W.T. Stace

Mysticism and Philosophy

Chapter 2: The Problem of the Universal Core

p 41]

Section I. The Nature of the Problem

In the previous chapter I referred to R. M. Bucke's version of the argument for the objectivity of mystical experiences which various writers have based upon the alleged fact that such experiences in all times, places, and cultures have been basically the same, or that, in spite of some differences, they possess a universal core of common characteristics. Bucke's version, we observed, overstated and exaggerated whatever degree of validity the argument may reasonably be supposed to have. Professor C. D. Broad, who states that he has no religious belief, and that he has never had anything which would be called a religious or mystical experience,(1) and who cannot be accused of any special sympathy for mysticism, presents another version of the argument. It is the most careful, guarded, conservative, moderate vession with which I am acquainted. This makes it specially suitable as a basis far the philosophical discussion of the argument, and I shall use it as such. His statement is as follows:

Finally I come to the argument for the existence of God which is based on the occurrences of specifically mystical and religious experiences. I am prepared to admit that such experiences occur among people of different races and social traditions, and that they have occurred at all

[p 42]

periods of history. I am prepared to admit that, although the experiences have differed considerably at different times and places, and although the interpretations of them have differed still more, there are probably certain characteristics which are common to them all and suffice to distinguish them from all other kinds of experience. In view of this I think it more likely than not that in religious and mystical experience men come into contact with some Reality or some aspect of Reality, which they do not come into contact with in any other way.

But I do not think there is any reason to suppose that this Reallty . . . is personal (2)

Since Broad is discussing arguments in favor of the existence of a personal God, the last sentence in the quotation is inserted by him in order to indicate that he rejects the view that there is any reason to think that the Reality which may be revealed in the experience is a personal God. With this question we are not at present concerned. It will be time enough to discuss what is the nature of the Reality which is supposed to be revealed when we have analysed and evaluated that part of the argument which purports to show that there is any such Reality. Our first question is whether mystical expericnce is objective. If we decide that it is, the question may then be raised what kind of an entity it reveals. I quote Broad's last sentence only because I arn anxious not to misrepresent him by omitting reservations which he thinks ought to be made as regards the conclusions which may be drawn from the argument.

On a later page he repeats the sense of the above passage in slightly different words and says that the Reality referred to is probably "a certain objective aspect of reality:' (3) William James is plainly referring to what is essentially the same argument when he writes:

This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This

[p 43]

is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neo-Platonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make the critic stop and think. (4)

It is of interest to note that in his list of the many different cultures and religions in which agreement is found he omits Buddhism. This is not a case of inadvertence. It is no doubt a deliberate omission. And the reason for it must be that the Hinayana version of Buddhism with which alone it is probable that James was at all fully acquainted, is generally regarded as atheistic and also without any such concept as the Absolute. But Buddhism was founded on the enlightenment experience of the Buddha, and every Buddhist is supposed to seek that experience as his goal of aspiration. And since that experience was certainly in some sense mystical, it will be seen that Buddhism, at least at first sight, presents a difficulty for the theory that in mystical experiences in all cultures we "become one with the Absolute:' This apparent exception is so important that I shall have to devote a special section of this chapter to it. But even if this exception had to be admitted, it might still be the case that the agreement among mystics might be impressive if it extended to all the cases mentioned by James, and it could still be true that the argument for objectivity which has been based upon it might be in part valid, and not wholly destroyed. For the moment I shall proceed with the examination of the argument without taking account of the diffculty raised by the case of Buddhism.

The problems which the argument — of which I shall take Broad's version as the pattern — raises are two :

1. Is there any set of characteristics which is common to all mystical experiences, and distinguishes them from other kinds of experience, and thus constitutes their universal core?
2. If there is such a universal core, is the argument for objectivity which has been based upon it a valid argument?

[p 44]

I shall devote this chapter to the first problem, and the following chapter to the second, discussing also in that chapter any other arguments for objectivity which may present themselves, and endeavoring to reach a conclusion on that matter.

Although so many writers have asserted that there is a universal core of common characteristics, they have not as a rule made any serious attempt to justify the statement by a careful survey of the empirical evidence, nor even to give clear and complete lists of what the common characteristics are; nor are such lists as different writers have given consistent with one another. James lists four comman characteristics, namely:

(1) noetic quality, by which he means the immediate feeling of the revelation of objective truth which accompanies the experience and is a part of it,
(2) ineffability,
(3) transiency, and
(4) passivity (5)

R. M. Bucke gives the following:

(1) the subjective light, or photism,
(2) moral elevation,
(3) intellectual illumination,
(4) sense of immortality,
(5) loss of fear of death,
(6) loss of sense of sin,
(7) suddenness.(6)

D. T. Suzuki gives the following list af the common characteristics of satori, which is the Japanese word for what non-Japanese Buddhists usually call enlightenment. He does not say that they are the common characters of all mystical experiences including those outside the sphere of Buddhism, nor does he discuss that question. But if the general theory of the existence of a common core is correct and is supposed to include the area of Buddhism, there should be a correspondence. His list is:

(1) irrationality, inexplicability, incommunicability;
(2) intuitive insight;
(3) authoritativeness;
(4) affirmation (positive character);
(5) sense of the beyond;
(6) impersonal tone;
(7) feeling of exaltation;
(8) momentariness (roughly equivalent to Bucke's "suddenness"). (7)

It is of little use to institute a detailed analysis and comparison of these lists. There are vague correspondences, several

[p 45]

cases of a total lack of correspondence, and not one characteristic which is clearly and indubitably common to all three lists. Thus we can hardly expect much light from past writers whose statements have plainly been more or less haphazard. We shall have to tackle the problem ab initio. There is only one way of doing this. We must quote a number of representative descriptions of their experiences which have been given by mystics, taking them from all historical times, places, and cultures, as widely separated as possible; and by an examination of these descriptions we must try to arrive inductively at their common characteristics, if there are any.

Let us begin by asking what it is reasonable for us to expect to find in the way of common characteristics. That all plane triangles have as a defining common character the fact that they are bounded by three straight lines is an analytic truth. It goes without saying that our enquiry into whether mystical states of mind have any common characteristics is an empirical enquiry in which we cannot expect any absolutely universal a priori situation such as we have in mathematical models.

Is it, then, reasonable for us to expect any set of common characteristics in such an inductive situation? We have an assemblage or group of psychological states which are in common language perhaps somewhat vaguely marked off from various other groups of psychological states, and which are all commonly described by one word, the word "mystical," the other groups being called "nonmystical:' It has been too readily taken for granted by writers on mysticism that all "mystical" states must necessarily have common characteristics to justify the application of the one word to them. But as the Wittgensteinians have recently been insisting, the multifarious objects or phenomena which are all called by one name may be thus grouped together, not because of an identity of common qualities, but only because they bear to one another a relation of "family resemblance." P may resemble Q because both possess the common quality a. Q may resemble R because, although R does not possess quality a, both it and Q possess the common quality b. R

[p 46]

may resemble S by possessing in common with it the quality c, although S does not possess either the quality a or the quality b. Thus there is a chain of resemblances running through P, Q, R, and S, although no common quality is shared by them all. And this family resemblance traceable through P, Q, R, and S may be what causes us to call them all by the same name. Wittgenstein thought that this was the situation with the word "game," and he also noted that it is likely to be what we shall find in words standing for concepts in ethics and aesthetics.

Shall we find that mystical states are so called because they all share a set of common qualities, or because they have only a family resemblance to one another? There is no a priori way of deciding this question. We shall have to see after enquiry into the facts. But I will somewhat anticipate our future findings for the purpose of providing the reader with a preliminary sketch of the conclusions we shall reach. We shall find neither the situation of a pure common core shared by all mystical states nor a pure family resemblance situation. Neither the one extreme nor the other, but rather a mixture of the two which may be described as follows: there will be a central nucleus of typical cases which are typical because they all share an important set of common characteristics. But there will be borderline cases. These are usually, or often, called "mystical experiences" because, although none of them possess all the common characteristics of the nucleus, some of them possess some of these characteristics, others others. Thus they bear the relation of family resemblance both to the nucleus and to each other. This is what we mean by the phrase "borderline cases" The typical and central mystical states shade off through borderline cases into the wholly nonmystical. This may be illustrated by a diagram:

[p 47]

The diagram is perhaps oversymmetrical in that there are probably not two distinct sets of family resemblance groups one at each end. This feature of the diagram is meant merely to emphasize the centrality, or essentiality, of the nucleus. For it will be seen that, in the situation described, the central core of mystical experiences is of far more importance to our argument than the family resemblance groups. So much is this the case that after we have given a nod of recognition to the borderline cases out of respect to the family resemblance school of philosophers — we shall be justified in concentrating thereafter wholly on the central nucleus as being the inner essence of mysticism. We can then ignore the borderline cases. But we must first recognize the existence of the borderline cases, not only as a gesture of respect, but because it is important for our argument that we should do so. Otherwise, if we should find that the universal core in the central nucleus consists of the common characteristics a, b, c, d, and if a critic were to bring up one of the borderline cases and say, "This is what people call a mystical experience, but it does not share all these characteristics a, b, c, d," we should have no answer. But if we have taken the preliminary precaution of recognizing borderline cases, we shall have an answer to that critic.

Section 2. Visions and Voices Are Not Mystical Phenomena

Let us begin by excluding from the class of mystical states certain experiences which popular opinion may perhaps tend to regard as mystical, but which are not genuinely so. By doing this, and giving the reasons for it, we shall be able to learn not only what are not mystical phenomena, but by implication we can learn some important facts about those phenomena which are mystical. The chief such occurrences to be excluded are visions and voices. Not only is this the opinion of most competent scholars, but it has also been the opinion which the great mystics themselves have generally held. They have often been subject to visions and voices, but have usually discounted them as of doubtful value or importance and at any rate as not to be confused with genuine mystical experiences.

