• Dermot Griffin
    136
    "Religion is to mysticism what popularization is to science. What the mystic finds waiting for him, then, is a humanity which has been prepared to listen to his message by other mystics invisible and present in the religion which is actually taught. Indeed his mysticism itself is imbued with this religion, for such was its starting point. His theology will generally conform to that of the theologians. His intelligence and his imagination will use the teachings of the theologians to express in words what he experiences, and in material images what he sees spiritually. And this he can do easily, since theology has tapped that very current whose source is the mystical. Thus his mysticism is served by religion, against the day when religion becomes enriched by his mysticism. This explains the primary mission which he feels to be entrusted to him, that of an intensifier of religious faith." - Henri Bergson

    "Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic... The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem." - G.K. Chesterton

    "No word in our language — not even 'Socialism'— has been employed more loosely than 'Mysticism.'" - Ralph William Inge

    "What I don't like today is, to put it coarsely, the phony Hasidism, the phony mysticism. Many students say, 'Teach me mysticism.' It's a joke." - Ellie Wiesel

    "The kingdom of God is within you." - Jesus Christ

    Mysticism according to Bernard McGinn concerns itself with "the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of a direct and transformative presence of God." Personally I do not believe that just because someone sees Christ in the sky on the cross or has a vision of Vishnu that one has achieved union with God. I propose something different. Mystical union is experienced via a recognition of the continual awareness of the presence of God in the here and now. This is, I think, the meaning of Christ's words when he says that the kingdom of God is within us and the ideas of the Shin Buddhist Shinran where he discusses the idea of "Other-Power" (I know this primarily from the Kyoto School of thought).

    I had written a series of papers for a grad program that I was in; It was at a very Thomist Catholic school, so that gives you an idea of how the faculty were (nothing against Thomism its just the "Strict Observance" camp that really grinds my gears). The course was two parts, fall and spring, and we were expected to write two book reviews throughout both sections of the course. My first paper was on the Carmelite friar Nicolas Herman, known to the world by his tonsured name Brother Lawrence. He wrote the classic book The Practice of the Presence of God and I really wanted to do this book; This is probably one of the best books on mysticism that anyone can read. It is not at all technical. My professor, who I was not at all fond of, emails me later that day and says no "New Age" books are allowed. This is why I dislike Thomist's of Strict Observance; Aquinas was a great man but he was just that: a man. I don't think he'd be happy with people canonizing his philosophical work as the alleged "theory of everything." After some back and forth, she did her homework and allowed me to write about the text. My own personal definition of mysticism, that it is an awareness of God in the present moment, was initially formed when I read him. My second paper was on the first book that Alan Watts wrote. It is titled Behold the Spirit: The Study of the Necessity of Mystical Religion and it is one of my favorite reads. I loved Watts early in college but as I matured I found his later works rather dry. My professor allowed me to write a review of it because of its "theologically conservative nature despite the minor quips." What was my professor referring to? The early Alan Watts adhered to an orthodox Christian view that portrayed Christ as the fulfillment of all things and this was backed up by his interest in Zen Buddhism, Daoism, and Vedanta; Like Aquinas analyzed Aristotelianism and the other schools of Greek philosophy, Watts sought to analyze Christianity through Asian thought. My third paper was on Meister Eckhart, a Dominican friar accused by the Inquisition of heresy, and one of the greatest medieval thinkers. Specifically the paper focused on his 71st sermon, focusing on the concept of nothingness in relation to God, and his short treatise On Detachment. My final paper was on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship, specifically his distinct between cheap grace and costly grace and his analysis of the Sermon on the Mount.

    This is not only an opener on mysticism and a criticism of Strict Observance Thomism. I truly believe that genuine mysticism is a middle ground between rationalism and religion.
  • Wayfarer
    21.4k
    Really interesting thread. I hope you stick around to respond to it this time.
  • Tzeentch
    3.5k
    I agree that the term mysticism has been thrown around very loosely, so it's probably important for us to settle on what is its essence.

