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Research paper topic: Mysticism - 4845 words
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.. e is the passage: And however much our Lady lamented and whatever other things she said, she was always in her inmost heart in immovable detachment. Let us take an analogy of this. A door opens and shuts on a hinge. Now if I compare the outer boards of the door with the outward man, I can compare the hinge with the inward man.
When the door opens or closes the outer boards move to and fro, but the hinge remains immovable in one place and it is not changed at all as a result. So it is also here . . . (Clark and Skinner, 1958, p. 167; emphasis mine).
A hinge pin moves on the outside and remains unmoving at its centre. To act and yet remain in her inmost heart in immovable detachment depicts precisely this dualistic life. One acts, yet at an unchanging level within retains a sense of something unmoving. One lives a dichotomous existence. Inside, she experiences an interior silence, outside she acts. Elsewhere Eckhart describes what this is like: When the detached heart has the highest aim, it must be towards the Nothing, because in this there is the greatest receptivity.
Take a parable from nature: if I want to write on a wax tablet, then no matter how noble the thing is that is [already] written on the tablet, I am none the less vexed because I cannot write on it. If I really want to write I must delete everything that is written on the tablet, and the tablet is never so suitable for writing as when absolutely nothing is written on it. (ibid., p. 168.) The emphasis in this passage is on the achievement of emptiness within. One has deleted everything inside; one comes to a Nothing inside; the tablet is blank.
When one is truly empty within, comes to the Nothing, what goes on outside is of lesser significance, for it is unconnected to the inner nothing. Only once this interior Nothing is established does one truly begin acting rightly. This is highly reminiscent of the empty interior silence achieved by our other reporters. In sum, in this DMS the subject has a sense, on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, of being in touch with his or her own deepest awareness, experienced as a silence at ones core, even while remaining conscious of the external sensate world. Awareness itself is experienced as silent and as separate from its intentional content.
This dualistic mystical state seems to evolve gradually into another state. First this authors own experience (cf. Forman, date??): Over the years, this interior silence has slowly changed. Gradually, imperceptibly, this sense of who I am, this silence inside, has grown as if quasi-physically larger. In the beginning it just seemed like I was silent inside. Then this sense of quietness has, as it were expanded to permeate my whole body.
Some years later, it came to seem no longer even limited to my own body, but even wider, larger than my body. Its such a peculiar thing to describe! Its as if who I am, my very consciousness itself, has become bigger, wider, less localized. By now its as if I extend some distance beyond my body, as if Im many feet wide. What is me is now this expanse, this silence, that spreads out. While retaining something of the dualistic character, the sense of the self or awareness itself here seems to have become as if quasi-physically expanded, extending beyond the felt borders of the usual physical frame.
It is important to note that exterior perception has not changed here, only the sense of what consciousness itself is. That will change in the next state. Freud called this a peculiar oceanic feeling, which seems to communicate both the ineffability and the expanded quality of such a sense of consciousness.27 Yet at this point this sense of an inner expanse does not yet seem to touch or affect the perception of objects. Being in the middle of an expanse is reminiscent of the well known passage from Walt Whitman. As if having a conversation with his soul, he recalls, I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer morning, Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth.28 Here the sense of inner silence, the peace, is experienced as part of the world.
But note again that Whitman does not suggest that the peace is within the world. The sense seems to be that what one is, ones awareness itself, is experienced as oceanic, unbounded, expanded beyond the limits of the body. Here, I believe, a theist might plausibly associate this silence, that seems to be both inside and yet quasi-physically expansive, with God. If this is true, then St. Teresas Spiritual Marriage is very much like this one. In it, one is permanently married to the Lord, .
. . the Lord appears in the centre of the soul . . He has been pleased to unite Himself with His creature in such a way that they have become like two who cannot be separated from one another: even so He will not separate Himself from her.
[In other words, this sense of union is permanent.] The soul remains all the time in [its] centre with its God. . . When we empty ourselves of all that is creature and rid ourselves of it for the love of God, that same Lord will fill our souls with Himself (Peers, 1961, pp. 21316).
