The transience of mystical emotions
If wisdom is dependent on a transient ecstatic or yogic state, we must presume that it disappears with the passing away of that state. What then is the use of seeking a wisdom which cannot be permanently understood and must leave us in ignorance for most of life?
The mystic is given a beatific foretaste, as it were, in the ecstatic experiences which are intermittently his. But this is only a halfway house and he must not be satisfied with it. To make the thing permanently his own, to come into lasting peace, he must first pass through the metaphysical region and then that of disinterested deeds.
Those of you who are trying to find a closer contact with your spiritual selves through the practice of meditation, through inspiration, and through prayer ought to understand the limitations of what you are doing. Realize that you may get exalted experience, but do not deceive yourselves about them. Experiences which come and go are not experiences of the Real: they are experiences of the thoughts.
It is certainly satisfying: pains and sorrows are no more for the time, cares and anxieties make a temporary exit. But to stop here and not advance farther is to accept oblivion under the mistaken belief that it is salvation.
The ecstasies of the meditation-chamber can no more constitute the final goal of mystical life than the ecstasies of the nuptial-chamber can constitute the final goal of married life.
Mystics who seek quivering ecstasies alone take the risk of becoming victims of their own emotional workings. For then the aberrations of mystical experience may be numerous and peculiar, the exaltation of imaginative emotionalism to the status of divine experience is often inevitable, and the possibilities of psychological camouflage may be many. Moreover, if their emotional overturning is carried too far and if it is mingled with concentration on pictorial visions of a saviour or saint who belongs to the opposite sex, it may easily develop into something quite unspiritual. A mystical eroticism which is rooted in repressed sex complexes may then be the undesirable consequence. The history of religious mysticism and devotional yoga has several cases on record of those whose excited ecstasies showed all the symptoms of strong erotomania. These cases have been offered as instances of "union with God." The truth must be told and it is that they are only emotional extravaganzas.
To fly off on the wings of ecstatic union at one time and to fall down into an agonizing sense of forsaken separation another time is an experience common enough at the mystical stage when emotion and not knowledge rules the aspirant.
An ethical content is lacking in the ideal of this kind of mysticism. It seeks only to enter into raptures that are satisfying to the emotions but not necessarily edifying to the character.
They reach the divine centre with their imagination or with their feeling, but not with their mind nor with their will.
One fact about most mystical phenomena is that they are transient. Strains of heavenly music may be heard by the inner ear and intoxicate the heart with their unearthly beauty--but they will pass away. Clairvoyant visions of Christ-like beings or of other worlds may present themselves to the inner sight--but they will not remain. A mysterious force may enter the body and travel transformingly and enthrallingly through it from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head--but it will soon vanish. Only through the ultramystic fourfold path can an enduring result be achieved.(P)
It is a common practice for aspirants to mistake their emotional extravanganzas and mental projections--however noble they appear to be--for glimpses of the infinite reality. It is a common error for them to take the creations of their own thought and the suggestions of other minds for genuine mystic revelations. For the path of meditation is beset with hosts of long-nurtured notions which reappear in mystic visions and oracular messages as though they were independent and separate visitants from outside. It is also beset with influences drawn from past reading or authoritarian dogmas which mislead the mind or play queer tricks upon it. The average mystic is easily deluded by the masks which vanity, desire, or egoism assumes. Too quickly does he believe that he is God-guided; too readily does he imagine that great angels or noted Masters are hovering around to display supernatural visions; too willingly does he go astray in the mist of illusion which always hangs dangerously near the credulous, the inexperienced, and the unphilosophical.
Emotion there must be in every experience that is to mean anything to one's life, be it aesthetic or painful, amatory or mystical. But if in a mystical experience the emotion becomes violent and excessive then the new consciousness of the Overself, which is on a higher level than emotion, can only be confused and not clearly attained.
When there is intense pleasure without any outer object or other person to account for it physically, then there is mystical experience in some form, high or low, sane or mad.
