Conceptual vs. experiential

  • “Self or consciousness does not make the passage to the other shore or cross over. Rather, the crossing is the body and senses acclimating to life without any experience of self or consciousness and all that it implies.” Bernadette Roberts

This is from the mouth of someone who purportedly has first-hand experience of what she speaks of and is not philosophical or conceptual according to her.

This entry in a recent discussion/debate in an internet blog started it all for me. A question that surfaces with some frequency on reading around  the topic of awakening/non-duality, including  New Age spirituality, and which is very much in the limelight nowadays (and has been so for a long time). It centers on the distinction or dichotomy: knowing/experiencing, or intellectual/experiential, or thinking/feeling (though this last pair seems to overstretch a bit).

Notice, for now, the expressions: ‘first hand experience’… ‘not philosophical or conceptual’


It seems that there are at least two types of persons, as indicated by these two labels: (roughly) ‘thinkers’, and ‘feelers or experiencers’, but one thinks that at least two other types can be added: the ‘bleeding hearts’, and the ‘lovers’. Overweening sensitivity (“sensiblería” in Spanish) characterizes the first, and overweening love, nothing but love, the second. An extreme case of the first type, the thinker, could also be added: the ‘rationalist`, dogmatic – “I want proof” being his motto.

Who can quarrel about the person bent on love (a trait or whatever it is)? Verily, one can say that Love (same as Beauty, or Being) is all – ‘sat-chit-ananda’; all in one package. But, given that – and stretching the meaning of ‘ananda’ to include love as well as bliss, the question arises as to whether love per se, or a particular love, is, or should be, intelligent in order to qualify. “And who is he”, the reader may ask, “to pose such a question – under which label should he himself be placed”?

One of the lover-types (no derogatory intention  meant), when confronted with the question whether relationships are more allowing, holistic, full in our time, or contrariwise more egotistical, self-centered, simply replied (this was on Facebook): “indifference is divine”, which left one with a question mark banging repeatedly on his brain (or mind). Does that reply mean that everything is welcomed, even an irrational remark or a seemingly impertinent question? No reply back was possible.

One of the debaters went on with his tune:

”And all this is NOT conceptual? When I read all of this, what does it have to do with what is really in front of you? You can only agree or disagree but your minds go on and on, trying to fit this all into a ‘place’ in your image of reality”.

(Alright;‘your image of reality’, true enough.)

The doubter’s next question was:

“I am interested in a living truth, not an interpretation of truth. If I am not mistaken, an experiential view is not limited to a philosophical view. A philosophical view attempts to encapsulate the experiential. To debate the qualities of Brahman, God, or the Divine, is really a deduction for most people not an experiential reality. Why assume anything that one cannot know?”

(Again, who could find fault with that? Except that this questioner was becoming rather repetitive, his harping on what philosophy is for him (‘no good’) and his insistence on the experiential to the exclusion of everything else was becoming a little tiring.) The moderator interjected at one point: “… And, although Advaita teaching may be an ‘interpretation’ of truth, self-realization itself is not an interpretation; it is direct and irrefutable”.

So, in reply to the above, the following post appeared:

What would be a ‘living truth’? ‘Life’, ‘living’ are concepts, and so is ‘truth’. Concepts, which are part of reality, do not need interpretation, they need to be understood; it is their referents (“external” or “internal”) that have to be looked at and interpreted… by concepts, precisely. Concepts, being part of human reality, clearly point at ‘something’ –  empirical or metaphysical (actually, they are mithya). Philosophy, metaphysics are not a bane; bad philosophy is. Experience is nothing without thought (or ‘insight’, if you will, which is of the mind). What can be said is that “understanding is all” – and it is itself an experience (anubhava).


About amartingarcia

General surgeon (retired). Studied Western philosophy at U of Toronto. Afterwards interest turned to advaita vedanta and non-duality for past 20 yrs, plus a long interlude in Sufism coinciding with that period. Now contributing in ’Advaita Vision’ with regular posts and discussions.
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1 Response to Conceptual vs. experiential

  1. Hariod Brawn says:

    Good luck with all that.

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