[p 48]

A Catholic saint may have a vision of the Virgin Mary or hear a voice which he attributes to Jesus. A Hindu may have a vision of the goddess Kali. Neither these nor the voices heard by St. Joan of Arc, Socrates, or Mohammed, are to be accounted as mystical phenomena, although it is quite possible that these persons may also have been the subjects of genuine mystical experiences. St. Paul is often called a mystic. The light which he is alleged to have seen on the road to Damascus and the voice which he heard saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" should not as such be classed as mystical experiences, although there may be other grounds for classing him as a mystic. The words in which he speaks of another experience as that of a man who was "caught up into the third heaven . . . and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter," have something of the true mystical ring. Even here there is some doubt because it is not clear whether the word "words" is to be taken literally or metaphorically. If literally, then this would amount to a voice which would rule it out from the class of mystical phenomena. The reference to the "third heaven" is also subject to the same doubt since it may be interpreted either metaphorically or literally as an actual vision. What however gives the sentence a genuine mystical ring is the expression "unspeakable" and the words "which it is not lawful for a man to utter". That their experiences are "unspeakable" or "ineffable" is a common statement made by mystics, although there are, as we shall see, different interpretations of this fact. The words "not lawful" may perhaps refer to a peculiarity of Jewish mystics, namely that in their tradition it is generally considered improper and indecorous for any man to give a personal account of his own mystical experiences. Such accounts, if given by a writer, were usually kept secret and not included in published versions (8) St. Paul's statement "I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me" is also sometimes quoted as evidence that he was a mystic. If so, the word "Christ" is (rightly or wrongly) taken to refer to the realization in Paul of what Eckhart calls the birth of God

[p 49]

in the apex of the soul, and what Buddhists refer to as the realization of the Buddha-nature in a man.

We may raise the question whether our exclusion of visions and voices from the class of mystical phenomena is due to an arbitrary decision, or whether any good reason can be given for it. The answer is that good reasons can be given. The main point is that the most typical as well as the most important type of mystical experi- ences is nonsensuous, whereas visions and voices have the character of sensuous imagery. The introvertive kind of mystical states are, according to all the accounts we have of them, entirely devoid of all imagery. Extrovertive experiences may indeed be called sensuous, since they consist in a transfiguration of actual sense perception, but even this is not imagery but is direct perception by the eyes. Extrovertive experience, there is some reason to think, is no more than a stepping stone to the higher introvertive state, and in any case is of less importance. These assertions will, of course, be fully explained and documented in the proper place. Introvertive experience is alleged by the experients of it to be void of content and formless. Eckhart and Ruysbroeck and many other mystics warn us that sensuous imagery must be forcibly extruded by a mind which seeks the goal of the mystic.

St. Teresa frequently saw visions. She was not an intellectual as Eckhart was, and not capable of much analytical or philosophical thinking. Yet she was aware that her visions, or at least some of them, were hallucinations. She suspected that some of them were sent by the devil to distract her from her efforts to attain union with God. She thought that others might be sent by God as a help and comfort, although even in these cases she was apparently not deceived into supposing that what she saw in the visions was objectively existent. St. John of the Cross writes that whether visions are from God or the devil

the understanding should not be encumbered by them or feed upon them, nor should the soul desire to receive and hold them, if it wishes to remain detached, empty, pure, and simple, as is required for the state of

[p 50]

union. For, as God is not comprised in any image or form, nor contained in any particular kind of knowledge, the soul, in order to be united with God, must not take hold of any distinct form or any particularized knowledge? (9)

On the other hand, although visions and voices are clearly distinguished by mystics from the higher states which they attain, there is a certain correlation between the types of persons who have mystical experiences and those who see visions and hear voices. That is why they themselves are so careful to distinguish them.

The Upanishads are of course among the earliest known documents of Indian mysticism, or indeed of any mysticism, dating as they do from the first half of the first millennium B.C. They invariably describe the mystical experiences as being "soundless, formless, intangible," (10) i.e., devoid of sensuous content. But in the mention of the practices of controlled breathing and concentration and other spiritual exercises in the Svetasvatara Upanishad we find the statement:

As you practice meditation you may,see in vision forms resembling snow, crystal, wind, smoke, fire, lightning, fireflies. the sun, the moon. These are signs that you are on the way to the revelation of Brahman. (11)

The distinction is here clearly made between visions and the genuine, mystical state, but the correlation referred to above is also asserted. The curious difference between the kind of visions mentioned by the Indian mystic, fireflies for instance, and the pious visions of the Virgin of which Christian mystics speak, may perhaps tell a tale about the differences between the two cultures, but the point is that both are sensuous images, and as such are excluded from the class of mystical phenomena, although it is recognized that the mystic is peculiarly liable to them. On the essential point of distinguishing

[p 51]

between visions and mystical experiences the Christian mystics and the Hindu mystics are in complete accord.

Section 3. Discounting Raptures, Trances, and Hyperemotionalism

There are also some other phenomena which are sometimes closely associated with the mystical life but which do not constitute any necessary part, or accompaniment, of it. They occur occasionally but are not at all universal, and may therefore be discounted as not belonging to the universal core of which we are in search. These may be listed as trances, raptures, and violent emotionalism. We may give a very brief account of them here both in order to be clear as to what we are discounting and because of their intrinsic human interest.

In the characteristic phraseology of Christian mysticism "rapture" is a semitechnical term which includes not only extreme joy, as in the popular meaning of the word, but also certain violent and abnormal bodily changes. According to St. Teresa "rapture" and "trance" are two different words for the same thing.(12) But we cannot expect to find any very consistent or precise usage of words in these matters. She herself had frequent raptures which gave her "extreme bodily pain". She describes her raptures as follows:

During the rapture itself the body is very often as it were dead, perfectly powerless. It continues in the position it was in when the rapture came upon it — if sitting, sitting; if the hands were open, or if they were shut, they will remain open or shut. For though the senses fail but rarely, it has happened to me occasionally to lose them wholly . . . for a short time. . . . But in general there remains the power of hearing and seeing; but it is as if the things heard and seen were at a great distance, far away. . . . I do not say that the soul sees and hears when the rapture is at its highest — when the faculties are lost because profoundly united with God — for then it neither sees nor hears nor perceives. . . . This utter transformation of the soul continues only for an instant.(13)

[p 52]

She also records that during the rapture

The natural heat of the body is perceptibly lessened; the coldness increases though accompanied with exceeding sweetness.(14)

In the front matter of a book which I cannot now trace, I have seen a photograph of the famous Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna being supported in a standing position by two disciples — apparently to prevent him from falling to the ground. The caption of the picture is "Sri Ramakrishna in samadhi." Of this extraordinary being we are told that during his period of ofhce as a priest at a Hindu temple his habit of continually falling into trances so interfered with his duties that this became a public scandal so that the authorities of the temple seriously considered relieving him of his appointment. (15) Ramakrishna's biographer, Nikhilananda, tells us that on one occasion "Sri Ramakrishna remained six months in a state of absolute identity with Brazman:' And Ramakrishna himself referring to this occurrence later said:

For six months I remained in that state from which ordinary men can never return; generally the body falls away after three weeks. . . . I was not conscious of day or night. Flies would enter my mouth and nostrils just as they do a dead body's but I did not feel them.(16)

It is to be hoped that, if we are to preserve our belief in Ramakrishna's veracity, he obtained his information about the flies from some outside observer after the event. And as to his staying alive for six months his biographer says that a kindly monk used to push food into his mouth. The whole incident, as related here, strains one's capacity for belief. But there can be no doubt that the abnormal bodily states which mystics call rapture or trance do sometimes occur. They are mentioned here as being of interest, but the point to be made is that they are accidental accompaniments of mystical consciousness, by no means universal or necessary. They occur among the more emotional and hysterical mystics and not among those of

[p 53]

the more calm, serene, and intellectual types. They cannot therefore be regarded as belonging to the universal core of mystical experiences.

The same is to be said of the frequently asserted connection between sex and the mystical life; and of the sex metaphors with which some mystics — especially in the Christian and Islamic traditions — lard their descriptions of what they interpret as union with God. It may well be true, as Leuba suggests, that a main part of the motives of St. Catherine of Genoa and Madame Guyon was the sex frustration which they underwent. But certainly nothing of this sort is universal. Nor do these facts have any bearing upon the philosophical problems which we are investigating-for instance, the problem of objectivity. It has always been known that disillusionment with the world and its glittering but fraudulent pleasures — fraudulent in the sense that they may seem to promise a happiness which they do not yield — is a powerful motive urging religious minds to seek consolation and to obtain that "true" happiness which they believe to be found only in God. There is no good reason to think that this tells either for or against the reality of the object of the religious consciousness. And it is not clear why, if the particular worldly pleasure which is measured and found wanting by the rnystic happens to be that of sex, or if, being deprived of sex, he seeks consolation in God, these facts should be supposed to be in some unaccountable way damaging to his claims to the objectivity of his experience. It neither helps nor hinders that claim.

The same rnay be said of what may be called the hyperemotionalism of some rnystics, namely, that it is neither a part of the universal core of mysticism nor has any bearing on our problems. Very roughly speaking, the mystics in all cultures may be divided into two types, the emotional on the one hand — St. Catherine af Genoa, St. Teresa, and Heinrich Suso are examples — and the intellectual or speculative type, who usually keep their emotions well under control, on the other. Eckhart and the Buddha are examples of this. Of course there is no sharp line of division between the two types. What we have is only a gradual transition between extremes. The extreme emotional types — in the Christian traditian especially — often speak of the love

[p. 54]

they feel overpowering them in their union with God as "burning," "violent," "vehement," "intoxicating," "passionate," and the like. St. Teresa (17) describes herself in one passage as "beside myself, drunk with love." This excessive emotionalism of some saints and mystics is, according to this writer's taste, an unpalatable characteristic, tending to show lack of balance and of good judgment and critical ability. But it is no more objectionable than the unwashed and dirty habits notoriously indulged in by some medieval saints. It is in no sense a universal characteristic of mysticism and has no bearing whatever on our problems.

Eckhart, it seems to me, said the last word on this subject. He condemns what he calls "emotional titillation," remarking that Jesus Christ never sought "pleasurable excitement" in anything he did.(18) And the following fine passage — also from Eckhart — surely puts all these extreme phenomena of raptures and frenzies of emotion in their proper perspective:

Satisfaction through feeling might mean that God sends us as comfort ecstasies and delights. But the friends of God are not spoiled by these gifts. Those are only a matter of emotion, but reasonable satisfaction is a purely spiritual process in which the highest summit of the soul remains unmoved by ecstasy, is not drowned in delight; but rather towers majestically above them. Man only finds himself in a state of spiritual satisfaction when these emotional storms of our physical nature can no longer shake the summit of the soul.(19)

To condemn hyperemotionalism and to discount it as being no necessary part of the mystical consciousness is not of course to deny that there is always an element of emotion of some kind and degree in that consciousness, and that this is necessary and universal. lndeed this is true of all human experience, which is never entirely neutral emotionally and always carries with it an affective tone of some

[p 55]

kind. That mystical experience brings blessedness, bliss, joy, and peace is the common statement of those who have it, and such words obviously express the emotional side of it. But these emotions may be — and in the highest instances are — calm, serene, and unexcited. Hence, they are a source of power, whereas hysterical emotionalism is a source of weakness.

