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10. Spiritual Experiences, or Declaration Thereof

When I was a student of Bukkyo University in Kyoto, I once listened to a series of lectures delivered by Professor T. If memory serves, it was entitled Overview of Buddhism. Professor T. was also a researcher of "Yoga Sutra," and since I was aware of this fact, I visited him after his class to ask him a burning question of mine:

"Professor, I know Nirvana in Buddhism and Mokṣa in Hinduism are different in terms of philosophy, but I wonder if they are identical or different in actual experience. Would you please tell me what you think about this?"

He seemed to hesitate over his choice of words, saying "Well...," while looking downward thoughtfully for some time. I waited for his answer feeling a bit nervous, and then, he looked up and said, "I believe they are the same."

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Let me explain this dialog in brief: Buddhism contradicts the Vedic dogma of ancient India; the latter teaches that "The essential self is equivalent to the essence of the universe. To know this idea is supreme enlightenment." In contrast, Sakyamuni argues, "There is no essential self in the first place." The two teachings are so fundamentally and sharply different that it is tough for us Buddhists to support the argument "Buddhist enlightenment and Hindu enlightenment are the same." ... I now feel a slight prick of conscience about my intentionally impertinent inquiry from my immatureness. Since then, naturally, my profound respect for the professor has grown.

I still believe that there is no religious or sectarian difference in view of ultimate religious experiences.

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Well, the foregoing is merely an introduction.

Nowadays, you may hear terms such as "oneness" or "experience of oneness." As far as I can tell, these terms indicate a genuine experience common to Nirvana, Mokṣa, or enlightenment. Apparently there are an increasing number of people who experience such a spiritual state (or perhaps a small number of experiencers who are now able to share their experiences through Internet communities.) The experiences are allegedly quite supreme ones beyond verbal expression, although people try to express them as follows: "Communicating with a cosmic energy," "Everything is one," "Everything exists here and now," "Being unified with God," "Everything has a meaning," "Pure consciousness," "Unconditional love," "Perfect as it is," "Being unified with light," "Deep knowledge coming from an inner world," "True self," "Awakening," "Time stops," "Incongruity with secular society," and so on.

Globally, we find many experiencers, and the basic idea of such experiences is called non-dualism (Advaita monism), which means that the experiences are felt as a larger ‘One,’ rather than two, three, four, or any plural-ness.

In the first place, dualism is derived from two extreme concepts: for example, {I; the world}, {good; evil}, {sacred; secular}, {spirit; body}, {man; woman}, {pleasure; displeasure}, {healthy; sick}, {happy; unhappy}, {individual; society}, {good guy; bad guy}, {enemy; friend}... As such, dualism is a stance in which two extreme concepts are hypothesized for each subject to try to understand the entirety. In recognizing/understanding the surrounding world, we usually rely on dualism by nature.

On the other hand, in experiences of oneness or non-dualism, such mundane senses are totally transcended. This is sometimes described as an experience of perfect bliss beyond the duality of happiness and unhappiness.

In Buddhism, there are also many terms associated with oneness or non-dualism: for example, "Tathata [thusness, the one] (真如, 一如)," "Dharmata [the real nature of the phenomenal world] (法性)," "Advaita [non-duality between self and others] (自他不二)," "Non-substantiality of existence (諸法空相)," "Conditional existence of phenomenal things (諸法無我)," "True man of no rank (一無位の真人)," "Causation in which all things influence one another endlessly (重々無尽縁起)," "I alone am honored, /In heaven and on earth (天上天下唯我独尊)," "The Buddha-mind is exactly great compassion (仏心とは大慈悲これなり)," "Enlightenment gifted by all existence (万法に証せらるる)," "Freedom from body-mind dualism (身心脱落)," "Illusion is inseparable from Buddhahood (煩悩即菩提)," "Unenlightened men and the Buddhas are essentially identical (凡聖不二)," "The world we live in is identical with the Pure Land of Tranquil Light (娑婆即寂光土)," "Form or matter is non-substantial (色即是空)," "The three thousand realms are contained in one mind (the moment of a single thought) (一念三千)," "The three worlds are nothing but one mind (三界唯一心)," and so many other phrases.

Once you have experienced oneness or non-dualism, you will be able to easily comprehend these apparently difficult teachings and terminology in Buddhism.

I dare say an increase in the number of experiencers of oneness, or enlightenment, must be wonderful and desirable.

However, let me emphasize potential serious problems there.

