Is self-knowledge (self-realization) an experience?

gurudev (2)

Knowledge is not an experience. What we mean by knowledge is cognition. When my eyes come into contact with a flower in front of me, the cognition of the flower takes place. In that cognition, I have no doership at all.

Knowledge is determined by the object of knowledge, jnanam vastutantrum. The type of cognition that takes place in my mind is not determined by me; it is determined by the object, the vastu. That you experience something implies that the experience is of something other than you. Thus an experience usually conveys duality. On the other hand, knowledge conveys understanding Therefore, one can have an experience, but not an understanding. For instance, I may see the Lord in front of me and yet not recognize him.

We can illustrate the distinction between an experience and an understanding. I had once been talking to a person for 10 minutes. A mutual friend then came and said, “Swamiji, do you recognize this person? This is Krishnamurthi. Do you remember how we used to do so many things together in New York City in those days?” ”Oh, is he that Krishnamurthi?” I remembered that in those days he was clean shaven and always in a suit. Now he had a beard and long hair! I was then able to recognize my old friend Krishnamurthi. Until then, I’d had an experience of Krishnamurthi the individual, even though I had not recognized him to be the Krishnamurthi I used to know Therefore, there can be an experience while there may be no recognition. In that sense, you have to distinguish between an experience and the recognition of knowledge. It is okay to use the word experience to mean understanding. That I can ‘experience’ a person while I do not necessarily know him would give an idea of the difference between experience and knowledge.

In the same manner, I can have the experience of God and yet not recognize him. Vedantins will say that you don’ t need to “experience” God because Whatever you are experiencing is God; you don’ t need an experience of the self because the self is self-revealing. In fact, any experience is possible only when you experience the self. Therefore, when you talk of an experience of God, if you mean the experience of god in certain form, it’ s okay. However, if you mean the experience of God as Vedanta explains it, you must know that everything that appears is God1. Every experience you have IS but an experience of God. Thus, what is lacking is the recognition, not the experience. In that sense, experience and knowledge or understanding are different. There cannot be knowledge without experience.

Knowledge requires an experience because there has to be something for you to know. If you are talking about a god of a certain description, you require an experience of that god to know him. Therefore, in dvaita1, where god is looked upon as different from us, we require the experience of that god because it is a particular god of a certain description. Whatever may be the description of god, you would require an experience of that god. However, if God is your own self, He is always experienced. If everything is God, it is also always experienced, it is simply a matter recognizing him in every experience.

In the case of a belief in duality1, an experience is required. In the case of non-duality, only recognition is required because all that exists is God. Experience and knowledge need not be identical. You can experience something and still not have an understanding or recognition of it.

Swami Viditatmanand Saraswati

1 What is advaita, non-dualism?

Excerpts from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol: 2

Links to Swamiji’s Talks and Discourses


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