The meditation upon bliss may give him bliss, but it will not remove his ignorance of reality, his misapprehension of truth, his defects of character.
Ecstasies come and go outside the mystic's own will, but philosophic enlightenment is something which we win and keep because we work for and earn it.
The unfinished mystic who makes too much of his raptures or his darknesses alike, does so because he still identifies himself with his personal feelings--that is, with his ego.
The mystic who resolutely refuses to fall into this trap, who does not hallucinate himself with the belief, and claim, that he is the only man in the Western hemisphere to achieve such a realization, will be free to make further progress.
Wallowing in heavy, syrupy emotionalism is not the same as experiencing Reality--and consequently does not produce the same results.
It is natural and pardonable for a mystic to regard his most vivid experience as his most important one. But it need not be so.
These short spells of meditation, if it is successfully practised, will give peace and understanding; but when they are ended, you return to ordinary consciousness and lose both.
"The desire to enjoy ecstatic union with God is one of the things which most effectively separate us from God," said Abu Hasan Al Shadhili.
Those Indians who still assert that realization is the ecstasy of the mystic should study the life of Swami Rama Tirtha of North India. His books breathe the spirit of mystic joy and spiritual bliss. Yet during the last year or two of his life he became a victim of melancholia, and although it is not published to the world I have been assured by a sannyasi who knew him that he left a note saying that he was going to commit suicide. Anyway he was found drowned. The moral is that yogic ecstasy is a temporary thing.
The sentimentalities of the emotional devotee are absent from the philosophical devotee. Indeed, they are regarded by the latter as signs that a man is still filled with the thought of himself, still attached to his own ego.
That the greater length and higher intensity of a sitting meditation have a purificatory effect is true; that if such profound and prolonged meditations are repeated often enough the trend of thought and feeling, the shape of character, and the quality of consciousness may be reshaped is also true. But the change may not be of a lasting nature if philosophy is absent.
Emotional excitement is not necessarily baptism by the Overself. It may or may not accompany such baptism. Those who look for it as an authentic token of the divine visitation open themselves to a likely self-deception. It is safer to look for a different and better sign, such as lasting intellectual conviction or improvement of outward conduct.
The peace which they possess is an excellent thing but it is not, and cannot be, a lasting one. Even though the circumstance which could upset it may not arise for many years, the hidden weakness will always be there.
It is easier to gain mystical experiences than to gain a clear and right understanding of them.
If his goal is only to induce a mystical experience in himself, he ought to be warned that this will pass away as it came, that it is no less transient than the physical experiences of life.
How can a mental state be the final realization? It is temporary. Mystic experience is such a state. It is something one enters and leaves. Beyond and higher is realization of unchanging truth.
From personal vision to impersonal being
Students must guard against faulty technique. They misuse meditation when they force it to serve their fantasies and errors, ascetic phobias and religious fanaticisms. Then they become bogged in their own conceptions or in idealized projections of their own selves. It is easy to mistake the voice of the ego for the voice of the Overself. And it is not hard for the meditators to see things in their imagination which have no reality corresponding to them or to cook up a deceptive mixture of fact and imagination.
The sceptic's doubts--whether in this condition one acquires spiritual affinity with the Divine or merely creates a hallucination--are not infrequently justified. Much that passes for mystical experience is mere hallucination. Even where there is genuine mystical experience it is often mixed with hallucinatory experience at the same time. The subconscious mind easily formulates prepossessions, preconceived notions, externally received suggestions, and so on, into visual or auditory experiences which emphatically confirm the ideas or beliefs with which the meditator originally started. Instead of liberating him from errors and delusions, mysticism thus practised may only cause him to sink deeper and more firmly into them. For he will convert what formerly he held on mere faith to what he now holds as assured mystical realization. In the course of an extensive experience, we have found that meditation, unchecked by reason and unbalanced by activity, has not infrequently produced monomaniacs. A "pure" experience is rare and belongs to a highly advanced stage. Only where there has been the proper preparation, self-purification, and mental discipline can a genuinely pure experience arise.
