W.T. Stace

Mysticism and Philosophy

Chapter 4: Pantheism, Dualism and Monism

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Section 1: Pantheism

In the last chapter we concluded that, although the argument from unanimity fails to support the view that rnystical experience is evidence of any reality transcending the individual subjectivity of the mystic's consciousness, yet there are other considerations which do support that opinion. In this sphere we cannot expect anything like proof or certainty. We can never say that any of our conclusions on the philosophical implications of mysticism are more than what seem to us, after careful and impartial sifting of the evidence, the most probable among possible rival views. In this sense, then, we have reached the condusion that mystical experience is not merely subjective, but is in very truth what the mystics themselves claim, namely a direct experience of the One, the Universal Self, God. We adopt this as our settled opinion throughout the rest of this book, taking it for granted in our treatment of other problems. Having adopted it, a number of fresh problems immediately present themselves. The first, which will be the subject of the present chapter, concerns the relation of God to the world in respect of identity or difference. Are God and the world identical, as some have asserted? Or are they wholly distinct? Or is there some other possibility? These being the problems, the question we have to discuss is whether mystical experience throws any light on them. This is the problem

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comrnonly referred to under the label of pantheism.

Pantheism in the widest sense is a theory about the relation of God to the world as a whole. There is a narrower usage of the word comrnon in the literature of Christian mysticism according to which it refers to the relation between God and a particular part of the worTd, namely the individual self of the mystic when in a state of "union." Does mystical union wiith God mean identity with God at least during the period of the union? Or do God and the soul remain distinct entities? The opinion that they become, or are, identical is what Christian writers call pantheism and is the "heresy" of which Christian mystics have been from time to time accused. Since the finite self is a part of the world, it follows that pantheism in the narrower sense is merely a part or instance of pantheism in the wider sense. In this chapter we shall examine both.

I shall begin in this section by discussing only the question what the doctrine of pantheism actually is, i.e., what relation it asserts between God and the world, or between God and the finite self. What is the proper concept or definition of pantheism? And for the purpose of this discussion I shall take Spinoza and the Upanishads as the empirical examples of pantheism from which the definition of pantheism is tc be derived.

Professor Abraham Wolf in an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes as follows:

In philosophy and theology pantheism is the theory that God is all and all is God. The universe is not a creation, distinct from God. . . . God is the universe, and the universe is God. . . . The classical exponent of the philosophy of pantheism was Spinoza.

It will be seen that according to Professor Wolf, pantheism is the theory that the relation between God and the world is the relation of simple identity.

Although I cannot accept this definition, we can start from it as a basis of discussion, especially as it seems to be the popular view, and the one which agrees with the etymology of the word pantheism. We ask then: Is this what Spinoza meant? Is it what the Vedanta

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meant? Is it an acceptable interpretation of the doctrine of pantheism?

Spinoza certainly uses language which seems to imply this. He habitually speaks of "God" or "Nature" as if they were synonymous terms. His distinction between natura naturans and natura naturata does not seem to alter this. They are only two ways of thinking about the same identical thing, which is either called nature or God. Moreover he seems not to admit the existence of any Being outside of nature. The universe consists of substance with its attributes, which are also spoken of as being the attributes of God. Nothing else exists.

The Upanishads — which I am taking here as the most important basic writings of the Vedanta on which later philosophies, like those of Sankara and Ramanuja were largely built — use language which, taken at its face value, also seems to attest the identity of God and the world. "All this is Brahman," says the Mandukya Upanishad. And in the Svetasvatara Upanishad we find this passage:

Thou art the fire
Thou art the sun
Thou art the air
Thou art the moon
Thou art the starry firmament
Thou art Brahman Supreme:
Thou art the waters — thou
The creator of all.

Thou art woman, thou art man;
Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden.
Thou art the old man tottering with his staff.
Thou facest everywhere.

Thou art the dark butterfly.
Thou art the green parrot wirh red eyes.
Thou art the thunder-cloud, the seasons, the seas.
Without beginning art thou,
Beyond time, beyond space.(1)

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The Upanishads speak the language of metaphor and poetry, avoiding philosophical abstractions. But it is obvious that this catalogue of things, the fire, the sun, the moon, the air, man, woman, the thunderclouds, and so on, simply stands for the whole universe. It is a shame to dissect this lovely and moving poetry with the knife of logic. But I have to point out that one of the phrases used of Brahman, namely, "thou the creator of all," seems on the face of it to be inconsistent with the theory of strict identity. For this would mean that the universe is the creator of the universe. And Spinoza's phrase "sui causa" really involves the same combination of inconsistent ideas, since cause and effect are by definition distinct. Furthermore — returning to the passage from the Upanishad — to say that Brahman is "beyond space, beyond time" is not consistent with saying that Brahman is identical with the clouds, air, sun, moon, and other objects which are in space and time. No doubt it may be thought that in making these comments, I am in danger of forgetting that we are not dealing with a systematic treatise on abstract philosophical conceptions. And it is true that the prevailing sense of the words in this passage and elsewhere in the Upanishads does undoubtedly emphasize the concept of identity. Another evidence of this same emphasis on identity is the farnous identification of atman and Brahman, the individual self and the Universal Self, expressed in the oft-quoted words "That art thou."

Yet however dangerous it may be to treat poetry as if it were logic, the inconsistencies in the passage just quoted from the Svetasvatara Upanishad suggest to me that there is something amiss in the definition ot Vedantic pantheisrn as the assertion of the simple identity between God and the world. Making all allowance far the poetical character of these writings, for the liberty of poets to be ambiguous and inconsistent, and also for the naive though profound mentality of their authors, it yet seems to me that the inconsistencies which I have quoted are symptoms of something deeper than poetic license or poetic vagueness. I arn not suggesting that the Vedanta is not

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pantheistic. It certainly is. What I am suggesting is that pantheism is not rightly understood as the simple assertion of identity between God and the world.

Let us suppose that the pantheism both of Spinoza and the Vedanta means nothing more than this identity. Has it occurred to the supporters of this interpretation that they are giving as the essence of those great philosophies a view so silly that it can only be described as an empty playing with words? For if pantheism is the view that God is the world, we have still to enquire how the word "is" is being used. According to the interpetation we are discussing, what we have here is the "is" of identity — that same sense of "is" as appears in such locutions as "An automobile is a motorcar" or "Jack is John." But to say that an automobile is a motorcar is to say merely that "automobile" and "rnotorcar" are two different words for the same thing. Therefore, if pantheism means nothing but the identity af God and the world, this is the same as saying that the pantheist means that "God" is just another name which some people choose to use — for some very odd reason — for what most people call the world. Undoubtedly Spinoza can, if he so pleases, decide that in the future he will call the universe God. He can also, if he so pleases, call the universe Jack, or Henry, or Aunt Maria. He can, if he so chooses, call this table an egg. This is the kind of folly to which the philosophies of Spinoza and the Vedanta reduce if the identity interpretation of their views is correct.

No doubt philosophers, like other people, talk nonsense. Perhaps they talk more nonsense than most other people. But it must be remembered that the basic ideas of the Upanishads have constituted the spiritual food on which some billions of human beings for the last three thousand years have lived. Can it be believed that conceptions of which this is true can be empty verbalisms no more significant than the sentence "A motorcar is an automobile"? It cannot be said that many human beings have lived by the philosophy of Spinoza. But Spinoza did. And however true it may be that even in the greatest philosophers we can find nonsensical passages, it seems beyond belief that the quintessence of Spinoza's philosophy is nothing

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but this silly misuse of words. No doubt philosophers have often been misled by hidden ambiguities of language, or by the failure to pay attention to the ordinary usages of words. But I do not see how any consideration of this kind can explain the case of Spinoza.

I will accordingly suggest what I believe to be a profounder understanding of pantheism. According to the definition which I propose, pantheism is the philosophy which asserts together both of the two following propositions, namely:

  1. The world is identical with God.
  2. The world is distinct from, that is to say, not identical with, God.

I am of the opinion that paradoxicality is one of the universal characteristics of all mysticism. This basic paradoxicality will of course be reflected in all philosophies which are, so to speak, high-level interpretations of mysticism. And because pantheism, however much it may wear the outward garb of logic and rationalism, as in Spinoza, always has its roots in mysticism, we ahaIl expect it to be paradoxical. Only those critics who are deceived by Spinoza's superficial geometrical method; and are unable to penetrate below the surface to the subterranean springs of Spinoza's thought, will believe otherwise. The proposition that the world is both identical with, and different from, God, may be called the pantheistic paradox.

