W.T. Stace

Mysticism and Philosophy

Chapter 2: The Problem of the Universal Core (continued)

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We shall adopt the same procedure here. We have started with the brief undetailed passage from the Mandukya Upanishad and hope that the comparison of this with an experience of the nineteenth century man of letters J. A. Symonds will help to fill out details. The passage from Symonds is quoted by Williarn James in his Varieties of Religious Experience (39) It will be noted that the experience came to Symonds without any effort on his part, quite spontaneously and unsought. Also one gathers that it was not an isolated incident in his life, but occurred to him many times. He does not give his experience any specifically religious interpretation in any conventional sense. He does not, for example, use the word "God." His account is as follows:


Suddenly at church, or in company, or when I was reading . . . I felt the approach of the mood. Irresistibly it took possession of my mind and will, lasted what seemed an eternity and disappeared in a series of rapid sensations which resembled the awakening from an anaesthetic influence. One reason why I disliked this kind of trance was that I could not describe it to myself. I cannot even now find words to render it intelligible. It consisted in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multifarious factors of experience which seem to qualify what we are pleased to call our Self. In proportion as these conditions of ordinary consciousness were subtracted, the sense of an underlying or essential consciousness acquired intensity. At last nothing remained but a pure, absolute, abstract Self. The universe became without form and void of content. But Self persisted, formidable in its vivid keenness. . . . The return to ordinary conditions of sentient existence began by my first recovering the power of touch, and then by the gradual though rapid influx of familiar impressions and diurnal interests. . . . Though the riddle of what is meant by life remained unsolved I was thankful for this return from the abyss. . . . This trance recurred with diminishing frequency until I reached the age of twenty-eight. . . . Often I have asked myself, on waking from that formless state of denuded, keenly sentient bring, Which is the unreality — the trance of fiery, vacant, apprehensive, skeptical Self . . . or these surrounding phenomena. [Italics mine.]

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Professor Zaehner, commenting on this statement, remarks that it has been influenced by Hindu thought. Perhaps the language may have been so influenced. But this is no reason for doubting the correctness of the description of the experience. Christian mystics are influenced by other Christian mystics in respect of the language they use. But this is no reason for doubting the correctness of their descriptions.

Symonds' experience in all important respects parallels the experience described in the Upanishad and, as we shall show, by all typical Christian and Islarnic mystics, but in certain other matters is untypical and shows individual features peculiar to Symonds. To begin with the latter, the experience is unusual in that Symonds disliked it and was thankful when it passed off. Thus it apparently lacked the element of blessedness and peace and joy which is a common characteristic of all other cases known to me. A second unusual feature is the absence of a strong conviction of objective reality. He remains doubtful about this. Thirdly, it gave no sense of the meaningfulness of life.

I turn now to examine what it has in common with the statement from the Upanishad. By far the most important thing for us to note and emphasize is the fact that the essential nucleus of the introvertive experience, round which all the other factors revolve, is identical in the accounts both of Symonds and the Upanishad. In the Symonds passage it is described by the words which I have italicized. The experience is reached by the obliteration of sensation and the other "multifarious factors of experience," a phrase which covers the whole empirical content of consciousness. What is left is indeed nothing. Symands calls it "void," "vacant," a "formless state of denuded being" which is nevertheless "keenly sentient." It is in fact an "underlying or essential consciousness," a phrase which is equivalent to the "pure consciousness" of the Upanishad. And it is also "a pure, absolute, abstract Self," which persisted after the disappearance of the multiplicity of empirical contents.

The experience of Symonds is characterised by paradoxicality, the central paradox of the introvertive kind of mystical consciousness,

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namely that although it is completely negative, a mere absence, yet it is also a positive experience; and that though it is a consciousness, it is a consciousness which is not a consciousness of any particular existence.

The question may be raised whether what Symonds wrote asserts or indirectly implies — what is characteristic of the major tradition of introvertive mysticism both in the East and in the West — that the abstract individual Self which emerges after the disappearance of the multiplicity is felt as being in some sense identical with, or in union with the Universal Self of the world, the One, the Absolute or God. This is not, I think, explicitly stated by Symonds. But his words seem to suggest that the "underlying or essential consciousness," the "pure, absolute, abstract, Self," transcends the individuality af what ordinarily "we are pleased to call our Self." At any rate, there can be no doubt that he had the experience of what other mystics have interpreted as a Self which is identical with, or partakes in the nature of, the Universal Self.

For the rest, we see that Symonds' experience is said to be ineffable and incapable of being intellectually understood. "I could not describe it to myself," he says, and, "cannot even now find words to render it intelligible."

We are not at the present time, it must be remembered, raising any question whether such experiences as those of Symonds and the composers of the Upanishads are veridical experiences of anything objective, or whether, as the sceptic may believe, they are illusions or hallucinations. We are now only concerned with describing and classifying psychological experiences which mystics assert that they have had, and asking the preliminary question whether it is true, as Broad and many others have suggested, that mystical experiences, though diflerent, have a nucleus of common characteristics everywhere and at all times. This enquiry is a mere preliminary to discussing whether — even if there is such a set of common characteristics — this is a good argument for believing that the mystic is in contact with some objective reality with which men do not come into contact in any other way.

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If there are common characteristics in the mystical experiences reported in all religions, cultures, and periods of history, it seems obvious that we cannot expect them to be everywhere described in similar sets of words. We should surely expect an the contrary a very great variety of vocabularies, styles, and modes of expression. We must therefore be able to penetrate through the mantle of words to the body of the experiences which it clothes. We must be able to recognize the same experience though described in a wide variety of types of phraseology and language. It is especially necessary to remember this when we move from the Oriental mysticism of the Upanishads to the wholly different cultural and religious atmosphere of the medieval Christian mystics. As a matter of fact, we may be surprised to find how remarkably similar is the language of the Upanishads to the language of some of the Christian mystics so long as these latter confine themselves as much as possible to uninterpreted description. But in so far as interpretation enters into and permeates their descriptions, the phraseologies used by the Indians and the Christians respectively tend to diverge radically.

I shall turn now to Christian examples of the introvertive type of mystical consciousness, and later to examples from other cultures. We may begin with a devout medieval Catholic mystic, Jan van Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), who submitted all his writings to the final judgment of the Church. He writes:


The God-seeing man . . . can always enter, naked and unencumbered with images, into the inmost part of his spirit. There he finds revealed an Eternal Light. . . . It [his spirit] is undifferentiated and without distinction, and therefore it feels nothing but the unity. (40)

Except that the mystical experience is interpreted theistically as a seeing of God, the rest of this quotation is about as near to uninterpreted pure experience as can be got. It is characteristic of Ruysbroeck to emphasize that the experience is without any images; and that he means by this word what most of us nowadays would

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mean, namely, sensuous imagery, is made clear by numerous parallel, passages. The experience, he says, is "undifferentiated and without distinction." There is therefore in it no multiplicity, none of the "multifarious factors" of our ordinary experience, which of course includes sensations and thoughts as well as images. Hence the spirit "feels nothing but the unity," which is at the same time identified with "the inmost part of his spirit," i.e., as the self or pure ego. The basic paradox of the introvertive consciousness is brought out by the statement that this empty and contentless unity is nevertheless an "Eternal Light." If we compare this with the passage quoted from the Mandukya Upanishad, we see that the two experiences recorded, one of the Hindu, the other of the Catholic Christian, are identical point by point. It should be noted also that the medieval saint was of course wholly ignorant of the very existence of any Hindu experience of the kind, so that there is no possibility of his having been influenced by it.

In another place Ruysbroeck writes:


Such enlightened men are, with a free spirit, lifted above reason into a bare and imageless vision, wherein lives the eternal indrawing summons of the Divine Unity. (41) [Italics mine. WTS]

Elsewhere he speaks of the enlightened man being "without hindrance from sensible irnages," (42) thus putting it beyond all doubt as to what he means by the word "images." And we note in the passage just quoted that the essence of the experience is that in this bare imageless vision there is found the One, the ultimate Unity, which is here identified with the Divine.