    A mystic, in my view, is someone who experiences something that they find impossible to put into words (the experience is 'unintelligible'), while simultaneously recognizing the experience as something so profound that they feel compelled to investigate, often ranking it above the rational world of sense experience in terms of its significance.

    The so-called 'mystical experience' and the investigation of its meaning is therefore the root of mysticism.

    The search and the act of priming oneself for such an experience I would probably not call mysticism. Though it is obviously related, it is a particularly prickly subject since there seems to be no reliable method of triggering a genuine mystical experience.

    Plato and various Neo-Platonist works do a very good job at putting in rational terms a relationship with what is fundamentally unintelligible.

    In terms of modern scholars, I found the lectures by Pierre Grimes on Plato and various related subjects a treasure trove of insight. (Freely available on his YouTube channel)
  • Angelo Cannata
    349
    I think that today genuine mysticism is more difficult than in the past, because it cannot escape the challenges coming from radical criticism about our categories, conditioning, connections between different religions and spiritualities. How can you experience today a really deep mysticism, experiencing a strong closeness to God, while, at the same time, having to admit that there are other religions, other Gods, other theologies, criticism about metaphysics? I am not saying that it is impossible, but a today's mystic person cannot just adopt the same mystical attitudes and ways that were adopted by the mystics of old times.
    Today we have to admit that too radical mysticism is equivalent to fanaticism or naivety, unless it takes seriously the challenges I have talked about. But a mysticism that is not radical and not deep is just not mysticism: what makes mysticism is exactly radicality and depth. This makes mysticism difficult today.
  • bert1
    1.9k
    When i examine my experience, the only thing I can find that might qualify as remotely mystical is a relentless and brutal positivity that permits weakness but not negativity, or self-pity. Although it can forgive, and make use of, both.

    Maybe that's nothing to do with mysticism

    EDIT: the reason I mention is that it doesn't feel entirely from me. Maybe I'm just mentally ill. I have none of the certainty that tends to go with mystical experience
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    I think that today genuine mysticism is more difficult than in the past, because it cannot escape the challenges coming from radical criticismAngelo Cannata

    I do see what you are saying, but I think I disagree with that. Criticism has become popular, but is not new. The mystic doesn’t make less sense today, when to simple logic, they never made any sense ever.

    And in some ways, mysticism actually makes more sense now, with the total deconstruction of the “self” being a big part of philosophy of mind, and with “illusion” being the substance of any identity.

    And the religion that attaches to mysticism, it seems to me, is utterly non-sectarian. An orthodox Catholic mystic might say the same thing about the mystical as a non-theistic Taoist. The differences between the churches are somewhat cleared away from a mystical point of view (which is why various churches are too skeptical to embrace it, along with the fear people will be led to confusions that obviate the need for a personal God, which is the opposite of what religion is supposed to foster.)
  • Tzeentch
    3.5k
    Today we have to admit that too radical mysticism is equivalent to fanaticism or naivety, unless it takes seriously the challenges I have talked about. But a mysticism that is not radical and not deep is just not mysticism: what makes mysticism is exactly radicality and depth.Angelo Cannata

    Just curious; why do you think mysticism is inherently radical?
  • Angelo Cannata
    349

    That’s why I said that mysticism today is difficult, but not impossible. I agree with you, but I think that what you said represents some kind of theoretical mysiticsm, not what really happens. What you said is true in theory, but in practice an orthodox Catholic, for example, cultivates a strong intimacy with God conceived as Trinity, God incarnate in Jesus Christ, God who is the founder of the Roman Catholic church, that is meant to be as the only authentic place where you can experience the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ. Whithout these things, a mystic can be a mystic, but not a Roman Catholic mystic. In this situation he cannot, as you said,

    say the same thing about the mystical as a non-theistic TaoistFire Ologist
    .

