Tomaj Javidtashi s an instructor and math director at a private tutoring company. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in physics in 2015. His passion is the study of metaphysics, particularly viewed from within the phenomenological tradition founded by Edmund Husserl, Vedanta, and modern science. He is also a blogger and writer, and published his first book Nondual Perspectives on Quantum Physics, which offers a short comparative study of quantum physics, phenomenology, and Advaita Vedanta, several years ago.
My journey toward and through Vedanta began at midnight August 20th, 2013, I had an experience that forever changed my life. Later, through Vedanta I came to understand that experience to be an unveiling of the Absolute to the Absolute. I came upon this experience as a result of studying and practicing the Phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Husserl and his assistant Eugen Fink called the method that leads to that experience the “transcendental-phenomenological reduction,” or simply The Reduction, and the experience was often called the Transcendental Experience. That experience transcends all extension and duration; therefore, any description of it is provisional and ultimately untrue and often misleading for the novice. All I can say of it is that it was for me the direct perception of the Truth, of that ineffable nature of all things seeing which one realizes that all temporal and spatial differentiations are but superimposed appearances.
A couple of days after my experience, when the human form started to creep in, when my finitude tried to grasp and digest my infinitude, I started feeling so overwhelmed that I feared I would lose my mind forever. After all, how could I possibly keep living knowing that all I thought I was, along with all of my identifications and attachments, were simply a collection of beliefs I, as the eternal witness, had accepted to be true! We are so deeply engrossed and invested in our attachments and identifications that we can’t even see them anymore; only when they are forcefully stripped off, as it was in the Reduction, one can realize the scope of one’s immersion in the world of phenomena. Upon such awakening, I didn’t know how to live anymore. What would be the purpose now? As days passed, I started perceiving my experience as a painful curse than a graceful gift, and at some point I even wished I hadn’t performed the Reduction. How could I unsee what I had seen!
Out of the fear of insanity, I started searching all over the internet about other people who’ve had that experience. I needed to find out how my humanity should deal with that apparently painful realization. But I was faced with the challenge of finding words to express that experience in Google search! I think I tried keywords such as “transcendental experience,” “the world disappearing,” “being outside time and space,” etc. I struggled to find the right words, and most of the Google results were about people’s spiritual experiences that were phenomenal in nature, i.e. experiences with content and the sense of duration. But the Reduction had neither content nor a sense of duration. It was an eternal present, a seeing of a higher order through which all relations were inverted: ordinarily we experience ourselves as human beings within a world, as a part encompassed by the whole; but in transcendental experience, the totality of space and time is seen as a dimensionless point encompassed by the boundless Self.
On the same day that I started my search, I came across a passage from Mandukya Upanishad which referred to a state of consciousness called Turiya or the fourth quarter. Here’s the passage I found:
"They consider the Fourth to be that which is not conscious of the internal world, nor conscious of the external world, nor conscious of both the worlds, nor a mass of consciousness, nor conscious, nor unconscious; which is unseen, beyond empirical dealings, beyond the grasp (of the organs of action), non-inferable, unthinkable, indescribable; whose valid proof consists in the single belief in the Self; in which all phenomena cease; and which is unchanging, auspicious, and nondual. That is the Self, and That is to be known."
Reading just that one passage about Turiya, particularly “in which all phenomena cease,” my hair stood up, as this was the mark of the Reduction experience. I knew immediately and without the slightest doubt that it's the exact same experience referred to in this text. I found such a big relief because I knew I wasn't alone. That’s when my search began and I found that Upanishads are sacred Indian texts, and that Vedanta was part of Indian philosophy. But knowing that wasn’t enough; I needed to actually see and speak with people who understood that experience. Living in the D.C. metropolitan area, I found the Vedanta Center of Greater Washington D.C. which forever changed my life.
It was a Sunday afternoon in the Spring of 2014 when I visited the Vedanta center for the first time. I walked into the building, saw a big bookstore, and was amazed at finding all these great books on Vedanta philosophy. The smell of incense and the whole spiritual atmosphere overcame me; I felt the peaceful presence of something I hadn’t experienced before. There was a familiar sense of spiritual primordiality to that space, as if my spirit recognized an ancient affinity with the truth that was worshiped in that building. I knew I’d found home; I felt a deep sense of awe and satisfaction and knew from the bottom of my heart that my whole life’s journey, beginning from the age of 5 where I wondered about the nature of things, was meant to bring me to that place on that day.
