The final q & a of the interview:
Could you say a little more about the difference between mystical experiences and true awakening?
When the personal “I” merges and becomes one with everything, that’s a mystical experience. Or your consciousness expands infinitely, or your kundalini [innate spiritual energy] awakens, or you have a vision of the Buddha or Mother Mary, or you feel totally blissed out and peaceful. Even an ongoing experience of being unified with God or Buddha is just another mystical experience. But even though they’re the highest, most beautiful states a human being can have, mystical experiences are happening to the dream character you take to be “me” – and this “me” is the one you wake up from. Awakening is the realization that you are the awakeness or lucidity that’s experiencing every moment of the dream, including the so-called spiritual or mystical, without being caught by it. As I said before, awakeness is not an experience, it’s a fact, whereas a mystical experience happens to someone at a particular place and time. Another way I like to put it is, you’re not the personality or mask, you’re the one that’s always peering through the mask, always awake to every moment of your life without being identified with it. At the same time, you feel deeply intimate with the dream because the dream is known to be an expression of the awakeness itself. At first, of course, the dream may seem to be different from the awakeness. But when awakening completes itself, the awakeness sees that everything that’s perceivable, including this human body, mind, and personality, is an expression of itself. The realization is completely nondual. As the Heart Sutra puts it, form is emptiness, emptiness is form.