I have been a part of an informal email group exchanging spiritual thoughts. Recently, there was a discussion about spiritual “experiences.” I had posted my thoughts there in Marathi. Here is gist of it for the comments of friends in this group. Let me make it clear that the idea is not to judge evaluate a particular type of experience against another type. It is intended as an open-minded sharing.
The aim of spiritual pursuit is one – liberation, but the paths to it are myriad. Shrimad Bhagawad Gita talks about three broad types – Jnana, Karma, Bhakti. However, they are not mutually exclusive. One may typically adopt a convenient mix of more than one of these three paths (actually, “methodology”).
One may have a living guru and another may not. If one does not have a living guru, the Divine gurutattva itself will act as his guru.
Now, depending on the kind of path chosen, one’s experiences along the way will differ from those of someone else. But all the paths must finally lead to the gate of vairagya. Oly if one has attained a complete and durable vairagya, he is allowed to enter inside, namely moksha (liberation). Shri Krishna, after preaching the entire Gita, asks this one question of Arjuna – “Has your delusion (moha) now gone?” Delusion is ignorance/wrong ideas of “I, mine”. While disappearance of moha is on one side of the coin, vairagya is the other side of the coin. Gita emphasises quite a bit on vairagya as the most critical aspect of liberation.
What exactly is spiritual “experience?” Is my “experience” the real experience and unless the other person has had a similar experience, his spiritual pursuit is useless? For example, those following the path of Kundalini awakening go through many mystical experiences. But that does not mean everyone must have similar experiences. For example, gradual increase of equanimity (sthitaprajnanta) can be an indication of spiritual progress.
Some people argue that unless a guru is able to give his disciple Kundalini kind of experiences, such a guru is phoney! That I don’t think is right.
The phoney gurus is a phenomenon that has two aspects – (1) guru’s capability to help his disciples; (2) Relationship between guru and shishya.
The relationship between a guru and his shishya is personal. If a shishya is satisfied and has faith in his guru, that is good enough. A guru is not to be judged by outsiders, but by each individual shishya through his own experience. Besides, there are no universal yardsticks to evaluate a guru.
However, the relationship between a guru and shishya on the worldly plane is a different aspect and it can certainly have a universal/humanitarian/legal yardstick. For example, a guru cannot exploit his shishya financially/sexually etc. Also, a guru should not force the shishya to abdicate his family responsibilities.