Spiritual experience takes ‘knowing about’ something to ‘knowing’ it. What we learn from books, what we learn in school, the facts we memorize, the procedures we learn about, are all based in the intellect and while they may open the mind to new things, do not represent actual experience. The famous proverb that one can read all the books on swimming, but will not actually know how to swim until one gets in the water and puts the theory into practice, is an appropriate one to keep in mind. The practice of skills or methods used by the surface being to maneuver through the external world is relatively well-known.

When it comes to spiritual experience, we find it difficult to even understand how to proceed. Some people say that it is entirely a matter of Grace, and of course, that is a primary characteristic of how people gain spiritual experience. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna as much in the Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna asks to see the universal form of the deity. There is however a preparatory period as the individual turns his attention toward the spiritual basis of existence, away from the exclusive focus on external things. The Mother provides two practices that can aid in this preparation. For those who are sincere in their aspiration, spiritual experience will come. As Sri Aurobindo has noted elsewhere, “He who chooses the Infinite, has been chosen by the Infinite.” Thus, the very fact of the aspiration implies that Grace is already operative, whether recognised overtly or not.

The Mother notes: “We read, we try to understand, we explain, we try to know. But a single minute of true experience teaches us more than millions of words and hundreds of explanations.”

“So the first question is: ‘How to have the experience?’ … To go within yourself, that is the first step. … And then, once you have succeeded in going within yourself deeply enough to feel the reality of that which is within, to widen yourself progressively, systematically, to become as vast as the universe and lose the sense of limitation. …These are the first two preparatory movements.”

“And these two things must be done in the greatest possible calm, peace and tranquility. This peace, this tranquility bring about silence in the mind and stillness in the vital. … This effort, this attempt must be renewed very regularly, persistently. And after a certain lapse of time, which may be longer or shorter, you begin to perceive a reality that is different from the reality perceived in the ordinary, external consciousness. … Naturally, by the action of Grace, the veil may suddenly be rent from within, and at once you can enter the true truth; but even when that happens, in order to obtain the full value and full effect of the experience, you must maintain yourself in a state of inner receptivity, and to do that, it is indispensable for you to go within each day.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Awakening the Inner Consciousness, pp. 134-138

Author's Bio: 

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