Section 4. Towards a Solution

Suppose that one wanted to discover the common and defining characteristics of a species of butterfly. One would have no difficulty in collecting any number of specimens of that kind of butterfly so as to see what distinguishing marks they all have in common. Should it not be equally easy to collect specimen descriptions given by mystics of their experiences so as to determine their common characteristics, if there are any? No doubt it will be at once obvious to the reader that the cases are quite different and that there are far greater difficulties in the present case. It will be well to explore some of these difficulties. The most obvious is, of course, that in the nature of the case our enquiry will have to be into the inner and private lives and experiences of mystics and not, or at least not for the most part, into any overt or publicly observable phenomena. I shall briefly discuss this later, but will refer first to certain other points.

There is the difficulty that mystics usually say that their experiences are ineffable, incommunicable, and indescribable; after which they quite commonly proceed to describe them. What are we to make of this? But this is a difficulty so special and peculiar to the case of mysticism, and one which raises such unusual problems, that we shall not be in a position to discuss it until we come to deal, at a later stage of our enquiry, with the general rehations between mysticism, language, and logic.

Our task in this chapter is essentially psychological. We have to examine the psychological or phenomenological characteristics of the mystical consciousness. But most of the great mystics lived before

[p 56]

the rise of science or of scientific habits of thought, and especially before even the beginnings of a science of psychology. They had therefore little or no sense of the importance of attempting to make their introspective descriptions as accurate. and precise as possible. In this respect their descriptions may often be vastly inferior to those of quite minor mystics of our own time. Accordingly, we shail sometimes find it a useful technique to quote the descriptions which contemporary persons have given of their mystical experiences. We shall find that they often throw a flood of light upon obscure and vague descriptions given by the more famous mystics of earlier ages, that they tend to render these latter more clear and intelligible. And this will be true even though the modern cases may be those of men who, though they may be eminent in literature or in other pursuits, have not been primarily mystics and cannot compare in respect of the depth and greatness of their experiences with the famous mystics of prescientific ages.

To take what is no doubt a rather extreme example of the sort of difficulty we are apt to encounter with the language of the great mystics, consider the following. A famous Sufi, Abu Yazid of Bistam, who died in A.D. 875, thus describes a mystical experience of his own:

Then I became a bird, whose body was of Oneness, and whose wings were Everlastingness, and I continued to fly in the air of the Absolute until I passed into the sphere of Purification, and gazed upon the field of Eternity, and beheld there the tree of Oneness.

Certainly this is not typical. It is perhaps the worst example known to me. But we may note the irritating metaphors which neither illuminate the meaning nor possess even the merit of poetic beauty. We can see, if we have the patience to look again, that the writer is claiming to have possessed what has been called "the unitary consciousness," the consciousness of a unity which transcends all multiplicity, of which we shall later hear a great deal; and that he claims a direct experience of the One and Eternal. He goes on:

Once He raised me up and stationed me before Hirn, and said to me "O Abu Yazid, truly my creation desire to see thee." I said "Adorn me in

[p 57]

Thy Unity and clothe me in Thy Selfhood, and raise me up to Thy Oneness so that when Thy creation see me they will say, We have seen Thee: and Thou wilt be That, and I shall not be there at all." (20)

This fantastic language is in fact a distorted description of an aspect of mystical experience which is well known to all students of the subject and is common in the mysticisms of all cultures. This is the experience of the apparent fading away, or breaking down, of the boundary walls of the finite self so that his personal identity is lost and he feels himself merged or dissolved in an infinite or universal ocean of being. Mystics, from those who composed the Upanishads to Eckhart, from the Zen Buddhists to some of the mystics of Hasidism, have had and described this experience, as also have such moderns as Tennyson and Arthur Koestler, whom I shall quote later. This is also what Abu Yazid means by the phrase "clothe me in thy selfhood." And when he says further, "Thou wilt be That, and I shall not be there at all," what this means is that his personal identity will have disappeared altogether, or been dissolved, in that universal self or consciousness which Yazid interprets as being God, so that not "I" but only "Thou" will be there.

Another difficulty in the way of collecting "specimen" descriptions of mystical phenomena is the fact that mystics keep their experiences to themselves more often than they expose them to the public view in the farm of written accounts. A number of motives tend to produce this reticence. There are the ordinary human feelings of reserve, modesty, dignity, and the dislike of "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve." There is also the fear of profaning what is felt to be sacred by exposing it to the unsyrnpathetic and uncomprehending many. The degrees in which mystics tend thus to cloak their experiences from the public view vary with individual temperaments and also with the traditions of the particular culture, religion, or society. The most extreme secrecy was observed, as we previously mentioned, among Jewish mystics. At the other extreme we find the quite uninhibited "confessions" of St. Teresa, Suso, and

[p 58]

others who have described their experiences in detail. Hindu and Buddhist mystics seem on the whole not to be troubled by any special reticence. There is reason to believe that many ordinary and quite obscure persons — whom you may brush against in any street or subway — have at some time in their lives obtained at least some momentary glimpse of the mystical consciousness. Normally they tend to keep silent about these experiences because they fear ridicule or at least a callous and unsympathetic reception.

Even those mystics who write freely of their experiences often express themselves in an impersonal manner and avoid the use of the first person singular. They say, "Those who have known the mystical union tell us that . . . ," or, "Enlightened men say that. . . ." We notice this kind of thing very much in the writings of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck. Sri Aurobindo, the Hindu mystic who died only a few years ago, used similar modes of indirection. "Those who have thus possessed the calm within can perceive . . . ," he writes in one place. Anyone who reads these authors with insight soon sees that they must be writing of their own experiences. But this has to be gathered. from the "feel" of their writings. They do not themselves tell us in so many words. And these peculiarities of style do not usually constitute a serious difficulty for us.

The kind of psychology to the study of which we are committed is, of course, introspective. Introspective descriptions of mental states are no doubt liable to certain disabilities and disadvantages. But on the other hand they are very far from being worthless, as some of the more extreme behaviourists have tended to insist. No one who has read the psychological writings of William James with an unprejudiced eye can fail to be impressed with the wealth of valuable psychological material which they contain. And if the academic and professional psychologists now tend to neglect them, that is their loss and their folly.

Much has been made of the distinction between "public" and "private" about which Dewey, for example, was so emphatic without ever having asked himself, it would seem, what "public" and "private''' mean, or what the epistemological basis of the distinction

[p 59]

is, or whether it is ultimately justifiable. Its ultimate validity is certainly very doubtful, though it may be useful sometimes. It is true that I alone can experience and witness my own emotions and thoughts. But in the last analysis it would seem equally true that I alone can experience and witness the sounds and the colours which I perceive with my ears and eyes. For they are conditioned by my personal physiology so that I see, for instance, one colour, while another observer viewing what we call the "same" object sees another. Sense perceptions are in reality just as "private" as introspective perceptions. The so-called "public" world is only a construction out of the many private worlds. I can, subject to certain llmitations, compare my private colour experiences with your reports of yours, but so can I compare my experiences of fear or anguish, my thought habits or associations, my reasoning processes, with the reports which other people give of theirs.

But it has to be admitted that introspective reports are in fact less reliable, more liable to error, less accurate, than reports of things perceived by the senses. And it is far easier for anyone with eyes to describe the markings on a butterfly's wing than it is for the same person to give us a clear account of his "inner" feelings. Why, it will be asked, is this so, if the distinction between public and private is not at the root of the difficulties of introspection? Our answer is that introspection is more difficult and less reliable than extrospection, not because the former is private, but because of certain intrinsic characteristics of the inner life which make it difficult to pin down, catch, and grasp with accurate concepts and words. The objects of sense perception tend to have sharp and definite outlines and boundaries which make them precise and clear. They tend to endure more or less unchanged for periods long enough to be carefully observed. These remarks are truest of solids, less true of liquids, least true of vapours and gases. But the inner life of consciousness is always dim and elusive, always rapidly changing, cannot be held steady to examine. Nor do the separate parts of it usually have sharp outlines to distinguish one from another. They merge and slide insensibly into one another. Finally there seems to be a lot of truth

[p 60]

in Samuel Alexander's contention that we do not "observe" our mental states — look at them from a distance, as it were — but rather "enjoy" them by being them and living through them. This matter is very difficult, but it would seem that in some indefinable way the difference between what Alexander calls "observation" and "enjoyment" is one of the causes of the difliculties of introspection. At any rate, we do in some way know introspectively what is going on in our minds, and there is certainly much that we cannot know except by introspection.

Mystics and their experiences can be classified in a number of ways. Of overriding importance is the distinction between the extrovertive and the introvertive types of experience. But certain minor classificatory differences may be briefly mentioned. It is certainly useful to distinguish the highly emotional and usually not very intellectual or philosophical type of mystic from the calm, serene, and philosophical type — though this is, of course, a matter of degree. Enough has already been said about this. A distinction should also be made between those mystical states which have come to men unsought, without any effort on their part, and often quite unexpectedly, and those which, on the other hand, have been preceded by deliberate exercises, disciplines, or techniques, which have sometimes involved long periods of sustained effort. The former may be called `'spontaneous," the latter — for lack of a better label — "acquired."

Spontaneous experiences are usually of the extrovertive type, though not invariably. Those which are acquired are usually introvertive, because there are special techniques of introversion — which differ only slightly and superficially in different cultures. So far as I know there are no corresponding techniques of extroversion. The man to whom a brief spontaneous extrovertive experience comes may never have such an experience again. Or he may have a series of such experiences. But he can as a rule neither induce nor control them. By a single such experience of only a few moments' duration a man's life may be revolutionized. He may previously have found life meaningless and worthless, whereas now he feels that it has acquired meaning,

[p 61]
value, and direction, or his attitude to life may sometimes be radically and permanently changed.

