THE THIRD CANON OF THOUGHT
A KEY TO THE ENIGMAS OF THE WORLD
Theosophy of Max Muller Ancient India Philosophy of the Vedanta Tat tvam asi Perception by expanded consciousness as a reality Mysticism of different ages and peoples Similarity of experiences Tertium Organum as a key to mysticism Signs of the noumenal world Treatise of Plotinus 'On Intelligible Beauty' as a system of higher logic which is not understood Illumination of Jacob Boehme 'A harp of many strings, of which each string is a separate instrument, while the whole is only one harp' Mysticism of the Philokalia, St Avva Dorotheus and others Clement of Alexandria Lao-Tzu and Chuang-Tzu Light on the Path and The Voice of the Silence Mohammedan mystics Poetry of the Sufis Mystical states under narcotics The Anaesthetic Revelation Professor James's experiments Dostoyevsky on 'time' (The Idiot) Influence of nature on the soul of man
It would have been very interesting and highly important to make an historical survey of the development of ideas and systems based on higherlogic, or derived from it. But it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to do this, because, after all, we know nothing about the time of origin, the methods of transmission or ways of handing down of ideas of ancient philosophical systems and religious teachings There are a great many guesses and suppositions concerning the ways of handing down of ideas Many of these guesses and suppositions were considered beyond doubt, until new suppositions arose to refute them. Opinions of investigators are verydivergent about many questions and, generally, it would be extremelydifficult, or even impossible, to find one's way in this chaos, if one were to rely only upon the material accessible to logical investigation
I shall not dwell at all on the question of the handing down of ideas, either from historical or from any other point of view
Moreover, my survey of systems referring to the world of causes does not pretend to be complete It is not a 'history of thought', but merely some examples of different trends of thought which have led to similar results.
In his book Theosophy or Psychological Religion the well-known scholar Max Muller gives a very interesting analysis of mystical religions and philosophical systems akin to them. He pays special attention to India and its teachings.
What we study nowhere but in India is the all-absorbing influence which religion and philosophy may exercise on the human mind. So far as we can judge, a large class of people in India, not only the priestly class, but the nobility also, not only men but women also, never looked upon their life on earth as something real. What was real to them was the invisible, the life to come. What formed the themes of their conversations, what formed the subject of their meditations, was the real that alone lent some kind of reality to this unreal phenomenal world. Whoever was supposed to have caught a new ray of truth was visited by young and old, was honoured by princes and kings, nay, was looked upon as holding a position far above that of kings and princes. That is the side of the life of ancient India which deserves our study, because there has been nothing like it in the whole world, not even in Greece or in Palestine. . . .
I know quite well [says Müller] that there can never be a whole nation of
philosophers or metaphysical dreamers . . . and we must never forget that, all
through history, it is the few, not the many, who impress their character on a nation,
and have a right to represent it, as a whole. What do we know of Greece at the time
of the Ionian and Eleatic philosophers, except the utterances of Seven Sages? What
do we know of the Jews at the time of Moses, except the traditions preserved in the
Laws and the Prophets? It is the prophets, the poets, the lawgivers and teachers,
however small their number, who speak in the name of the people, and who alone
stand out to represent the nondescript multitude behind them, to speak their thoughts
and to express their sentiments. . . .
Real Indian philosophy, even in that embryonic form in which we find it in the 'Upanishads' stands completely by itself. ... If we ask what was the highest purpose of the teaching of the 'Upanishads' we can state it in three words, as it has been stated by the greatest Vedânta* teachers themselves, namely Tat tvam asi. This means Thou art that. That stands for what... is known to us under different names in different systems of ancient philosophy. It is Zeus or the Eis Theos or to on in Greece; it is what Plato meant by the Eternal Idea, what agnostics call the Unknowable, what I call the Infinite in Nature. This is what in India is called Brahman. . .the being behind all beings, the power that emits the universe, sustains it and draws it back again to itself. The Thou is ... the Infinite in Man . . . the Soul, the Self, the being behind every human Ego, free from all bodily fetters, free from passions, free from all attachments [Âtman]. The expression Thou art That means: Thine Âtman, thy soul, thy self is the Brahman, . . or in other words, the subject and object of being and all knowing are one and the same.
This is the gist of what I call Psychological Religion, or Theosophy, the highest summit of thought which the human mind has reached, which has found different expressions in different religions and philosophies, but nowhere such a clear and powerful realization as in the ancient 'Upanishads' of India.
* Vedanta is the end of the Vedas, the synopsis and commentaries to the Vedas.
For as long as the individual soul does not free itself from Nescience, or a belief in duality, it takes something else for itself. True knowledge of the Self, or true selfknowledge, expresses itself in the words, 'Thou art That' or 'I am Brahman', the nature of Brahman being unchangeable eternal cognition. Until that stage has been reached, the individual soul is fettered by the body, by the organs of sense, nay even by the mind and its various functions.
The Self, says the Vedanta philosopher, cannot be different from Brahman, because Brahman comprehends all reality, and nothing that really is can therefore be different from Brahman. Secondly, the individual self cannot be conceived as a modification of Brahman, because Brahman by itself cannot be changed, whether by itself, because it is one and perfect in itself, or by anything outside it [because nothing exists outside it]. Here we see the Vedântist moving in exactly the same stratum of thought in which the Eleatic philosophers moved in Greece. 'If there is one Infinite,' they said, 'there cannot be another, for the other would limit the one, and thus render it finite.' Or, as applied to God, the Eleatics argued, 'If God is to be the mightiest and the best, he must be one, for if there were two or more, he would not be the mightiest and best.' The Eleatics continued their monistic argument by showing that this One Infinite Being cannot be divided, so that anything could be called a portion of it, because there is no power that could separate anything from it. Nay, it cannot even have parts, for, as it has no beginning and no end, it can have no parts, for a part has a beginning and an end.
These Eleatic ideas -namely, that there is and there can be only One Absolute Being, infinite, unchangeable, without a second, without parts and passions -are the same ideas which underlie the 'Upanishads' and have been fully worked out in the Vedânta-Sutras.
In most of the religions of the ancient world [says Müller] the relation between the soul and God has been represented as a return of the soul to God. A yearning for God, a kind of divine home-sickness, finds expression in most religions. But the road that is to lead us home, and the reception which the soul may expect in the Father's house, have been represented in very different ways, in different countries and different languages. . . .
According to some religious teachers, a return of the soul to God is possible after death only. . . .
According to other religious teachers, the final beatitude of the soul can be achieved even in this life. . . . That beatitude . . . requires knowledge only, knowledge of the necessary unity of what is divine in man with what is divine in God. The Brahmans call it self-knowledge, that is to say, the knowledge that our true self, if it is anything, can only be that Self which is All in All, and beside which there is nothing else. Sometimes this conception of the intimate relation between the human and the divine natures comes in suddenly, as the result of an unexplained intuition or self-recollection. Sometimes, however, it seems as if the force of logic had driven the human mind to the same result. If God had once been recognized as the Infinite in nature, and the soul as the Infinite in man, it seemed to follow that there could not be two Infinites. The Eleatics had clearly passed through a similar phase of thought in their own philosophy.
'If there is an Infinite,' they said, 'it is one, for if there were two, they could not be infinite, but would be finite one towards the other. But that which exists is infinite, and there cannot be more such. Therefore that which exists is one. '
Nothing can be more decided than Eleatic Monism, and with it the admission of a soul, the Infinite in man, as different from God, the Infinite in nature, would have been inconceivable.
In India. . . . the conclusion was. . . . that these two. Brahman and Atman [the spirit] were in their nature one.
The early Christians, also, at least those who had been brought up in the schools of Neo-platomst philosophy, had a clear perception that, if the soul is infinite and immortal in its nature, it cannot be anything beside God or by the side of God, but that it must be God and in God St. Paul gave but his own bold expression to the same faith or knowledge, when he uttered the words which have startled so many theologians: 'In Him we live and move and have our being.' If anyone else had uttered these words, they would at once have been condemned as pantheism. No doubt they are pantheism, and yet they express the very key-note of Christianity. The divine sonship of man is only a metaphorical expression, but it was meant originally to embody the same idea. . . . And when the question was asked how the consciousness of this divine sonship could ever have been lost, the answer given by Christianity was, by sin, the answer given by the 'Upanishads' was, by avidyâ nescience. This marks the similarity, and at the same time the characteristic difference between these two religions. The question how nescience laid hold of the human soul, and made it imagine that it could live or move or have a true being anywhere but in Brahman, remains as unanswerable in Hindu philosophy as in Christianity the question how sin first came into the world.
Both philosophies, that of the East and that of the West, start from a common point, namely from the conviction that our ordinary knowledge is uncertain, if not altogether wrong. This revolt of the human mind against itself is the first step in all philosophy.
