An ineffable experience
When we want to communicate something experienced on the physical plane, we use our five senses. We talk about what we hear, feel, see, taste or smell. But how can those same senses be used to describe something that happens beyond what is tangible?
There are five further senses, known as extrasensory, for describing such experiences. Their purpose is similar, but rather than explaining something physical, they perceive things on a subtler level. We have extrasensory hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. These senses are connected to our subtle body, that shield of the Self that we often call soul.
These senses are able to perceive the experience of mystic joy?albeit in glimpses?as we return from it. Let us explore how this happens:
The feeler, the feeling, and what is felt
The act of feeling, knowing, or witnessing something is known as an experience. The senses feel. The mind knows. But in order truly to witness something, we need the Self? that which we truly are. Other terms for this include Consciousness and Spirit. It is through it that the experience of mystic bliss is very real for the person living it?more real, perhaps, than life itself. Thus, the problem does not arise from any ambiguity in the experience, but rather from the difficulty when describing it.
To describe something is to retell it through language, and language is a creation of the mind. However, the mind experiences this bliss only in glimpses, as it awakens and the joy dissipates, leaving only the deceptive veil that normally covers the Self. For this reason, it is too much to ask of the mind that it conveys to others an experience it did not witness first hand. So, what is the mind?
The mind is the soul’s main organ. It is an organ such as the brain?but the brain of the soul, not of the physical body. The mind is not the product of brain activity as claimed by western science. To the contrary: the reality which we call physical is a projection of the mind, and the brain is nothing more than the tangible expression of that mind. Thinking that the mind is the product of our brain activity is like believing that a computer’s software spontaneously emerges from the electricity flowing through a microprocessor, as a result of the random evolution of silicon.
All this means that the soul encompasses the mind and more. Let us, then, try to understand what the soul is. Unlike Spirit, which is unchanging and therefore immaterial, the soul vibrates. It is this very oscillation that gives it its tangibility. However, since it vibrates at a higher frequency than the physical body, its consistency is subtler?subtler even than the spacetime where physical reality exists. This is why the soul cannot be perceived by any of the physical body’s five senses?not even by hearing?yet it can by our five extrasensory senses.
Once understood that the mind is nothing other than the soul’s main organ, an organ responsible for projecting the veil of physicality, then it comes that when this mind is absent we get a chance to submerge ourselves in the true nature of the Self, which is that of mystic bliss. Had the mind been present, the noise it generates would have deprived us of that experience. This is where the difficulty arises; how to articulate an experience during which the mind was absent, when words are creations of the mind. Consequently, the only thing that can communicate what we feel when in a state of mystic joy is the idea of ‘ineffability’. Something ineffable cannot be described with mere words. It is something the poet communicates through metaphor and the sage through analogy.
Despite these limitations, we can describe what the mind does manage to glimpse or feel momentarily in that instant during waking when the mind is guiding us back to its projected physical reality. Let us, then, attempt to use the language of the mind to describe that journey back from the supra-conscious state of mystic bliss towards a conscious state.
In order to do this, let us first remind ourselves of Karl Jung’s assertion:
“Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakes.”
When we look outwards, we live the dream projected by our mind. Conversely, looking inwards allows us to achieve that supra-conscious state from which we can finally awake.
When the mind sleeps
When we find ourselves immersed in a state of mystic bliss, our mind is absent?as are our five physical and extrasensory senses. When our mind is absent, we find ourselves in one of two states of consciousness: the supra-conscious or the unconscious.
We achieve a supra-conscious state when we manage to transcend the three states of the mind?conscious, subconscious, and unconscious?and identify with the Self, Consciousness, or Spirit. In other words, when we acknowledge that we are not our mind in any of its three states, but rather we are the eternal and omnipresent Self. Eternal, because we are unchanging. Omnipresent, because we are everything and live in everything.
However, four centuries of western rationalism have led the majority of us to identify with our mind instead of our unchanging Self. We can thank philosophers such as Descartes for this, as he made us believe that thinking was the root of existence when he declared “cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). This hypothesis became the pillar of western rationalism. It equated our existence with the act of thinking, without fathoming that there may be something beyond thought or the mind.