We may, if we like, say that what is involved here in the pantheistic paradox, and indeed in all mystical paradoxes, is the idea of what has been called "the identity of opposites", or "identity in difference." These phrases are, of course, associated with the name of Hegel, and that name nowadays generally arouses strong antipathetic reactions among philosophers in the English-speaking world. So I had better say something about this before I go on. I suppose the common view now current in Anglo-American philosophical circles might be expressed by saying that the concept of the identity of opposites was a piece of chicanery invented by Hegel, which, being happily exposed as nonsense within a short time, quietly disappeared, along with its author, into the rubbish heap. But this is a travesty of the facts. In the first place "the identity of opposites" was not invented

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by Hegel. It is at least three thousand years old, being a part of that mysticism which has influenced Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus, Spinoza, and many other philosophers before Hegel. What Hegel did was to recognize, and state in explicit terms, what had been latent and implicit in so rnuch of the greatest human thought before his time. And to have done this showed profound historical insight. But unfortunately Hegel, having received this idea from the past, proceeded to rnake a terrible mess of it. He supposed that what he had found was a logical principle, and tried to make it the basis of a new superlogic. This was absurd because the identity of opposites is not a logical but a definitely antilogical idea. It is the expression of a nonratianal element in the human mind. In trying to make a logic of it, Hegel did actually faIl into a species of chicanery. For every one af his supposed logical deductions was performed by the systematic misuse of language, by palpable fallacies, and sometimes, as Russell has pointed out, by simply punning on words.. It was this chicanery which was quickly exposed and which was the chief, though not the only, cause of the downfall of the Hegelian philosophy. I will now let Hegel alone and go back to my proper subject.

That this notion of identity in difference between God and the world is actually involved in the pantheistic philosophies of the Vedanta and Spinoza is not difficult to show. To discuss the Vedanta first, we have to exhibit both the identity of Brahrnan and the world, and their difference. Some of the evidence of identity has already been given by quotations from the Upanishads. But it is also clear in some of the later interpretations of the commentators and philosophers such as Sankara. Here Brahrnan is represented as the sole reality. That Brahman is "One without a second" means that there exists no other reality. The empirical world is an illusion which disappears in the reality of Brahman. We need not comment on the obvious difficulties of any such view. The point is that on this view, maya, the world illusion, cannot be outside Brahman, since nothing except Brahman exists. It may be objected that according to this version of Vedantism the world does not exist at all, and therefore cannot be identical with God. But this only means that any attempt

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to press these conceptions to their logical condusions merely lands us in contradictions. But if Brahman and the world are identical, they are also different. The differences may be tabulated as follows:

Brahman Is
The World Is
Illusion or Appearance
Pure Unity
The sphere of relations
The sphere of finitude
Outside Space and Time
In Space and Time
Motionless, Unchanging
Perpetual flux

Thus the pantheistic paradox is plainly present in the Vedanta. The same paradox is also at the root of much Indian folklore, legend, and art. Heinrich Zimmer, in his book Myths and Symbols of Indian Art and Civilization (p. 46), interprets one of the legends — too long to reproduce here — as meaning that "the secret of Maya is the identity of opposites. Maya is a simultaneous-and-successive manifestation of . . . processes contradicting and annihilating each other: creation and destruction, evolution and dissolution... . . This 'and,' uniting incompatibles, expresses the fundamental character of the Highest Being. . . . The opposites are fundamentally of the one essence, two aspects of the one Vishnu."

Zimmer applies a similar interpretation to the famous rock-hewn image of Siva in the Elephanta caves near Bombay. This has been described as among the greatest pieces of the world's sculpture. In this sculpture there is a central head, about 19 feet high from the chin to the crown of the head. From the twin sides of this head the profiles of two other heads emerge left and right. The emerging head to the right is male, that to the left, female. The male and female principles syrnbolize the "dualities," the "opposites," which characterize the phenomenal world. On this set of facts Zimmer makes the following comment (pp. 148-151): "the middle head is a representation of the Absolute. Majestic and sublime it is the divine essence out of which the other two proceed. . . . The middle head is self-enclosed in a dreamy aloofness. . . . [It] is the face of Eternity.

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. . . Out of its solid silence, time and the life-processes are continually flowing — or apparently are flowing. From the point of view of the middle there is nothing flowing. . . . The two profiles are happening; the universe is happening; the individual is happening. But . . . do they really happen? The central mask is meant to express the truth of the Eternal, in which nothing happens, nothing comes to pass, changes or dissolves again. The divine essence, the solely real, the Absolute in itself, . . . abides in itself, steeped in its own sublime Void . . . containing all and everything."

From this we see that the conception of the identity of opposites, since it is expressed in very ancient folklore, legend, and primitive myth, arises out of the feelings of the race, not out of its intellect or head; thus making it clear that it is not the invention of a modern crackpot kind of logic.

I turn now to Spinoza. That his pantheism also involves the identity in difference of God and the world is certain — unless it be believed that the essence of his philosophy consisted in the inane joke of calling the universe Henry or Jack or God according to one's whim. But it is not so easy to show where this principle is actually at work in Spinoza as it is in the Vedanta. Spinoza belonged to a later and far more sophisticated age. If he had caught hirnself falling into a logical paradox, he would have hastily covered up his tracks by using suitable evasions — a proceeding which would not have occurred to the simple-minded hermits who composed the Upanishads. Spinoza, being a professional rationalist, could not admit contradiction into his system in the blatant way the Vedantists did. Nevertheless, one can find in him the pantheistic paradox if one looks below the surface.

Spinoza has three categories for the explanation of reality — substance, attribute, mode. Everything that exists has to be subsumed under one or more of these heads. Our question is, What, according to Spinoza, is the relation between God and the world? But one must first ask, Under which of the three categories does God come, and under which the world? The world, I think, can be identified with the attributes and modes. God seems sometirnes to mean only substance,

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and sometimes the totality of substance, attribute, and mode. In the former case, God is in some sense distinct from the world, in the latter case identical with it. However, this needs further elucidation.

Spinoza often tells us that the attributes constitute the substance (Definition of "substance," Ethics, Part I Def. IV), or that substance consists of the attributes. If so, then substance, or God, is identical with the totality of the attributes, and so with the world. But there are passages which are inconsistent with this. For instance, he says "substance thinking and substance extended are one and the same substance, which is now comprehended under this attribute and now under that." Spinoza denies that there is any real interaction between rnind and body, and explains the apparent interaction by saying that this same substance simultaneously expresses itself in two different ways, namely, thought and bodily event. But unless one supposes that substance is a distinct existence, a substratum underlying the attributes, the explanation has no point. For in that case the two attributes merely lie side by side, and the corresponding bodily and mental events correspond by chance, without anything to explain the correspondence. It is plain that at the back of Spinoza's mind, whatever he may have said, was the thought that substance was a third something which explains the behavior of the other two.

Moreover, in spite of his explicit assertions that substance consists of the attributes, it is unlikely — in view of the fact that he took the whole concept of substance and attribute uncriticized frorn tradition — that he was uninfluenced by the thought of the distinct underlying substratum. It is not till Hume that we get the clean break with tradition on the empiricist ground that we cannot experience anything but the qualities. It appears likely that the incompatible interpretations of substance, now as a substratum, and now as the sum of the attributes, both operated, unreconciled with each other, in Spinoza's thinking. In the former interpretation, we have the concept of God as distinct from the world, in the latter the identity of God and the world.

If, as I believe, mystical feelings and ideas are always the psychological

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sources of pantheism, however much it may be rationalistic on the surface; and if, as I suggest, mystical thinking is always a series of logical paradoxes; then the view that Spinoza, possibly against his will, is involved in the pantheistic paradox will be helped if there is independent reason to think that mystical ideas and feelings have actually entered into the formation of his philosophy. That his thinking has a mystical element has sometimes been denied, sometimes asserted. To those who denied it, he appeared as "an accursed atheist." To those who asserted it, he appeared as a "God-intoxicated man." If one interprets his phrase "God or Nature" to mean that God is just another name for nature, that in short God is just a piece of verbiage, one will naturally conclude that he is nothing but an atheist. But if one interprets him mystically, so that God, as well as being identical with the world, is also distinct from it, then his very moving religious language acquires meaning and may well justify the phrase "God-intoxicated man." My suggestion is that he exhibited in himself the living paradox of being a God-intoxicated atheist.

Harold Hoffding writes in his History of Modern Philosophy (pp. 294-295) that "for Spinoza the clear understanding of our passions raises us above them and unites with all the rest of our knowledge of nature," and he adds that this understanding of our passions helps to make possible "the mystical union with God. . . . This oriental and mystical tendency forms the basis of all his thought."

On the other hand, Mr. Stuart Hampshire in his book Spinoza in the Penguin series (pp. 43-44) writes as follows:

Critics of Spinoza, have misunderstood what he meant by God as immanent cause; if isolated from its context within his philosophy, the notion seems mystical and unscientific . . . In fact, the implication is precisely the reverse. . . . The doctrine appears mystical or unscientific in its tendency only if one forgets that in Spinoza the use of the word "God" is interchangeable with the word "Nature."' To say that God is the immanent cause of all things is another way of saying that everything must be explained as belonging to the single and all-inclusive system which is nature, and no cause (not even a First Cause) can be conceived as somehow outside or independent of the order of nature.

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How do we come to have such opposite interpretations of Spinoza's basic ideas and motives? Because neither of these comrnentators has grasped together, in a single statement, and has understood, the two sides of the pantheistic paradox. Hoffding fastens on one side, Hampshire on the other. But Hoffding had at least the insight to sense and feel in Spinoza the two disparate elements, and to see that, in spite of his naturalism, mystical feeling runs strong in hirn, and makes an integral component cf his philosophy, which becomes distorted and unintelligible if one ignores or denies it.

But that in Spinoza's philosophy "God" is just another word for "nature" in the same sense as "automobile" is just another word for "motorcar," and that therefore all tne highly religious language which Spinoza uses in the Ethics is so much meaningless verbiage — this is the view which Mr. Hampshire asks us to accept. And I must say that it seems to me a very shallow view.

