W.T. Stace

Mysticism and Philosophy

Chapter 3: The Problem of Objective Reference

1. The Argument from Unanimity

[p.134] The mystic himself does not use arguments to show that his experience is objective in the sense that it gives information about the nature of the world outside the human mind. He claims that an inner light assures him of this and that therefore for him no logical proof is necessary. But since the nonmystic can make no such claim, the question is for him one on which he is unable to decide what he ought to think unless arguments pro and con are presented to him. The object of this chapter is to consider such arguments. And we begin with what, for lack of a better label, we will call the argument from unanimity. This takes as its premiss the universality of the same or similar mystical experiences as reported in different advanced cultures, ages, and countries ot the world. I have taken Professor Broad's statement of the argument as the best presentation of it on which to base our enquiry because his is the most careful, guarded, and conservative presentation which is known to me.

In the last chapter we examined the premiss of the argument, and our consideration of it in great measure vindicated the claim that there is a basic agreement of mystical experiences all over the world in spite of many and great differences of interpretation. The conclusion drawn from this premiss by Professor Broad is that there is


a considerable probability — it is more likely than not," to use his phrase — that the mystic in his experience comes in contact with some reality or some aspect of reality with which men do not come in contact in any other way. We have now to consider whether this or any similar conclusion is a reasonable inference from the premiss. Later in this chapter we shall consider any other reasons for believing in the objectivity of mystical experiences which our investigation may disclose.

To what principle of logic or probability does the argument from unanimity appeal? In what way does the universal agreement of the mystics tend to support the claim to objectivity? The universal or general agreement of the witnesses, combined with the high degree of mutual independence which obtains between them, might plausibly be held to be good evidence

1. That the witnesses are telling the truth as to what they experience. But as no one is at all likely to charge them with intentional fabrication, this conclusion is not very important.

2. That in their reports of their experiences they have not unintentionally misdescribed the nature of these experiences; i.e., that they have in general and apart from possible exceptions actually experienced what they say they have experienced. A single witness, or several witnesses, may well make errors of description of what they believe themselves to introspect. But this appears unlikely when what we have is the overwhelming evidence of many thousands of persons in different countries and ages all over the world; especially when the testimony given in one area of the world or in one period of time is independent of, and unknown to, those who have given the same testimony in other areas and periods. But when the argument which we are considering goes on to claim that the agreement of the mystics tends to show that their experiences have objective reference, there are certain rather obvious facts which seem to run counter to this. The fact that most men, viewing a certain kind of mirage, will say unanimously that what they see is water certainly shows that they are not, even unintentionally, misdescribing their visual experiences. But it has no tendency to show


that any water objectively exists in that place, since there may in fact be nothing but hot sand. The fact that all men who push one eye on one side correctly report the experience of double vision does not afford any evidence of an actual duplication of objects. The fact that all normal persons who drug themselves with santonin tend to see white objects tinted yellow does not prove that they are really yellow. In short, an experience may be universal and yet illusory. This was fully recognized by Professor Broad in his presentation of the argument. He gives the example of the drunkard's hallucinatory perception of rats and snakes. Such an experience is shared by innumerable drunkards. He also discusses the criteria upon which we rely in branding the experience as illusory [1] How then does the agreement of all mystics in any way tend to refute the sceptic who asserts that mystical experiences, however valuable they may be for life, are nevertheless illusions?

All that the mere agreement of mystics can by itself prove-apart from showing that they are not misdescribing what they experienceis the existence of some common and universal element in the makeup of human beings which causes them all to have similar experiences. The "make-up" of human beings includes, of course, both their physical and mental structures. All men see double when their eyes are crossed because the suucture of the eyes is the same, or nearly the same, in all men. All men who take santonin see things yellow for similar reasons. Even if all men had mystical experiences, instead of the almost infinitesimal proportion of men who now have them, and even if all these experiences were exactly alike, this would of itself show no more than that there is something in the nature of human beiitgs, whether physical or mental, which makes them have these similar experiences [2]


But the argument from unanimity cannot be disposed of in this summary way. For the proponent of the argument will answer the above sceptical dismissal of it somewhat in the following terms:

Suppose we raise the question what, in our daily experience, constitutes the essence of the objective, of a veridical sense perception, for example, as against a subjective experience such as a dream or an hallucination. What can we in the end say except that the former is publicly verifiable while the latter is private? To see an objectively real mountain is to have a visual experience of a mountain which any other normal human being can also have if he puts himself in the right stance and fulfills the appropriate requirements. To see a mountain in a dream or hallucination is to have a private experience which no one else can verify. And is not this simply the argument from unanimity? Where all normal people agree that their experiences are sufficiently similar we say that that experience is objective. And if unanimity is a sufficient criterion of objectivity in sense experience, why is it not a sufficient criterion in mystical experience?

If while I am writing here in my study I should look up from my desk and see a zebra standing on the hearthrug in front of me, I might suspect hallucination. There is no zoo in my neighborhood and no way that I can see how an escaped zebra could get into my study. If I then called in all the neighbors plus the police, and if nobody except myself could see anything like a zebra, the conclusion

[p. 138]

that it is an hallucination would be confirmed. But if the neighbors all had the same experience of seeing a zebra, the conclusion would be that it must be a real one, although how it got into my room would no doubt remain a puzzle which we should call in the local Sherlock Holmes to solve. The example seems to show once more that agreement of experiences is what constitutes objectivity. Why then does not the unanimous agreement of mystics about their experiences constitute those experiences objective?

No doubt between the two cases which are being compared, the sense experience and the mystical experience, there is a great difference in respect of the numbers of the witnesses. Any normal human being can verify the sense experience, whereas only a small number of quite abnormal persons can verify the mystical experience. This may weaken the case for the objectivity of mystical experiences by lessening the massiveness of possible corroboration, but it in no way alters the logic of the argument. The logic is exactly the same ; . in both cases. The smaller volume of evidence reduces perhaps the probability of the conclusion, but does not alter the conclusion itself. Perhaps we might be justified in saying that it is an empirical certainty that the Tower of London exists, but that it is only "more likely than not," to repeat Professor Broad's phrase, that the mystic in his experience is in contact with an objective reality.

But perhaps to put the matter thus does less than full justice to the case for mystical objectivity. For the mystic may deny that there is any difference in regard to the number of possible witnesses. And the argument depends upon potential verifiability, not on actual verification. The mystic claims that all normal men are possible witnesses of the mystical reality. We should believe in the existence of a newly discovered mountain in the antarctic even though only one competent and reliable explorer had seen it. This is because we think there is good reason to believe that all normal men could observe it if they took the proper steps. Not all men perceive the mountains at the South Pole or the hidden jungles of the Mato Grosso, but all men could perceive them if they would carry out certain instructions which might in most cases and for most of us


be so unendurably rigorous and time-consuming as to be practically impossible. In like manner it may be held that any normal man could verify the experience of the mystic if he would begin by leading a pure and saintly life, if he would detach himself completely from all worldly desires, and if he would subject himself to a long and rigorous course of physical and mental disciplines such as the yogis of India undergo, or to a life of "orisons" and contemplative exercises, preferably in a monastery, such as those which St. Teresa or St. Ignatius of Loyola have written about. There is reason to believe that this claim of the mystics to the universal possibility of mystical experience is correct. And this means that mystical experience is potentially just as "public" as sense experience, since to say that an experience is public only means that a large number of private experiences are similar, or would be similar if the appropriate steps were taken. As has already been observed, all experiences are in themselves equally private, and the public world is a construction out of private experiences.

The argument and the counterargument appear to have reached a deadlock. It is quite certain that mere agreement or unanimity as regards experiences is not enough to establish objectivity since many illusions, such as double vision or the yellow appearance of objects to one who has swallowed santonin, are quite universal. This was the argument by which the sceptic sought to defeat the case for mystical objectivity. And it is plainly a valid objection. But the sceptic in pointing it out seems also to have defeated himself if it is a part of his claim that universal verifiability is sufficient to prove the objectivity of a sense experience. For he has shown that there are many illusions which are universally verifiable.

But the conclusion which we ought to draw is not difficult to see. It is that unanimity, even universal agreement of experiences, though it may be a part of what constitutes objectivity, is not the whole of what constitutes it, either in the case of mystical experience or in that of sense experience. There must be some other condition, some x, which is required, as well as universality, to make an experience


objective. Therefore if we wish to enquire whether the claim to mystical objectivity is valid there are two steps which we must take. We must first discover what x is. And then we must enquire whether x is possessed by mystical experience. For the argument of the last few paragraphs, in which we expounded the reply which the proponent of mystical objectivity could give to the criticism of the sceptic, has shown satisfactorily, I think, that mystical experience does possess the requisite kind and degree of universality. The case for mystical objectivity therefore now wholly depends on whether x is a characteristic of it or not.

The view which I advocate is that x is order. An experience is objective when it is orderly both in its internal and its external relations. An experience is subjective when it is disorderly either in its internal or its external relations [3] Being public is one of the characteristics of being orderly, whereas being private is one of the marks of the disorderly. Publicity is therefore part of the definition of objectivity. But objectivity can only be completely and satisfactorily defined in terms of the much wider concept of order.

By order I mean law, that is to say, regularity of succession, repetition of pattern, "constant conjunction" of specifiable items. Order is thus a quite general concept of which what we call nature or the natural order of our daily world is a particular instance. Strictly speaking, objectivity is to be defined in terms of the general concept of order and not in terms of our particular world order. It is possible to conceive that there is somewhere a systematic order of events of which the laws would be quite different from those with which we are familiar. There might be a universe in which universal gravitation weuld be replaced by universal mutual repulsion of objects, in which heat invariably produced the solidification of


water and cold invariably produced boiling. This could be an instance of order. An experience in such a universe which was orderly in terms of that kind of order would be objective in that order.

But, if we confine ourselves to speaking here only of the world of our daily experience, we may observe that the objectively real world is what we call the order of nature, i.e., the system of orderly events stretching in a time series into a past to which there is no discernible beginning and which, it is presumed, will extend indefinitely into the future. Those of our experiences which are orderly in terms of this world order are called objective. Those which are disorderly in the sense that, either internally or externally, they infringe the laws of this world order are called subjective and are labeled dreams or hallucinations. (There is of course a distinction between dreams and hallucinations, but the nature of this distinction does not concern us because both are in the same sense subjective, i.e, in the sense just explained.) It must be recognized that the concept of a world order is not and could not be the product of a single mind and could not be erected on the basis of a single individual's experience. It is a product of all human experiences stretching back into a remote past. That is why publicity, the capacity to be shared by all persons, the possibility of being publicly verified, is a part, but only a part, of the criterion of objectivity. This will have to be more fully explained.

Hallucinations and dreams are always disorderly; that is, they infringe the laws of nature, in one or both of two ways. What happens in a dream may in itself be a breach of natural law. Thus a real, objective kettle put on the fire always boils. But a dream-kettle put on the fire might freeze. We say "anything might happen in a dream," meaning that a dream does not have to obey natural laws while an objective experience does. If someone asserted he had seen a kettle of water freeze when it was put on the fire, we might say "you must have been dreaming:' This is an example of an experience which is condemned as subjective because it is disorderly in its internal relations or within its own borders.


But sometimes a dream may be perfectly orderly within itself and commit no breaches of natural law. But in that case it will be found that a breach of natural law occurs in the external relations of the dream experience with the other areas of experience which immediately surround it and in the matrix of which it is embedded. The breach occurs at the edges of the dream, so to speak, at the boundaries between dreaming and waking. For instance, I go to bed in my house in the United States. I dream that I am walking down a familiar London street and that I meet my brother and converse with him. Then I wake up and find myself once more in my bed in America. Nothing within the dream was in any way disorderly. The street, the walking, the conversation with my brother — all could have happened and were perfectly natural. But what could not have happened, and would if it did happen involve breaches of natural law, is that I should pass from my bed in America to a London street without crossing the intervening distance and then come back again in the same supernatural way. Of course it might be possible to explain otherwise than by the hypothesis of dream some experience — though hardly the whole dream experience just mentioned — in which I seemed to myself to pass suddenly from my bed in America to London. I might have fallen asleep in America, gone into a cataleptic trance, been transported unconscious across the Atlantic, and awakened in London, and then in another cataleptic trance have been brought back to America! But when we say that this did not happen, but that I had a dream, part of our meaning is that what seemed to happen was not actually explained by any such series of natural and orderly events.

To complete the theory it is necessary only to show the role which publicity, or universal agreement of experiences, plays in it and why such agreement, though it is a part of the criterion of objectivity, is not by itself sufficient to ensure it. According to our view, to say that an experience is objective means that it is orderly, and it can only be this if it is part of the systematic order of the world. Any other experience will be found to be disorderly either internally or in its external relations or both. Now the world order, since it is a series of


events extending from the indefinite past into the indefinite future, transcends the experiences of any single mind. The evidence of it is the evidence of the whole human race. There is only one world order (so far as we know), namely, that in the experiencing of which all normal human beings participate — that on which, so to speak, all windows open. There are not a multitude of orderly systems of events, one for each individual. Therefore an experience which is merely private is not objective, not because it is private, but because, being private, it will always be found to be disorderly.

What we have, however, especially to explain is why the mere fact that all men agree in their accounts of an experience is insufficient to establish its objectivity. This was the defect which we found in the argument from unanimity in its application to mystical experience. We pointed out that an experience might be universal and publicly accessible and yet subjective. And we gave the examples of mirages, santonin experiences, and double vision. What our theory has to show is that these experiences are subjective not because they are private — since in fact they are not private — but because they are disorderly. Let us take the case of double vision. It is not disorderly that a man whose eyes are crossed should see things double. But it is disorderly that the crossing of the eyes should produce the actual objective duplication of objects. For there is no law of nature under which this could be subsumed and explained. On the contrary, according to all known causal laws, the crossing of a man's eyes produces no effect on the objects which he is seeing. Therefore what he is experiencing, viz., the appearance of duplication, is in conflict with natural law, is disorderly, and is for that reason subjective.

Since orderliness is the criterion of objectivity, we have now to apply it to mystical states of consciousness to ascertain whether they are objective. Are mystical experiences orderly in the sense required? The definition of order is the constant conjunction of repeatable items of experience. The definition makes no mention of sense experience and is quite independent of it. It will apply to any kind of experience. The orderliness and objectivity of sense contents will


mean the constant conjunction of specifiable items of sense experience. The orderliness and objectivity of nonsensuous contents will mean the constant conjunction of specifiable items of nonsensuous experience. We have simply to ask therefore whether mystical experiences are orderly in this sense.

We will take fust the introvertive type of mystical experience. It is nonsensuous, since all sensations and images are specifically excluded from it. Does it consist of constant conjunctions of items of nonsensuous experiences? The answer is obviously that it does not. For this would require that there should be within the introvertive experience a multiplicity of particular items of experience. But the very essence of the experience is that it is undifferentiated, distinctionless, and destitute of all multiplicity. There are no distinguishable items or events among which repeatable patterns or regular sequences could be traced. With this the claim of introvertive experience to objectivity collapses. It cannot be objective. But the sceptic should not at this point prematurely daim a victory. For we shall find that, although the experience is not objective, neither is it subjective. We have indeed a long way still to go before we can determine its status.

