[* Read before the Vivekananda Society, Colombo on June 6th 1912]
The casual reader may find the term "Experience" rather vague. In other words an apparent want of clearness exists in the bald title "Experience". To definitely indicate the lines in which it is proposed to consider the subject this evening it must be mentioned that it will receive the attention from the stand-point of "Mother of knowledge". According to Western Scientists knowledge is derivable in three ways, viz., by observation, experiment and reasoning. The Hindu system of Philosophy also lays down three methods for determining a truth, viz., Pratyhaksham, Anumanam and Agamam. Prathyaksham means direct perception which includes observation and experiment; Anumanam means reasoning; and Agamam means Sruti or Revelation.
Again knowledge may be broadly classified into two parts, viz., knowledge relating to matters temporal or secular knowledge and Spiritual knowledge.
To closely examine the life of a person in its various walks first, with reference to temporal matters, I can do no better than quote Herbert Spencer's remarks on human activities. His classification in the order of the importance of the leading kinds of activities which constitute human happiness runs as follows:-
"First, those activities which directly minister to self-preservation. Secondly, those activities which by securing the necessaries of life indirectly minister to self-preservation. Thirdly, those activities which have for their ends the rearing and discipline of offspring. Fourthly, those activities which are involved in the maintenance of proper social and political relations. Fifthly, those miscellaneous activities which fill up the leisure part of life devoted to the gratification of tastes and feelings.
When we have carefully observed the various activities as classified above, we may be said to have made a complete study of what actually takes place in everyday life. However much a person may be informed in other matters if he be ignorant of the surrounding objects and movements or how to conduct himself among them he might lose his life the first time he gets into the street. A knowledge of this sort relates to the safety of one's person and property and may be said to be the result of experience gained by exercising those activities which directly minister to self-preservation (No. I on Herbert Spencer's classification of human activities referred to above.)
Similarly by exercising each of the other activities there accrues a certain amount of experience which, as it were opens the door of correct secular knowledge. Stress must be laid on the mode of exercising these powers for the consequences are either good or bad according as they are well or ill exercised.
Again in the dominion of physical science, experimental knowledge is said to take a prominent place over mere reasoning. David Hume in his essay on "An enquiry concerning the human understanding" expresses himself in the following manner in regard to the value of experience, viz., "Present two smooth marbles to a man who has no tincture of natural philosophy he will never discover that they will adhere together in such a manner as to require great force to separate them in a direct line, while they make so small a resistance to a lateral pressure. Such events as bear little analogy to the common course of nature are also readily confessed to be known only by experience. Nor does any man imagine that the explosion of gunpowder or the attraction of a loadstone could ever be discovered by arguments a priori: In like manner when an effect is supposed to depend upon an intricate machinery or secret structure of parts, we make no difficulty in attributing all our knowledge of it to experience. Who will assert that he can give the ultimate reason why milk or bread is proper nourishment for a man, not for a lion or tiger?"
Having considered the part played by experience in regard to secular knowledge, we shall next examine how far it influences the life of the spiritual man or the extent to which the Spiritual man receives help from "Experience" in the matter of his salvation. That the universe and its environments are subject to decay is admitted on all hands. The impermanent and fleeting nature of the things of the world and the ups and downs of life are too well known to need any elaborate comments here. There is something in every man who has any claim to ordinary sense that most emphatically admonishes him of the unreality of this universe. The world and its environments are by virtue of their fleeting nature said to be unreal, and knowledge that does not extend beyond the region of matter or worldly interests is hence said to be unreal while that knowledge which forms the silver key to the gate of "Moksha" is said to be the real or true knowledge.