If these twisted truths and disguised emotions are such common fruit of mystical orchards, may it not be because they are inescapable corollaries of mystical attitudes? With a higher criterion, could they even come into existence?(P)
These experiences, because of their delightfulness and strangeness, may deceive and detain him as they have deceived and detained a multitude of yogis and mystics through the ages. They cannot be avoided--indeed, they are extremely valuable stages--but they must not be regarded as the end of man's spiritual quest. The purely emotional interpretation of experience endangers the attaining of the knowledge of higher truth, if indeed pleasant.
It is a mistake to believe that because some saints and mystics saw pictorial visions of a striking kind, he also must see them. On the contrary, he may not. They not only are not to be sought after but, if they should come, are to be treated as of secondary or even no importance.
Just as pseudo-intuitions deceive many an unwary novice, so pseudo-realizations deceive some unwary intermediates. We should be suspicious of sudden realizations. Such overnight changes belong only to the sphere of the emotions.
Visions are a far less plentiful phenomenon of meditation than are intuitions, inspirations, directions, predictions, and messages. Almost every mystic has them. Many may be remarkably true but others are a fruitful source of delusions; where the mystic's imaginative faculty is stronger than his critical judgement, and where it then gets to work upon metaphysical, religious, and psychological matters it cannot help falling victim to strange fantasies and deceptive chimeras. Unfortunately the mystical temperament is too inclined to indulge in undisciplined thought and to let its imagination run riot. The wishful thinker and uncritical self-deceiver quickly finds several excellent arguments to fortify his beliefs in his own mental creations.
The clairvoyant phenomena do not make truer the mystical utterance; that still has its own worth, which is neither increased nor reduced by the visible figure or audible voice which accompanied it.
Psychic phenomena are often an accompaniment of certain stages of meditation. When they are sensory in form, it is only necessary to note if they hold any useful meaning, if they are authentic and not illusory, and to pass on.
It is a failing of many an intense devotee that he loses his sense of proportion. In frequent flushes of egoistic emotionalism he may, for instance, often ascribe most events--however petty--in his personal life to divine interference or magical manipulation or supernatural intervention.
Krishnamurti scornfully calls these experiences "a form of hypnosis . . . visions, sensations, all that silly business and other forms of entertainment . . . and immaturity."
The question of how authentic his experience really is does not usually arise in him. For it is debatable whether a mind mostly preoccupied with the subject of its weaknesses, faults, failures, deficiencies, and sins--that is, mostly with its personal ego again--could penetrate the Overself's sphere.
Neurotic persons who are eager for the mystical experience more out of self-regard than out of reverence for the Other, may gain one form of it through developing the psychological capacity for concentration and withdrawal of thoughts in meditation, often having already a favourable temperament for it. In that case, they will congratulate themselves on this success, admire themselves all the more, possibly tell others freely about it, and thus offset their gain by strengthening their egoism. This is ambition in disguise. Although it has some features resembling the authentic mystical experience, it is not that but an adulterated deceptive form.
The uninstructed, the simple, the pious, the mystical are apt to be satisfied with their personal reactions to gurus, temples, rituals, mantras, and meditations. But the reactions may be pleasant illusions, giving birth to comforting fallacies or false consolations. That is, the seekers get beyond their ordinary selves and believe that they are experiencing the Transcendental, the Absolute. They do not know that counterfeits exist, or that there are inferior states which may be joyful or peaceful or exciting or sensational but are still not the real, the authentic goal.
In this field it is prudent for the seeker and beginner to beware of alleged illuminations in himself and, even more, in others.
Where the emotional nature is very powerful there is some danger during mystical experience of giving to its thrills the seat of authority, which ought to be given to the calmer but more reliable voice of intuitive conviction. For intuition will bring him closer to that egoless life toward which he ought to be ever striving, whereas emotion, if unpurified and unbalanced, may bring him farther from it.
