Some General Notes on Mysticism

rough ocean by Jacqueline Fasser

[Something I’ve been working on for a while for a talk next year. Photo by Jacqueline Fasser]

Some General Notes on Mysticism

1.Mysticism is not occultism, spiritualism, magic, hocus-pocus. Mysticism does not require belief in any supreme being or god.

2.Mysticism is a transcultural phenomenon, a ‘perennial philosophy’ (Aldous Huxley), a ‘way of liberation’ (Alan Watts), a transforming human experience of ‘non-duality’ or ‘oneness’ or ‘union with the Absolute’ that is not confined to any class, ethnicity or gender.

3. Mysticism has always had an uneasy or else antagonistic relationship with religion as an institution and belief system. Mystics have often been rebels or reformers of religion and/or been persecuted by the orthodox as heretics (e.g. Meister Eckhart, Sufis).

4.Mysticism is neither irrational nor a mere matter of feelings. It is not a matter of non-rational faith or belief. Mysticism does not reject rational thinking but incorporates and transcends it. There is a degree of overlap between mysticism and rational philosophy and science.

5.Unlike philosophy and science, however, mysticism does not begin with an abstract question like ‘what is reality?’ or ‘what is man?’ but rather with a concrete, personal and rational question like ‘what am I?’ or ‘how can I become free/enlightened/one?’

6. Unlike western philosophy and science, mysticism does not attempt to answer this question from the outside by thinking, talking, conceptualising or measuring and experimenting, but rather from the inside, by observing and experiencing (aka meditation, contemplation, just sitting/shikan taza).

7.All mystical ‘experience’ is inherently inexpressible, ineffable, since words, concepts, thoughts are precisely what are transcended in that ‘experience’. Words are not the experiencing, the map can never be the landscape itself. The non-linear and non-dual cannot be expressed in language which is inherently linear and dual (subject-verb-object). The language of the self cannot express the no-self, except by negation. Words can, at best, only be signposts to the Way. The natural ‘home’ of mysticism is thus silence (which includes silence-within-noise) and paradox (the expression of the non-linear within linear logic).

8.The Inexpressible, the Ultimate, the Timeless, the Unnameable is, paradoxically, given many tentative names: the Non-Dual (advaita), Tao, Void/Emptiness (sunyata), the One, the Ground, the Absolute, God/Godhead, Nirvana, Buddha-Nature, the non-self… Mystics experience, or realise, themselves as such AND as individual beings/selves, together, with no difference between self and no-self. The universe in a grain of sand, the eternal Now of seeming arising and dissolving.

9.All art (indeed all perception) is awareness of relationships between a figure and background (painting, sculpture), sound and silence (music, poetry), movement and stillness (dance, No theatre). Western art tends to stress the former, Eastern art the latter. The latter is the Unnameable, the Non-Dual, the Void, the Tao, out of which figures, sounds, notes, words, individuals emerge and into which they return. In fact, these figures are themselves ‘empty’ or an ‘illusion’ of the Void, just as waves as separate ‘entities’ are an illusion that appears in the Ocean. The core message of mysticism, perhaps: although we constantly distinguish and identify ourselves as separate, individual entities or ‘waves’, we are both wave and Ocean, ‘form’ and ‘emptiness’. To realise this, not intellectually but in the depths of oneself, is ‘mystical experience’ or ‘enlightenment’.

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~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on December 5, 2015.

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