To see this we must now apply to the experience the criterion of subjectivity as we previously applied the criterion of objectivity. To be subjective in the sense in which a hallucination or a dream is subjective an experience must exhibit positive infringements of natural law, either internally or externally. It must be disorderly. It is not enough to establish the merely negative conclusion that it lacks order — which is all we have shown so far. Mystical experiences are of course parts of the natural order in the same sense in which dreams and hallucinations are so. They have their causes and effects, and it is an objective fact that this man at this time and at this place has a dream or an hallucination or a mystical experience. But to discover whether an experience of any kind is subjective in the sense in which a dream is subjective, or objective in the sense in which a veridical sense perception is objective, we have to look at the internal content of the experience to see whether, either in itself


or in its relations to what lies outside its boundaries, it is orderly or disorderly. Now if we apply this test to the introvertive mystical experience we find that it cannot be subjective for precisely the same reason which shows that it cannot be objective. It cannot be disorderly within its own boundaries as would be a dream of a kettle of water freezing when put on the fire. For there are no distinguishable items within it to constitute sequences which are contrary to the constant conjunctions in the world order. For the same reason it cannot conflict with the natural order in its external relations, for this too requires that specifiable items within the experience should conflict with items outside it — as for instance being in London in my dream conflicts with being in bed in America without traversing the intervening distance. But there are no items within the introvertive experience which could conflict with anything outside it. It follows from these considerations that it is not subjective.

There is really nothing new in the conclusion which we have reached. We shall find that the proposition that mystical experience is neither subjective nor objective is itself a mystical doctrine which is explicitly put forward by all the more philosophical mystics. They have not reached it by a process of reasoning as we have done in this section. They have simply felt intuitively that it is the natural and proper interpretation of their experience. It is true that this seems to conflict with our finding in the last chapter that a sense of objectivity is one of the common characteristics of all mystical experience. But "sense of objectivity" is in reality a very unsophisticated phrase, though it was a convenient one to use at a certain stage of thinking. The fact is that the mystic feels an intense and burning conviction that his experience is not a mere dream — a something which is shut up entirely inside his own consciousness. He feels that it transcends his own petty personality, that it is vastly greater than himself, that it in some sense passes out beyond his individuality into the infinite. This he expresses — for lack of better words — by saying that it is "real," that it is the "true and only reality," and so on. It is natural to pass on from this to saying that it "exists" outside himself, that it is objective, etc. We shall have to do our best to illuminate


all this in the sequel. Our immediate concern is only to show that there is no real contradiction between the earlier expression "sense of objectivity" and the more accurate statement that mystical experience is neither subjective nor objective.

Do the same arguments and conclusions apply to the extrovertive type of experience? At first sight it would seem that the case is quite different here because in this experience there does exist a multiplicity of distinguishable items, and these items are in space even if they do not exhibit any temporal flux. The extrovertive mystic perceives with his physical senses the blades of grass, the wood, the stone, but he perceives them as "all one: ' He perceives them as both distinct and identical. In so far as he perceives them as distinct, they are of course the sort of distinguishable items which exhibit orderliness. The grass, the wood, and the stone are simply objective parts of the natural order.

But it seems to me that although the grass, the wood, and the stone are thus objective, their oneness is not. The multiplicity in the experience is not as such a mystical perception. Only the oneness is. But the oneness as such has no multiplicity and no distinguishable items in it. Indeed it is, in the mystic's view, the very same oneness as is perceived in the introvertive experierice. There is the unity outside and the unity inside. But these are not two unities, but one and the same. This is certainly the mystical claim. At any rate the exterior oneness, like the interior oneness, has in it no multiplicity of items or events. Hence the same arguments apply to it as to the introvertive experience, and the same conclusion must be drawn. It is neither objective nor subjective.

2. Transsubjectivity

Although the argument from unanimity does not show that the experiences of the mystic are objective — as was claimed by Bucke, William James, and a large number of other writers, including Professor C. D. Broad — yet it does yield one very important conclusion. It is strong evidence that the mystics have not in any fundamental way misreported their experiences. The sceptic may maintain that, although the mystic may believe that he has suppressed all sensations, images, and conceptual thoughts, this cannot in fact be so. To this it must be answered that, if we had only one report of a person who claimed that he had reached a wholly distinctionless and undifferentiated experience, we should be right to regard such a report with grave suspicion. We should suppose that he must have made some mistake. But if we have a very large number of such reports from independent sources all of which confirm the first report, our scepticism ought to abate somewhat. And if we find such independent reports coming from many diverse cultures, times, and countries of the world — from the ancient Hindus, from the medieval Christians, from Persians and Arabians, from Buddhist China, Japan, Burma, and Siam, from modern European and American intellectuals — this profoundly impressive agreement amounts to very strong evidence that the experiences were not misreported but were actually just what the mystics say they were.

If, this being accepted, we consider again the introvertive experience, we find that — at least in the major mystical traditions the experience is reported to be a self-transcending one. The individual, having suppressed all empirical mental content, arrives at a pure unity, a pure consciousness, which is also the pure ego. It might be supposed that what he thus reaches is his own individual pure ego. But he reports the further fact that this self, which seems at first to be his own private self, experiences itself as at once becoming one with or becoming dissolved in an infinite and universal self. The boundary walls of the separate self fade away, and the individual finds himself passing beyond himself and becoming merged in a boundless and universal consciousness. This aspect of the mystical experience was emphasized in the section on the dissolution of individuality in the last chapter. The conclusion which the mystic draws — not however by way of a reasoned conclusion, but as something immediately experienced — is that what he has reached is not merely his individual pure ego but the pure ego of the universe; or, otherwise put, that his individual self and the universal self are


somehow identical. This is the conclusion explicitly drawn in the Upanishads, but it is objected to by the theologians of the theistic religions on the ground that it involves the heresy of pantheism. But for reasons which we have discussed, the universal ego cannot be regarded as objective, although since it transcends the individual it cannot be regarded as subjective either.

We all, mystics and nonmystics alike, have been conditioned to regard the distinction between subjective and objective as absolute , in such a way that any third alternative is excluded. Hence the mystic, who feels that he has been in touch with what is outside and beyond himself, is likely enough to express this by using phrases which imply that the universal self is an objective reality. I am here maintaining that, although the mystic may be justified in his belief in a transcendent and universal self, yet there is a certain error in his way of speaking if he maintains that it has an objective existence. We must for the present rest content with the conclusion that its status is transsubjective. Whether anything more definite and satisfying can be said will be discussed in later sections of this chapter.

The critical reader may very well say that he cannot, as the above remarks assume, accept as convincing the mystic's statement that his experience itself is transsubjective. Suppose the reader has reluctantly agreed that the unanimous and independent evidence of the mystics in many diverse cultures and ages and places shows that they have not misdescribed their experiences, yet this was agreed to on the assumption that the experience was merely being thought of as a psychological fact within the subjectivity of the mystic's mind. But now the reader is being asked to agree that the experience itself goes beyond itself into nonsubjectivity. He will no doubt object that it would be much easier and better to see whether the dissolution of his own individuality which the mystic says he feels cannot be explained by some interpretational hypothesis which would not involve the enormous leap of postulating a cosmic pure ego. For instance, is it not a fact that in quite ordinary experiences we often lose all consciousness of individuality — we forget ourselves and lose ourselves momentarily because we are absorbed in some very engrossing


pursuit? And may not the mystic's feeling of the loss of individuality be quite simply explained in a similar way?

This objection would undoubtedly carry great weight if it were not for one further consideration which I have not yet disclosed. There is a line of reasoning which, so far as I know, no mystic or anyone else has ever urged or even been conscious of, but which, on the condition that we accept its premiss, decisively supports the view of the mystic against that of the sceptic. The premiss of the argument is that the mystic has in fact eliminated all the empirical contents of his consciousness and is left with the pure consciousness which is his own individual pure ego. This premiss does not go beyond his own subjectivity. But once this is admitted, we shall find that it is logically impossible to stop there and that we are compelled to postulate that the pure individual ego is in reality not merely individual but is universal and cosmic. The reasoning is as follows:

Suppose that two persons A and B each suppresses in himself all specific mental content, and that therefore each attains the mystical consciousness of his own pure ego. Would it then be the case that A has reached A's private pure ego, and that B has reached B's private pure ego, so that what we have here in this situation is two distinct and separate pure egos? The natural answer to expect would of course be, Yes. But if so, then there must be something which separates A's ego from B's ego, some principle of division or individuation which makes them two distinct entities. What is the principie of individuation?

Let us first ask what is the principle ot individuation which separates two minds in ordinary life, two minds which have not sought or attained any mystical consciousness but are operating at the level of everyday experience. What, for example, makes the mind of the writer of this book a different psychical entity from the mind of the reader? If this question were asked, not about the minds, but about the physical bodies of the writer and the reader, the answer would be very simple. The basic principle of individuation here would be space. An interval of space separates our two bodies and makes them two distinct entities. This is no doubt oversimple. Where


two persons live at different periods, time will separate them as well as space. Also different physical qualities may enter into the differentiation. The writer's hair may be white, the reader's brown. But we can ignore these complications and concentrate only on the basic principle of differentiation which in this case is space.

But we are here asking what the principle of division is as between two minds, not two bodies. Perhaps the preliminary objection will be raised that we cannot ask such a question without assuming a mind-body dualism, and that to make such an assumption is objectionable. This is a misunderstanding. The question assumes no theory at all, either dualistic or monistic, as to the relation between mind and body. It only assumes that it is possible to speak and think intelligibly in "mentalistic" or introspective terms as well as in physical terms. It assumes that it is not meaningless to talk of one's inner thoughts and feelings and that statements about them are not simply statements about the body, although there is no doubt some very intimate connection between them. Our question does not involve any theory at all, or the denial of any theory. It does not move on the level of theory but on the level of experience. It is a plain statement of experienced fact that a man can talk sensibly about his ideas, feelings, intentions, wishes, etc, and that when he does so he is not talking about his stomach, legs, or brain. We may now therefore return to our question and ask what is the principle of individuation which distinguishes two minds which are both operating at the level of everyday experience.

If we thus abstract from bodily differences, it seems clear to me that there is only one circumstance which distinguishes one mind from another, namely that each has a different stream of consciousness or, what amounts to the same thing, a different stream of experiences. Over any given period of time the sensations, images, emotions, and thoughts which constitute A's inner biography will be different from those which constitute B's inner biography. We need not trouble ourselves about the puzzle whether, when A and B are said in common speech to be looking at the "same" material object


they are actually having one identical sensation or two private but similar sensations. For whether there is at such a point of time an actual intersection of the two streams of consciousness or only a similarity, the fact remains that by and large A's stream of mental contents is during most of its duration entirely distinct from B's. And this, so far as I can set, is the only thing which distinguishes any one mind from any other. In other words, minds are distinguished from one another by their empirical contents and by nothing else. It follows that if A and B have suppressed within themselves all empirical contents then there is left nothing whatever which can distinguish them and make them two; and if A and B have thereby reached the mystical consciousness of their pure egos, then there is nothing to distinguish them or make them two pure egos.

If we make use of the philosopher's distinction between the pure ego and the empirical ego, then what follows from this argument is that there exists a multiplicity of empirical egos in the universe, but that there can be only one pure ego. Hence the mystic who has reached what seems at first to be his own private pure ego has in fact reached the pure ego of the universe, the pure cosmic ego.

This explains and agrees with the experience of self-transcendence which the mystic always reports. Both the experience of the mystic and the wholly independent speculative reasoning of the philosopher just outlined converge on the same conclusion and support each other. If it were not for the speculative reasoning, the sceptic might well explain away the experienced feeling of self-transcendence, the fading away of personal identity into "boundless being" reported by Tennyson, the disappearance of the "I" and its dissolution in the "universal pool" reported by Koestler, the same experiences reported by Christian mystics and Sufis in their own theological language, and by Hindus and Buddhists in terms appropriate to their special cultures and theories — the sceptic might explain all this away by an appeal to the self-forgetfulness of a person absorbed in some all-engrossing object of attention. Such an obvious commonplace of everyday psychological fact would in any case seem — at least to the


present writer — utterly insufficient to bear the weight of explaining the entirely unusual and uncommonplace and indeed extraordinary experiences of the mystics. But it is better to rely on the reasoned argument which has been discovered and set forth in this section.

There is therefore a universal cosmic self with which the mystic makes contact and with which he becomes identified. But the difficulty about this is the meaning of the word "is" in the last sentence. It cannot be taken to mean "exist," since this would make it objective. But we must rest for the moment at least with the conclusion that it is transsubjective though not objective, leaving our final accounting with the difficulties which it involves to a later section.

We may at this point briefly take up the question raised on page 133 whether, as the mystics always take for granted, the extrovertive One is identical with the introvertive One. It was stated on page 133 that the mystic's identification of the two presupposes the objectivity of his experience and could not therefore be discussed until that prior question was settled. We have now concluded that although "objectitivity" was the wrong word to use, the mystic's experience does in fact transcend his own subjectivity, and this is sufficient to make possible the identification of the outer with the inner One, if there is any good ground for doing so. Is there, apart from the mystic's own unreasoned or intuitive assumption, any reason to identify the two? We might say that to assume that the two Ones are in reality one One is a quite natural assumption, intrinsically likely to be true. And we might leave it at that. But we may now be more definite than this. For the argument by which we have just shown that the pure ego of the individual is identical with the pure ego of the world can also be used to show that the extrovertive One is identical with the introvertive One. For, since both are empty of content, there is nothing to constitute a principium individuationis between them. For, as already observed on page 146, the sense objects which the extrovertive experience perceives to be "all One" are not themselves parts of the extrovertive One, which is therefore in itself undifferentiated and contentless.


3. The Feeling of Objectivity

I shall briefly consider in this section whether the subjective conviction of objectivity or reality which the mystic feels possesses any cogency for the nonmystic. Philosophers are inclined to say that the mystic's sense of certainty, however convincing it may be to the mystic, is not entitled to carry any weight with the nonmystic. People have strong and subjective feelings of certainty about all manner of things and yet may be deluded.

This treatment of the matter is too cavalier. For the mystic's feeling is quite different from a mere whim or an obstinate sticking to a personal opinion or prejudice. It is — as personal prejudices are not — universal and intersubjective in the sense that it attaches to a certain kind of experience whoever has the experience. (It is not denied that occasional cases occur where the experiencer has had doubts for a short time, for instance, Jakob Boehme.) Hence the mystic's certainty has at least to be explained as a psychological phenomenon.

