A Real Life Experience

[This fascinating email of 17 Jan 2011, from a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, concerns his involvement with a Vedanta School for many years, and how the discussion of the 'Illusion versus Experience Models' in the final chapter of The Big Book of the Soul has finally helped him to see through the pitfalls of the former. May his experience reach out and help others who have followed the same path but perhaps felt increasingly uneasy with it.]

For some reason this week, in following up some enquiry or other, I began looking at your updated Big Book of the Soul. I was particularly impressed by your discussion of the dichotomy between what you call the ‘Illusion Model’ and the ‘Experience Model’ of spiritual work. This is a really live issue with me, and I had not previously seen it set out so clearly. It explained some of the problems I am facing rather neatly.

For forty years or so I was in a Vedantic school of the 'Illusion Model’ persuasion. Nevertheless, before that, the same organisation had followed the teachings of Gurdjieff, who was in many ways an experience-wallah, so this earlier way of working has always held a certain attraction for me. I had also become a Christian during that time and much of Jesus’ teaching, if I understand it at all correctly - and that would not be according to the orthodox positions of the main churches - has, I think, the same ‘Experience Model’ dynamic.

So I had a mixed background, but in the Vedantic school they taught that the aim of life is self-realisation alone. In that school this took the form of one working to become still enough to connect with the Higher Self. In this way alone would one transcend this world and all past lives, and somehow expand into a more universal consciousness. That was the promise, anyway.

Exemplars of this path are Sri Ramana Maharshi, Shankara and other such Indian saints and philosophers. So the idea was to renounce all, find the Supreme Self deep within, and thus leap into the Transcendent Truth, forever, all questions closed. In this teaching the resolution of karmic issues, relationships with others, the perfecting of character, the importance of gradual growth in experience from life to life, and the gaining of understanding of the lower self - all rank low on the list of priorities. In fact it was generally taught that this sort of thing would be resolved by the mere attainment of self-realisation. It also seemed to be held that the Supreme Self is a finished item, with no further development required after its attainment. This contrasts with the sense of continuous evolution of Source in your ‘Experience Model’, with our unique and individual part being vital to the process.

What is more I saw no one in that organization showing any sign of reaching the ultimate plateau set forth. So I left after staying, I think, for far too long. Now I am left to resolve the issues, personal and relational, that I pushed aside and that should probably have been tackled long ago. For instance I tended to turn a blind eye to my relationships with others, on the understanding that self-realisation would settle it all, with the added excuse that in any case the world is unreal and not to be taken very seriously.

I have to say that not everybody in that school was using such excuses for ignoring the issues, but it was not unusual for impressionable young men like me to take this mistaken view. In fact the founder of the school was himself a poor example in many areas, particularly with respect to relationships and the like. He seemed to see his job as simply leading his troops towards self-realisation at all costs. This was a pretty disastrous model for a person like me, as it turned out.