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What is Spiritual Experience?

by Dr. Stewart Bitkoff


True knowledge comes from the light of certainty, by which God enlightens the heart. Then you will behold the things of the spiritual world, and by the power of that light all the veils between you and that world will be removed. -Al-Antaki

Q: What is spiritual experience?  Is spiritual experience God?

Man is a world of many levels.  In this age we are just beginning to experience and explore the complexity of consciousness and spiritual experience.  

What is thought?  What is consciousness?  How is thought and consciousness different, or similar, to spiritual experience?  Is spiritual experience the same as religious experience?

Historically other cultures have studied what we are beginning to call consciousness and spiritual experience. Some of these cultures have hundreds of words to describe the complexity of this experience.  Today we have a few (i.e., states and stations).

One of the limitations of this inquiry is that it is impossible to describe in written or verbal communication the intricacies of a multi-level experience.  We can talk about it, 
write about it, but it is not the same.  A spiritual experience occurs on many levels simultaneously in our body and consciousness.  

An example poets and songsters have been trying for eons to describe the complexity of romantic love.  At best their words and songs are an approximation of this sublime and multifaceted experience.  Further, overtime, this experience changes, grows and becomes deeper.

Similarly while words can get you close they are not the same.  Once you have tasted of authentic spiritual experience, you realize words may take you to the door, but cannot get you inside the room.

To further confuse matters, different religions and paths, use different words to describe, what is believed to be the same or similar experience (i.e., peace of God, Unity and Nirvana).  Experience must be experienced within the context of a specific path or system.  Conversely it is specified by spiritual teachers that the closer the traveler gets to the Source, regardless of path, the more similar becomes the unifying experience.

Spiritual experiences are distinguished from emotional or physical experiences by the level of spiritual energy involved. These experiences are not similar to other experiences and involve a different part of our consciousness. Also these experiences are given or provided so you can learn something and move forward along the path.

In the beginning of a traveler’s training, there is a period, where the student is provided with experience that opens the door and awakens the soul.  This experience is akin to feeling one with all living things and is a unifying experience.  In part it is a foretaste of things to come, displays the direction to travel and helps place the student on the path.

Some think this is the end product and are content, because it is a sublime experience, to try and repeat this over and over.  It is a beginning and there are numerous other experiences along the way.

Spiritual experience is not God.  It is experience of the essence from which we all came, through a part of this essence that is the center (heart) of our soul.  Remember that which enters the physical (universe) is different than that which exists outside the universe.  God is greater than the creation.

The Potter’s Bowl

The following is an old example to explain this. While it is possible to know a great deal about a potter by examining a bowl, we cannot know the potter in entirety. We may hold the bowl and feel its texture, examine it under different lights and over time feel artistically one with it and the potter.  However no matter how many aspects of the potter we experience through his creation, the potter is greater and more complex than this one 
work.  In time the potter can go on to create all sorts of things which may be totally different. Each of these creations, all have aspects of the potter in them, but under examination do not explain all that is required to make the piece.  For example where did the idea of design and choice of color come from?  How did the artist learn his craft?  Over time what were the factors that influenced him?  You can not get all of this from one bowl or studying the artist’s life.  Always the potter remains different and greater, more complex, than the bowl.
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He who is intimate with worldly wealth will find his intellect destroyed; he who is intimate with people will become lonely; he who is intimate with work will be preoccupied; and he who is intimate with God will attain union.  -Shibli

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When more than one gets together to call the Name of God, the spiritual energy that is produced is glorious.  - A. Hussain
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