Religion and the Modern Mind

by W.T. Stace


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Part 3: Section 1 - The Problem of Religious Truth


THE PROBLEMS WITH WHICH WE HAVE BEEN CONCERNED IN this book, up to the end of the last chapter, have been in their nature historical. We have tried to show how the ideas which form the substance of the modern mind originated and grew up. We have been careful to avoid any discussion of their truth, or to attempt any assessment of their value. This holds true even of the many passages in this book in which we have examined the logic of an argument, in which, for example, we have inquired whether one idea logically follows from another. We have been careful to point out, for instance, that a purely naturalistic and anti-religious view of the world does not logically follow from science. But from this nothing follows as to the truth or falsity of naturalism. For we have to remember the old principle that a true conclusion is often supported by illogical arguments. The naturalistic view of the world may be true although the modern mind has reached it by a series of thought transitions in which the logic has been faulty.

In the remaining chapters of this book I shall change altogether our mode of approach. I shall endeavor to present reasonable conclusions about the great problems which face us. I shall atttempt to weigh the truth or falsity of our beliefs. We have now on our hands, as a result of the history of the last three hundred

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years, a number of major spiritual and intellectual problems. They are the problems which are the root causes of the bafflement and perplexity of the modern mind. Their full solution must no doubt be the work of the ages before us. An individual is hardly likely to solve them completely. But I propose to offer, in the rest of this book, what contributions I can towards their solution.

If our analysis has been correct, there are two central probblems and a sub-problem. The first problem is whether we are to accept the scientific view of the world as true and as the sole truth; or whether the religious view is true or contains some truth which the scientific view leaves out; or whether the two can be in any way reconciled. This is certainly the most important probblem. The second problem concerns the foundations of morality, whether they are secular or religious, and if secular whether we are committed to a relativistic view of morals. The sub-problem is: have we any free will, or are we mere cogs in a world machine, unable, even in the smallest matters of our conduct, to alter by a hair's breadth the inevitable course of the world? I call this a sub-problem because it is subordinate to the problem of morals and really a part of it. For if there is no free will, there cannot be any morality.

I shall devote the present chapter to the question of religion and the final chapter to the questions of free will and morality.

In the modern epoch the two world-pictures, that which I have called the naturalistic or scientific view of the world and that which I have called the religious view, face one another in unnresolved contradiction. I have said that modern culture has for its essence the conflict between them. It is not to be solved by amiable "reconciliations" between bishops and scientists. The notion that it has been settled because ecclesiastics now agree that the question of the age of the earth, of whether the helioocentric or the geocentric astronomy is true, of whether man is a "special creation" or is descended from simian ancestors, belong to the province of science and not to that of religion, is a sheer

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delusion. For science, as we have tried to show, is irrelevant to the problem. The problem is handed over to the philosophers because it is a matter of general world-views, and not of the details of any science. Moreover, any mere compromise, by which one part of the territory of the world is given to science, the other part to religion, is worthless and shallow. This was the great insight of Kant and of the romantic movement of the nineeteenth century—whatever may be thought of the particular solutions offered by Kant and the romantics. Thus the problem still stands before us, unsolved by any rapprochements which have occurred, or are likely to occur, between scientists and religious men.

The question may perhaps be put in the form: is religion, or is anything in any religion, true? For it can hardly be the case that the religious view of the world in general is true, but that all particular religions are wholly false. And if the question be put in this form—is any religion true?—I should myself, until recently, have replied with an unqualified no. Religion, I should have said, is nothing but a mass of false ideas and superstitions of which the ultimate source is wishful thinking. We have believed a view of the world which we want to believe, namely, that is ruled by a power which is friendly to us and to the values of beauty and goodness which we cherish. As a result of further study and reflection I have modified this opinion. To the question asked I now find the answer to be a qualified yes.

To explain this is the object of the present chapter. I fear that its contents must appear, in a peculiar sense, no more than the very personal opinions of a single man. I offer them for what they are worth.

It will be helpful to begin by regarding the religious view of the world, not as a set of intellectual propositions about the nature of the world, but as importing a way of life. Of course any religion is, or implies, some complex of propositions about the universe. But every religion offers a way of life. And I shall consider religion in this aspect first, leaving its intellectual side, as a

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set of beliefs about the world, for consideration later in this chapter.

I will quote three passages from T. S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party. They come from different parts of the play, but it is noteworthy that they are all three put into the mouth of the same character, whose utterances, in some sense, carry the main messsage of the drama. Whatever else there is in the play, it certainly teaches that there are two possible ways of life between which we have to make a choice. Says the character Reilly concerning human life:

The best of a bad job is all that any of us make of it—
Except, of course, the saints.[1]

In a later context he says

There is another way, if you have the courage.
The first I could describe in familiar terms
Because you have seen it, as we all have seen it,
llustrated, more or less, in the lives of those about us.
The second is unknown, and so requires faith—
The kind of faith that issues from despair.
The destination cannot be described;
You will know very little until you get there;

You will journey blind. But the way leads towards possession
Of what you have sought for in the wrong place.[1]

In a third passage, quoted from a later page, Reilly says:

But such experience can only be hinted at
In myths and images. To speak about it
We talk of darkness, labyrinths, Minotaur terrors.[1]

1 T. S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party. Quoted by permission of the publishers, Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. The italics in these quotations are all mine except the word "is" in the first line of the second quotation which is Mr. Eliot's.

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There is then a "way," and an "experience," and a "destination." It is the way of the "saints." Nevertheless it is "unknown." Also it is only for those who "have the courage." The destination "cannot be described." The experience likewise cannot be described, but is only "hinted at in myths and images." I shall sugggest that these words, a "way" or path, followed by the "saints," which leads to an "experience" and a "destination" which "cannnot be known" except through "myths and images," stand for the conceptions which are the essential truth of all religions.

In every religion there is a way or a path, and there is a destination or experience to which it leads. "I am the way, the truth and the life," says the Jesus of St John's gospel. The Buddhist speaks of "the noble eightfold path." The destination, the experience—which is hidden—is variously described as "salvation," "heaven," "nirvana," "union with Brahman." The different religions seem to refer to different paths and different destinations. I shall maintain that always and everywhere, in all the great religions, there is in fact only one destination, one experience, even—with some qualification—one path, but that it is "hinted at" by means of different "myths and images" which constitute the differences between the religions.

Mr. Eliot gives to his own words, if I understand him, a specially Christian interpretation. Thus the end of the play seems to teach that the "way" necessarily, or at least usually, leads through martyrdom which, if taken in its literal sense of death for the faith, is a peculiarly Christian conception. (All religions, of course, involve martyrdom, if by that is meant only the destrucction in us of the desires of the world.) I do not know whether in this I interpret Mr. Eliot rightly. But in any case I shall not follow him in any specifically Christian interpretation he may give to his own words. I have made it clear before that in my view religion and the religious view of the world are not the special property of Christian peoples, but belong to the universal heritage of mankind. It does not matter whether the meanings which I shall give to Mr. Eliot's words are his meanings or not. I shall use them to express my own meanings. I shall give them

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a more universal scope than he perhaps intends. What he says, apparently only of one religion, applies, I shall contend, to all the great religions.