Attempts are often made to explain it by the hypothesis of the unconscious. The mystical experience is supposed to come from the unconscious; and since the unconscious is outside the conscious mind , the subject feels that he is being controlled by what is external to himself. But the mystic might admit that his experience comes through the unconscious and yet insist that its ultimate source is beyond the unconscious and outside his psyche altogether. The unconscious may be merely a pipe through which some reality wholly transcending the individual reaches him.

There appears to be a much deeper and more important explanation of the feeling of reality than this. It has already been pointed out that this feeling of reality is a part ot the mystical experience itself and not an intellectual interpretation of it. The self-transcendence of the experience is itself experienced, not thought. It is the experience of the dissolution of individuality, the disappearance of the "I," its passing beyond itself into what Koestler calls "the universal pool." We have to admit as usual, of course, that there is


no sharp line between experience and interpretation, but the considerations adduced in Chapter 2, Section 8, seemed to show beyond reasonable doubt that the dissolution of individuality is actually experienced. Now the fact that self-transcendence is a part of the experience itself is the reason why the mystic is absolutely certain of its truth beyond all possibility of arguing him out of it. An interpretation of any experience can be doubted, but the experience itself is indubitable.

This is not only the psychological explanation of the mystic's feeling of certainty, it is also a logical justification of it. And this shows that the usual curt dismissal of its evidentiary value by the philosopher is not justified. In short, the mystic's sense of certainty actually does provide the nonmystic with an additional argument in favor of transsubjectivity. We cannot doubt that the mystic experi ences a nonsubjective reality for the same reason that we cannot doubt a man's experience of a certain color.

The argument is of course subject to two provisos, which in practice must introduce an element of doubt again. First, it depends on the supposition that we can clearly distinguish experience from interpretation. Secondly, it depends on the assumption that the mystic has not unconsciously and unintentionally misdescribed his experience.

These considerations will somewhat diminish, though they do not wholly destroy the cogency of the argument.


4. Mystical Monadism

I have spoken above of the "major mystical tradition" as holding the view that in the introvertive mystical experience the individual self passes beyond itself to become one with the infinite or universal self. There is however a minority mystical tradition which, while accepting as psychological fact the introvertive experience, insists that therein the individual self is not transcended. This tradition does not necessarily deny that the experience includes a feeling of self-transcendency, but it denies that self-transcendence really takes place.


It explains the feeling of self-transcendence as a delusion.

As an example of this we may quote the following remarkable passage from Martin Buber:

Now from my own unforgettable expericnce I know well that there is a state in which the bonds of the personal nature of life seem to have fallen away and we experience an undivided unity. But I do not know — what the soul willingly imagines and is indeed bound to imagine (mine too once did it) — that in this I had attained to a union with the primal being or the Godhead. . . . In the honest and sober account of the responsible understanding this unity is nothing but the unity of this soul of mine, whose "ground" I have reached, so much so . . . that my spirit has no choice but to understand it as the groundless. But the basic unity of my own soul is certainly beyond the reach of all the multiplicity it has hitherto received from life, though not in the least beyond individuation, or the multiplicity of all the souls in the world of which it is one — existing but once, single, unique, irreducible, this creaturely one: one of the human souls and not "the soul of the All". [4]

The first comment to be made on this passage is that it provides almost indisputable further evidence that the experience of an undifferentiated, distinctionless unity, which "is certainly beyond the reach of all the multiplicity it has hitherto received from life" (compare this with the phrase used in the Mandukya Upanishad "unitary consciousness wherein . . . multiplicity is completely obliterated")[5] a is a psychological fact, and not, as has been suggested, the misdescription of incompetent introspectionists. That the introvertive experience is an undifferentiated unity devoid of all multiplicity is the basic, central, and nuclear characteristic of it to which all other common characteristics are subordinate. In the last chapter we called a very large number of witnesses, selected from many different cultures and ages, all of whom agreed on this description. But, with the exception of J. A. Symonds, every one of these witnesses belonged to prescientific and prepsychological ages. Every one of them was, owing to the unsophistication of the times in which they lived, almost wholly unself-critical as compared with a modern thinker.


And now comes a man of our own time, fully aware of the sceptical diffculties, as well as the pitfalls which beset the path of the introspective psychologist, who nevertheless speaks in exactly the same terms of the undifferentiated unity as having been personally experienced by himself. Of course it is a possibility that Buber too, in spite of his great and well-known gifts, is involved with all the others in the same universal introspective mistake. But it does not seem to me that this is a plausible view.

For exactly the same reasons, Buber's statement is almost indisputable evidence that the experience of the dissolution of individuality or, in his own phrase, "a state in which the bonds of the personal nature . . . seem to have fallen away" is also a psychological fact and not a misdescription.

So much for Buber's account of the experience itself. Let us pass on to consider his interpretations of it. The remarkable fact is that he has, at two different periods of his intellectual career, given two different and mutually inconsistent interpretations of the same experience. [6] His own earlier interpretation, made apparently immediately after undergoing the experience, was in accordance with the main mystical tradition. He believed in transsubjectivity and accepted it as truth that "he has attained to a union with the primal being." But later in his life he has changed his mind and now asserts that the undifferentiated unity which he experienced was only the unity of his own self, his private individual pure ego, one among billions of individual pure egos, and not "the soul of the All".

Interpretations of the experience, including those given by the mystic himself, never have the same almost indubitable authority as do his descriptions of the experience itself. Buber's opinions as to the correct philosophical interpretations of what he has experienced are of course entitled to profound respect. But still in the end they are no more than Buber's opinions with which we are entitled to disagree if we have strong enough reasons. Especially must this be the


case when he has himself offered inconsistent interpretations. And there is certainly much to be said for accepting the interpretation which he gave at the time he had the experience, while it was still fresh and alive, in preference to an interpretation which came as an afterthought, perhaps because of the pressure of the Jewish tradition against the concept of union. For there can be, I surmise, little doubt that the environmental pressure of the culture to which he belongs was basic cause of a change of mind which quite obviously went against the grain of his own more spontaneous feelings.

Judaism is perhaps the least mystical of all the great world religions; that is, if one makes, as we have done, the obliteration of all distinctions and of all multiplicity, including the distinction between subject and object, the duality of individual self and universal self, part of the definitive concept of mysticism. In the non-Judaic cultures mysticism is usually defined in a way which makes the concept of "union" with what Buber calls "the primal being" part of the essence of it. Yet we find the historian of Jewish mysticism, Professor G. G. Scholem, saying that union is not an essential of Jewish mysticism, and that "to take an instance, the earliest Jewish mystics . . . in Talmudic times and later . . . speak of the ascent of the soul to the Celestial Throne where it obtains an ecstatic view of the majesty of God:' [7] He thinks that "it would be absurd to deny that there is a common characteristic in all mysticism," and then refers to that common characteristic as being "direct contact between the individual and God," [8] but by this he means, not union, but a direct vision of God or rather of His Throne. He gives a detailed account of "throne-mysticism" and observes that the essence of the earliest Jewish mysticism is "perception of God's appearance on the throne as described by Ezekiel".'We also find among the throne-mystics "descriptions of . . . the heavenly halls or palaces through which the visionary passes and in the seventh and last of which there rises the throne". It is clear that all these, the visions and the direct contact,


do not constitute mystical experience in the sense in which we have discussed it in this book. We have seen that visions and voices are not considered to be mystical phenomena in any religious culture outside Judaism, and we remember the definite declaration of St. John of the Cross that "the soul can never attain to the height of the Divine Union . . . through the medium of any forms or figures".

It is true that in the later Hasidic mystics we find often enough the kind of mysticism which includes "union:' But it is clear that this is an aberration from standard Jewish types and tends to be frowned on in Jewish culture. In the tradition of the Semitic religions generally there is considered to be a great gulf fixed between creature and Creator which is such that the individual soul can never annul it, and that indeed it is a kind of blasphemy to claim that it has been annulled. This is true of Islam as well as Judaism. And Christianity inherited it from Judaism. It is evident that there have been numerous mystics within all three religions who have experienced that sense of the dissolution of individuality, that passing beyond oneself, which we have called transsubjectivity. But all three religions are, in greater or less measure, frightened of it lest it should lead to the "heresy" of pantheism. And it is extremely interesting to see that, in spite of their common apprehensiveness in the matter, each of the three religions has its own characteristic reaction and interpretation which differs from the reactions of the other two. The strongest reaction against union is that of Judaism, which habitually interprets its own religious experience as what it calls "devekuth," which means direct contact or adhesion, in spite of the Hasidic exceptions. Islam also insists on the gulf between God and man and repudiates pantheism; nevertheless among the Sufis the claim to union and even identity with God was far commoner than among the Jewish mystics and was in fact the rule rather than the exception. Finally, among the Christian mystics "union" becomes to all intents and purposes the very essence of the mystic state, but the repugnance to the idea of pantheistic identity now expresses itself in a variety of interpretations and theories of what union is, which all exclude actual identity between the individual souls and the Creator. Union is more often


interpreted in the Christian tradition by the category of similarity than by the category of identity. We shall study these theories, together with the philosophical issues which they involve, at greater length in our chapter on pantheism. Meanwhile we see that the three religions can be ranged in a descending order according to the differing degrees of strength of their antipantheistic reactions. The Jewish reaction is the strongest and normally rejects the whole notion of union, and the Hasidic claim to it appears as an unusual exception. Islam also officially rejects it, but the Sufis nevertheless delight in it, and it is rather those who repudiate it who constitute the exception. Christianity accepts union wholeheartedly, making it the essence of mysticism, but rejects the interpretation of it as identity and contrives to interpret it so as to preserve the dualism between creature and Creator. When we pass outside the Semitic influence altogether, we find in Indian mysticism, as it appears among the Hindus, a frank acceptance of pantheistic identity.

We have thus to understand Buber's view as expressed in the passage quoted above in the light ot the Jewish culture from which he springs. And it is plain that his own mystical experience powerfully impelled him — as it impels all real mystics — to believe that he had therein attained union (in some sense) with "the primal being," but that his whole cultural heritage and tradition have since influenced him, against his own natural tendency, to adopt an interpretation which rejects that idea. The result is his mystical monadism. This combines the attainment of the same kind of introvertive mystical experience as is found in other cultures, including the Hindu and Buddhist cultures, with an interpretation which is in accordance with the belief that the individual soul forever remains a spiritual monad distinct from all other spiritual monads and distinct, of course, from the Supreme Monad.

Buber asserts that the soul in the mystical experience is beyond all multiplicity and yet "not in the least beyond individuation, or the multiplicity of all the souls." But he fails to ask, much less to answer, the question, What is the principle of individuation which distinguishes one monad from another? If he had considered that


question, he might have seen that, as we pointed out in a previous section, if an individual has eliminated all internal psychical multiplicity and reached the basic pure unity of his pure ego, there then remains nothing by which it can be distinguished from other pure egos, so that by a dialectic of inner logical necessity individuation becomes impossible, and all selves pass into the one cosmic self.

We must not leave the reader with the impression that Buber is the only historical example of mystical monadism. Of course, there may well have been many others within the fold of Judaism — men who, having had the experience of the undifferentiated unity, interpreted it monadistically — but whose experiences and interpretations have remained unrecorded. But even outside Judaism — in India of all places — we find mystical monadism as a minor tradition. The Samkhya and Yoga philosophers and also the Jains apparently belong to it. There seems every reason to believe that both the sages of the Samkhya and Yoga, and the Jain saints and saviours — the Tirthankaras or "makers of the crossing" [9] from the world of time to the world of eternity — were introvertive mystics in the sense that they possessed the same experience of distinctionless undifferentiated unity which is the final stage of introvertive mysticism all over the world. This same experience the sages of the Upanishads interpreted as an identity of the individual self with the Universal Self, and this became the major mystical tradition of the Vedanta; while the Samkhya and the Jain mystics interpreted it monadistically. For both the Samkhya and the Jain systems, salvation consists in the disentanglement of the purusha, i.e., the individual pure ego, from its involvement with matter and sensation and in its attainment of eternal isolation from the world and from all other life monads. The life of the purushas thereafter would be one of everlasting peace, silence, and calm, undisturbed by any distraction from the world or from other living beings. They will be pure egos, drops of pure consciousness, clear as crystal, colorless and flawless, without taint of


the faintest empirical impurity. This is their nirvana. This is the salvation to which the Tirthankaras have themselves attained, and they have won this triumph through the Yoga practice of "the stopping of the spontaneous activities of the mind-stuff."

Immortal are they, clothed with powers,
Not to be comforted at all;
Lords over all the fruitless hours,
Too great to appease, too high to appal,
Too far to call.


5. The Universal Self; and the Vacuum-Plenum

We have concluded that the concept of the Universal Self, or Cosmic Self, in which the individuality of the mystic becomes merged at the time at least of his "union," is the correct interpretation of the introvertive mystical experience. It remains a question whether this mystical concept of the Universal Self is to be identified with the theological concept of God. And it also remains a question what the word "is" means when we make any such statement as "There is a Universal Self." Since it is neither subjective nor objective, it cannot mean "exist" in the sense in which we say that trees and rivers and stones exist. Nor can mystical statements about it, or indeed about anything else, be considered "true" in the ordinary sense in which statements of empirical fact are true. But neither can they be considered false in the ordinary sense. We shall call this the problem of the status of mystical propositions. This problem we shall reserve for treatment at the end of this chapter. What we shall discuss in this present section is the question, What further can be known about the Universal Self besides the bare fact that it is the Universal Self, pure ego, pure consciousness, the Void? For there are further important points to bring out. Whatever we say will of course be subject to the final accounting with the problem of status. In other words, if we say anything of the form "the Universal Self is x, or is y, " we leave at present undecided the question what "is" means in any such statements.


We already noted that the experience which the mystic asserts that he has — that of a completely empty unity, a pure consciousness which is not a consciousness of anything but is on the contrary void of any content — is in the highest degree paradoxical. This Void, this nothing, is as we have seen at the same time the Infinite; it is pure conscious- ness, pure ego, the One of Plotinus and the Vedanta, the Divine Unity of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck; and it is the Universal Self. It is both positive and negative, light and darkness, the "dazzling obscurity" of Suso. I shall call this the paradox of the vacuum- plenum. And the elaboration of what further can be known about the Universal Self can be nothing else than the elaboration of the detail of this paradox.

We may mention to begin with that the notion of the One is paradoxical because it is certainly not a one or a unity in the sense in which those words are generally used. For a one as we have it in our ordinary experience is always a concrete one, that is to say, a one which consists of, or comprises, a many. It is a unity or wholeness which holds a many together. For instance, any material object which we call one thing — one piece of paper, one table, one star — is one in the sense that it is one whole consisting of many parts. If the parts were annihilated, the unity would disappear with it. But the mystical One is the abstract unity from which all multiplicity of contents or parts has been obliterated. It may perhaps be compared with the Platonic conception of the mathematical number 1. "Good mathematicians," says Socrates in The Republic, "reject any attempt to cut up the unit itself into parts . . , taking good care that the unit shall never lose its oneness and appear as a multitude of parts:' [10] But this analogy is of doubtful value, for the mystical One, unlike the Platonic conception of the numerical 1, is the self and is pure consciousness. The Platonic unit is a pure emptiness. But the mystical One is both empty and full.