The acquired introvertive experiences, once achieved, can as a rule be thereafter induced almost at will at least over long periods of life, but there also tend to come periods of "dryness" and "darkness" when nothing which the subject can do will induce them. Although introvertive mystical states are usually intermittent and of relatively brief duration, there are rare cases in which the mystical consciousness is believed to become permanent, running concurrently with, and in some way fused and integrated with, the normal or common consciousness. In the Christian tradition this state is technically known as "deification:' It is also sometimes referred to as "spiritual marriage," or as the "unitive life." It was apparently reached by St. Teresa, Ruysbroeck, and some others. According to tradition the Buddha also reached a permanent enlightenment consciousness. This is the meaning of the Buddhist assertion that it is possible to attain nirvana in this life and in the body, and that the Buddha, and no doubt others, did so. For nirvana simply is the final condition of a permanent mystical consciousness. Such an achievement is rare, whether in the East or the West, but it is believed by mystics to be the supreme summit of the mystical life.

The two main types of experience, the extrovertive and the introvertive, have been distinguished by different writers under various names. The latter has been called the "inward way" or the "mysticism of introspection," which is Rudolf Otto's terminology and corresponds to what Miss Underhill calls "introversion." The other may be called "the outward way" or the way of extrospection. The essential difference between them is that the extrovertive experience looks outward through the senses, while the introvertive looks inward into the mind. Both culminate in the perception of an ultimate Unity — what Plotinus called the One — with which the perceiver realizes his own union or even identity. But the extrovertive mystic, using his physical senses, perceives the multiplicity of external material objects — the sea, the sky, the houses, the trees — mystically transfigured so that the One, or the Unity, shines through them. The

[p 62]

introvertive mystic, on the contrary, seeks by deliberately shutting off the senses, by obliterating from consciousness the entire multiplicity of sensations, images, and thoughts, to plunge into the depths of his own ego. There, in that darkness and silence, he alleges that he perceives the One — and is united with it — not as a Unity seen through a multiplicity (as in the extrovertive experience), but as the wholly naked One devoid of any plurality whatever. In the next few sections we shall begin examining the detailed evidence for these remarkable assertions.

Meanwhile, the fact that there exist two such very different types of consciousness, to both of which the one adjective "mystical" is nevertheless applied, should not be considered inconsistent with the alleged existence of a universal common core of all mysticism. For (1) the two types have important characteristics which are common to both. Indeed, this is evident even from the brief remarks which have already been made, since both, as we noted, culminate in the perception of, and union with, a Unity or One, though this end is reached through different means in the two cases. Nor is this the only thing they have in common, as we shall see. And (2) there is good evidence that both types are universal in the sense that both exist and have existed alike in all times, ages, and cultures. If this were not so — if, for example, one type occurred only in the East and the other only in the West — this might tend somewhat to undermine our confidence in a universal core, though not wholly so, since even then we could point to the important set of characteristics which are common to both types.

Section 5. Extrovertive Mysticism

Although our procedure is to be inductive so far as its logical character is concerned, there would be no point in the mere repetition of great numbers of almost identical cases. It will be better to present to the reader a smaller number of representative cases — representative, that is, of different periods and cultures and areas of the world. The extrovertive type of mystical consciousness is in any case vastly less

[p 63]

important that the introvertive, both as regards practical influence on human life and history and as regards philosophical implications. I shall quote seven representative cases, each of which, while exhibiting those common characteristics of the whole group of which we are in search, shows also a variety of interesting and instructive individual qualities. Of the seven cases chosen two come from Catholic Christianity, one from Protestantism, one from the paganism of classical times, one from modern Hinduism, two from among the intelligentsia of contemporary North America of whom neither is clearly associated with any particular religious creed.

Since Buddhism and Islam are not represented, it may be suggested that the spread of the examples over different cultures is not as wide as might be desired, There is truth in this. One reason is that whereas the literature of introvertive mysticism is vast and the number of recorded cases enormous, the literature of the less important and influential extrovertive type is comparatively scanty and the number of recorded cases not so numerous. There may indeed be many recorded cases of which the present writer is ignorant. But since our examples come from Catholic and Protestant Christianity, from pagan Rome, from India, and from contemporary America, this spread is surely wide enough to make us feel sure that in the cultures which are not represented there must have been many human beings who had the same kind of experience whether they left any record of it or not. Thus the case for the universality of its distribution over the world, though not perfect, seems to me to be reasonably good.

We may begin with a statement from Meister Eckhart which, in spite of its extreme brevity and compression, may be taken as a model and pattern for the understanding of the whole group. He 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 . (21)

[p 64]

This may be supplemented by another passage from Eckhart which is as follows and which also is an example of the extrovertive, not the introvertive experience:

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 he above mere understanding? That I can tell you: "When he sees all in all, then a man stands above mere understanding." (22)

We notice that here, as everywhere in his writings, Eckhart does not bring himself into the matter, or speak of this as his own experience. Indeed he does not say in so many words that the oneness of all things of which he speaks is anyone's actual experience. He merely states that this oneness is a fact. Might it not be only a metaphysical speculation or simply a fancy? It might, so far as Eckhart's explicit sentences tell us. But no one who is familiar with his style of writing can doubt that the "depth" of which he speaks is the depth of his own experience.

What is it then that he experienced? He was looking with his physical eyes at some blades of grass, wood, stones, etc. This, and the fact that he speaks of this multiplicity as "external," prove that what he is talking about is the material world, perceived by his senses, and that the experience is of the extrovertive, not the introvertive type.

The crucial statement is that these external things, although many, were nevertheless perceived — seen by the eyes — as all one; that is, they were perceived as simultaneously many and one. What does this mean? It certainly does not mean that what Eckhart saw was both many and one in the trivial sense in which every unity is always a unity of many things — this page is one piece of paper but is composed of many parts. He cannot be stating merely that platitude. How then are we to understand what he says? As to understanding, Eckhart tells us in the second passage above quoted that all such experiences are "beyond mere understanding." We cannot hope for a logical understanding or explanation. This, as we shall see; is not

[p 65]

only Eckhart's assertion, but is universally attested by all mystics everywhere. It is in fact one of the common characteristics of all mysticism which we are seeking. But at this stage it cannot be studied any further.

To return to Eckhart's words. In saying that the grass, wood, and stone are perceived as one, he does not mean that he does not perceive the differences between them. He certainly perceives that this thing on the left is wood and this thing on the right is stone, and that stone is a different thing from wood. For he could not make a statement of the form "the wood is stone" unless he was conscious that the object before him was in fact wood as distinct from stone. Unless he perceived that wood is wood and stone is stone, he could not assert that wood is stone. Thus he means that they are both distinct and identical. Rudolf Otto has expressed the thought uncompromisingly and bluntly thus: "Black does not cease to be black, nor white white. But black is white and white is black. The opposites coincide without ceasing to be what they are in themselves." (23) And this is stated to be, not merely a series of words, but what someone physically saw.

This is shocking. But anyone who intends to read this book should know that he must get accustomed to shocks. Any writer who is honest about mysticism, as well as familiar with it, will know that it is utterly irreconcilable with all the ordinary rules of human thinking, that it blatantly breaches the laws of logic at every turn. Many writers will attempt to explain this away, to soften the shocks, to round off the angles, to make the subject palatable to what they call common sense, and thus to reduce it all to the level of the common-place. But to do this is to falsify the whole matter, and nothing of the sort will be countenanced here. Anyone who wishes can now say: "This is enough. If mysticism is involved in logical contradictions this is sufhcient justification for me to reject it forthwith, and here and now to shut this book." Let him do so if he wishes. But my own evaluation of these matters is different and will be developed, explained, and defended gradually and in due course.

[p 66]

Let us return to the crucial statement that all things are one. If the things concerned are symbolized as A, B, C, etc., then all are one because A is identical with B — although it at the same time remains different from it, and so with the rest. The whole multiplicity of things which comprise the universe are identical with one another and therefore constitute only one thing, a pure unity. The Unity, the One, we shall find, is the central experience and the central concept of all mysticism, of whichever type, although it may be more emphasized or less in different particular cases, and sometimes not even mentioned explicitly. The unity is perceived, or directly apprehended. That is to say, it belongs to the experience and not to the interpretation, in so far as it is possible to make this distinction.

The unity may be variously interpreted, and the interpretation will as a rule largely depend on the cultural environment and the prior beliefs of the individual mystic. Since the apprehension of it in the mystic's experience always brings a sense of spiritual exaltation, of bliss or beatitude, of nobility and supreme value, which are themselves not interpretations but part of the emotional tone of the experience, the unity is commonly interpreted by religious persons as "divine." By Christians and Muslims, and also by those more rare Judaic mystics who recorded this sort of experience, it is interpreted without more ado as the One Divine Being, God. The emotional and unphilosophical mystics such as St. Teresa and Suso jump immediately to the conclusion that what they have experienced is "union with God." They take it for granted that this is simply a statement of immediate experience and are unaware that they have imported an element of interpretation into it. The more philosophical Christian mystics, such as Eckhart and Ruysbroeck, introduce more subtle interpretations, perhaps consciously. By them the unity is interpreted as the Godhead, in distinction from God. It is the undifferentiated unity which lies behind the three Persons of the Trinity and which differentiates itself eternally into that threefold personality. It is true that these interpretations are usually put more upon the naked One of the introvertive type of experience than upon the extrovertive. And perhaps in introducing them at this point I am

[p 67]

somewhat getting ahead of my theme. But it does not really matter. Mystics in general do not distinguish between the introvertive One and the extrovertive One. It obviously never occurred to Eckhart, who plainly was subject to both kinds of experience, to raise any question of their identity or difference. There is no reason at all to suggest that the external One to which he refers in the passage on which we are now commenting was not thought of by him as God or the Godhead. And it is an essential and explicit part of the message of many mystics that the external and the internal unity are identical.

The experienced unity is called by Plotinus the One, and also the Good. In ancient Hindu mysticism, as expounded in the Upanishads, it is Brahman, the One without a second, or the Universal Self. By the modern Hindu mystic Ramakrishna it is sometimes conceived as Brahman, but more often as the goddess Kali. By contemporary western mystics such as Bucke and "N. M." — who will be quoted later — it is not usually given any theological interpretation.