In our own philosophical language we might express the same question by asking, how did the real become phenomenal and how can the phenomenal become real again, or, in other words, how was the infinite changed into the finite, how was the eternal changed into the temporal, and how can the temporal regain its eternal nature, or, to put it into more familiar language, how was this world created, and how can it be uncreated again.
Nescience or avidyâ is the cause of phenomenal semblance. . . . In the 'Upanishads' the meaning of Brahman changes Sometimes he is almost an objective God, existing separately from the world Then we see] Brahman the essence of all things, and the soul, knowing that it is no longer separated from that essence, learns the highest lesson of the whole Vedanta doctrine, tat tvam asi. Thou art That, that is to say, 'Thou who for a time didst seem to be something by thyself, art that, art really nothing apart from the divine essence' To know Brahman is to be Brahman.
Almost in the same words as the Eleatic philosophers and the German mystics of the fourteenth century, the Vedantist argues that it would be self-contradictory to admit that there could be anything besides the Infinite or Brahman, which is All in All, and that therefore the soul also cannot be anything different from it, can never claim a separate and independent existence.
Secondly, as Brahman has to be conceived as perfect, and therefore as unchangeable, the soul cannot be conceived as a real modification or deterioration of Brahman.
Thirdly, as Brahman has neither beginning nor end, neither can it have any parts, therefore the soul cannot be a part of Brahman, but the whole of Brahman must be present in every individual soul. This is the same as the teaching of Plotinus, who held with equal consistency that the True Being is totally present in every part of the universe. . . .
The Vedanta philosophy rests on the fundamental conviction. . . . that the Soul and the Absolute Being or Brahman, are one in their essence.
The fundamental principle of the Vedanta philosophy is that in reality there exists and can exist nothing but Brahman, that Brahman is everything.
In India, as anywhere else, man imagines at first that he, in his individual, bodily and spiritual character, is something that exists, and that all the objects of the outer world also exist, as objects. Idealistic philosophy has swept away this world-old prejudice more thoroughly in India than anywhere else.
Nescience [creating the division between the individual soul and Brahman] can be removed by science or knowledge only, and this knowledge or vidya is imparted by the Vedanta, which shows that all our ordinary knowledge is simply the result of ignorance or nescience, is uncertain, deceitful and perishable, or as we should say, is phenomenal, relative, and conditioned. The true knowledge, or complete insight, cannot be gained by sensuous perception, nor by inference. . . . According to the orthodox Vedantist, Sruti alone, or what is called revelation, can impart that knowledge and remove that nescience which is innate in human nature.
Of the Higher Brahman nothing can be predicated but that it is, and that through our nescience, it appears to be this or that.
When a great Indian Sage was asked to describe Brahman, he was simply silent that was his answer.
When it is said that Brahman is, that means at the same time that Brahman is not, that is to say, that Brahman is nothing of what is supposed to exist in our sensuous perceptions.
Whatever we may think of this philosophy [says Müller], we cannot deny its metaphysical boldness and its logical consistency. If Brahman is All in All, the One without a second, nothing can be said to exist that is not Brahman. There is no room for anything outside the Infinite and the Universal, nor is there room for two Infinites, for the Infinite in nature and the Infinite in man. There is and there can be one Infinite, one Brahman only. This is the beginning and the end of the Vedanta. . . .
What has often been quoted as the shortest summary of the Vedanta in a couple of lines, represents the Vedanta of Sankara [a commentator and interpreter of Vedanta]
'Brahma is true, the world is false, The soul is Brahma and is nothing else.'
This is really a very perfect summary. It means: What truly and really exists is Brahman, the One Absolute Being; the world is false, or rather is not what it seems to be; that is, everything that is presented to us by the senses is phenomenal and relative, and can be nothing else. The soul again, or rather every man's soul... is in reality nothing but Brahman.
[In relation to the question of the origin of the world, two famous commentators of the Vedânta,] Sankara and Râmânuga differ, Râmânuga holding the theory of evolution, Sankara the theory of illusion. . . .
It is very important to observe that the Vedântist does not go as far as certain Buddhist philosophers who look upon the phenomenal world as simply nothing. No, their world is real, only it is not what it seems to be. Sankara claims for the phenomenal world a reality sufficient for all practical purposes, sufficient to determine our practical life, our moral obligations. . . .
There is a veil. But the Vedânta-philosophy teaches us that the eternal light behind it can always be perceived more or less darkly or more or less clearly, through philosophical knowledge. It can be perceived because in reality it is always there. . . .
It may seem strange to find the results of the philosophy of Kant and his followers thus anticipated under varying expressions in the 'Upanishads' and in the Vedântaphilosophy of ancient India.
In the chapters on the 'Logos' and on 'Christian Theosophy' Max Müller says that RELIGION is a bridge between the Visible and the Invisible, between the Finite and the Infinite.
It may be truly said that the founders of the religions of the world have all been bridge-builders. As soon as the existence of the Beyond, of a Heaven above the earth, of Powers above us and beneath us had been recognized, a great gulf seemed to be fixed between what was called by various names, the earthly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual, the phenomenal and noumenal, or best of all, the visible and invisible world, and it was the chief object of religion to unite these two worlds again, whether by the arches of hope and fear, or by the iron chains of logical syllogisms.*
The idea of the 'Logos' represented precisely this bridge. It assumed the most varied forms, expressing the first divine thought, and then became personified and transformed into the Son of God, incarnated on earth. Moreover, this idea gathered round it the mythological elements of ancient religions.
Among modern thinkers, the well-known psychologist Professor
* F. Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion, New York, Longmans Green, 1899.
William James is closest of all to the ideas of Max Müller's Theosophy. In the last chapter of his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Professor James says:
The warring gods and formulas of the various religions do indeed cancel each other, but there is a certain uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet — [this is the LIBERATION OF THE SOUL]. Man becomes conscious that his higher part is conterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with, and in a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone to pieces in the wreck. . . .
What is the objective 'truth' of the content of religious experiences? ... Is such a
'more' merely our own notion, or docs it really exist? If so, in what shape does it
exist? . . . And in what form should we conceive of that 'union' with it of which
religious geniuses are so convinced?
It is in answering these questions that the various theologies perform their theoretical work, and that their divergencies most come to light. They all agree that the 'more' really exists; though some of them hold it to exist in the shape of a personal god or gods, while others are satisfied to conceive it as a stream of ideal tendency. ... It is when they treat of the experience of 'union' with it that their speculative differences appear most clearly. Over this point pantheism and theism, nature and second birth, works and grace and karma, immortality and reincarnation . . . carry on inveterate disputes.
I held out the notion [says Professor James] that an impartial science of religions might sift out from the midst of their discrepancies a common body of doctrine which she might also formulate in terms to which physical science need not object. This, I said, she [the science of religions] might adopt as her own reconciling hypothesis, and recommend it for general belief. . . .
Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the 'more' with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life. . . .
The conscious person is continuous with a wider self. . . . The further limits of our
being plunge, it seems to me, into an altogether other dimension of existence from
the sensible and merely 'understandable' world. Name it the mystical region, or the
supernatural region, whichever you choose ... we belong to it in a more intimate
sense than that in which we belong to the visible world, for we belong in the most
intimate sense wherever our ideals belong. . . . [The communion with this unseen
world is a real process with real results. All the roots of religious life and its centre
we must seek in mystical states of consciousness.]*
* William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, Longmans Green, 1917.
What then is mysticism?
Returning to the terminology established in the preceding chapters, we may say that mystical states of consciousness are connected with cognition under conditions of expanded consciousness.
Until quite recent times scientific psychology refused to recognize the reality of mystical experience and considered all mystical states to be pathological, unhealthy conditions of ordinary consciousness. A great manypositivist psychologists still hold to this opinion, mixing together in one lumpreal mystical states, pseudo-mystical perversions of the ordinary state, purely psychopathic states and more or less conscious deceit.
Naturally, this does not assist a right understanding of the question. Therefore, before proceeding further, we must establish the means by which we can single out real mystical states.
Professor James gives certain criteria for distinguishing mystical states: inexpressibility in words, intuitiveness, involuntary quality and so on. But he points out himself that all these characteristics belong also to ordinaryemotional states. And he does not define exactly what constitutes the difference between mystical states and emotional states which are actually very close to them in their character.
If we regard mystical states as cognition by expanded consciousness, we can advance quite definite criteria for discerning them and picking them out of the general mass of psychological experience.
1 Mystical states give knowledge WHICH NOTHING ELSE CAN GIVE.
2 Mystical states give knowledge of the real world with all its attributes.
3 The mystical states of men belonging to different ages and different peoples show astonishing similarity, and at times complete identity.