The myths and images by means of which we hint at the experience and the destination are, in my view, though perhaps not in Mr. Eliot's, the creeds and dogmas of the different religions. These vary and contradict one another, and herein lie the diffferences between the religions. The unity between them lies, in the first instance, in the path and the destination, the way of life, which is the way of the saints. By the word "saint" perhaps Mr. Eliot means to refer only to the Christian saints. But I shall mean the saints of any religion. Whether this way implies any common view of the nature of the world is something which I shall discuss later in this chapter. Thus there are three questions which we have to discuss:

( 1) The conception of religious dogmas and doctrines as myths and images.

(2) The way of life, the destination, the experience.

(3) Whether the experience implies any special view of the nature of the universe.

That all religious doctrines and dogmas are myths and images means that none of them is literally true. To have perceived this is the contribution made to thought by the skeptics and the atheists, in fact by the scientific view of the world. But they have missed something. They have simply said that the dogmas are not true. In this they were right. What they failed to see was that the dogmas are not merely falsehoods, but that they are myths, images, allegories which hint at a way of life, a destination, an experience, and possibly also—this is the question referred to in (3) above, which is left for later discussion—some deeper truth about the universe. What we have first to show is that the dogmas are, if understood literally, false. Hence the contentions of the next few pages, which will be designed to show this, will seem like pure atheism and skepticism. But they must be understood in the light of the later parts of this chapter.

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Naturally I cannot take all the dogmas of all the great religions and show that, if taken literally, they are false. Such a task would be almost endless. Nor is it at all necessary. Practiically all religious people hold that the doctrines which are special and peculiar to religions other than their own are false. The Christian does not accept the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation. The Buddhist does not accept the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The procedure I shall adopt will be to take only one dogma, which is common to most religions, and which will be thought by most people to be the most fundamental doctrine of religion, and show that, if it is understood literally, there is no reason to believe that it is true, and every reason to suppose that it is false. This is the doctrine that there exists a being, known as God, who is a person, a mind, a consciousness, who formed a plan in his mind, and who, in accordance with his purpose, created a world. I do not think that this can be "proved" to be false. It is conceivable that there might be such a mind who made the world as a watchmaker makes a watch. But I think it can be shown that there is no reason at all to think that there is such a being, and that the conception of him in fact involves such difficulties that we are compelled to give it up. That the doctrine of God may have a symbolic meaning, which is true, is something the discussion of which is postponed to a later page. It is only the literal meaning of it with which we are now concerned.

The first thing to say is that science has absolutely nothing to do with the matter. This should be obvious from what has already been said in earlier chapters. It does not make any difference to the doctrine of the existence of God whether the sun goes round the earth or the earth round the sun, whether the planets move in circles or ellipses, whether the laws of motion are what Galileo and Newton thought or not. The transition from the teachings of early science to, a diminishing belief in God was a psychological, not a logical transition. In other words, it was a mistake. It is true that the scientific belief that all events are wholly to be explained by natural causes, and that there are no supernatural interventions, does make real difficulties for the more primitive

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and naive ideas of God's action in the world. But even this, as was shown on page 92, can be overcome by a little logical ingenuity. We have only to suppose that God's existence is necessary to the continued existence of the world, and that he acts in it, now as in the past, always through and by means of, the operation of natural laws. And if Newtonian science contained nothing inconsistent with belief in God, neither does the science of today. No science ever could.

The kind of thought which is really fatal to literal belief in religious dogmas has always come from philosophers, not from scientists. The popular belief to the contrary, which is a delusion, is partly due to the mistaken transitions of thought already referred to, and partly to the fact that science is in everybody's mouth (the modern idol), while philosophy is unknown except to a few people.

In Chapter 2 I tried to pin down carefully the traditional meaning of the word "God," and of the conception of his creation of the world. For that word is nowadays used in all sorts of nebulous ways. I know a man who professes to believe in God, but who, if pressed, says that what he means by God is the sum total of all the good tendencies of human beings. This, at any rate, is not what the ages have meant by God. The ages have meant a mind, a spirit, a soul, a consciousness, which made and rules over the world. The conception, as shown in Chapter 2, is necessarily anthropomorphic. It is necessary to insist on this in order to understand what follows.

What reason is there to believe in the existence of such a being? There are a number of well-known so-called "proofs of the existence of God." These have been put forward from time to time in the history of thought from Plato onwards, by philosophers and theologians. It is impossible that I should here examine them all. Most philosophers—except Roman Catholic philosophers—and most philosophically instructed religious men themselves, now regard them as fallacious and outmoded; and religious thinkers tend to rely, more and more, not on these external, logical arguments, but on the internal light of religious experience

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in men's souls—of which more later. I have already examined, in Chapter 5, one of the most famous of these arguments, the argument from design, and shown that it is fallacious. I cannot do more here than briefly discuss a few other lines of thought which have been believed in the past to prove the existence of a divine being.

One of the most common has been that the world must have a first cause, which must be God. But why should not the chains of causes and effects run back into an infinite past with no beginning? This may be difficult to conceive, and some philosophers have thought that the idea of infinite time involves contradictions. But the point to be made is that the idea of God as a first cause presents exactly the same difficulties and contradictions and offers no solution of them. For the existence of God, on the traditional view, runs back into an infinite past in exactly the same way as the suggested chain of causes. It is true that some theologians, seeing this, have said that God's eternity is not an infinite extension of time, and that God created time along with the temporal world. But this leads to contradiction. For if it is true, then time had a beginning, and before it began there was no time. But the conception of time beginning at a time, which was not itself in time, i.e., had no time before it, is self-contradictory.

The main point, however, is that there is no reason to suppose that there must have been a first cause, since the chain of causes might go infinitely backwards into infinite time; and that if there is a difficulty in conceiving an infinite backward time containing an infinite series of causes, there will be exactly the same difficulty in conceiving an infinite backward time containing only one infinitely prolonged cause, namely, God.

Suppose we admit, however, that there must have been a first cause. Why should this first cause have been a mind? The argument that the chain of causes cannot have an infinite backward extension, even if accepted, shows nothing as to the nature of the primal cause. Why must it be a mental, rather than a material, existence? The only answer which has ever been given to this

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question is that the hypothesis of a mind is the only one which will explain the evidence of purpose, the adaptation of means to ends, which we find in nature. In other words, the argument that there is a first cause, even if it is admitted, is compelled to supplement itself by appealing to the argument from design in order to show that the first cause must have been a mind rather than anyything else. But we have already shown that the argument from design is worthless. .

It is rather late in the day to discuss the argument that miracles prove the existence of God. Not many people believe that miracles occur. But a word may be said on this subject. Suppose that some very astonishing event occurs which we are utterly unable to explain. Water is turned into wine, or a stone into bread .. We are inclined to believe that a miracle has occurred. Now eIther the extraordinary event is due to the operation of some natural law which is not at present known, or it is a breach of natural law only to be explained as an intervention of God. If a miracle is defined as an event which we cannot yet explain by natural laws, but which could be explained if we knew all the laws of nature, then a miracle, not being a divine intervention, affords no evidence of the existence of God. But if it is defined as an intervention by God in breach of natural law, then we cannot use an astonishing event as an argument for God unless we already know all the laws of nature and know that the astonishing event in question could not be explained by them—which is to say, never. It may be the case, for all I know, that paralytics are sometimes cured at Lourdes. If there is sufficient trustworthy evidence of this—I do not know whether there is or not—then it ought to be believed. But it proves nothing. For we do not know all the natural causes and laws which affect human bodies. We are coming to know a little more about the powerful effects of unusual psychological states on the physical organism. "Faith" may well be one of these powerfully working psychological states. We are still woefully ignorant of such matters. But there is absolutely no reason to suppose that these cures, if they occur, are not due to natural causes.