So much for Ruysbroeck's account of the experience itself. Now let us see what he makes of it when he interprets it in terms of Christian theology :


There follows the union without distinction. Enlightened men have found within themselves an essential contemplation which is above reason and beyond reason, and a fruitive tendency which pierces through every condition and all being, and in which they immerse themselves in a

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wayless abyss of fathomless beatitude where the Trinity of the Divine Persons possess their nature in the essential unity. Behold this beatitude is so onefold and so wayless that in it every . . . creaturely distinction ceases and passes away. . . : There all light is turned to darkness; there the three Persons give place to the essential unity and abide without distinction . . . For that beatific state . . . is so simple and so onefold that neither Father, nor Son, nor Holy Ghost is distinct according to Persons. (43) [Italics mine. WTS]

A great deal of this is again almost purely descriptive of the experience. It is only after the Trinity is mentioned that the Christian interpretation begins. The bare undifferentiated distinctionless unity is identified with the oneness of the Godhead before the oneness is differentiated or manifested in the distinction of the three Persons. It is the unity behind the three Persons. It is the same as Eckhart's Godhead as distinguished from God. To revert to the relatively uninterpreted descriptive parts of this passage, there are no new elements disclosed, but there is a peculiar new vocabulary of Ruysbroeck's which needs to be explained. The undifferentiated unity is called a "wayless abyss." "Abyss" and "abysmal" are words often used by the Christian mystics to mean infinite. It is associated here with "fathomless." Compare this with Boehme's usage of the same words. "Wayless" means distinctionless, since a way is a track through a place, and a track is a line of demarcation or distinction. "Onefold" again has the same sense, emphasizing the absence of duality or division. We note that in the experience of the unity "every . . . creaturely distinction ceases and passes away:' The statement that there "all light is turned to darkness" introduces a new set of metaphors common with the Christian mystics, but not any really new meaning. Darkness is a metaphor for the absence of all distinction. The metaphor presumably derives from the fact that all visual distinctions disappear in the dark. Compare this with the statement in our first quotation from Ruysbroeck where he says that the Godseeing man when he enters into the distinctionless. unity "finds [there] revealed an Eternal Light." There is no contradiction (except that already involved in the basic paradox of the positive experience

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of a negative void). That God is light is the common metaphor for his goodness and blessedness. That He is darkness only refers to the absence of distinctions. In Christian mysticism the two metaphors are often forced together for the sake of paradox. Thus Suso speaks of the beatific vision as a "dazzling obscurity." Silence is another metaphor aften used for distinctionlessness. (44)

I cannot refrain from quoting one more passage from Ruysbroeck. It does not teach us anything essentially new. I quote it chiefly for the sake of the poetic beauty of its language:


The abysmal waylessness of God is so dark and so unconditioned that it swallows up within itself every Divine way and activity, and all the attributes of the Persons within the rich compass of the essential unity. . . . This is the dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves. But if we would prepare ourselves for it . . . we should strip ourselves of all but our very bodies, and we should see forth into the wild sea, whence no created thing can draw us back again. (45)

Meister Eckhart has his own remarkable phraseology. But if we by this time recognize that the essence of the introvertive mystical consciousness lies in its being beyond all mental content of sensations,

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images, concepts, or other empirical material, and its being thus a unity in which all multiplicity and distinctions are obliterated, we find in him innumerable passages which confirm this. Here is such a passage:


In this way the soul enters into the unity of the Holy Trinity, but it may become even more blessed by going further, to the barren Godhead, of which the Trinity is a revelation. In this barren Godhead activity has ceased and therefore the soul will be most perfect when it is thrown into the desert of the Godhead, where both activity and forms are no more, so that it is sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed. (46) [Italics mine.WTS]

"Barren" and "desert" are favorite metaphors with Eckhart, as also with several other thirteenth century Catholic mystics. "Barren" means ernpty, void, without any distinctions. "Desert" carries on the same metaphor. In this experience "forms," that is to say, distinct things with boundaries between them, especially sensuous forms, are no more. There is also no activity in this unity which Eckhart and Ruysbroeck identify with the Godhead, since activity implies distinctions, for instance time distinctions. There cannot be movement in a total void, since there is nothing to move. According to Eckhart God acts, but not the Godhead, wherein all is silence, darkness, and absence of all movement. Finally we note the assertion that when the soul enters the unity "it is sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed." Since all distinctions are annulled in the unity, the distinction between the soul of the mystic and the unity into which he has entered and which he is experiencing is also annulled. There is no division of subject and object, experiencer and experience. That is why the Christian interprets the experience as "union with God," and the Hindu as "identity" with Brahman or the Universal Self. But interpretation here involves the dispute between the pantheists and the theists, and further examination of it must wait till we are ready to discuss that issue.

The experience is to be reached, according to Eckhart, by the usual

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method of emptying consciousness of all particular mental contents. He expresses this in his own peculiar language:


If you are to experience this noble birth you must depart from all crowds. . . . The crowds are the agents of the soul and their activities: memory, understanding and will in all their diversifications. You must leave them all: sense-perceptions, imagination. . . . After that you may experience this birth — not otherwise. (47)

We need not at present concern ourselves as to why Eckhart refers to the introvertive experience as "this birth," or why he calls the different mental faculties, such as memory, sense perception, imagination, "agents of the soul," or why he refers to them as "crowds" from which one must depart. Like a twentieth century poet he has his own private language. The point to grasp is that he is in this passage simply saying that the path to the experience consists in emptying the mind of all empirical content.

Since the experience is devoid of all multiplicity, the concept of number can have no application to it. Eckhart notes this, saying:


The human spirit scales the heaven to discover the spirit by which the heavens are driven. . . . Even then . . . it presses on further into the vortex, the source in which the spirit originates. There the spirit in knowing has no use for number, for numbers are of use only in tirne, in this defective world. No one can strike his roots into eternity without being rid of the concept of number. . . . God leads the human spirit into thc desert, into his own unity which is pure One. (48)

We see in this quotation a further implication of the experience of the undifferentiated unity. It must necessarily be spaceless and timeless, because space and time are the very conditions and exemplars of multiplicity. Passages in Eckhart declaring that we rnust get beyond time if we are to experience the mystic union with God or the Godhead are very numerous and need hardly be further quoted. This is another point of agreement between the introvertive mysticisms of all cultures and times. For instance, the Upanishads

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declare that Brahman, the One without a second, whose identity with the ego of the individual who experiences him is the great secret of salvation which the Upanishads seek to impart, is "beyond space, beyond time." Eckhart does not here say that the experience is spaceless, but only timeless; but the absence of an explicit mention of space is unimportant.
It may be alleged that although Eckhart and Ruysbroeck speak of the undifferentiated unity they are exceptions. The majority of Christian mystics do not. They speak of their experience simply as "union with God." Hence if our case for believing that the Christian experience is basically the same as that which is described in the Mandukya Upanishad is made to rest solely on the cases af Eckhart and Ruysbroeck, it might be alleged that we hawe selected these cases because they support our argument and have ignored examples which do not support it. We have to meet this criticism.

First, it should be pointed out that there are certain metaphorical expressions used to describe their experiences which are not confined to the vocabularies of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck but are almost universal among Christian mystics. Among these are such words as "darkness," "emptiness," "nothingness," "silence," "nakedness," "nudity," etc. These metaphors stand in fact for what in more literal terms is described as undifferentiated unity. In the darkness, all distinctions disappear. Silence is an emptiness of sound. Nudity is the absence of the adornment of qualities. All these words stand for the negative side of the experience. It has of course its positive side too. It is then described a "light" rather than as "darkness." Thus Suso speaks of his experience as a "dazzling obscurity," which paradoxically combines the positive and negative aspects in one phrase. The almost universal use of these negative metaphors among the Christian mystics points tn the fact that their experience is always an undifferentiated unity although rnost of them prefer to use concrete rnetaphors rather than the literal abstract description.

I cannot of course examine here the descriptions of their experiences given by all Christian mystics, Nearly one hundred names

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are given in the bibliography prepared by Anne Fremantle and printed at the end of the paperback Meridian edition of Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism; and this bibliography of course includes only the most famous names. Perhaps the issue can be focused to a point in a manageable way if we pose the question: Was the introvertive experience af St. Teresa the same in its essentials as that of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck, or was it fundamentally different? If it was the same, how do we explain the difference of language and the fact that we do not hear about any undifferentiated unity in the writings of St. Teresa? The particular cases we have chosen to eompare, namely, Eckhart and St. Teresa, pose about as good a test of the issue as any we could find. For it would be difficult to think of any other pair of Christian mystics who are so utterly different from one another — poles apart almost — in their personalities, temperaments, mental capacities, and general attitudes.

In the first place, it is not true that the descriptions of their experiences given by Eckhart and St. Teresa have nothing in common. For they both speak af "union with God," and this is common to all Christian mystics. It is part of their common tradition. It is natural to suppose that they all mean the same thing by it, unless there is positive evidence to the contrary. If one can imagine Eckhart and St. Teresa meeting across the centuries and cornparing notes, it would surely be very surprising to find that in speaking of "union with God" they meant quite different experiences and were in fact talking at cross-purposes. And if there were any such radically different kinds of experience among Christian mystics which by some misunderstanding had been indiscriminately labeled "union with God," it is extraordinary that this fact was never discovered by Christian mystics themselves. Yet there is no mention of it anywhere in the literature. It is quite evident that they all suppose that there is some one supremely great experience which they refer to as "union with God," and which they all believe themselves to share with one another — although perhaps in different degrees.

Eckhart and St. Teresa were of course separated from each other by two and a half centuries of time and by the spatial and cultural

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distance between Germany and Spain. Would this render it more plausible to believe that by "union with God" they meant quite different experiences? In order to test this, we will discuss the case of St. John of the Cross and use him as a kind of third term, or bridge, between the other two. The point is, of course, that St. Teresa and St. John not only were both Spanish mystics living in the sarne period with each other, but they were actually closeiy associated in their joint work of reforming the Carmelite monasteries. They were collaboratars in the reform rnovement. Says Kurt F. Reinhardt, a recent translator of St. John, "Though twenty-seven years younger than Mother Theresa, John became her spiritual director and one of the two confessors of the one hundred and thirty nuns of the convent." (50)

It would be quite incredible in these circumstances to suppose that St. Teresa and St. John both had experiences which they called "union with God," but that by this phrase they meant wholly different things, and that in their communications with one another they never discovered the difference. The question then is whether what John experienced was the same as what Eckhart spoke of as undifferentiated unity. If so, then St. Teresa must also have had that experience.

