Our vital nature crazes ‘excitement’ and to gather ‘experiences’. It is no different for the spiritual aspirant than for the rest of humanity in this regard. Spiritual experiences tend to be extraordinary in the sense that they go beyond the everyday perceptions or sensations and tend to have a power and immediacy that demands the attention of the seeker. In many cases, the seeker describes the experience as more real than their normal state of awareness, and in some cases even as ‘life-changing’. There are also, however, spiritual experiences that are harder to define, as they come gently bringing a sense of deep peace or an indefinable sense of wonder or beauty or some ethereal sight or sound, for instance, that may be most noticed when it suddenly departs!

Spiritual experience differs from a realisation in that by definition the experience tends to come and go, in many cases, a short-lived, fleeting experience that captures the attention and then departs. Spiritual realisation is something that takes hold of the being and remains, conditioning the awareness and the basic consciousness, as when the experience of peace settles into the being and informs the way one responds to life challenges.

Experiences may come at any time, and there is no specific linear progression about them. Some may have an “out of body” experience even when they are not prepared for it, or may feel a sudden change in consciousness that makes a difference in a particular circumstance. Realisations tend to develop as the seeker works to understand and incorporate the underlying significance of the experience and bring it to full fruition in the nature. In some cases, this may take many years. One may have the experience of peace or inner contentment or joy, but daily circumstances continue to shake the nature. As the seeker tries to tune the response to the type of peace or joy that was experienced, and the practice of the yoga deepens, it is then likely that there will be a more calm and measured reaction to life-events until there is the complete and settled realisation.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “There are two classes of things that happen in yoga, realisations and experiences. Realisations are the reception in the consciousness and the establishment there of the fundamental truths of the Divine, of the Higher or Divine Nature, of the world-consciousness and the play of its forces, of one’s own self and real nature and the inner nature of things, the power of these things growing in one till they are a part of one’s inner life and existence. … These things also are often called experiences when they only come in flashes, snatches or rare visitations; they are spoken of as full realisations only when they become very positive or frequent or continuous or normal.”

“An experience of a truth in the substance of mind, in the vital or the physical, wherever it may be, is the beginning of realisation. When I experience peace, I begin to realise what it is. Repetition of the experience leads to a fuller and more permanent realisation. When it is settled anywhere, that is the full realisation of it in that place or that part of the being.”

“The yogi is one who is already established in realisation — the sadhak is one who is getting or still trying to get realisation.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 7, Experiences and Realisations, Spiritual Experience and Realisation, pp. 171-174

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and daily podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 16 books and editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.