    I think that, even from a Roman Catholic context, what you said is possible, but only with enormous efforts, difficulties and problems, which make it possible just in theory.
  • Angelo Cannata
    349
    why do you think mysticism is inherently radical?Tzeentch
    I think that mysticism in inherently radical because I conceive mysticism as a spiritual experience that connects with its content with an intimacy, depth, strength, superior to any other kind of spiritual experience. So, for example, a Roman Catholic mystic experiences the content of his/her religion in such a way that these things become to them like daily food, emotional fulfillment, the source of each moment of their life. This way, a dogma like the doctrine of the Trinity could be something exposed to many perspectives to a theologian, or to a normal believer, but to a mystic it becomes something so strong, so deep, that can be compared, emotionally, to a sexual intercourse. This means that the mystic will experience the dogma of Trinity in an extreme radical way, not in ways so open to discuss different perspectives.
  • Outlander
    2k
    I think in many ways a philosopher is somewhat of a mystic, wouldn't you say? Open to the fact one's reality could be completely incorrect, in ways previously thought improbable or even impossible and such advancement towards greater understanding of oneself and the world around oneself may or may not be ascertained by inquiry. Reminds me of "the unexamined life". You are an entirely different person with entirely different truths then you were a few years ago and will be again an entirely different person with entirely different truths in a few years. This is just much more dramatic and pronounced in youth and adolescence. Once you get older the differences become less pronounced, to the point they can seemingly be dismissed as trivial, even. But the starkness remains, given will to observe. :smile:
  • ENOAH
    731
    Mysticism according to Bernard McGinn concerns itself with "the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of a direct and transformative presence of God."Dermot Griffin

    Mystical union is experienced via a recognition of the continual awareness of the presence of God in the here and now.Dermot Griffin

    I truly believe that genuine mysticism is a middle ground between rationalism and religion.Dermot Griffin

    Does it have to be a awareness of "God"? I think not. If (as you refer to Watts) Zen, Advait Vedanta, and Daoism can be thought of as (having) Mystical (branches), then it is not God, as commonly thought of (even by Mystics) in the West. But rather an "experience" of either Oneness with all, or Emancipation from the mundane, or "knowledge" of ultimate reality, or any combination of these, and more.

    For me, so called mystic practices (I don't like "mysticism" as a name--it implies other than what it really means) may (but more often may not) turn one's aware-ing away from the constructions and projections of the mundane, and point one to the ultimate truth of their being; which, sure, one may choose to see as sacred or god; but I choose to see as Truth. That is a Truth from which all of the usual constructions and projections have been "cleared away." Moreover, for me, this experience does neither last, nor permanently alter the successful practitioner. The constructions and projections flood in as soon as the mystical practice ceases.

    Why do it? The successful practitioner gets a glimpse into reality, can judge all mundane experience accordingly, which is astronomically further than the rest of us stuck only in the constructions and projections.
  • ENOAH
    731
    Whithout these things, a mystic can be a mystic, but not a Roman Catholic mystic. In this situation he cannot, as you said,

    say the same thing about the mystical as a non-theistic Taoist
    — Fire Ologist
    Angelo Cannata

    I see your point as valid...but dig a bit deeper and maybe makes a valid point which need not be limited to the theoretical.

    A Catholic Mystic in contemplative prayer, properly practiced and a proper practice of Jnana Yoga or Zazen, may yield the same aware-ing. It is only after the fact that most (but not necessarily, and not necessarily all) practitioners allow the Narratives of their own locus in History to fill the "void" of that experience with constructs.

    Thus, if we are referring to real mysticism, the resulting effect on the organic being is the same for all: mind becomes finally (but briefly) yoked to reality/the body. It is only upon re-entry into the constructed atmosphere that variations start to project.
  • Dermot Griffin
    136


    Life has a funny way of getting in the way. The topic has always interested me.



    Watts advocated a pantheistic view towards the end of his life, that the universe was God and all things in it were one with God, and that God through his creation is really playing hide-and-seek with himself in an endless game. It’s an interesting idea but I would describe myself as a panentheist rather than a pantheist because in my eyes God is the greatest possibly being that can be conceived but still must contain the universe within himself. And I think your take on the goal of mystical practice as, if I understand correctly, a deeper knowledge of a higher truth or series of truth's to be correct but I do also believe that an awareness of the presence of God can coincide with knowing a higher truth (or as many mystics out it God is the higher truth itself but the two can be distinct).