I conclude that the philosophical theory of pantheism properly means the identity in difference of God and the world, and not their bare identity. Since what I called pantheism in the narrower sense is merely a particular case of pantheism in the wider sense, it should follow that pantheism would regard the relation between God and the finite self in a state of union as also one of identity in difference, and not mere identity. But these are only prelirninary anticipations, and we have to examine the relevant mystical phenomena to discover what light they throw on the subject.

Section 2: Dualism

Pantheism is not originally a mere logical speculation of the philosophical mind. It is not a view ultimately based upon argument and reason. It is in essence a mystical idea, although afterwards it comes to be supported by argument. Hence in the long historical development of rationalistic philosophy it may come to be thought that pantheism is based on reason, its mystical roots having been forgotten. This is what has happened with Spinoza or at any rate with the expositors and commentators on Spinoza. Thus the

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significant question about pantheism is not whether the arguments for it are good logic but whether it is the correct interpretation of mystical experience. This is the problem now before us.

As a matter of terminology I shall assign to dualism, monism, and pantheism the following meanings. Dualism is the view that the relation between God and the world, including the relation between God and the individual self when in a state of union, is a relation of pure otherness or difference with no identity. Monism is the view that the relation is pure identity with no difference. Pantheism is the view that it is identity in difference.

On the whole there has been a fundamental cleavage between East and West, or rather between India and the West, on the question whether mystical experience should be given a monistic or a dualistic explanation. India has, in the Samkhya, Yoga, and Jaina systems and in the Vedantism of Ramanuja, produced dualistic and pluralistic interpretations. But the predominant trend of the Vedanta philosophy — namely, that of Sankara — has been monistic. But Western mystics, in spite of their obvious tendency to drift towards monism or pantheism, have usually ended by repudiating those views in favor of dualism. Dualism is characteristic of the three chief theistic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Although the Christian mystics themselves can generally be quoted — in their most decisive passages — on the side of dualism, it remains a question whether this would have been their view if they were not overborne and subjected to threats by the theologians and the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church. This is a question which we shall have to consider on a later page because it affects our main problem, namely, which is the true interpretation.

Extrovertive mystical experience appears to be the main source from which the pantheistic and monistic identifications of God and the world as a whole are derived. Introvertive mystical experience is the main source of the identification of God and the individual self when in a state of union.
The extrovertive mystics see the world around them, the grass, the trees, the animals, and sometimes "inanimate" objects such as rocks

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and mountains, as God-impregnated, or as shining from within with the light of a life which is one and the same life flowing through all things. As R. M. Bucke expressed it, "I saw that the universe is not composed of dead rnatter, but is on the contrary a living presence." (see p. 78) Boehme, Eckhart, N. M., and many others have, as already shown, expressed themseIves in similar language. The question for us is whether extrovertive mystical experience actually supports dualism, monism, or pantheism.

The introvertive mystic, getting rid of sensations, images, and thought content, comes at last to find within himself the pure self which becomes, or is, unified with the Universal Self, or God. This is the source of our problem in so far as it especially concerns relations of identity or difference between God and the individual self. In particular, what is most relevant here is the experience of the "melting away'' or "fading away'— "fana" as the Sufis call it — of individuality into "boundless being" which Tennyson, Koestler, and others have described in rnore modern and nontheological language.

In this section I shall discuss the dualistic view of the theistic religions and quote the evidence of the mystics thernselves in favor of it. The Christian mystics speak of their experience as "union with God." It wih facilitate our discussion if we use their own language in regard to this. The question then is, What happens at the moment of mystical union? Does the soul of the mystic become simply identical with God? Or does it remain a being wholly distinct and different from God? Or is there identity in difference?

Unfortunately an appea! to the meaning of the word "union" will not help us because it is ambiguous, In ordinary language we may mean by the union of A with B that they cease in any sense to be distinct existences, as for example the union of two rivers — say the Missouri and the Mississippi — in one. It would be correct to say that below their junction there is only one river. On the other hand, the members of a trade union do not become identical with [indistinguishable from? DCW] one another but only closely associated in the same organization. Moreover, if we

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say that two things A and B are "the same," this is also ambiguous. We say that the evening and the morning star are "the same," meaning that they are identical. But we say that two persons have "the same" idea when we mean only that their ideas, though numerically distinct as being psychic processes in two different minds, are nevertheless exactly similar. This particular ambiguity becomes relevant when Christian mystics say that in the state of union the will of the individual becomes the same as, or one with, the divine will.

Constantly the mystics use ambiguous language. Occasionally we shall find what seem to be clear, unambiguous, and explicit statements in their writings. We must seize on these as important, but even then we have to remember that a mystic's own interpretation, even when we are certain what it is, cannot be accepted as ipso facto correct. For mystics, with a few exceptions, are not analytic philosophers or even metaphysicians. And they may well have been often bedeviled by the pitfalls of language. On the other hand, it is obvious that we have to study the statements of the mystics about their experience, since these are in the last resort the only raw material which is presented to us for analysis. And it is on these that we have to base whatever interpretation we propose to accept as the best.

I will begin with some Christian sources and then turn to the ewidences of Islamic and Jewish mystics.

St. Teresa writes:

It is plain enough what union is — two distinct things becoming one. (2)

One might suppose that this is a clear statement of monism, but St. Teresa's language was habitually so vague and un-self-critical that one cannot build any theory at all on the statement just quoted. But one does in general know that as an obedient Catholic she would have been horrified at being understood to favor the heresies of monism or pantheism.

St. John of the Cross writes:

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The state of divine union consists in the total transformation of the will into the will of God, in such a way that every movement of the will shall always be the movement of the will of God only (3)

What is meant by "the total transformation of the will into the will of God"? Does it mean that the two wills, the human will and the will of God, become numerically identical? Or does it mean that they remain numerically two, but that the volitions of the one are exactly like the volitions of the other? St. John of the Cross, though his mind is more analytic and his language more precise than that of St. Teresa, is no first-class intellect. And unless we can find some clearer statement of his meaning than this, we cannot conclude anything for certain on the basis of these words. Fortunately, such clear passages are to be found, and I quote two of them. He speaks of the mystical union as:

That union and transformation of the suul in God which is only then accomplished when there subsists the likeness which love begets. For this reason shall this union be called the union of likeness . . . which takes effect when two wills, the will of God and the will of the soul are conformed together, neither desiring ought repugnant to the other.(4) [Italics mine. WTS]

And he adds a little later:

That soul which has reached perfect conformity and resemblance is perfectly united, and supernaturally transformed in, God. (5) [Italics mine. WTS]

In other words God and the soul remain existentially distinct beings, their union meaning only qualitative resemblance in their wills. This may be called qualitative union as distinguished from existential or substantial union or identity.

Ruysbroeck is equally explicit:

As the air is penetrated by the brightness and heat of the sun, and iron is penetrated by fire; so that it works through fire the works of fire, since it burns and shines like fire; and so likewise it can be said of the air . . . yet each of these keeps its own nature. For the fire does not become iron, and

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iron does not become fire. . . . There is here a great distinction, for the creature never becomes God, nor does God ever become the creature. (6)

We notice that the concept of union taught by St. John of the Cross is not quite the same as Ruysbroeck's. The relation between God and the soul, according to St. John of the Cross, is that of the resemblance of two different things. The relation according to Ruysbroeck is compared to the relation between the sunlight and the air, or between heat and a hot iron. Perhaps this may be called a relation of interpenetration. It is not resemblance, for sunlight does not resemble air nor does heat resemble iron. But both St. John of the Cross and Ruysbroeck insist that God and the soul remain distinct existences, not existentially identical. They thus give us two different versions of dualism. This alone, though not in itself very important, is enough to show that the interpretations and analyses of meaning given by the mystics cannot be accepted by us at face value. For unless we take refuge in the unlikely explanation that these two men are describing two different kinds of mystical experience, they cannot both be right. But both agree in being dualists.

[My personal experience inclines towards that described by St John — a generally "extravertive" mystical experience in the sense of a world suffused with "God", but also the overwhelming intuition that this suffusion is a (normally unrealised) feature of, and in fact the essence of, the "life" of, the "reality" of objects and living creatures. In partaking of this suffusion I share in the experience of God, I am a manifestation of God. DCW]

Henry Suso also preaches dualism, and interprets union as qualitative similarity. According to him:

In this merging of itself in God the spirit passes away and yet not wholly; for it receives indeed sorne attributes of Godhead, but it does not become God by nature. . . . It is still a sornething which has been created out of nothing, and continues to be this everlastingly.(7)

In addition to its plain statement of dualism, this passage is also noteworthy for the use of the words "the spirit passes away." This shows that Suso's mystical experience included what the Sufis called "fana," also experienced by Tennyson, Koestler, and others already quoted. It adds its quota to the evidence of the basic similarity of mystical experiences in all ages, religions, and cultures.