To be permanently filled within the soul with the Lord may be phenomenologically described as experiencing a sense of some silent but omnipresent, i.e. expansive, something at ones core. If so, this becomes remarkably like the other experiences of expansiveness at ones core that we have seen before. (Once again, the expanse is not described as permeating the world, as it might in the next state.) This sense of an interiority that is also an expanse is reconfirmed by her disciple St. John of the Cross, who says, the soul then feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude, to which no created thing has access, in an immense and boundless desert.
In sum, the interior silence at ones core sometimes comes to be experienced as expanded, as if being quasi-physically larger or more spacious than ones body. Now, what might this DMS suggest? It offers several tantalizing hints about consciousness. 1. Human capacity includes more epistemological modalities than is generally imagined. It is clear from these reports that one can be self-reflexively cognizant of ones own awareness more immediately than usual. The contemplative life can lead one to the ability to be aware of ones own awareness per se on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
This is not like taking on a new awareness. None of our sources describe this as a sense of becoming a different person, or as a discontinuity with what they had been. Rather the descriptions are that of becoming more immediately cognizant of the awareness they had always enjoyed. 2. We suggested above that consciousness should not be defined in terms of perceptions, content, or its other functions, for in the DMS awareness continues even when perceptions do not. Here awareness is not only not implicated with thoughts and perceptions, but is experienced as entirely different in quality or character unchanging, without intrinsic form than its content.
It is also experienced as unconnected with its intentional content. Even thoughts do not quite contact it. Awareness itself is experienced as still or silent, perceptions as active and changing. Therefore instead of defining awareness in terms of its content, we should think about awareness and its mental and sensory functions as two independent phenomena or processes that somehow interact. 3.
The sense of being expanded beyond the borders of ones own body, what Freud called the peculiar oceanic feeling, is a very peculiar sense indeed. Yet if we take these wide-spread reports seriously, as I think every open-minded thinker should, what do they suggest? The phenomenology, simply put, makes room for the suggestion that consciousness is not limited to the body. Consciousness is encountered as something more like a field than a localized point, a field that transcends the body and yet somehow interacts with it.29 This mystical phenomenon tends to confirm William James hypothesis in his monumental Principles of Psychology that awareness is field-like. This thought was picked up by Peter Fenwick and Chris Clarke in the Mind and Brain Symposium in 1994, that the mind may be non-localized, like a field, and that experience arises from some sort of interplay between non-localized awareness and the localized brain.30 It is as if these mystical reporters had an experience of just the sort of field-like non-locality of awareness these theories hypothesize. The heretical suggestion here is not that there is a ghost in the machine, but rather that there is a ghost in and beyond the machine! And it is not a ghost that thinks, but a ghost for which there is thinking and perception. 4.
The experience of awareness as some sort of field allows for the theory that consciousness is more than the product of the materialistic interactions of brain cells, since it can be understood in two ways. First it may mean that like a magnet, the brain produces a field which extends well beyond its own physical borders. The slow growth of the sense of an experience suggests this. Or, conversely, the field-like experience may suggest that awareness somehow transcends individual brain cells and perhaps the entire brain. This suggests a new way to think about the role of the physical body.
Brain cells may receive, guide, arbitrate, or canalize an awareness which is somehow transcendental to them. The brain may be more like a receiver or transformer for the field of awareness than its generator: less like a magnet than like a TV receiver. The unitive mystical state Our last commonly reported mystical experience is a sense of becoming unified with external objects. It is nicely described by the German idealist Malwida von Meysenburg: I was alone upon the seashore . . . I felt that I .
. return[ed] from the solitude of individuation into the consciousness of unity with all that is, [that I knelt] down as one that passes away, and [rose] up as one imperishable. Earth, heaven, and sea resounded as in one vast world encircling harmony. . . .
I felt myself one with them . . . (von Meysenburg, 1900; emphasis mine). The keynote of Malwidas experience is that in some sort of immediate or intuitive manner she sensed that she was connected with the things of the world, as if she was a part of them and they part of her.