    Yes, I would say that most philosophers that I read are mystics but not all philosophers are mystics. The early Bertrand Russell believed that math and the rules of propositional logic are ways to understand higher metaphysical ideas or forms. He later went away from this belief. And I love your take on “the unexamined life.” You definitely aren’t the same person 5 years ago compared to now.



    I’ve never really thought about “radical mysticism” or the implications of it. I once had a priest at my church (he didn’t last long) go on a fire and brimstone tirade about why “Centering Prayer” and meditation are bad for you. I don’t do centering prayer but I did make the argument that there are older methods of contemplative prayer that predate this and they produce the same stimuli as things like centering prayer or various forms of Buddhist meditation. That was my only conversation with him. 6 months in the parish and he was done.
  • 180 Proof
    14.7k
    I think in many ways a philosopher is somewhat of a mystic, wouldn't you say?Outlander
    In contrast to the philosopher who reflectively contemplates (i.e. unlearns 'learned denials of') how every presence conceals absence, I think the mystic meditates (i.e. unreasons (paradoxically / dialectically) 'inferential reasoning') in order to encounter, or surrender to, (the) absence that encompasses and dis/en-closes (un/en-folds) every presence. In other words, simplistically, they seem the opposite ends of a telescope or like complementary photo negatives of one another.
  • Fire Ologist
    493


    It is only upon re-entry into the constructed atmosphere that variations start to project.ENOAH

    That is both spot on to me, and could easily make no sense to somebody. Re-entry from a mystical practice. In fleeting moments or longer breaths. I like it.

    And if that atmosphere is constructed with a man on a cross and a dove, the one re-entering might fall back into the Catholic, whereas if that atmosphere is a Chinese monastery, one falls back into that, and we all fall back into hunger, sleep…

    That’s the thing about the mystical, it doesn’t exclude anything. Or at the same time, it excludes everything besides it (and it may just as well be God). It begins when all is let go of completely, and at that exact same moment all fills up and carries away completely. It is paradox, so it is both impossible to say, and impossible to be, but it IS, sometimes, for fleeting seconds, if lucky, or blessed, if you will.

    In Catholic terms, it is God not conceived as Father, or Son. Maybe the Holy Spirit, but really enough is said when the Catholic mystic conceives of God as God. The One. Like Being itself unified as one being. The not-Me (this is where God remains personal, though not “my” self.) Consciousness. It alone. Where “there-ing” is “here-ing” and “I-ing” is not. God overlaps precisely with those fleeting moments where the mystic would say the word “all” or “one” or even “nothing”; there can still be mystical behavior, without rejecting or refuting anything Catholic.

    I’m no mystic. And I’m no saint. And I ain’t no philosopher, but…now I forget what I was trying to say.
  • ENOAH
    731
    and could easily make no sense to somebody.Fire Ologist

    Hah. You are spot on. Both, "could easily make no sense" to some; and how you happened to have read it.
  • ENOAH
    731
    I think in many ways a philosopher is somewhat of a mystic, wouldn't you say?Outlander

    simplistically, they seem the opposite ends of a telescope or like complementary photo negatives of one another.180 Proof

    I do agree with both of you and see no prohibitive contradiction.

    In some instances it's the opposite of what they/one might think.

    The mediocre philosopher may think he is applying reason to get at the Truth; but is only digging herself deeper into a "world of" language, using language as both it's instruments and judge.

    The mediocre mystic might think they are uniting themselves with God or the Divine; but are really silencing the cacophony and grounding themselves in the epitome of what we might see as boredom; meaningless matter, the organic being.

    Yet if any vocation or discipline can access true being for the rest of its the philosopher and the mystic, "complimentary photo negatives."
  • Fire Ologist
    493
    I think in many ways a philosopher is somewhat of a mystic, wouldn't you say?
    — Outlander

    simplistically, they seem the opposite ends of a telescope or like complementary photo negatives of one another.
    — 180 Proof

    I do agree with both of you
    ENOAH



    I look at it like this. There is one subject. One object of experience.

    The philosopher takes this subject, and with reason, cuts it apart to understand it.
    The religious person takes this same subject, and, without understanding it, calls it God in the hope of becoming part of the subject.