We shall, of course, expect to find the paradoxes of mysticism expressed in their most extreme or even violent form in those


religions and philosophies in which mysticism is the major inspiring influence. And these are undoubtedly the religions and philosophies of India. Both the religion of the Upanishads and the philosophy of the Vedanta are almost wholly founded on the mystical consciousness. It is their supreme fountainhead. The same is true of Buddhism, which is founded entirely upon the enlightenment experience of the Buddha. In the Western theistic religions mysticism is, as Professor Burtt has said,[11] a minor strain, though an important one. In these religions, therefore, one may expect the mystical paradoxes to appear, but in a milder and less obvious form. This is what we actually find. It will therefore be better to examine the vacuum-plenum paradox where it is most vivid and easy to recognize and identify, and after that to go on to trace it in its milder and dimmer appearances elsewhere. It is seen most plainly in Hinduism. And we will begin our exposition of the vacuum-plenum paradox there.

The vacuum-plenum paradox has in general three aspects which are more or less traceable in all religions and philosophies in which mysticism plays a part. These aspects are not mutually exclusive. It will be seen below that the first really includes the other two. Perhaps, therefore, we ought to call them three modes of expression and emphasis, and not three clearly distinguishable aspects. They are shown in the table below:

Positive Aspects (Plenum) Negative Aspects (Vacuum)
The Universal Self has qualities Has no qualities
Is personal Is impersonal
Is dynamic, creative, and active Is totally inactive, static, motionless

In poetic and metaphorical language the positive side is often spoken of as light or sound, the negative side as darkness or silence. Hence the expression the "dazzling obscurity" of Suso expresses both sides of the paradox, whereas Ruysbroeck's phrase "the dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves" refers only to the negative side.


In the case of any paradox or antinomy which presents itself to consciousness, there will always appear in the human mind — whether that of the mystic or the nonmystic — the tendency to explain away and get rid of the logical contradiction by one means or another. There may be the deliberate and sophisticated attempt of the philosophical mind to explain it away by suggesting that the predicate which is being both asserted and denied of the subject is used in one sense when it is asserted and in another sense when it is denied. The same thing may of course be x in one sense and not-x in another. A more naive method of relieving the mind of the tension of paradox consists in ignoring or forgetting about x when not-x is being spoken of, and ignoring or forgetting not-x when x is discussed. In Hindu literature the former method tends to be employed by a philosopher like Sankara, the latter by the more simple-minded authors of the Upanishads; in Christian literature the former method is used by the highly philosophical and intellectual mystic, Eckhart, the latter in popular religious talk. I shall maintain however that all these expedients of the common-sensical mind are in vain and that in the end the undisguised and naked paradoxicality and contradiction of all manifestations of the mystical consciousness has to be met head on. But in the meanwhile we may expect often to find one side of the paradox stated without the other — the other being found somewhere else — although sometimes we shall find both boldly stated simultaneously in consciously and deliberately paradoxical phrases.

It would also seem that if we pass from the Upanishads to the Gita — between which some hundreds of years may have elapsed — we notice a gradual change of emphasis. In the Upanishads, especially the earlier ones, the negative, unqualitied, impersonal, inert, nature of Brahman tends to be stressed. In the Gita, on the contrary, it is the personality and activity of God which are most prominent. Krishna appears as a God to whom prayer, worship, and love may be directed, with the consequence that, especially at the end of the book, we have occasional passages of tenderness which remind us of


the New Testament. "Hear again my supreme word . . . thou art exceedingly beloved of me . . . have thy mind on me, thy devotion toward me. . . . To me shalt thou come. I make thee a truthful promise; thou art dear to me. Surrendering all the laws, come for refuge to me alone. I will deliver thee from all sins; grieve not." [12] However moving this may be, we must not be misled. There is no real change in the basic philosophy of the Vedanta from the Upanishads to the Gita. There is only a change of emphasis from one side of the paradox to the other.

In regard to the three aspects of the paradox tabulated above, it is not necessary to expound or document the positive side in detail because this is the side always emphasized in popular religion and therefore well known and understood by nearly everyone. The attributes characteristic of the qualitied Brahman are basically the same attributes as are found in the God of the theistic religions. He is an infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good person. He is also the Creator of the world. The main point of the Kena Upanishad is to teach that all power comes from Brahman; that although finite things and persons in the phenomenal world appear to exert power, that power really flows into them from Brahman. In the Mundaka Upanishad Brahman is shown as the source of all good. "He is action, knowledge, goodness supreme:' [13] In the Svetasvatara Upanishad he is said to be the first cause of the world,[14] the "creator of all." 15 The same Upanishad also has a passage in which both sides of the paradox are brought together, thus:

The one Absolute, impersonal Existence . . . appears as the Divine Lord, the personal God, endowed with manifold glories.[16]


But in this passage a direct clash is avoided by the device of attributing impersonality to Reality itself while personality is attributed to its appearance or manifestation.

The positive side of the paradox is thus well understood. It remains to elaborate somewhat more fully the negative side in its three aspects. First, Brahman has no qualities. This is commonly asserted in the Upanishads by negativing a catalogue of qualities:

Soundless, formless, intangible . . . tasteless, odorless . . . is the Self [17]

But in a famous passage it is bluntly stated in the abstract:

The Self is to be described as not this, not that. [18]

Or as another translation has it more dramatically:

The Self is to be described by Not Not[19]

In the later Vedanta as systematized by Sankara, Brahman is recognized as both qualitied and unqualitied, but Sankara avoids open contradiction by distinguishing between two Brahmans — the higher Brahman, which is unqualitied, and the lower Brahman, which, being qualitied, is only a manifestation of the higher Brahman and is therefore on the relative and phenomenal plane.

The second aspect of the paradox is that Brahman is both personal and impersonal. This has already been documented in the quotation from the Svetasvatara Upanishad given above. There are also numerous passages in the Upanishads where the impersonal side is asserted by affirming that Brahman is "mindless". And the famous modern Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna declares:

"When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive — neither creating nor preserving nor destroying — I call him Brahman . . . the Impersonal God. When I think of Him as active--creating, preserving, destroying — I call him Sakti, or Maya, or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The Personal and the Impersonal are the same thing. . . . It is impossible to conceive one without the other [20]"


In the sentences of this passage which I have underlined we see that the attempt to explain away the paradox in any of the usual ways is given up. We have the head-on clash of the two sides in the assertion that the personal and the impersonal are the same thing.

The third aspect of the paradox is that Brahman is conceived as being at the same time both dynamic and static, moving and motionless, creative energy yet wholly inert and actionless. Of course we find in the literature the usual attempts of common sense and of the logical intellect to separate the two sides of the antinomy and by one device or another to keep them apart so as to avoid open contradiction. But we also find explicit acknowledgement of the contradiction. This latter indeed appears already in the passage which we have just quoted from Ramakrishna. The main emphasis there is no doubt on the identity in difference of the personal and impersonal, yet the same identity in difference of the active Brahman — creating, preserving, destroying — with the actionless Brahman is also affirmed.

According to the Svetasvatara Upanishad God is

without parts, without actions, tranquil . . . like a fire that has consumed its fuel [21]

This passage gives only one side of the antinomy, the negative side of the static and inert. But the following passage from the Isa Upanishad asserts the whole paradox:

That One, the Self, though never stirring, is swifter than thought. . . . Though standing still, it overtakes those who are running. . . . It stirs and it stirs not [22]

Here in six words, "It stirs and it stirs not," the whole paradox of the simultaneously dynamic and static, moving and motionless, nature of the One is set out. The casual reader might well take this for mere literary wordplay. There is pleasure in the mere sound of a paradoxical balance of clauses. And this interpretation of the passage might well be the whole truth about it were there not the


abundant evidence from so many different sources all over the world that this dynamic-static paradox is a real part of the mystic's experience. The concept of the vacuum-plenum is often suggested in a generalized form — that is, without distinguishing the three aspects which we have found in Hinduism. It is interesting to find in Chinese (Taoist) mysticism the following:

The Way (Tao) is like an empty vessel
That may yet be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless: the very progenitor of all things in the world. . . .
It is like a deep pool that never dries.
I do not know whose child it could be.
It looks as if it were prior to God.[23]

The vessel is empty and full at the same time. There is nothing in it and yet everything comes out of it. Here again the casual reader might suppose that what we have here is no more than a set of pretty words strung together with a whimsical fancy but having no particular meaning. For the mind slides easily over the surface of words like these without suspecting that their true meaning can only be understood if we have in our possession a knowledge of the profoundest depths of the mystical consciousness. We should note not only the idea of the vacuum-plenum as expressed in the first five lines. We should notice also the last two lines. The empty vessel which is also full "looks as if it were prior to God:' What does this mean? Just another poetical fancy? Not so, for Lao-tzu is saying there what Eckhart says when he tells us that behind and beyond God — the three Persons — lies the unity of the "barren Godhead" which is prior to God and from which the manifestation of the threefold personality proceeds. How did Lao-tzu come to have the same surely very unconventional conception as Eckhart had unless we explain this agreement by supposing that both are drawing their ideas from the same deep well of mystical experience?


I turn now from Hindu versions of the paradox to the Buddhist version. We may note first that Suzuki in his own capacity as a Buddhist mystic writes of the Enlightenment experience that

It is a state of absolute Suchness, of absolute Emptiness which is absolute fullness. [24]

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead we are told that there is an interval of time between the death of an individual and his reincarnation in a new human body. At the moment of death the mind continues to exist unembodied, but because physical sensations can no longer reach it from its body, it is emptied of all empirical content. But according to all introvertive mystics, whether in the East or the West, when the mind thus becomes void and empty the light of pure consciousness emerges. Therefore the Tibetans believe, quite logically, that at that moment of death the mind has a glimpse of the Clear Light of the Void, which is nirvana. If only it could hold fast to this condition permanently it would have attained the liberation of nirvana and would never be reborn. In very rare cases this may happen. But in most cases the clear and empty mind becomes rapidly clouded over with sensuous visions and phantasms, becomes involved in sensuous cravings, and is by them dragged down the slope from its momentary exalted vision of the Clear Light to its rebirth in a new body. But since there is just a chance that the dying man may be able to grasp at the Clear Light, hold it, and so escape from the wheel of things, the lama, while the dying man is drawing his last breaths, whispers in his ear and keeps on repeating these words:

O nobly-born (so and so) listen. Now thou art experiencing the Radiance of the Clear Light of Pure Reality. Recognize it. O nobly-born, thy present intellect, in real nature void, not formed into anything as regards characteristics or colour, naturally void, is the very Reality, the All-Good. . . . Thine own consciousness, not formed into anything, in reality void, and the intellect shining and blissful — these two — are inseparable. The union of them is the Dharma-Kaya state of Perfect Enlightement . . . Recognizing the voidness of thine own intellect to be Buddhahood. . .[25]


We are not, of course, concerned with any question of the truth or falsity of the beliefs of the Tibetans about reincarnation or about what happens to a man after death. What alone concerns us is the description of the mystical consciousness as the emptiness which is also fullness, the darkness which is also light. In the passage just quoted the paradox is plainly stated. The intellect which is "void" is at the same time "the very Reality, the All-Good" (first paragraph) . And the consciousness which is "in reality void" (dark, empty) is at the same time "the intellect shining and blissful" (bright, full). They are "inseparable," and their union is "Perfect Enlightenment" (second paragraph). And to be thus empty and full is to attain Buddhahood.

When a few pages later we turn to examine the paradox as it appears in the West, we shall find — perhaps to our astonishment — that Eckhart and Ruysbroeck entirely agree with the Tibetan account of the paradox — though not, of course, with the Tibetan beliefs about reincarnation.

But even before we in the West became, if I may use the phrase, Zen-conscious or acquainted with The Tibetan Book of the Dead, we could say that the ordinary accounts of Buddhism of which we knew something — whether Hinayana or Mahayana — tell the same story if we read them aright. In the Hinayana at least there is no concept of God in the Western sense. But there is a concept of the unconditioned, which is nirvana, and which is the Buddhist counterpart of the theistic concept of God. Says the Buddha in words which I have already quoted :

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 what is born, has become, is made, is compounded.[26]

The accounts of Hinayana Buddhism which in earlier days filtered through to us in the West, via missionaries or otherwise, commonly identified nirvana with annihilation. It was supposed that when the good Buddhist dies he is believed by his coreligionists to attain


nirvana, and this was thought to be the same as saying that he ceased to exist. This account is now of course known to be nothing but an ignorant error. But the error must have arisen from seizing only on one side of the vacuum-plenum paradox, namely the negative side, and ignoring the positive side. Nirvana is in fact nothing but the enlightenment consciousness conceived not as a transient flash of illumination, but as permanent or rather as altogether transcending time. As such it is the vacuum-plenum, but the early accounts of it in the West supposed it was mere vacuum. If we consider contemporary accounts of the mystical consciousness such as we have quoted from Tennyson, Koestler, Symonds, and others (which, though merely transient and doubtless far less significant and profound than the Buddha's own, were nevertheless glimpses of the same kind of consciousness), we can see that the individuality, the "I," disappears and is in a sense "annihilated". Yet this annihilation of personal identity is "not extinction" (to use Tennyson's words), but on the contrary "the only true life".

The disappearance of the individuality is the negative side of nirvana. But the positive side of it is "the only true life". We have now exhibited the paradox as it makes its appearance in the two chief Indian religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. But it is to be found also plainly enough in the theistic religions of the West. Let us consider Christianity in this respect.

Of the three aspects of the paradox, that which most frequently and strikingly comes to expression in the Christian mystics is the dynamic-static aspect. But the qualitied-unqualitied and the personal-impersonal aspects are always at least implicitly present and occasionally rise to the surface as explicit statements. They are implicit, of course, in the notion of God as a pure undifferentiated unity. For the presence of a number of different qualities, such as goodness, wisdom, power, knowledge, is incompatible with a total absence of differentiation and distinction. Personality also cannot belong to an undifferentiated unity. But an explicit statement that God is without qualities, corresponding to the unqualitied Brahman of Sankara occurs in Eckhart:


The onefold One has neither a manner nor properties.[27]

And for an explicit statement of the nonpersonality of God, or '~ ` i rather of the Godhead, we may quote from Eckhart:

In the unborn essence He is essential essence without personality: essence self-manifest as impersonal being. . . . In the essence the Father loses His Fatherhood completely; nor is there Father at all. [28]

Sankara, and also Eckhart in some passages but not in all, attempt to avoid contradiction in the same way. Eckhart distinguished the Godhead from God, just as Sankara distinguished the higher from the lower Brahman. The Godhead in one and the higher Brahman in the other carry the negative side of the paradox, the vacuum; God in the one and the lower Brahman in the other carry the positive side, the plenum. The lower Brahman is qualitied, personal, and active as the Creator. Exactly the same is true of God in Eckhart. So that all three aspects of the antinomy appear in both, and both use the same logical device to avoid contradiction. But that this device to rid their philosophies of contradiction is ineffective can be seen in Eckhart in the following way. According to Eckhart the undifferentiated and actionless unity differentiates itself into the three persons of the Trinity. But this concept of a self-differentiating unity, which produces its own differentiations, puts activity back into the actionless unity. And in his deeper passages, as we shall see, Eckhart knows this very well.