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If now we turn to Meister Eckhart, the most philosophical of all the medieval Christian mystics, we find a strange situation. He frequently framed sentences — chiefly in his sermons — which caused him to be accused by the Church authorities of claiming identity with God. For instance:

One should so live that he is identified with God's Son and so that he is that Son. Between the Son and the soul there is no distinction. (8)

[Note also the follwing Biblical passages referring to sons of God:

John 1:12  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Romans 8:14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. DCW]

And again:

St Paul says: We are always being transformed into God (2 Corinthians 3:18). . . . Whatever is changed into something else becomes identical with it. If, therefore, I am changed into God and he makes me one with Himself, then, by the living God, there is no distinction between us. (9)

And again:

God and I: We are one.(10)

And again:

In bursting forth [by this phrase Eckhart means union] I discover that God and I are One. . . . I am the unmoved Mover that moves all things. . . . Here too God is identical with the spirit. (11)

and as a last example:

The eye by which I see God is the same as the eye by which God sees me. My eye and God's eye are one and the same — one in seeing, one in knowing, and one in loving. (12)

Many other instances could be quoted. They are scattered all over Eckhart's writings. But in the Defense which he wrote against the charges of heresy he refers to the first of the above passages and says: "If this should be taken to mean that I am God, this is false. But if

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it should be taken to mean that I am God as being a member of him it is true." (13) But what does "being a member of him" mean?

Such passages may make one wonder whether Eckhart was quite frank in his Defense.

By far the most philosophically interesting statement of Eckhart's in this connection is the following:

The divine One is a negation of negations. . . . What does One mean? Something to which nothing is to be added. The soul lays hold of the Godhead where it is pure, where there is nothing beside it, nothing else to consider. The One is a negation of negations. Every creature contains a negation: one denies that it is the other. An angel denies that it is any other creature, but God contains the denial of denials. He is that One who denies of every other that it is anything except himself. (14)

In this passage Eckhart anticipates both Spinoza and Hegel and preaches the same doctrine as is found in the Upanishads. He says, "Every creature contains a negation: one denies that it is the other." This is plainly a statement of Spinoza's principle that all determination is negation. This is the definition of the finite, or in Eckhart's phrase, of the creature as distinguished from the Creator who is infinite. That which negates negations is therefore the Infinite. Moreover, the Infinite is, in Eckhart's phrase, "something to which nothing is to be added," or that which has no other to negate it, or in the phrase of the Upanishads "the One without a second." God is thus infinite, not in the sense of being an endless series, but in the sense of having nothing outside himself to limit or negate him. This is a plain statement of either monisrn or pantheisrn since to say that there is nothing other than God is to say that God is everything which exists. (15)

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It seems evident that Eckhart's thinking tended to interpret his own experience monistically or pantheistically — no doubt without distinguishing between these two. In his defense he repudiated these "heresies," thus accepting dualism at the behest of the papal authorities. Summing up the position of the Christian mystics — we have of course only given samples of their evidence, not the full evidence — we may say the most decisive passages leave no doubt where they stand. They, in general, support dualism in accordance with the dogmas of the Church. But there is something in their own experience which causes them to gravitate towards identity theories of the relation between God and the individual soul when in a state of union.

In Islamic mysticism rhe experience of mystical union with God is fully developed, and we therefore look to see what interpretation the mystics place on it. Their position is on the whole similar to that of the Christian mystics — dualism with a tendency to occasional outbreaks of monism. Many of the Sufis prefer to express their experiences in extremely flowery pcetry, profuse in metaphors, rather than in prose. Now poetry, especially the kind of sultry and sensuous poetry which they wrote, does not lend itself well to abstract theorizing. Nevertheless, the predominance of dualism is evident. The Mohamrnedan religion, like the Jewish, insists on the great gulf which separates the Creator from the creature, and tnis of course reflects itself in the interpretations which the mystics give to their own experiences. But it does not prevent occasional outbursts claiming identity with God, sometimes in extravagant language such as that attributed. to Mansur al Hallaj. As a rnore moderate expres;ion of the same claim we nay ins:ance Mahmud Shabistari (A.D. 1320) who wrote :

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In God there is no duality. In that Presence"I" and "we" and "you" do not exist. "'I" and "you" and "we" and "He" become one. . . . Since in the unity there is no distinction, the Quest and the Way and the Seeker become one. (16)

The words "become one" are of course as ambiguous as the word "union:' But "there is no distinction" is unambiguous. It means identity.

Of great interest are the views of Al Ghazzali (A.D. 1059-1111) the great philosopher-mystic of Sufism. He was, it seems to me, more phillosopher than mystic. And it may even be doubted whether he actually achieved the mystical consciousness. He says of himself in his autobiography that "theory being more easy for me than practice I read until I understood all that can be learned from study and hearsay." Dissatisfied with this, he retired from the world and for some eleven or twelve y'ears lived in solitude seeking illumination according to the methods and techniques of the Sufis. The evidence as to whether he attained it seems to be indecisive. But of his philosophical ability and eminence no one who reads his clear, penetrating, analytic prose, even in translation, can be in doubt. He also possessed great literary skill, and his writing is rendered delightful by reason of his extraordinary gift for apt and illuminating illustrations and examples.

Otcasionally he speaks of "absorption in God" as being the goal which the Sufis seek and reach. But absorption is an ambiguous metaphor compatible with either dualism or monism. Al Ghazzali certainly means it dualistically. Evelyn Underhill. quotes him as saying: "The end of Sufism is total absorption in God. . . . In this state some have imagined thernselves to be amalgamated with God, others to be identical with him, others again to be associated with hirn: but all this is sin." (17) And Mr. Claud Field quotes him as condemning such extravagant utterances as those of Mansur al Hallaj and other Sufis who used the same sort of wild language, and adding:

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the matter went so far that certain persons boasted of a union with the Deity, and that they . . . beheld Him, and enjoyed familiar converse with him.

and Ghazzali referred to such mystics as "foolish babblers." (18)

It would seem that he disapproved of any nondualistic interpretation of the mystic's experience. And the following passage about the meaning of "absorption" is very noteworthy:

When the worshipper thinks no longer of his worship or himself, but is altogether absorbed in Him whom he worships, that state, by gnostics, is called the passing away of mortality (fana), when a person so passed away from himself feels nothing of his bodily members, nor of what is passing without, not what passes within his own mind. . . . He is journeying first to his Lord, and then at the end, in his Lord. Perfect absorption means that he is unconscious not only of himself, but of his absorption. For fana from fana is the goal of fana. . . . Thus the state of the mystics in relation co Him whom they love is like your state in relation to what you love of position or wealth, or like a human love when you become . . . so engrossed in your beloved that you perceive nothing else. You do not hear when someone speaks, nor see who passes, though your eyes are open and you are not deaf. (19)

It should be noted that this is a psychological description of the mental state of the Sufi. Ghazzali says that it resembles the mental absorption of one who is engrossed in the contemplation of an earthly loved one. This psychological characterization does not of itself imply any logical or existential doctrine of either monism or dualism. It is consistent with either. It does not either imply or negate the view that the existence of the individual self is annihilated even momentarily by being absorbed into the divine substance, but only says that the separate existence of the self is psychologically forgotten. But that Ghazzali remained conslstently dualistic is to be gathered from the other passages quoted above and numerous other similar passages.

The idea of union with God is not, according to G. G. Scholem's book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, at all prominent in Judaism.


The claim to have attained such union, and the interpretation of it as becoming identical with God, are found occasionaily among the later Hasidim as also in the case of Abulafia. But, in Scholem's words previously quoted, "It is only in extremely rare cases that ecstasy signifies actual union with God in which the human individuality abandons itself to the rapture of complete submersion in the divine stream. . . . The Jewish mystic almost invariably retains a sense of distance between the Creator and the creature. The latter is joined to the former, and the point where the two meet is of the greatest interest to the mystic, but he does not regard it as constituting anything so extravagant as identity of the Creator and the creature." (20)

We need not pursue the purport, nor the question of the justification, of these metaphors any further. The only point of interest at the moment is that, although there are in Judaism occasional examples of the monistic interpretation of mystical experience, yet the spirit of Jewish mysticism in general is dualistic, insisting, like Islam, on the gulf which separates the Creator from the creature.

ln summary, the general picture which we get of the three theistic religions of the West is that the evidence of their mystics is decidedly in favor of dualism.. But very definite tendencies towards pantheism also appear in all three religions. The greatest of those who show this tendency is of course Eckhart.

Section 3. Critique of Dualism

Dualism is the typical interpretation put upon rnystical experience by the theistic religions of the West — though we saw that there were many atypical exceptions, usually condemned as heresy by the ecclesiastical authorities. Monism, which asserts the identity of God and the world, and of God and the illuminated individual self, is the interpretation put upon mystical experience by the most influential religious philosophy of India, the later Vedantism of Sankara — although there were in India many other systems of thought which interpreted it in various other ways. The fact that there have existed

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these two diametrically opposite interpretations may suggest to the reader that the differences are in the experiences themselves and that we have two different kinds of experience and not two different interpretations of the same experience. But this suggestion, though superficiaily plausible, will not bear examination. While we have never maintained that mystical experiences everywhere are so exactly similar that there are no differences at all between them, what we did try to show in the second chapter was that there are common elements in them all which are much more fundamental and important than whatever differences there may be. None of the differences which we outlined there (21) could account for the difference between dualism and monism. Moreover, we saw that there is an inner nucleus within the wider set of common characteristics which consists in the unitary consciousness of the introvertive type of experience and the unifying vision of the extrovertive type. We concluded that in this experience of an undifferentiated unity, which the mystics believe to be in some sense ultimate and basic to the world, we reach the very inner heart of all mystical experience in all the advanced cultures of both the East and the West. This also carries with it as a phase of itself that dissolution of individuality in the unity, that melting away, or fana as the Muslims call it, of which we quoted examples from all over the world. The monist and the dualist describe the undifferentiated unity in practically identical language, but the monist believes that he himself is included in it while the dualist, for cultural and theological reasons, regards himself as still outside it. Therefore the problem which presents itself to us is whether dualism or monism is the true interpretation or whether we must accept a synthesis of both in the pantheistic paradox.