    The mystic, sees the subject, and leaves it be, so that there is only the subject, and not the self facing it, and that’s how the subject is experienced (not known or understood).

    So the philosopher and the religious overlap in that they remain apart from the subject.
    The mystic and the philosopher overlap, in that the subject can be so empty of personhood, the honest philosopher will doubt all metaphysics and language about the subject (the human understanding), and both the mystic and the philosopher might say they know nothing at all.
    The religious person and the mystic overlap, in the joy that is the subject, the experience of the subject.

    The scientist, like the philosopher, uses reason to break the subject apart, but then the scientist takes one part of the subject (say, the physical), and calls that part the whole subject. Like biology does not sit in physics, or physics is not “being” physics.

    So the religious approach is the only that truly preserves the person, and the mystic approach is the only that truly preserves the subject.

    But it’s all one conversation, just that the mystic can’t use words or even needs to speak. The mystical experience is truly singular, like the object of scientific inquiry is particular. But the mystical experience is the singular experience of “all” or “one” or “nothing” or “ing-ing” or “the infinite” and the scientific particular is as demonstration of the the universal, the laws of physics, the certain mathematical truth.

    PS. I should add that the artist also deals in the one subject, but the artist takes from the philosophical, the religious and the mystical as he or she sees fit, and yields crap, or a reflection of wisdom and beauty.
  • Janus
    15.9k
    Does it have to be a awareness of "God"?ENOAH

    I'd say "awareness of God" is the (or a possible) interpretation of the experience, not the experience itself.
  • ENOAH
    731
    I agree with you. The "of" is necessarily not a "content" (of) the "pure" mystical "event." The "of" is tacked on immediately after the event; for some, so immediately that the "pure" event is undetected/unrecognized.
  • EunoiaNowhere
    1
    Have you ever read "The Flowing Light of the Godhead" by Mechthild of Hackeborn? It would have been funny to run that by your professor, especially since I'm pretty sure she is catholic?
  • 180 Proof
    14.7k
    There is ... One object of experience.Fire Ologist
    And, imo, this "object" conceals (its) absence. In broad strokes, I think religion (to worship) idolatrizes-fetishizes-mystifies '(the) absence' and mysticism (to meditate) denies – negates – 'whatever conceals absence' in order to "experience" absence as such whereas philosophy (to inferentially contemplate) describes – makes explicit – 'presence concealing absence' and science (to testably map-model) observes 'only fact-patterns (i.e. states-of-affairs concealing absence) in order to explain dynamics.
  • bert1
    1.9k
    And, imo, this "object" conceals (its) absence. In broad strokes, I think religion (to worship) idolatrizes-fetishizes-mystifies '(the) absence' and mysticism (to meditate) denies – negates – 'whatever conceals absence' in order to "experience" absence as such whereas philosophy (to inferentially contemplate) describes – makes explicit – 'presence concealing absence' and science (to testably map-model) observes 'only fact-patterns (i.e. states-of-affairs concealing absence) in order to explain dynamics.180 Proof

    This looks interesting, but it is a zip file. Can someone unzip it?
  • unenlightened
    8.9k
    Hush, children!

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. — Wittgenstein
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k
    My favorite book on this is William Harmless' Mystics. Harmless has a real gift for letting ancient and medieval writers speak in their own voice through careful excerpts while still providing an appropriate background for understanding the passages. He weaves their own words together in a sort of precis. It's a good mix too, Merton, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Bonneventure, Hildegard, Evargrius Pontus, Meister Eckhart, and then he also covers Rumi and Dogen as a Sufi/Zen comparative study.

    He starts off by comparing two views of mysticism, William James' influential modern view and that of Jean Gerson writing in the 14th century. With this comparison he is able to tease out the problem with James' focus on peak experiences, and as many of the case studies show, many "mystics" focus on a great deal aside from there experiences. Gersons' view makes a different sort of comparison. If the theologian comes to know God in the manner of the historian, the mystic's knowledge is more akin to how the someone knows their spouse or friend — a juxtaposition of academic knowledge and experiential knowledge.