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If we admit that all the arguments for the existence of God are invalid, this does not, of course, prove that God does not exist. The fact that there is no evidence of the existence of a mountain thirty thousand feet high on the back of the moon does not prove that one does not exist. There might be such a mounntain. In the same way there might be such a being as God, even though there is no evidence of the fact available to us. It is impossible to prove the non-existence of God. You can only say that there is no evidence of his existence. Let us suppose, then, that there is such a being.

What, now, does traditional religion tell us about his nature? First, he is a mind, a consciousness. In the Christian tradition this mind is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, and perfectly good. Let us consider some of these attributes. The word "mind" has to be taken in its literal sense as having the same essential meaning as it has when it is applied to human beings. Of course, the conception of the mind of God may have some symbolic meaning; it may be a myth or image which stands for something else. But we are now considering religious doctrines as taken in theIr literal meaning. And understood in this way the mind of God must be something like a human mind, although it is no doubt much more powerful, wise, and good. But the word "mind," taken in this literal way, means a stream of psychological states, flowing, changing, succeeding one another in a time-series. Connsciousness, in the literal meaning of the word, cannot exist in any other way. It is not possible to conceive an unchanging consciousness, because consciousness depends on contrast, which is possible only if one thought or perception follows another with which it is contrasted; so that a consciousness which ceases to change ceases to exist and passes into the darkness of unconsciousness. Hence if God has consciousness in the only sense in which the word has meaning for us, it must be a changing consciousness. But that God's consciousness flows and changes in time contradicts that unchangeableness and immutability which is also, in all religious thought, attributed to God. It at once puts God in time, and contradicts the theological conception that he

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is above time and created it. And it also contradicts the infinity of God's mind. The infinite cannot change. For that which changes lacks at one time some state wbich it has at another time; and that which lacks anything is not infinite.

In all theological thought God is supposed to be infinite. The finite mind of man is contrasted with the infinite mind of God. But the more we think of it the more we see that we can attach no meaning at all to this language. Since a mind is a flow of changing conscious states, and change implies finitude, an infinite mind is a contradiction in terms. We can understand what is meant by infinite time or infinite space. But what is meant by the term "infinity" as applied to a consciousness? Since no answer can be given to this question, some writers have suggested that when we apply the word "infinite" to God we are merely using an honorific term. When we speak of God as infinitely good, infinitely wise, and so on, all we can really mean is that he is very good, very wise, etc.—much better and wiser than we are. If so, the difference between us and God is merely one of degree. This is certainly bad theology, and the theologian will insist that God is truly infinite. But in that case no meaning can be given to his language. Either he has to give up his doctrine of the infinity of God, or he has to use language which has no meaning.

God's activity and creativity also contradict his infinity. For action and creation involve change which, as we have just seen, are consistent only with the finite. Theological thought has always recognized that passing away is an attribute of the finite, which is the reason why God is said to be immutable and unchanging. But if so, God's consciousness cannot have changed from a perception of the absence of the world before it was created to the perception of its presence after he had created it.

There are also difficulties connected with the attribute of being all-powerful which is applied to God. Does this mean that he could create a square circle? No doubt this is absurd. But if so, what this means is that the laws of logic are as binding on the mind of God as they are on the mind of man. There are things then which he cannot do.

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The reader may perhaps consider this last consideration trivial. But he cannot think this about the difficulties which arise in connnection with the idea of the infinite or perfect goodness of God. For this is notoriously irreconcilable with the existence of pain and evil in the world, and has led to one of the most famous of theological problems, the problem of evil. If God is the ultimate source of everything, then he is the ultimate source of evil; and how is this consistent with his perfect goodness? Hume wrote:

Epicurus' old questions are still unanswered. Is Deity willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?[2]

The point to notice is that the whole force of Hume's arguument depends on taking all the terms used in it literally. It is necessary perhaps to remind the reader of the fact that what we are attempting to show is only that the doctrine of the existence of God, if taken literally, is a myth. Hume's argument has no force unless such words as "able" and "willing" are taken in their ordinary human senses as meaning the same things as would be meant if we were to speak of a human being as able or willing to do this or that. And it has no force if God is not thought of as a person or a mind in the same sense as human beings are persons and minds. But if the terms and ideas are taken in their literal meanings, then Hume's argument is entirely unanswerable. But it does not show that the doctrine of God's infinite goodness may not be symbolic of some deeper truth. But if so, then it is what we have called a myth.

All attempts to solve this problem on the level of literal interpretation are obvious absurdities. Some have said that evil is not a positive, but only a negative fact. It is only the absence of goodness. It is therefore nothing, and God cannot be held responsible for creating a nothingness. But this is to assert that pain and evil do not really exist at all, which is absurd.

Others have urged that we should perceive no evil in the world

2 Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1951), part X.

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if we could perceive the world as a whole. The appearance of evil is due to our limited and partial vision. A discord in a musical composition might be unpleasant if sounded alone. But when we hear it as a part of the whole piece we see that it contributes to the beauty of the whole. In the same way evil would cease to appear as evil if we could view the universe in a single all-embracing vision. But this contention, like the last, really amounts to denying the existence of evil. It is only an appearance, not a reality. Furthermore, if the appearance is due to our limited and partial view, then it will have to be admitted that at least our limited and partial view is a real, and not merely an apparent, evil.

Others, seeing the utter hopelessness of such prevarications and evasions, take refuge in the concept of mystery. The ways of God are a mystery to the human mind, and we must accept evil as one of these mysteries. But this is both illogical and inconsistent. For the same people will insist that the good and beautiful things in the world are evidence of God's goodness. But if so, by exactly the same logic, the evil things must be admitted to be evidence of either his badness or his impotence. Those who urge the concept of mystery upon us are therefore accepting the evidence when it favors their case, but refusing to accept it when it goes against them.

In these pages I have selected, as samples, only a few of the skeptical arguments which can be used to destroy such a proposition as: "There exists an infinitely good and powerful mmd which created the world and runs it." Some of them may be more convincing, some less. It will always be possible, of course, to pick holes, to argue and dispute. But the total force of skeptical considerations of this kind, whether I have stated them impecccably or not, must in the end, I believe, prove irresistible to a mind which is both quite honest and quite impartial. What is the conclusion to which they point? Not, in my opinion, that all religion is false. Not even that the proposition just quoted is wholly false; but that such beliefs are not literally true, that they are at best "myths and images" which perhaps "hint at" some deeper truth. "To speak about it/We talk of darkness, labyrinths,

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Minotaur terrors," that is to say, we talk of all-powerful minds, gods, devils, and what not.

What then—to turn to our second problem—is the way of life, the destination, the experience, which these myths and iniages are meant to symbolize? What is the deeper truth to which they point?

There are two ways of life, that which most of us follow, and which consists in "making the best of a bad job," and the "way of the saints"—the saints of any religion. What is this second way, and what is its destination? Since the way and the destinaation are, in Eliot's words, "unknown," since the destination "cannnot be described," the present writer, who follows the first way, cannot be expected to know or describe them. No one can describe them, not even those who follow the way and have reached the destination. But I think that nevertheless something can be said. There do exist records, written by those who have followed the second way, which can be quoted. They too will be found not to express the literal and naked truth, not to "describe" the truth because that truth is "inexpressible" in language. This is the reason why men invent myths and images which merely "hint at" it. The "experience," which is also the "destination," is "ineffable," which is the same as saying that "it cannot be described." But these direct records of the personal experience of saints and mystics are at least in some way nearer to the naked truth than are the official dogmas of the various creeds which have been, for the most part, the work of theologians, not of saints—although, of course, the theologian and the saint may in rare cases be the same person.