In the present section I shall argue that dualism, whether in its Christian, Islamic, or Judaic versions, is an untenable interpretation. I shall consider monism in the section which follows.

There are several arguments which show that dualism is a mistaken interpretation. The first is that dualism is a flat contradiction

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of the nuclear common characteristic of all mystical experience, viz., that it is an ultimate unity which is "beyond all multiplicity." The mystical consciousness, in its fully developed introvertive form, is the "unitary consciousness" from which, to use the words of the Mandukya Upanishad, "awareness of the world and of multiplicity have been completely obliterated." Wherever we look in the literature of mysticism, East or West, Christian or Hindu, we find the same thing. For the Christian as for the Hindu. it is an experience of the One, of the Unity. Aurobindo, the famous contemporary Hindu mystic speaking most certainly out of the riches of his own experiences writes:

At the gates of the Transcendent stands that mere and perfect spirit described in the Upanishads, luminous, pure, sustaining the world, without flaw of duality, without scar of division, the transcendent Silence. (22) [Italics mine.WTS]

But, it may be said, these sources quoted are Indian, and they may well support the view that the Hindu experience is different from the Christian experience. However it does not seem very likely that the Christian mystic will admit that the Indian has an experience of actual identity with God which is not vouchsafed to the Christian! It is true that these particular words of Aurobindo can be interpreted dualistically, since he does not here say that the unity without flaw of duality may not be an object to his consciousness which as subject is distinct from its object. But no one who is familiar with the context of Indian thought in which Aurobindo is embedded will believe this.

However, we have to consider the objection that quotations from Indian sources cannot be used to show that the dualistic interpretation put upon their experiences by the Christian mystics is wrong. In reply to this the first point to be made is that the basic experience of the Christian mystics is descriptively indistinguishable from that of the Vedantic mystics. The core ot the experience is that it is an undifferentiated unity, which we hold to be the same in the

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East and in the West. I have done my best to show this in my second chapter, and now assume it to be true, and will not further discuss it at this stage.

The question now at issue is this, Is the self of the experient included in the undifferentiated unity? Or does it remain outside the unity and distinct from it? The latter is the dualistic interpretation. Now it is not the case that only the Vedantic mystics interpret the experience monistically, and that the Western mystics invariably interpret it dualistically. On the contrary, all the evidence shows that Western mystics, Christian, Islamic, or (in a few cases) Jewish, show a strong tendency to drift towards the monistic position. They are only prevented from adopting it by the menaces and pressure of the theologians and ecclesiastical authorities. This is highly significant. Those who have the experience, in East or West, tend to interpret it nondualistically. Those who do not have the experience decry and repress this interpretation. We must not, of course, exaggerate this argument. It is true that not all Christian and Muslim mystics exhibit the drift to monism. For instance, neither St. Teresa nor St. John of the Cross does so. Hence, the premiss I use in the argument is only that there is a tendency towards monism, not that all mystics are, secretly or overtly, monists.

The fact is that the dualistic interpretation is contrary to the whole spirit of mystical utterances wherever found. The mystical consciousness when projected down onto the logical plane of the intellect involves three things, viz.: (1) that there are no distinctions in the One, (2) that there is no distinction between object and object, e.g., between the blades of grass and the stone, and (3) that there is no distinction between subject and object. This is plainly the fully developed and completed rnystical attitude, and if any of these three propositions is denied, what we shall have is a diminished, stunted, or underdeveloped mysticism. Dualism is such an undeveloped mysticism.

There is af course another side to this story, which monism overlooks, Whoever sees the error of dualism tends to go to the other extreme and to express himself in the language of monism. But both

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are one-sided, and each needs to be corrected by the other. Pure monism, as we shall see in the next section, is as unacceptable as pure dualism.

To return, however, to our critique of dualism. We may again quote Plotinus's words:

No doubt we should not speak of seeing, but instead of seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity. For in this seeing we neither distinguish nor are there two. The man . . . is merged with the Supreme . . . one with it.(23) [Italics mine.WTS]

Plotinus is pointing out that such words as "see," "seer," and "vision," though we can hardly avoid using them, imply a duality between subject and object, and are accordingly inappropriate to an expperience in which there is no such duality. These words of Plotinus are decisive against dualism. The only escape from this conclusion would be to suppose that Plotinus had one kind of experience and the Christian mystics, or some of them, another. This sort of hypothesis, as we have seen, is not plausible. How then, we must ask, is it that so many of the Christian mystics interpret their experience dualistically?

The following is the explanation which I offer. It is plain from all the evidence which we have collected throughout this book that the disappearance of the division between subject and object is an essential part cf the introvertive mystical experience. But the Christian mystics do not carry the conception of the unitary consciousness to its logical conclusion when they come to the intellectual interpretation of their experiences. Their own mystical experience impels them to claim the identity of subject and object, the identification of God and the individual self. It is evident that there is this very strong impulsion at work in the mystics everywhere and in all cultures and religions. Eckhart, because he is the greatest and most original and audacious intellect among the Christian mystics,


expresses this boldly and — from the point of view of worldly caution — rashly. So do several of the Sufis. But when it comes to the point, the majority of them draw back from taking the last step towards which the momentum of their combined experience and logic is carrying them. They balk at asserting what is obviously the dictate of their own consciousness. They fail to implement to the full the notion of unity. They take a step backwards into dualism. Why is this?

Partly perhaps they are troubled by a genuine philosophical difficulty. They do not understand the pantheistic paradox with its notion of identity in difference. Instinctively (and rightly) feeling that the pure identity cannot be the truth, they turn from it and embrace pure difference. But it is doubtful whether this philosophical problem exerts much influence with them. After all, they are not as a rule philosophers and hence not inclined to worry about problems of logic. We may assume that what influences them most is the impact of a strong cultural and historical pressure. There is something in the theistic religions which causes their theologians — who usually have no mystical experience and are only intellectuals — to outlaw as a heresy any tendency to monism or pantheism. The mystics have for the most part been pious men, obedient to the constituted authorities in the religion in which they have been raised. They humbly submit all their conclusions to the judgment of the Church or whatever the institutional authority in their particular religian may be. They dutifully curb their pantheistic tendencies at the behest of their superiors. There need be nothing insincere or false in this obedience, in this unaffected humility. The mystic as such is not a theorist, nor interested in theory — with a few great exceptions such as Eckhart, Plotinus, and the Buddha. The actual living of the spiritual life is his suprerne interest Why then should he not leave theory to those whose special business it is, the theologians? And why should he not believe, if their views on theory differ from those which he himself feels inclined to put forward, that they are the experts who 'know better than he does'. The threat of possible punishment for heresy need not have been his main motive, though, since he was human, the fear of punishment may very well

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have reinforced his own wish to be a law-abiding person within the framework of the ecclesiastical institution. Nor, on the other side, is there any reason to accuse the theologians and Church authorities of mere prejudice, ignorance, or obscurantism. It is surely easily understandable that they should regard as sheer blasphemy the claim of a human being to be identical with God. For they too have not understood the pantheistic paradox. To them the only choice seems to be between holding that a man and his God are simply identical or that they are simply different. As the former view seems preposterous, they embrace the latter and insist that all their flock must do the same.

I now turn to another strong argument against dualism. Dualism arose among the theistic mystics because of their almost exclusive emphasis on the introvertive kind of experience. It is a possible, although in my opinion a mistaken, interpretation of that experience. But it is wholly impossible as an interpretation of extrovertive experience, to which it cannot even be applied meaningfully. It will be remembered that, according to Eckhart's report of that type of experience, "all is one. . . . Here all blades of grass, wood and stone are one." He who has that experience looks outward through his physical eyes and perceives the blades af grass, wood, and stone, as one. He must, we argued, also perceive the difference between them. But leaving that aside, the question now to be asked is, How can the dualistic theory explain their oneness as a relation af similarity between two cifferent existents? According to the dualistic theory the relation betwecn God and the individual self in the moment of union is that, although they remain two distinct beings, there is between them a more or less exact resemblance which may include all psychic elements, will, emotion, and cognition, although the theory usually singles out will for special emphasis.

Now it is extrernely farfetched, even fantastic, to try to apply this theory to extrovertive mysticism. The experience in question finds grass, wood, and stone, to be one with each other. And it does not make sense to speak of a resemblance between the volitions, emotions, and cognitions of pieces of wood and stone. Even if we

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attribute a panpsychic philosophy to the mystics, it will hardly go the length of speaking of the volitions and cognitions of stones and wood. In any case, it is quite obvious that when Eckhart and others who have had extrovertive mystical experiences speak of perceiving the plurality of external objects as being all one, what they are talking about is an existential unity, not a moral similarity. They mean that the wood and stone are not two different things or substances but one thing or substance. The mere relation of similarity, whether of wills or of anything else, clearly has not entered into their minds at all. We have argued, of course, that although they perceive different objects as identical, they must also perceive them as different. But in any case it is existential identity and difference that they are talking about. Hence the dualistic theory of the Christian mystics cannot explain this type of experience.