The workings of imagination and the movements of emotion are used by the ego to deceive the mystically-minded.
The genuine experience possesses certain marks and may be recognized. Then why is it so many are deceived by the false one?
The manic psychosis of Western psychology has some startling points of similarity to the highly emotional states of certain religious mystics.
Until their ideas are freed from illusions and their psyches from unbalance, meditation may be as harmful to them as it can be beneficial to others.
They are meditating, it is true, but with their thoughts centered on the ego more subtly if less strongly than when they are back in the world.
The novice who begins his mystical experience with personal visions to be seen in mental pictures will end, if he progresses far enough, with a pictureless impersonal state of being.
Quite a number of mystics have never even had the trance experience although they have had ecstasies, intuitions, messages, visions, and other exalted phenomena. It is not at any stage a necessity of the mystical path.
The seeker who has no psychical experiences, no pictorial visions appealing to the senses, no clairaudient voices delivering a supreme message, should have no regrets. His progress is not belittled in any way.
There are mystics to whom no vision has come, no voice has sounded, no phenomenon has appeared. Yet they are farther on the quest than so many to whom these things have happened.
Visions which one may experience, though interesting, are at best only symbolic and temporary. One should not trouble about interpreting them. Their real meaning becomes clear in the course of time in a way that affects character and consciousness.
The experience of knowing one's own being is a natural one which will come to all in time. The thrills, visions, revelations, and ecstasies which may accompany it are not essential parts and, if allowed, will pass away.
It is better not to try to get inner experiences but to let them unfold as and when they will.
Calm, quiet, and deep meditation is a more manifest sign of divine presence in the heart than thrilling psychic experience or enrapturing excited emotion.
From inner peace to inner reality
The ordinary mystical experience cannot automatically sustain itself and cannot naturally continue itself. It evaporates, to the intense disappointment of the mystic, who imagines each time that he has undergone the supreme changeover of his whole life, but imagines in vain. He may catch a glimpse of the higher state of being but alas! he cannot keep it long. He may climb to the mountaintop but he cannot stay there. He may enjoy the rarefied atmosphere of its heights but he cannot live in it. He is forced by the ebb of inspiration to come down again to walk the common pedestrian roads. This is partly because his experience does not rise above the level of emotion and partly because it does not emerge from the self-centered attitude.
In the first case, a mysticism that is only emotional and nothing more, that lacks a reasoned metaphysical supporting structure, lacks also unity and continuity, inner principle and binding significance. In the second case, an aspirant who is seeking religious or mystical satisfactions is usually preoccupied with his own wants, his own emotions, his own reactions, and his own experiences. He is still egotistic, however higher his egoism may be than that of the common level. If he wishes to obtain a durable enlightenment, he will have to develop it out of something which, while necessarily including emotion, gathers in the whole of his being at the same time. That is, he will have to seek through the fourfold path for the philosophic experience. Even his first initiation into philosophy will teach him that reality and truth are not to be found here and will point to an order of being beyond it. From that moment he begins to look on life from the Overself's side, which although it does not exclude the personality's side, at the same time transcends it. He begins to shift the object of thought and feeling from his ego to his diviner self.
The object of the average yogi is to attain inner peace whereas the object of the philosopher is to attain inner reality. The two paths coincide up to a point but the second then proceeds farther than the other one. For example, asceticism which is a finishing point for the mystic is only a starting point for the philosopher.
The excessive joy and throbbing ecstasy of which the annals of mysticism so often speak belong mostly to the novice and intermediate. The truly advanced man experiences quite the contrary, which is a deep sadness, although it never shakes his unalterable serenity. This is because the first two are primarily preoccupied with their personal feelings whereas the third has also brought compassion for all mankind within the orbit of his outlook.
Mysticism is not a couch to sleep on but a step to tread on.
However exalted the feelings may be by the experience, however immaterial the perceptions may be, however deep the trancelike absorption may be, it is not the Infinite Reality with which he is in contact but still only his idea of it, plus the vivification and intensification which come from his closer approach to that Reality.
