Some time ago, I received a visit from a woman who as a result of listening to these talks, was wondering if I could help her to regain and experience what she had had while undergoing a surgical operation. As is generally known, anaesthetics sometimes induce, peculiarly vivid and unusual states of consciousness. And every now and then a person under anesthesia will undergo a specific and particular experience which is of the utmost fascination. It’s the kind of experience which I suppose we would ordinarily call mystical or spiritual, and which, while it lasts, carries the most powerful sensation of understanding with complete clarity and certainty what is the mystery and meaning of the world. This occurs sufficiently often to have been made a subject of experimentation.
Perhaps you know the story of the investigator who took doses of anaesthetic for this purpose and equipped himself with pencil and paper to record, at the moment of awakening,what ever revelation might have been given to him. Fortunately, the expected experience took place, and for a brief period the investigator had the vivid conviction of complete comprehension of this universe, of life and death. He regained waking consciousness with the tail end of the sensation still upon him, grabbed the pencil, and swiftly recorded the essential content of the experience just before it faded. After several minutes during which his mind returned to its normal state, he looked at what he had written. And there upon the paper was the following immensely profound observation: Everything in this universe is the smell of burnt almonds.
And I suppose that all sensible and hard headed people would agree that this is just the sort of inanity to which all these mystical revelations ultimately boil down. In the clear cold light of rational consciousness, the seemingly inspired and utter convincing knowledge, of Dreams, drug delusions, and of mystical experiences comes down to just this sort of idiotic anticlimax. Masked in the poetic or exotic obscurantism of such phrases as “All is Brahman” or “the divine unity beneath the multiplicity of the world.” It may sound for a moment it as if it meant something. But the essential nonsense of these feelings and the purely subjective character of the sense of insight which they involve at once becomes obvious when Brahman or the divine unity is replaced by the smell of burnt almonds. We might settle for this conclusion, if some of us had not had the same sensation. Not under drugs or hypnosis but when very wide awake. And I for one will not quarrel with the smell of burned almonds as the key to the mystery. I like it much better and feel it makes much more sense than Brahman or the divine unity. And for its very banality, its very inconsequential silliness, brings out the real significance of the experience in question. For the importance of the mystical revelation does not lie in the precise nature of what everything in this universe is. It can be God or Brahman or burned almonds or applesauce or anything you like. Its importance lies rather. In the simple sensation of wholeness in the part of the sentence which runs. Everything in this universe is. No matter what.
For the conviction which has come to the experiencer, is that his habitual sensation of isolation from his environment from the rest of the world is an illusion. And that as a corollary, his own deeds and misdeeds fortunes and misfortunes are the same process as the changing seasons and the circling stars. And unreasonable as it may seem, this gives him the sensation that his whole life, past present and future, is somehow perfectly natural and in order, and that he himself is not just the mind enclosed in the skull. But the total process of the world.
The significance of this experience, and does not I think, lie in any consequences or conclusions which might be drawn from it. It is not an important experience in the sense that it is useful for some other purpose. It’s simply like playing or listening to music, which is obviously phony in the very moment that we do it for some ulterior motives such as to appear cultured or to convey an ideological message. Its significance for human beings is not like that of say the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but like that of the Mozart sonatas or the arabesques on a Persian rug. The significance of useful knowledge like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is precisely that by applying it. Human beings may be enabled to go on experiencing such things as music or love or mystical insight, but what could I say to the woman who under anaesthetic, had once had this experience and wanted it again more than anything else in the world? Go and have another operation. Get yourself some ether. Mescal in lysergic acid or take up yoga. Or get thee to a nunnery. There are still other and much too pat answers to this question, as that she is failing to revive the experience by the very act of seeking for it. As well tell a starving man, that his very hunger is what prevents him from finding food. For once a person has had an experience of this kind, he is gone. It’s easier to get rid of an addiction to heroin. Or to choose something more natural, to get rid of the love of the opposite sex. No I could better say something like this. The answer is in the very experience which you have had. Didn’t you know then, for certain, with utter clarity, that your whole life past present and future, was somehow as you yourself put it part and parcel of that universal harmony which the Chinese call the Tao.
I feel sometimes that phrases like universal harmony are so hackneyed, so almost slushy and sentimental, that it’s terribly difficult to begin to find the right word for this kind of thing without sounding like Voltaire’s Mr. Pangloss, without sort of jumping on this. Best of all possible worlds business. Because the thing isn’t like that at all. It’s very very much stronger than the feeling that this is the best of all possible worlds. And the curious thing about it it isn’t that it glosses over anything. But it makes the most awful things seem that way too, without at the same time making them cease to seem terrible. It’s very peculiar.
Well, she had seen then, for certain, at the time of that experience seen with total clarity. That our whole past present and future life. Was in some way part and parcel of what we are perforce driven to call the universal harmony of the. But what one doesn’t seem to understand them. Is that this still remains true of what one is today. You are in the stream when seeking for what you have lost and when feeling perfectly ordinary no less than when you were in ecstasy. You are not feeling the experience and your striving to regain it is as a matter of fact the very future which you saw to be in such perfect accord with the process. Let me remind you of a celebrated tale that was told by Sri Ramakrishna. Story of one of his disciples who had learned from the master that all the multiplicity of this world is the illusory outward form of the one eternal divine Brahman underlying the entire process. And having sat and listened to this exposition, the disciple got up and went his way. And in passing down a rather narrow street, he saw an elephant coming towards him and Marketa riding on top of the elephant. Well the man who saw the disciple wandering down the center of the road and shouted at him “Hey you, get out of the way. This elephant isn’t very nice.” But the disciple thought now the master Ramakrishna has told me that I am Brahman and that everything is Brahman and therefore the elephant is Brahman and therefore it will be perfectly all right if I walk straight along, the elephant will do me no harm, since I realize this to be true. So he ignored the warning of the mahoot. And approached the elephant and the elephant swung his trunk and swatted that disciple hard and threw him into the ditch where he was scratched with the brambles. Well he was very upset, and he came crawling back to Sri Ramakrishna and said “Master, you have deceived me. I understood that everything is Brahman. That I am Brahman and all other creatures, is that not so Master?” and The Master said “yes it is so.” When he said “I was walking out in the road and I saw this elephant coming towards me and it didn’t seem to me to be necessary to get out of the way when the market riding the elephant wanted me to do so because I figured that I was Brahman the elephant was Brahman and I could come to no harm.” “You stupid man,” said Krishna. You didn’t realize that the voice of the mom who was also Brahman and you should have heeded that too.
So also in this case, the one who is trying to regain the vision is the disciple. And the vision they’re trying to regain is the elephant. But the way you are actually feeling now. And which you are ignoring because if you’re going to feel some other way. That is the voice of the mahoot. And that too is Brahman. Nine times out of ten, an observation of this kind will mean nothing. And will fall as flat as being told that everything in this universe is the smell of burnt almonds. But the tenth time, it will dawn upon you as a statement of total and luminous clarity. I do not think we need have any fear that this tense time will never come. For in other circumstances, it has come again and again. Think back to school days. When with the utmost care your teacher explained over and over, the mysteries of percentage or sentence structure or Daylight Saving Time. And you consistently failed to see the point. And then suddenly something clicked in your mind. And the principle became clear. There is a Chinese poem as “Words do not make a man understand. It takes the man to understand the words.”