Three Stages of Existence

Adiguru Padmé outlines the three stages of existence ‒ Experiencing, Knowing, and Being ‒ and the two events that separate them, Enlightenment and Self-realization.



This article is reprinted from Being Shiva.

Experiencing, Knowing and Being are three stages of existence: Three stages where we exist, three planes where we exist, three levels of consciousness as we exist, three reflections of THAT.

Experiencing is the gross reflection of THAT, Knowing is the subtle reflection of THAT, Being is the causal reflection of THAT. These are also the three stages of waking consciousness, deep sleep consciousness, and consciousness of the fourth state which is called turiya, the beyond. These are also the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh (Shiva).

From the Tantra perspective, the Experiencer belongs to the three lower chakras, the Knower belongs to the upper three chakras, and Being is the seventh chakra where Shakti is in union with Shiva.

These three stages correspond to the spiritual path: we are born as an Experiencer; with Enlightenment that dies and we live as a Knower; then with Self-realization even Knowing dies and we live as Being. So these three stages have two events in between, Enlightenment and Self-realization. The net result of living as a Being is LIBERATION.

1. Experiencing

Imagine one day you wake up and realize that your senses are missing. You can’t taste anything; it makes no difference what you’re eating; the delicacies you once savored, no matter how carefully cooked, are nothing like they were; nothing tastes like it used to. You notice you don’t feel or understand touching anymore; the moments that you once cherished have no life left in them – all are gone! You have no idea what you’re doing now or what this body is. While taking a shower, the feel of soap, foam, and aroma of essential oils are gone. The body feels distant and alien as if it’s a mere statue of clay. You realize nothing smells distinct anymore; all scents and non-scents are nonsense. From a sensical being you suddenly became a nonsensical one.

Pardon me, I am at loss of words here to describe the dilemma of Enlightenment that I had to face. All words seem similar to me now; language has lost it’s format, structure, and meaning for me. I didn’t know what Enlightenment is: what it does to the body, to the senses, to the emotions, to the Being that we are or who we think we were, and I was freaked out for a couple of months. I fought real hard to bring it back somehow, and discovering what was gone became a game for me, although at that time it didn’t feel like a good thing. For a sensitive, artistic, poetic, creative kind of person, loss of the senses wasn't a good thing. And I had no one to explain what had happened, to tell me whether it was normal or abnormal.

For two months I felt sad and grumpy because of all that was lost, even though there was always a deep knowing that everything was okay. As time went on, as a result of Enlightenment, I became more distant from my body, from the physical/gross part of existence, and this helped. But still at times I wished I could bring back that part for a couple of hours somehow – how cool would that be? (Laughing.)

I didn’t have words to explain my situation until one day my knowledgeable friend Arathi said, “The experiencer is missing.” It hit me real hard. Oh, so my senses are okay, they work, it’s just that the mental faculty, the personality, which was earlier experiencing through these senses, is no more. It’s dead. That made perfect sense to me. Thanks to the words that Arathi gave me, I was able to let it go. I learned to live without experiencing. There was bliss in every moment without experiencing anything, so why fight for what is no longer part of my existence? So I laughed and made peace with it.

Slowly from a picky eater and sophisticated cook I turned into someone who can eat anything without trying to modify it, define it, or categorize it. I used to be a person who wouldn’t eat food that lacks proper salt, and I turned into somebody who never adds salt even if it’s completely missing. Slowly I started having less and less interest in cooking, as nothing in me was looking for more experiences through taste. Food became something that I eat only to keep the body going; I saw no other point in the domain of taste.

Slowly I turned into somebody who doesn’t want her body touched. It felt alien, or you can say I couldn’t feel it; I didn’t see any point to it. Here in the US, ladies usually hug when they meet, but I lost the inclination to do that. I would say hi and bye without touching. Except for occasionally hugging a child or patting someone on their shoulders, I didn’t see any purpose to the domain of touch.

Slowly from a super music lover who could listen to music 24/7, I became someone who never turned music on despite having a huge collection of Hindi music, English songs, spiritual music, mantras, binaural beats, solfeggio tones, this and that. There was perfect silence in my existence. Music or no music, it made no difference to me. Sounds became scattered when I heard them. For a few days I couldn’t hear properly and music felt like nothing but noise. Instead the sound of OM/AUM was prominent in me. I couldn’t localize it, but it felt as if it was coming from the heart center. It made me go into trance-like states for few days, and then I got adjusted to it. Silence has a sound of its own, words of its own, notes and symphonies of its own.

Slowly from a beauty lover who would endlessly clean and decorate the house, I turned into someone who is fine whichever way my surroundings were – not that I didn’t clean the house, but my eyes lost the look. Or the one who used to look through my eyes was lost, was dead. Instead my eyes focused just anywhere without blinking, like a constant-stare-into-nowhere kind of thing. Looking at people felt like direct contact with their souls, with their essence. Vision became peripheral for few days, then adjusted itself or maybe I got used to it. There was no difference between looking at a tree or flower or human being. All was one, all the same.