There I met and spoke with Swami Atmajnanananda and other resident swamis. I kept going back and purchased hundreds of books from their library and delved into the Vedanta philosophy. Ever since my experience of Reduction, I had lost all desire for science and philosophy; I had lost the desire to know. Vedanta texts, and particularly Upanishads, were the only sources reading which reminded me of my own experience, and that’s all I wanted: to remember my true nature. I didn’t need to know anymore.
A few months after my first visit, I showed interest in being initiated into the Ramakrishna order. Reading more and more about Ramakrishna himself I fell in love with his personality. He was this unique spiritual figure whose vision of truth transcended all conditions; he loved and accepted everyone, whether a saint or a sinner. He showed unconditional love and acceptance toward all people and forms, and that was the most attractive quality to me, and above all it was aligned with my personal experience of a transcendent truth which equally shined on all things. I knew that only someone with a direct vision of that transcendent truth could be as open minded and loving as Ramakrishna.
I was informed that Swami Sarvadevananda, who was in charge of initiating devotees, would visit the D.C. Vedanta center soon. I made sure I was there on that day and sat by him and was absorbed in his loving presence. Seeing him I knew that I was meant to be there in that moment and be initiated by him. I felt as if my entire life was planned to bring me to his presence on that day. I had a sweet conversation with him that evening and after recounting my experience I asked if he would initiate me. I was initiated into the Ramakrishna order by Swami Sarvadevananda in July of 2014.
Since then Vedanta has been an integral part of my daily life. Even though I had a direct perception of the Absolute, the human “I” didn’t know how to live with that perception. Vedanta showed me a human way of life based on the spiritual principles embodied in the saints and sages of India. It was in and through Vedanta that I was able to see the truth of all other religions and identify in them what I had directly experienced.
Vedanta for me is that highest Himalayan mountain from the top of which one can see all routes leading to the same summit, from which all perspectives are realized to be just that, perspective on the truth. So, Vedanta is not a body of dogma or just a philosophy I believe; it is a reality I know to be true, for I have realized it on my own, and it is a way of life I have learned from the monks of the Ramakrishna order.
I have read The Gospel of Ramakrishna at least three times, and each time my connection with the spirit of Ramakrishna becomes deeper. Seeing the unconditional love and devotion of Ramakrishna makes me want to enter into a play with the Divine, to become a child that knows nothing and leaves all things to the care of its Mother. Ramakrishna inspires me to put to use what I myself experienced directly, to practice love and devotion, and to put the service of humanity the highest spiritual ideal. Why? Because according to Vedanta, if Brahman is that omnipresent and yet anonymous reality, then in what other way can one live to become more like Brahman, more like one’s true nature, than by giving away of oneself, by becoming poor and anonymous, for it is only in spiritual anonymity that true wealth is found.
Vedanta has also given me the proper language to put my own experience in words and to spread the truth as I see it, for you cannot see That face and keep quiet about it; it will become your essential calling to live and to speak it. Even though truth is always there, it always needs re-expression to find home in the taste and temperament of each age. And there are always wanderers of a certain temperament that are left out of the feast of Truth due to the two major monopolies who’ve claimed the truth for themselves: on the one side, most religions have preserved the vision of truth only for a select few who must submit to a particular tradition and observe its rituals; and on the other hand, there’s the reign of science which has not only kept access to the truth limited to experts, but it has also rejected all experiences and perspectives that are beyond the scope of experimental science.
However, it was in Vedanta that I found this polarity being resolved; that truth has no conflict with any perspective. Through Vedanta I realized that all men and women, all schools and traditions, whether theistic or atheistic, whether spiritual or agnostic, are actually saying the same thing, the Truth; they’re only putting it differently. I am here to say from my direct experience, and in accordance with the language and framework of Vedanta, that there is a truth that is absolute and infinite, and that it can be directly realized, and that it is accessible to anyone regardless of the state of their soul or academic status, regardless of the level of their intellectual understanding or purity of their heart.