pure experience

“Buddhist philosophy, therefore is the philosophy of Suchness, or philosophy of Emptiness, or philosophy of Self-identity. It starts from the absolute presence in which there is no differentiation of subject and object, and yet which is not a state of sheer nothingness. … This Suchness defies all characterization or denotation. No words can express what it is, but as words are the only instrument given to humna beings to communicate our thought, we have to use words, with this caution: Nothing is available for our purpose to say ‘not available, (anupalabda in Sanskrit and pu k’u te in Chinese) is not to the point either. Nothing is acceptable. To say it is already negating itself. Suchness transcends everything. It has mo moorings. No concepts can reach it, no understanding can grasp it. Therefore, it is called pure experience.

“ In pure experience there is no division between ‘ought’ and ‘is,” between form and matter or content, and therefore there is no judgment in it. …

“The Buddhist philosophy of Suchness thus starts with what is most primarily given to our consciousness which I have called pure experience. But, in point of fact, to say ‘pure experience’ is to commit oneself to something already posited somewhere, and thus it ceases to be pure. The Dhammapada reflects this thought when it designates the starting point of Buddhist philosophy as trackless, unboundable, … formless.” ~Daisetz Teitaro Suziki

Pure Experience is Truth

Here is something that a lot of people have not yet grasped, even spiritual ones: you can never be sure that what you read in a book, or what you are told, or see on YouTube, is absolute truth. You have to accept that it is almost certainly someone’s opinion. Worse yet, it is often the understanding of one person reading the opinions of another person, who studied the writings of someone like Buddha who had actual spiritual pure experience.

I hear people in various spiritual groups on social media say that spirituality is about having your own experience. Yet when one of them posts a meme, one hundred others will re-post it as if it is a known and absolute truth. As the above quote says, anything put into words can never be absolute truth. At best, it can only hint at the truth. In any case, reading what someone else wrote is not having your own experience.

Every day I see someone in one of these spiritual groups asking other members to recommend books or movies that will help them awaken. These things can only point you in the right direction. Only experience of your own can truly awaken and enlighten. Once you have awakened your spiritual faculties, they can connect with higher dimensions of reality. The experience of those dimensions, the knowledge found within them, is the pure experience Buddha was talking about. It’s a spiritual thing, not a mental one.

Pure Experience is Knowledge

What Mr. Suziki has to say about the general Buddhist philosophy of “Suchness” is probably closer to the truth than what many in the western world follow. Much like the Evangelical Christians who try to interpret all the allegorical tales in the Bible as literal truth, many who have adapted Buddhist philosophy today think of “Suchness” and “Emptiness” as meaning exactly what they would mean in non-spiritual writings. But Suziki correctly tells us that the exact meaning of these things cannot be put into words. Words can only approximate the meaning. That is why it must be something we gain through pure experience rather than by a written description of some other person’s experience.

Filtered Knowledge isn’t Pure Experience

Another problem with gaining pure experience is that once it gets into us, the filters in our brain-mind change it into something else. That is because everything we take in goes through filters in the subconscious mind. And that happens even before the conscious mind knows about. It’s similar to running your drinking water through a filter to remove dangerous chemicals before you drink it. But with those brain-mind filters, it’s more often a negative thing rather than a positive one.

When we were babies first learning about the world around us. We had to start developing filters. This is normal and positive. When we learn that a certain shape in our eyes represents a person, we need to turn that into a filter. That way, we quickly recognize the next similar shape as another person. If we don’t develop those filters, we have to treat each new thing as a complete unknown. That would dramatically slow down our learning. Eventually, though, we get past that type of filters into more sophisticated ones that are not so positive, and often downright negative. Our parents teach us their religion. Part of that, in most cases, is that their church is the one right one and all other beliefs are false. Other negative filters are about politics, business, ethics, etc. They may not seem negative, but in effect, they are. They are negative because they filter everything we experience and try to make them familiar and acceptable. That is why, when most Christians experience a vision of a spiritual being, it is almost always Jesus or Mary. Even though we don’t know, except in a very general sense, what those two beings looked like, they just know, because of their filters, that it must be them. But it isn’t just an assumption that what they actually see is something else because neither Jesus or Mary make a habit of appearing to any but the most advanced spiritual masters. They will actually see the thing differently depending on those beliefs. That is why any good spiritual school teaches the need to rid ourselves of these filters as much as possible. Only then can we have pure experience. And a pure experience isn’t really nothing or emptiness. It is rather all things in one, in their true nature, which can’t be adequately put into words.


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