Slowly from a person who would regularly smudge the house with sage, incense sticks, hawan samagri, and camphor, I became someone who didn’t see any point in doing that. Everywhere is heavenly as is; I didn’t need to do anything to make it that way. I had been very fond of aroma candles, essential oils, and perfumes; I forgot all that slowly.

Finally that is what is meant by the “Experiencer is no more.”

From the day we are born, the mind starts running outward using the senses, creating the world of perception and developing a personality which is nothing but a total sum of all sense-perception. As children we touch anything and everything: rocks, flowers, dead bees, even fire. Based on perception the mind creates a personality which has its own likes and dislikes, its own partial, filtered world where the real world, where the way things really are, is mostly hidden or absent. Second touch or sight of anything will always be through filters, will always be in the comparison of the memory of the first touch or sight or smell or taste. It seems as though the “next” experience always depends on the “previous” one or gets filtered through it. We stop experiencing life the way it is because data gets recorded by mind in the form of memory, and judgment comes out of that. After growing up we judge things to be “good” or “bad” but they aren’t necessarily that way; our judgments are only opinions that our minds create based on previous experiences.

It doesn't take many experiences to become judgmental or strongly opinionated, and this is what a personality is in us, which plays in us. We stop living the day we stop being open to life the way it is. At times sense-pleasure and displeasure become so strong that they start driving us, solidifying that personality even more. That’s when we lose control over our senses and minds and become slaves instead. That personality becomes a strong ego which then forces us to recreate those experiences. It could be something as simple as partying all night until 5:00 a.m., as that personality’s definition of fun is just that. Or it could be cleaning your house to the point of madness, as that personality’s definition of cleanliness has become an obsession. Or it could be talking endlessly without listening, as that personality’s way of being someone is by talking all the time. Or being always in defensive mode, as that personality believes it is always being offended or attacked.

At some point we need to stop and examine this personality that mind has created ‒ examine all the memories and the opinions based on them ‒ and see how much rubbish we harbor that prevents us from living, from experiencing life the way it is. Otherwise we relive those memories, relive the past, over and over again. Having lived the past with person xyz, we live it again in the future with person abc. The drama continues, replays itself, similar things happen again and again, and we wonder why. Once you analyse the personality, maybe you will realize that the definition of fun isn’t only partying until 5:00 a.m. Cleanliness shouldn’t stop others around you from living life the way it is. Listening without the urge to respond is very important in comparison to being a chatterbox. People aren’t “offending you;” they may simply be expressing themselves or trying to talk to you about something simple.

Senses are not the culprit. Senses are fine; they help us see, feel, touch, smell, and taste this beautiful world and save us from danger; but excessive reliance on them, mental personification of them, turns us into their slaves. Mind plays an important role in recording, translating the sense-perceptions and defining them into various categories of good, bad, usual, normal, etc. Someday just give up the role of the mind, that personality, and live with your senses as if they have been given to you for the first time, as if you are using them for the first time like a child does, and if any mental, memory-based judgment comes out from the mind, discard it and see how it feels to live in this world. See how beautiful it is to have what we have been given. You may wonder why you need to do that. Because you are “suffering” your own “perception” of the personal world of your mental/egoistic personality. There is no suffering outside that little world of that personality. Open your eyes and see for yourself.

With Enlightenment, when I say the Experiencer is no more, it doesn’t mean I lost the senses. Senses are still there working normally as they should. I mean that memory-based personality created by the mind is dead. So every sense-perception now is new, and since that personality is dead, no new experience is being recorded as a memory, so next time when I see, touch, or smell the same thing again, no comparison comes out, no judgment or opinion comes out. As I live within this world the way it is, I live in NOW, in REALITY, beyond DUALITY of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, good smell, bad one, tasty/horrible etc. All likes and dislikes are gone. It’s not that I have forgotten what I used to like or dislike, but there is no personality within to access those sections of my memory except occasionally when it should be that way. As with deleted computer files which remain on the hard disk ‒ only the references to them are really deleted ‒ the old likes and dislikes are still there but no longer seen.

This knowing and understanding of the missing Experiencer came to me with Enlightenment.

The domain, the story, of the experiencer doesn’t stop there. It goes all the way to being in relationship with others and with ourselves, out of body experiences, astral travels and trying to wander in different dimensions, Shambhala, Shangri-La, Kundalini, energy, celestial beings, angels, demons, and just anything and everything. Until a personality is alive within us, life is nothing but a series of filtered, less real experiences. Look carefully, that personality changes over time and takes many faces and forms. The earthly plane and human body/life is the domain of the Experiencer and it keeps on creating many stories over the course of a lifetime.

This article was originally published on Unified Whole (now Being Shiva) on June 7, 2016. Copyright © 2016 Adiguru Padmé. Used by permission.

Adiguru Padmé is an Indian software professional who lives in the United States. She writes about her spiritual experiences on her website, Being Shiva.

This page was published on June 22, 2016 and last revised on July 1, 2017.


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