Buddha said: "It remains a fact and the fixed and necessary constitution of being, that all its constituents are misery."[3] Also it is said in one of the Upanishads: "In the Infinite only is bliss. In the finite there is no bliss."[4]

If we think candidly about them, both these statements are

3 Anguttara-Nikaya, quoted Buddhism in Translations, H. C. Warren (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1896), p. xx.

4 Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23, in The Hindu Scriptures (Everyman ed.).

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likely to appear to us as gross exaggerations, especially the first. It may be the case, we shall perhaps piously admit, that the highest happiness is found only in God, the Infinite, but there is, after all, a great deal of genuine happiness to be found in daily life. Yet expressions which are parallel to the verse of the Upanishad can be found in the literature of all religions. There is no happiness at all, the saints keep telling us, except in God. Even in Eliot's language, all that any of us can do, except the saints, is to "make the best of a bad job." This at least says that the normal way of life cannot ever be anything except a bad job. It cannot be made a good job by any of the ordinary means, such as money and possessions, or even poetry, music, science, philosophy, art. All religious men really say the same thing, that life in the finite world is bad, and that "in the Infinite only is bliss." They say it in stronger or in weaker terms. Buddha's language is the strongest, Eliot's perhaps the weakest.

But impartially considered, do not all these religious stateements seem false? There is a great deal of happiness to be found in finite things. There are many innocent pleasures. There are flowers, sunsets, poems, concerts, plays like Mr. Eliot's. What is wrong, for the matter of that, with baseball and football? There are also good things to eat and drink. To take pleasure in these things may not be especially noble. There are no doubt higher and lower pleasures. There are pain and suffering too. Some may think that the pains outweigh the pleasures, some the opposite. But is it not simply false to say that there is no happiness in life at all, still more that all the constituents of being are misery? And yet—that there is no happiness except in God, no bliss except in the Infinite, is the constant refrain of the saints. Are they talking nonsense, denying plain facts? Or do they mean something which we have failed to understand even when, like parrots, we mumble their words in the church, the synagogue, the mosque?

I believe that what the saints say is true—not merely that there is some truth in it, but that it is wholly true.

It is correct that, as viewed from a certain level, there are plenty of pleasures and enjoyments available in the common way

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of life, and that many of them are perfectly innocent. The saint is not denying this. He is not denying that you can have good time, and that having a good time is very enjoyable. But the level at which these things are said is superficial. At a deeper level we find that all this is hollowness, vacancy, and futility. Underneath the glitter of the tinsel there is darkness. At the core there is misery. That is why we are continually absorbing ourselves in ephemeral pursuits. To be absorbed is to forget what we ourselves, in the depths, actually are. We want to forget it.

This is not true of the animals. There is something in man which is not in the animals. It is at this something which the myth of an immortal soul is hinting. What is it? The question cannot be answered, because the something "cannot be described"; it is inexpressible. If we say that it is a "hunger for the Infinite" we use the language of myth, and we also use language which is trite and hackneyed. If we say that man's true home is God, that he is estranged, and this estrangement, being his essential nature as a finite being, is the inner misery of which we speak, we are using again hackneyed language and the language of myth. But something like this is all that can be said.

It is true that men can so completely forget this inner darkness of the soul that they become unaware of it and do not know what is meant when it is spoken of. And then it may be asked how can a man be unhappy and yet not know it? If one feels happy, then one is happy. But even at the superficial level of daily life this is not true. It is possible to believe during a period of time that one is happy and afterwards to realize that one was not. And again one may ask whether, if a man is unaware of the darkness within him and is happy on the superficial level, it would not be better for him to remain in that state and be content with it. This, is the same as the old question whether it is not better to be a pig satisfied than a Socrates unsatisfied. To which the answer is: No, not unless you are a pig.

The essential truth of religion, of every religion, is that from this darkness of life there is a way out, a way into the light. The destination of your present way is futility. The destination of the

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other way is "bliss" or "blessedness." This is not merely a higher degree of what men call happiness. It is not merely an elevated "pleasure." Blessedness and happiness—at any rate as the latter word is commonly understood—do not belong in the same order of things at all. According to all religions the way out is very long and hard. But it is possible, if you want it enough. What is this way?

It is generally supposed that the way of the saints consists in living a good life, that is to say, in morality. Is not a saint just 'a very good man? To this view corresponds the suggestion that the essence of religion is ethics. It may then be said that the essence of Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount. When we discount the dogmas, we are left with the ethics, for there is nothing else in a religion besides its ethics and its dogmas. The view that, religion is "morality tinged with emotion" also makes ethics the essence of religion.

This whole way of thinking is a fatal blunder. It is hardly too much to say that it can only be the result of a sort of religious blindness. For just as there are men who are so esthetically insensitive that they appear to others blind—those, for instance, who have no sense of music, to whom music is no more than a jumble of sounds—so it is in religion. Nor are such men found only among skeptics. They are common enough among the conventionally orthodox.

Religion is not simply ethics. Nor is it just a mixture of ethics and dogma, or of ethics and emotion. There is a third something, totally different from either, which is its essence. It is true that religion always insists on a moral life. It is true that saints are usually good men. And this is not a matter of chance. It is a necessity. For love and compassion flow necessarily out of the peculiar vision, the peculiar experience, of the mystic or saint, are indeed parts of it, so that he cannot help being also a moralist. But his morality is not his religion.

The moral way alone will never lead to bliss, to blessedness, to salvation, or whatever the destination of the path may be called.

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It is possible that it may lead to "happiness." Plato and others have tried to prove that the good man is necessarily a happy man . We may hope that this is true. And yet there is a peculiar kind of disappointment, or disillusionment, which attends the life which is only moral. A man may do his duty, and yet remain unhappy, or at least basically unsatisfied. It seems in the end to have profited him nothing and to have been no more than a heavy burden which he has borne. And in any case happiness, even if the moral life does ensure it, is only a superficial phenomenon, like pleasure. It is not that blessedness which religion seeks.

What then is the way, what the destination? Strictly speaking, they "cannot be described." They are ineffable. And this word "ineffable" must be understood in its strict sense as meaning that which cannot be said, cannot be uttered at all in any conceivable words, in any conceivable language, and never will be. But it is here that the records left by the saints themselves can be of some use. Not that even they can say that which cannot be said. But they can "hint at it" more clearly than the common dogmas of religion do. Of course the saints themselves believed in and repeated the dogmas, Christian saints Christian dogmas, Hindu saints Hindu dogmas, Muslim saints Muslim dogmas. They were after all human beings conditioned in their intellectual beliefs by the different cultures in which they were brought up. And in so far as they repeated the doctrines of the particular religions to which they were attached, they contradicted one another. But sometimes they transcended these different cultures, and sought to utter the pure essence of religion itself, and when they did so their utterances show a surprising measure of agreement.