4 The results of mystical experience are totally illogical from our ordinary point of view. They are super-logical, i.e. TERTIUM ORGANUM, WHICH IS PRECISELY THE KEY TO MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE, is fully applicable to them.
The latter is especially important - the illogicality of the results of mystical experience made science repudiate them. Now we have established that illogically (from our point of view) is the condition necessary for knowingthe truth or the real world. This does not mean that everything illogical is true or real, but it certainly means that everything true and real is, from our point of view, illogical.
We have established the fact that with our logic it is impossible to approach truth, and we have also established the possibility of a new instrument of thought which helps to penetrate into regions hitherto inaccessible.
Awareness of the need to have such an instrument of thought undoubtedly existed very long ago, for what is the formula Tat tvam asi if not the FUNDAMENTAL AXIOM OF HIGHER LOGIC?
Thou are That means: thou are both thou and not thou and corresponds to the superlogical formula -A is both A and not A.
If we examine ancient scriptures from this point of view, we shall understand that their authors were looking for a new logic, and were not satisfied with the logic of things of the phenomenal world. Then we shall understand the apparent illogicality of ancient philosophical systems, which seemed to build for themselves an ideal world in place of the existing one. It is precisely in these constructions of an ideal world that systems of higher logic are often concealed.
One of such not understood attempts to construe a system of higher logic, to give an exact instrument of thought penetrating beyond the limits of the visible world, is the treatise of Plotinus 'On Intelligible Beauty'.
Describing HEAVEN and the GODS Plotinus says:
All the gods are venerable and beautiful, and their beauty is immense. What else however is it but intellect through which they are such? and because intellect energizes in them in so great a degree as to render them visible [by its light?] For it is not because their bodies are beautiful. For those gods that have bodies, do not through this derive their subsistence as gods; but these also are gods through intellect. For they are not at one time wise, and at another destitute of wisdom; but they are always wise, in an impassive, stable, and pure intellect. They likewise know all things [by providence] not human concerns but their own, which are divine, and such as intellect sees. . . . For all things there are heaven, and there the earth is heaven, as also are the sea, animals, plants and men. . . . The gods likewise that it contains do not think men undeserving of their regard, or anything else that is there [because everything there is divine]. And they occupy and pervade without ceasing the whole of that [blissful] region. For the life which is there is unattended with labour, and truth [as Plato says in the 'Phaedrus'] is their generator, and nutriment, their essence and nurse. They likewise see all things, not those with which generation, but those with which essence is present. And they perceive themselves in others. For all things there are diaphanous; and nothing is dark and resisting, but every thing is apparent to everyone internally and throughout. For light everywhere meets with light; since every thing contains all things in itself, and again sees all things in another. So that all things are everywhere, and all is all. Each thing likewise is every thing. And the splendour there is infinite. For every thing there is great, since even that which is small is great. The sun too which is there is all the stars: and again each star is the sun and all the stars. In each, however, a different property predominates, but at the same time all things are visible in each. Motion likewise there is pure; for the motion is not confounded by the mover different from it. Permanency also suffers no change of its nature, because it is not mingled with the unstable. And the beautiful there is beautiful, because it does not subsist in beauty (as in a subject). Each thing too is there established, not as in a foreign land, but the seat of each thing is that which each thing is. ... Nor is the thing itself different from the place in which it subsists. For the subject of it is intellect, and it is itself intellect. . . . But there each part always proceeds from the whole, and is at the same time each part and the whole. For it appears indeed as a party; but by him whose sight is acute, it will be seen as a whole. . .. There is likewise no weariness of the vision which is there, nor any plenitude of perception which can bring intuition to an end. For neither was there any vacuity, which when filled might cause the visive energy to cease; nor is this one thing, but that another, so as to occasion a part of one thing not to be amicable with that of another.
And that [the knowledge] which is there insatiable is so, because its plenitude never causes it to despise that by which it is filled. For by seeing it more abundantly sees, and perceiving both itself and the objects of its perception to be infinite, it follows its own nature [in unceasing contemplation]. . . . And the life there is wisdom; a wisdom not obtained by a reasoning process, because the whole of it always was, and is not in any respect deficient, so as to be in want of investigation. But it is the first wisdom, and is not derived from another.*
Surprisingly akin to Plotinus is Jacob Boehme, who was an ordinary shoemaker in the German town of Goerlitz at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, and who left a whole series of remarkable writings in which he described the knowledge that came to him in moments of illumination.
His first 'illumination' occurred in 1600 when he was twenty-five.**
Sitting one day in his room his eye fell upon a burnished pewter dish, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendour that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundation of things. He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen. He said nothing of this to anyone, but praised and thanked God in silence. . . .
Of this first illumination Hartmann [Boehme's biographer] says that by it or from it: 'He learned to know the innermost foundation of nature, and acquired the capacity to see henceforth with the eyes of the soul into
* Select Works of Plotinus, trs. Thomas Taylor, ed. G. R. S. Mead, London, G. Bell & Sons, 1929.
** The ensuing quotation is from Dr R. M. Bucke's book Cosmic Conscious Philadelphia, Innes & Sons, 1905, reprinted New York, Dutton, 1969.
the heart of all things, a faculty which remained with him even in his normal condition. . . .
'About the year 1600 ... he was again surrounded by the divine light and replenished with the heavenly knowledge; inasmuch as going abroad in the fields to a green before Neys Gate, at Görlitz, he there sat down and, viewing the herbs and grass of the field in his inward light, he saw into their essences, use and properties, which were discovered to him by their lineaments, figures and signatures. In like manner he beheld the whole creation, and from that foundation of revelation he afterwards wrote his book, De Signatura Rerum. In the unfolding of those mysteries before his understanding he had a great measure of joy, yet returned home and took care of his family and lived in great peace and silence, scarce intimating to any these wonderful things that had befallen him, till in the year 1610, being again taken into the light, lest the mysteries revealed to him should pass through him as a stream, and rather for a memorial than intending any publication, he wrote his first book, called Aurora, or the Morning Redness.
'The first illumination, in 1600, was not complete. . . . Ten years later (1610) he had another remarkable inward experience. What he had previously seen only chaotically, fragmentarily, and in isolated glimpses, he now beheld as a coherent whole and in more definite outlines. . . .
'[When] his third illumination took place . . . that which in former visions had appeared to him chaotic and multifarious was now recognized by him as unity, like a harp of many strings, of which each string is a separate instrument, while the whole is only one harp* He now recognized the divine order of nature, and how from the trunk of the tree of life sprung different branches, bearing manifold leaves and flowers and fruits, and he became impressed with the necessity of writing down what he saw and preserving the record.' . . .
He himself speaks of this final and complete illumination as follows:
'The gate was opened to me that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university, at which I exceedingly admired and thereupon turned my praise to God for it. For I saw and knew the being of all beings, the byss and abyss and the eternal generation of the Holy Trinity, the descent and original of the world and of all creatures through divine wisdom. . . . And I saw and knew the whole working essence, in the evil and the good and the original and the existence of each of them; and likewise how the fruitful-bearingwomb of eternity brought forth. So that I did not only greatly wonder at it but did also exceedingly rejoice.'
Describing his 'illuminations', Boehme says in one of his writings:
Suddenly . . . my spirit did break through . . . even to the innermost birth of Geniture of the Deity, and there I was embraced with love, as a bridegroom embraces his dearly beloved bride. But the greatness of the triumphing that was in the spirit I cannot express either in speaking or writing; neither can it be compared to anything, but with that wherein the life is generated in the midst of death, and it is like the resurrection from
* See quotation from van Manen's Book, Chapter 11, pp. 107-9.
the dead. In this light my spirit suddenly saw through all, and in and by all the creatures, even in herbs and grass, it knew God, who he is, and how he is, and what his will is; and suddenly in that light my will was set on, by a mighty impulse, to describe the being of God. But because I could not presently apprehend the deepest births of God in their being and comprehend them in my reason, there passed almost twelve years before the exact understanding thereof was given me. And it was with me as with a young tree which is planted in the ground, and at first is young and tender, and flourishing to the eye, especially if it comes on lustily in its growing. But it does not bear fruit presently; and though it blossoms, they fall off; also many a cold wind, frost and snow, puff upon it, before it comes to any growth and bearing of fruit.
Boehme's books are full of wonder at the mysteries which were revealed to him.
* I was as simple concerning the hidden mysteries [he writes], as the meanest of all; but my virgin of the wonders of God taught me, so that I must write of his wonders; though indeed my purpose is to write this for a memorandum for myself. . . .
Not I, the I that I am [he says], know those things: but God knows them in me.
If you will behold your own self and the outer world, and what is taking place therein, you will find that you, with regard to your external being, are that external world.
