Religious experience is defined as more or less direct inner communion or encounter with something divine. A significant number of people report transcendent experiences of what has been called in the west cosmic consciousness, and in the east samadhi (wholeness), satori (enlightenment), moksha (liberation), or nirvana (unconditioned consciousness), etc., which they feel are best-explained by the existence of God or the Absolute. While highly subjective, religious experiences are emotionally significant to the people involved and provide corroborating evidence for belief.
Many people undoubtedly have transcendent experiences of faith and suffering, inspiration and conscience, ecstasy and agony, which they believe are produced by the supernatural – the spirit of God working in their souls. These experiences range from more or less vivid visions of divine beings, to feelings of inner union, reunion, or communion with the divine… from the comfort of traditional worship, to the thrill of the recognition of the providence of God working in the world and in individual lives… from the satisfaction of mystical feelings of connection with God, to the consolation of “near death” experiences, in which immortality seems to beckon… from the committed practice of yoga and meditation to the progressive consciousness of samadhi/satori, and moksha/ nirvana… from the sometimes uneasy feelings of a pained conscience in moral relations, to the oft-times blithe certainty of an unaccountable inspiration in art and music.
While there is some diversity, probably due to background and education, religious experience and mysticism have been given many remarkably similar expressions by various visionaries.
Traditional religious experiences of the soul include: blissful rapture and feelings of belonging to the Great Creator; grateful communion with God and feelings of brotherhood with humankind, as part of the Supreme Allsoul; joyful recognition and feelings of union with the Spirit of Nature and All That Is. True believers are said to reach all this and more through ‘yoga,’ prayer, and meditation alone.
In some methods of meditation, the mystic counts his breath or recites a mantra, thus interrupting and ‘stopping the world’ or the inner dialogue about the world. There is then a suspension or bypassing of the will and/or the ego, resulting in a detachment from desire, a surrender of ego and submission of will. This is accompanied by feelings of exalted peace, blessedness and joy, a kind of direct inner contact with the divine, and an incomparable inner experience. This results in an inexpressible certitude which is in the heart, sometimes as a still-small voice that says, “This is the way, walk therein.”
While religious experiences themselves can only constitute direct evidence of God’s existence to those fortunate enough to have them, the fact that there are many ordinary people who testify to having had such experiences constitutes indirect evidence of God’s existence, and the very fact of such curious experiences is highly evidential.
Samuel Stuart Maynes