Beyond the Mind: Integrating Philosophy and Experience

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Beyond the Mind: Integrating Philosophy and Experience

By Claudiu Vaduva

What role does philosophy play on the spiritual path?

At times, it becomes highly beneficial to have a mental framework or context through which we can interpret our experience and lead us in the direction of further deepening.

At other junctures, we might find ourselves trapped by such concepts or simply by that conceptual way of understanding reality—a reality beyond any ideas or labels we might try to impose on it.

Or we might be confused by the different and often contradictory recommendations found in the various schools, philosophies, and spiritual paths, losing that sense of our own lived experience and the intuition that follows from it.

In embracing a philosophy, we are granting authority to that particular map of reality, which may be more or less accurate, more or less direct, more or less helpful depending on our natural tendencies and where we are already, but which nonetheless remains only a map.

For it to serve us in the spiritual endeavor, philosophy or theory should be approached with flexibility—as a means to enter into an experience or understanding, not as an end in itself—and with the emphasis always on the depth which underlies and transcends all philosophies.

Complications of Mental Understanding

Every spiritual tradition includes some kind of theoretical background that relates to or directs the practices within that path.

Some are highly elaborate, with complicated metaphysics or cosmology. Others try to keep things more simple, but of course, this itself expresses a particular viewpoint. Generally, every tradition will also define what sets it apart from others, according to how the beings within it understand their own path and other paths.

Yet beyond the superficial distinctions, all of these different approaches are pointing to or can point to, some of the most profound questions which we can encounter as human beings.

What is non-duality? What is duality? What is this higher truth or Supreme Truth? What are we trying to get to? What is devotion?

Unfortunately, all these questions can only be answered by the mind. And any answer will only be satisfying to the mind. As soon as we answer them, we will create a construct through which we understand them, accept them, and come to a consensus.

This construct can be used as a structure, as a path, and as a way for us to go beyond our current tendencies. It can be a way to grow and transform. In this process, we are really transforming through the mind.

Of course, this depends on how we define the mind. In Buddhism, for example, you may hear a lot about the mind and the no-mind, and the source of the mind is the no-mind which is also the mind… Things can get complicated very quickly when we try to put all of this into words.

When it comes to devotion, things can get even more complicated if we try to understand it with the mind.

But the spiritual movement is towards experience. There is also a place for understanding the philosophy and the theory, but the experience must become principal. It may not be the starting point, but it’s definitely the arrival point.

Finding a False Sense of Safety in the Mind

We might start from a philosophy, or from a place where we’re starting to catch glimpses in our mind that something is different from the way we see things. We might notice discrepancies that can no longer be reconciled.

At this point, if we start searching only in the mind and theoretical knowledge, we’re at risk of marrying an explanation or a philosophy that makes us feel good.

The mind loves to feel that it knows because that feels safe. When you know about something, you feel safer, even if that thing is dangerous. It’s in our basic psychology. If you know about the sabretooth grounds, then you know to avoid that place. When you know what the danger is, it doesn’t create this insidious anxiety and paranoia. You can handle it with your mind. Even if it’s deadly, you feel in control.

Sometimes, to arrive at a sense of safety, we “fix” those discrepancies that arise in our mind or life experience by bringing a mental perspective or philosophy.

But what the spiritual path actually does is change the experience of life and of existence. When you enter into the living presence of it—in the present moment, without past, without future—there’s not so much room for philosophy.

The Use of the Mind for Interpreting Experiences

There is room for the structure. There’s room for interpreting what is happening, categorizing it, and putting it in the right perspective in relation to other experiences.

The mind can be used to create such a framework. It can show us where we can go forward and where we can relax more.

We can look at our experiences overall—maybe some average experiences, some spiritual experiences—like a standard deviation of everything that happened to everyone. And the mind can sort these things out.

At a certain point, the mind says, “This is a wonderful experience you had!” But now, it’s not just an anomaly or a sign that you’ve seen all there is to see. It relates to the bigger picture. There is something even freer. There’s a different taste, a possibility of even deeper immersion, maybe with a more refined object or without an object at all.

For example, even if you were to have a state of samadhi with an object, tangible or intangible, there is still the experience of the Self. It’s just expressed in that particular way. Although we are never separated from that Supreme Reality, the recognition of it comes through separation. It comes through different experiences that we compare against each other so that the vision becomes more complete.