His 'Dialogues between a Disciple and his Master' are remarkable. (By Disciple and Master should be understood the lower and higher consciousness in man.)
The Disciple said to his Master: Sir, how may I come to the Supersensual Life, so that I may see God, and may hear God speak?
The Master answered and said: Son, when thou canst throw thyself into THAT, where no Creature dwelleth, though it be but for a moment, then thou hearest what God speaketh.
Disciple. Is that where no Creature dwelleth near at hand, or is it afar off? Master. It is in thee. And if thou canst, my Son, for a while but cease from all thy
thinking and willing, then thou shall hear the unspeakable words of God. Disciple. How can I hear him speak, when I stand still from thinking and willing? Master. When thou standest still from the thinking of Self, and the willing of Self.
When both thy intellect and will are quiet, and passive to the expressions of the Eternal Word and Spirit; and when thy soul is winged up and above that which is temporal, the outward senses and the imagination being locked up by holy abstraction, then the Eternal Hearing, Seeing and Speaking will be revealed in thee, and so God heareth and seeth through thee, being now the organ of his Spirit, and so God speaketh in thee, and whispereth to thy spirit, and thy spirit heareth his voice.
Blessed art thou therefore if thou canst stand still from self-thinking and self-willing, and canst stop the wheel of thy imagination and senses. . . . Since it is nought indeed but thine own hearing and willing that do hinder thee, so that thou dost not see and hear God. . . .
Disciple. 0 Loving Master ... I can no longer endure that any Thing should divert me; . . . how shall I find the nearest way to it?
Master. Where the way is hardest, there walk thou, and what the world casteth away, that take thou up; and what the world doth, that do thou not. But in all things walk thou contrary to the world. So thou comest the nearest way to that which thou art seeking. . . .
Disciple. 0 how may I arrive at the Unity of Will, and how come into the Unity of Vision?
Master. Mark now what I say. The Right Eye looketh forward in thee into Eternity. The Left Eye looketh backwards in thee into Time. If thou now sufferest thyself to be always looking into Nature, and the Things of Time, it will be impossible for thee ever to arrive at the Unity, which thou wishest for. Remember this, and be upon thy watch. Give not thy mind leave to enter into nor to fill itself with that which is without thee; neither look thou backwards upon thyself. . . . Let not thy Left Eye deceive thee by making continually one representation after another, and stirring up thereby an earnest longing in the self-propriety; but let thy right eye command this left. . . . But never shall thou arrive at the Unity of Vision or Uniformity of Will, but by ... bringing the Eye of Time into the Eye of Eternity, and then descending by means of these united through the Light of God into the Light of Nature.
The third dialogue is between Junius, a scholar, and Theophorus, his master, concerning heaven and hell.
The Scholar asked his Master: Whither goeth the Soul when the Body Dieth?
His Master answered him: There is no necessity for it to go any whither. How not,
said the inquisitive Junius, must not the Soul leave the body at death and go either to Heaven or Hell?
It needs no going forth, replied the venerable Theophorus. . . . The Soul
hath Heaven and Hell within itself before, according as it is written. . . .
And whichsoever of the two, either Heaven or Hell, is manifested in it, in
that the soul standeth.*
The extracts quoted here are sufficient to indicate the character of the writings of an uneducated shoemaker from a small provincial town in Germany of the sixteenth to seventeenth century. Boehme is remarkable for the pronounced intellectuality of his 'comprehensions', although the moral element in them is also very strong.
* Jacob Behmen, Dialogues on the Supersensual Life, London, Methuen, 1901.
In the book already mentioned (The Varieties of Religious Experience) Professor William James dwells with great attention on Christian mysticism, which contributed a great deal to the establishment of the cognitive side of mysticism.
I borrow from him the description of mystical experiences of certain Christian saints.
Saint Ignatius confessed one day to Father Laynez that a single hour of meditation at Manfesa had taught him more truth about heavenly things than all the teachings of all the doctors put together could have taught him. . . . One day in orizon, on the steps of the choir of the Dominican church, he saw in a distinct manner the plan of divine wisdom in the creation of the world. On another occasion, during a procession, his spirit was ravished in God, and it was given him to contemplate, in a form and images fitted to the weak understanding of a dweller on the earth, the deep mystery of the holy Trinity. This last vision flooded his heart with such sweetness, that the mere memory of it in after times made him shed abundant tears.
Similarly with Saint Teresa. 'One day, being in orison,' she writes, 'it was granted me to perceive in one instant how all things are seen and contained in God. I did not perceive them in their proper form, and nevertheless the view I had of them was of a sovereign clearness, and has remained vividly impressed upon my soul. It is one of the most signal of all the graces which the Lord has granted me. . . . The view was so subtle and delicate that the understanding cannot grasp it.'
She goes on to tell how it was as if the Deity were an enormous and sovereignly limpid diamond, in which all our actions were contained in such a way that their full sinfulness appeared evident as never before.
On another day she relates, 'Our Lord made me comprehend in what way it is that one God can be in three Persons. He made me see it so clearly that I remained as extremely surprised as I was comforted . . . and now when I think of the holy Trinity, or hear it spoken of, I understand how the three . . . Persons form only one God and I experience an unspeakable happiness.'
Professor James points out that Christian mysticism is very close to the 'Upanishads' and the 'Vedanta'.
The fountain head of Christian mysticism is Dionysius the Areopagite. He describes the absolute truth by negatives exclusively.
The cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect; nor has it imagination, opinion, or reason, or intelligence; nor is it reason or intelligence; nor is it spoken or thought. It is neither number, nor order, nor magnitude, nor littleness, nor equality, nor inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity. It neither stands, nor moves, nor rests. ... It is neither essence, nor eternity, nor time. Even intellectual contact docs not belong to it. It is neither science nor truth. It is not even royalty or wisdom; not one; not unity; not divinity or goodness; nor even spirit as we know it. . . .'*
The writings of mystics of the Orthodox Church are collected in the books, called Philokalia, comprising five large volumes, difficult to read. I have taken a few examples of deep and subtle mysticism from the book Superconsciousness and Ways to its Attainment by M. V. Lodizhensky who studied Philokalia and found there remarkable examples of philosophical thought.
Imagine a circle [says Avva Dorotheus -seventh century], in the middle, its centre, and radii, or rays, going out of this centre. The further these radii travel from the centre, the more divergent and distant they become from one another; and the other way round, the closer they are to the centre, the nearer they approach one another. Imagine now that this circle is the world, the very middle of it. God, and the straight lines (radii) going out from the centre towards the circumference, or going from the circumference towards the centre are the paths of men's lives. And here also, the further the saints penetrate inside the circle towards the middle of it, desiring to approach God, the closer, according to the depth of this penetration, they come to God and to each other. . . . Understand similarly about going out from the centre. -The more they withdraw from God . . . the more, in the same measure, they withdraw from one another, and as much as they withdraw from one another, so much they withdraw from God. Such also is the property of love: to the extent that we are withdrawn and do not love God, each of us is also far from his neighbour. But if we love God, then to the extent that we approach to God in our love of Him, we become united in love with our neighbours; and as much as we are united with out neighbours, so much we become united with God also (Super-consciousness, p. 266; Philokalia, vol. II, p. 6l7).**
Hear now [says St Isaac of Syria (sixth century)] how a man becomes finer, acquires that which is of the spirit and in his life becomes akin to the invisible powers. . . . When vision has soared above earthly things and the
* William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, London, Longmans Green, 1917.
** The author of Superconsciousness, M. V. Lodizhensky, told me that in the summer of 1910 he was in Yassnaya Poliana on a visit to L. N. Tolstoy, and had a talk with him about mystics and the Philokalia. At first Tolstoy took a very sceptical attitude to mysticism, but when M. V. Lodizhensky read to him the quotation, given here, from Avva Dorotheus, about the circle, Tolstoy became very enthusiastic, ran into another room and brought out a letter in which a triangle was drawn. It transpired that he had independently almost grasped the thought of Avva Dorotheus and was writing to someone that God was the apex of the triangle and men were points at the angles; coming closer to one another, they come nearer to God, and coming nearer to God they come closer to one another. A few days later Tolstoy rode over to Lodizhensky, who lived near Tula, and read different parts of Philokalia there, regretting very much that he had not known these books before. (P.D.O.)
cares of earthly doings, when it begins to test its thoughts in that which is within, hidden from the eyes, when it reaches out on high, and is led by faith in its care for the life to come, its longing for that which has been promised us, and its search for hidden mysteries, - then faith itself consumes this knowledge and becomes transformed. Thus the knowledge is born again, becoming entirely of the spirit. Then it can soar on wings into the regions of the incorporeal spirits, may touch the depths of the intangible sea, representing in the mind the marvellous acts of Divine rule in the natures of thinking and feeling beings; and can seek out spiritual mysteries which may be comprehended by a simple and subtle mind. Then the inner senses wake up to spiritual doing, after the manner that they will be in the immortal and imperishable life; because, even in this world, it has undergone, as it were in secret, a mental resurrection, in true token of the general resurrection (Superconsciousness, p. 370; Philokalia, vol. II, p. 658).