If a religious interpretation is given, then since the formula of the extrovertive type of experience is "all things are One," this necessarily becomes "all things are God" and so gives rise to pantheism. The relations between the introvertive type of experience and the problem of theism versus pantheism will be discussed in a later chapter.

Our discussion of the passage from Eckhart has already given us a preliminary glimpse of some of the common characteristics which constitute the universal core of extrovertive mysticism. We must leave to a later page the question whether the same characteristics belong also to introvertive mysticism. Confining ourselves now to the extrovertive type, we may say that its nuclear point, around which all other common characteristics revolve, is the apprehension of a unity taken to be in some way basic to the universe. This implies a second universal characteristic, namely, that the experience is immediately interpreted by the mystic as having objective reference and not being a mere inner and subjective state of the soul. This is what James called "noetic quality." His word "quality," since it implies a characteristic of the experience itself and not a mere interpretation,

[p 68]

draws attention to the fact that this is how the mystic himself regards it. Objectivity is not for him an opinion but an experienced certainty. If this attitude of the mystic appears questionable to us who do not have his experience, it may be relevant to point out that normal human beings, other than philosophers, take the objectivity of sense experience to be an immediately apprehended fact, not a mere opinion.

A third universal characteristic is paradoxicality — a disregard off the commonly accepted laws of logic. This will require careful investigation later.

A fourth characteristic is bliss, beatitude, joy, a sense of supreme value, though this is not mentioned in the particular quotations from Eckhart which we have been considering. Other characteristics also not mentioned in that passage will make their appearance as we go along. Taking what we have learned from Eckhart as our guideline, we may now proceed to examine the other examples of extrovertive mysticism which were promised at the beginning of this section.

Consider the following from St. Teresa:

One day being in orison it was granted to me to paceiee in one instant how all things are seen and contained in Gad. I did not perceive them in their proper form, and nevertheless the view I had of them was of a sovereign clearness, and has remained vividly impresscd upon my soul. (24)

It is evident that St. Teresa, like Eckhart, was the subject of both types of experience, although her references to the extrovertive type are rare — indeed I do not remember another passage than this, though there may be some. Practically all the experiences which she records are of the introvertive type. And in this also she is like Eckhart. That the experience recorded in the above passage was extrovertive is evident. She does not perceive the naked One, but rather the multiplicity of the universe. She sees how "all things." are "contained in God." She does not mention the nuclear apprehension of a unity at all, but jumps immediately to "God." For her very feminine mind does not dwell on such abstract ideas as pure unity, but on the

[p 69]

concreteness of the divine lover. Yet her experience is recognizable as in essence the same as Eckhart's. Where Eckhart says "One," St. Teresa says "God."

In the life of Jakob Boehme, Miss Underhill (25) tells us,

. . . there were three distinct onsets of illumination; all of the pantheistic and external type. . . . About the year 1600 occurred the second illumination, initiated by a trance-like state of consciousness, the result of gazing at a polished disc. . . . This experience brought with it that peculiar and lucid vision of the inner reality of the world in which, as he said, he looked into the deepest foundations of things. . . . He believed that it was only a fancy, and in order to banish it from his mind he went out upon the green. But here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had seen.

Miss Underhill tells us that of this same incident another biographer says:

Going abroad into the fields to a green . . . he there sat down, and viewing the herbs and grass of the field in his inward light, he saw into their essences, use, and properties. . . . He had a great measure of joy, yet returned home and looked after his family and lived in great peace.

The things in the external world, "the herbs and the grass of the field," are perceived with the physical eyes, but as with St. Teresa, they are not seen "in their proper form" — her phrase, presumably for their common or ordinary appearance. They are seen transfigured. This is the characteristic mark of the extrovertive type of mystical experience. But in what way they are transfigured for Boehme is not made clear in these two passages. He sees "into the very heart of things," but what he finds there is not set down. He sees "into their essences," but what these essences are he does not say. However, the lack is made up in yet another account of what is evidently the same experience. Mr. H. H. Brinton quotes Boehme as saying:

In this light my spirit saw through all things and into all creatures and I recognized God in grass and plants.(26) [Italics mine. WTS.]

[p 70]

Thus the essence of things, their inner reality, is God. He does not use the word "unity," nor say that all these external things "are one." But in the short and scrappy accounts which the older mystics usually give of their experiences we rarely find all the characteristics of the experiences systematically set down. What we have from Boehme is sufficient to bring it into line with other accounts of extrovertive mysticism. We find in him not only the vision of God as the inner reality of external things, but also two other of the common characteristics which we have already recognized. The first is what James called the "noetic quality," the conviction that the illumination is no subjective illusion — although it is interesting to notice that Boehme at first thought that it might be, and that he tried to verify it by going out into the field and seeing whether things appeared the same there — but has objective reference. For, after going out into the field he is convinced that he is looking "into the deepest foundations of things." Secondly, the characteristic emotional tone of blessedness and peace is mentioned by him.

Before leaving Boehme we might note that what we called the principle of causal indifference finds an application in his case. The fact that his illumination came as a result of gazing at a polished surface — quite as earthly, humble, and unspiritual a ca.use as the taking of a drug-has na bearing upon its genuineness or validity. Those who think that a mescalin experience cannot possibly be a genuine mystical experience, however indistinguishable therefrom it may be in its phenomenology, might also reflect on the fact that the contemplation of running water caused St. Ignatius Loyola to pass into a state of extrovertive mystical consciousness in which he "came to corrprehend spiritual things." (27) Nor need the fact that the incident of gazing at the polished disc makes us think of self-hypnotism in any way disturb us or make us doubt the value of Boehme's experience. We are concerned with what the experience in itself was, not what produced it. And the mystical state is not in the least like the hypnotic state, although they both might share similar causal backgrounds.

[p 71]

I will now quote an account of an experience had by a living
American whom I will call N. M. It is one of those cases which, as I previously suggested, because they are recounted by a contemporary who is fully alive to the scientific and especially psychological interests of the modern mind, can be used to throw light upon statements made by great mystics of prescientific times which were in these respects woefully inadequate. N. M. is by training and occupation an intellectual. He kindly related his experience to me, and I made notes of what he said. He afterwards gave a written account of the experience which is what I shall quote in part here. It is the example to which I referred on an earlier page as the only one out of all those to be quoted in this book which was preceded by swallowing a dose of mescalin. N. M. insists however that the mescalin did not "produce" the experience but only "inhibited the inhibitions which had previously prevented him from seeing things as they really are." I think his point is that though santonin might be said to "produce" a yellowness, or a yellow appearance, in things, since the yellowness is not really present in them, yet what N. M. saw in his experience was really present in the things he was looking at, and might perhaps be said to be revealed by the mescalin but not produced by it. In other words, his rejection of the word "produce" was a way of insisting on the objectivity of the experience. During his conversation with me my notes show that he used what seem to me very graphic phrases to express this sense of objectivity which for some reason he does not repeat in his written account. They seem to me to be worth quoting. He said that during the experience he felt that he was, as it were, "looking through a keyhole" into the "inner reality of things" and seeing them as every-one would see them if they could be awakened from the "sleep or somnambulism" of our ordinary lives.

His written account is in part as follows:

The room in which I was standing looked out onto the back yards of a Negro tenement. The buildings were decrepit and ugly, the ground covered with boards, rags, and debris. Suddenly every object in my field of vision took on a curious and intense kind of existence of its own; that

[p 72]

is, everything appeared to have an "inside" — to exist as I existed, having inwardness, a kind of individual life, and every object, seen under this aspect, appeared exceedingly beautiful. There was a cat out there, with its head lifted, effortlessly watching a wasp that moved without moving just above its head. Everything was urgent with life (N. M.'s italics) . . which was the same in the cat, the wasp, the broken bottles, and merely manifested itself differently in these individuals (which did not therefore cease to be individuals however). All things seemed to glow with a light that came from within them.

I will break off N. M: s account at this point, but will resume it in a moment after making some comments. N. M. has here forgotten to include something which he said in his oral account in our conversation, namely, that not only did all those external objects seem to share one and the same life, but that that life was also identical with the life which was and is in himself. This is important because it throws light on that transcendence of the distinction between subject and object, that union with the life of all things, or with God, which other mystics often, in one set of words or another, claim to have experienced. This is not inconsistent with N. M.' s assertion that he also retained a sense of his own separateness. As we shall see later, the relation of subject and object is neither simple identity nor simple difference but identity in difference.

It also seems to me of importance that N. M. speaks of everything as having an "inside" which is its own subjectivity. Compare this with the statement of Boehme that he "gazed into the very heart of things, the very herbs and grass," and further that he "saw into their essences."

All-important is the experience that all the objects manifested, or possessed, one life, while at the same time they "did not cease to be individuals:' This is the essence of the extrovertive type of experience, expressed by Eckhart in such phrases as that "all things are one."

To resume N. M.'s account:

I experienced a complete certainty that at that moment I saw things as they really were, and I was filled with grief at the realization of the real situation of human beings, living continuously in the midst of all this without being aware of it. This thought filled my mind and I wept.


But I also wept over the things themselves which we never saw and which we made ugly in our ignorance, and I saw that all ugliness was a wounding of Life. . . . I became aware that whatever it was that had been happening had now ceased to happen. I began to be aware of time again, and the impression of entering into time was as marked as though I had stepped from air into water, from a rarer into a thicker element

At this point N. M.'s account of his actual experience ends, although he goes on to make some interpretative remarks which I shall quote. Meanwhile, I find in my notes of my conversation with him that he had there said at one point, "Time and motion seemed to have disappeared so that there was a sense of thetimeless and eternal." This seems to make clearer some things in his written account. There is the curious remark that the wasp to which he refers "moved without moving." The experience is timeless, and yet somehow there must be time in it, since movement is observed. Also he remembers during the experience that outside it and prior to it in time he and other human beings failed to see things "as they really are." One cannot explain this paradox, but it perhaps suggests the experiential basis of those philosophies which, like Bradley's, declare that the Absolute is timeless but yet that time is "taken up into" it and exists there not "as such" but in a transfigured state. What moves is nevertheless motionless. This is perhaps also the experiential basis of such ideas as "eternal process" and "timeless creativity" which we frequently meet in religious literature. God acts and creates without changing or moving just as the wasp "moved without moving." The trivial or very humble case of the wasp may thus illuminate the vastest and grandest cosmic conceptions.