So far as I know St. John does not use any phrase which precisely corresponds to that used by Eckhart. He did not have the philosophical depth and the gift for abstract thought which characterized Eckhart. But he had a far better mind than St. Teresa, more analytic and better trained. And he had a considerable gift for psychological description. He describes with great subtlety and wealth of detail how, in order to reach union, the mind has to suppress within itself all sensations, images, thoughts, and acts of will. It is the same process of emptying the mind of all empirical contents as we find with Eckhart, with the Upanishadic mystics, and indeed with all mystics who have been sufficiently intellectual to analyse their own mental precesses. This ridding the mind of all particular images and thoughts is precisely that obliteration of all multiplicity of which the Mandukya Upanishad speaks. For the multiplicity referred to is nothing else

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but the manifold of sensations, images, and thoughts which usually flow through consciousness. And the only result of getting rid of all mental contents (if it does not produce unconsciousness) can only be an undifferentiated unity.

We may quote a few relevant passages from St. John which bear out our view:


The soul must be emptied of all these imagined forms, figures and images, and it must remain in darkness in respect to these. (51)

Also the soul should


rest without engaging in any particular meditation and without positing acts and exercising the faculties of memory, understanding, and will. (52)

We shall then, he tells us, reach


the alienation and withdrawal of the spirit from all things, forms, and figures, and from the memory of them. (53)

And in another passage we read


The more the soul learns to abide in the spiritual, the rnore comes to a halt the operation of the faculties in particular acts, since the soul becomes more and more collected in one undivided and pure act. (54) [Italics mine. WTS]

"One undivided and pure act" is a phrase closely related to, if not having identically the same meaning as, "undifferentiated unity." The only difference lies in the use of the word "act." But elsewhere St. John stresses, like Eckhart, the cessation of all activity.

This is some of the evidence which can be collected for beleving that St. John's, and presumably therefore St. Teresa's, mystical experiences were in essence the same as Eckhart's. Why then does St. Teresa never use the kind of language which Eckhart uses and never speak of the undifferentiated unity? The answer is, I believe, that she was a woman of extremely simple Christian piety with no interest in theory, or in abstract thinking, or in philosophical distinctions and analyses, and no capacity for them. "Union with God" is not

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an uninterpreted description of any human being's experience. It is a theistic interpretation of the undifferentiated unity. St. Teresa's uninterpreted experience is the same as Eckhart's, but she is incapable of distinguishing between experience and interpretation so that when she experiences the divisionless oneness of the mystical consciousness she jumps at once to its conventional interpretation in terms of Christian beliefs. She is after all no different in this respect from J. S. Mill's example of the plain man who senses "a coloured surface of a certain shape" and forthwith says, "I see my brother!"

I now leave the area of Christian mysticism and will endeavour to show that in other cultures besides the Hindu and the Christian already treated we find the same introvertive experience having the same essential features. And first we take Plotinus as representing the classical pagan world. Plotinus was not an adherent of any organized religious system but a believer in the metaphysics of Plato, which he sought to develop and advance. He writes:


Our self-seeing there is a communion with the self restored to its purity.

It is, that is to say, a consciousness of the pure ego "restored to its purity," i.e., freed from its empirical filling. He proceeds:


No doubt we should not speak of seeing but, instead of seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity. For in this seeing we neither distinguish nor are there two. The man . . . is merged with the Supreme, one with it. Only in separation is there duality. This is why the vision baffles telling; for how can a man bring back tidings of the Supreme as detached when he has seen it as one with himself. . . . Beholder was one with beheld . . . he is become the unity, having no diversity either in relation to himself or anything else . . . reason is in abeyance and intellection, and even the very self, caught away, God-possessed, in perfect stillness, all the being calmed. . . .

This is the life of gods and of god-like and blessed men — liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth — a flight of the alone to the Alone. (55)

This famous passage is an almost perfect specimen description ot the introvertive experience explicitly mentioning all the common characteristics

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of that experience as found in all cultures. What is mainly emphasized is transcendence of the duality of subject and object, the distinction between the individual self and the One. But the experiencer is also said to have "no diversity either in relation to himself or anything else," which clearly denies all distinctions of empirical content in the consciousness. The experience is ineffable, "baffles telling." It is interesting to note that Plotinus gives a reason for this ineffability. It is not merely that the experience is "too wonderful to talk about" — like falling in love or other such emotional experiences. The reason is a logical one. To describe something implies that it stands over against one as an object to be looked at and examined and have its characteristics noted. But this condition of description is not fulfilled in the experience of the One, since the experiencer is merged in it, one with it, and without any separation from it. I think this reasoning must be put down as Plotinus' interpretation and not as part of his actual ex,perience, although there must be something in the experience which gives occasion to this interpretation, and which we shall have to try to discover. But it agrees with what is evidently the position of every great mystic in every land and clime, that the supposed ineffability is due to some kind of a basic and inherent logical difficulty, and not due to mere emotional intensity.

The other common elements made plain by Plotinus are that the experience is beyond the scope of intellect and reason, and that it brings blessedness to the experiencer. There is also in it the religious sense of the holy or divine.

We may take next the mysticism of the Sufis of Islam. The great Al Ghazzali, whose standing in Islam has been compared to that of Augustine in Christianity, wrote:


When the mystic enters the pure and absolute unicity of the One and Alone, mortals reach the end of their ascent. For there is no ascent beyond it since ascent involves multiplicity implying . . . an ascent from somewhere . . , to somewhere, and when multipliciry has been eliminated, Unity is established and relationship ceases. (56)

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The following passage from Mahmud Shabistari (A.D. 1320) may also be quoted:


In God there is no duality. In that Presence 'I' and "we"' and "you" do not exist. "I" and "you" and "we" and ''he" become one. . . . Since in the unity there is no distinction, the Quest and the Way and the Seeker becomc one. (57)

Both these passages are incomplete in the sense that they do nat mention all the common characteristics of the introvertive experience. But they state the essential nuclear characteristic, namely that it is absolute unity from which all multiplicity has been excluded. Al Ghazzali mentions the point that in the experience there are no relations, which of course follows from the fact that there are no distinct entities to be related. Mahmud Shabistari emphasizes the merging and disappearance of all individual personalities in the One, which is an aspect of the experience to which we shall devote special attention in the next sectian of this chapter. If the reader cares to look back to the quotations from Abu Yazid of Bistam which were given on page 56 as an example of the uncritical language often used by mystics of prescientific times, he will now be able to recognize, through the disguise of the unfortunate style, the essentials of exactly the same experience as that to which Al Ghazzali and Mahmud Shabistari and all other introvertive mystics attest.

Jewish tradition has always frowned on the kind of mysticism in which identity, or even union, with God is claimed. Its emphasis is on the great gulf which separates God from his creation, so that a claim to a union or identity which negates that gulf generally seems objectionable to the religious Jew. Hence that tradition is rather poor in the type of mysticism which we are here expounding. Nevertheless some examples can be found among the later Hasidim, although they tend to be regarded as heretical by the more orthodox Jewry. Thus Professor G. G. Scholern quotes one of the Hasidic mystics as saying:


There are those who serve God with their human intellects and others whose gaze is fixed on Nothing. He who is granted this supreme experience

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loses the reality of his intellect, but when he returns from such contemplation to the intellect, he finds it full of divine and inflowing splendor. (58)

It is true that this does not mention the unity of the One. But the key word "Nothing" means the absence of all multiplicity and therefore of all empirical content. It is unquestionably the undifferentiated void which cannot be anything else but the introvertive experience more fullly described in other traditions.

The question whether Buddhism does not lie wholly outside the area in which a common core of mystical experience can be found, and whether what has been called Buddhist mysticism may not be of quite a different type from what we have been describing and perhaps has nothing in common with it, is to form the subject of a special section. This, however, really only refers to the Hinayana version of Buddhist teaching, which is said to be, in some sense or other, "atheistic" and so outside the pale of what, in the West at least, are regarded as religions as distinct from philosophies. The same doubt hardly exists as regards Mahayana Buddhism. Not that the Mahayana finds much use for the concept of God, or at least for the word "God." But in some respects it exhibits the character of a return to the world view of the Vedanta philosophy as at is found in the Upanishads. Buddhism had emerged from Hinduism. And the Mahayana has its metaphysical conception of ultimate reality — unlike the Hinayana which rejects all metaphysical speculations as unprofitable — although, as with the Vedanta, its conception of the ultimate tends towards an impersonality which renders the use of the word "God"' not very appropriate. Thus we may fairly include here the brief and no doubt very inadequate consideration of the Mahayana which is all that can be affered in this book.