    Harmless' books on Saint Augustine is also phenomenal, basically all the greatest hits compiled for across his extremely voluminous corpus, as is his book on the Desert Fathers, although that is a bit more historical.
  • Tzeentch
    3.5k
    He starts off by comparing two views of mysticism, William James' influential modern view and that of Jean Gerson writing in the 14th century. With this comparison he is able to tease out the problem with James' focus on peak experiences, and as many of the case studies show, many "mystics" focus on a great deal aside from there experiences.Count Timothy von Icarus

    I'd be interested to hear some of the conclusions regarding this!
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k


    A main point is that the focus on "peak experiences," tends to actually exclude a great deal of the people who we think of as "mystics" from the definition because they never wrote about such experiences. For example, the most famous "Beatific Vision" and "Platonic Ascent" in St. Augustine's work takes place in the Book IX of the Confessions. Yet it isn't a meditative trance but rather a conversation with his mother shortly before her death. (Book IX). Likewise, St. Bonaventure's "The Mind's Journey Into God," is cast into the mold of St. Francis' vision of the Seraphim, but that's just the mold for a heavily intellectualized ascent where the prose and ideas, not some actual singular experience, are the focus.

    The other big point is that the focus on "peak experiences" to the exclusion of all else has led to a misleading picture because perennialists are searching through disparate texts to find details that fit their notions of what the "true perennial mysticism" is and ignoring how these author's religious context is interwoven with everything they write. Particularly, this sort of abstraction goes wrong when applied to the heavily intellectualized Christian Neoplatonism tradition, but it also shows up in "New Age" versions of Meister Eckhart or Rumi, who have been denuded of all their content, e.g. modern Rumi translations that completely ignore the constant allusions to the Koran in their presentation or "gnostic" or even "Buddhist" versions of Meister Eckhart that essentially ignore both his own claims to orthodoxy and all the evidence for this (or the fact that most of his work is straightforwardly presented as commentaries on Scripture).

    The perennialist search for commonalities isn't necessarily misguided, because there are commonalities. However, it becomes misguided when it tries to flatten everything out, and one of the ways it does this is to try to look solely at "ineffable experience," and then to ignore the surrounding religious context as mere "interpretation" of that experience.

    For example, if you look at Thomas Merton, who is a deep student of the Zen tradition, he still sees a very deep distinction between it and his own tradition at the level of experience (e.g. the awareness of sin as sin), even though he sees similarities as well.
  • Paine
    2.2k
    This is not only an opener on mysticism and a criticism of Strict Observance Thomism. I truly believe that genuine mysticism is a middle ground between rationalism and religion.Dermot Griffin

    How do you perceive Plotinus in that context? He presents the experience of the ascent of the soul as involving:

    Often, after waking up to myself from the body, that is, externalizing myself in relation to all other things, while entering into myself, I behold a beauty of wondrous quality, and believe then that I am most to be identified with my better part, that I enjoy the best quality of life, and have become united with the divine and situated within it, actualizing myself at that level, and situating myself above all else in the intelligible world. — Plotinus, Ennead 4.8.1
  • Janus
    15.9k
    The perennialist search for commonalities isn't necessarily misguided, because there are commonalities. However, it becomes misguided when it tries to flatten everything out, and one of the ways it does this is to try to look solely at "ineffable experience," and then to ignore the surrounding religious context as mere "interpretation" of that experience.Count Timothy von Icarus

    Are there other ways in which perennialist thinking tries to "flatten everything out"? As to the focus on "ineffable experience", I think it is necessary to keep in mind that, while what is subsequently said about experiences which are ineffable, is essentially interpretive, to cast these utterances as "mere" interpretations misses the fact that experiences, however ecstatic they may be, can only be of further help to us insofar as we are able to make some sense of them.

    And this making sense necessitates, not objectivist or literalist language, but metaphorical or mythological language. What people say about their ecstatic experiences is usually couched in the terms. the metaphors, of the cultural context in which they have grown up. It is when these culturally mediated interpretive statements about ecstatic experiences are taken literally and understood literally in objectivist terms that fundamentalism takes hold.
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