N. M. marks the distinction between the description of the experience itself and his subsequent interpretations of it by explaining his later reflections. His interpretations are of interest and I quote snme of them:

My immediate reflections on thc experience at the window were as follows: I saw how absurd had been my expectations of a vision of God. I mean my notions of what such a vision would consist in. For I had no doubt that I had seen God, that is, had seen all there is to see; yet it turned out to be the world that I looked at every day. . . . I should say

[p 74]

that though I should regard my experience as a "religious" one I have no patience whatever with organized religion and do not regard my experience as lending support to any of its dogmas. On the contrary I regard organized religion as by its very nature hostile to the spirit of mysticism.

Intelligent people will hardly be surprised to be told that, if one of us should really behold God, that being would turn out to be utterly unlike what either the popular or the theological conceptions have led us to expect. It is doubtful whether we should continue to use the word God of that being, since that word seems to have been pre-empted to express the notions of theologians and preachers. Having seen God as he actually is, one might well come to regard those notions as fairy tales or superstitions. Thus when N. M. says he saw God, the word as he uses it is evidently not to be understood in its conventional meaning. He sees the world itself as divine and therefore speaks pantheistically of it, or of the divine element in it, as God. This is borne out by his explicit reference to pantheism in the passage which is next to be quoted.

N. M: s contemporary outlook and the clearly marked distinction he makes between his experience and his interpretations of it help us to understand the relations between mysticism and the various traditional religions. Mystical experience is in all cultures usually interpreted by those who have it in terms of the dogmas which constitute their prior set of beliefs. The more naive Christian mystic simply accepts quite uncritically the idea that what he has experienced is "union with God" — that is, with God as traditionally conceived in his church. Eckhart, a much more sophisticated Christian mystic, interprets the same experience as the undifferentiated unity of the Godhead before its differentiation into the three persons of the Trinity. A Hindu interprets it as union with Brahman or perhaps with the goddess Kali. A Buddhist interprets it in wholly nontheological terms which a Western mind is apt to label as "atheistic." But it is perhaps only possible for a contemporary mind, philosophically trained as is that of N. M., to realize that all these interpretations are imported into the experience, to free it from its

[p 75]

incrustations of traditional dogmas, and to present it to himself and to us as as near to pure uninterpreted experience as is possible. This is what we can never expect from even the greatest of the medieval mystics. And it is in this way that the evidence of our contemporaries who have experienced mystical states is peculiarly valuable toour investigation.

One other quotation from N. M.'s interpretative reflections will be in order. I had pressed him as to what he meant by saying in conversation that his life had been felt as "meaningless" before the experience but now had "meaning." In what sense was he using the word "meaning"? Was it that he now saw a purpose in existence which he had not seen before? Was he now, as a result of the experience, convinced of the existence of some cosmic plan in harmony with which one could try to live one's life? The following is his written reply:

I think I said to you that once my life was meaningless and that now it had meaning. That was misleading if it suggested that human life has a purpose and that I now know what that purpose is. . . . On the contrary I do not believe that it has any purpose at all. As Blake put it "all life is holy" and that is enough; even the desire for more seems to me mere spiritual greed. It is enough that things are; a man who is not content with what is simply does not know what is. That is all that pantheism really means when it is not tricked out as a philosophical theory. It would be best not to talk of meaning at all, but to say that there is a feeling of emptiness, and then one sees, and then there is fullness.

Again no one is compelled to accept N. M.'s particular interpretations, though I think one is bound to accept as a psychological fact that the experience which N. M. describes actually occurred more or less as he describes it. It is also evidently a fact that such an experience, momentary though it may be, can in sorne way illuminate with permanent and lasting happiness, peace, and satisfaction a life which was previously dark with despair. It seems probable also that mystical consciousness cannot be made a basis on which to erect a teleological view of tbe world, and that if such a view is to be maintained it must be supported on some other ground. As for

[p 76]

N. M.'s suggestion that one who knows what really exists will be wholly satisfied with what exists, this of course lays itself open to the age-old argument of the theologians and moralists that pantheism can make no distinction between good and evil, or else that it has to deny that evil "really" exists at all, since it regards all that exists as good and divine. But it is doubtful whether atheism can make any better showing with the problem of evil than pantheism can. That question will be taken up in a later chapter. Meanwhile we have to note that to whatever difficulties of this kind a view like that of N.M.'s may expose itself, many mystics in all ages have felt somcthing which perhaps can only be expressed by some such statement as that, if one knows what really is, one will see that all of it is divine and good.

We find in N. M: s statement the same four common characteristics of extrovertive mysticism which have already been noted: the ultimate oneness of all things, the sense of objectivity, the affective tone of blessedness, joy, or happiness, and paradoxicality. But there are some modifications. The ultimate unity is now characterized, not as a mere abstract oneness, but more concretely as one life. The element of paradox is also somewhat different. The quotation from Eckhart spoke of an identity of differents, of wood and stone for example. A is at once identical with B and distinct from it. This is an open paradox. But in N.M.'s statement that the one life manifests itself in many individuals the same paradox is, I believe, present but tends to be concealed by the use of the metaphor of manifestation. N. M. himself, when I questioned him about this, did not seem to recognize the paradox in this. But paradox breaks out openly in regard to time and motion, which both are and are not present in the experience.

My next example is from the famous nineteenth century Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna. He was at one time priest in charge of a temple of Kali, the Divnne Mother. His extraordinary doings caused much embarrassment to the temple authorities. On one occasion he fed to a cat certain food which had been reserved as an offering to the image of the goddess. He defended himself by saying that

The Divine Mother revealed to me that . . . it was she who had become everything . . . that everything was full of consciousness. The image was consciousness, the altar was consciousness . . . the door-sills were consciousness. . . . I found everything in the room soaked as it were in bliss — the bliss of God. . . . That was why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that all this was the Divine Mother — even the cat. (28)

Ramakrishna's eccentricities should not blind us to the genuineness of his mystical states, from which there is much to be learned. We need not comment at any great length on the above passage. In spite of its eccentric setting and oddity of wording, the experience which it describes is of essentially the same kind as that ot N. M. All material objects in sight of the experient are recognized as identical with Kali and with one another. This one inner subjectivity in all things, spoken of as "life" by N. M., now becomes "consciousness" for Ramakrishna. We need not make any point of the difference between the concepts of life and consciousness. We cannot expect any great precision of categories here, especially from so unpredictable a being as Ramakrishna.

We may turn next to the case of Plotinus. Most of the passages in which he can be recognized as describing mystical states refer to the introvertive type. But Rudolf Otto suggests that the following quotation refers to an extrovertive experience:

They see all not in process of becoming, but in being, and they see themselves in the other. Each being contains within itself the whole intelligible world. Therefore all is everywhere. Each is there all and all is each. (29)

This gives us the paradox of the essential identity and oneness of all things, It implies the sense of objectivity. But it does not mention the ernotional element or the inner subjectivity of the oneness.

Finally I quote R. M. Bucke's description of his experience — which came to him only once and was never repeated. But it carried with it such an overwhelming conviction of its objective reality and such a high feeling of beatitude that the memory of it was sufficient to

reorient his life and thought. It was this single momentary flash of cosmic consciousness which caused him to collect and study patiently all the records he could find of other people's similar experiences and to reflect on them and publish his conclusions about them in his book. This is his description:

I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. . . . I had a long drive home in a hansom cab to my lodging. My mind . . . was calm and peaceful. . . . All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire . . . somewhere . . . in that great city; in the next I knew that the fire was in rnyself. Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things I did not merely come to believe but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence. I became conscious in myself of eternal life. . . , I saw that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation of the world . . . is . . . love. . . . The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone, but the memory of it and the sense of reality it left has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed, I knew that what the vision showed was true. . . . That conviction . . . has never been lost. (30)

The similarities and differences between Bucke's description and the other six will easily be perceived by the reader. The essential revelation here is that the universe is not a mass of dead things but everything is living. This was also the essence of N. M.'s experience. The central affirmation of all extrovertive experience that "all is One" is not directly emphasiaed by Bucke, but is involved in the assertion that the world is not a multiplicity of living beings but a single "living Presence."

We are now in a position to list the common characteristics of extrovertive mystical states of mind as evidenced in these seven typical and representative samples selected from different periods, lands, and cultures. They are:

[p 79]

  1. The unifying vision, expressod abstractly by the formula "All is One." The One is, in extrovertive mysticism, perceived through the physical senses, in or through the multiplicity of objects.
  2. The more concrete apprehension of the One as being an inner subjectivity in all things, described variously as life, or consciousness, or a living Presence. The discovery that nothing is "really" dead.
  3. Sense of objectivity or reality.
  4. Feeling of blessedness, joy, happiness, satisfaction, etc.
  5. Feeling that what is apprehended is holy, or sacred, or divine. This is the quality which gives rise to the interpretation of the experience as being an experience of "God." It is the specifically religious element in the experience. It is closely intertwined with, but not identical with, the previously listed characteristic of blessedness and joy.
  6. Paradoxicality.
    Another characteristic may be mentioned with reservations, namely,
  7. Alleged by mystics to be ineffable, incapable of being described in words, etc.

This has not been specifically brought out in our analysis of our sample cases. But it is universally affirmed by mystics. Bucke speaks of his illurnination as "impossible to describe." Such phrases as "inexpressible," "unutterable," "beyond all expression" bespatter the writings of mystics all over the world. Nevertheless, as is evident, they do describe their experiences in words. What is rneant by this alleged ineffability is not clear at present. There is some difficu!ty about verbalization, but what it is we do not yet know. The problem will be investigated in our chapter "Mysticism and Language." I do not therefore simply list "ineffability" as a common characteristic, as has been done by William ]ames and others. I list only "alleged by mystics to be ineffable."