The essence of religion is not morality but mysticism. And the way of the saints is the way of mysticism. Accordingly, I use the words "saint" and "mystic" interchangeably in this book. If this does not wholly accord with dictionary definitions, I cannot help it. My contention is that all religion is ultimately mystical, or springs from the mystical side of human nature. All religious men are therefore mystics in greater or less degree. There is no sharp

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line between mystic and non-mystic. Those who are commonly recognized as mystics, and who so recognize themselves are only those whose mysticism is explicitly realized in the full light of consciousness. In the ordinary religious man that mysticism is implicit, lies below the threshold of consciousness, only faintly stirring the surface waters of the mind and not recognized as what it is either by himself or others. The "saint" is the religious man par excellence, and the substance of his life is therefore mysticism whether he, or others who watch and describe him, know it or not.

I shall quote a few of the utterances of mystics taken designedly from a number of different cultures and religions. What is commmon to all of them is the assertion that there is a kind of experience, a way of experiencing the world, in which all distinctions between one thing and another, including the distinction between the subject and object, self and not-self, are abolished, overcome, transcended, so that all the different things in the world become one, become identical with one another. We must suppose that they are still, in a sense, different; and yet they are not different but identical. Philosophical readers will be reminded of Hegel's famous "identity in difference." But whereas Hegel only talked about this, as a theory, the saints experience it—which is quite another thing. The affirmation of the possibility, or rather the actuality, of such an experience, raises at once a host of questions. But let us, for the moment at any rate, proceed to the evidence, or rather to that minute fraction of it which space allows me to reproduce here. I merely take a few samples from a vast literature.

A notable witness is Meister Eckhart, the Catholic mystic of the thirteenth century. A few passages from his writings follow.

There all is one, and one is all. There to her [the perceiving soul] all is one and one is all. Herein lies the soul's purity, that it is purified from a life that is divided and that it enters into a life that is unified. All that is divided in lower things will be unified so soon as the soul climbs into a life where there is no contrast. When the soul comes into a life of reasonableness [the true insight] it knows no contrasts. Say, Lord, when is a man in mere "understanding"? I say to you: "When a man sees one thing separated from another." And when is a man above mere

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understanding? That I can tell you: "When he sees all in all, then a man stands beyond mere understanding."[5]

In this passage our ordinary mode of experiencing the world, in which one thing is distinguished from another, is called understanding. In the true vision, which transcends it, there are no contrasts or distinctions, but "all is one."

In another passage Eckhart says:

All that a man has here externally in multiplicity is intrinsically One. Here all blades of grass, wood, and stone, all things are one. This is the deepest depth.[6]

And again:

When the soul comes into the light of the supersensual it knows nothing of contrasts [7]

In such an experience the mind has necessarily passed beyond time and space. For time and space are the very conditions of division, separation, multiplicity, contrast. Space divides things here from things there; time divides things now from things then. Hence the unifying vision in which all is one is an experience of the eternal, for eternity is not an unending length of time, but is timelessness. For the same reason it is an experience of the Infinite. For where all is one, there is nothing outside that one, and therefore nothing to limit or bound it. The notion of boundary is the essence of the finite. Only that which is bounded is finite. But for a thing to be bounded means to be bounded by something else. And if there is only one, there is no something else to bound it, and therefore it is infinite. This is the true meaning of tlie term "infinite" as it is used in religious thinking. And this is the solution of the paradoxes we earlier discovered in the notion of God as an infinite mind. We could give no meaning to this phrase so long as we understood infinite to mean mere endlessness—as when we speak of infinite time or space. An infinite mind, we now see, is a mind for which "all is one." This also provides the

5 Quoted, Rudolph Otto, Mysticism East and West (New York: The Maccmillan Co., 1932), p. 45.

6 Ibid., p. 61.

7 Ibid., p. 61.

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key to the meaning of the verse of the Upanishad which we quoted: "In the Infinite only is bliss; there is no bliss in the finite." This means that in the ordinary way of life, which views all things by what Eckhart calls the understanding, there is no bliss—though there may be pleasure and even happiness. Only in the super-consciousness, which is the second way of life, the way of the saints, is there bliss.

Our second witness will be a pagan writer, Plotinus. He wrote of that vision which he had himself attained:

Our self-seeing There is a communion with the self restored to its purity. 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 see nor distinguish nor are there two. The man is changed, no longer himself nor self-belonging; he is merged with the Supreme, sunken into It, one with It; only in separation is there duality. This is why the vision baffles telling; for how could a man bring back tidings of the Supreme as detached when he has seen it as one with himself? It is not to be told, not to be revealed to any that has not himself had the happiness to see. . . . Beholder was one with beheld ... he is become the Unity, having no diversity either in relation to himself or anyything else ... reason is in abeyance and intellection and even the very self, caught away, God-possessed, in perfect stillness, all the being calmed. . . .

This is the life of gods and of god-like and blessed men—liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth—a flight of the alone to the Alone.[8]

The italicized passages carry the essential points which are the same in all accounts whether they proceed from Christians, Muslims, pagans, Hindus, or Buddhists. These are, first, that in this experience "all is one," there is no distinction of the seer from the seen (the distinction of subject from object) nor any distinction of anyone thing from any other, no division or separation or discrimination; second, that in consequence the vision transcends intellection (Eckhart's "understanding"); third, that

8 Ennead VI.IX.II (eleven) in Works (New York: Medici Society) trans. Stephen Mackenna. Italics mine.

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for this reason it is ineffable—no words can speak it because all words depend on distinctions of one thing from another, that is to say upon the intellect; and fourth, that this experience is liberation, blessedness, calm, peace.

The pagan, we see, agrees with the Christian. Let us turn now to a wholly different culture, that of India. There the chief religions have been Hinduism and Buddhism. Their dogmas and doctrines are, of course, wholly different from those either of Christianity or ancient pagan philosophy. Nor can they be suspected of being influenced by these. They were indigenous products of purely Indian experience.

In Buddhism the unifying vision, that super-consciousness which is above mere "understanding" is called Nirvana. It is also called "enlightenment." In northern Buddhism it is sometimes called "the Buddha-mind," or again "Mind-Essence." It is a complete mistake to suppose that Nirvana is a sort of place or condition which one reaches after death. It is a state of the soul which can be attained by men who are still in the body and walking about the earth. Buddha attained it early in life, and lived and worked in the light of it for half a century. Ashvaghosha, who composed a Buddhist manual called The Awakening of Faith, about the first century A.D., distinguishes between the "discriminating consciousness" (Eckhart's "understanding," which distinguishes or discriminates between different things, and the "intellection" of Plotinus) and the "intuitive consciousness" or Mind-Essence in the attainment of which lies enlightenment. He says:

Mind-Essence does not belong to any individualized concepption of phenomena or non-phenomena .... It has no particularizing consciousness, it does not belong to any kind of describable nature. Individuations and the consciousness of them come into being only as sentient beings cherish false imaginations of diffferences.[9]

9 A translation of The Awakening of Faith will be found in A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard (2nd ed.; Thetford, Vt.: Dwight Goddard, 1938). This passage appears on page 364.

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In another passage of the same author:

In its aspect of Enlightenment, Mind-Essence is free from all manner of individuation and discriminative thinking.[10]


If any sentient being is able to keep free from all discriminative thinking, he has attained to the wisdom of a Buddha.[11]

Emphasizing what we should call the relation of the moral life to the transcendent vision, the fact that the vision is the source of ethical life, he says:

The fourth significance [of enlightenment] is an affirmation of compassionate helpfulness, for being free from all limitations of selfness, it draws all alike into its all-embracing purity and unity and peacefulness, illuminating their minds with equal brightness so that all sentient beings have an equal right to enlightenment. [12]

Why does the unifying vision lead to love and compassion, the sources of the good life? Because in it all differences are abolished, including the difference between "I" and "you" which is the source of egoism and selfishness.

