All Experiences are Side Effects

Even with a teacher, there are three principles to keep in mind in working with these unfamiliar realms of our spiritual life. The first principle is the understanding that All Spiritual Phenomena Are Side Effects. In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha often reminded students that the purpose of his teaching was not the accumulation of special good deeds and good karma or rapture or insight or bliss, but only the sure heart’s release—a true liberation of our being in every realm. This freedom and awakening, and this alone, is the purpose of any genuine spiritual path.

The dazzling effect of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy, all are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old and small structures of our being, body, and mind. However, they do not in themselves produce wisdom. Some people have had many of these experiences, yet learned very little. Even great openings of the heart, kundalini processes, and visions can turn into spiritual pride or become old memories. As with a near-death experience or a car accident, some people will change a great deal and others will return to old constricted habits shortly thereafter. Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process.

“Unusual experiences” can create an obstacle course of repeated difficulties and pitfalls in our spiritual journey. Our reactions to them can even corrupt our meditation: we may grasp these experiences, or we may seek to repeat them and hold them and then think we are enlightened, which is called Settling for the Booby Prize, or we may find them disturbing and push them away. These are all traps.

One meditation student who practiced in India managed to come to a remarkable opening in his body after several long years of difficult and intensive practice. Each time he sat, his body would dissolve into tingles of rapture and light, and his mind would be open and profoundly peaceful. He was delighted. But then an emergency in his family called him back to England for several months. He couldn’t wait to return to India. When he did get back, he found his body and mind were tight and blocked, filled with contraction, pain, and loss. So he undertook a series of intensive retreats to try to get back to the body of light and rapture, but it just wouldn’t happen. Weeks and months went by, and his frustration grew along with his regret. If only he hadn’t gone home from India! Now he tried even harder to clear himself. This struggle lasted for two years. Then one day it dawned on him that his two-year struggle with blocks, frustration, and difficulty was actually the result of his desire to repeat his past experience. His attachment to the old state and his resistance to what was present kept it all locked in. When he realized this and accepted his current state, his whole practice shifted. As he accepted his tension and pain a spacious equanimity arose all around it and his meditation began to flow into new territory again.


This excerpt is taken from the book, “A Path With Heart”

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