One Thousand Names Of Experience
Now, in the above paragraph I defined experience (as I assumed Dr. Goode was doing, in his analysis) in a way that includes thoughts/mental-images as (mental) “experiences.” But this brings us back to the query I began this essay with: how is it that various folks are defining “experience”? And the short answer is: lots and lots! By way of enumerating a sampling of the many possibilities, here are some common polarities, in relation to defining various kinds of “experience”:
* experience as sensory arisings vs. logical/rational analysis, i.e. sights, sounds, smells, tastes & touches vs. non-sensory thought-processes [included here are the empiricism vs. rationalism & phenomena vs. noumena polarities]
* experience as sensory arisings (which may or may not include thoughts as “sensory arisings”) vs. intuition/apperception/insight (as something “at right angles” to our ordinary/dualistically-habitual ways of perceiving/cognizing, and which also may be referred to as a kind of “experience”)
* experience as mind-only (with so-called “sensory arisings” understood to be nothing more than mental projections) vs. (sensory and mental) experience determined at least in part by an independently existing “external world,” of which the “experience” is a representation
* collective/objective/public vs. personal/subjective/private experience
* ordinary vs. non-ordinary experience (where “ordinary” might refer to ordinarily-deluded, or to naked/natural; and “non-ordinary” might refer either to nondual awakened states, or to extra-ordinary experiences of the drug-induced or extreme-yoga-induced forms)
Anyway, I could go on, but you get the idea :) The basic point here is that the term “experience” needs to be precisely defined, in particular when it is being played as a kind of trump-card intended as strong validation of this or that point of view -- either in virtue of it being ultimately trustworthy, or ultimately not-to-be-trusted.
Part of the challenge, for us English-speaking practitioners, is that our language lacks the kind of subtlety, with respect to various states of mind or modulations of consciousness, that is found, say, in Sanskrit or Tibetan -- so we end up having to use this one poor word, “experience,” to refer to a gazillion different referents.
The Really Important Question
Is body/mind/world arising through the distorted lens of emotional obscurations (samskaras and vasanas) and dualistic assumptions, or is it arising independently of them -- “nakedly,” if you will? If the former, then it’s likely that “our experience,” however we’re defining it, is less than perfectly trustworthy, i.e. that phenomena are appearing in ways that are not in alignment with how they essentially (in Reality) are. If the latter, then it’s likely that that body/mind/world is indeed appearing in alignment with how it really is.
Which of course leaves us with the quandary of how to know which is the case (am I seeing clearly, or not?) -- and how best to go forward, amidst what will almost certainly be a modicum of confusion, in the general direction of something more satisfying and, ultimately, to a realization of “all experience as light” (the Taoist dance of yin and yang, the Hindu play of Lila, the Buddhist trikaya)? How is it that we follow the advise offered by Advaita sage Atmananda Krishna Menon (reported here second hand) and “see that each object points to consciousness”? --
"Instead of using the statement 'I am pure consciousness' to enforce a withdrawal into a nirvikalpa or mindless state, he had found that he could do better by directly understanding what the statement means. Its meaning is directly shown by every object that appears, including all the objects from which the mind withdraws in samadhi.
By investigating ordinary experience, it is far more practical to see that each object points to consciousness, so that there is no need to withdraw from it. But the practice now is not a formal exercise of getting thrown into a special state. Instead it is a questioning inquiry that faces things for what they are and asks exactly what they show, beneath all seeming make-belief that isn't tested properly."
The Return Of The Everlasting Gobstopper
So then: If all experience is light, and the Everlasting Gobstopper (like the unicorn) has been established as an aspect of experience, does than mean that Enlightenment is, after all, an Everlasting Gobstopper? (Or am I affirming the consequent?) Poppy-seed torte, anyone?