The reference in this passage to peacefulness is also important. We remember the Christian phrase "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding." Why does it "pass all understanding"? We mumble this phrase in church knowing nothing of its meaning, or supposing that it is a pious ejaculation, or a superlative which has no precise significance. On the contrary, it means exactly what it says. Refer to Eckhart's use of the word "understanding." The peace of God, which is the same as the blessedness which is the destination of the saint's way, the same as the "bliss unspeakable" of Nirvana, is literally unintelligible to the discurrsive consciousness, the discriminating mind, the understanding. It has nothing to do with peace as that word is understood in our ordinary modes of living and thinking, any more than blessedness has anything to do with what is ordinarily called happiness.

10 Ibid., p. 365.

11 Ibid., p. 366.

12 Ibid., p. 368.

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Referring again to egoism Ashvaghosha says:

As soon as the mind perceives differences, it awakens desire, grasping, and following suffering, and then the mind notes that some relate to himself and some to not-self. If the mind could remain undisturbed by differences and discriminations the conception of an ego-self (the root of moral evil) would die away,[13]

From another northern Buddhist text The Surangama Sutra, out of many similar pasages I quote only one. Buddha, speaking to Ananda, the beloved disciple, says:

Ananda, if you are now desirous of more perfectly underrstanding Supreme Enlightenment . . . you must learn to answer questions with no recourse to discriminating thinking. For the Tathagatas (Buddhas) in the ten quarters of the universe have been delivered from the ever-returning cycle of deaths and rebirths by this same single way, namely by reliance upon their intuitive minds. [14]

"Discriminating mind" is the "understanding" of Eckhart, the "reason" or "intellection" of Plotinus. Intuitive mind is the non-discriminating, non-conceptual mind, the unifying vision in which all is one, the "insight" of Eckhart.

From Buddhism we turn to Hinduism. The Upanishads, the work of unknown forest saints, which date back two thousand five hundred to three thousand years, have been the chief source of the best Hindu thought from their own time till now. The great theme of the Upanishads is the discovery by their authors that "atman," which means the individual soul or self of a man, is identical with Brahman, which is the name of the Universal Self, or God. I am God; or, to use the language of the Upanishads themselves, "That art thou." The difference which we make beetween ourselves and Brahman is maya, illusion. To overcome this illusion is salvation, for in the overcoming of it the soul passes into and becomes one with God. But the overcoming of the illu-

13 Ibid., p. 369.

14 The Surangama Sutra is also translated in Goddard's Buddhist Bible. This quotation is from page 112.

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sion is not an intellectual understanding of it. One may know as a matter of abstract thought that one's self is identical with God. But this does not destroy the illusion of the difference, the separation, between God and the self. One may compare this situation to any common optical illusion such as seeing a mirage. You see a lake of water in the desert. You may possess the scientific knowledge that no water is there. But this does not get rid of the illusion. You still see the water there. In the same way the intellectual knowledge that one's self is identical with the divine self helps not a whit in getting rid of the illusion of difference. The identity of one's self and God has to be actually experienced. Then only, in that supreme mystical experience, is the veil of illusion rent, and the soul passes into an immediate, experienced union with Brahman. It is of this mystical experience that the Upanishads everywhere speak. And it requires no great degree of understanding to see that this experience is identical with the unifying vision of Eckhart, the ecstatic state of Plotinus, the intuitive or non-discriminating mind of Buddhism.

In the Mandukya Upanishad we are told that there are four possible states of mind. The first three are waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep.

The Fourth, say the wise, is not subjective experience, nor objective experience, nor experience intermediate between these two, nor is it a negative condition which is neither consciousness nor unconsciousness. It is not the knowledge of the senses, nor is it relative knowledge, nor yet inferential knowledge. Beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression, is the Fourth. It is the pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareeness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. It is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. It is One without a second. It is the Self.[15]

In this passage the "Self" means Brahman, the Universal Self.

The "One without a second" is another expression constantly

15 The quotations given from the Upanishads are from the translation of Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948). The expression here translated "not subjective experience, nor objective experience" is rendered by another translator (R. E. Hume) "not inwardly cognitive, not outwardly cognitive."

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used in the Upanishads for Brahman. "Without a second" means that Brahman has nothing outside it, by which it is bounded or limited. It is therefore the Infinite in that precise meaning of the religious Infinite which has already been explained.

The essential character of this supreme vision, it will be noted, is that in it all discrimination, difference, multiplicity, are transcended. As with Eckhart, it is beyond the understanding. As with all mystics, to whatever religion they belong, it is ineffable, impossible to express in language,—"cannot be described"—and is "unknown" in Eliot's words. And it is peace, bliss, blessedness, the supreme good, salvation. It is the "destination" of the "way." It is that for which, in Christian thought, the myth of a heaven after death stands.

From the Mundaka Upanishad I quote the following:

The subtle Self [Brahman] is realized in that pure conscioussness wherein there is no duality. [Italics mine.]

One of the commonest methods by which the Upanishads draw attention to the absence of all discrimination or difference in the mystic's experience of the divine is by insisting on the formlessness of Brahman. (It makes no difference whether we say the formlessness of Brahman or the formlessness of the mystical experience; for the two are one.) Form means any kind of character which distinguishes one thing from another. Gold, for instance, is distinguished from lead by having different characters—for example by the difference of yellow from gray. Since having form, having characters, is what distinguishes one thing from another, form is therefore the principle of differentiation and multiplicity. That in which there is no differentiation or multiplicity, in which "all is one," will accordingly be formless, and without any characters or qualities.

Hence we read in the Katha Upanishad:

Soundless, formless, intangible, undying, tasteless, odorless,. eternal, immutable, beyond Nature, is the Self.

And in the Brihadaranayka Upanishad:

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The Self is to be described as not this, not that. It is incomprehensible, for it cannot be comprehended.

It cannot be comprehended, that is, it cannot be understood by the conceptual intellect, i.e., by Eckhart's "understanding," which always proceeds by discriminating this from that. But it can be experienced in the divine vision. It is the experience of the saint.

We many now draw together the main points of what has been said about the way, the path, the experience, the destination, of the saints in all the higher religions. Its essence is the transcendence of all multiplicity in the unifying vision of the One. In this experience not only is the distinction between this and that, for instance, between the stone and the wood, done away with, but also the distinction between the subject and the object, the experiencer and the divine which he experiences. The experience is also felt directly as being bliss, peace, blessedness. This is the source of all myths about a paradise to come. The experience also has the character of eternality. For since space and time are prinnciples of division, and the experience is divisionless unity, it is therefore "above time and space." Even if the ecstatic vision lasts only a moment, which can, if we look at it from the outside, be dated, yet that moment, as seen from within itself, is timeless and eternal. For this is the meaning of eternity. It does not mean unending time, but timelessness. This eternality of the saint's experience is the source of all myths about the immortality of the soul, reincarnation, etc., in which eternity is symbolized by the notion of endless time. The experience has, finally, the character of infinity in the sense that there is nothing outside it to bound it, for in the vision in which all is one there cannot be any other to form a boundary. This infinity of the vision is the source of all myths about the infinite wisdom, power, and knowledge of God. In these myths infinity, like eternity, is distorted to mean mere endlessness. When so distorted the idea of God as an infinite mind gives rise to the absurdities and difficulties which were noted on an earlier page.