We may see the static-dynamic aspect of the paradox as it appears in Ruysbroeck very well in a passage which is quoted by Miss Under- hill as follows:

Tranquility according to His essence, activity according to His nature: absolute repose, absolute fecundity. . . . The Divine Persons who form one sole God are in the fecundity of their nature ever active; and in the simplicity of their essence they form the Godhead. . . . Thus God according to the Persons is Eternal Work; but according to the essence and its per- petual stillness, He is Eternal Rest.[29]


Miss Underhill herself comes near to admitting the sheer contradiction of the paradox when she writes: "the balance to be struck in this stage of introversion can only be expressed, it seems, in paradox. The true condition of quiet, according to the great mystics is at once active and passive." [30]

Eckhart's position is substantially the same as Ruysbroeck's, as can be seen from the following:

God acts. The Godhead does not. It has nothing to do and there is nothing going on in it. . . . The difference between God and the Godhead is the difference between action and non-action [31]

It will be noticed that in these passages from Eckhart and Ruysbroeck it is especially the static-dynamic aspect of the paradox which is emphasized. And it is plainly this aspect which, welling up perhaps from the unconscious, has most deeply impressed and influenced the human mind generally — apart from its direct apprehension by acknowledged mystics. For it makes its appearance in poetry and general literature. Thus T. S. Eliot writes of

The still point of the turning world [32]

There is no specific reference to any religious or mystical conception here. But the inner meaning of the metaphor of the motionless axis of the spinning planet is plain. It is that though the world of sense — to use Plato's phrase — is a perpetual flux, yet at the heart of things there is stillness and silence. In a more explicitly religious context we have the hymn:

O Strength and Stay upholding all creation
Who ever dost thyself unmoved abide. (Italics mine.)

And even the common phrase that God is "unchangeable," though it is vague and can no doubt be interpreted in different ways, seems nevertheless to come out of the mystical subconsciousness of men and


to affirm that God is actionless and motionless. For change implies action, and changelessness implies inaction.

Since the mystics are also beings moved by their intellectual and logical faculties, and since there is certainly a tension and conflict between the mystical and the logical halves of the human spirit — the philosophical implications of which will be discussed in a later chapter — it is not to be wondered at that the mystics themselves show a certain vacillation and tendency to oscillate between the conflicting elements in their own personalities. And this is so especially in the West. A Suzuki does not hesitate from uttering absolute paradox, sheer logical contradiction; he does not hesitate to speak of the vacuum-plenum, of "a state of absolute emptiness which is absolute fulness". The author of the Upanishad does not shy away from saying of the Universal Self that "it stirs and it stirs not". Buddhism even apart from Zen, is especially insistent on absolute paradox, as we shall have occasion to point out later in more detail. And it seems to me that this difference between East and West is due to the fact that the mysticism of the East is more sure of itself, more full-grown, more profound and all-embracing, than the somewhat fumbling and immature mysticism of even the greatest Western mystics. The mysticism of Europe is an amateur affair compared with the mysticism of Asia.

The result of this state of affairs is that the personalities of the mystics of Europe are split as between their logical faculties and their mysticism. Because they are mystics, they utter paradoxes which, if not interfered with by logical elements, would be absolute and irresoluble. But because they are also moved by logic, they try to explain their own paradoxes away and to give logical solutions of them, as when Eckhart puts inaction in the Godhead and action in God. On the rare occasions when the mysticism in them is uppermost, they talk like a Suzuki. But when the rational faculty is uppermost — which is most of the time — they use logical excuses and devices to avoid contradiction.

Naturally, therefore, the evidence of the European mystics can be quoted on both sides, and can be interpreted in two opposite ways.


And the question is, Which voice is the true voice? Are we to say that mystical experience actually involves breaches of the laws of logic, or that the contradictions are only apparent, only a matter of the words and not of their real meanings, so that they can always be ironed out by some logical trick, such as distinguishing different senses of the words? No doubt many readers will prefer the latter interpretation. All those will prefer it whose minds are wholly dominated by what I must be allowed to call the banalities of common sense. All those will prefer it who have no genuine feeling for the mystical, and those in whom the scientific mentality has so taken charge of their whole personalities that it has crushed out the feeling for the mystical. But in my judgment this is the shallow interpretation. In my view the mystical experience is inherently beyond the logical understanding, not merely apparently so. We should follow the East in this matter, not the West. For, on the whole, [33] the Eastern mystic speaks with only one voice, whereas the Western mystic is double-voiced.

It is true that even Eckhart, whose mysticism resembles Indian mysticism more than does that of any other European, more often than not lets the logical side of him prevail. The constant insistence on the distinction between God and the Godhead shows this. But it seems to me that in their deepest utterances the Christian mystics transcend their own tendency to vacillation and seize more boldly on the essential paradoxicality of their experience. Thus according to Rudolf Otto, "Eckhart establishes a polar identity between rest and motion within the Godhead itself. The eternally resting Godhead is also the wheel rolling out of itself." [34] And we quote from Eckhart the words:

This divine ground is a unified stillness immovable in itself. Yet from this immobility all things are moved and receive life.[35]


If now we turn once more to the East, we find the contemporary Hindu mystic Sri Aurobindo affirming that

Those who have thus possessed the calm within can perceive always welling out from its silence the perennial supply of the energies which work in the universe [36]

This, as it seems to me, is as nearly an expression of a pure uninterpreted experience — evidently the experience of Aurobindo himself, although he does not use the first person singular — as one can find. For the expression used is "perceive," not "think" or "hold the theory that". The "calm" and the "silence," of course, represent the negative side of the paradox and are metaphors standing for rest and inactivity. But the "energies which work" in the world are not perceived as existing in something distinct from the silence, but as existing in it and welling out from it. The meaning is the same as that of Eckhart's "eternally resting Godhead which is also the wheel rolling out of itself," and also the same as that of the Lao-tzu's "empty vessel that may yet be drawn from." These three images — the welling of the energies of the universe out of the silence, the wheel rolling out of itself, and the empty vessel which is nevertheless the source of an unending stream of water — these are merely three different metaphors for the same thing, namely that self-differentiation of the empty undifferentiated unity which is the creation of the world. And this is not merely a metaphysical theory but something directly experienced by these men. The undifferentiated and actionless is active in that it produces its own differentiations out of itself. And even more explicit is the following passage from Suzuki:

It is not the nature of prajna (mystical intuition) to remain in a state of sunyata (the void) absolutely motionless. It demands of itself that it differentiate itself unlimitedly, and at the same time it desires to remain in itself. This is why sunyata is said to be a reservoir of infnite possibilities and not just a state of mere emptiness. Differentiating itself and yet remaining in itself undifferentiated, and thus to go on eternally in the work of creation . . .


we can say of it that it is creation out of nothing. Sunyata is not to be conceived statically but dynamically, or better, as at once static and dynamic.[37] [Italics mine.]

There can be no doubt where the writer of such a passage stands, namely, on the side of absolute paradox which admits of no logical or verbal manipulations which would get rid of its inherent contradictions.

If we now leave behind us the question whether the paradox is to be interpreted as absolute and inherent or only verbal and apparent — on which question I have for the moment said all I can — we may return to our unfinished exposition of the vacuum-plenum paradox as such and to its appearance in different cultures. For we have covered Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, but not yet Islam and Judaism. Does the same paradox appear in these? I am not able to exhibit any instances of it among the Sufis. This may be due to the severe limitations of my knowledge of Sufism. It is possible that a scholar in Islamic studies might be able to point to examples. On the other hand, it may be that my impression is correct and that the concept of the vacuum-plenum is not to be found; and this might be because the heavy emphasis on the righteousness and dynamic power and personality of God in the religion of the prophet has suppressed the mystical tendency towards the unqualitied, static, and impersonal aspect even among the mystics themselves.

Since Judaism has in general the same emphasis as Islam in this respect, and since in any case the mystical element is at a minimum in Judaism, one might expect to find here also no evidence of the vacuum-plenum. And in fact there is not very much. However, the theory of the En-Sof seems to resemble in many respects the statements of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck. According to Scholem, the distinction is made between God as He is in Himself, the En-Sof, which is unknowable and impersonal, and the personal God of the Torah who is God in manifestation. The En-Sof is also called "the hidden


God," and it is this which is referred to in the kabbalistic expression "in the depths of His nothingness". [38] Further the En-Sof, which is the Infinite, has no qualities nor attributes. The divine attributes belong to God in manifestation. They belong to "the worlds of light in which the dark nature of the En-Sof manifests itself". [39] These conceptions are in fact virtually identical with the mystical theology of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck if we leave out the trinitarian framework of ideas in which the Christian mystics express themselves.

6. The Word "God"

Introvertive mystical experience inevitably leads, as we have seen, to the conception of the Universal Self, the absolute unity, the One, which is, in our view, its correct interpretation. We have now to ask the question whether the Universal Self can properly be identified with God. Theistic mystics, having reached the experience of the undifferentiated unity and the merging of their own individualities in that unity, jump without further ado to the conclusion that what they have experienced is "union with God:' We do not here question the use of the word "union: ' But it seems important to raise the question whether the word "God" is appropriate. The question is, in a sense, a merely verbal one. Yet surely great care is required here. It is all too easy at this point, having given assent to the concept of an Infinite Cosmic Self, to allow oneself to be swept along on a tide of aflirmation, possibly influenced by emotion, into a wholesale admission of conventional religious or theological conceptions.

One must distinguish between the popular sense of the word "God" and the more. sophisticated meanings which have been given to it by philosophers and theologians. According to Professor Broad, God in the popular sense is a person; and to be a person, he thinks, an entity must think, feel, and will; and these states of consciousness must, in so far as they are simultaneous, possess the unity which is involved in being states of a single mind; and in so far as they are


successive, they must possess personal identity [40] Professor Broad has , one might say, defined a person in the sense in which Tom, Dick, and Harry are persons. And no doubt this is something like what is involved in the popular conception of God. Tennyson, it is said, suggested that the popular idea of God is that of an infinite clergyman. God, in this view, is plainly a temporal being. In spite of being called unchangeable, he is angry with us today, pleased with us tomorrow. He entertains at different times different ideas. He made plans for the creation of the universe in just the same sense as a human being makes plans for the making of a house, except that God needed no material to work with and made the universe out of nothing. Most certainly the Universal Self cannot be identified with God in any such sense as this. For an individual self, separate from other selves in the way in which Tom, Dick, and Harry are separate, is precisely what the Universal Self is not. All individual selves are merged in it. It differentiates itself into individuals, but is itself undifferentiated. Also it is eternal in the sense of being timeless and cannot be conceived as having successive states of consciousness. And the One is the Infinite, whereas a person, in the sense of a separate person, is necessarily finite, even though the label "infinite" may be conventionally attached to him.

The main objection to identifying the Universal Self with "God" is that by doing so we might be thought to be countenancing the very crude conceptions of God just referred to. If this can be avoided the main difficulty with the use of the word will have been removed, but there will still be the question whether the word, even as used by theologians and/or philosophers, is appropriate. And it seems almost hopeless to enter on this enquiry because the views of theologians and philosophers have been so numerous and different from one another that we could not possibly discuss them all here. We shall therefore have to cut the knot. I shall enquire only whether the Universal Self, as we have discussed it in the last section, possesses the characteristics which seem to me to be the minimum of those which would be fairly universally recognized as necessary if the word


"God" is to be appropriately used. Such a procedure may seem to involve an element of arbitrariness in the selection of such attributes. This cannot be avoided.

First, it seems necessary that God should be living and conscious, not a dead, lifeless, and unconscious thing like a block of wood. But it is not necessary that he be a separate person. Since the Universal Self is pure consciousness, it seems that in this respect it would not be inappropriate to call it God.

Secondly, God must be capable of serving as the goal of all spiritual aspiration, and of yielding final and complete salvation and happiness. The evidence is that mystical union with the Universal Self gives to those who attain it that ultimate blessedness, that peace which passeth all understanding, which may fairly be so described.

Thirdly, God must have the character of arousing the feelings of the holy and the sacred. This is precisely the dividing line between ' that which is religious and that which is secular. No one can doubt that the mystical union with the One has this character.

Fourthly, God must be thought of as the ultimate source of all values and of all goodness. We have not yet discussed the relation of mysticism with value judgments in ethics and elsewhere. We have reserved this for a later chapter. Mystics claim that all values do in fact flow out of that which they experience. And at any rate there is nothing in what we have so far learned of the Universal Self which would be inconsistent with this claim. Of course this raises the so-called problem of evil, but as that problem is raised by every theory of the nature of God, it is not a special objection to the identification of the Universal Self with God.

Fifthly, it.is a necessary character of God that he be thought of as the source of the world, that out of which all things flow. This is the character of God as creator, which is perhaps the most essential of all the characteristics of Deity; and constitutes therefore for us the critical point of this enquiry. For even a being who is living and conscious, who functions as the goal of spiritual aspiration, who is sacred and holy, who is the source of all goodness, would not be called God unless he were also conceived as the creator of the world.


The question is not, of course, whether the mystics (of the East or the West) believe that the undifferentiated unity which they experience is the Creator. For of this there can be no doubt. The mere fact that the Christian mystics call this unity "God" attests to their belief in its creativity, since that is included in the meaning of the word. And they often use explicitly such words as "creator" of that which they experience. But it is logically possible that this is a mere intellectual theory based in some sort of reasoning process and not rooted in mystical experience at all. Hence the real question is whether the belief is a genuine description of a mystical experience. The question "whether what they experience is the creator" means "whether they experience its creativity".

The answer is to be found in passages like those which have been quoted above from Suzuki, Aurobindo, Eckhart, and Lao-tzu, to the effect that the undifferentiated unity is perceived as differentiating itself. It is true that the word "perceive," explicitly signifying direct experience as distinct from intellectual theory, is only used in the quotation from Aurobindo. But the feel of the other three passages gives the strong sense of their being records of personal experiences.

The Universal Self, then, is the creator. Its creativity consists in its self-differentiation. The undifferentiated differentiates itself. The One divides itself into the many. The potential actualizes itself. The differentiation, the division, the actualization, are not things which are done to it from the outside. They are its own acts. The activity is not temporal, but a timeless and eternal activity. As such it is not a process of change, since change means the temporal passage from one state into another. And if it be said that a timeless activity which is not a change is a contradiction, one can only say that paradox is to he expected here. One can perhaps help out by reminding the reader that N. M. experienced an object before his eyes as "moved without moving," which could no doubt also be described as a timeless activity [41] This may reasonably be claimed as showing that the conception is not merely the product of the barren dialectic of theologians.