When the grace of the Holy Spirit [says Maxim Kapsokalivit], descends on anyone, it shows him nothing of the ordinary things of this sensual world, but makes him see things he never saw or imagined. Then the mind of such a man learns from the Holy Spirit the high and hidden mysteries which, according to the divine Paul, neither the human eye can understand, nor the human reason comprehend unaided (I Corinthians
2: 9). And so that you may understand how our mind sees them, ponder over what I shall say to you. Wax, when it is far from the fire, is hard, and it is possible to handle it and hold it. But as soon as it is thrown into the fire, it immediately melts, and so becomes alight in the fire and burns. Thus everything becomes light, and everything ends in the midst of flames. So also is the human mind: when it stands by itself, unconnected with God, it comprehends everything around it in the usual way, according to its powers. But when it comes close to the Divine fire and to the Holy spirit, it is wholly enveloped by this Divine fire, and becomes all light, and so, burning in the flame of the Holy Spirit, it spreads itself in Divine thoughts. Then, in the midst of the Divine fire it is impossible for it to think about its own affairs and wishes (Superconsciousness, p. 370; Philokalia, vol. V, P. 475).
St Basil the Great says about Divine revelation:
Wholly unutterable and indescribable is the lightning-like radiance of Divine beauty; no word can express it, and no ear can take it in. If we name the brightness of the day, the light of the moon or the radiance of the sun -none of this is worthy of being compared with the glory of the true light and is, by comparison, further removed from it than the deepest night or the most terrible darkness is removed from the brightness of noon. When this beauty, invisible to bodily eyes and apprehended only by the soul and by thought, illumined some of the saints, piercing them through with an unbearable longing for the vision of Divine beauty to last for eternity, then were they repelled by the present life and bore it like irksome fetters (Superconsciousness, p. 372, Philokalia, vol. V).
A strange word will I say to you [says St Theognis], do not be surprised. There is a hidden sacrament which takes place between God and the soul. This happens to those who have reached the highest measure of perfect purity of love and faith, when a man, completely transformed, ceaselessly unites with God, as His own, through prayer and contemplation (Superconsciousness, p. 381; Philokalia, vol. Ill, p. 396).
Some passages from the writings of Clement of Alexandria (second century) are extremely interesting.
Painting appears to take in the whole field of view in the scenes represented. But it gives a false description of the view, according to the rules of the art, employing the signs that result from the incidence of the lines of vision. By this means, the higher and the lower points in the view, and those between, are preserved; and some objects seem to appear in the foreground, and others in the background, and others to appear in some other way, on the smooth and level surface. So also philosophers copy truth, after the manner of painting.*
Clement of Alexandria points here to a very important aspect of truth, namely, to the impossibility of expressing it in words, and to the conditional character of all philosophical systems and formulations. His idea is that dialectically truth is represented only in perspective, i.e. inevitably in a distorted form.
How much time and labour would be saved, and how much useless suffering humanity would be spared, if it could understand the simple fact that truth cannot be expressed in our language. Then men would cease to think that they possessed truth, would cease to force other people to accept their truth at any cost. They would think then that others may approach truth from another side, just as they themselves approach it from their own side. How many arguments, how many religious conflicts, how much coercion of the thought of others would be unnecessary and impossible if men realized that no one has the truth, but that all are seeking it, each in his own way.
The ideas of Clement of Alexandria about God are very interesting. They are very similar to those of the Vedânta and especially to those of Chinese philosophers.
The discourse respecting God is most difficult to handle. For, since the first principle of everything is difficult to find out, the absolutely first and oldest principle, which is the cause of all other things being and having been, is difficult to exhibit. For how can that be expressed which has neither genus, nor difference, nor species, nor individual, nor number;
* Extracts from the Writings of Clement of Alexandria, The Theosophical Society, 1905.
nay more, is neither an event nor that to which an event happens? No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His greatness He is ranked as the All and is the Father of the Universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of Him. For the One is indivisible, wherefore also it is infinite, not considered with reference to inscrutability, but with reference to its being without dimensions, and not having a limit. And therefore it is without form and name. And if we name it, we do not do so properly, terming it either the One, or the Good, or Mind, or Absolute Being, or Father, or God, or Creator, or Lord. We speak, not as supplying His name, but for want we use good names, in order that the mind may have these as points of support, so as not to err in other respects.*
Among the Chinese philosopher-mystics our attention is arrested by Lao-Tzu (sixth century BC) and Chuang Tzu (fourth century BC), on account of the clearness of their thought and the extraordinary simplicity with which they express the most profound doctrines of idealism.
The Sayings of Lao-Tzu
The Tao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao; the name which can be uttered is not its eternal name. . . .
Tao eludes the sense of sight, and is therefore called colourless. It eludes the sense
of hearing, and is therefore called soundless. It eludes the sense of touch, and is
therefore called incorporeal. These three qualities cannot be apprehended, and hence
they may be blended into unity. . . .
Ceaseless in action, it cannot be named, but returns again to nothingness. We may call it the form of the formless, the image of the imageless, the fleeting and the indeterminable. . . .
There is something, chaotic yet complete, which existed before heaven and earth. Oh, how still it is, and formless, standing alone without changing, reaching everywhere without suffering harm! . . .
Its name I know not. To designate it, I call it Tao. Endeavouring to describe it, I call it Great. Being Great, it passes on; passing on; it becomes remote; having become remote, it returns. . . .
The law of Tao is its own spontaneity.
Tao in its unchanging aspect has no name.
The mightiest manifestations of active force flow solely from Tao.
Tao as it exists in the world is like the great rivers and seas which receive the streams from the valleys. All-pervading is the Great Tao. It can be at once on the right hand and on the left. . .. Tao is a great square with no angles ... a great sound which cannot be heard, a great image with no form. . . .
Tao produced Unity; Unity produced Duality; Duality produced Trinity; and Trinity produced all existing objects. . . .
He who acts in accordance with Tao, becomes one with Tao. . . .
All the world says that my Tao is great, but unlike other teachings. If it had this likeness, long ago would its smallness have been known. . . .
The sage attends to the inner and not to the outer; he puts away the objective and holds to the subjective.
The sage occupies himself with inaction, and conveys instruction without words. . . .
Who is there that can make muddy water clear? But if allowed to remain still, it will gradually become clear of itself. Who is there that can secure a state of absolute repose? But let time go on, and the state of repose will gradually arise. . . .
Tao is eternally inactive, and yet it leaves nothing undone. . . .
The pursuit of book-learning brings about daily increase [i.e. increase of knowledge]. The practice of Tao brings about daily loss [i.e. loss of ignorance]. Repeat this loss again and again, and you arrive at inaction. Practise inaction, and there is nothing which cannot be done. . . .
Practise inaction, occupy yourself with doing nothing. . . .
Leave all things to take their natural course, and do not interfere. . . .
All things in Nature work silently. . . .
Among mankind, the recognition of beauty as such implies the idea of ugliness, and the recognition of good implies the idea of evil. . . .
Cast off your holiness, rid yourself of sagacity, and the people will benefit a hundredfold. . . .
Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.
He who acts, destroys; he who grasps, loses. Therefore the sage does not act, and so does not destroy; he does not grasp, and so he does not lose. . . .
The soft overcomes the hard; the weak overcomes the strong. There is no one in the world but knows this truth, and no one who can put it into practice.*
Musings of Chuang-Tzu
You cannot speak of ocean to a well-frog - the creature of a narrower sphere. You cannot speak of ice to a summer insect -the creature of a season. You cannot speak of Tao to a pedagogue: his scope is too restricted.
But now that you have emerged from your narrow sphere and have seen the great ocean, you know your own insignificance, and I can speak to you of great principles. . . .
Dimensions are limitless; time is endless. Conditions are not invariable; terms are not final.
There is nothing which is not objective; there is nothing which is not subjective. But it is impossible to start from the objective. Only from subjective knowledge is it possible to proceed to objective knowledge. . . .
* The Sayings of Lao-Tzu, trs. Lionel Giles, London, 1905.
When subjective and objective are both without their correlates, that is the very axis of Tao.
Tao has its laws and its evidences. It is devoid both of action and of form.
It may be obtained but cannot be seen.
Spiritual beings draw their spirituality therefrom.
To Tao no point in time is long ago.
Tao cannot be existent. If it were existent, it could not be non-existent. The very name of Tao is only adapted for convenience's sake. Predestination and chance are limited to material existences. How can they bear upon the infinite?