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Now all this may seem like a tissue of fantastic dreams. It is quite easy to pound it with the battering rams of logic. If we are so disposed, we shall say as follows: It is not necessary to suppose that the saints and mystics are consciously saying what is not true. But they must be in some way deluded. The experience of which they speak is impossible, because it is self-contradictory. For consciousness of any kind depends on contrast, discrimination, difference. If discrimination of differences disappears, consciousness disappears with it; we simply become unconscious. Being aware of differences is therefore part of the meaning of the word "connsciousness," just as "having four corners" is part of the meaning of the word "square." There cannot be a consciousness without awareness of differences for the same reason as there cannot be a round square.

But it must be pointed out that, by exactly the same sort of logic, a man born blind, who is aware of the world only by touch -we may ignore smell, taste, and sound-could prove that there cannot be such a thing as sight. His argument will go as follows:

Consciousness means the awareness of things by touch. Therefore part of the meaning of consciousness is contact between the body and the thing which is being experienced. But these people who talk about sight say that it is an awareness of things at a distance, or without contact of the body. But this is self-contradictory beecause being in contact with the object is part of the meaning of experiencing or perceiving it.

Both of these arguments—the one against the mystical experiience and the other against sight—are a priori, that is to say, arguments based on pure logic and not on experience. And they are both refuted in the same way, by experience. There simply is such a thing as sight, although it may seem contradictory to the blind man. And there simply is such a thing as the mystic experience, although it may seem contradictory to those who have not attained it. Of course you can say that the saint or the mystic is telling lies, or is at least in some way fuddled and deluded, as the blind man could say the same things of the man who sees. But it seems to me that, in view of the constant reiteration of the

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same things by innumerable mystics in different ages and countries and cultures, which are in many cases independent of one another and uninfluenced by one another, in view of their agreement with one another about the essentials of their vision—a vast literature of evidence of which I have only been able to give a few samples here—this explanation is not reasonable. The reasonable explanation lies in believing what they say.

We come to the third of the questions which we raised at the beginning of this chapter: whether the saint's experience implies any special view of the nature of the universe. There seem to be two possible views which can be taken. It may be held that the mystic's experience is real in the sense that he does have the experience, and it has the peculiarities which he asserts of it. But it is only a subjective experience in his own mind, so that it implies nothing about the real nature of the world outside him. It is, in this way, like a dream. A dream is real in the sense that it exists as a subjective state in the dreamer's mind. But it does not exist in the outside world, and implies nothing at all about that world. This may be called the subjectivist view of mysticism.

The other possible view is that the mystical experience does imply something objective. It may be held to imply that there is an objectively real being, a mind, a person, God, who is the creator of the universe. This is the view taken by most religions, and by most of the mystics themselves. For instance, in Hinduism the unifying experience is believed to be identical with Brahman, and Brahman is God-although it ought to be added that Hindu thinkers often do not think of God as a personal being. This may be called the objectivist view. Thus the question which we have to ask is: does the mystic experience imply what is ordinarily called "the existence, or objectivity, of God"?

Not all religions have taken the objective view. It is unsafe to speak with great confidence about what Buddha and his earliest disciples believed. But the earliest Buddhist writings seem to show that, although he certainly had the mystic experience—perhaps more clearly that any other man who ever lived—he did not objectify it. Brought up as a Hindu, he apparently denied the reality of Brahman, the Hindu equivalent of God. What he stressed was the state of enlightenment of the saint, which is Nirvana. On the face of it this seems like a subjectivist interpretation. It has been followed by the southern schools of Buddhism, those of Siam, Burma, and Ceylon, though not by the northern schools. This is the reason why Buddhism is sometimes called atheistic. And Buddhism is not the only Indian creed which takes a subjectivistic view of the mystic experience. The Sankhya and Yoga systems do the same. From this it seems to follow that theism is not a necessary implication of the experience of the saint. But that it is certainly a natural implication, which the majority of religious minds tend to follow, is shown by the emphatic insistence upon it of all the other great religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam.

It may appear that either the objectivist or the subjectivist view must be true, and that we are compelled to choose between them. My suggestion is that this is not the case, and that in fact neither is the truth; or, if we prefer to put it in another way, both are true, each from a different point of view. I will begin by pointing out that either view, if taken as the sole truth, is objectionable.

The religious man's objection to the subjectivist view will be that it destroys the truth of religion. We have seen that theological doctrines cannot be literally true; they can only be symbolic. This is the same as saying that they are myths which hint at a deeper truth. But if so, there must be a deeper truth to be hinted at. Of course, it is possible to say that what they hint at is simply the subjective mystic experience itself.[16] But it is utterly unsatisfactory to the religious consciousness. It amounts to saying that the doctrine, "God exists," means only that a certain mystical state of mind sometimes exists in some people.

No doubt the religious man can admit that the popular conception of a God who is a mind in the sense of a stream of psycoological states, such as emotions, volitions, thoughts, succeeding

16 This is the view I took in a paper under the title "Naturalism and Religion." I have since abandoned it.

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one another in time, cannot describe the real nature of God. but is only symbolic. But, if religion is to be in any sense true, there must, he will say, be some real being who is thus symbolized.

The objection to the objectivist view is not so obvious, but it is just as important. If we look at the mystic experience itself, and ask what it implies, what we find is that it declares itself as neither subjective nor objective. This is stated in so many words in the Upanishad quoted above. "The Fourth [the mystic state of mind] is neither subjective experience, nor objective experience." And if it is objected that this is a Hindu, and not a Christian, thought, we must demur. For it is only what is implied by the most basic fact about all mystic experience, in whatever religion it is found, namely that it transcends the distinction between subject and object. And if it be added that what the mystic experiences is God himself, it follows that God himself is neither subjective nor objective.

This implies that God is not an object, and that it cannot properly be said even that he "exists." For both these words, "objective" and "existent," mean that what exists, or is objective, is one thing alongside of other things and therefore finite. But God is infinite and not one among other things. This is why all proofs of his existence fail. To prove that something exists means to pass by inference from one thing to another. Thus the proofs assume that God is "another thing." For instance, if God is the first cause, then there are other things besides God, namely the effects of which he is the cause, from which we pass by inference to him. The sun and the moon exist and are objective, and this means that they are parts of the natural order, i.e., the space-time order. But God is not a part of that order, and therefore is not existent or objective.

But from the statement that God is not objective it does not follow that he is subjective, or merely an illusory thought, or idea, or psychological state, in somebody's mind. For what the mystic experience teaches is that he is neither objective nor subjective.

That God should be neither the one nor the other may seem incomprehensible, but this should not surprise us since the incom-

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prehensibility of God is asserted, in one form or another, in all the great religions.

Nevertheless something can be done to help the mind in this dilemma. We have become accustomed in science to the conception of frames of reference. For instance, suppose that two events, X and Y, occur. According to the theory of relativity, from the point of view of one space-time frame of reference, X may have occurred before Y, but from the point of view of another, Y may have occurred before X. Thus X may be both before and after Y. Until recently this would have been thought to be a contradiction. We should have said that there can be only one time order, and that, if the two events were not simultaneous, then either X occurred before Y, or Y occurred before X.