We may now summarize the arguments against dualism:

  1. The undifferentiated unity which is the mystical experience implies that there are no distinctions within the One, or the Universal Self, that there is no distinction between object and object, and finally that there is no distinction between subject and object. Dualism overlooks or denies the last of these three propositions. It is therefore a form of mystical theory which is stunted and undeveloped. It stops halfway and fails to carry through the concept of unity to its proper conclusion. Plotinus clearly asserts the identity of "the seer and the seen." His views are entitled to special respect, not only because of his greatness both as a philosopher and as a mystic, but because, being identified neither with the religions of the East nor the West, he is an impartial judge.
  2. Even if dualism could be made plausible for introvertive mysticism it does not even make sense if we try to apply it to extrovertive mysticism. Even if we attribute panpsychism to the mystics, it would be fantastic to suppose that when Eckhart speaks of perceiving the blades of grass, wood, and stone, as being "all One," what he means is that there exists between them a relation of volitional similarity. It is obvious that the unity, or oneness, which he attributes to them

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    is of the existential kind. And this precludes dualism. What is here said of Eckhart is of course just as true of the extrovertive experiences of St. Teresa, Ramakrishna, Boehme, or any other.

It appears to me that the criticisms which have here been developed against dualism cannot be met, and that dualism must accordingly be rejected as an incorrect interpretation of mystical experience.

Section 4: Monism

One might suppose that the alternative to the dualistic theory of pure diference which we have rejected would be the monistic theory of pure identity. God and the world are simply identical. Also God and the individual self in union are simply identical. From time to time such theories have been maintained.

The theory that God and the world are identical may take two forms, cne of which amounts to atheism, the other to acosmism. If it means that nothing exists apart from the sum-total of finite objects — suns, stars, trees, rocks, animals, individual selves — and that God is merely another name for this collection of finite objects, then it is atheism. This is the view attributed to Spiroza by Mr. Stuart Hampshire, whether he happens to use the word atheism or not. We saw good reasons to reject it in the first section of this chapter, and it need not be further discussed here.

The acosmic form of monism will have to say that the world of finite things as separate from God does not exist at all. God alone is real, and God is an undifferentiated unity wherein there is no multiplicity of finite objects. Has anybody ever seriously maintained such a view? We find statements that nothing exists except the Void, i.e., the undifferentiated unity, in some of the texts of Mahayana Buddhism. And, stated in different words, it is the substance of Sankara's advaita Vedantism. But it is not difficult to show that the theory, in whatever form it is held, must necessarily land its holder in nonsense. The crucial question to ask is, how does the theory explain the appearance of the multiplicity of finite objects?

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It has to explain them as due to "ignorance" or to "false imaginings'' or to "illusion." (24) Some such term as ignorance or nescience is common in Hindu fcrms of the theory. "False imaginings" is a phrase freely used in the translation of the Mahayana Buddhist text "The Awakening of Faith." (25)
The refutation of all such views must begin by applying Descartes's principle "I think, therefore I am." We need not follow Descartes in supposing that this proposition establishes the existence of a permanently existing mental substance. But at least it proved that "I" exist, even if "I" only means a momentary consciousness or a rnomentary empirical ego. If, then, anyone says that my belief that the finite world exists is due to my illusion, or ignorance, or false imagining, we must ask the Cartesian question, How can I have illusions or ignorant ideas if I do not exist? Therefore at least one finite being, namely myself, exists. Or we may put it in another way. The world is an illusion. Whose illusion? Mine? Then I must exist to have the illusion. But perhaps I am an illusion in the mind of some other individual. Then that other individual must exist, unless he is an illusion in the mind of a third individual. Thus we get a vicious regress.

But there are two other alternatives, both to be found in Indian literature, which may avoid the particular absurdities just mentioned. It may be held that the finite world is an illusion or false imagination which has its seat, not in the rninds of finite individuals, but in the mind of God. But this view leads to a self-contradiction, though not to the infinite regress in which the previous version of monism ended. For it introduces the multiplicity of the world into God, into the pure One which is beyond all multiplicity. If the appearances of houses and trees and stars are somehow appearances or illusions in God, they constitute a multiplicity of illusions, if not of realities. To call them illusions is apparently only to apply a deroga:ory word to

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them. The illusions still exist as illusions. If you deny the reality of this piece of paper, and say that it is an illusion, you cannot deny that the illusion of paper really exists.

It may be objected that I have no right to complain of contradictions in a theory, since according to the view which I am myself advocating the truth lies in contradictory sets of propositions such as the pantheistic paradox. We only raise an objection to contradiction, the critic may say, when it happens to suit our purpose as it does at this moment. But the monistic philosophy which we are criticizing professes to be self-consistent. It alleges pure undifferentiated unity as the whole of reality. We refute it by pointing out that it cannot maintain itself in this position. It breaks down of itself into the view that there is a multiplicity of illusions in God, and yet no multiplicity in God, or that God is the vacuum-plenum, which is the view which we shall maintain. It breaks down, in short, into pantheism as distinguished from monisrn.

There is still another alternative which has been put forward by some Indian philosophers. This theory holds that the "ignorance" which is responsible for the world illusion is an impersonal cosmic principle, part of the world, and not a state of any mind, human or divine. But in the flrst place, this only appears meaningful as a result of a misuse of wards. The words "ignorance," "illusion," and "irnagination" necessarily refer to subjective states of some mind finite or infinite. To say that it is just ignorance, without being the ignorance of any conscious being, is to use words which have no meaning. Of course we might by a stretch of language say that a stone is ignorant! Certainly it knows nothing. But to call this "ignorance" is again the same misuse of words. It is no doubt because they are in some vague way aware of this fact that those philosophers who hold these views have invented the barbarous word "nescience." But even if we let this pass, we rnust point out that the "nescierce" of a stone or of any nonconscious existence is not a state of it which can produce illusions or false imaginations.

But apart from this, suppose we are allowed to say that ignorance is a principle or characteristic of the cosmos and not of any mind,

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human, or divine, or animal. This can only mean that ignorance exists in the world of rocks and rivers and trees and stars. We may put the same thing in Hindu terms. If the ignorance is not in Brahman, it must be in the finite manifestations of Brahman, i.e., the world. But in order to be ignorant, these things — the rocks, rivers, stones, and trees — must exist, which contradicts the theory which the supposition was introduced to support.

There is thus no possible version of monism which does not end in nonsense. Thus since neither dualism nor monism can be accepted, we are driven on to their synthesis in the pantheistic paradox. This so far is the negative justification of pantheism. Our further consideration of it in the next section will show that there is plenty of positive justification as well.

Section 5: Justification of Pantheism

We take as our starting point the experience of the pure ego, the Universal Self, pure consciousness, which we saw to be what is revealed in introvertive mystical experience. This Universal or Cosmic Self is that which the theistic religions interpret as God. It is also the Brahman-Atman of the Upanishads. And since it is empty of all empirical content, it is the Void of the Buddhists, the nothingness of Eckhart, the darkness and silence which according to all mystics lies at the centre of the world. These are some of the points which have been established and from which we now start.

The next step will consist in making it clear that the Universal Self is also the absolute infinite. The Mandukya speaks of Brahman as being

beyond relation, featureless, unthinkable, in which all is still. (26)

This thought is not an isalated apercu but is constantly reiterated in different forms in the Upanishads. It must not be mistaken for the conclusion of some metaphysical chain of argument. It is a direct

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report of immediate experience. For the Absolute of the Vedanta is quite different in this respect from the Absolutes of Hegel or Bradley. These latter spun their Absolutes out of dialectical cobwebs. They did not profess to have immediately encountered the Absolute and to be reporting on the encounter. But the authors of the Upanishads were seers, not rationalistic philosophers. And they reported that what they had seen was "beyond relation, featureless, unthinkable, in which all is still." That it is featureless means that it is empty of all particular items; that it is beyond relation means that there is no plurality of items among which any relations could hold. But that which is totally beyond all relations is necessarily infinite. For the infinite is that which is not limited by anything else. It is therefore that which has no other, since any other would be a boundary to it and so limit it. Hence the Upanishads invariably speak of the Universal Self as "the One without a second."

There are only two intelligible senses in which the word "infinite" is used. One is that of the mathematicians, for whom it means the endlessness of a series of items. Now the infinity of the Universal Self cannot be of this sort because, being empty and void, it contains no items to constitute a series. Even the conventional theologians say that God is not a temporal being so that his eternity does not mean endlessness in time.

The other sense of the word "infinite" can be found most easily either in the Upanishads or in Spinoza. In the Chandogya Upanishad it is written:

Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the finite. (27)

In other wards the infinite is that outside which, and other than which, there is nothing. This is the same conception of the infinite as that which is given in Spinoza's definition of Substance. "By Substance," he says, "I understand that which is in itself and is conceived through itself; in other words, that, the conception of which does not need the conception of any other thing from which it must be formed." (28)It is true that Spinoza, so far as his explicit language is concerned, is here defining Substance, not infinity. But since Substance is for him the "absolutely infinite," which he carefully distinguishes from the kind of infinity attributed to space and time, this comes to the same thing as a definition of the infinite.

