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Is Vedanta only a theory to be realized by personal experience?

This is also a notion prevalent in several Vedanta circles that has to be examined attentively and refuted since its implications are very fundamental. They claim that even though the texts of Vedanta are a means of knowledge, the knowledge it produces is only theoretical; it subsequently has to be validated by a direct personal mystical experience of a special state of consciousness, with which one can verify the vision unfolded by Vedanta.

The claims that special experience is required to convert theoretical knowledge into reality are based on the following:

Since absolute reality is not available through perception or reasoning, it can only be accessed by some special experience. Therefore, Vedanta as a means of knowledge reveals only a theory that needs to be realized or validated by direct experience.
Like science includes empirical experiments to verify any of its theory with reference to the reality of the physical or biological world, in the same manner the absolute reality can be verified through an individual experience.
Generations of yogis, tantra masters, and mystics have been talking about experiences and indicating techniques and methods to realize these experiences.
The texts or the gurus are just indicating you some methods but finally it is you who verifies the truth. The contention is that one’s personal experience alone has the final word. We can note than if there is no necessity to rely on any authority or guru, it is appealing to a modern seeker.
A powerful and extraordinary experience is a necessity to shake off our notions about reality. Without it, our understanding will remain only theoretical or intellectual.

In order to refute the above contentions, we must first understand that any experience is not a means of knowledge and is as good as the interpretation you give to it. For any experience you need a valid means of knowledge to understand it correctly otherwise it will not make you wiser. For example everybody has an experience of the sun rising; while this experience is real, the conclusion based on this experience that sun rises in eastern sky and sets in the west is corrected only by the understanding that sun does not move but earth moves. Another example is when you talk to a person that happens to be your college friend you have met after 20 years and have not recognized. You experience him very much but the truth about him will be unknown until it is revealed by a third friend who tells you: this is Arjuna who was with us in Delhi!

One further needs to understand that Vedanta is not a theory where you as a subject or a meditator retain your status of subject and experience something different from you, the 'object' of your experience. The subject matter of Vedanta is not away from you. It is not like an indirect knowledge of a special type of animal in Artic pole that you need to confirm by going there and seeing it for yourself. You are very much available all the time. The knowledge given by Vedanta is direct and immediate knowledge as it talks about the real nature of 'I'.

Moreover, any direct knowledge is to be understood and not practiced. For example, when eyes reveal forms and colors, when you operate the means of knowledge that is your eyes, is it theory or practice? It is none. It is just immediate knowledge. Similarly, when the truth of the 'subject' and 'objects' is revealed to be one non-dual consciousness by Vedanta, the differences are understood to be mithya or apparent. To understand the 'individual' body-mind-sense complex and the 'objects' as mithya, one only needs to inquire into their reality. One need not resolve them temporarily and physically in a special experience.

Further, we do not lack experience to understand realities. Non duality is seen as the content of all experiences here and now even in waking. The subject/object division is experienced by me and is understood as not real here and now when the teacher points it out to me, using the means of knowledge that is Vedanta. Every experience is within consciousness, the invariable content of all experiences, including the special experience of samadhi, that is stopping activities of the mind for a length of time. In fact we are experiencing non dual consciousness all the time without knowing it, as I am seeing, talking, reading, speaking, there is one invariable element in all of them that is the truth of the seer, reader, the thoughts occurring in my mind and also the object seen. Therefore we do not need one more experience or wait for a special experience to understand the reality, that is the content of all our experiences.

Finally, experience of 'non duality', as some describe, lasts for a limited time, some minutes or an hour. It means that one experiences absorption of the mind for a limited time, which one takes as non duality. And afterwards, when one is again thinking, one concludes that it is duality! To have an absorbed and quiet mind for a while is highly desirable because one enjoys a certain peace and tranquility. But the problem is that one takes it as 'non duality'. If this is done, one’s commitment becomes to repeat this experience through meditation or certain breathing techniques. The world which takes one away from 'non duality' becomes a source of botheration. What one needs to understand is that 'non-duality' is my understanding of reality of things, and not absence of thoughts.

To conclude, wrong notions about reality can be corrected only by examining them and refuting them, proving how they are wrong, not by having an intense experience to shake them. I can have an intense subjective experience of fear of a thief in the darkness and that can be refuted only by understanding it as a projection and seeing that the thief I saw was only a shadow. If intense experience leads to knowing of reality, people who take drugs or LSD will all be sages !

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