Tao is something beyond material existences. It cannot be conveyed either by words or by silence. In that state which is neither speech nor silence, its transcendental nature may be apprehended.*
In contemporary theosophical literature, two small books stand alone among the rest: The Voice of the Silence by H. P. Blavatsky and Light on the Path by Mabel Collins. Both contain many genuine mystical sensations.
The Voice of the Silence **
He who would hear the voice of the silence, the soundless sound, and comprehend it, he has to learn the nature of the intense and perfect concentration of the mind upon some one interior object, accompanied by a complete abstraction from everything pertaining to the external universe, or the world of the senses.
Having become indifferent to objects of perception, the pupil must seek out the Raja of the senses, the thought-producer, he who awakes illusion.
The mind is the greater slayer of the Real.
Let the disciple slay the slayer.
For when to himself his form appears unreal, as do on waking all the forms he sees in dreams; when he has ceased to hear the many, he may discern the One -the inner sound which kills the outer. Then only, not till then, shall he forsake the region of the false, to come into the realm of the true. Before the soul can see, the harmony within must be attained, and fleshly eyes be rendered blind to all illusion.
Before the soul can hear, the image (man) has to become as deaf to roarings as to whispers, to cries of bellowing elephants as to the silvery buzzing of the golden firefly.
And then to the inner ear will speak The Voice of the Silence and say:
* Musings of a Chinese Mystic, trs. Lionel Giles, Wisdom of the East Series. ** The Voice of the Silence, trs. H. P. Blavatsky, London and New York, Theosophical Publishing House, 1937.
If thy soul smiles while bathing in the sunlight of thy life; if thy soul sings within thy chrysalis of flesh and matter; if thy soul weeps inside her castle of illusion; if thy soul struggles to break the silver thread that binds her to the Master; know, 0 disciple, thy soul is of the earth. . . .
Give up thy life, if thou would'st live. . . .
Learn to discern the real from the false, the everfleeting from the everlasting. Learn above all to separate head-learning from soul-wisdom, the 'eye' from the 'heart' doctrine.
Light on the Path, like The Voice of the Silence is full of symbols, allusions and hidden meaning. This little book must be deeply read. Its meaning now disappears, now appears again. It should be read in a special mood. Light on the Path prepares the 'disciple' to meet the 'Master', i.e. it prepares the ordinary consciousness for communion with higher consciousness. The term Master is used, according to the author of Light on the Path, as the symbol of the 'Divine Life'.*
Light on the Path
Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears. Before the ear can hear, it must have lost its sensitiveness. Before the voice can speak in the presence of the Masters it must have lost the power to wound. Before the soul can stand in the presence of the Masters its feet must be washed in the blood of the heart. . . .
Kill out all sense of separateness.
Desire only that which is within you.
Desire only that which is beyond you.
Desire only that which is unattainable.
For within you is the light of the world. . . . If you are unable to perceive it within
you, it is useless to look for it elsewhere. ... It is unattainable, because it forever recedes. You will enter the light, but you will never touch the flame. . . .
Seek out the way.
Look for the flower to bloom in the silence that follows the storm: not till then. . . .
And in the deep silence the mysterious event will occur which will prove that the way has been found. Call it by what name you will, it is a voice that speaks where there is none to speak -it is a messenger that comes, a messenger without form or substance; or it is the flower of the soul that has opened. It cannot be described by any metaphor. . . .
* Mabel Collins, Light on the Path, Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1912, reprinted 1936.
To hear the voice of the silence is to understand that from within comes the only true guidance ... for when the disciple is ready the Master is ready also. . . . Hold fast to that which has neither substance nor existence.
Listen only to the voice which is soundless. Look only on that which is invisible.
In his book, Professor James calls attention to the extraordinarily vivid emotionality of mystical experiences and to the completely unusual sensations experienced by the mystics.
The deliciousness of some of these states seems to be beyond anything known in ordinary consciousness. It evidently involves organic sensibilities, for it is spoken of as something too extreme to be borne, and as verging on bodily pain. But it is too subtle and piercing a delight for ordinary words to denote. God's touches, the wounds of his spear, references to ebriety and to nuptial union have to figure in the phraseology by which it is shadowed forth.*
The joy of contact with the Deity, described by St Simeon the New Theologian (tenth century) may serve as an example of such a state. **
I am pierced by the arrow of His love [writes St Simeon]... He is Himself inside me, in my heart; he embraces me, kisses me, fills me with light. ... A new flower grows in me, new because it is full of joy. . . . The flower is of an indescribable form, is seen only while it comes out, then it suddenly disappears. ... It is of indescribable appearance; it draws my mind to itself and does not let me remember anything connected with fear; it makes me forget everything, and then suddenly vanishes. Then the tree of fear remains again without fruit; I moan in sorrow and pray to thee, my Christ; again I see the flower on the branches. I fasten my attention to it alone, and I see not only the tree, but also the brilliant flower which draws me irresistibly. In the end the flower transforms itself into the fruit of love. ... It is inexplicable how from fear grows love.
Mysticism permeates all religions.
In India [says Professor James] training in mystical insight has been known from time immemorial under the name of Yoga. Yoga means the experimental union of the individual with the divine. It is based on persevering exercise, and the diet, posture, breathing, intellectual concentration, and moral discipline vary slightly in the different systems which teach it. The yogi, or disciple, who has by these means overcome the obstructions of his lower nature sufficiently, enters into the conditions termed samâdhi, and
* William James, The Varieties of Religions Experience, New York, Longmans Green, 1917.
** Paul Anikieff, Mysticism of St Simeon the New Theologian, St Petersburg, 1906.
comes face to face with facts which no instinct or reason can ever know. . . .
When a man comes out of samâdhi, they [the Vedântists] assure us that he remains 'enlightened, a sage, a prophet, a saint, his whole character changed, his life changed, illumined.'
The Buddhists use the word 'samâdhi' as well as the Hindus; but 'dhyâna' is their special word for higher states of contemplation. . . .
Higher states still of contemplation are mentioned -a region where there exists nothing, and where the meditator says: 'There exists absolutely nothing,' and stops. Then he reaches another region where he says: 'There are neither ideas nor absence of ideas,' and stops again. Then another region where, 'having reached the end of both idea and perception, he stops finally'. This would seem to be not yet Nirvana, but as close an approach to it as this life affords.*
In Mohammedanism there is also a great deal of mysticism. The most characteristic expression of Mohammedan mysticism is Persian Sufism. 'Sufism' is both a religious sect and a philosophical school of a very high idealistic character, which struggled against materialism as well as against narrow fanaticism and the literal understanding of the Koran. The Sufis interpreted the Koran mystically. Sufism is the philosophical free-thinking of Mohammedanism, coupled with their own peculiar symbolic and vividly sensual poetry which always has a hidden mystical meaning. The blossoming time of Sufism was in the first centuries of the second millenium of the Christian era.
Sufism remained for. a long time incomprehensible to European thought. From the point of view of Christian theology and Christian morality a combination of sensuality and religious ecstasy is inadmissible. But in the East the two managed to exist together in perfect harmony. In the Christian world the 'carnal' was always considered inimical to the 'spiritual'. In the Moslem world the carnal and sensual was accepted as a symbol of the spiritual. The expression of religious and philosophical truths 'in the language of love' was a very widely spread custom in the East. These are the 'Oriental flowers of eloquence'. All allegories, all metaphors were borrowed from 'love'. 'Mohammed fell in love with God', say the Arabs, wishing to convey the ardent quality of Mohammed's religious feeling. 'Choose a fresh wife every spring -on New Year's Day; for the Almanac of last year is good for nothing,'** says the Persian poet and philosopher Sadi. In this curious form Sadi expresses the thought which Ibsen puts in the mouth of Dr Stockman: 'Truths are by no means the wiry Methuselahs some people think them. A normally constituted truth
* The Varieties of Religions Experience.
** Sadi's Scroll of Wisdom, Wisdom of the East Series, London, 1913.
lives — let us say -as a rule, seventeen or eighteen years; . . . very seldom more.'*
The poetry of the Sufis will become clearer to us if we bear in mind this generally sensual character of the literary language of the East, which comes from the deepest antiquity. An example of this ancient literature is the Song of Songs.
Many passages in the Bible and all ancient Eastern myths and tales have this characteristic sensual imagery which is so strange to us.
'Sufi poets, for the most part, wrote about the love of God in terms applied to their beautiful women,' says F. H. Davis, translator of Jami and other poets, 'for the simple reason that no one can write the celestial language and be understood at the same time.' **
The idea of the Sufis, says M. Müller, is a loving union of the soul with God.