It is as if the membranes of her experienced self became semi-permeable, and she flowed in, with or perhaps through her environment. A similar experience is described in Starbucks 19th century collection of experience reports. Here again we see a sense of unity with the things of the world. . .
. something in myself made me feel myself a part of something bigger than I . . . I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in nature.
I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being apart of it all, the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds, the tree-trunks and so on. (Ref??) The author goes on to say that after this experience he constantly sought these experiences of the unity between self and object again, but they only came period-ically. This implies that for him they were temporary phenomena, lasting only a few minutes or hours. This sense of the unity between self and object, the absence of the usual lines between things, is clearly reminiscent of Plotinuss First Ennead (8:1). He who has allowed the beauty of that world to penetrate his soul goes away no longer a mere observer.
For the object perceived and the perceiving soul are no longer two things separated from one another, but the perceiving soul has [now] within itself the perceived object (quoted in Otto, 1930, p. 67). Again we have a lack of boundaries between consciousness and object. It is not clear from this passage if Plotinus is describing a transient or a permanent experience. Yet some reporters clearly tell us that such an experience can be constant. Though it is often hard to distinguish biography from mythology, Buddhist descriptions of Sakyamuni Buddhas life clearly imply that his Nirvana was a permanent change in epistemological structure.
Similarly the Hindu term for an enlightened one, jivanmukti (enlightened in active life), clearly suggests that this experience can be permanent. Notice how different these reports are from our DMS descriptions of an inner expanse. There we saw no change in the relationship between the subject and the perceived world. Here the object perceived and the perceiving soul are now united. I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in nature. One of the clearer descriptions of this state comes from Krishnamurti, who wrote of his his first experience of this sort, in August, 1922: On the first day while I was in that state and more conscious of the things around me, I had the first most extraordinary experience.
There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickax he held was myself; the very stone which he was breaking up was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being, and the tree beside the man was myself. I also could feel and think like the roadmender and I could feel the wind passing through the tree, and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the dust and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine, and the tires; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything, or rather everything was in me, inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm and all breathing things.
All day long I remained in this happy condition. (Ref??) Perhaps the most unmistakable assertion that these shifts can be permanent comes from Bernadette Roberts. Sometime after her initial transformation, she had what is clearly a development on her earlier dualistic sense of an expanded consciousness. She writes: I was standing on [a] windy hillside looking down over the ocean when a seagull came into view, gliding, dipping, playing with the wind. I watched it as Id never watched anything before in my life. I almost seemed to be mesmerized; it was as if I was watching myself flying, for there was not the usual division between us.
Yet, something more was there than just a lack of separateness, something truly beautiful and unknowable. Finally I turned my eyes to the pine-covered hills behind the monastery and still, there was no division, only something there that was flowing with and through every vista and particular object of vision. . . .
What I had [originally] taken as a trick of the mind was to become a permanent way of seeing and knowing (Roberts, 1984, p. 30; italics mine). She describes this something there that flowed with and through everything, including her own self, as that into which all separateness dissolves. She concludes with an emphatic assertion: I was never to revert back to the usual relative way of seeing separateness or individuality. Again we have a state, not a transient episode.
We could multiply these examples endlessly. This unitive mystical state (UMS), either temporary or permanent, is a very common mystical phenomenon. It is clearly an evolution of the previous sense. First one continues to sense that ones awareness is expansive, field-like, and that the self is experienced as larger, expanded beyond the usual boundaries. One feels oneself to be a part of something bigger, which is to say, senses a lack of borders or a commonality between oneself and this expanse.
Indeed, in Bernadette Roberts case, her sense of something there followed and was an evolution of her initial dualistic mystical state. But now this perceived expansion of the self is experienced as none other than, permeating with and through, the things of the world. Ones boundaries become as if permeable, connected with the objects of the world. The expanded self seems to be experienced as of the same metaphysical level, or of the same stuff, as the world. Despite the grammatical peculiarities, what I am is the seagull, and what the seagull is, I am. From this fascinating phenomenon we may note several implications for our understanding of consciousness.