Such was the confusion brought by Descartes that those speaking his mother tongue (French) dispensed with the proto-indo-european word méntis (to think) and began to use esprit (spirit) in its place. For a French person l’Esprit (the Spirit) is the one that thinks. This latter word is derived from the Latin verb spirare, meaning ‘to breathe’. In doing this, the French language equated existential principles (Spirit) with thought-related principles (mind).
Rationalism’s next achievement would have been eliminating the word esprit as well, understood as it was to mean both mind and Spirit, and replacing it with the physical manifestation of that mind: the brain. Had this been the case, rather than saying “I have just had a spiritual experience”, we would have said “I have had a cerebral experience”. This would have been the consequence had the scientific ‘belief’ that the mind results from brain activity had prevailed. Fortunately, rationalism is in decline, since it is clear that rather than bringing us closer to what is ‘real’, it has only moved us further away from it.
We should not be surprised, then, that when the mind?that thought-related principle? goes to sleep, we fall into an unconscious state in which we do not witness any further experience! For the mind sleeps, just as the body does, albeit for less time. The body needs six to nine hours sleep each day. When it goes to sleep, the mind plunges into a dreamworld. After wandering for some minutes in that subconscious reality, the mind too falls asleep, and we enter a state of deep sleep. It is then that our Self or Spirit recovers its natural state. With no mind to fracture the Totality into a billion pieces, we are reintegrated into that Absolute whence we came and which we are. After a few short minutes of bliss, the mind awakes, taking us back to dreamworld. This happens in cycles lasting approximately ninety minutes.
Let us, then, attempt to describe that feeling of bliss that we experience each night when the mind is asleep, but which can only be remembered by those who perceive it from the supra-conscious state.
Awakening the Senses
As the mind begins to awake, the state of spiritual ecstasy dissipates. It will be that same mind which will bring us back, first to the subconscious astral world, and finally to the dream of consensus we call reality. It is a journey back from subtle to dense.
Given that the aim of this article is to describe the experience using the senses so that we can relate to it, we must begin by analysing which of the five senses will awake first. The first one to awake will necessarily be the most perceptive, the one capable of discerning the subtlest realms, while the last one is going to be the grossest. Let us explore how we might order the five senses in descending order of subtlety.
The Samkhya philosophy of India tells us that, of the five, hearing is the subtlest sense. This is because it is the only one that can perceive space (Akasha), an expression of matter so subtle that it can neither be touched, observed, tasted or smelled. Space, called Luminous Ether in antiquity, is that which manifests itself as the different densities of matter when it vibrates. In more scientific terms, it is what Einstein called space-time and what Middle Age alchemy named as the quintessence.
As Space condenses, it first manifests itself as gas. Ancestral cultures call this first level of condensation ‘Air’. Samkhya philosophy explains that while Space can only be perceived by the ear, Air can also be perceived by touch. Thus, touch occupies second position in order of subtlety of the five senses. That is to say, in scientific terms, an odourless and colourless gas cannot be seen, nor smelt, nor tasted, but if there is movement it can be heard and felt by touch, like the wind.
The next sense in order of subtlety is sight, which is linked to the element of Fire. Science calls Fire plasma?a plasma is slightly less dense than a gas and has the property of irradiating light. This means that plasmas can be not just heard and touched, but also seen. Examples of plasmas include the sun, aurora borealis, a plasma television screen, or a neon lightbulb.
The next in order of subtlety is taste, which is linked to the element of Water and to the state of density we call liquid.
Finally comes smell, linked to the element of Earth and to solid states.
It is in this same order of density that the soul’s five senses awake, as we are on our journey back from the experience of mystic ecstasy. Let us, then, explore how this journey from subtle to dense takes place, and how it is described by different cultures.
The Sound of Transcendence
The sacred writings called the Vedas assert that the Universe was created from the breath of Paramatman, the supreme reality, manifested as sound. That breath is the Nada Brahma, or voice of the absolute – it is the OM, mantra with neither beginning nor end.
In the Sanskrit language, this is called Anahata Nada, or the unstruck sound. It is the transcendental tone hiding behind every expression in Creation; the current of light known as Ain Soph Aur by the Kabbalist and as ‘First emanation’ in theosophy. It is the monad of Pythagoreans; the Word of the New Testament, and in the Old Testament is depicted in Genesis when God said ‘Let there be light’. It is not the light itself?which came afterwards?but rather the Word, the act of proclaiming the light.