The Sufi holds that there is nothing in human language that can express the love between the soul and God so well as the love between man and woman, and that if he is to speak of the union between the two at all, he can only do so in the symbolical language of earthly love. . . . When we read some of the Sufi enraptured poetry, we must remember that the Sufi poets use a number of expressions which have a recognized meaning in their language. Thus sleep signifies meditation; perfume, hope of divine favour; . . . kisses and embraces, the raptures of piety. . . . Wine means spiritual knowledge, and so on.
As Sady says, the flowers which a lover of God has gathered in his rose-garden, and which he wishes to give to his friends, so overpowered his mind by their fragrance, that they fell out of his lap and withered; that is to say, the glory of ecstatic visions pales and fades away when it has to be put into human language. ***
Generally speaking, in Sufism poetry and mysticism are merged more than anywhere else in the world. Sufi poets often led strange lives as hermits, anchorites, pilgrims, at the same time singing of love, the beauty of women, the perfume of roses and wine.
Jelal-ed-din Rumi describes the union of the soul with God in the following way:
A loved one said to her lover to try him, early in the morning; 'O such a one, son of such a one, I marvel, whether you hold me more dear, or yourself; tell me truly, 0 ardent lover!' He answered: 'I am so entirely absorbed in you, that I am full of you from head to fool. Of my own existence nothing but the name remains, in my being is nothing besides
* Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People, London, W. Heinemann, 1907. ** The Persian Mystics, vol. I, Wisdom of the East Series, London, 1907. *** Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion, New York, Longmans Green, 1899.
you, O object of my desire. Therefore I am thus lost in you ... as a stone, which has been changed into a pure ruby, is filled with the bright light of the sun.'*
In two well-known poems of Jami (fifteenth century) 'Salâmân and Absâl' and 'Yusuf and Zulaikha', the 'ascending of the soul', its purification and its union with God are described in the most passionate forms.
In his book. The Varieties of Religious Experience, Professor James gives a great deal of attention to mystical states under narcosis.
It is a realm [he says] that public opinion and ethical philosophy have long since branded as pathological, though private practice and certain lyric strains of poetry seem still to bear witness of its ideality. . . .
Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be the variest nonsense. Nevertheless, the sense of a profound meaning having been there persists; and I know more than one person who is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have a genuine metaphysical revelation.
Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. ... At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our account with reality. . . .
The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also. . . .
Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species,
* The Persian Mystics, op. cit.
belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself. This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something like what the Hegelian philosophy means, if one could only lay hold of it more clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.
What reader of Hegel can doubt that that sense of a perfected Being with all its otherness soaked up into itself, which dominates his whole philosophy, must have come from the prominence in his consciousness of mystical moods like this, in most persons kept subliminal? The notion is thoroughly characteristic of the mystical level, and the Aufgabe of making it articulate was surely set to Hegel's intellect by mystical feeling.
I just spoke of friends who believe in the anaesthetic revelation. For them too it is a monistic insight, in which the other in its various forms appears absorbed into the One.
'Into this pervading genus,' writes one of them, 'we pass, forgetting and forgotten, and thenceforth each is all, in God. There is no higher, no deeper, no other, than the life in which we are founded. The One remains, the many change and pass; and each and every one of us is the one that remains. . . . This is the ultimatum. . . .As sure as being -whence is all our care - so sure is content, beyond duplexity, antithesis, or trouble, where I have triumphed in a solitude that God is not above' (B. P. Blood, The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy, Amsterdam, New York, 1874).
Xenos Clark, a philosopher, who died young at Amherst in the '8o's . . . was also impressed by the revelation.
'In the first place,' he once wrote to me, 'Mr. Blood and I agree that the revelation is, if anything, non-emotional. ... It is, as Mr. Blood says, "the one sole and sufficient insight why, or not why, but how, the present is pushed on by the past, and sucked forward by the vacuity of the future. . . It is an initiation of the past." The real secret would be the formula by which the "now" keeps exfoliating out of itself, yet never escapes. . . . We simply fill the hole with the dirt we dug out. . . . Ordinary philosophy is like a hound hunting his own trail. The more he hunts the farther he has to go, and his nose never catches up with his heels, because it is forever ahead of them. So the present is already a foregone conclusion, and I am ever too late to understand it. But at the moment of recovery from anaesthesis, just then, before starting on life, I catch, so to speak, a glimpse . . . of the eternal process just in the act of starting. The truth is that we travel on a journey that was accomplished before we set out; and the real end of philosophy is accomplished, not when we arrive at, but when we remain in, our destination (being already there), - which may occur vicariously in this life when we cease our intellectual questioning. That is why there is a smile upon the face of the revelation, as we view it. It tells us that we are forever half a second too late. . . . "You could kiss your own lips" ... it says, "if you only knew the trick. It would be perfectly easy if they would just stay there till you got round to them. Why don't you manage it somehow?'" . .
In his latest pamphlet. . . Mr. Blood describes the value of anaesthetic revelation for life as follows:
The Anaesthetic Revelation is the Initiation of Man into the Immemorial Mystery of the Open Secret of Being, revealed as the Inevitable Vortex of Continuity. Inevitable is the word. Its motive is inherent - it is what has to be. It is not for any love or hate, nor for joy or sorrow, nor good nor ill. End, beginning, or purpose, it knows not of.
'It affords no particular of the multiplicity and variety of things; but it fills appreciation of the historical and the sacred with a secular and intimately personal illumination of the nature and motive of existence. . . .
'Although it is at first startling in its solemnity, it becomes directly such a matter of course -so old-fashioned . . . that it inspires exultation rather than fear, and a sense of safety, as identified with the aboriginal and the universal. But no words may express the imposing certainty of the patient that he is realizing the primordial, Adamic surprise of Life.
'Repetition of the experience finds it ever the same, and as if it could not possibly be otherwise. The subject resumes his normal consciousness only to partially and fitfully remember its occurrence, and to try to formulate its baffling import, -with only this consolatory afterthought: that he has known the oldest truth, and that he has done with human theories as to the origin, meaning, or destiny of the race. He is beyond instruction in "spiritual things."
'The lesson is one of central safety: the Kingdom is within. All days are judgment days: but there can be no climacteric purpose of eternity, nor any scheme of the whole. The astronomer abridges the row of bewildering figures by increasing his unit of measurement: so may we reduce the distracting multiplicity of things to the unity for which each of us stands.
'This has been my moral sustenance since I have known it. In my first printed mention of it I declared: "The world is no more the alien terror that was taught me. Spuming the cloud-grimed and still sultry battlements whence so lately Jehovan thunders boomed, my gray gull lifts her wing against the nightfall, and takes the dim leagues with a fearless eye." And now, after twenty-seven years of this experience, the wing is grayer, but the eye is fearless still, while I renew and doubly emphasize that declaration. I know -as having known - the meaning of Existence: the sane centre of the universe -at once the wonder and the assurance of the soul -for which the speech of reason has as yet no name but the Anaesthetic Revelation.'
I subjoin . . . [Professor James says] another interesting anaesthetic revelation communicated to me in manuscript. The subject, a gifted woman, was taking ether for a surgical operation.
'I wondered if I was in prison being tortured, and why I remembered having heard it said that people "learn through suffering," and in view of what I was seeing, the inadequacy of this saying struck me so much that I said aloud, "to suffer is to learn." With that I became unconscious again, and my last dream immediately preceded my real coming to. It only lasted a few seconds and was most vivid and real to me, though it may not be clear in words.
'A great Being or Power was travelling through the sky, his foot was on a kind of lightning as a wheel is on a rail, it was his pathway. The lightning was made entirely of the spirits of innumerable people close to one another, and I was one of them. He moved in a straight line, and each part of the streak or flash came into its short conscious existence only that he might travel. I seemed to be directly under the foot of God, and I thought he was grinding his own life up out of my pain. Then I saw that what he had been trying with all his might to do was to change his course, to bend the line of lightning to which he was tied, in the direction in which he wanted to go. I felt my flexibility and helplessness, and knew that he would succeed. He bended me, turning his corner by means of my hurt, hurting me more than I had ever been hurt in my life, and at the acutest point of this, as he passed, I saw.
'I understood for a moment things that I have now forgotten, things that no one could remember while retaining sanity. The angle was an obtuse angle, and I remember thinking as I woke that had he made it a right or acute angle, I should have suffered and "seen" still more, and should probably have died.
'He went on and I came to. In that moment the whole of my life passed before me, including each little meaningless piece of distress, and I understood them. This was what it had all meant, this was the piece of work it had all been contributing to do. I did not see God's purpose, I only saw his intentness and his entire relentlessness towards his means. He thought no more of me than a man thinks ... of hurting a cartridge when he is firing. And yet, on waking, my first feeling was, and it came with tears, "Domine non sum digna," for I had been lifted into a position for which I was too small. I realized that in that half hour under ether I had served God more distinctly and purely than I had ever done in my life before, or than I am capable of desiring to do. I was the means of his achieving and revealing something, I know not what or to whom, and that, to the exact extent of my capacity for suffering.