We may say then that the Universal Self, or the One, does possess the character of being the creator of the world which is requisite if it is to be appropriately called God. And it also, as we have seen, possesses the other four requisite characters. It may accordingly be termed God without any abuse of language.

Nevertheless there is a good deal to be said for avoiding the use of the word where possible, and using rather such phrases as the One, the Universal Self, etc. By doing so one avoids the crude and superstitious associations which inevitably tend to cling to the word God. No doubt it is for this reason that modern writers who describe their own mystical experiences, such as Tennyson, Koestler, and Symonds, avoid it and use theologically neutral language. Yet it would be pedantic to refuse to use it when occasion seems to render it suitable; as is likely to be the case, for example, when one is specifically discussing the experiences or the views of the mystics of the three theistic religions. We tend naturally then to use their own vocabulary, and there are likely to be cases where it would be very artificial not to do so. I shall try to regulate my own practice by these considerations, although in the nature of the case complete consistency is hardly to be expected.

It must of course be remembered that the same questions arise concerning statements about God as we have already seen arise in connection with statements about the Universal Self. We have to ask in either case what is the status of such affirmations. As the Universal Self is neither objective nor subjective, neither is God. And if we say either, "There is a Universal Self," or, "There is a God," we have to ask what the word "is" means, since it does not mean "exist".This brings us back to the problem of status on which we briefly touched in previous sections.

7. The Theory of "Being Itself"

If our enquiries had led us to think that mystical experience is objective, we should then have had the right to say that statements about the Universal Self are "true" and that the Universal Self "exists." If we had eoncluded that mystical experience is subjective, we


should then have been entitled to say that statements about the Universal Self are "false" and that the Universal Self is "nonexistent". But since we concluded that mystical experience is neither objective nor subjective, we have to say that the Universal Self neither exists nor does not exist and that statements about it are neither true nor false. Unless we are prepared to accept the slick answer of the earlier orthodox positivists that such statements, being neither true nor false, must be meaningless, as well as being metaphysical, we shall have to try to find a new approach.

In this section and the next I shall discuss two solutions of the problem which have been suggested by our predecessors. They may be called respectively the theory of "Being Itself" and the theory of "Poetic Truth:' Neither is in my opinion acceptable. But both are influential to the extent that they cannot be ignored. The theory of Being Itself has correctly seized the truth that the Primal Being does not exist in the sense in which a cow exists, that it is not a particular existent, one thing among others; or in other words that it is not objective. At the same time, it rightly insists that it is not to be explained away as an imagination, fairy tale, superstition, or delusion; or in other words that it is not subjective. It therefore suggests that God, though not a particular being, is Being Itself. Being Itself is like whiteness itself, a Platonic or Aristotelian universal or form. Just as whiteness is the common element in all white things, so Being is the common element in all beings. It may be thought of either in the Platonic manner as a universal ante rem or in the Aristotelian manner as a universal in re. So far as I can see, this does not matter, although those who maintain the theory seem usually to prefer the Aristotelian version.

In my opinion, this theory must be decisively rejected. We may waive the objection that the whole theory of universals — in any sense other than subjective concepts — is open to dispute, since the empirical facts which it seeks to explain may equally well be accounted for by the theory of resemblances [42] For the purpose of our argument we may talk as if the theory of universals cvere accepted truth. We


then criticize the theory of Being Itself as follows. There are doubtless forms of whiteness, of humanity or man-ness, of triangles or triangularity. This is because there is a common element in all white things, a common element in all men, and a common element in all triangles. But there is no form of Being because there is nothing which all beings have in common. There are only particu]ar beings, no universal Being.

This is the same as saying that being is not a predicate in the sense in which white, human, and triangular are predicates. This view is usually, and of course rightly, attributed to Kant. But David Hume put forward the same point before Kant and proved it much more clearly. We must not allow ourselves to be confused by the faa that Hume uses the word "existence" instead of the word "being," which is Kant's term. For in this context Hume means by existence exactly what Kant meant by being.[43] Hume puts the argument thus: "The idea of existence . . . is the very same with the idea of what we conceive to be existent. . . . That idea, when conjoined with the idea of any object, makes no addition to it. Whatever we conceive, we conceive to be existent. Any idea we please to form is the idea of a being; and the idea of a being is any idea we please to form.''[44]

It is unfortunate that Hume has used the word "existence" here, and we will revert to Kant's word "being" and continue the argument in that terminology. Hume's point, then, is this. If I ask for information about an object of which I at present know nothing whatever, and I am told, "The object is white," I learn something about it; I get some information about it which I did not have before. In other words, it is a predicate. the same is true of triangular and human. To apply these words to an object is to give some information about them. But now if I am told, "This object is a being," this gives no information at all, since it is only saying, "This object is an object," or, "This being is a being". If we consider a square lump of sugar, we may ask what its characteristics are. We may say then,


"It is white; it is solid; it is square; it is sweet:' But we cannot add that another characteristic which it has is being. Being is not a characteristic distinct from white, square, etc., which the sugar has in addition to them.

The mistake of supposing that being is a predicate — and therefore the mistake in the theory that the Primal Being is "Being Itself — comes from confusing "being" with "existence" where existence is used in the sense in which we say that tigers exist but that centaurs do not exist. For to say of a tiger in this sense that it exists is to give information about it, namely, that it is part of the natural order, or the space-time world, and that it has objective existence, while a centaur has not. Existence and nonexistence are therefore predicates, though being is not. All existences have a common element, namely, tbat they have location and date in the network of things which we call the natural order.

The theory of Being Itself does not of course assert that the God is is existence itself, but that he is Being itself. There is no doubt such a universal as existence itself. It is what is common to all things in the objective natural order, namely, being a member of that order, aad what is not possessed by imaginary things, dream objects, hallucinations, etc. The theory under discussion does not mean to assert that God is the common element in all natural objects, which would be meaningful since existence is a predicate. The theory identifies God with being in general, but there is no such common element which all beings share. Hence the theory is false.

8. The Theory of Poetic Truth

This theory, like the theory of Being Itself, has correctly perceived that the Primal Being is neither objective nor subjective, or in other words that statements about it are neither true nor false in the ordinary sense of these words. But it asserts that there is another sense of "truth," namely, the truth which is possessed by poetry — and presumably other forms of art — and that religion and mysticism possess this kind of truth. Truth in the usual sense may be called scientific [p.186] or intellectual truth, and this new kind may be called poetic truth. What are its criteria, and what distinguishes it from intellectual truth?

It is sometimes said that poetry, as well as other forms of art, may express "insights" or "intuitions" about the nature of things. Is this what is meant by poetic truth? But the assertions about the existence of such intuitions draw attention to the fact that certain minds, including those of poets, often seem to possess the power of grasping truths immediately and without the laborious mediation of discursive thinking. This power is what is usually called intuition; and that it exists is undoubtedly true, not only of poets, but of great scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, and in some measure most human beings. This perhaps establishes the existence of a different way of arriving at truths (the intuitive way) from that commonly practised by scientists and others (the way of step-by-step reasoning), but it does nothing at all to establish the existence of a distinct species of truth different from the scientific kind. This therefore is nothing to the point.

Presumably, if there exists a special kind of truth, called poetic, it must at any rate exist in poetry, and that will be the place to look for it with a view to discovering its criteria, and how it differs from intellectual truth. But we must be careful about what specimens of poetry we choose with a view to discovering the poetic truth in them. It will not do, for example, to examine only religious or mystical poems. For instance Shelley's lines

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light for ever shines, earth's shadows fly.
Life like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity.

may be said to give poetic expression to a characteristically mystical idea. So may Wordsworth's lines already quoted on page 81 affirming the existence of

A motion and a spirit which impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

For if we say that the truth of religious and mystical ideas is poetic truth, and that poetic truth is the kind of truth which is found expressed in religious and mystical poems, we shall clearly be in danger of moving in a circle. If there is such a thing as poetic truth, it must be a truth which is possessed by poetry as such, that is to say by all poetry-or at any rate by all good, genuine, and great poetry. It will therefore be found in secular poetry, by which I mean poetry about nonreligious subjects of any kind, poems about everyday life and events. Let us take at random then a few examples of well-known passages from some of our major poets with a view to discovering wherein their poetic truth lies.

It is plain in the first place that a great many poems express scientific or philosophic truths and are intended by their authors to do so. For instance, Whitehead quotes from Tennyson's "In Memoriam" the line

"The stars" she whispers "blindly run"

and remarks: "It is the problem of mechanism which appals him [Tennyson]. The line states starkly the whole philosophical problem implicit in the poem. Each molecule blindly runs. The human body is a collection of molecules. Therefore the human body blindly runs, and therefore there can be no individual responsibility for the actions of the body.''[45] In other words, what the line states is the mechanical view of nature. It is this which is said to appal Tennyson, and for which Whitehead is trying to provide a corrective in his philosophy of organism. But the mechanistic view of nature, which Tennyson's line expresses, is a scientific or philosophical truth — or untruth or half-truth — not a poetic truth. Where or what is the special kind of "poetic truth" which must be, according to the view we are discussing, somehow contained in the poem in addition to the intellectual truth — two quite different kinds of truth in the same line of poetry, it would seem. Surely it is clear that what the poetic form adds to the bare bones of the philosophical problem of mechanism is not another


kind of truth but a depth of human feeling and a beauty of imagery and verbal expression.

But of course a poem which raises the problem of human freedom is a special case. Most poems have no particular philosophical reference. They deal with much simpler everyday matters. But still, if they are good poems, they must every one of them contain this special brand of poetic truth if there is any such thing. The exponent of the theory may therefore fairly be asked to tell us where and what is the poetic truth in the lines which Marlowe puts into the mouth of Doctor Faustus when he sees the apparition of Helen of Troy:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

or in Coleridge's

The moving moon went up the sky
And nowhere did abide;
Softly she was going up
With a star or two beside.

or in Keats's

And they are gone: aye, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm.

or in Rossetti's

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary's gift
For service meetly worn;
Her hair that lay along her back
Was yellow like ripe corn.

or in Browning's

One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break.

or in Swinburne's

Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.


Every one of these passages states some sort of fact or extremely simple truth which, if we wish to ruin the poetry by disentangling it from its poetic form, could be expressed in bald, prosaic, and quite commonplace words. For instance, the lines of Swinburne tell us that even tired old men eventually die; those of Keats that two lovers ran away in a storm; those of Coleridge that the moon and stars went up the sky quietly and without stopping; Rossetti's that a girl was dressed in a certain way. These bald facts have the informational or scientific kind of truth. What the poetry adds to them is rhythmical and melodious language, concrete and vivid imagery instead of abstractions, beauty, and emotional appeal. There is no new or special kind of truth. Most poetry (in the past as distinguished from now) has been made out of the simplest and most obvious of human truths together with the emotions which they engender — the inevitableness and sadness of death, the beauty of natural scenes, the power of love and friendship, the love of parents and children, the tragic happenings of life and also its little comedies. And if we look instead at the highly obscure and difficult poetry of today, what we ftnd is a straining after unusual and very subtle intellectual ideas, not any kind of "poetic" truth. And I defy anyone to discover in the fine poetry of John Donne anything except purely intellectual ideas accompanied by an appropriate feeling-tone and embodied in ingenious images and words.

But it may be that there is some specific version of the theory of poetic truth put forward by specific thinkers which will get us out of these difficulties and put us on the right road. I will therefore refer to the only two versions of the theory which happen to be known to me. The first is that of Professor Philip Wheelwright, expounded in his very interesting and sensitive book The Burning Fountain. In this it is suggested that there are two different ways of using language. One of these, he says, "may be called expressive language or depth language, and one of my aims . . . will be to distinguish its nature and potentialities from those of literal language, or as I sometimes call it for brevity's sake steno-language — the language of science." "Depth language," he adds, "is exemplified in religion, in


poetry and in myth," and the central thesis of his book, he affirms,is "that religious, poetic, and mythic utterances at their best mean something, make a kind of objective reference, although neither the objectivity nor the method of re£erring is of the same kind as the language of science". [46] I take it that by claiming for poetic and religious utterances a kind of "objective reference" which is different from the objective references of scientific statements, the author is espousing a version of the theory of poetic truth.

One wonders whether there is not some confusion here between the concept of two languages, or ways of using language, which both express the same truth, and the concept of two different kinds of truth. But we may pass that over. One also wonders whether it is not unfortunate that Wheelwright speaks of religious and poetic utterances as making a special kind of "objective reference". For this seems to imply the existence of an object and some sort of correspondence between it and the thought expressed. And such a correspondence is the special mark of informational or scientific truth. But this too would not matter if in the end the author could give a coherent and intelligible account of whatever it is which is special about the poetic or religious kind of truth. To this question he devotes a chapter near the end of the book entitled "Expressive Statement and Truth:' What he there says amounts to this: that the declarative element in a sentence is its truth in the scientific sense of the term; but that an expressive statement, although it contains a declarative element, goes beyond that element by blending with it emotional and hortatory elements "in one fused togetherness". [47] This may be correct, but fails entirely to explain in what way the added emotional, hortatory, and other nondeclarative elements, constitute a nondeclarative kind of truth or a "kind of objective reference". Wheelwright has, in my opinion, no coherent or even intelligible theory of a kind of truth different from the scientific. His admission that what poetic form adds to the declarative truth of the poem is "emotional and hortatory elements" negates rather than upholds the theory of poetic truth. It agrees with my own view that what poetic form adds is emotion, beauty of imagery and language, etc., but not a new kind of truth.

Professor Arnold Toynbee puts forward a version of the theory of poetic truth in his book An Historian's Approach to Religion. He maintains that there is a "distinction between two facets of Truth which cannot be focused into a unity by the imperfectly united faculties of the Human Mind. In the Human Psyche there are two organs: a conscious volitional surface and a sub-conscious emotional abyss. Each of these two organs has its own way of looking at, and peering through, the dark glass that screens Reality from Man's inward eye and in screening it dimly reveals it: and therefore either mode of imperfect apprehension calls its findings `the Truth.' But the qualities of the two different facets of a latent unitary Truth are as different as the nature of the two organs of the human psyche that receive these 'broken lights'" [48] "The Truth apprehended by the Sub-conscious Psyche finds its natural expression in Poetry; the truth apprehended by the Intellect finds its natural expression in Science". [49]

It is very difficult to extract the essence of this theory from the mass of metaphors in which it is expressed. But the passage seems to depend on something like the distinction between appearance and reality as it is found in Kant and in philosophies which derive from him. And perhaps we may venture on the paraphrase that, according to Toynbee, there is a single Reality which, being apprehended by two different "organs," the intellect and the subconscious, presents two different appearances to the mind. In a later chapter one learns that this Reality is "a spiritual presence," and that it is in fact "the Absolute". [50] One would suppose that, since each of the two facets is only an appearance which is conditioned by the organ which apprehends it, what Reality is "in itself" must be unknowable. And in that case one must suppose that Toynbee, in calling it a spiritual


presence, is for some reason departing from the impartial ignorance of Reality which the theory requires and showing favor to the facet which is apprehended by the subconscious. However that may be, we have at any rate the right to ask that the appearance of Reality as apprehended by the subconscious, i.e., poetic truth, be made intelligible to us, or, if it cannot be intellectually explained, that it at least be shown to us so that in the future we shall know it when we see it. To make it intelligible will be to give its criteria and definition. To ask that this be done completely and finally would be to ask for a perfection of theory which it would be unreasonable to expect. But at least an attempt might be made — corresponding to the analyses and attempted theories of the nature of truth in the scientific sense which philosophers and logicians have given. But Professor Toynbee does not even begin to make such an attempt at intelligible theory.