In Mahayana writings the same undifferentiated, distinctionless experience, which is the central theme of the introvertive type of rnystitism eyerywhere, is the source of the conception of sunyata, or the Void, which is the main metaphysical concept of this version of B~ddhism. Sunyata, the pure Void, is disclosed in prajna, the mystical consciousness. The following quotations are taken from the

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sutra known as "The Awakening of Faith," composed about the first century and traditionally attributed to Ashvagosha, except the last quotation which is from the Surangama Sutra. (59) The first, after distinguishing between the "discriminating consciousness," which is of course our normal everyday consciousness, and the "intuitive consciousness," or Mind-Essence in the attainment of which lies enlightenment, proceeds:


Mind-Essence does not belong to any individualized conception of phenomena or non-phenomena. . . . It has no particularizing consciousness, it does not belong to any kind of describable nature. Individuations and the consciousness of them come into being only as sentient beings cherish false imaginations of differences. (60)

We need not waste time stopping to make the rather obvious criticisms of the staternent as to how normal consciousness arises as a result of "false imaginations" of differences. For we are only concerned with the account given of the mystical consciousness as lacking in individuations and differences, which brings it at once into line with the rest of the tradition of introvertive mysticism in its central character. In the same sutra we find also the statement:


In its aspect af Enlightenment, Mind-Essence is free from all manner of individuation and discriminative thinking. (61)

And also

If any sen:ient being is able to keep free from all discrirninative thinking, h: has attained the wisdom of a Buddha. (62)

And in the Surangama Sutra the Buddha is represented as saying to his favorite disciple Ananda:


Ananda, if you are now desirous of more perfectly understanding Supreme Enlightenment . . . you must learn to answer questions with no recourse to discriminative thinking. For tht Tathagatas (BuddhasJ . . . have been delivered

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from the ever-returning cycle of deaths and rebirths by this same single way, namely by reliance upon their intuitive minds. (63)

These passages hardly have the feel of having been written by persons who were describing their own experiences. They rnay have been traditional formulations. But they must go back to experiences which human beings actually had, and they are sufficient to show that the kind of mystical experience which is the source of Mahayana Buddhism does not differ in its nature from the kind of introvertive experiences which we have found in other advanced cultures.

According to Professor D. T. Suzuki, sunyata, the Buddhist Void or emptiness, means:


Absolute Emptiness transcending all forms of mutual relationship. . . . In Buddhist Emptiness there is no time, no space, no becoming, no thingness. Pure experience is the mind seeing itself as reflected in itself. . . . This is possible only when the mind is sunyata itself, that is, when the mind is devoid af all its possible contents except itself. (64)

In this passage we should note those features which the Buddhist experience of the Void has in common with the introvertive experience of the Void elsewhere. The mind "is devoid of all its possible contents except itself." To be emptied of all empirical contents is the universal character of that experience. And what is left? Not unconsciousness, as should follow from Hume's passage disrnissing the existence of the self. What is left is the pure ego, the self itself, seeing itself "as reflected in itself." And it is possible thus to experience sunyata, the Void, "only when the mind is sunyata itself." The meaning of this is identical with that of Ruysbroeck when he says that the spirit of the God-seeing man "is undifferentiated and without distinction, and. therefore it feels nothing but the unity." (65) Further this fact that the mind, in this experience, is itself what it perceives, whether that is spoken of as the Void, or as the unity, or the One, or the Universal Self, or whether it is interpreted as God, is the source

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of all doctrines of "union with God" or "identity with Brahman," whether found in the East or the West and whether they are expressed in pantheistic, nihilistic, or theistic language. Emptiness, the Void, Nothingness, the desert, the dark night, the barren wilderness, the wild sea, the One — these are all equivalent expressions of the same experience of an absolute unity in which there are no empirical distinctions, and which is indifferently to be regarded as the pure essence of the individual soul or the pure essence of the universe.

Remembering that we are not yet enquiring into the "truth" or objectivity of any of these experiences in regard to their claim to disclose the nature of reality outside the human mind, but only into the psychological characteristics of the experience itself, we may now fairly confidently assert that there is a dear unanimity of evidence from Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Mahayana Buddhist, and Hindu sources, also supported by the witness of the pagan mystic Plotinus, and the modern Englishman J. A. Symonds, that there is a definite type of mystical experience, the same in all these cultures, religions, periods, and social conditions, which is described by them all as having the following common characteristics:

      1. The Unitary Consciousness, from which all the multiplicity of sensuous or conceptual or other empirical content has been excluded, so that there remains only a void and empty unity. This is the one basic, essential, nuclear characteristic, from which most of the others inevitably follow.
      2. Being nonspatial and nontemporal. This of course follows from the nuclear characteristic just listed.
      3. Sense of objectivity or reality.
      4. Feelings of blessedness, joy, peace, happiness, etc.
      5. Feeling that what is apprehended is holy, sacred, or divine. See my remarks on this on page 79. Perhaps it should be added that this feeling seems less strong in Buddhist mystics than in others, though it is not wholly absent and appears at least in the form of deep reverence for an enlightenment which is regarded as supremely noble. No doubt this is what explains the "atheistic" character of the Hinayana. It should be noted that the feeling of the definitely "divine" is as strongly developed in the pantheistic Hindu mysticism as in the theistic rnysticisrns of the West and the Near East.

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      6. Paradoxicality.
      7. Alleged by mystics to be ineffable. (66)

    Since we are in search of the universal core, or set of common characteristics, of all mysticism, whether extrovertive or introvertive, we have to compare and integrate the list above with the corresponding list for extrovertive mysticism given on page 79, although it will be obvious at a glance that the differences between the two lists are very slight. But before we do this, it is desirable to have before us the discussions of the next three ssctions.

    Section 8 Introvertive Mysticism-The Dissolution of Individuality

    In the introvertive mystical experience there is no multiplicity and no distinction. It should follow that just as there are in it no distinctions between one object and another there can likewise be no distinction between subject and object. And if that which is here experienced is perceived or interpreted to be the One, the Universal Self, the Absolute, or God, then it should follow that the individual self which has the experience must lose its individuality, cease to be a separate individual, and lose its identity because lost or merged in the One, or Absolute, or God. This, however, in the form in which I have just stated it, is a mere logical deduction or interpretation. We must now ask whether it is directly supported by experience. Is there a direct experience of the dissolution af the separate individuality in something which transcends it and is directly perceived as, so to speak, swallowing it up? The answer is emphatically, Yes. This is not to be thought of, however, as a new and third type of experience over and above the two types, the extrovertive and the introvertive, already discussed. It is an aspect of the introvertive experience which is presumably present in all introvertive experiences, but is only specifically emphasized in some of them. In those specimens which were given in the last section this disappearance of separate individuality was specifically mentioned and stressed in the quotation

    [p 112]

    from Plotinus — "the man . . . is merged with the Supreme, one with it." (67) It seems to be implied and intended, though not very clearly brought out, in the experience of J. A. Symonds. (68) It is stated in an earlier quotation from Eckhart (69) "it [the soul] is sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed." It is also what is meant by Ruysbroeck's poetical statement about the divine unity, namely, that "This is the dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves." (70) In the rest of the cases we quoted it is not mentioned. As this aspect of mysticism is of the greatest importance, both theoretical and practical, I shall devote this section to a number of cases of introvertive experience in which it is specially emphasized and shall give two contemporary examples which throw light on the psychology of it.

    Our first example is again from Plotinus:


You ask how can we know the Infinite? I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite therefore cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite . . . by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer. This is . . . the liberation of your mind from finite ccnsciousness. When you thus cease to be finite you becorne one with the Infinite. . . . You realize this union, this identity. (71) [Italics mine. WTS]

The first half of this passage can be classified as philosophical interpretation. But the second half, beginning with the first words which I have italicized, is a firsthand description of a state of mind which Plotinus had experienced. For it is in this same letter to Flaccus that he proceeds:


It is only now and then that we can enjoy this elevation. . . . I myself have realized it but three times as yet.

If we now turn from the secular or nontheological mysticism of Plotinus to the utterances of the mystics ofthe three so-called

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"theistic" religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, we shall find plenty of evidence that they experienced the same loss of individuality. For instance, Henry Suso writes:

When the spirit by the loss of its selfconsciousness has in very truth established its abode in this glorious and dazzling obscurity, it is set free from every obstacle to union, and from its individual properties . . . when it passes away into God. . . . In this rnerging of itself in God the spirit passes away.(72)

We shall find that such phrases as "passing away" and "fading away" are of constant occurrence among the mystics both of Christianity and Islam to express the actual feeling or experience which they have. In the passage just quoted from Suso he speaks quite unqualifiedly of this loss of personal identity. It is true, however, that he immediately adds a qualification. The spirit, he adds, passes away "not wholly; for . . . it does not become God by nature. . . . It is still a something which has been created." This refers to a famous and furious dispute which has raged in all three of the theistic religions as to the proper interpretation to be given to the experience of "passing away" into the Infinite. The orthodox theologians of all three religions vehemently condemn what they call "pantheism," and keep a watchful and threatening eye upon the mystics because of their undoubted tendency to pantheism. Pantheism generaily is supposed to mean the identity of God and the world. In the dispute of the thealogians and the mystics it usually means the identity of God and that part of the world which is the individual self. The mystics are allowed by the orthodox to claim "union with God," but this union must not be interpreted as "identity," but as something short of actual and absolute identity.