In Ancient China, it was known as Huang Chung meaning ‘the yellow bell’, as a cascade of yellow light often accompanies it. Sufism calls it Sawt-e-sarmad, a sound that floods all of space and overwhelms us with mystic ecstasy. In Jainism, it is the current of divine sound. In Sikhism, it is Ek-Onkar. In Kashmiri Shaivism, it is known as Spanda, described as the Primordial Pulsation. In the Andes is Noccan Kani.
It is the Jewish and Christian Amen, and Islam’s Amin. It represents the Alif of semitic languages, the Alpha of Greek?that is, the first letter of the alphabet and that which encompasses all the other sounds. It is a Fa sharp uttered by the ceremonial flutes of the first settlers of North America, the Aloha of Hawaiian Huna philosophy and the Aluna of the Mamos of Sierra Nevada in northern Colombia. It symbolises the base note of a didgeridoo vibrating in the Australian desert, the echo of the magic flute, the cosmic symphony, the divine vibration and the abstract sound.
All of these terms seem to be attempts at describing the same thing: the experience of mystic exaltation as heard by the sensory organs of the soul. It is a sound which permeates our entire Being until we become one with it. A sound that floods all space, allowing us to enjoy a state of omnipresence. But even then, being sound, it is vibration and movement?so it does not allow us to transcend time and space. It connects us to the omnipresent Self?represented by the number 1?but it does not allow us to reach the unchanging Self, that which is beyond time, space and object, also known as the Void. It does not connect us with the cause of Creation, with the 0 that precedes that 1, the Void from which the omnipresent Totality of One emerges as transcendental sound.
We must remember that we are embarking on a journey back, from the void where we perceive nothing (0), towards the multiplicity (n) of the phenomenal reality projected by our mind. And on that journey back, the first experience that our mind recalls is the state of unity with Creation (1). We project ourselves onto this Creation just like the transcendental sound that emanates from the Universe. We become one with Creation, that unique verse from which the word Universe is derived (Uni- meaning One and -verse being the Word). And this first stop on the journey can only be perceived by our extrasensory sense of hearing.
In increasing order of density, the next extrasensory sense to manifest itself is that of touch. Touch perceives the experience as supreme bliss. In this denser state, we stop living in the reality of unity (1) and enter the reality of perfect union in complementarity (2). This refers to the complementarity that exists between us, as an expression of the Supreme Consciousness, and the Creation that surrounds and caresses us. It is in that moment that we enter the domain of the Air element.
Tantric philosophy’s describes this state of perfect complementarity as Shiva, the supreme Consciousness, and Shakti, the Creation. We are Shiva, as manifestations of that supreme reality; while Shakti, as Creation, surrounds us with sweetness and joyful caresses. Shakti is the eternal feminine, the Cosmic Mother, from which the word matter (Mother) derives. Many ancestral traditions refer to the same complementarity as Father Sky and Mother Earth.
We are also able to reach this state if, when making love, we share the climax of sexual ecstasy with our partner. That said, in order to achieve it we must be capable of directing that energy upwards rather than downwards. When we project it downwards, we are doing one of the following two things: dissipating it, or using it to conceive a child?a body in which another soul will incarnate to live the experience of physicality. While when directed upwards it is a choir at two voices calling for the Divine.
The next sense to manifest itself is sight or vision. Our third eye?located between our eyebrows?opens, allowing us to see all of Creation. With the opening of that central eye, we enter the domain of the element of Fire –and the number 3.
This state is different from the previous one in that Creation no longer surrounds or caresses us. Now, we find ourselves separated from Creation by that third element called Fire, which distance us from Creation so that we can perceive its light and colour. This is the reason plasmas make up the most abundant state of density of perceivable matter. The universe we perceive radiates light, and light must be observed from a certain distance so that we are not blinded by it.
There are many cultures that have referred to that vision of Creation, projected before us as a luminous entirety. For example, tantric philosophy gives us the image of the Sri Yantra:
Andean culture calls it Chakana:
From the Huicholes, in modern-day Mexico, we have the nierikas:
From the cultures that proliferated around the great lakes of North America, we have dreamcatchers:
These are different manifestations of the same thing: the vision of the Absolute expressed as three: us as the observer, Creation as the observed and the act of observing made possible by the empty Space in between.