The reply from his point of view is perhaps that in the nature of the case an intellectual theory of a nonintellectual kind of truth can not be given or asked for. But in that case the truth in poetry must be shown in particular cases. We ought to be able simply to read a poem and see the truth in it. This brings us back to the situation described on pages 187-188. I read the lines there quoted from Tennyson, Marlowe, Coleridge, Keats, Rossetti, Browning, and Swin- burne, eager to discover the truth about the Absolute which they contain. I am perhaps as sensitive to the poetic quality of poetry as another — not wholly blind to it at any rate, not wholly a Philistine. Yet I cannot find this truth. I find indeed certain bare bones of mere factual truth — what Wheelwright calls the declarative element — and in addition to this a high and noble emotional appeal, beauty of imagery, exquisite sound quality of musical language, and the like. And that is all.

If Toynbee's version of the theory of poetic truth is true, there must be a parallelism between the two appearances of the one Reality such that to every scientific statement of truth there must be a possible corresponding poetic statement of truth, and vice versa. It does not indeed follow from the theory that the human mind must


always be able to apprehend both aspects of the truth. There may be blind spots in either of the two organs. But at least one would expect that in some cases it would be possible to observe the correspondence of a poetic to an intellectual truth, and to offer a translation of the one into the other. And sure enough Professor Toynbee offers examples of such translations. "For example," he writes, "the Intellect's dry record of the sordid behavior of barbarian war-lords has been run away with by the sub-conscious and been translated by it into heroic poetry. . . ". And "the pinning down of the Christian gospel in creeds" is, he tells us "another instance of the attempt to translate the Truth of the Sub-conscious into the terms of the Truth of the Intellect." [51] It is odd that the same truth should be sordid in one translation and heroic in the other. But, apart from that, it does not appear in what way the Homeric epics give either a different kind of truth, or a different facet of the same truth, as compared with what is given in the "dry records of the sordid . . . ," etc. It would seem plain that, just as the lines of Keats quoted above give exactly the same truth as the "dry record," which would say boldly that two lovers ran away in a storm, and that what the poet adds is not another kind of truth, but simply vivid imagery, rhythmical language, and emotional appeal, so the Homeric poems treat the behavior of the barbarian war lords in the same way, adding to the facts no new truth but similar emotional and imaginative elements.

It is an everyday experience that the same event will be reported quite differently by observers, of different temperaments. One will emphasize the humorous side of it and make it appear comic; another will see tragedy in it and will write about that. The same quite ordinary occurrence may simultaneously possess elements of beauty, ugliness, nobility, and sordidness. One mind will seize upon one, another upon another. Each reporter may be telling the truth, or some part of the truth. And we do not have to have an elaborate metaphysical theory of two kinds of truth to account for this. Is there anything more than this in the two different accounts of the Trojan war to which Professor Toynbee refers?


For the matter of that, Hitler seems to have seen romantic heroism and glory in any war, while any pacifist who goes to jail for his convictions sees nothing but what is brutal and disgusting in the same war. This is quite parallel to the two accounts of the Trojan war to which Toynbee refers. But no one thinks it necessary to postulate two kinds of truth to account for the respective reactions of Hitler and the pacifist.

My conclusion is that the theory of poetic truth, whether in Wheelwright's or Toynbee's verslon, or any other, should be rejected.

9. The Status of the Universal Self

That Being who or which is variously described by the mystics as the One, the Universal Self, the vacuum-plenum, or God, is to be considered as Reality in three senses. It transcends and is independent of any individual subject, so that it cannot be called subjective. It has supreme value, or is the supreme good. And it is the creative source of the world. And yet it is not objective. This raises two main problems. First, since it is neither subjective nor objective, what status is to be assigned to it, and to statements about it such as "it is; it is timeless, eternal, etc." Secondly, if it is not objective, and does not "exist," in what sense can it be the first cause of the objective and existent world? Its aspects as supreme value and as creativity need not be further discussed at this stage. But in this section the problem of status will be further examined.

It should be noted first of all that although we have reached the conclusion. that the One is neither subjective nor objective partly by applying methods of analysis to the meanings of such terms as "existence," "objectivity," and "subjectivity," yet this same conclusion may be found occasionally in' the utterances of the mystics themselves, arrived at by them no doubt intuitively rather than logically. To show this will provide an important confirmation of our conclusions.

The Mandukya Upanishad, after mentioning three normal states


of mind, namely the waking state, the dreaming state, and the state of dreamless sleep, goes on to say that there is a fourth, namely the mystical, and proceeds:

The Fourth, say the wise, is not subjective experience, nor objective experience, nor experience intermediate between these two· . . . It is pure unitary consciousness. · · · [52]

When one reads this, one is inclined to doubt whether there can be anything in the original Sanskrit which it can be correct and scholarly to translate "subjective" and "objective," since these are really jargon words taken from the vocabulary of European philosophy mainly of the late nineteenth century. But any doubts as regards this will be set at rest by consulting the translation given by Professor R. C. Zaehner [53] The following are the relevant parts of it. "The waking state takes cognizance of what is outside. . . . The state of sleep taking cognizance of what is inside oneself. . . . The fourth state has cognizance of neither what is inside nor what is outside. . . :' The meanings of the two phrases "what is outside" and "what is inside" are uniquely determined by being applied respectively to the objects of sense perception and the objects in dreams. These are precisely the meanings of "objective" and "subjective" as we have been using these terms. Hence the translation of the statement in the Mandukya that "the Fourth . . . is not subjective experience , nor objective experience" is correct:

That the experience is neither objective nor subjective is also implied by Plotinus where he says that it is not really a vision, or a seeing, but that we should "instead of seen and seer speak boldly of a simple unity" and adds that the beholder "is become the unity, having no diversity either in relation to himself or anything else". If there is in the experience no multiplicity at all, there cannot be the duality of subject and object. And in general the constant reiterations in mystical literature everywhere that the division of subject and object is transcended are so common that it seems unnecessary to


quote further sources. But all this is equivalent to saying that the experience is neither subjective nor objective. It also comes to the same thing when Dionysius the Areopagite, himself a mystic, says of the Supreme

Nor does it belong to the category of nonexistence or to that of existence.[54]

The same thing is also made clear in all those frequent statements of the mystics that the experience and the Being experienced are beyond space and time. Thus Eckhart writes:

Nothing hinders the soul's knowledge of God as much as time and space, for time and space are fragments, whereas God is one. And therefore if the soul is to know God, it must know him above time and outside space; for God is neither this nor that as are all those manifested things [55]

Assertions of the mystics that God is beyond time and space are so common that the point needs no further documentation. What we have to notice is that this implies that he is neither subjective nor objective. Not subjective since the finite subject is in time; not objective because only objects in the space-time order are objective. Thus it is no mere speculative assertion of the present writer that that Being is neither subjective nor objective, neither existent nor nonexistent, but is rather the standard belief of the mystic, although it is true that he may often make the intellectual or verbal mistake of confusing the transsubjective with the objective and speak of the One, or God, as "existing."

It has been made clear that the Unity, which is the unity of the pure ego, is independent of any individual ego. Since it overarches all individuals, so it overarches the times in which they live. It is not only the pure ego of "you" and "me" who happen to be alive together in this present year, but it is also the pure ego of all past and all future conscious beings. This does not mean, of course, that it endures through time and that it lasts from the time of long-dead


individuals to the time of individuals still to be born in some remote future; but rather that it overarches all time, being timeless. And this is what is implied in the first and most important sense in which it is "real," namely, that it is transsubjective.

There is another consideration which it may be worthwhile to mention. It does not indeed in any way help to solve the problem of status, but it shows that exactly the same problem and the same difficulties confront many mathematical and rationalistic philosophers who cannot be suspected of being "tainted with mysticism". Consider for example the problem of universals as it has come down to us from Plato and Aristotle. Plenty of tough-minded and hardheaded mathematicians and logicians at the present day still accept what is conventionally called the theory of the objectivity of universals. They affirm that numbers are such universals. If we ask what account they can give of the status of these universals, we shall find that they cannot escape the very same problem with the very same difficulties as confront the mystic. For universals, according to the theory, are timeless and spaceless, and cannot therefore be said to "exist" or be "objective:' Yet, as they are not subjective, they must be called transsubjective. What then is their status? We see that the problem for these philosophers of mathematics is parallel to the problem of the mystic.

Somewhere in the twenties or thirties of this century it was fashionable to say that universals do not "exist" but "subsist." They have "being," and "being" was supposed to be a genus which has two species namely "existence" and "subsistence:' Individual objects exist, while universals subsist. This terminology, of course, does nothing to help to solve the problem of status. It is merely an admission that universals, although not subjective, are nevertheless not objective either. But the problem concerning what their status is receives no solution by the invention of a new word for it. Thus it is not merely we soft-headed philosophers of mysticism but also the hardheaded philosophers of mathematics who have this problem.

We must also point out that exactly the same difhculty involving the question of status confronts any absolutist philosophy of the


neo-Kantian uadition regardless of what particular account the phii losopher gives of the Absolute. For instance, according to Schopenhauer, the Absolute is Will, not an individual will, but a cosmic Will. That it is not an individual will means that it is transsubjective. Yet it has no objective existence, since it is outside time and space, and since it is supposed to be what lies behind and explains all objective existence. What then does Schopenhauer suppose its status to be? So far as I know, he does not tell us, yet he was too able a man not to have realized that his cosmic Will has no existence in the sense in which stones and trees are said to have existence, and that there is therefore a problem of status on his hands. Bradley has, of course, the same problem, but shows that he clearly realizes it by making a distinction between "reality" which he attributes to the Absolute and "existence" which he attributes to the world of appearances. The space-time world does not have "reality," being in fact only appearance, but it does of course "exist".

In my book Time and Eternity, I suggested that there are two "orders" of being — the natural order, which is the order of spacetime — and the Eternal order of the mystical One. This gave expression to the same problem which we are now discussing and in that respect was correct. But it is not correct to speak of the Eternal as an "order". It is of the essence of nature that it is an order, and it is precisely its orderliness which constitutes its objectivity — as we showed in the first section of this chapter. But the Eternal cannot be an order in the sense of being orderly, since only that which is a plurality and a series can constitute an order. Thus the metaphor of the two intersecting orders expressed adequately the problem of status but did not give it any solution. In the end we shall have to say that there is no solution of an intellectual kind and that it is part of the general mystical paradox that the mystical revelation transcends the intellect.

There is a passage in the Buddhist Pali canon [56] which relates how this very same problem of status which we are discussing — though


in a different form and context — was put to the Buddha. We cannot pose that the words put into his mouth are his, ipsissima verba, but they are in the spirit of his teaching. He was asked to explain the status of nirvana. A certain wandering ascetic named Vaccha demands, somewhat belligerently, to be told whether the Buddhist Saint, when he passes after death into his final nirvana, exists or does not exist. Is nirvana annihilation or not? What theory does the Buddha hold on this? The Buddha replies that he is "free from all theories," and that he does not hold either that the saint exists in nirvana or that he does not exist. This does not mean that the Buddha is ignorant of the status of nirvana. It means that it is just as incorrect to say that it exists as to say that it does not exist. Vaccha then presses his question again in another form: "Where" is this saint after death? He gets the answer that the question thus put "does not fit the case". Finally, the Buddha says that knowledge in this matter is "not to be reached by mere reasoning" and can be comprehended only by those who have attained the enlightenment experience.

Nirvana is the Buddhist interpretation of what Plotinus spoke of as union with the One, the Vedantist as realization of identity with the Universal Self, the Christian as union with God. Therefore the problem of the status of nirvana is identical with our problem of the status of the Universal Self. What then do we learn from the Buddha? We learn simply that, as Eckhart and almost all mystics in all cultures have said in one set of words or another, mystical experience is "beyond the understanding," i.e., that the problems which it poses to the discursive intellect are incapable of solution by the intellect. That is why the Buddha is "free from all theories" — because the very word theory means an intellectual construction. That is also why the comprehension of the matter is "not to be reached by mere reasoning." Finally Vaccha's question whether nirvana "exists or does not exist" is said "not to fit the case". The reason is that the question assumes the law of excluded middle. The Buddha's answer means that logical laws have no application to mystical experience. He


affirms the paradoxicality of that experience.

Thus the only solution of the problem of the status of the Uni- versal Self, or the Absolute, or the One, or God, or nirvana, is that there is no solution, and that all attempts of the logical intellect to comprehend these mystical Ultimates lead only to insoluble paradox. He who asks for a solution is unaware of the inherent paradoxicality of all mysticism. He assumes that the Primal Being is either this or that, either subjective or objective, either existent or nonexistent. But the Primal Being, according to all mysticism, is "neither this nor that:' The most famous assertion of this is of course the "neti, neti" of the Upanishads. But even the very words "not this, not that" are independently reiterated by Eckhart in the passage just quoted on page 196. He who is dissatisfied with these negatives and who seeks the positive solution must himself climb beyond space and time and experience that Unity. And then doubtless he will not find a "solution" if by that is meant a theoretical understanding. What will he find? That is what cannot be said, but only experienced.

Nor can anything more than this be said of that further question which we posed at the beginning of this section — if indeed it is a distinct question at all and not the same question repeated in other words — How can that which cannot be said to exist or be objective be the source or first cause of all that does exist? All we can do, I think, is to point again to those passages from Suzuki, Eckhart, Aurobindo, and Lao-tzu in which we are told that those who have the experience of the undifferentiated unity can perceive it differentiating itself while yet remaining undifferentiated (Suzuki), or can perceive the creative energies of the universe "welling out from the Silence" (Aurobindo), etc. This, as Suzuki suggests, is to perceive the eternal process of the creation of the world out of nothing, or, to put the same idea in reverse, to perceive that Unity which is neither objective nor existent nevertheless being "the first cause" of the objective and existent.

