 5 June 2022. Go to www.sangha.live
See previous blog on ultimate/relative truth