Buddha certainly glorified the worth of compassion, but he also glorified the worth of insight. He never said that universal compassion could alone bring one to Nirvana. Buddha recommended the first as a disciplinary practice for the attainment of the other. Why? Because personal feeling either blinds us to truth or distorts our mentality. Often we cannot see things as they really are because we are warped by our egoistic prejudices and passions. If we can get away from the personal, we can get rid of these obstacles. Compassion thins the ego's strength and assists us to become properly equipped to achieve insight into Truth. Similarly, Jesus gave the masses the golden rule of doing unto one's neighbour as one would be done by. They needed to be dislodged from their strong selfishness. Hence, he taught them that "Whatsoever you sow that shall you also reap" but he did not suggest that this was sufficient guidance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Love is not enough.
The initiation into mystical experience may come dramatically and convulsively through ecstasy in the case of one aspirant but unobtrusively and gently through quietude in the case of another. Because individuals differ so widely in the personality and the history with which they meet the experience, no general rule may be affirmed in the matter, no dogma laid down. When aspirants and their half-grown teachers constantly confuse these ecstasies with the highest and fullest enlightenment, it is necessary to protest and point out the error. That this is an error is shown by the fact that the ecstasy passes away, the emotions subside, and the man quickly recedes from these high levels and begins to revert back to his prosaic everyday condition once again. He soon discovers that these holy experiences, alas! cannot be kept up for long. They are as ephemeral as the colours of sunrise. Saint Bernard complained that the clear vision of the Divine is only for a moment. Jacob Boehme compared his mystic ecstasy to lightning which flashed and vanished. Such emotional ecstasies are always transient; they come and go simply because it is the nature of emotion to do so. Nature never intended mystical raptures to be anything more than weekend guests, as it were. She has not made the man who can enjoy them forever at the same pitch of passionate intensity which they possess at the start. In his ignorance the mystic desires to cling to his ecstasy but always fails. Consequently the experience is always succeeded by either a mood of depression or of frustration. He does not perceive that this very desire to hold on to it is something which must be conquered, as much as any other possessive desire, if he is ever to attain a lasting inner peace. The foregoing may prompt the question, "Why then is inward joy one of the accompaniments of mystic experience?" In the early stages it comes to make easier his revaluation and overcoming of outward and earthly joys. Hence it is then highly emotional and tempestuous. In the advanced stages it is to tell him what the divine Overself is like. Hence it is then profoundly mental and tranquil.
The bliss which accompanies a mystical experience is not only accounted for by these causes but also by a further one, or by all in combination. And this is that every such experience is a renewed discovery of the glorious fact that he is not engaged on an impossible quest. That the latter can be successfully completed by conscious union with the Overself is joyously evidenced anew by each such temporary union. It is through such momentary glimpses or vivid intuitions of the transcendental reality that he is encouraged to continue with this long-drawn quest. The heavens have opened for him and closed again. Whoever has once had this vivid experience cannot go on again as though it had never been. He will be uneasy, restless, alternately fascinated and haunted by its memory, tantalized into seeking how he may recapture it again. And it is well that such gleams of encouragement do come to him. For there are times when he realizes the Himalayan altitude of the road he has undertaken to climb. With this realization there arrives despair, even the desire to withdraw from it altogether.
The conclusion from all these considerations is that if blissful psychic experiences or rapt ecstasies come to him, he ought not let his attitudes and utterances be too jubilant; if they fail to come, he need not be too sad. It is interesting to hear about them and pleasant to have them but they are not essential to the higher life.
"Where thou findest not emotion, thou wilt find a door whereby thou mayest enter into thine own Nothingness."--Miguel de Molinos: A Guide to True Peace
The rush of agitated emotions which the experience brings to beginners and the enormous excitement it stirs in them, are absent from the psychological state of proficients.
Wonderful, exalted, joyous feelings accompany this state. The unphilosophical mystic is carried away and regards them as being the state itself, but the philosophic mystic understands that it is rather a different kind of consciousness.