In A.D. 922 an Islamic mystic named Mansur al Hallaj was crucified in Bagdad for having, after attaining union with God, used language which seemed to claim identity with God (73)

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Even when in a state of union with God, the mystic's individuality must, according to the theologians, remain separate and distinct from God, so that union has to be understood in some other way. This raises problems which we shall discuss in our chapter on pantheism. Meanwhile it must be remarked that the medieval Catholic mystics — who usually avow their complete submission to the judgment of the Church — when they describe the experience of union are usually careful to disclaim pantheism and to explain that the individual soul does not wholly pass away into God, but remains a distinct entity. Thus Suso's statement to this effect should be regarded not as his own spontaneous description of what he actually experienced, but as an interpretation more or less put into his mouth by the force of ecclesiastical authority. This is not to say that this interpretation is necessarily either insincere or mistaken. This is a problem we have to discuss when we treat of pantheism. But it is impossible not to note — perhaps with a certain measure of amusement — that the Catholic mystics frequently make what seem to be unguarded statements which imply cornplete pantheistic identity, and then hastily add a qualifying clause, as if they had suddenly remembered their ecclesiastical superiors. In the passage from Eckhart quoted on page 98 where he says that the soul is "sunk and lost in this desert where its identity is destroyed" there is no qualification. But the following passage by Eckhart disavows the pantheistic interpretation:


In this exalted state she [the soul] has lost her proper self and is flowing full-flood into the unity of the divine nature. But what, you may ask, is the fate of this lost soul? Does she find herself or not? . . . It seems to me that . . . though she sink all in the oneness of divinity she never touches bottom. God has left her one little poirt from which to get back to herself . . . and know herself as creature. (74)

Being a "creature" in Christian terminology is what marks off the individual self from being the Creator. The use of this language ,gives notice that the writer recognizes the gulf between God and man on which the theistic religions insist. The "little point" is that in the individual self which is not rnerged in the Infinite but remains

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obdurately individual, finite, and creaturely. But there are many passages in Eckhart in which he omits making such an admissiion, passages which if taken at their face value imply the complete identity of God and the soul in the mystical experience. The words quoted on page 98 constitute an example of this. Some of these "pantheistic" passages were seized on by the church as a basis for the charge of heresy.

In Islamic mysticism, or Sufism, the experience of the loss of individuality, its "melting away" into the Infinite Being, is so well known that there is a special technical term for it. It is called fana, which literally means "passing away." (75) Correlative to fana is baqa, which means the survival in God of the soul which has experienced fana — in other words, Eckhart's "little point." Professar Nicholson observes that "the Sufi mystic rises to contemplation of the divine attributes and ultimately when his consciousness is wholly melted away he becomes transsubstantiated in the radiance of the divine essence." (76) This sentence, which is of course Nicholson's scholarly paraphrase, does not possess the authority which is carried by a firsthand description given by one of the mystics themselves. But there are plenty of such descriptions in Sufi literature which support the general sense of Nicholson's remark, though not perhaps his metaphysical phrases. We may quote, far example, the words of Al-Junayd (A.D. 910):


the saint . . . is submerged in the ocean by unity, by passing away from himself. . . . He leaves behind him his own feelings and actions as he passes into the life with God? (77)

And the passage already quoted from Abu Yazid (78) ends with the entreaty "clothe me in Thy Selfhood and raise me up to Thy Oneness" so that "I shall not be there at all"; i.e., his separate individuality will have disappeared.

Margaret Smith paraphrasing these claims sums up:


"In that vision

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the mystic passes away from the self into the One and attains to that state of union which is the end of the quest." (79)

Nevertheless, Islamic theology is just as insistent as is Christian theology on the great gulf between God and man — in fact more so, since it regards the Christian doctrine of the incarnation as an heretical denial of that gulf. But in spite of this the Islamic mystics have not in general been so careful as their Christian brothers to guard themselves against the charge of pantheism. Many of thern give the impression of being somewhat wild in their utterances. But Al Ghazzali, with philosophic calm, condemns the interpretation of the experience of fana as implying identity with God. (80) He has his own theory of how fana is to be interpreted which I shall examine on a later page. (81)

Jewish orthodoxy has likewise always condemned pantheism as a heresy. But that pantheistic mystical tendencies have appeared from time to time in Judaism will not be denied, though they are usually veiled under a cloak of orthodoxy. The experience which the Islamic mystics call fana has undoubtedly been common enough among Jewish mystics but rarely finds explicit expression. But Professor Scholem quotes from an unpublished writing of Abulafia a passage which undoubtedly refers to it:


All the inner forces and the hidden souls in man are distributed. and differentiated in the bodies. It is however in the nature of all of them that when their knots are untied they return to their origin which is one without any duality and which comprises the multiplicity. (82)

This passage is unintelligible unless we understand the metaphor of the untying of knots. Scholem supplies the explanation. The untying af the knots of the souls means their liberation from the fetters of finitude so that they return to their origin, which is the Infinite One. And Scholem says that the metaphor means for Abulafia that


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"there are certain barriers which separate the personal existence of the soul frcm the stream of cosmic life. . . . There is a dam which keeps the soul contined . . . and protects it against the divine stream . . . which flows all around it."

What shuts the soul up in its finite personality? The answer is that sensib!e forms and images produce finite consciousness. And these disappear in introvertive experience.

Buddhism presents sorne difliculties in its Hinayana form. But we have already seen that Mahayana mystcism can be ranged with the mysticisms of other cultures as regards the question of common characteristics. We can therefore without further explanation quote here a clear-cut statement of the dissolution of individuality from the writings of D. T. Suzuki, the well-known exponent of Zen Buddhism:


The individual shell in which my personality is so solidly encased explodes at the moment of satori [the Zen word for the enlightenment experience]. Not necessarily that I get united with a greater being than myself or absorbed in it, but my individuality which I found rigidly held together and definitely separate from other individua! existences . . . melts away into something indescribable, something which is of a quite diflerent order from what I am accustomed to.(83)

In continuation of this passage Suzuki makes the interesting remark that the feeling ef exaltation which accompanies satori — what we have elsewhere spoken of as blessedness, beatitude, etc: "is due to the fact that it [satori] is the breaking up of the restrictions imposed on one as an individual being . . . because it means an infinite expansion of the individual."

It is also noteworthy that Suzuki uses the phrase "melts away." He may possibly have derived the phrase from Christian or Sufi sources. But it is not necessary to suppose this. For the same experience everywhere tends to clothe itself in the same words. At any rate, there is clear evidence that the experience is the same in the three cultures.
The sentence in which Suzuki says that this experience does not


necessarily rnean unification "with a being greater than myself" is a little surprising and may seem inconsistent with the thesis that the Buddhist experience is the sarne as that of the Christian and Islamic mystics. However, I do not think this follows. I think Suzuki must have inserted this sentence in his anxiety to differentiate his own philosophical position from the common theistic standpoint of Christianity. In other words, the difference is one of interpretation not of experience.

The Upanishads, and to a perhaps slightly less extent the Gita, are of course the great fountainheads of Hindu mysticism. If our thesis of the universal solidarity of mysticism in general, and in particular of the experience of the dissolution of individuality, is valid, we shall expect to find in those ancient Indian documents expressions of this loss of personal identity. The expectation is not disappointed. Thus in the Brihadaranayaka Upanashad one finds the following:


As a lump of salt thrown into water melts away . . . even so, O Maitreyi, the individual soul, dissolved, is the Eternal — pure consciousness, infinite, transcendent. Individuality arises by the identification of the Self, through ignorance, with the elements; and with the disappearance of consciousness of the many, in divine illumination, it disappears.(84)

The middle part af this passage, which gives an explanation of how individuality arises, is not descriptive of experience, but is the intrusion of a metaphysical doctrine borrowed from the Samkhya system of philosophy. It can therefore be ignored for our purposes. The rest of the passage is a more or less straightforward description of the same kind of experience of the dissolution of personal identity in the introvertive type of mystical consciousness which we have found elsewhere. We have therefore good evidence that this phase of mystica1 experience is common to the pagan mystic Plotinus, Christian mystics such as Ruysbroeck, Eckhart, and Suso, the mystics of Islam, Mahayana Buddhism, and Hinduism.

In our previous sections we have been able to throw light on the descriptions by ancient and medieval mysties of their experiences by quoting examples of the same kind of experience which our own contemporaries have had and which they have expressed in language

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more intelligible to the modern mind. Can we do the same in the present case ? I believe we can: I shall give two examples. One is from the English poet Tennyson and is already well known in the literature, having been publicized by William James. The other, though quite as valuable and much fuller, will be known to readers of the books of Arthur Koestler, but has probably not yet had time to get into the literature of mysticism.

Tennyson wrote in a letter:


A kind of waking trance — this for lack of a better word — I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been quite alone. . . . All at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this was not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the sure, utterly beyond words — where death was an almost laughable impossibility — the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction but the only true life. (85)

The essence af this experience was evidently that the "I," the individuality of the experient, faded away into "boundless being." The boundaries of the "I," the walls which separate it frorn the infinite, are broken through and disappear. Curious how the words "fade away" and "melt away" keep reappearing in the descriptions which we cull from different cultures, tirnes, lands, all over the world, without apparently being due to any mutual influence. There is no evidence that Tennyson had ever read any of the classic examples of the dissolution of individuality brought together in this section, and it is most unlikely that he had. Can it be doubted that the constant reappearance of this rather graphic and expressive phrase is evidence of the sameness of the experience in the widely different cases in which it occurs? It is not claimed, of course, that it is evidenoe of the value or objectivity of the experience, which is quite another question.

