There are several reasons why this experience is not uncommon. The first is, most people read spiritual books or listen to teaching without then stopping and thinking about what they’ve read/heard, wrapping their heads around it, and applying it to their lives. They don’t engage what they’ve been taught. Without such introspection there can be no progress. Without truly understanding what it is that we’ve been taught and applying it to our lives, the teaching just goes in one ear and out the other.
The second reason is, most people do not have a disciplined practice, in that they do not meditate on a daily basis. When I have brought this up in sangha discussions, people have come up with all sorts of reasons, weak excuses, for why they don’t meditate daily … they’re tired, or something comes up, or they meditated twice already that week. People just don’t get the importance of a disciplined practice. (See my post, “Discipline - It’s Essential.”) Believe it or not, I was even admonished once by a senior sangha member for talking about this aspiration because, I was told, most people wouldn’t be able to do it and so would feel bad about themselves. Nonsense!
Finally, without a disciplined practice in which one is able to sit quietly and go deep within oneself, and without the deep faith that is part of that practice, one is probably not going to come to know the truths of Buddhism from within oneself. It’s very beneficial receiving good teaching and then learning, engaging, and believing in the various truths. That can take one far along the path. But without knowing them from within one doesn’t have the ability to go to the next stage and consistently be free of the ego-mind’s control. (See my post, “Proof of the Nature of Mind - Fear, Ego, and Buddha Mind.”)
When going to temple or reading a book, I have rarely encountered the lessons contained in this post. I truly think that most religious teachers underestimate the potential of their sangha members (as opposed to their personal “serious” students) and so they don’t challenge the sangha as part of dharma talks. Many temples don’t even have dharma talks. Only the Vietnamese Zen monks I encountered in Michigan constantly challenged all members of the sangha. It was rough for many, but I think that most benefited from this.
Many teachers say that no one should just adopt the structure or concepts they teach. That would just replace one external structure (our learned experience) with another, and conflict inevitably results, as indicated above. Krishnamurti states this more emphatically then perhaps any other teacher I’ve encountered (see his book, Freedom From the Known.) He says that we have to have an internal revolution to truly transform our lives and end our suffering, to be free from the known. And this internal revolution comes from knowing the truths from within, because the truths are the polar opposite of everything we’ve been taught.
These revelations or epiphanies can occur during meditation, they can occur when you wake up in the morning, or they can just come at you out of the blue. The point is that if you’ve been disciplined in your practice and if you’ve truly engaged the teaching you’ve received, you will come to the truths from within. You cannot force it; it happens when it happens. It may take years; that certainly was my experience. But that takes nothing away from your practice and your progress.