The devotional mystic enjoys being lifted up to rapturous heights. But insofar as he luxuriates in his mystical experience as he would luxuriate in a beautifully furnished bedroom, it is nothing more than a personal possession, a component of his private property. It is good that he has it, of course, but it is not enough. For how different is this from the philosophic experience, which opens egotistic ears to the call of mankind's needs! He will enjoy the thrills of being emotionally swept off his feet by mystical ecstasies; but when eventually he comes to understand, whether by his own intuition or by someone else's instruction, that such excitement prevents him from reaching the fullest consciousness of the Overself, he will come to respect the preachments of philosophy in this matter. Here an analogy may be useful to clarify our meaning. The mystic is like a man who carries away the flower, knowing that the perfume will come with it also. The mystic is so enraptured by the exalted ecstasy of peace of his experience that he tries to seize hold of it, only to find that it soon eludes his grasp. The philosopher does not dally his attention with the ecstasy of peace but directs it straight toward the source whence the peace emanates--to the Mind itself--and tries through comprehension to seize hold of its very nature. In the result he gets both reality and its emanated peace at the same time. He absorbs the ecstasy instead of being absorbed by it.
The more advanced a man is, the less he looks, or should look, for inner experiences. Despite popular belief, they are more frequent among beginners.
We do not need to seek our vindication in the witness of contemporary conditions and inside ashrams; it exists in the writings of mystics themselves and as far back as the Middle Ages. Suso, Tauler, Guyon, Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, Ramakrishna, and others have all had occasion to observe the same sad consequences which we also have observed, and they have passed caustic comments upon their fellow aspirants in their own writings. One of the most illustrious and advanced of medieval mystics, John Ruysbroeck, vigorously criticized his fellow mystics for defects he had observed among them. He denounced those who mistook mere laziness for meditative sanctity, as well as those who take every impulse to be a divine one. (See E. Underhill's Mysticism for a quote from Mme. Guyon criticizing visionary experiences of mysticism.) The Spanish Saint John of the Cross wrote: "It is very foolish, when spiritual sweetness and delight fail, to imagine that God has failed us also; and to imagine that because we have such sweetness we have God also."
Four centuries ago another Spanish mystic perceived the subtle selfishness which underlay this attitude. He was Saint Pedro de Alcantara, who wrote that such devotees of spiritual joy "are much rather loving themselves than God." Even many a genuine mystic of high achievement is not altogether exempt from this charge of spiritual selfishness. His ineffable ecstasies deceive him by their very sweetness into barring himself from concern with the woes of the outside world. This often arises quite innocently because the sense of joy which follows success in meditation is easily misinterpreted to mean the end of the quest. It may indeed be the end of most mystical quests, but it is only the beginning of the ultimate one! Only a few of the wisest and most advanced mystics have placed it where it rightly belongs. The danger was so clearly seen by Buddha that he specifically warned his disciples not to stop at any of the four degrees of rapt meditation, where, he said, they might easily be deceived into thinking that the goal had been attained. It was seen too by Sri Ramakrishna, the renowned Bengali yogi. He once disclosed to a disciple: "Mystic ecstasy is not final." He severely chided his famous pupil, the monk Swami Vivekananda, when the latter replied to a question about his ideal in life with the words: "To remain absorbed in meditative trance." His master exclaimed, "Can you be so small-minded as that? Go beyond trance; it is a trifling thing for you."(P)
An important query now arises, although hardly a mystic ever conceives the challenge of its existence and consequently ever seeks its answer. We have to enquire about what really happens during the highest effort of the meditator, when thought is so overcome that it appears as if about to lapse. Will he enter a higher dimension of existence as he believes? Will the self-revelation of the hidden reality really occur? Is this thrilling ecstasy or this stilled peace, which has begun to supervene, the peculiar sign of a revolutionary shifting of spiritual gravity from mortal concerns to eternal life, from mere appearance to basic reality? Many mystics think that the mere elimination of thoughts during self-absorption is a sufficient achievement. The world is then forgotten and with it all the personal cares. This state