'While regaining consciousness, I wondered why, since I had gone so deep, I had seen nothing of what the saints call the love of God, nothing but his relentlessness. And then I heard an answer which I could only just catch, saying, "Knowledge and Love are One, and the measure is suffering" -I give the words as they came to me. With that I came finally to (into what seemed a dream world compared with the reality of what I was leaving). . . .'
J. A. Symonds [says Professor James] also records a mystical experience with chloroform, as follows:
'After the choking and stifling had passed away, I seemed at first in a state of utter blankness; then came flashes of intense light, alternating with blackness, and with a keen vision of what was going on in the room around me, but no sensation of touch. I thought that I was near death; when, suddenly, my soul became aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense personal present reality. I felt him streaming in like light upon me.... I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke from the influence of the anaesthetic, the old sense of my relation to the world began to return, the new sense of my relation to God began to fade. I suddenly leapt to my feet on the chair where I was sitting, and shrieked out, "It is too horrible," meaning that I could not bear this disillusionment. Then I flung myself on the ground, and at last awoke covered with blood, calling to the two surgeons (who were frightened), "Why did you not kill me? Why would you not let me die?"'
Anaesthetic states are very closely akin to those strange moments experienced by epileptics during their fits. Epileptic states are described with great understanding by Dostoyevsky in The Idiot.
He remembered among other things that he always had one minute just before the epileptic fit when suddenly . . . there seemed a flash of light in his brain, and with extraordinary impetus all his vital forces suddenly began working at their highest tension. The sense of life, the consciousness of self, were multiplied ten times at these moments which passed like a flash of lightning. His mind and his heart were flooded with extraordinary light; all his uneasiness, all his doubts, all his anxieties were relieved at once; they were all merged in a lofty calm, full of serene, harmonious joy and hope. . . .
Thinking of that moment later, when he was all right again, he often said to himself that all these gleams and flashes of the highest sensation of life and selfconsciousness, and therefore also of the highest form of existence, were nothing but
disease. . . . And yet he came at last to an extremely paradoxical conclusion. 'What if it is disease?' he decided at last, 'What does it matter that it is an abnormal intensity, if the result, if the minute of sensation, remembered and analysed afterwards in health, turns out to be the acme of harmony and beauty, and gives a feeling, unknown and undivined till then, of completeness, of proportion, of reconciliation, and of ecstatic devotional merging in the highest synthesis of life?' These vague expressions seemed to him very comprehensible, though too weak. That it was 'beauty and worship', that it really was 'the highest synthesis of life' he could not doubt, or even admit the possibility of doubt. . . . He was quite capable of judging of that when the attack was over. These moments were only an extraordinary quickening of self-consciousness - if the condition was to be expressed in one word and at the same time of the direct sensation of existence in the most intense degree.
Since at that second, that is at the very last conscious moment before the fit, he had time to say to himself clearly and consciously, 'Yes, for this moment one might give one's whole life!', then without doubt that moment was really worth the whole of life. . . . For the very thing had happened; he actually had said to himself at that second, that, for the infinite happiness he had felt in it, that second really might well be worth the whole of life.
'At that moment,' as he told Rogozhin one day in Moscow. . . 'at that moment I seemed somehow to understand the extraordinary saying that there shall be no more time. Probably,' he added, smiling, 'this is the very second which was not long enough for the water to be spilt out of Mohammed's pitcher, though the epileptic prophet had time to gaze at all the habitations of Allah.'*
* F. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, trs. Constance Garnett, London, William Heinemann, 1913.
Narcosis or epilepsy are not in the least necessary conditions of mystical states in ordinary people.
'Certain aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystical moods,' says Professor James.*
It would be more correct to say that this power is concealed in all aspects of surrounding nature. The change of the seasons — the first snow, the beginning of spring, summer days, rainy and warm, the smell of autumn awake in us strange 'moods' which we do not understand ourselves. At times these moods become intensified and reach the sensation of being completely at one with nature. Every man has his own moments which affect him more powerfully than others. One is mystically affected by thunderstorm, another by sunrise, a third by the sea, or the forest, or rocks. The voice of sex also contains a great deal of this mystical sensation of nature.
The feeling of sex places man in the most personal relationship with nature. The feeling of woman by man or vice versa is often compared with the feeling of nature. And indeed it is the same feeling which is produced by the forest, the steppe, the sea, mountains, only in this case it is more vivid; it awakens more inner voices, touches more inner strings.
A mystical sensation of nature is often produced in men by animals. Almost everyone has his own favourite animal, with which he has some inner affinity. In those animals, or through those animals, people sense nature intimately and personally.
In Indian occultism there exists a belief that every man has his own corresponding animal, through which one can act upon him marginally, through which he can himself act upon others, and into which he can transform himself or be transformed.
Each Indian god has his own particular animal. With Brahma it is the goose; with Vishnu - the eagle; with Shiva - the bull; with Indra - the elephant; with Kali (Durga) -the tiger; with Rama - the buffalo; with Ganesha - the rat; with Agni -the ram; with Kartikkeya (or Subrananyia) the peacock, and with Kama (the god of love) -the parrot.
It was the same in Greece - all Olympian deities had their own animals.
Sacred animals played a very important part in the religion of Egypt, and there the cat -the most magical of animals - was regarded as sacred.
The feeling of nature at times reveals something infinitely deep and
* The Varieties of Religious Experience.
new in things which have seemed for a long time familiar and devoid of anything mystical.
The consciousness of God's nearness came to me sometimes . . . [writes one of Professor James's friends, quoted by him], A presence, I might say . . . something in myself made me feel myself a part of something bigger than I, that was controlling. I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in Nature. I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being a part of it all - the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds, the tree-trunks, and so on.*
In my own notebook of 19081 found a description of a similar state I had experienced.
It was in the sea of Marmora, on a rainy winter day. In the distance, the high rocky shores were of all shades of violet, down to the palest, fading into grey and merging with the grey sky. The sea was the colour of lead, touched with silver. I remember all these colours. The boat was steaming north. It was rather rough. I was standing by the rail and looking at the waves. The white crests were running towards us from afar. A wave would come up, rear itself as though wanting to hurl its crest on the deck, then with a roar would throw itself under the ship. The ship would heel, shudder, then right itself slowly; but already from afar another wave was running up. I was watching this play of the waves with the ship and feeling the waves drawing me to themselves. It was not the desire to jump down which one feels in the mountains, but something infinitely more subtle. The waves were drawing my soul to themselves. Suddenly I felt it going to them. It was only a moment, maybe less than a moment. But I entered the waves and, with them, with a roar, attacked the ship. And at that moment I became all. The waves - they were myself. The violet mountains in the distance - they were myself. The wind -it was myself. The clouds, hurrying from the north, the rain were myself. The huge ship, rolling indomitably forward - was myself. I felt that huge iron body as my body; all its movements, waverings, rollings and shudderings, the fire, the pressure of steam, the engine -all this was inside me. The relentless, inexorable screw which pushed me on and on with every turn, the rudder which never let go of me for an instant, watching my every movement
-all this was I. The mate on duty on the bridge was I; and two sailors . . . and the
black smoke, billowing from the funnel . . . everything. It was a moment of extraordinary liberation, joy and expansion. A second
-and the spell was broken. It vanished as the beginning of a dream fades as soon as one thinks of it. But the sensation was so powerful, vivid and unusual, that I was afraid to move and waited for it to come back. But it did not come back, and a minute later I could no longer say whether it had been or not, whether I had really experienced all this or only thought, looking at the waves, that it might be so.
Two years later, the yellowish waves of the Gulf of Finland and the green
* The Varieties of Religious Experience.
sky overhead gave me a faint taste of the same sensation. But this time it broke off before anything materialized.
The examples given in this chapter are far from exhausting the mystical experience of humanity.
But what do we see in them?
First of all, unity of experience. In mystical sensations all men definitelyfeel something similar, something that has the same meaning and connection with one another. Mystics of different centuries and nations speak the same language and use the same words. This is the first and most important thingwhich speaks for the reality of mystical experience. Next is the complete agreement of the results of this experience with the theoretically deduced conditions of the world of causes -the sensation of the unity of all, characteristic of mysticism; a new sense of time; the sense of infinity, joy or terror; the knowledge of the whole in the part; infinite life and infinite consciousness. All these are real facts of sensation in mystical experience. And these facts are theoretically correct. They are such as they should be according to the deductions of the MATHEMATICS OF THE INFINITE and of HIGHER LOGIC. This is all that can be said about them.