• Wayfarer
    21.4k
    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.Count Timothy von Icarus

    There's a distinction made in Buddhism between realisation and experience.

    In Buddhism, we distinguish between spiritual experiences and spiritual realizations. Spiritual experiences are usually more vivid and intense than realizations because they are generally accompanied by physiological and psychological changes. Realizations, on the other hand, may be felt, but the experience is less pronounced. Realization is about acquiring insight. Therefore, while realizations arise out of our spiritual experiences, they are not identical to them. Spiritual realizations are considered vastly more important because they cannot fluctuate.Letting Go of Spiritual Experience, Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche

    Likewise in Zen training, students are generally admonished from either seeking for special experiences or becoming fixated or attached to them if they arise. Such experiences are called makyō, and can include vivid visions, strange sensations, or profound insights that may seem deeply spiritual or significant. Zen practitioners are admonished against becoming attached to these experiences or seeing them as a sign of progress, as they are considered distractions from the true path of enlightenment.

    A mundane allegory I had for this distinction was, imagine you're out shopping, and you've parked some distance away from the grocery store. As you make your way back to your car with your shopping, it begins to pour with rain, so you attempt to run. But then, you realise you can't feel or hear your keys in your jeans pocket, and that you must have left them on the store counter. 'Running in the rain' is an experience. 'Realising you've forgotten your keys' is a realisation. (Perhaps this is why Plato seems to make a connection between realisation and remembering, anamnesis.)

    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 5.36

    There's a chapter in Urs App's book Schopenhauer's Compass, concerning what Schopenhauer called 'better consciousness', which he also says can be found in the writings of several of Schopenhaur's near contemporaries, including Schelling and FIchte. (Rather a nice little Wikipedia on this, Higher Consciousness.) I'm sure Plotinus is describing a universal realisation in that passage, paralllels could be found in Vedanta literature as well.

    Are there other ways in which perennialist thinking tries to "flatten everything out"?Janus

    The Katz-Forman debate in comparative religion revolves around the universality or context-dependence of mystical experiences. Steven Katz argued that mystical experiences are invariably expressed in terms of the cultural, religious, and linguistic contexts in which they occur. According to Katz, mystical experiences are not universal but are instead deeply influenced by the specific traditions and beliefs of the mystic, resulting in significant differences across different religious contexts.

    In contrast, Robert Forman posited that there is a core, universal mystical experience that transcends cultural and religious boundaries. He suggests that, despite variations in interpretation and expression, the fundamental experience of mysticism is essentially the same across different traditions. Forman's perspective emphasizes the possibility of a common mystical core, accessible to mystics regardless of their specific cultural or religious backgrounds.

    I mentioned Katz in an honours thesis I did on the topic, but overall didn't agree with his account which I found reductionist. On the other hand, it's a mistake to try and identify the so-called 'universal core' because these kinds of realisations are almost impossible to define or articulate. Which is why they are generally represented in symbolic language! We can't 'get behind' the symbolic form to discern what it 'really is' about. Another analogy - how would you find out whether 'death by drowning' is alike or different to 'death by suffocation'?

    I do agree that there is a kind of 'lazy syncretism' which tries to blend different philosophies into a kind of melange. In fact I've even been guilty of that myself in the past. But I still think there's a very sound case for the universality of some forms of mystical insight.
  • Janus
    15.9k
    But I still think there's a very sound case for the universality of some forms of mystical insight.Wayfarer

    Insight or experience? There seems to be no doubt that mystical experiences are universal inasmuch as they occur in every culture. Are the attendant insights ever context-independent though?

    Are Katz and Forman disagreeing about the same things?
  • Wayfarer
    21.4k
    Are the attendant insights ever context-independent though?Janus

    To even express any kind of insight requires language. But then, consider the Flower Sermon, the apocryphal origin of Zen, wherein the Buddha holds up a single flower. That is intended to convey an unconditional insight. But as soon as you begin to discuss it then the point is already moot.

    I believe the genuinely mystical transcends philosophy, yet philosophy orients itself with respect to it. This relationship is evident in Christian Platonism, where negative theology—often associated with Christian mysticism—is defined as 'beyond words' and thus not easily discussed in dialogical terms. However, the mystical element of that tradition remains implicit in much of the surrounding philosophical discourse. But then, it was also constantly informed by the presence of actual teachers and exemplars of the faith, who provided a living dimension to the tradition which is generally absent in modern academic philosophy.
  • Janus
    15.9k
    But then, it was also constantly informed by the presence of actual teachers and exemplars of the faith, who provided a living dimension to the tradition which is generally absent in modern academic philosophy.Wayfarer

    I think it is still possible to have teachers in a secular context, because what they would be teaching are psychological and physical techniques for gaining self-knowledge and altering consciousness. That said I also believe that not everyone needs a teacher, a tradition or a "sangha".
  • Tzeentch
    3.5k
    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.Count Timothy von Icarus

    This is why I prefer the term 'mystical' experience, because 'peak' implies something intense and lengthy, whereas it appears mystical experiences come in various forms, and not all of them are like that. Some last only an instant, though the impression they leave on the mind is very profound.

    Mystical experiences do not have to involve meditative trances, but maybe this is the point the author was trying to make?
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