Although all mysticism and all systems of thought which are founded on mysticism give evidence of their own basic para- doxicality, yet Buddhism is pre-eminent above all systems in its clear


realization and resolute insistence on this paradoxicality. Hence the famous paradoxes of Zen. But the same paradoxicality appears just as much as in the dialogue of the Buddha just quoted (pages 198-199), which comes from the Hinayana scriptures. And in the Mahayana writings one gets the ultimate paradox of mysticism, the paradox, one might almost say, which ends all paradoxes. This is as follows. Since nirvana is the ultimate truth, and since nirvana is undifferentiated and without distinctions or dualities, therefore in the ultimate truth there is no distinction between nirvana and nonnirvana, between truth and untruth, between the teaching and the nonteaching. Hence the declaration of Nagarjuna:

The Buddha has declared
That Being and non-Being should both be rejected.
Neither as Being nor as a non-Being
Nirvana therefore is conceived.

There is no difference at all
Between Nirvana and Samsara. . . [57]

Hence also in the famous Diamond Sutra the Buddha asks Subhuti :

What think you, Subhutii Has the Tathagata given you any definite teaching in this scripture?

And Subhuti replies:

No, Blessed Lord! The Tathagata has not given us any definite teaching in this scripture [58]

And in the same Sutra Buddha asks:

What think you, Subhuti? Suppose a disciple has attained the degree of Arahat (fully enlightened), could he entertain within his mind any such arbitrary conception as "I have become an Arahat"?

and receives the reply:


No, Honored of the worlds! Because truly speaking there is no such thing as a fully enlightened one.

And the following story is told.

The saints set forth in the Great Ferryboat (the Mahayana), which is to carry them from the hither shore of this world across the river of samsara to the Far Shore which is nirvana. As they proceed, the shore which they are leaving grows fainter and fainter until it disappears in the mist. The Far Shore at the same time slowly arises on their vision. The Great Ferryboat arrives and the saints disembark. But for them, now in nirvana, there are no longer any distinctions, and therefore there is no distinction between nirvana and nonnirvana, this world and the next, the hither shore and the Far Shore. There is not and there never was any hither shore from which they set out, there never was any Ferryboat or any passengers or any nirvana, or any saints who have entered into nirvana. Nirvana too is nothing, the Void. [60]

The meaning of this ultimate paradox is not that there is no nirvana, no Primal Being, no Universal Self. What it means is that they are incomprehensible to the logical understanding; and that even to call them "paradoxical" is to apply to them a logical category which misrepresents them; and that even to say "they are" or "they are not" is only to utter vain words about the Unutterable. Which applies, naturally, to all that is said in this bookl

10. Alternative Solution

In favor of our view that mystical experience is transsubjective, we have put forward three arguments. None of them can be regarded as conclusive — indeed, there are no conclusive arguments for or against any opinion in the entire area of mysticism — and, therefore, we ought to consider what position we should adopt if the three arguments for transsubjectivity are rejected.

The first argument is that the experience cannot be subjective for the same reason that it cannot be objective. To be subjective, an


experience must be disorderly; to be objeetive, it must be orderly. But order and disorder can only exist where there is a multiplicity of distinguishable items. They cannot exist in an undifferentiated unity. Therefore, the experience must be transsubjective though not objective.

I cannot suggest the specific reasons which might be thought to undermine this argument. The argument seems to me valid. But it depends on my particular view of the criteria of subjectivity and objectivity. On this question there has been, and will no doubt continue to be, much dispute. And, therefore, my conclusion, although I am satisfied with it, cannot be regarded as certain.

The second argument is that if the undifferentiated unity is the pure unity of the individual self, then there is no principium individuationis on which can be based a distinction between one pure self and another. Therefore, we cannot stop at the individual ego, but are logically compelled to pass on to a Universal Self. I regard this as my strongest argument. I do not know exactly what can be said against it, although I could probably invent ingenious counterarguments if I desired. Critics, however, will no doubt find plenty to say, since they can hardly admit that they have nothing to object to. Perhaps the argument will be considered "dialectical" — whatever that may mean — or "metaphysical," an excellent word with which to poison the atmosphere. At any rate, it is better to assume that the argument is likely io fall short of being universally convincing.

The third argument is that the experience itself is self-transcending, i.e., that its transsubjectivity is part of the experience, not an interpretation, and is therefore, indubitable. But the question is whether it is indubitably indubitable. If it is a part of the pure experience, then it is indubitable. But is it indubitably part of the pure experience? No, because there is no such thing as an absolutely pure experience without any interpretation at all. That there is the possibility of doubt here is shown conclusively by the example of Martin Buber, who, having had the experience and at first taken it as transsubjective, later came to regard transsubjectivity as a false interpretation.


I cannot but attach importance to my belief that, where mystics have, as the vast majority of them do, a feeling of strong convictiction that the experience brings them into contact with some outside reality, this feeling is caused by the fact that they take transsubjectivity to be something actually experienced by them. This means that the great majority of those who have the experience think that transsubjectivity is not an interpretation but is a datum directly experienced. If so, then Buber and the mystical monadists are exceptions. But it cannot be denied that the position taken up by these latter introduces into the question an element of doubt.

If, therefore, all three arguments are thought by the reader to unacceptable, the conclusion would have to be drawn, of course, that the experience is subjective only. But the point of writing the present section is to insist that the matter does not end there. There is more to be said. It is important to realize that the sceptic, or the subjectivist philosopher, must not thereupon conclude that he has got rid of mysticism, that he has disposed of it as an empty delusion and superstition to be cast into the rubbish heap. Of course it will admitted that, delusive or not, it has been enormously important in the history and development of human thought and therefore deserves study. But even this, which most sceptics could admit, is not the main point.

What we have to insist is that even if mystical experience is considered to be subjective it is still enormously important for human life. This refers not merely to past history, but to the future of world. If mysticism should be treated as a mere superstition, and discouraged or exterminated — if that were possible — an immense, and indeed disastrous, disservice would be done to mankind.

I do not consider it as any part of my function to be a preacher But it is necessary to say here that, even if mystical experience subjective, it is nevertheless the way of salvation. That it brings blessedness, joy, and peace is the universal testimony of those who have it whether they are religious in any conventional sense or not. And though it brings "the peace which passeth all understanding," it is not, as is often charged against it, a device of escape from the hard


realities and duties of life. I shall go into this question fully in the chapter on mysticism and ethics. Here it will be sufficient to say that although mysticism can be, and sometimes has been, degraded to beome a mere reveling in delirious experience for its own sake, this is not of its essence, and that the greatest mystics have in fact been great workers in the world and have recognized their duty to give to the world in service what they have received in contemplation.

One may say of the mystical consciousness what Spinoza said of the "true acquiescence" of his spirit which he hoped to attain by means of his philosophy. In his essay "On the Improvement of the Understanding" he wrote: "After experience had taught me that the usual surroundings of social life are vain and futile; seeing that none of the objects of my fears contained in themselves either good or bad except in so far as the mind is affected by them, I finally resolved to enquire whether there might be some real good having power to communicate itself, which would affect the mind singly, to the exclusion of all else; whether in fact there might be anything of which the discovery and attainment would enable me to enjoy continuous, supreme and unending happiness." [61] Chief among those "usual surroundings of social life" which are "vain and futile," and which have to be abandoned if that supreme good is to be reached, Spinoza listed fame and riches. My point is that these words of Spinoza are an accurate description of the supreme mystical consciousness. It is not intended to be implied that the mystical consciousness is what Spinoza himself had in mind in using this language. What in fact he seems to have had in mind was an intellectual rather than a mystical condition. But what he was looking for in an intellectual and philosophical state of mind is actually to be found in the mystical consciousness — for which perhaps he was groping.

Finally, it is possible that the direction of human evolution in future millions of years — if the human race survives — will be towards the spread of mystical experience to most men and not merely its possession by a few rare individuals as now. It is possible, in short, that the superman of the future is to be the mystic man.


Thus, the conclusion that mystical experience is subjective only should in no way be regarded as destroying its value. This indeed should be evident to the philosopher on another ground. He will merely remember how common are subjectivist theories of value in general. The philosopher wno holds the opinion that moral and , aesthetic values are subjective — as being grounded in emotions or ' attitudes — does not mean to say that these values are not valuable, or that morality and art ought to be left behind as superstitions! It ought to be obvious that the same is true of the values of mystical experience.

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vide supra chapter 2, pp 42-43

1. C. D. Broad, Religion, Philosophy. and Psychical Research, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1953, pp. 194-195

2. The argument from this point down to the break in p.143 is of a somewhat technical and difficult character and may be profitably omitted by the nonphilosophical reader. He should however understand the main point of the argument which is roughly as follows: The ultimate criterion of objectivity is not unanimity or agreement of experiences, or public verifiability, although these may often be usefully appealed to as partial and preliminary tests. This has been shown by the examples of mirage, double vision, etc. The ultimate criterion of objettiviry is orderliness, i.e., obedience to the laws of nature. A dream is subjective because it is disorderly. Either we dream of events which in themselves contradict natural laws, e.g., a cat turning into a dog, or of events which though they might themselves be in accord with nature, could not consistently with natural law occur in the context of experience in which we find them. For example, I dream of events in London but wake up and find myself in my bed in the United States. The breach of law comes not within the dream itself, but in the instantaneous passage from London to the United States without passing over the intervening distance. The partial criterion of public verifiabiliry is subsumed under the more general and ultimate criterion of orderliness. The reader may now, if he so wishes, proceed to the next part of the argument which begins after the break on p. 143. Having shown that orderiiness is the test of objectivity, we go on to enquire whether mystical experience passes that test.

3. This view is also at least implicit in what Professor Broad says about the snakes and rats seen by the drunkard (see p. 136 above). For he points out that we brand these creatures as hallucinatory because they do not produce the effects which are always produced by such animals if they are real. If they were real, we should expect fox terriers or mongooses to show traces of excitement, cheese to be nibbled, corn to disappear from bins, and so on. We find that no such effects are observed in the bedrooms of persons suffering from delirium tremens. (Broad, op. cit., p. 195.) In short, the rat and snake experience is disorderly in its external relations.

4. Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, London, Routlege and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 1947, pp.24-25

5. Vide supra, p. 88

6. Buber thus treats the feeling of self-transcendence as interpretation which he is entitled to repudiate and not as indubitable experience. This illustrates the difficulty of distinguishing clearly between experience and interpretation.

7. G.G. Scholem, Major Trends of Jewish Mysticism, New York, Schoken Books Inc., 1954, p. 5

8. ibid., p. 9

9. "Makers of the crossing" is Heinrich Zimmer's translation of "Tirthankaras." See the chapter on Jainism in his Philosophies of India, ed. by Joseph Campbell, New York, Pantheon Books Inc., Bollingen Series 26, 1951

10. Plato, The Republic, trans. by F. M. Cornford, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1941, p. 237.

11. E. A. Burtt (ed.), The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha, New York, Mentor Books, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1955, p. 16.

12. The Bhagavadgita, 18, 64-66, as translated in Hindu Scriptures, New York, Everyman's Library, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., pp. 285-286.

13. The Upanishads, trans. by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, New York, Mentor Book MD 194, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., I957, P.45, (Originally published by the Vedanta Press, Hollywood, Calif. Copyrighted by tbe Vedanta Society of Southern California.)

14. Ibid, p.118

15. Ibid., p.124

16. Ibid., p.121

17. Ibid., Katha Upanishad, p. 20

18. lbid., Brihadaranayaka Upanishad, p. 89.

19. Hindu Sceiptures, op cit., p.101

20. Ramakrishna, Prophet of New India

21. Hindu Scriptures op. cit., Svetasvatara Upanishad, p.220.

22. Hindu Scriptures, Isa Upanishad, 4 and 5, p. 207

23. Lao-Tzu, The Way of Life trans. by R. B. Blakney, New York, Mentor Books, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1955, Chap. 4, p. 56. But I have used in the text above the translation given in D. T. Suzuki, Mysticism: Cbristian and Buddhist, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1957, p. 18.

24. Suzuki, op. cit., p. 69.

25. W. Y. Evans-Wentz (ed.), The Tibetan Book of the Dead,3d ed., New York, Oxford Univasity Press, 1957, pp. 95-96.

26. Burtt (ed.), op. cit., p. 113.

27. Meister Eckhart, trans. by R. H. Blakney, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1941, Sermon 24, P. 211.

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

29. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, paperback ed., New York, Meridian Books, Inc., 1955, pp. 434-435

30. Ibid., p 323

31. Meister Eckhart, trans. by R. H. Blakney, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1941, Sermon 27, p. 226.

32. T.S Eliot, Four Quartets, New York, Harcourt Brace and Company, Inc., 1942. "Burnt Norton"

33. We must not exaggerate the difference. For after all, the tension between the logical and the mystical is universally human and not only European. Hence the difference is a matter of emphasis and degree only· For instance, Sankara can be quoted as one who, like Eckhart, tries to give logical interpretations of the paradoxes.

34. Rudolph Otto, Mysticism, East and West, New York, Meridian Books, Inc, 1957, p.174.

35. Blakney (trans) op. cit., Fragment 39, p.247

36. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, New York, The Greystone Press, 1949, p.28. Aurobindo died in 1950.

37. Charles A. Moore (ed) Essays in East-West Philosophy, Honolulu, University of Hawai Press, 1951, p. 45

38. Scholem, op. cit., Lecture 1, sec 4

39. Ibid, Lecture 6, sec. 2.

40. Broad, op cit., p.160

41. Vide supra, pp. 72 and 73

42. See H. H. Price, Thinking and Experience, London, Hutchinson & Co. (Publishers), Ltd., I953, Chap. 1.

43. Hume's discussion will be found in the Tratise of Human Nature, Bk I, Pt 2, sec.6, which is entitled "Of the Idea of Existence, and of External Existence".

44. Ibid.

45. A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1935, p.113.

46. Philip Wheelwright, The Burning Fountain, Bloomington, Ind,. Indiana University Press, 1954, pp. 3 and 4

47. Ibid, ch 13, esp p. 281.

48. Arnold Toynbee, An Historian's Approach to Religion, New York, Oxford University Press, 1956, p. 122.

49. Ibid, p. 124.

50. Ibid, p. 265.

51. Ibid, p. 123-124

52. The Upanishads, op.cit., p 51.

53. R.C. Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, New York, Oxford University Press, 1957, p.154.

54. Ch. 5 of The Mystical Theology in Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, trans by C. E. Rolt, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1920.

55. Blakney (trans.) op cit., p.131

56. H. C. Warren, Buddhism in Translations, Harvard Oriental Series, Vol 3, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1922, pp. 123 - 127

57. Burtt (ed) op. cit., pp. 173 - 174.

58. Dwight Goddard (ed), A Buddhist Bible, 2nd ed., Thetford, Vt., Dwight Goddard, 1938, p. 107.

59. Ibid, p. 93

60. Adapted from material which appears on pp 484 - 487 of Zimmer, op. cit.

61. First paragraph of "On Improving the Understanding".



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