Religious Experience without an Experiencer: The ‘Not I’ in Sāṃkhya and Yoga
Abstract“Experience” is a category that seems to have developed new meaning in European thought after the Enlightenment when personal inwardness took on the weight of an absent God. The inner self (including, a little later, a sub- or unconscious mind) rose to prominence about 200–300 years ago, around the time of the “Counter-Enlightenment” and Romanticism, and enjoyed a rich and long life in philosophy (including Lebensphilosophie) and religious studies, but began a steep descent under fire around 1970. The critique of “essentialism” (the claim that experience is self-validating and impervious to historical and scientific explanation or challenge) was probably the main point of attack, but there were others. The Frankfurt School (Adorno, Benjamin, et al.) claimed that authentic experience was difficult or impossible in the modern capitalist era. The question of the reality of the individual self to which experience happens also threatened to undermine the concept. This paper argues that the religious experience characteristic of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, while in some ways paralleling Romanticism and Lebensphilosophies, differs from them in one essential way. Sāṃkhyan/Yogic experience is not something that happens to, or in, an individual person. It does not occur to or for oneself (in the usual sense) but rather puruṣārtha, “for the sake of [artha] an innermost consciousness/self”[puruṣa] which must be distinguished from the “solitude” of “individual men” (the recipient, for William James, of religious experience) which would be called ahaṃkāra, or “ego assertion” in the Indian perspectives. The distinction found in European Lebensphilosophie between two kinds of experience, Erlebnis (a present-focused lived moment) and Erfahrung (a constructed, time-binding thread of life, involving memory and often constituting a story) helps to understand what is happening in Sāṃkhya and Yoga. The concept closest to experience in Sāṃkhya/Yoga is named by the Sanskrit root dṛś-, “seeing,” which is a process actualized through long meditative practice and close philosophical reasoning. The Erfahrung “story” enacted in Sāṃkhya/Yoga practice is a sort of dance-drama in which psychomaterial Nature (prakṛti) reveals to her inner consciousness and possessor (puruṣa) that she “is not, has nothing of her own, and does not have the quality of being an ‘I’” (nāsmi na me nāham). This self exposure as “not I” apophatically reveals puruṣa, and lets him shine for them both, as pure consciousness. Prakṛti’s long quest for puruṣa, seeking him with the finest insight (jñāna), culminates in realization that she is not the seer in this process but the seen, and that her failure has been to assert aham (“I”) rather than realize nāham, “Not I.” Her meditation and insight have led to an experience which was always for an Other, though that was not recognized until the story’s end. Rather like McLuhan’s “the medium is the message,” the nature or structure of experience in Sāṃkhya and Yoga is also its content, what religious experience is about in these philosophies and practices. In Western terms, we have religious experience only when we recognize what (all) experience (already) is: the unfolding story of puruṣārtha. Experience deepens the more we see that it is not ours; the recognition of non-I, in fact, is what makes genuine experience possible at all. View Full-Text
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Collins, A. Religious Experience without an Experiencer: The ‘Not I’ in Sāṃkhya and Yoga. Religions 2019, 10, 94.
Collins A. Religious Experience without an Experiencer: The ‘Not I’ in Sāṃkhya and Yoga. Religions. 2019; 10(2):94.Chicago/Turabian Style
Collins, Alfred. 2019. "Religious Experience without an Experiencer: The ‘Not I’ in Sāṃkhya and Yoga." Religions 10, no. 2: 94.
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