In the spiritual world experience is all important. In the spiritual plane, apart from "Sruti" the truth determined through experience is more convincing than that determined by reasoning. The mere possession of any amount of book-knowledge is but of little worth. It will not profit the possessor any more than the waters that flowed from beneath the lips of Tantalus appeased his thirst. It is of paramount importance that spiritual knowledge in its abstract form must find free play in practice in daily life. An ounce of practice is said to be worth more than tons of tall talk.
says Saint Tiruvalluvar. The religious aspirant has many a formidable foe to face in his upward march. First and foremost are the five senses. The antagonistic nature of the senses comes prominently to notice when the spiritual aspirant sets himself to live religion in every little act of his daily life. The more spiritual the life turns, the more does he realize the mischievous nature of the promptings of the senses in the opposite direction. The five sense-traitors are ever on the hunt for objects of the most enticing sort and the possession of an iron will is indispensable to completely subjugate them. A complete subjugation of the five senses is essential to successfully climb the ladder of spirituality. பட்டினத்தடிகள் (Pattanatadigal) in one of his hymns emphasizes the absolute necessity of a complete control over the senses before one could make any useful progress in one's religious practices, viz:-
"கையொன்று செய்ய விழியொன்றுநாடக்கருத் தொன்றெண்ணப்
பொய்யொன்று வஞ்சகநாவொன்று பேசப்புலான்கமழும்,
மெயொன்று சாரச் செவியொன்று கேட்கவிரும்புமியான்,
செய்கின்ற பூசையெவ்வாறு கொள்வாய் வினைதீர்த்தவனே."
"உரனென்னுந் தோட்டி யானோரைந்துங்காப்பான்
writes the Eastern moralist.
Different saints have made use of more than one fine simile in describing the five senses:-
"மாறிநின்றெனை மயக்கிடும் வஞ்சகப்புலனந்தின் வழியடைத்தமுதே"
and so forth.
The senses subjugated, there remains the arch-enemy, the mind. The conquest of the mind entails a contest severer than the one with the five senses. The experience gained in the recent battle against the five senses stands the aspirant in good stead in the present mightier war against the arch-fiend.
From the mind proceeds every one of our thoughts which has its influence (good or bad) to shed on its possessor and the world outside. Each word of ours giving expression to some thoughts of the mind results in deeds good or bad. The mind is the seat of thoughts, words and deeds. Hence it is of utmost importance that the mind should be trained carefully and in the proper direction. It is a power for good as well as for bad. Milton one of England's greatest poets says, "the mind is its own place, it makes a hell of heaven and a heaven of hell." Allow it to run out freely in pursuit of worldly enjoyments and the inevitable result of the wildest excess is impossible to withstand. Turn it inward on topics spiritual and thenceforth you carry with you a power not so easy to gain, a power which the most powerful of Potentates must bow down before, a power which, in the end, is unconquerable even by the strongest or worst of worldly allurements.
The commonest of the evils of the mind that is not properly trained are selfishness, envy, pride, and avarice on the one hand, and disappointment and sorrow on the other. Caught in the thunderstorm of selfishness and dashed on the rocks of envy, pride and avarice, the mind is tossed hither and thither in the ocean of Samsara. It engages in matters that do not in the least concern its possessor. Ever active in the invention of implements of self destruction, it sets itself up in judgment over the conduct of others, passes strictures on this man's character and encomiums on that man's, little remembering that its possessor, is in no way benefitted thereby but on the contrary his ruin alone is hastened. In an instant it builds palatial mansions of more than one description and again pulls them down with equal facility and haste. It hastens to pluck the mote in another man's eye while the eyes of its own possessor is full of it. It actively engages in all sorts of idle gossip and becomes supremely neglectful of the higher nature in man. Most appropriately is it said that "an idle man's brain is the devil's work-shop." The mere sight of an earnest seeker of truth it hates while the company of merry-makers and pleasure seekers it relishes. The veil of deception it has been weaving from the immortal past it carefully draws over itself, should the spiritual eye happen to detect any of its evil doings. It endeavors to present a pleasant exterior, an appearance of what it is not in reality. Practicing deception on others, it begins to deceive itself gradually. Self-deception is the worst of weapons one wields in self-destruction. If by some good fortune there should occur some good thoughts at any time, the mind immediately withdraws from them and in an instant reverts to its wonted ways of iniquity. It turns a deaf ear to every word of caution. Addressing the mind Saint Manickavacaga swamigal says,
"வாழ்கின்றாய் வாழாத நெஞ்சமே வல்வினைப்பட்
சூழ்கின்றாய் கேடுனக்குப் பல்காலும் சொல்கின்றேன்
வீழ்கின்றாய் நீயவலக்கடாய் வெள்ளத்தே."
