My Miracle is Bigger Than Yours

Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

Okay, I admit: I have mystical visions. Sometimes I see and experience things that sound a lot like the mystical experiences one reads about in the Upanishads, the Qur’an, and supernatural literature.

But I rarely talk about such experiences, and frankly I am embarrassed by them. It is not that there is anything wrong with hearing advice from dead saints when I worship, or feeling indescribable bliss when I meditate. The issue is that the significance of these experiences usually is overblown.

Because spirituality is a very nuanced game, there’s not a lot of concrete metrics we can leverage to show progress and boost our self-confidence. Spirituality is a subtle thing, which is why we alight on mystical visions and special phenomena. Such phenomena is the proof that our practices are working, that our faith is justified, that we are succeeding in spiritual life. Maybe such visions even show that we are special, that we might be poor in material goods but wealthy in spiritual juju.

None of this is true, however. Mystical visions and special phenomena do not matter.

Hazrat Azad Rasool, the Sufi saint who founded the School of Sufi Teaching in Delhi, explains this well in his book, Turning Toward the Heart. I quote him at length.

Having read about visions and miracles in stories of Sufis of the past, many students assume that as they progress, they also will experience out-of-the-ordinary phenomena. Among my own students, I have found that those who see or have kashf (visions or intuitive insight) feel satisfied that they are making progress, while those without kashf worry that they are getting nowhere.

Visions and phenomena may be pleasing, but the reality of improvement is far, far removed from such experiences. The practitioners of certain paths may content themselves with receiving “guidance” from visions revealed by the imagination. They may believe they have achieved enlightenment, even when they have not progressed beyond the first stage of the self.

In fact, among students on the spiritual journey, those who have visions—and those who do not—hold the same position. The person who sits in meditation makes progress with or without phenomena. Let’s say you and another person are passengers in the same car. If you are sitting in the front seat, you can see both the driver and the scenery. The other person, seated in back, may not see either very well. But when the car reaches the destination, both of you arrive there.

Whenever you sit in meditation, you receive barakat (blessings). It is one thing to receive blessings, and another to be aware of receiving them. Receiving is the main object. Even if you do not feel or see anything, even if you do not have detailed knowledge about what you are receiving, do not be disappointed. You still will reach the destination.

The phenomena associated with earlier mystics had some connection with their way of life. An individual who rarely interacts with other people and who takes little food—only grain and water, for instance—will be highly receptive to visions and other mystical experiences. But today, few seekers can adopt this lifestyle.

Sometimes students who do not perceive visions or phenomena advance more rapidly than those who do. They are humble because they are not “seeing” anything. Extraordinary experiences may become sources of gratification linked to this world rather than means of attracting the seeker to the unseen, since they usually pertain more to creation than to the Creator. As the Indian scholar and mystic Shakyk Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi (r.a.) explained:

“The object of the Sufi sulik (journey) is not to view forms and images of transcendental realities, or [to] behold colors and lights. In fact, [these] are nothing more than play and fun… Forms, these or others, and lights, physical or spiritual, are all created by God. He transcends them all, and they are nothing but His signs and proofs.”

The true student is interested in God alone and finds phenomena to be other than God. Rejecting them, he or she focuses on the Creator, not on the created.

Which is why I downplay my own moments of mystical vision, both to myself and to others. It is not so much that the phenomena is other than God, because the Vedantin understands that everything is part of God. I care very little about mystical visions because I’m losing the forest from the trees when mystical visions matter.

Instead of finding God in everything, when I care about mystical visions I am reinforcing the idea that God’s not in everything, and I’m only seeing Him when there’s some seemingly supersensory experience. This is moving me in the wrong direction and definitely hurting my spiritual outlook!

Worse, it is focusing my attention on the impermanent side of life instead of the permanent. Instead of finding the timeless in the world, which is God, I am caring about impermanent manifestations of God that are really besides the point. Instead of seeing the ocean, I am focusing on the waves when I start caring about spiritual phenomena.

So yes, I might have experienced mystical visions. But no, they do not matter.

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