We should notice that Tennyson — although so far as I know he was a theist and, in some sense or other, a Christian — describes his experience without using any theological or conventionally religious language. "God" is not mentioned. The phrase "boundless being" is used. Boundless being is certainly the same as infinite being. And it

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is evidently exactly this experience of infinite being which by Christian mystics is interpreted as God. And it is the fading away of the individual self into this infinite being which is interpreted as '"union with God." Tennyson's statement may therefore be fairly regarded as a report of the experience itself before it has been subjected to religious interpretation.
Why does Tennyson attach to his phrase "loss of personality" the qualifying expression "if so it were" placed in parentheses? Is it because in this "clearest" and "surest of the sure" experiences Tennyson was nevertheless not quite sure of what he had experienced? Was he really vague about it or confused? I believe that is not the explanation. My interpretation is that Tennyson was puzzled by a sensing of the paradoxicality of his own words. He dimly senses the paradox but has not intellectually isolated it and pinned it down because he was not, at any rate at the moment, interested in intellectual analysis or logic. The paradox is that the "I" cea$es to be "I" and yet continues to be "I." "I" find that the dissolution of "I," its disappearance, is not the extinction of "I" but an the contrary is the "I's" "only true life," For after all it was Tennyson who experienced the disappearance of Tennyson! This is also no doubt part of what Eckhart means when he asks, "what . . . is the fate of this lost soul? Does she find herself or not?" and answers his own question by saying that God "has left her one little point from which to get back to herself."

Arthur Koestler, in his book The Invisible Writing, devotes a chapter to a series of mystical experiences which came upon him when he was imprisoned as a spy by the followers of Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The entire chapter is in my opinion highly valuable and irnportant for any student of rnysticism. But at this point I shall pick out only what seems to me to be the kernel of the experience itself:


Then I was floating on my back in a river of peace under bridges of silence. It came from nowhere and flowed nowhere. Then there was no river and no I. The I had ceased to exist. . . . When I say "the I had ceased to exist" I refer to a concrete experience. . . . The I ceases to exist because it has, by a kind of mental osmosis, established communication with, and been

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dissolved in, the universal pool. It is this process of dissolution and limitless expansion which is sensed as the "oceanic" feeling, as the draining of all tension, the absolute catharsis, the peace that passeth all understanding. (86)


Koestler, like Tennyson, uses no conventional religious language. It is noteworthy that although he uses the well-known phrase "the peace of God that passeth all understanding" he omits the words "of God." This is not to be taken, I think, as indicating any antireligious bias — although I do not know what his views on religion are. The omission can be explained as due to the desire, natural to any highly educated man in our psychology — conscious age, to give the experience as pure as possible without any interpretation. But what is this "universal pool" into which he feels that his individuality has been dissolved? Pool of what? Of consciousness? Of life? Of a Universal Self? He does not say. But clearly the "universal pool" is the same as what Tennyson called "boundless being:' It is limitless, boundless, that is to say it is the Infinite. And to me the conclusion seems certain that this is what the dassical theistic mystics interpret as God.

I have placed the experiences of Tennyson and Koestler for comparison alongside the classical intravertive experiences cf the Christian, Hindu, and Islamic mystics. But it may be asked whether they properly belong in this classificatory pigeonhole — whether, for example, the experience of Koestler is of the same type as that of Ruysbroeck. Partly, I think, but not wholly. I should classifv the experiences of Tennyson and Koestler as partial and incomplete instances of the classical introvertive type. They are certainly introvertive rather than extrovertive, since what they experience is the dissolution of the inward self, not the transfiguration of sensuously perceived external abjects, They are identical with the experiences of the great classical mystics in so far as both feel the disappearance of the "I" by its fading away into infinite being. But there are differences. In the first place, the experiences of Tennyson and Koestler came to them spontaneously and unsought, whereas the classical mystics for the most part reached their experiences by rigorous disciplines involving religious exercises and the

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deliberate suppression of sensations, images, and thoughts. But if this were all, we should apply the principle of causal indifference and say that if the experiences themselves were the same, the question what caused or preceded them would be irrelevant. But this is not all. In the full-blown classical cases of introvertive experience, what we have is a total void, an undifferentiated unity in which, as the Mandukya Upanishad expresses it, all "awareness of the world and of multiplicity are completely obliterated." One phase of this total blotting out of all distinctions is the blotting out of the distinction between the "I" and the infinite unity in which it is sunk or merged. This phase is what Tennyson and Koestler report, but they do not report the total disappearance of all distinctions. For this reason their experiences would seem to be incomplete or partially developed introvertive experiences.
Mr. Koestler has been kind enough to answer some questions which I addressed to him with a view to verifying this. They were as follows:

Q. Am I right in supposing that during the experiences your physical senses w:re still in operation, so that you continued to perceive the various physical objects around you, the walls, window, objects outside the window, etc.?

A. Yes.

Q. Did they become dim or fuzzy at the edges? A. No. But they were just there in the margin of attention, but unattended to.

Q. One of the Upanishads says: "It is pure unitary experience wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated." Have you had any experience like This? Do you think that when the Upanishad speaks of the awareness of multiplicity being "completely obliterated"' it is perhaps exaggerating?

A. No, I did not experience that. That must be a higher degree. But somehow I believe that the experience exists and that its description is not exaggerated.

It will be seen that I am following Mr. Koestler in regarding his experience as not of a different type from the classical cases, but as an incomplete, or lower degree of it. Presumably, the same should be said of Tennyson's experience. I also attach importance to Mr.

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Koestler's evidently intuitive feeling that there is an experience of the completely undifferentiated void or unity in spite of its paradoxical and indeed self-contradictory character.

Section 9: Is Hinayana Buddhist Mysticism an Exception?

It has been suggested that Buddhism presents an obstacle to the thesis that the mysticisms found in all the great religions and cultures af the world agree in their fundamental common characteristics. We have already shown that Mahayana Buddhism does not support this view, and that, although its doctrines and theories are very different from those of the theistic religions, this is to be explained as difference
of interpretation, not of experience. It remains to be considered whether any difficulty persists in the case of Hinayana Buddhism.

Let us suppose that as the Hinayana Buddhists always maintain. theirs either is the original doctrine of the Buddha himself, of which the Mahayana is a corruption, or at least is nearer to the original doctrine. We will assume this for the sake of argument, although there is in fact much difficulty in the matter, and this assumption is at least an oversimplification. What then? Is there any evidence that the mystical experience of which the Hinayana doctrines are an interpretation was of some different type from the introvertive experience which we have bean discussing? We could only conclude affirmatively if we could present as evidence actual descriptions of the enlightenment experience of the Budcha himself, or perhaps of his Hinayana followers, which show that it was an experience of a different kind. But this cannot be done. There are no such passages.

There are indeed passages of the Pali canon that recount the successive "trances" through which the Buddha is supposed to have passed when at his death he entered his final nirvana. There are also descriptions of what is called the"trance of cessation." These may no doubt be taken as descriptions of mystical states. They tend to be somewhat arid, formalized stereotypes which strike this reader as having little of the living breath of firsthand experience in them. The stages of trance supposed to have been experienced in the passing

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away of the Buddha read like fictions manufactured in a later age. Even so, they are not in any way inconsistent with the descriptions given of introvertive experience in other religions. The trance of cessation is defined as "the stoppage of all mentality by a gradual cessation," which is entirely in line with descriptions of introvertive experience given elsewhere (87)

Thus, even if the Hinayana doctrines were the original interpretations which the Buddha himself put upon his own enlightenment experience, there is no direct evdence that his experience differed in any basic way from that of other great mystics. The evidence, so far as it gces, is the other way.

But it may be said that the doctrine of anatta, or no-soul, if the cccount given of it in the Pali canon is accepted as being the Buddha's view, is, at least in spirit and probably in substance, inconsistent with the experiences of non-Buddhist rnystics. This doctrine rejects, by means of an argument which is practically identical with the famous argument of David Hume, the whole concept of a self or soul. It urges that there is nothing in the mind except its empirical content, and from this premiss concludes, as Hume did, that the "I" is nothing but the stream of conscious states. The Hinayanist also rejects, of course, the Hindu concept of the Universal Self, which is identical with Brahman or the Supreme Being. Thus it is not only sceptical of the soul, but is also atheistic.

Atheism is not as such, I believe, inconsistent with introvertive mystical experience. For as we have seen the concept of God is an interpretation of the experience, not part of the experience itself. A man might even have this experience and himself adopt the view that it is entirely subjective and is no evidence of any thing at all transcending his own consciousness. This is in fact the view of certain Indian mystical philosophies. But the rejection of the pure ego, our critic may urge, is on a different footing and is inconsistent with the mystical experiences described outside Buddhism. For we have everywhere found that the mystic, having suppressed the empirical

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factors of the stream of consciousness, arrives at a pure ego or pure consciousness, and that the emergence of this pure ego is the introvertive experience. Therefore to wipe out the pure ego is to wipe out the mystical experience itself as it has so far been described. Therefore the doctrine of anatta, as it is understood by the Hinayana, is inconsistent with the introvertive mystical experience of other cultures. And if the Buddha maintained it, then his enlightenment experience must have been quite different from any mystical experience which we have so far studied.

There is ineeed a school of thought found in the writings of a number of Western Buddhist scholars at the present day, (88) which holds that the doctrine of antta was intended by the Buddha to deny the existence of the individual self but not of the Universal Self. If this could be accepted, it would offer a ready answer to the criticism we are discussing. But I do not think it is defensible. It stands in flat contradiction to the whole Hinayanist tradition and to the specific teachings of the Pali canon. It reduces the role of the Buddha in the history of thought to little rnore than a popularizer of the Vedanta and fails entirely to do justice to the obviously revolutionary originality of his thought.