Every undue desire freely indulged in either increases or begets many a kindered desire of a far worse type. Such is the force of habit that man has been called a "a bundle of habits" by one writer while another compares habit to a string of pearls "unite the knot and pearls fall on themselves." Allow one bad habit to take root in you and the whole character becomes polluted in the end.
The importance of keeping the mind under control is indeed beyond all dispute. The longer the mind is left unchecked the harder becomes the task of reclaiming it. The necessity therefore of setting about to purify an evil mind is no doubt pressing. The most successful method for purification of the mind is to closely watch its work every moment. Invariably put yourself the question "what is my mind doing now". Should you find it occupied in a profitless task, chastise it and bring it back to the path of virtue. Let the purification be gradual. Let there be no dismay, however slow the progress may be. Let there be no fear that a habit once acquired cannot be given up. In his ode on "Habit" James Allen writes
"How shall I a habit break
As you did a habit make."
Closely watch every little thought as it arises. Daily during the calm hours of the morning or the quiet twilight of the evening review the past day's events of your life and severely chastise the mind for its evil doings. Assiduous application in this direction will soon bring about a total annihilation of all evil thoughts and inclinations. Now that the mind is firmly established in the path of wisdom and its vagaries dispelled, it becomes the center of light from which shoot forth rays in all directions. Now there rises in it the endless fountain of universal love of which every living being can freely drink. Kindness, humility and contentment take the place of envy, pride and avarice. Hope displaces despair. Malice is sacrificed on the altar of kindness and there is due regard for the views of others.
Having thus cleared the way of the two deadly foes, the spiritual man finds himself quite free to ascend the ladder. He now feels better fitted to follow the paths of virtue and true knowledge. These paths consists of Tapas சரியை, கிரியை, யோகம் which lead to "Jnanam". By a constant practice of tapas, the Soul gains sufficient knowledge and spirituality and enjoys the fruits of Tapas in Tapalokas (heavens). Even the few desires that now clings to the soul gradually vanish. The stock of past karmas becomes exhausted and the soul ceases to accumulate fresh karmas. Just as the pebbles on the sea-shore lose their roughness and get soft and bright by the endless beating of the waves in the same manner, the Soul becomes freed from the trammels of desires by experience gained by a due performance of the Tapas in the innumerable births. The practice of Tapas develops sufficient wisdom in the soul to enable it to obtain Moksha and the Soul learns to look upon good and bad with an equal eye. In other words the practice of Tapas brings out இருவினையொப்பு and மலபரிபாகம், i.e. the good and bad karmas no longer affect the soul which becomes qualified to receive the Lord's சத்தினிபாதம். The Lord is then said to appear as guru and impact Jnanam or true knowledge which is Bliss Eternal. This is said to be knowledge supreme or experience true (சுவானுபவம்) and as such it takes precedence over all others which are but the means to this end. To save oneself from the ocean of births one should attain the feet of the Lord.
"பிறவிப் பெருங்கடனீந்துவா நீந்தா
Thus whether in the life of the world or in the life of the spirit a knowledge of the surroundings and a practical application of it is essential for a successful mastery. The stand or move about, to stretch on arms or to lie on the bed, the laws of the surroundings ought to be studied and obeyed. This cooperation with nature gives perfect ease and comfort. The same laws and the same conditions hold good in the spiritual world. To stand in the light of the spirit or move about with the freedom born of the spirit, to stretch ourselves in the sphere of light or to have the Bliss of perfection the laws outlined above have to be obeyed. The object of life is to gain experience and by experience to be free from the bondage of the outward longings and to live in the experience of the Bliss of the Lord.