Not all of the characteristics which appear in the list are specifically mentioned in every one of our seven cases. It would be absurd to expect this. The writers did not have in miind the systematic and analytic mind of the philosopher, anxious for neat and complete lists and catalogues. They wrote from motives quite other than those which animate the intellectual and the scholar! And they set down, no doubt, what they thought necessary for the case in hand and for

[p 80]

the occasion. For instance, most of Eckhart's pronouncements were made in sermons to church congregations, not to professors or students in a lecture hall. Anyone who looks at the quotation from Eckhart at the beginning af this section can see that, although he does not mention the sense of objectivity, he is taking it for granted that it will be understood that he is speaking of something objective and true, and not of some subjective dream. Moreover, different individual mystics with their individual outlooks and temperaments will emphasize different aspects of the experience. Thus an intellectual like Eckhart is likely to notice the paradoxicality of his own experience and thought and to express himself in intentionally paradoxical language. But however much contradiction there might be in the uncritical mind of St. Teresa, she would be unlikely to be aware of it or to express it. Again the intensity of the feeling of objectivity obviously varies enormously with the indivndual. In all cases it is present, but in some it is assumed as a matter of course just as we ordinarily assume as a matter af course that what we see with our eyes when we are awake is objective. In other cases, for instance in Bucke's, the reality and truth of the vision is felt so strongly that it is asserted with vehement conviction as an absolute and unshakable certainty.

We may end this section with a note on what is sometimes called "nature mysticism." It is a mistake to suppose that this phrase signifies another type of mysticism distinct from the two which we have already recognized. It is either the same as extrovertive mysticism, or it is a dim feeling or sense of a "presence" in nature which does not amount to a developed mystical experience but is a kind of sensitivity to the mystical which many people have who are not in the full sense mystics. Wordsworth writes such famous lines as those in which he speaks of


a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky and in the mind of man;

[p 81]


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

Plainly this expresses something essentially the same as what the extrovertive mystics tell us they have experienced. But it is probable that Wordsworth never had such a definite experience as those which have been quoted in this section. It is possible to explain this poem without assuming that he had. Mystical ideas have passed from the mystics into the general stream of ideas in history and literature. Sensitive people can acquire them and feel sympathy with them, and can, in the presence of nature, feel in themselves the sort of feelings which Wordsworth here expresses. There are underground connections between the mystical and the aesthetic (whether in poetry or in other forms of art) which are at present obscure and unexplained.

Section 6. Borderline Cases

ln the last section I have endeavored to explicate the defining characteristics of the class "extrovertive mystical experience." But there are many borderline cases, that is to say, cases in which some but not all of the defining characteristics appear, and which may even include features the absence of which is characteristic of typical cases. They will exhibit a family resemblance to the typical cases. We shall often feel doubtful whether to apply the word "mystical" or not. There is of course no absolute rule about this. In regard to commanly used words common usage is the rule, but "rnystical" is hardly a commonly used word, and it is doubtful whether there is any established popular usage. Thus it is to some extent a matter of individual judgment how strict ar how lax we are. Very likely the two borderline cases which I will quote would be popularly called mystical. But at any rate they are atypical, and I should myself prefer the stricter convention.

The first case is recorded by the British poet John Masefield. At a certain period, he explains, he was in despair about his creative

[p 82]

work. His inspiration seemed to have dried up. His spirit was barren, and he could produce nothing valuable. One day, on a country walk, he relates:


I said to myself: "Now I will make a poem about a blackguard who becomes converted." Instantly the poem appeared to me in its complete form, with every detail distinct! [On his return home from his walk he merely had to write the poem down] . . . and the opening lines poured out on the page as fast as I could write them down (31)

Evidently this, or something like it, was not an isolated experience with Masefield but had happened more than once. For on a later page, discussing the nature of poetic inspiration, he states as his own experience that:


This illumination is an intense experience so wonderful that it cannot be described. While it lasts the momentary problem is merged into a dazzlingly clear perception of the entire work in all its detail. In a moment of mental ecstasy the writer . . . perceives what seems to be an unchangeable way of statement (32)

He further comments that of course many writers would consider such experiences subjective, but that other poets to whom he has talked, agree with him that


it is a perception by a mortal of an undying reality . . . from which all beauty, good, wisdom, and rightness come to man. . . . Certainly to myself this last is the explanation . . . that this universe of gJory and energy exists and that man may in some strange way enter into it and partake of its nature.(33)

The characteristics which make this like the typical extrovertive mystical experience are that it seems to the poet that "it cannot be described," that it comes as an immediate experience, a fusion of emotion and perception, that it is a moment of "mental ecstasy," and that it has, for Masefield, a sense of objectivity which makes him

[p 83]

feel certain that it is a revelation af an "undying" reality which is the source of all spiritual values. The features which make it unlike the typical mystical consciousness are that there is in it no touch of the sense of the unity of all things, the "unifying vision," which, I have maintained, is not only a characteristic of all mystical experience but is the nuclear and essential characteristic. And it cannot in this ease be maintained that this is merely not mentioned, for he stresses that what is before his vision is a very distinct image of a multiplicity of ununified details — letters on a printed page presumably. Moreover, the experience was of the nature of a mental image or vision. We have contended that rnental images (as well as voices) must be excluded from the mystical. Extrovertive experiences, it is true, contain physical sensations, but not images; while introvertive experiences include, as we shall see, neither sensations nor images. No doubt, as we have observed, aesthetic and poetic experiences have some obscure connections with rnysticism. But this does not mean that they are themselves in any strict sense mystical.

The other borderline case which I will quote was reported by Margaret Prescott Montague in an essay entitled Twenty Minutes of Reality (34) Miss Montague was convalescing in a hospital after a surgical operation, and her bed had for the first time been wheeled out onto the porch. From there she looked out on a rather dingy winter scene, the branches "bare and colorless," "the half-melted piles of snow a forlorn grey rather than white." Her account proceeds:


Entirely unexpectedly (for I had never dreamed of such a thing) my eyes were opened and for the first time in my life I caught a glimpse of the ecstatic beauty of reality . . . its unspeakable joy, beauty, and importance. . . I saw no new thing but I saw all the usual things in a miraculous new light — in what I believe is their true light. . . . I saw . . . how wildly beautiful and joyous, beyond any words of mine to describe, is the whole of life. Every human being moving across that porch, every sparrow that flew, every branch tossing in the wind was caught

[p 84]


in and was part of the whole mad ecstasy of loveliness, of joy, of importance, of intoxication of life. . . . I saw the actual loveliness which was always there. . . . My heart melted out of me in a rapture of love and delight . . . Once out of all the grey days of my life I have looked into the heart of reality; I have witnessed the truth. (35)

There is a strong sense of objectivity in the experience and a profound conviction that she has seen into "the heart of reaIity." The account emphasizes the beauty, value, and bliss of reality and of the writer's experience. The experience seemed to her ineffable in some sense of the word — "beyond any words of mine to describe" — although this phrase might mean merely that she personally had not the literary art to describe it, and not that it was in itself intrinsically incapable of verbalization, which is what is usually asserted by mystics. The experience differs from that of Masefield in that it did not consist of mental images, but came as a transfigured sense perception. This brings it far nearer to the typical extrovertive mystical consciousness than the experience of Masefield, Its chief differences from the typical cases are that it reveals no feeling of being a "unifying vision" in which "all is One," and there is no perception of an inner subjectivity — life or consciousness — in inorganic or "dead" objects, and no sense of the "religious" or "holy" or "divine" which we noted in the typical cases, but only of the beauty and joy of creation. In this way it is nearer to the aesthetic than to the mystical. Nevertheless, it does not indude, as Masefield's experience does, features which are actually inconsistent with the mystical experience proper, for instance, the presence of sensuous images. All that prevents it from being a typical extrovertive experience is that, though it contains some of the defining features of the class, it leaves out others. Perhaps therefore it might better be classed as an incomplete, or incipient, case of extrovertive mysticism. Of course the word we use is no great rnatter. But what is irnportant in this discussion is to recognize the facts which have been brought out, namely that there do exist experiences which are atypical or borderline, whatever word we elect to apply to them.

[p 85]

Section 7. Introvertive Mysticism

The basic psychological facts about the introvertive type of mystical experience, as asserted by the mystics, are in principle very easy to set forth; and there is no doubt that in essence they are the same all over the world in all cultures, religions, places, and ages. They are, however, so extraordinary and paradoxical that they are bound to strain belief when suddenly sprung upon anyone who is not prepared for them. I shall do all in my power to discuss fully and fairly the difficulties and paradoxes involved. But the first thing is to set forth the alleged facts as the mystics state them without comment and without passing judgment. The examination of criticisms will come afterwards.

Suppose that one should stop up the inlets of the physical senses so that no sensations could reach consciousness. This would be easy in the cases of the eyes, nose, ears, and tongue. But although one can shut one's eyes and stop one's ears, one cannot in this literal manner stop up the sense of touch nor the organic sensations. However, they can be excluded from explicit consciousness. Every footballer knows that it is possible to receive a heavy blow or kick or even a fairly severe wound and to be wholly unaware of the fact because of the excitement of the game and because the mind is completely absorbed in what is, for the player at the moment, far more important — the pursuit of the object of the game. Later on, the pain of the bruise or other injury will emerge into consciousness. If one wishes to say that at the moment of the hurt there is a sensation of pain in the unconscious, that is perhaps a possible manner of speech for which there is something to be said. But there was at any rate no feeling of pain in consciousness. Hence there seems to be no a priori reason why a man bent on the goal of the mystic life should not, by acquiring sufficient concentration and mental control, exclude all physical sensations from his consciousness.

5uppose that, after having got rid of all sensations, one should go on to exclude from consciousness all sensuous images, and then all

[p 86]

abstract thoughts, reasoning processes, volitions, and other particular mental contents; what would there then be left of consciousness? There would be no mental content whatever but rather a complete emptiness, vacuum, void. One would suppose a priori that consciousness would then entirely lapse and one would fall asleep or become unconscious. But the introvertive mystics — thousands of them all over the world — unanimously assert that they have attained to this complete vacuum of particular mental contents, but that what then happens is quite different from a lapse into unconsciousness. On the contrary, what emerges is a state of pure consciousness — "pure" in the sense that it is not the consciousness of any empirical content. It has no content except itself.

Since the experience has no content, it is aften spoken of by the mystics as the Void or as nothingness; but also as the One, and as the Infinite. That there are in it no particular existences is the same as saying that there are no distinctions in it, or that it is an undifferentiated unity. Since there is no multiplicity in it, it is the One. And that there are no distinctions in it or outside it means that there are no boundary lines in it between anything and anything. It is therefore the boundless or the infinite.

The paradox is that there should be a positive experience which has no positive content — an expe rience which is both something and nothing.