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I admit that experiences of oneness or non-dualism per se are wonderful; however, by talking about the experiences toward an indefinite number of people, another kind of duality emerges between experiencers and non-experiencers or between enlightened people and unenlightened ones. There appears an absurdity that a new unexpected duality is brought out from monistic experiences. Those who have had experiences of oneness may still feel overwhelming blissfulness, or retain clear reminiscences thereof over a long time. By listening to them talking, it is natural that some non-experiencers may be eager to attain such oneness or non-dualism. Some experiencers may benevolently try to guide the non-experiencers. In spite of the fact that there are no evil intentions, their encounter often results in an eccentric world in which experiencers and non-experiencers grotesquely inflate their respective (or irrelevant) fantasies. Moreover, this also possibly develops an affinity for religious cults.

Another important problem is as follows:

One might say "All things are good as they are."

The experience that makes one say so comes from perfect acceptance of one’s self and others. It is very wonderful. However, those who struggle hard in the real world probably have difficulty admitting such a remark because it is apprehended that by saying "good as they are," social inequality, discrimination, exploitation, violence, agony, etc. may be ultimately neglected and admitted. The social conflicts we see every day are ignored by saying "All things are good as they are. As human beings become increasingly enlightened, such problems will be solved some day in the future" while looking into the distant future.

The other various expressions of oneness can be likewise translated as follows:
"All lives are essentially equal." (Therefore, it is unnecessary to explicitly protest superficial inequality.)
"Unconditional love." (If you cannot forgive or accept someone, it is because you are immature.)
"Communicating with a cosmic energy" (If you fall sick, it is because you have not experienced the oneness or non-dualism yet.)...

By asserting oneness or non-dualism, there arises a great chasm between the experiencers' world and the real world of agony (non-experiencers' world), which unfortunately leads to tension between them.

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Now allow me to talk about Pure Land Buddhism here. As I understand it, Honen Shonin never spoke of monism, and neither does Jodo-shu, Pure Land Buddhism. They persist in dualism; the sacred world is over there (in the Sukuhavati Pure Land (極楽浄土)), while we stay here in the world of delusion. In Pure Land Buddhism, there and here are distinctively separated. When the life of one's body expires, (s)he will be led there, i.e., the Sukuhavati Pure Land, by virtue of Nembutsu. Although it is an incontrovertible fact that enlightenment happens to come to some people in this world, the vast majority of people cannot experience enlightenment, or oneness or non-dualism. The time when the majority of people can experience these is after leaving for there, i.e., the Sukuhavati Pure Land.

That is, Honen Shonin's stance may be described as follows:

-- "There certainly is an Advaita monistic world (= the world of enlightenment, oneness or non-dualism) beyond dualism. Some people can possibly experience that world in their lives. However, the majority of people cannot encounter these experiences. In light of this fact, let us forget for the present about the pursuit of experiences of enlightenment in the real world; we look forward to being led to the Sukuhavati at the end of our lives, and thereafter, being enlightened in the Sukuhavati."

This is realistic dualism based on Advaita monism (non-dualism). I would like to call such an attitude super-dualism. In other words, it is super-dualism that shows us the way that we, the prevailing mediocrity, should follow, in view of both the (dualistic) world of our common sense and the Advaita monistic world of enlightenment beyond the former one.

This may be sloganized as "Beyond dualism is Advaita monism. Beyond Advaita monism is super-dualism."

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"Everything is perfect as it is."

Maybe this is true. However, this is the world as viewed from the enlightened. For those who are in delusion, the world never appears as such. Our common living is split between ideal and reality. I believe those who struggle against such reality are true Mahayana Buddhists, that is, bodhisattvas. "Ji mi tokudo sendo ta (自未得度先度他)" -- Not being enlightened, nevertheless, to let others be enlightened first -- Acknowledging that there is a world of ultimate enlightenment, nevertheless, to confront harsh actualities without neglecting them. To make the best effort to reach the ideal while being buffeted by realistic problems. To follow one's path sharing burdens with others while wishing for their relief first. "Be not defeated by the rain, /Nor let the wind prove your better.[*]" Don't you think that this is the way we, Mahayana Buddhists, should follow?

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In summary,

● Religious experiences may possibly come to anybody regardless of religious or sectarian differences.

● However, in reality, only a very small number of people can have such experiences. Moreover, to proclaim the experiences may be a double-edged sword.

● Invaluable as religious experiences are, it is better for the majority of people to 'box' them up (suspend or set aside judgement thereof). In other words, let us expect the experiences in the upcoming future when our bodies expire.

● Knowing the fact that there are certainly religious experiences or final relief, let us serve others and society well first.

Finally, I absolutely do not mean to disregard oneness or non-dualism. I wish that those who have fortunately experienced such a high state of mind, and those who are interested in them, may participate in down-to-earth philanthropy. Your energies and your compassions will surely and greatly help people who are in pain. ◈