Since the infinity of God cannot be of the mathematical kind, it must be the infinite in the Upanishadic and Spinozistic sense. And since the infinite in this sense is "that outside which, and other than which, there is nothing," it follows that there is nothing other than God. The world cannot be other than, or fall outside of, God. This is the source of the pantheism of the Upanishads as well as of Spinoza. It explains precisely the relation between mystical experience and pantheism which has been mentioned before only in vague terms. Of course it gives us only the monistic half of the pantheistic paradox, the identity of the world and God. This has to be supplemented in due course by the realization that this identity is not an empty tautological relation of words but is an identity in difference. But to see the identity of God and the world is the first step towards pantheism. It is what distinguishes pantheism from dualism and shows the latter to be an inadequate interpretation of the mystical consciousness. And the theologians were certainly right in perceiving that he who once takes this step must of necessity end in pantheism. We see therefore that pantheism is forced upon us by mysticism together with a proper understanding of the meaning of the notion of the infinite.

The theologians cannot avoid the force of this reasoning, unless they can suggest a meaning of the word "infinite" other than the two which we have given. But this they will find themselves unable to do. The only alternative left — apart from capitulating to the witless talk about a finite God — would be to admit that to call God infinite is either mere verbiage or an empty honorific. This indeed is what many writers, puzzled by the language of theologians who

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speak of God as infinite without having ever considered what they mean by the word, have come to think. For instance, Professor C. D. Broad has written: "I do not know how far the statements of theologians about the omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection of God are to be taken literally. It may be that this pushing of God's attributes to extremes is only intended as a compliment." (29)

I have been speaking so far in this section of pantheism as a theory of the relation between God and the world in general. It will be helpful at this point to turn our attention to the special aspect of pantheism which concerns the relation between God and the individual self during mystical union. We have seen that both the Christian and the Islamic mystics frequently speak of their inner experience as an experience of being identical with God. It is this which brings upon them accusations of monism or pantheism: I go on to ask whether one can find in their writings direct evidence, not merely of identity, but of identity in difference. Are there, that is to say, not merely pantheistic interpretations based upon their experiences, but actual pantheistic experiences? By a pantheistic experience I mean an experience of identity in difference between God and the world, or God and the soul. If there are such experiences, we should have powerful confirmation for our view that pantheism, not either dualism or monism, is the correct statement of mysticism.

I think we can find a good deal of such evidence. But in reading it we must bear in mind that we cannot as a rule expect from mystics a dear statement of the two sides of the pantheistic paradox, nor a statement which will give equal emphasis to both. As a rule, their supposed "heretical" utterances lean to the side of identity and make no mention of difference. This is what gets them into trouble. But it is what we ought to expect, for the diflerence between God and the finite self is what everybody already takes for granted as a matter of common sense which it requires neither a mystic nor a philosopher to explain. It is the identity which is the special discovery of the mystic. Hence he is apt to speak only of this, or at least to put it into

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the forefront of his message. With this warning we can proceed with the evidence.

I will quote again here a passage from Eckhart which I have already quoted in another context. He asks what happens to the soul which "has lost her proper self in the unity of the Divine Nature." The word "proper" here is used in the sense ot "peculiar to oneself," or "individual"; so that the "proper self" means the self as a separate individual. This is "lost" — faded away in the fana experience — in the Divine Unity. What then happens to it? Eckhart writes:

Does she find herself or not? . . . God has left her one little point from which to get back to herself . . . and know herself creature.

The thought is oddly expressed. And of course we do not find the explicit language of identity in difference. But it is evident that the "one little point" is the point in which the "I" still remains its individual self even when "lost" in the Divine Unity. The word "lost" refers to the identity of God and the soul, while the "little point" is the element of difference.

Suso may also be quoted in the same sense. A passage which I have already quoted in another context may be quoted again:

In this merging of itself in God the spirit passes away and yet not wholly.

This bears surely the same meaning as Eckhart's sentences about the "little point," and may be taken therefore as evidence of identity in difference. But it is true that the very next sentence may seem to belie this. For Suso proceeds:

For it [the spirit] receives indeed some attributes of Godhead, but it does not become God by nature. . . . It is still a something which has been created out of nothing, and continues to be this everlastingly.

And certainly these latter sentences teach dualism. Yet it seems to me that a sensitive reading of the whole passage detects a difference of tone or of "feel" between the first sentence and the rest of the passage. The first sentence, it seems to me, is a direct report of Suso's

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experience. He has felt the passing away of his spirit into the infinite, its merging, but yet "not wholly." The little point is left. But the rest of the passage reads to me as if he has in writing it left direct experience behind and is now speaking as the dutiful son of the Church interpreting his experience dualistically.

We are likely to get light on this rnatter, I believe, if we look at contemporary evidence of the experience of "melting away" and "merging" with the infinite, such as we find in cases like those of Tennyson and Koestler. As I have before observed they are psychology-conscious in a way in which the classical or medieval mystics were not. Their introspection is far rnore likely to be accurate and instructive to us even though they may lack in many respects the greatness of the old mystics. It will be remembered that according to Tennyson the loss of his individuality which was felt to "dissolve and fade away into boundless being" was for him "no extinction but the only true life." But what a paradox this is! I, Tennyson, find that when this individual Tennyson disappears, this is not the extinction of Tennyson, but is his only true life. The same thing is even clearer if we refer to the language which Koestler uses: The "I," he says, "ceases to exist because it has . . . been dissolved in the universal pool." But he goes on to say that when the "I" thus ceases to exist he experiences "the peace that passeth all understanding." Who experiences it? It can only be the "I," Arthur Koestler. I remain I, even when I have been absorbed and disappeared into the Infinite Being. Identity in difference is plainly expressed here. Inasmuch as I have been dissolved in the Infinite Being and have ceased to exist as myself, I have become identical with that being; but inasmuch as I still feel that I, Koestler or Tennvson, experience peace or blessedness, I still remain my individual self and am distinct from the Infinite Being.

[I will ask a question here as an indication of a degree of caution. Is the I whose experience of itself fades away as we emerge into wakefulness from a dream, the same I that occupies the waking body? Is it possible that a similar order of difference exists between the original I and the I that experiences the peace and blessedness as the first fades away? DCW]

Do not these passages clearly throw light back upon the more obscure utterances of Eckhart and Suso? I do not see how it can be doubted that both they and these modern authors had the very same experiences of this fading away. But the older mystics expressed it in obscure and ambiguous language; the moderns more clearly and precisely. What has just been said of the passages from

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Tennyson and Koestler may therefore be taken as applying to Eckhart and Suso. They too rnust have experienced this same identity in difference. If so, then pantheism is not a merely remote intellectual theory based upon experience, but a direct transcript of the experience itself. Of course even a direct description involves minimal or low level interpretation, but not the high-levei intellectual construction of a philosophical theory.

It only remains to consider why the theologians and the official hierarchies of the Western religions are so frightened of pantheism and hasten to cry heresy at the slightest sign of it, and to ask ourselves whether we cannot offer a reconciliation between the East and the West in this matter.

There seem to be three main causes for the theistic distrust of pantheism. First, theism stresses the notion of a personal God, whereas pantheism seems to Western thinkers to tend to an impersonal Absolute. It is of the essence of Christian worship — and the same, of course, is true of Judaism and Islam — that the worshiper addresses himself in prayer to God, and that he asks forgiveness, help, and grace. But can he pray to the world, or ask forgiveness and grace from the Absolute? Second, the objection is made that if, as pantheism alleges, the world with all that exists in it is divine, then the evil in it is divine too. Or, in an alternative version of the objection, if God is beyond all distinctions, then he must be beyond good and evil. In either case, moral distinctions seem to be blurred or regarded as illusory. Third, there is the feeling, strongly emphasized in all religions of Semitic origin, of the "awfulness" of God. This is brought out very clearly in Rudolf Otto's conception of the "Mysterium Tremendum." Man is as nothing before God, as dust and ashes. He is a sinful being, estranged from God, who in his natural and unredeerned state is fit only to "flee away before the face af the Lord." This being so, it is preposterous, indeed blasphemous that he should claim union, in the sense of identity, with God. Between God and rnan, between God and the world, there is a great gulf fixed. I will take up thesc three points one by one:

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First, as to the alleged opposition between the theist's conception of a personal God and the more impersonal conceptions of pantheism, we have previously shown (30) that just as mysticism leads to the paradox that God is both identical with, and distinct from, the world, so also it leads to thc paradox that he is both personal and impersonal. The theistic religions tend to emphasize exclusively one side of the antinomy. Whether the pantheistic philosophy of the Vedanta includes an equally exclusive emphasis on the other side is not so clear. But even if it does, the reconciliation would lie in the acceptance of the paradox as a whole. God is both personai and impersonal and the personality is both identical with, and different from, the impersonality.

Next we must consider the objection that pantheism undermines moral distinctions. There is a sense in which it must be said that, if this is true of pantheism, it is just as true of dualism, or of any possible theory of the relation of God to the world; or at least that the problem which evil offers to all philosophies which include the conception of a good or righteous God is substantially the same. If you believe that a perfectly good and omnipotent being created the world, and if the world includes evil, then this perfect being must have created evil. That is the form in which the problem presents itself to the dualist. If you believe that the world is simply identical with God (monism) or identical and yet distinct (pantheism), then since there is evil in the world, there must be evil in God. These are merely two versions of the same problem.