Let us, then, restate the way in which our senses distance us from that which we truly are, as we descend the Jacob’s Ladder from subtle to dense. First, our ear allows us to become one with the manifested Totality (1). Touch does not unite us with the Absolute but it does allow us to be caressed by it as a couple in sacred union (2). Sight separates us from Creation, but it does afford us the opportunity of observing it in all its immensity by adding distance in between (3). Let’s then explore how the remaining two senses move us even further away from the Self (0).
Called amrita or soma in the Vedic scriptures, dutsi by the Tibetans, ambrosia by the Ancient Greek, elixir of life by alchemists, ‘peaches of immortality’ in Ancient China?all these names refer to the same thing; the taste of transcendence or the nectar of eternal life.
When we taste a drop of elixir towards the back of our tongue, near the throat, it means we are already back in the realm of physical matter. Thus we enter the domain of the number four (4). It is a return that started with the Self as Creation (1), then the Self with Creation (2), then the Self and Creation (3) and now it is expressing as the Self in Creation (4). It is the Self framed within the four corners that the Mother (matter) provide.
Tantric texts tell us that amrita is produced by Bindu Chakra, the energy centre located in the area where brahmins grow their lock of hair. The texts assert that this energy centre, or chakra, represents the manifestation of creation through Consciousness.
However, the drop of nectar in the throat is only perceivable when our Consciousness is awakened. It is there where the throat chakra (visuddha) is located, linked with the element of Space (Akasha). If our Consciousness is not awaken, that is, if we are not able to experience the supra-conscious state, the drop of nectar continues its descent to be finally consumed in the navel’s chakra (manipura), causing the body to deteriorate physically. This is why different traditions have always linked this nectar with immortality, as only a person who has managed to catch it before its continuing descent towards being consumed in the fire of the navel’s chakra will ever taste it.
Classic yoga texts provide us with a technique for catching the drop, thus avoiding physical ageing. They curve their tongue upwards and backwards (khechari mudra) until it enters the throat. The text Hatha Yoga Pradipika specifies in verse 3:42:
“The Siddhas (visionaries) have devised Khechari Mudra so that both the mind and the tongue can reach Akasha (Space) using this practice.”
When in its return from transcendence, during this temporary awakening of the Self, we taste the sweet nectar in our throat, it means that we are almost back. Let’s recall the steps followed so far during the awakening from its slumber. It first became one with the sound of the vibrating Space. Then, it unyoked from Creation in order to feel the blissful touch of its whirlpools. Afterwards, it condensed its essence even more so that it could see Creation with all its light, Fire and splendour. And as the fourth stage, this same mind-stuff is tasting the sweetness of fluidity, like the Water of life. Only one sense is left: smell.
By the time we smell the soft, jasmine-like aroma of creation, we have landed in the physical plane some call reality. Once back in our physical body, the the most beautiful fragrance is perceived, one that not even the finest flowers can mimic. At first, we try to find its source, convinced that it is coming from nearby. Then we realise that we have brought it with us from the dimension we just return. It is the essence of joy, the fragrance of ecstasy – that the physical realm of nature attempts to replicate in its flowers.
The Other Way Back
All this is the experience of people who, having momentarily achieved a supra-conscious state, come back to tell us what it was like. Sacred Hindu texts call this momentary experience Savikalpa Samadhi. However, there are some who live in that state perpetually and never return. They are here and at the same time there, with the Self permanently mooring in the supra-conscious, a state we call enlightenment. The same sacred Hindu texts call this experience Nirvikalpa Samadhi. It is a state in which the knower, the act of knowing, and object known becomes dissolved in the Oneness—as waves vanish in water, and as foam vanishes into the sea. The difference to the other samadhis is that there is no return from this one into lower states of consciousness. It is the only true final Enlightenment.
Sadly, the vast majority of us must be content with joy experienced unconsciously. This happens both every night, in our phases of deep sleep, or in that inter-life period that many religions call Heaven.
Translated from Spanish by: Amber Aguilar