Tne solution of our problem is therefore to be sought elsewhere. The essence of the introvertive experience is an undifferentiated unity. In the mystical traditions of all the higher cultures, with the sole exception of Hinayana Buddhism, this is interpreted as being the unity of the self, the pure ego. But this, after all, is an interpretaticn. The subject empties himself of all empirical contents and finds that he is left with a pure unity. He concludes, justifiably I believe, that when the self is emptied of all content what is ieft is the empty self itself. But what is actually experienced is sirnply the unity. That this is the pure self is an inference which, though both natural and justifiable, is nevertheless an inference — that is to say, an interpretation.

The fact that this is an interpretatian rneans that it is possible to have the experience but not to interpret it in this way. In some cultures (the Samkhya, Yaga, and Jaina philosophies the interpretation

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of the undifferentiated unity stops short when it has been declared to reveal the pure ego of the individual. Other cultures take in addition a further step. They either identify the individual self so revealed with the Universal Self (the Upanishads and the advaita Vendanta), or at least they believe that their experience is one of union with God, union being understood as something less than identity (Christian mysticism). To stop short of either interpretation, to refuse to interpret the experience at all seems to have been the unique and revolutionary characteristic of the Buddha's teaching. He insisted only that it was the saving experience which freed men from suffering and therefore from the round of rebirths. The Buddha did not profess to answer philosophical questions. His task, as he conceived it, was solely to be the spiritual physician of mankind and to show men how to cure themselves of the sufferings inherent in life. For this purpose all he had to do was to tell them how to achieve the experience which would bring about that cure.

This then is the resolution of the apparent contradiction between the doctrine of anatta and our contention that the Nirvanic experience of the Buddha was in essence identical with the introvertive experience of other mystics. Anatta simply meant that there is no soulsubstance to be found amid the stream of consciousness or in the flux of changing states and existences which is known as samsara. The only solution of the riddle of existence is to be found in an escape from the world of samsara. And this escape is possible only in the mystical experience of nirvana.

In the Hinayana scriptures, nirvana is always represented as the opposite of samsara. The denial of this duality along with all other dualities is indeed to be found in certain scriptures of the Mahayana. But the Buddha of the Hinayanao scriptures knows nothing of this. What he says is:

There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, and were it not, monks, for this unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, no escape could be shown here from what is born, has become, is made, is compounded. (89)

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This renders it impossible to suppose that nirvana is merely a transient state of mind, however ecstatic or peace-bringing such a state might be. For nirvana is the one escape which exists from samsara. To suppose that nirvana is merely another subjective state of mind is to put it right back in the flux of samsara. Plainly nirvana transcends both the individual consciousness and the space-time world. It is the Buddhist version of the Eternal as distinguished from the temporal.

For this reason also the Hinayana scriptures always declare that nirvana is not produced and has no cause. The aspirant who reaches nirvana by yoga exercises and strenuous efforts of mind control and concentration does not thereby produce nirvana but only reveals it to himself and makes himself a participant in it.

When the Buddha was asked(90) whether in the final nirvana after death the saint who has achieved it continues to exist or not — i.e., whether nirvana is annihilation or not — he replied that nirvana is beyond the comprehension of the understanding and that no answer intelligible to the understanding can ever be given. And he added that any question which is forrnulated in terms of the "either/or" category of logic — e.g., whether the saint after death is either existent or not existent — "does not fit the case." This is what mystics everywhere else say of their experience.

All these facts lead to the conclusion that nirvana, or in other words the Buddha's mystical experience, is to be assimilated to mystical states as found in other cultures. This means that his experience was af the introvertive type but that he did not choose to interpret it as being the unity of the self in the manner that other mystics have generally done.

Section 10: An Objection Considered

It has been said that it is not open to the nonmystic to deny that the mystic has the experience which he claims to have, but that we can criticize the propositions about the world which the mystic seeks

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to base upon his experiences. For these latter are interpretations of, or inferences from, the experiences, and they may be incorrect. But I think the question has to be raised whether we are bound thus to accept blindly and without criticism whatever report the mystic gives us of his experience. Not that we shall doubt his veracity. But there is always the psychological possibility that he may be mistaken as to what in fact he did experience. We ought to ask ourselves whether the reports of mystical experiences which we have collected in the preceding sections show any features which should make us suspect that this has happened.

There are in fact two types of characteristics exhibited by the preceding reports which may be made the ground of such objection. Objections may be either logical or empirical. An experience which is said to be paradoxical in the sense that it cannot be described without implying insoluble contradictions will be called logically impossible and such that it cannot have occurred. We should refuse to accept the evidence of a man who affirmed that he had had the visual experience of seeing a square circle. He may not be consciously telling an untruth, but he must be in some way mistaken, since no such thing as a square circle could exist even in imagination. We ought equally to reject the evidence of one who, like Eckhart, asserts that he perceives grass as being identical with stone while at the same tirne remaining different, or white as being identical with black while yet remaining white; and we shouid similarly reject as a logical impossibility the statements of all those introvertive mystics who say they have perceived an absolutely undifferentiated empty unity which has no empirical content, a whole without any parts. I shall however reserve these logical objections to be discussed in the chapter on mysticism and logic. For we have not yet seen the lengths to which the paradoxicality of the mystics can go. There is more to come. And we had better have before us the full extent of their logical iniquities before we offer our commentary.

There is however an empirical objection which I wish to consider here. Professor J. B. Pratt thought that, although the mystics may believe that in the introvertive experience all consciousness of sense objects

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is shut off, they may be mistaken about this. In his book The Religious Consciousness he quotes Professor Janet's study of a modern mystic whom he was able to keep under observation in the Salpetriere. Madeleine, says Professor Janet, "supposes that . . . she does not breathe at all during her ecstasy, but if one measures the respiration one finds it slight indeed (twelve a minute) but sufficiently normal. These observations show us that sensatian is also not suppressed . . . as the patient supposes . . . that Madeleine perceives very well the objects which I place in her hand . . . recognizes thern, that she hears and sees if she consents to open her eyes." (91) Pratt also suggests that as the process of reducing the mind's ideational content ("stopping thought," etc.) proceeds toward mono-ideisrn tne element of emotion increases. He doubts whether emotion can exist without attaching itself to at least some faint ideational content; and he thinks that when the single idea of mono-ideism disappears, emotion would disappear with it, and the result would be the unconsciousness of "trance." Perhaps the unconsciousness which St. Teresa admits sometimes supervenes in the state of "rapture" may be thus explained.

However, the question at issue is whether a consciousness wholly devoid of all sensations, images, and thoughts, a "pure" consciousness; which is not a consciousness of anything (ideational content), is possible. We disregard for the moment the logical objection that this involves self-contradiction, because this question of logic is to be discussed in a special chapter. We then ask whether the observations of Pratt and ]anet give a good empirical argument against the assertions of the mystic. On examination we shall find, I think, that they do not, or at least that they are wholly indecisive. The question of breathing is not relevant because the issue is not how the mystic's body acts, but whether he is conscious of any sensation. The fact that Madeleine is breathing — but is not aware of it tends rather to support the claim that sensation is obliterated from consciousness than to disprove it. The only relevant evidence is the statement that

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Madeleine recognizes objects put in her hand and that she hears and sees. But this is not at all decisive. It may be said to establish that she "perceives" objects, but the question remains whether she is conscious of this perception. The somnambulist gives evidence that he "perceives" the table corners or other obstacles in his path, since he avoids them, but is he conscious of them? In hypnosis a patient may respond to an outside stimulus and presumably in some sense or other "hears" the words in which the operator suggests to him what action he is to perform when he wakes. But at least in the case of deep hypnosis there is nothing to show that the verbal sounds appear in his consciousness as auditory sensations. There is nothing to show that they are not blacked out in the unconscious or that they ever emerge therefrom. The mystic's condition is not of course identical with hypnosis, but the two states evidently have a certain kinship. For instance, a mystical state may sometimes, like a state of self-hypnosis, be induced by staring fixedly at a bright point. Boehme's description of his second illumination, already quoted, bears no resemblance whatever to the report of a hypnotic, but was produced by gazing at a polished disc.

Thus the case of Madeleine shows nothing. If we are to go on empirical evidence, what we have is the overwhelming evidence of thousands, perhaps tens of thausands, of persons in many different countries, civilizations, and ages of the world to the effect that they have actually experienced, in many cases repeatedly over many years, a consciousness void of all ideational content.

Let us, however, suppose that Pratt is right and that the mystic's consciousness is not completely emptied of all sensation, imagery, or thought, and that there is sorne faint ideational content left which he does not notice. Would this really injure the mystic's case? I doubt it. He alleges that he perceives and becomes one with a pure Unity, or One, or Void, from which all multiplicity of empirical existences has been obliterated. Suppose that he is mistaken to the extent that there is on the otherwise undifferentiated glassy surface of the One some faint smudge af irnpurity, some wisp of gossamer imagery; or that at the centre of the Void, or perhaps by its edges, there is a little

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spot of something or other which we will call nonvoid. What then? Shall we say to the mystic that he does not perceive the One or the Void at all, but only the faint smudge or the little spot, and that that is his whole experience? Whatever we may think of what is supposed to be the mystical vision, it surely cannot be reasonably maintained that it is nothing but a very faint visual image, a tiny sound, a spot of dim and almost invisible light? Could it be this which the Christian mystic mistakes for God, the Buddhist mystic for nirvana, the nonreligious mystic for the peace which passeth understanding, Plotinus for "the life of gods and of god-like and blessed men"? It seems to me that, even if Pratt and Janet are right, this fact makes no real dent on the claims of the mystic.

