To be alive is to have experiences.
But the only test of the authenticity or otherwise of an experience is the impact it leaves. Very often in spirituality experiences are nothing more than a projection of ones own deepest desires.
There are often people who claim to have visions of deities or saints or other holy characters with all conviction and sanguinity and yet there is not one inch of change in their attitude, lifestyle or behaviour pattern. How is it possible to have such ‘powerful’ encounters with deities and things like that, yet remain the same old flawed individual all through?
All spiritual experiences, or any experience, finally belongs to one of three classes – good, bad and useless. The good, if it happens, will lead to a transformation in the individual which lasts for a long time. The bad debilitates us, the pointless or useless is just that, useless. In case of a lot of people who sincerely believe that they get visions or such from deities and other powerful ethereal entities, still lead a life that is joyless, cribbing about things they did not get, bitching about all and sundry, just like any average person. Which means not one of their so-called experiences triggered any innate or genuine transformation.
Pandit Gopinath Kaviraj, the great sadhaka and scholar, mentions that Great Gurus often warn their disciples not to take all experiences seriously however beautiful or exciting it may seem. The mind is a terrific instrument which is well capable of conjuring a reality which is useless and has no essential truth in it. This happens to many people during sadhana and they get swept by experiences for they have not yet developed the innate discrimination to decide which is play of the mind based on desires vs which is genuinely true.
To illustrate the point Pt Kaviraj mentions a great sadhaka who during his younger days went to a shiva temple and while meditating he saw suddenly Shiva appear with his bull and bless him. Overjoyed he went to inform his Guru. His Guru laughed at it and said your mind had a desire to see something so your mind created the whole illusion of meeting Shiva and now your mind is happy that you have achieved something wonderful. It was all a product of your desires and nothing more. If Shiva truly blessed you then you will have a transformation – what transformation has happened? nothing. So go back to sadhana and pay no heed to what you experienced there, it has no meaning.
This is a very accurate assessment of what happens to many people and then their ego hangs onto the false experience believing it to be true. This is however not to say that genuine experiences do not happen. They do, and when they do the sadhaka finds a result both subjective and objective that will most likely cause a TRANSFORMATION.
In some ways this is very similar to dreams. Most dreams are random useless stuff or projection of ones subconscious desires. Very few are those which are useful. It takes objectivity and discrimination to find out the usefulness and signature of different energies inside a dream. Same way it takes discrimination and objectivity to find out how much truth is there in an experience, what to accept and what to reject.
A good general position is to be skeptic, that way one is saved for the perennial problem of self-delusions.
Finally all delusions are caused by Mahamaya – She gives whatever an individual desires, both the good and bad, and thus the deepest desires turn into “spiritual experiences” and sometimes come back to the seeker appearing to be “out of the blue” and creating a false projection of self-importance, but in reality they leave no effect on the mind and prana. The person is thus back to exactly as he or she was after the brief moments of the experience. This state will carry on until the mind has been transformed from the normal human mind to one of light and clarity, infused with a higher Shakti. But that is very far off, one is millions of sadhaks are capable of that changed condition. If there is the slightest inner desire for things like greatness, self-importance etc, Mahamaya will use it to further bind the individual sadhaka into a blackhole of false experiences.
Those who do not have this ability to judge which is a true experience vs projection of ones own desires, will become like cattle tied to a pole moving round and round in endless circles, believing that one is progressing while in reality, they are going nowhere.
Only Shiva remains unattached to all this, unmoved by any experience whether good, bad or useful. Therefore we bow down to the Great Linga that is a symbol of steady constancy in a world of infinite delusions.
May His anugraha never fail a sincere sadhaka.