Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Humility, Power and the Mystic Experience
What does one feel in the moment of the highest experience – a sense of humility or a sense of power?
Let’s look at how some people express their experience. Here is one such experience.
“The world was infinitely beautiful, full of light as if from an inner radiance. Everything was alive and God was present in all things; in fact, the earth, all plants, and animals and people seemed to be made of God. All things were one, and I was one with all creation and held safe within a deep love. I was filled with peace and joy and with deep humility, and could only bow down in the holiness of the presence of God . . . if anyone had brought news that any member of my family had died, I should have laughed and said, “There is no death’. It was as if scales had fallen from my eyes and I saw the world as it truly was. How had I lived for thirty-three years and been so blind? This was the secret of the world, yet it all seemed so obvious and natural that I had no idea that I should not always see it so. I felt like going round and telling everyone that all things were one and that knowledge of this would cure all ills . . .” [From the Religious Experiences Research Unit of Oxford]
It is deep humility that the person feels during the experience. “I was filled with peace and joy and with deep humility, and could only bow down in the holiness of the presence of God,” says he.
But is it always this humility that a person feels in his moment of peak experience?
Let us listen to the words of the ancient Vedic seer Vak Ambhrini, one of the oldest mystic women to give expression to her experiences in words, and also one of the world’s oldest female poets. Her hymn, called by different names such as the Vak Sukta and the Atma Sukta, is one of the most powerful expressions of the nature of the Self in world literature. It shakes us with its awesome energy and vigour. Vak Ambhrini says:
I move with the Rudras and also with the Vasus. I wander with the Adityas and the Vishwadevas. I hold aloft both Mitra and Varuna, and also Indra and Agni and the twin Ashvins.[all Vedic gods]
I uphold Soma the exuberant; I uphold Tvasta, Pushan, and Bhaga. [Vedic Gods] I endow with wealth the offerer of oblation, the worshipper and the pious presser of the Soma.
I am the ruling Queen, the amasser of treasures, full of wisdom, first of those who are worthy of worship. That me the Gods have installed in all places, with many homes for me to enter and dwell in.
Through me alone all eat the food that helps them see, breathe and hear the spoken word. He is not aware of me, yet he dwells in me alone. Listen, you who know! For, the words I speak to you deserve your trust.
It is I who announces the tidings that the gods and men alike rejoice to hear. The man I love, I make mighty in strength. I make him a priest, a sage, or a learned scholar, as I please.
I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may slay the hater of the words of sacred wisdom. I rouse the people, and make them strive. I have entered the Earth and Heaven, filling everything.
I give birth to the creator in the heavens atop the world and my own origin is deep in the ocean, in the cosmic waters. From there I permeate all existing worlds, and even touch yonder heavens with my forehead.
It is my breath that blows as the mighty wind, while I hold together all the worlds.
Beyond the heavens and above the earth I tower, such am I in my might and splendour.
[My translation, with heavy borrowings from Griffith and from another old translation whose author I do not know; aided by the Hindi translation of the Rig Veda by Dr Ganga Sahay Sharma and a brief commentary on the Sukta by Swami Akhandananda Saraswati]
As we can see, there is no humility here. What Vak Ambhrini feels is not humbleness but power – awesome, unbelievable, amazing power. “I am the ruling Queen [of the universe],” she says. “I am full of wisdom” she adds, and “first of those who are worthy of worship.” Vak Ambhrini sees herself as the one who holds together all the worlds, towering beyond the heavens and the earth. She says she gives birth to the creator in the heavens atop the world. To her, such is her might and her splendour.
We find this same sense of power rather than humility in words of Trishanku after he has had his spiritual experience in the Taittiriya Upanishad: aham vrikshasya reriva, keertih prshtham gireriva . . . I am the nourisher of the vegetable kingdom, my fame is spread like the wide base of a mountain . . .
Nehru, in his Discovery of India, notes this lack of humility in the words of the ancient mystics of India. He says, “There is no humility about all this quest, the humility before an all-powerful deity, so often associated with religion. It is the triumph of mind over the environment. “My body will be reduced to ashes and my breath will join the restless and deathless air, but not I and my deeds. O mind, remember this always, remember this.” In the morning prayer, the sun is addressed thus, “O sun of refulgent glory, I am the same person as makes thee what you art!” What superb confidence!”
That is how the ancient seers of India felt in their moments of highest experience. The Shambhala tradition of Tibet speaks about the path of the four dignities for a sadhaka to tread, one of which is that of meekness or humility. And the symbol, the analogy, for humility in the Shambhala tradition is the Himalayan tiger! A tiger in its prime, who moves slowly and heedfully through the jungle, mindfully, relaxed, liking his body and his bounciness and sense of rhythm, explains the tradition. How can a tiger be the symbol for humility? That too, a tiger in the prime of his youth, moving heedlessly and majestically through the Himalayan forest?
“Meekness is not being feeble, but resting in a state of simplicity, being uncomplicated and approachable. It is being true and genuine, being completely comfortable with yourself and at ease in the world,” explains the Shambhala tradition.
The same experience fills one with humility and another with power. Perhaps the experience is the same, and only its expression varies.
For while experiencing it, one is at a dimension beyond the mind and all that the mind has learnt from society, from culture and so on. But while expressing it, one comes down to the level of the mind, and then the culture and so on interfere.
And cultures differ in their attitude towards the divine. Certain cultures teacher humility before the divine, others identity with it, and the sense of power that arises from that identity.
The Indian culture teaches us the truth in such words as aham brahmasmi – I am Brahman. And experiencing this identity with the All is expressed by the Indian mind in terms of power while many other cultures express it as humility.
Krishna repeatedly speaks of himself in the Gita as the power behind the universe. A mystic of recent times, Nisargadatta Maharaj, put it this way: The world is my garden and God is my gardener.
Perhaps the right way to look at is that the moment one climbs down from the experience, differences begin.
In any case, one must not forget that this is not a matter for discussion, but for experiencing. Certain things are not meant for theorising, but for exploring and experiencing.