1. The perceived spaciousness of awareness suggests, I said above, that consciousness is like a field. These unitive experiences reaffirm this implication and suggest that such a field may not only transcend our own bodily limits, but somehow may interpenetrate or connect both self and external objects. This is of course strikingly parallel to the physical energy fields and/or the quantum vacuum field said to reside at the basis of matter, for these too are both immanent within and also transcendent to any particular expression, a parallel that Fritjof Capra, Lawrence Domash and others have been quick to point out. 2.
The perception of unity holds out the possibility that the field of awareness may be common to all objects, and however implausibly, among all human beings as well. It indicates that my own consciousness may be somehow connected to a tree, the stars, a drizzle or a blade of grass and, paradoxically, to yours. Thus these unitive experiences point towards something like a primitive animism, Leibnitzs panspsychism and Griffins suggestion of a pan-experientialism, that experience or some sort of consciousness may be an ingredient throughout the universe, permeating all levels of being. All this, however, opens up another Pandoras box of peculiar questions: most obviously what might the consciousness be of a dog, flower, or even a stone? Does the claim of a perceived unity merely point to some ground of being, and not a consciousness that is in any sense self-reflective like our own consciousness? Or if you and I share consciousness, can I experience what you do? If not, why not? 3. Not everyone who meditates encounters these sorts of unitive experiences.
This suggests that some may be genetically or temperamentally predisposed to mystical ability; borrowing from Weber, the mystically musical. One might suggest that the mystics awareness is categorically different than other peoples, i.e. that it is connected to the world in an ontologically deep way that the rest of ours is not. I find this unconvincing, since every mystic I have read says he or she began as an ordinary, i.e. non-mystical, person and only came to realize something of what he or she had always been.
Whichever explanation we opt for, however, it is clear that there is some ability the mystics have been able to develop through meditation or whatever that most of us have not. Conclusions Our three modalities of mystical experiences point clearly towards a distinction between awareness per se and the ordinary functional processes of sensation, perception and thought. They suggest that awareness is not constructed out of the material processes of perception or perhaps the brain, but rather they suggest a distinction and / or interaction between consciousness and the brain. Furthermore, they suggest that awareness may have a non-localized, quasi-spatial character, much like a field. Finally they tend to suggest that this field may be transcendental to any one person or entity. I want to end by restating my earlier caveat. Phenomenology is not science. There can be many ways to explain any experience, mystical or otherwise, and we should explore all of them.
But in the absence of compelling reasons to deny the suggestions of their reports, we would be wise to seriously examine the direction towards which the finger of mysticism points. If the validity of knowledge in the universities is indeed governed, as we like to claim, by the tests of evidence, openness and clarity, then we should not be too quick to throw out the baby swimming in the bathwater of mysticism. Footnotes 1 I am indebted to the psychologist of religion William Parsons, in a private communication, for this observation. 2 See here Ornstein (1976). 3 See the articles in Forman (1990) and Section I of Forman (1998). 4 Bruce Mangan (1994) suggests this when he says that mystic[al] encounters .
. . would seem to manifest an extreme state of consciousness (p. 251). 5 James famous characterization of mysticism in The Varieties of Religious Experience states that a defining feature of mysticism is transiency (James, 1902/1983, p. 381).
My evidence says this is simply wrong. 6 I say typically because sometimes one may skip or not attain a particular stage. Ken Wilber (1980) claims sequence. William Barnard (1995), however, disputes this claim of sequence. 7 One key element of the UMS is that it is a permanent shift in the structure of awareness.
Extrovertive mysticism, a term coined by W.P. Stace, implies that one has mystical experiences out in the world, while we are extrovertively aware. Zaehner coined the term nature mysticism to describe such paths as Zen or Taoism, which describe mystical experiences in nature. This he distinguishes from the theistic traditions, among others. But in the UMS, as I understand this form of life, the sense of being in contact with the expansive emptiness that extends beyond the self, never fades away, whether one is in nature or in the city, whether the eyes are open or closed, and whether one is a Zen Buddhist, a Jew or a Christian.
