What is experience? II

1. If we take our English language use as a reference point, it appears as though we can speak sensibly about experiencing our feelings (‘I experience sadness’), experiencing thoughts (‘I can even now experience my jumbled thoughts when …’), experiencing colour (‘I experience a redness’), experiencing actions (‘I still experience my shaking limbs when I…’) and so on. That is, we can experience the ‘inputs’ of all our five senses. From this, it follows that experience cannot be identical to any of them. Experience might contain, as its elements, inputs from these five senses in the form of thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. but it cannot be coextensive with any one of them.

2. If we take ‘anubhava’ (not ‘anubhaava’) as a translation of the word ‘experience’, it suggests us that it involves “an awareness of a state-of-being-in-the-world.” This is not a definition but merely a circumscription of the word ‘experience’. (It is one of my claims that the western traditions have hardly investigated what ‘experience’ is and that such an investigation is one of the primary concerns of all the Indian traditions I know.) So, when I speak of ‘ignorance’ as something that prevents access to experiential knowledge (or speak about Indian traditions as transmitters of such an experiential knowledge), I have this circumscription of the word in mind. In such a case, I am trying to grasp in the language of the twenty-first century, what our predecessors were (probably) talking about.

3. I am inclined to think that insights like those that our traditions have developed are profoundly true of human psychology as such. That is, if we forget that we are always cultural, social and individual beings, then these insights are about the basic structure of human psychology and thus apply to each one of us.

4. However, it is not Maaya alone that prevents access to our experience: our culture, our society, our individual psychology are also impediments to accessing our experience. One such ‘external’ factor is the processes induced by colonialism: it creates extra impediments by taking away from us our way(s) of accessing experience, leaving almost a vacuum in its place. This vacuum gets filled up by the way we look at Indian culture and her ‘texts’– a way we learnt from the British. Now, there is a second impediment. These two impediments prevent access to our experience as well next to and alongside impediments like ‘maaya’.

To understand the Indian people of today, we need to (1) understand the general structure of human psychology; (2) the cultural psychology of the Indian culture; (3) the historical impacts of different colonialisms and so on. What I say in the note on colonial consciousness stands somewhere in the interface of (2) and (3); what I say in the other two pieces presupposes (2) and (3) — that is why I want to formulate it in our language of this period — but is about (1).

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