Perhaps the theist may think that he can solve the prablem, or that his theologians, Aquinas or some other, have done so; but that the pantheist cannot solve it. We must be pardoned if we suggest that this confidence is naive. It is more probable that the problem is either insoluble by the human mind, or else that it is equally soluble whether one is a theist or a pantheist.
The problem may also take the form of pointing out that, apart from the question of God's relation to the world, if God, as he is in himself, is beyond all distinctions, as the mystics all aver, then he

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must be beyond good and evil, i.e., morally neutral instead of righteous as the normal religious consciousness requires. The substance of the sermon of Eckhart which is numbered 23 in Blakney's translation is summed up in the title "Distinctions are lost in God." And Ruysbroeck's view is the same. Indeed all this follows from the very conception of the introvertive mystical state as being beyond all multiplicity. And this is inconsistent with the belief in a God who is on the side of righteousness and against evil. But it must be pointed out that, if this is considered objectionable, it is an objection against mysticism as such and has nothing in particular to do with pantheism. But it helps to point up the truth that the problem of evil is universal to the religious consciousness and is no worse for pantheism than for any other religious philosophy.

There can, I think, be no doubt what Eckhart would have said, although I cannot recall any passage in which he actually said it. One has however only to apply his general principles. He would have made use of his distinction between the Godhead and God. It is in the Godhead that all distinctions are lost, and there is no doubt that this would include the distinction between good and evil. It is in this sense that God, or rather the Godhead, is "beyond good and evil." But just as in Eckhart's thiriking there is no creative or other activity in the Godhead but there is in God, so also though the Godhead is neither righteous nor unrighteous, yet God is righteous, has no evil in him, and fights for righteousness. But as we have seen, Eckhart's complete separation between the Godhead and God cannot be accepted. Here again dualistic separation must give way to identity in difference, and in his deeper passages already quoted on page 175 Eckhart himself perceived this. Therefore, in the end we cannot get away fiom the paradox that God both contains evil and does not contain it.

However it might be well to try to explain here how — as it seems to the present writer — the mystic does in fact tend to feel about this problem as a practical matter. The rnajority of mystics, not being theoretical philosophers, seem simply not to have been troubled by the problem, nor by the apparent inconsistency of holding, as they

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generally do, both that God is beyond all distinctions, and yet that he is righteous. Or the mystic, like other men, may take refuge in any or all of the familiar theological evasions — for instance, that evil is a privation of being and therefore does not really exist, or that the appearance of evil is due to our partial and finite vision and would disappear if we could see the universe as a whole, or that evil contributes to the good of the world in the same way that a part of a work of art which would be ugly if it were isolated contributes to the beauty of the whole picture.

But we can still ask what the mystic's practical attitude tends to be. The only hopeful suggestions that I know of have come to me, not from the published utterances of the world's faxrmus mystics, but from a few hints dropped in conversation by one or two persons who have had mystical experiences. H. C. stated that the problem of evil finds in mystical experience no intellectual or logical solution, but the problem dissolves and ceases to exist. There is no intellectual solution. But a point of view is reached by the mystic in which he will achieve some sort of acceptance of evil while yet at the same time continuing to reject and fight against it.

[Nowhere has he addressed the significance of Christ's 'Resist not evil' which is the cilmination of the Beatitudes. DCW]

This is itself a paradox. P. D. said that his first mystical experience came to him when he was stunned with grief at the sudden death of a person whose love was at the centre of his life. In his mystical experience he found himself completely reconciled to his sorrow, all unhappiness gone, although the sorrow did not cease to be sorrow. Again the same paradox. N. M. said that his experience had given meaning to a life which had been meaningless for him previously. But when asked whether by finding a meaning in life he meant finding that life, or the world, has a purpose — in the usual teleological sense — he repudiated this suggestion, saying that things just are and have no purpose beyond themselves. Life and the world are seen to be "satisfactory" just as they are. "A man,"he added, "who is not content with what is simply does not know what is. That is all that pantheism means when it is not tricked out as a philosophical theory." N. M. did not pretend that this was very intelligible, certainly not that it provided an intellecuual solution of the problem.

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But a new attitude had evidently entered his life, an attitude of complete and even joyful acceptance of whatever happens, including the evil and the pain while at the same time not denying that evil is evil and pain is pain. Does not Job's farnous cry, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him," breathe something of the same spirit? The problem has often bcen called a mystery. This is correct. But the word "mystery" must not be understood in its vulgar sense as something no doubt capable of rational explanation but not yet rationally explained. "Mystery" in the religious sense means that which totally transcends the possibility of intellectual understanding. In the case af evil, the only solution is the joyful acceptance of the mystery, which does not, however, include toleration of evil in the sense of failing to fight against it.

The third objection commonly charged against pantheism is that it must tend to abolish the sense of the "awfulness" of God, and of the nothingness of man in the presence of God, which is stressed in the theistic religions. A feeling for this, it is said, should prevent a man from claiming identity with God.

But on the theoretical side, it would seem t.hat a sufficient answer to this is that it cornes from that misunderstanding of pantheism which sees only one side of the paradox, viz., the identity of God and man. But pantheism also asserts the otherness of God to man and the world. If we wish to use the metaphor of a gulf betwecn the two, we can do so, and we can make the gulf as wide as we like in our imaginations and still remain pantheists. If the theologian understands this, will he not give up his antagonism to pantheism?

And if the pantheist can thus, just as well as the dualist, believe in the gulf which separates him from God, so can he also nourish in himself the appropriate attitudes of wonder and awe, of estrangement and nothingness. It would indeed be an odd thing to suppose that a man cannot feel the wonder and terror and sublimity of the universe and its rnaker without admitting his allegiance to some particular kind of metaphysics ar theological dogma.

In the notes which follow, clicking on the number beside the note will return you to the point of origin in the text.


1. The Upunishads, trans. by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, New York, Mentor Book MD 194, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1957, pp. 123-124. (Originally published by the Vedanta Press, Hollywood, Calif. Copyrighted by the Vedanta Society of Southern California.)

2. St Teresa, Life of St Teresa, Chap. 18.5

3. St John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mt Carmel, trans. by David Lewis, 4th impression, 1922, Bk. I, Chap. 5.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., sec. 4

6. The Book of the Supreme Truth, Chap. 8; in Jan van Ruysbroeck, The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage. the Book of the Supreme Truth. The Sparkling Stone, trans. by C.A. Wynschenk Dom, London, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1916. Also quoted in a somewhat different rendering by Rufus Jones, The Flowering of Mysticism, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1937, p. 207.

7. Henry Suso, Life of Henry Suso, trans by T.F. Knox, Chap. 56.

8. Meister Eckhart, trans. by R.B. Blakney, New York, Harper & Brothers, 1941, Sermon 25, p. 213.

9. Ibid. p. 181.

10. Ibid. p. 182.

11. Ibid. p. 232.

12. Ibid. p. 206.

13. Ibid. p. 303.

14. Ibid. p. 247.

15. This raises the question of whether and how much Hegel was indebted to Eckhart. Rufus Jones in The Flowering of Mysticism states: "Hegel, as is well known, claimed Meister Eckhart as the source of his own system." I do not myself remember any such passage in Hegels writings — although as I have not read them for thirty years, my memory may be at fault. Also, Jones' sentence seems too sweeping and careless. R.B. Blakney, in the introduction to his translation of Eckhart, quotes from Franz von Baader, "I was often with Hegel in Berlin. Once I read him a passage from Meister Eckhart who was only a name to him. He was so excited by it that the next day he read me a whole lecture on Eckhart which ended with, 'There indeed we have what we want.'" This leaves the iompressionthat Hegel's mind was so sympathetic to Eckhart's ideas that a few sentences from Eckhart quoted to him casually by a friend set his mind on fire to such an extent that he talked about it at length and excitedly next morning. This could happen without him having read a line of Eckhart.

16. Margaret Smith, Readings from the Mystics of Islam, p. 110.

17. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, paperback ed., New York, Meridian Books, Inc., 1955, p. 171.

18. Al Ghazzali, The Alchemy of Happiness, trans. by Claud Field, London, 1910, translator's preface.

19. Smith, op. cit., p. 70.

20. G.G. Scholem (ed.) Major Trends of Jewish Mysticism, pp. 122-123.

21. Pp. 51, 53, 54, 60, 77, 78, 79, and elsewhere.

22. Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, New York, the Greystone Press, 1949, p. 23.

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

24. The Monism we are discussing must not be confused with Western philosophies such as those of Bradley, which never maintained that the world does not exist, but only that it is not the "ultimate" reality.

25. Dwight Goddard (ed.), A Buddhist Bible, 2nd ed., Thetford, Vt., Dwight Goddard, 1938.

26. This is the wording given to verse 7 of the Upanishad by Aurobindo at the head of Chap. III of The Life Divine.

27. Chandogya Upanishad, 7:24. this wording is taken from the translation given in Hindu Scriptures, New York, Everyman's Library, E.P. Dutton and Co, Inc., p. 183.

28. Spinoza, Ethics, Pt. I, Def. IV.

29. C.D. Broad, Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953, p. 164.

30. Chap. 3, sec. 5.


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