Thus each of these accepted terms define this experience too narrowly, and thus I coin my own broader term. 8 Cf. Smart (1982). * These may not be mutually exclusive. See, for example, neurologist Oliver Sacks' comments on migraines and mysticism in the case of Hildegard of Bingen (Sacks, 1994, pp. 238-9.) 9 I am grateful for Joseph Goguen, private communication, for articulating this question so clearly.
10 Forman (1990) offers a rich compendium of reports of the PCE. I have intentionally offered here several reports of this experience that are not included there. 11 James is quoting from St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, in Oeuvres, trans. Bouix, vol.
3, pp. 4214. 12 The mystic apparently remains conscious throughout. Although Teresa does not explicitly say the mystic is not asleep, I cannot imagine anyone spilling so much ink on merely sleeping or blacking out, or on something like a coma. See below for more explicit statements to this effect. 13 These two are not quite equivalent.
Atman, when seen in its fullest, according to the Upanishads and to Advaita Vedanta, merges with Brahman, and thus is experienced as including the object or content of perception. Purusha, according to Samkhya, is more an independent monad. It thus remains forever separate from its content. But the two both represent the human awareness, however differently understood. 14 This account is taken from Forman (1998).
15 Vasubandu commentary on Vs. 1.1 of the Madhyanta Vibhaga, quoted in Nagao (1978). Vasubandu is here wrestling with just the focus that made Yogacara so distinctive and clear. In its focus on the alayavijnana, it deals directly with the question of what remains in cessation meditation. Steven Collins (1982) believes this is a mistaken view of the nature of samadhi, though unfortunately he never directly confronts such Yogacara texts. For comparable analyses from a Zen perspective, with explicit comparisons with Yogacara, see e.g.
Chang Chen Chi (1970), pp. 16771. 16 See especially Forman (1990), Part I. 17 This debate goes back at least to Kant's criticism of Hume's 'associationism' in the eighteenth century. For a discussion of contemporary parallels, see Hardcastle (1994). 18 If we think in a socio-cultural way here, we might note that our long western worldview, with its roots in the Judaeo-Christian past, in the protestant capitalistic history, and in the history of science, would tend to favour a definition of consciousness in active, masculine, intentional, and doing terminology.
Thus consciousness is, in this view, always vectorial, intentionally pointing towards this or that. Such a definition fits how people are expected to act in such a culture. Contemplative traditions and the east, on the other hand, tend to be more open to defining consciousness as awareness per se, or just being. In the west we may take these to be too passive, feminine, but they fit the more station-oriented caste and natal-status behavioural patterns. My thanks to Bill Parsons for this observation. 19 Logically: awareness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for binding; binding is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for awareness.
20 This usage preserves Deikmans (1996) separation of awareness from the other senses of I, and Chalmers (1995) similar distinction. My thanks to Jonathan Shear for pointing out that I have reversed Chalmers terms (he calls awareness in itself consciousness and connects its various functional phenomena with the term awareness). I believe that my usage is in better accord both with ordinary speech and the traditional scholarly use of pure consciousness and pure consciousness event. 21 See the extended discussion of this possibility in Forman (1998). 22 Here language fails us.
The awareness is not in any sense conscious of the passage of time; rather I am suggesting that awareness ties itself together through what an external observer would note as the passage of time. 23 William James thought that mysticism is transient, i.e. short lived, clearly does not capture Bernadette Roberts experience, nor many of the experiences documented in this section. 24 Here I am struck by the parallel with the rapid shifting of a physical system as it becomes coherent. Disorganized light just shifts or zips into laser light nearly instantaneously. 25 Writing this, I think of the parallel between this sense and Bernadette Roberts sense of having lost the usual unlocalized sense of herself.
26 It is my impression that the awareness of the specific locations within the body is not essential to this transformation. 27 Freud was employing a phrase from his correspondence with Ramakrishnas disciple Romain Rolland. See Parsons (forthcoming). 28 Walt Whitman, quoted in James (1902/1983) p. 396, no reference.