Section 11: Conclusions

If there are two types of mystical consciousness, the extrovertive and the introvertive, how are they related to one another? They appear to be two species of one genus. But if so, we have to ask what are the common characteristics of the genus. What characteristics are common to all mystical states, extrovertive and introvertive alike? To see this, let us place side by side the conclusions we reached as regards each separately.

Common Characteristics of Extrovertive Mystical States Common Characteristics of Introvertive Mystical States
The Unifying Vision — all things are One The Unitary Consciousness; the one, the Void, pure consciousness
The more concrete apprehension of the One as an inner subjectivity or life in all things Nonspatial, nontemporal
Sense of objectivity or reality Sense of objectivity or reality
Blessedness, peace, etc Blessedness, peace, etc
Feeling of the holy, sacred, or divine Feeling of the holy, sacred, or divine
Paradoxicality Paradoxicality


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Alleged by mystics to be ineffable Alleged by mystics to be ineffable

In these lists we are, of course, ignoring those bordertine and atypical cases which we discussed earlier; we are concentrating only on the central bracket of typical cases. We see that characteristics 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are identical in the two lists and are therefore universal common characteristics of mysticism in all cultures, ages, religions, and civilizations of the world. The second characteristic of the introvertive type, viz., being nonspatial and nontemporal, is not shared by the extrovertive type. This is certain in regard to spatiality, not quite so clear in regard to temporal character, since at least in the case of N. M. timelessness is clearly asserted. These facts seem to suggest that the extrovertive experience, although we recognize it as a distinct type, is actually on a lower level than the introvertive type; that is to say, it is an incomplete kind of experience which finds its completion and fulfillment in the introvertive kind of experience. The extrovertive kind shows a partly realized tendency to unity which the introvertive kind comp!etely realizes. In the introvertive type the rnultiplicity has been wholly obliterated and therefore must be spaceless and timeless, since space and time are themselves principles of multiplicity. But in the extrovertive experience the multiplicity seems to be, as it were, on!y half absorbed in the unity. The multiple items are still there, the "blades of grass, wood, and stone" mentioned by Eckhart, but yet are nevertheless "all one: ' That is the paradox. But in the same sense as the multiple items are still recognizably "there," so also must be at least the spatial relations between the items and possibly in some cases the time relations too.

By 'far the most significant characteristics are 1and 2 in the extrovertive list and 1 in the introvertive. In this general experience of a unity which the mystic believes to be in some sense ultimate and basic to the wolrld, we have the very inner essence of all mystical experience. It is, as has been said, the nucleus round which the other

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and more peripheral characteristics revolve. But in regard to this central nucleus there are certain differences between the two types of experience. In the extrospective kind, the unity is described by the mystic sometimes as a universal "life," but by Ramakrishna as "consciousness"! In introspective mysticism it is a universal self or pure ego or pure consciousness. We need not make much of this. But again it looks as if the extrovertive mysticism were a sort of incomplete version of the completeness realized in the introvertive kind. Consciousness or mind is a higher category than life, the top rung of the ladder of life. The extrovertive mystic perceives the universal life of the world, while the introvertive reaches up to the realization of a universal consciousness or mind.

There remains another question which may perhaps present itself to the reader's mind here. The mystics themselves take it for granted that the One which is disclosed in the introvertive experience is identical with the One which is disclosed in the extrovertive experience. There are not two Ones, but only one, which, in the mystic's interpretation, is God or the Universal Self of the whole universe. That the outward One and inward One are identical may be a very natural assumption. But is there any phi!osophical justification for it? Can it be proved to be more than a gratuitous assumption?

The question cannot be settled until we have examined the problem of the status of mystical experience as regards subjectivity or objectivity. For the question assumes that the experiences are not merely subjective. lf we think that the experiences are only subjective, then there exists in reality neither an outward One nor an inward One to be identified with each other. No question can in that case arise of whether the inward One and the outward One are identical or not. We shall therefore have to postpone this question.

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39. James, op. cit., p. 376. James quotes it from H.F. Brown, J.A. Symonds, a biography, London, 1895, pp. 29-31. A similar experience ofMartin Buber given on p. 155, although it is quoted there in a different context, can also be used for throwing light on the Mandukya Upanishad.

40. Jan van Ruysbroeck, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage. The Book of the Supreme Truth. The Sparkling Stone, trans. by C.A. Winschenk, london, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1916, pp. 185 and 186

41. Ibid., The Book of the Supreme Truth, Chap. 9.

42. Ibid., The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Bk. 2, Chap. 14.

43. Ibid., The Book of the Supreme Truth, Chap. 12.

44. According to Professor Zaehner (op. cit., pp. 170-174), Ruysbroeck distinguished between a purely natural state of imageless emptiness, which, although it is accompanied by a sense of peace and rest, can be reached by anyone without the grace of God, and the supernatural union with God. They are, he thinks, two quite different experiences, of which the sages of the Upanishads attained only the first and lower stage while the Christian mystics at their best attained the second. In Christian mysticism, he tells us, love is all-important, while it is not found in Vedantic monism. Professor Zaehner thus disagrees with the view that I am maintaining that the experience described in the Madukya Upanishad is in all essentials the same experience as that of the Christian mystics. But even if it is a correct interpretation of Ruysbroeck that he meant to distinguish natural from a supernatural mystical experience, the fact remains that the actual description he gives of the supernatural union as being an undifferentiated unity wherein there are no distinctions and no multiplicity is, as shown in the passages quoted in the text, identical with the deswcription given in the Mandukya Upanishad. The fact that love is emphasised by the Christian mystics but not in Vedantic monism does not alter this fact. Not only different cultures but even different individuals in the same culture show different emotional reactions to the same experience according to their individual temperaments. For instance, Ruysbroeck emphasises love far more than does the less emotional and more coldly intellectual Eckhart, and both of them emphasize it much less than St Teresa does.

45. Ruysbroeck, op. cit., The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, Bk. 3, Chap. 4.

46. Blakney, op. cit., pp. 200-201.

47. Ibid., p. 118.

48. Ibid., pp. 192-193

49. The Upanishads, op. cit., Svetasavara Upanishad, p. 124

50. St John of the Cross, op. cit., Introduction, page xx.

51. Ibid p.51.

52. Ibid p.54

53. Ibid p.58

54. Ibid p.52

55. Plotinus, Works, trans. by Stephen MacKenna, New York, New Yprk Medici Society, Enneads VI, IX, and XI

56. Margaret Smith, Readings from the Mystics of Islam

57. Ibid, p. 110.

58. Scholem, op. cit., p. 5.

59. As translated in Dwight Goddard (ed.), A Buddhist Bible, 2nd ed., Thetford, Vt., Dwight Goddard, 1938

60. Ibid, p. 364

61. Ibid, p. 365

62. Ibid, p. 366

63. Ibid., p. 112.

64. D.T. Suzuki, Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1927, p. 28.

65. Quoted previously on p. 94. Italics are mine.

66. See my remark on p. 79

67. P. 104.

68. P. 91.

69. P. 98.

70. P. 97.

71. This passage is from a letter from Plotinus to Flaccus, quoted in Bucke, op. cit., p. 123. Bucke gives as reference R.A. Vaughan Hours with the Mystics, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903, Vol. I. pp 78-81.

72. Henry Suso, Life of Henry Suso, trans. by T.F. Knox, Chap. 54.

73. Somewhat differing accounts of this incident, and of Mansur's character and motives, are given by different writers. see Jalalu-Din Selections, trans. by F. Hadland Davis, London, 1907, pp. 17-18; R.A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam, London, 1914, pp. 149-150; the same author's Studies in Islamic Mysticism, Chap. 2, p. 80.

74. F. Ffeifer, Meister Eckhart, trans. by C de B. Evans.

75. Nicholson, op. cit., p. 66.

76. Ibid., p. 53.

77. Smith, op. cit., p. 35.

78. P. 57.

79. Smith, op. cit., p. 189.

80. Al Ghazzali, The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. by Claud Field, 1910; see also Underhill, op. cit., p. 171.

81. P. 228

82. Scholem, op. cit., p. 131.

83. D.T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D.T. Suzuki, ed. by William Barrett, New York, Anchor Books, Doubleday and Co., Inc., p. 105.

84. The Upanishads, op. cit., p. 88

85. Quoted by James, op. cit., p. 374.

86. Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1954, p. 352.

87. The reader will find these passages at pp. 110 and 383 in H.C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. 3, Cambridge, mass., Harvard University Press, 1922.

88. See the writings of Christmas Humphries and E Conze.

89. E.A. Burrt (ed.), The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York, mentor Books, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1955, p. 113.

90. See Warren, op. cit., p. 123.

91. J.B. Pratt, The Religious Consciousness, New York, The Macmillan Company, p. 423.

W.T. Stace: Mysticism and Philosophy

W.T. Stace: Religion and the Modern Mind

W.T. Stace: Theory of Existence and Knowledge

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.
         ... W. T. Stace, Religion and the Modern Mind