It is dangerous to press scientific and physical analogies too far in the religious sphere. No scientific analogy can properly express religious truth. But with this warning, and remembering that it is no more than an imperfect analogy, we may say that the contradiction between the naturalistic or scientific view of the world and the religious view is due to the fact that two frames of reference are being used. We may speak of the natural or temporal order, and the eternal order, as being the two frames of reference. The eternal order is revealed in the mystic experience of the saint. The natural order is the space-time world which is revealed to the intellect and to science. If we use the natural order as our frame of reference, then from that point of view the natural order is the sole reality, the mystic experience is subjective, and God is an illusion. This is the truth presented by atheism, skepticism, and naturalism. But if we use the frame of reference of the eternal order, then from that point of view God and the eternal order is the sole reality, and the world and the natural order are illusion. Looked at from outside itself, the mystic moment is a moment in time. But looked at from within itself, it is the whole of eternity. That God is an illusion is the standpoint of naturalism. That the world is an illusion is the standpoint of the eternal. This latter view finds actual expression in the Hindu doctrine of maya, and, in a less fully developed form, in all those

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philosophies, such as those of Plato, Spinoza, the German ideallists, and Bradley, who hold that the space-time world is "appearance," or is not "the true reality," or is "half real," or has a low "degree of reality."

It will be observed that this view conforms to the great insight of Kant that the solution of the religious problem cannot be a compromise, but that scientific naturalism must be one hundred per cent true and religion one hundred per cent true. Naturalism is the sole truth about the natural order, and religion is the sole truth about the eternal order. Neither order interferes with the other. But the two orders may be said to intersect in the mystic experience which is both eternal—from its own standpoint—and a moment in time—from the standpoint of time. Man, as Kant said, is an inhabitant of both worlds (orders). Kant's only mistake was his failure to recognize that man can have direct experience of the eternal order in the mystical vision.

If the solution of the religious problem here suggested is accepted, there are still a number of questions which press on us ordinary men who are not among the company of the recognized mystics. Where, it may be asked, does all this leave us? It would seem that the true religious vision is only possible to a few extraordinary men. For the great mystic is rarer even than the great poet. What then can religion mean to us? Are we not, on the account here given, wholly cut off from it? And even though we may believe that it exists, will it not be for us only a traveller's tale, something which we cannot ourselves experience or know? If so, it can mean nothing to us in our practical lives and we might as well decide to ignore it.

The answer is that it is a mistake to suppose that there is a sharp line to be drawn between the mystic and the non-mystic. We easily recognize that there is no sharp line between the poet and the non-poet. We are all poets in greater degree or less. This is proved by the fact that when the great poet speaks our spirits echo to his utterance and his vision becomes ours. We have that vision in ourselves, but he evokes it. If it were not so, if we were not ourselves inarticulate poets, his words would be nonsense

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syllables to us and we should listen uncomprehendingly to them.

Something of the same sort is true of mysticism. All men, or at least all sensitive men, are mystics in some degree. There is a mystical side of human nature just as there is a rational side. I do not mean merely that we are potential mystics in the sense that we theoretically could, by living a life which is a practical imposssibility for most of us, achieve the mystic consciousness. That would indeed be next to useless. I mean that we have the mystic consciousness now, although in most of us it shines only dimly. This is proved by the fact that, as with poetry, the utterances of the saint or the mystic call up a response in us, however faint it may be. Something in us answers back to his words, as also something answers back to the words of the poet. Why has the phrase of Plotinus, "a flight of the alone to the Alone," become famous and echoed down the ages? Why has it fascinated generations of men? It is not mere nonsense to men who, though they do not claim ever to have had anything which they would call a recognizable "mystical experience," yet possess spiritually sensitive minds. It must be that it stirs in them some depth of the waters of the soul which is ordinarily hidden, and which, by these words, is, if but for an instant, drawn up to, or near, the surface. Deep down in us, far below the threshold of our ordinary consciousness, there lies that same intuitive. non-discriminating mentality which in the great mystic has come to the surface of his mind and exists in the full light of conscious recognition.

And it is reasonable to hold that when ordinary men have what they call "religious feelings" or "religious experiences" of any kind, whether with the conscious thought of God in their minds or without it, whether in prayer, in church, or amid scenes of nature, the wonder, the awe, the sublimity of the mountains, the sunsets, or the seas, such religious feelings, vague, unformed, unclear, hardly expressible, dim, misty, inarticulate, are a stirring of the depths of the mystic vision which, if only we could drag it up into the clear light of our surface consciousness, would be the full-fledged ecstatic vision of the great mystic. It is an ancient insight that at least some "feelings" are unformed and inchoate

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cognitions. And this is the justification of the religious feelings of common men. They are not sentimental and subjective emotions. They are faint mystic experiences. They are a dim vision of the eternal, appearing in the guise of feelings, or even emotions, because they are dim and vague.

It is here that the myths of the different religions have their function and justification. No doubt, taken literally, they are false. But whether the worshipper takes them literally or recognizes them as the myths they are, they perform the function of evoking within him those religious feelings which are in fact a far-off view of the divine. A man may feel in his heart or say with his lips that God is a God of love, and may pray to that God. It does not matter whether he simple-mindedly supposes that there is, somewhere unseen all about him, listening to his words, a great benevolent ghost who regards him with the human emotion which is called love, or whether on the contrary he knows that his language and his thoughts are symbolic expressions not to be taken literally; the inward effect in him, the evocation of the eternal, may in either case be the same.

This is the justification of the myths and images, and therefore of the creeds and doctrines, of the great religions of the world. No doubt they tend to degenerate on the one side into superstitions, on the other into mere intellectual abstractions spiritually dead and powerless. No doubt they may in this way become fetters on men's minds and even sources of intellectual and spiritual disorders. They become even shams and hypocrisies. It is then that the skeptics turn on them and rend them, and in this way the skeptic too performs a function which has value in the spiritual life, a spiritual purging. But basically most men will always require myths and images to evoke in them the divine vision. And when one set of symbols has degenerated into mere abstractions or debasing superstitions, another set arises. Even the great mystics who, one might suppose, would have no need of any mere metaphorical representatives of the eternal, since they have the eternal itself, yet for the most part use the symbols of the religion in which they were born and so attach themselves to this

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religion or that. It is in this way that what one mystic says seems to contradict what another says. For they use different symbols for the same reality.

A man may attach himself to any church, or to none. He may be disgusted with the superstitions into which institutional reeligions degenerate, and with the shams and hypocrisies which they engender. Or he may have seen the literal falsity of their creeds, and because he has been taught to take them literally and thinks there is no other way, because he fails to see their symbolic truth and function, he rests in a mere negation. He may then call himself an agnostic or atheist. But it does not follow that he is irreligious, even though he may profess to be. His religion may subsist in the form of a sort of unclothed religious feeling, unclothed with any symbols at all, inarticulate, formless. Each man, in an institutional religion or out of it, must find his own way. And it is not justifiable for those who find it in one way to condemn those who find it in another.

And if the theory of religion which I have outlined is accepted, it should at least cause those of us who cannot find a place within any institutional religion to understand the religious side of human nature, both that of themselves and of others, and the function and justification of religious creeds for those who can still hold them, creeds to which simple-minded men have clung, and which they, the more sophisticated ones, have perhaps too hastily condemned.[17]

17 The view of religion which is baldly sketched in this chapter is more fully worked out in the writer's book, Time and Eternity.

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Next: The Problem of Morals


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