29 Of course, that implies that one has some sort of non-sensory sense, the ability to sense ones own expansive presence even though there are no visible mechanisms of sensation. But is that so strange after all? If we can sense our own awareness directly in the pure consciousness event, why shouldnt we be able to sense something of its non-limited character on a more permanent basis? Bibliography See Freeman (1994) for a brief report and Clarke (1995) for the full text of Chris Clarkes talk. References Barnard, William (1995), Response to Wilber, unpublished paper delivered to the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion. Chalmers, David J. (1995), Facing up to the problem of consciousness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), 1995, pp.
20019. Chang Chen Chi (1970), The Practice of Zen (New York: Perennial Library / Harper Row). Clark, Thomas W. (1995), Function and phenomenology: closing the explanatory gap, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp. 24154. Clark and Skinner (1958), Meister Eckhart: Selected Treatises and Sermons (London: Faber and Faber). Clarke, C.J.S.
(1995), The non-locality of mind, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp. 23140. Collins, Steven (1982), Selfless Persons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Deikman, Arthur (1996), I = Awareness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3 (4), 3506. Forman, Robert K.C. (ed.
1990), The Problem of Pure Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press). Forman, Robert K.C. (1998) Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness (Albany, NY: SUNY Press). Freeman, Anthony (1994), The science of consciousness: non-locality of mind [Conference Report], The Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (2), pp. 2834.
Griffiths, Paul (1990), Pure Consciousness and Indian Buddhism, in The Problem of Pure Consciousness. Hardcastle, Valerie (1994), 'Psychology's "binding problem" and possible neurological solutions', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (1), pp. 66-90. Hume, Robert (trans. 1931), The Thirteen Principle Upanishads (London: Oxford University Press). James, William (1902/1983), The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans, Green and Co.; reprinted in Penguin Edition).
Larson, J.G. (1979), Classical Samkhya: An Interpretation of its History and Meaning (Santa Barbara: Ross/Erikson). Libet, Benjamin (1994), A testable field theory of mindbrain interaction, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (1), pp. 11926. Lonergan, B.
(1967), Collection, ed. Frederick Crowe (New York: Herder and Herder). McCarthy, Michael H. (1990), The Crisis in Philosophy (Albany: SUNY Press). Mangan, Bruce (1994), Language and experience in the cognitive study of mysticism commentary on Forman, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (2), pp. 2502.
von Meyensberg, Malwida (1900), Memoiren einer Idealistin, 5th Auflage, iii. 166. Quoted in James (1902/1983), p. 395. Nagao, Gadjin M. (trans.
1978), The Culasunnata-Sutta (Lesser discourse on Emptiness) translated as, What Remains in Sunyata: A Yogacara Interpretation of Emptiness, in Mahayana Buddhist Meditation, ed. Minoru Kiyota (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii). Ornstein, Robert (1976), The techniques of meditation and their implications for modern psychology, in On The Psychology of Meditation, Claudio Naranjo and Robert Ornstein (New York: Penguin). Otto, Rudolf (1930), Mysticism East and West, trans. Bertha Bracey and Richard Payne (New York: Macamillan). Parsons, William (forthcoming), The Enigma of the Oceanic Feeling (Oxford University Press).
Peers, E. Allison (trans. 1961), The Interior Castle [Teresa of Avila] (New York: Doubleday). Roberts, Bernadette (1984), The Experience of No-Self (Boulder: Shambala). Sacks, Oliver (1994), 'An anthropologist on Mars' [interview with Anthony Freeman], Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (2), pp.
234-40. Smart, Ninian (date??), Interpretation and mystical experience, Sophia, 1 (1), p. 75. Stace, W.T. (1960), Mysticism and Philosophy (London: Macmillan Press). Walshe, M.OC.
(1982), Meister Eckhart, Sermons and Tractates, Vol. 1 (London: Watkins). Wilber, Ken (1980), The Atman Project (Wheaton, IL: The Theosophical Publishing House).
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