Our normal everyday consciousness always has objects. They may be physical objects, or images, or even our own feelings or thoughts perceived introspectively. Suppose then that we obliterate from consciousness all objects physical or mental. When the self is not engaged in apprehending objects it becomes aware of itself. The self itself emerges. The self, however, when stripped of all psychological contents or objects, is not another thing, or substance, distinct from its contents. It is the bare unity of the manifold of consciousness from which the manifold itself has been obliterated. This seems analogous to saying that if from a whole or unity of many parts we could subtract all the parts, the empty whole or unity would be left. This is another statement of the paradox.

[p 87]

One may also say that the mystic gets rid of the empirical ego whereupon the pure ego, normally hidden, emerges into the light. The empirical ego is the stream of consciousness. The pure ego is the unity which holds the manifold of the stream together. This undifferentiated unity is the essence of the introvertive mystical experience.

All this flatly contradicts a famous passage from David Hume. He wrote: "When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always sturnble on some particular perception i.e. some particular mental content or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception." And Hume concludes that there is no such thing as a self or ego; but that a person is "nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions," (36) i.e., nothing but the stream of consciousness. The ego which Hume was denying was of course the ego considered as a substance, whereas what the mystic is affirming is the
ego in the sense of what Kant called "the transcendental unity of apperception."

How is it possible to reach this extraordinary psychological condition which the mystic thus describes? Methods and techniques for attaining it had apparently been discovered and worked out in great detail in India before the age of the Upanishads. They constitute the various practices and kinds of Yoga. Apart fram certain physical disciplines — every one has heard at least of breathing exercises in this connection — there have to be great and continuous efforts at the control and discipline of the mind. Among Western mystics these methods of "stopping thought" — that is, excluding sensations, images, conceptual thinking, etc. — have also not been basically different from Oriental models. Christian mystics, of course, emphasise prayer or "orison." St. Teresa in her autobiography describes the various stages of orison in great detail. So do a number of other mystics. But prayer properly understood does not consist in begging favors but in strenuous efforts to obtain a direct experience of the Divine Being in mystical ecstasy. And according to Christian interpretation, union with God normally occurs only when all the

[p 88]

empirical contents of mind have been got rid of and one reaches the empty ground of the self in pure consciousness.

In the nature of the case, the introvertive type of mystical consciousness is usually acquired, often only after long years of effort, and does not come spontaneously as does the extrovertive kind of experience. Nevertheless, spontaneous and unsought introvertive experiences do occasionally occur, one of them being that of J. A. Symonds to be quoted below.

I will now begin the presentation of examples of this kind of experience selected from the literatures of as wide a spread of cultures, ages, and lands as possible with a view to discovering their common characteristics. It will be appropriate to begin with ancient India. As usual with descriptions of mystical states given by peoples who lived long before the dawn of science and the modern interest in the details of psychology, the statements which we get in the Upanishads are abrupt and very short, so that light can be thrown upon them by the more detailed description of a modern like J. A. Symonds. The following is from the Mandukya Upanishad. The composer of the Upanishad begins by mentioning three normal kinds of mental condition, waking consciousness, dreaming, and dreamless sleep, and then proceeds:

The Fourth, say the wise . . . 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 pure unitary consciousness wherein awareness 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. (37)

The expression "say the wise" possibly indicates that whoever first reduced this Upanishad to writing made no claim that the experience described was his own. He attributes it to "the wise," which in this context certainly means the enlightened ones, those who know first-hand the fourth klnd of consciousness. Even if the passage is a traditional description, this should not reduce our confidence in it; for it is in accord, not only with the whole spirit of Upanishadic mysticism,

[p 89]

but with descriptions of introvertive mysticism everywhere, as we shall see.

We note that the experience is said to be "beyond all expression," that is, ineffable. And further that it is "ineffable peace." Thus we have two characteristics which this experience shares with the extrovertive kind of experience, alleged ineffability and blessedness or peace. It is "not the knowledge of the senses." The word "knowledge" should not be taken in the narrow sense in which we usually take it but rather as including any awareness or consciousness. The fourth state is not one of sensation. Sensation is excluded from it. This is evident frorn the fact that ''awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated." Not only this, but it is "beyond understanding." No doubt we must be careful before we attribute to an ancient Indian hermit the distinctions of rnodern epistemology and psychology. But we find throughout all mystical literature, ancient and modern, that some such word as "understanding" — or what is here translated by that English word — or "intellect" or "intelligence" or sometimes "reason" is used to mean the faculty of thought in the sense of abstract or conceptual thought as distinct from sensation; and we find throughout that literature that thought and understanding in this sense are excluded from the mystical consciousness. And I myself have not the least doubt that this is what is meant here by the phrase "beyond understanding." What is meant is precisely that this fourth state of consciousness is to be reached only by getting rid of concepts as well as sense perceptions and sensuous images. Further, the passage says that it is not relative knowledge (i.e., knowledge of relations) nor yet inferential knowledge, thus further emphasising that it is not the abstract consciousness of the intellect.

The first two sentences of our quotation are negative. They tell what the experience is not. But now the passage goes on to tell us, in a positive way, what the experience is. It is "the pure unitary consaousness" — "pure" because emptied of all empirical content, "unitary" because there is in it no multiplicity. It is therefore "the One," and the One has no other, no second. It is undifferentiated unity. And finally it is the Self.

[p 90]

The statement that it is the Self is equivalent to saying, in the metaphysical jargon of the West, that it is the pure ego, the existence of which Hume denied and which most modern empiricists also deny. The empirical ego has been stripped of all empirical content, and what is left is the bare unity of the pure ego. But the word "self" as thus used in the Upanishads — and the passage quoted is typical and not exceptional — is systematically double meaninged. It is in the first instance the individual self. It is I who have reached my pure I-ness. But it is also the Universal or Cosmic Self, which is the absolute or ultimate reality of the world. This double meaning is not due to confusion of thought or verbal muddle. It is deliberate. The reason is that, according to the advaita (i.e., nondualistic) Vedantic interpretation of the experience, the individual self and the Universal Self are not two existences but are identical. I am the Universal I. This identity of my pure ego with the pure ego of the Universe, which is discovered in the mystical consciousness, is the Upanishadic equivalent of the Christian mystic's belief that he has in the mystical experience achieved "union with God." The Christian interpretation of the introvertive experience as union with God and the Hindu interpretation of it as identity with the Universal Self (38) are not identical interpretations. They are, however, very closely equivalent or correspondent to each other. The difference between them is that, whereas the advaita Vedanta interprets the experience as strict identity with the Ultimate Being, Christianity — along with the other Western theistic religions, Islam and Judaism — insists that "union" does not mean identity, but something less — a matter which we shall have to investigate later in this book.

In our treatment of extrovertive mysticism we took as our first example an extremely compressed statement of Eckhart, which gave no details but only, as it were, the bare bones of the experience. We then tried to illuminate and supplement it by the fuller psychological description of the same type of experience given by a contemporary mind

Return to W.T. Stace Home Page

Go to Mysticism and Philosophy Chapter 2 continued



1. C. D. Broad, Religion, Philosophy, and Psychical Research, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1953, pp. 2 and 192.

2. Ibid., pp. 172-173. As will be pointed out in the proper place (see p. 136), Broad does not suppose that the agreement of experiences is by itself sufhcient to prove objectivity, since such agreement is often found in experienccs which are known to be illusions, e.g., mirages.

3. Ibid., p. 197. The italics are mine.

4. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York Modern Library, Inc., p. 416.

5. Ibid., pp 371-372

6. R. M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness, New York, E P. Dutton & Co., Inc., pp. 72-73 and 79.

7. D. T. Suzuki, Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. T. Suzuki, ed. by William Barrett, New York, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., pp. 103-108.

8. Cf. G.F. Scholem (ed), Major Trends of Jewish Mysticism, New York, Schocken Books Inc., 1954.

9. St John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, trans. by Kurt F Rheinhardt, New York, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1957, Pt 1, Bk. 2, Chap. 16, pp. 62-63.

10. The Upanishads, trans. by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, New York, Mentor Book MD 194, New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1957, Katha Upanishad, p. 20 (Originally published by the Vedanta Press, Hollywood, Calif. Copyrighted by the Vedanta Society of Southern California.)

11. Ibid., p 121.

12. Life of St Teresa, trans by D. Lewis, 5th ed., 1924, chap. 20

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Vincent Sheean, Lead Kindly Light, New York, Random House, Inc., 1949, p. 312.

16. Ramakrishna, Prophet of New India, abridged from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. by Swami Nikhilananda, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1942, p. 28.

17. Op. cit., p. 163

18. Meister Eckhart, trans by R.B. Blakney, New York, Harper and Brothers, 1941, p. 201

19. Quoted by Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West, New York, Meridian Books, Inc., 1957, p. 73.

20. Quoted from A.J. Arberry, Sufism, an Account of the Mystics of Islam, London, George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., pp. 54, 55.

21. Quoted by Rudolf Otto, Mysticism East and West, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1932, p. 61.

22. Ibid., p. 45. This is apparently Otto's translation. He gives no source. But what is apparently the same passage may be found, in slightly different words, in Blakney (trans.), op. cit., p. 173.

23. Otto, op. cit.

24. Quoted by James, op. cit., p. 402.

25. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, paperback ed., New York, Meridian Books, Inc., 1955, p. 255.

26. H.H. Brinton, The Mystic Will.

27. Underhill, op. cit., p. 58.

28. Ramakrishna, Prophet of New India, op. cit., pp. 11 and 12.

29. Otto., op. cit., quoting Ennead V, sec. 8, trans. by MacKenna.

30. Bucke, op. cit., p. 2; also quoted by James, op. cit., p. 390.

31. John Masefield, So Long To Learn, New York, The Macmillan Company, pp. 139-140.

32. Ibid., p. 179.

33. Ibid., p. 180.

34. Margaret Prescott Montague, Twenty Minutes of Reality. First published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly in 1916, later re-issued in paper-covered pamphlet form in 1947 by the Macalester Park Publishing Company, St Paul, Minnesota.

35. Ibid, Macalester ed., pp. 17-19

36. David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Bk. I, Pt. iv, sec. 6.

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

38. Professor R.C. Zaehner in his Mysticism, Sacred and Profane, New York, Oxford University Press, 1957, denies that the Indian and Christian experiences are the same. See p. 36 above, and also our later discussion on pp. 97f.

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