Will I Remain Here, or Is There Something More?

At some point, philosophy might tell us to go further. Will I remain here, or is there something more? Do I remain, for example, in one of the eight jhanas in Buddhism? In some progressive stage of realization? Or can the vision, the experiential understanding, embrace more?

Am I parking myself in a particular experience and believing this is the final realization? That this is what the sages or the Buddha spoke about?

If we start thinking like this, then maybe a scripture or philosophy can come and say that you can go deeper, and the way you can go deeper, it should feel like this or like that. It should feel like the void, like emptiness, it should feel like oneness, it should feel like love…

And this is where all the problems begin between different religions and spiritual paths, and even within spiritual paths that may have many different branches. This is what people end up fighting over.

But the real question is not about these structures and frameworks. It’s more, how do I approach the path, and when I come to a certain point, how do I go further and I go beyond? If I need to get stuck, where do I park myself?

If you are confused by different perspectives, ask yourself honestly, what is your experience? Beyond any philosophy, where are you, and what is your experience?

Having an experience of greater depth, how do you interpret it? What is your vision of the world, of reality, through the human mind and the human being after that experience?

Or if that experience continues, then you don’t need the philosophy.

The mind wants to know and categorize, but you can also simply follow the naturalness of the unfolding of the Present Moment. Just being. This being includes being human—your unique human consciousness and its perspectives—but also transparently transcends it.

The Truth Is beyond Any Path

It’s not about which is right and which is wrong. Of course, a guru, a teacher, or any particular person might try to promote their path and techniques. It’s understandable, feeling a need that the path must not die and that it will be preserved as a viable tradition.

Still, the path is something relative. The Truth is beyond that.

I can imagine that the beings who came up with all these philosophies were very good, very intelligent, and very perceptive. Within their system, all the arguments make perfect sense. So it’s inarguable at the level of the mind. You can never really be clear that this philosophy is true or that one is.

But if you surrender more and more, letting go of ideas and philosophies, allowing everybody to be as they are, where do you arrive experientially?

You can never go beyond a particular depth, or past a particular threshold, without the grace of God. You cannot go based on personal will. The only thing we can do as a personal will is just surrendered.

The Taste of Truth Arises

How do you feel free?

Free from the story, from the identification, free within, free without. Free as this pure presence and consciousness-existence.

Measure that freedom not with philosophy but with the inner knowing of it and against other experiences when things are contracted. And you will notice that in time, you’ll be able to have a contracted experience without losing the freedom.

At this point, it’s no longer about expansion versus being caught, and so on.

When beauty starts to arise and love starts to arise, there’s no name and no form that does not contain love, does not contain God, does not contain consciousness, does not contain the sense of existence, the sense of “I” free from “I.”

Once you taste that, beyond philosophies and ideas, then the taste for Truth arises there.

Keep asking. Is this the truth? Is there more?

Not searching for more from the mind’s need to fill a hole or resolve an incompleteness, but just to see, if I can rest deeper.

Following the Guidance of God from Within

At times, you will feel like you are in the arms of God, resting in God, and with no separation from God. And in that love, what does it matter what a book, a philosophy, or a person says, and what agendas are there?

It’s just this spontaneous expression of life living which somehow intimately contains this sense of you closer than other forms, at least for a while, but without any idea of specialness. And life continues unfolding.

When time starts becoming timeless and points of origin and points of finishing, processes, ideas, philosophies, strategies—all these mental things which are the true duality—start dissolving, then the feeling of unity is there, however, you want to label it.

For any spiritual being who is entering profoundly on the path, it would be important for them to experience the Void, to experience absolute devotion, to experience bliss, beauty, eternity or timelessness, boundlessness, the knowingness of no particular starting point or ending point, and maybe other things that cannot even be put into words.

It would be important for them to be open to all of these things, whichever path they may follow. And then life is living through that being.

God will grant these things with various measures—a glimpse, an experience, a state, a continuity, the taste of it, an intuition of it, the full beingness—and God will then continue to guide.

Past a certain point, things can no longer be guided by philosophies or ideas. They are guided by God from within, and we simply follow that grace, trusting, that there’s still anyone there to express trust.

Claudiu is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and contributor to our blog.

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