really arises from the extreme diminution of the working and tempo of thought, with the consequent diminution of attention to the man's own personality, to its varied cares and affairs, as well as to the external world with its insistent claims and constant demands. Thus it is simply one of exquisite relief from human burdens (whether of pain or pleasure, for here there is no distinction between both), from attention to the external world, and from the strain of supporting a continuous series of thoughts. The result is a delightful lightness and soothing peace. But the feeling of peace is alone no guarantee of the attainment of true realization. Peace is admittedly one of its signs. But there are different grades of peace, ranging from the negative stillness of the tomb to the positive mind-mastery of the sage. The arrestation of thoughts touches the fringe of the transcendental state, but not more than the fringe. When I wrote in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (page 309, British edition) that the mystic only penetrates to the illusion of reality, I referred to visions of forms and ecstasies of emotion. If however the mystic does achieve a visionless serene unexcited be-ness, then it is the Overself, for he touches the Void wherein is no form and no thoughts; then he does touch reality. I admit this. But his task is still incomplete, because this experience which occurs in trance is transient; hence the need of gaining metaphysical insight also for permanency.(P)
There are three major and progressive goals open to the mystic. The first is to become conscious of the fringe or aura of his divine soul, the Overself. Most mystics, elated by the emotional thrill of its discovery, stop here. The second is to penetrate to its serene centre and pass during trance into the undifferentiated void of its non-sensed, non-thinged essence. The more intelligent and superior mystics, who are naturally much fewer in number than the first kind, are not satisfied until they reach this attainment. It is upon this world-vanishing experience that most Indian yogic metaphysicians base their theory that the universe is an illusion. To the ordinary yogi, this is the summit of achievement and represents for him the goal of human existence. But the trance itself is only temporary. How can a mental self-abstraction, however prolonged, a merely temporary condition, be a final goal for mankind? This is the problem which indeed was stated in The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga. All such theories merely show that such mystics have their limitations, however admirable may be their capacity to enter into and sustain the trance state. The third goal is to bring the true self, the essential emptiness and the universal manifestation, into a harmonious, unified experience during full normal wakefulness. This last is philosophical mysticism. Being a complex and complete attainment, it naturally calls for a complex and complete effort. Careful analytical and historical study of mystical practices and mystical biographies will show that it is these three different goals which have always been pursued or achieved, no matter to what external religion, country, or race individual mystics may themselves have belonged. Thus the ordinary mystic's account of the Overself is true but incomplete, his experience of it authentic but insufficient. He has yet to undergo the whole, the complete experience which mysticism can yield. But then, if he does so, if he refuses to remain satisfied with an incomplete and imperfect attainment, he will no longer remain a mystic. He will become a philosopher.(P)
Questionable excitements have often been mistaken for the true mystical experience. But the serene and clear-sighted tone of authentic realization is lacking in them. The excited ecstasies of lower mysticism should not be confused with the dignified exaltations of ultramysticism. In extreme cases the former sometimes bear a resemblance to the merry elations felt in moments of Bacchic enthusiasm, whereas even here the rapturous feeling passes away eventually as a sense of supernatural calm, of noble quietude which is rated as being far superior, takes its place. Passionate joy is something which comes and vanishes, a mood which can [not--ed.] be kept permanently, here today and still here tomorrow. Joy belongs to the person. Peace belongs to the higher individuality. The absence of passion, however exalted it be, is a noteworthy feature of the genuine supreme realization. Emotional intoxication is not the final stage. Steady illumination--as steady as a flickerless lamp--is philosophically higher and transcends it. He who attains the heights will always evidence it in permanent dignified serenity, not in fitful egoistic excitement. Emotions are quiescent thereon.
Saint John of the Cross wrote, in The Ascent of Mount Carmel: "Would that I could persuade spiritual persons that the way of God consisteth not in the multiplicity of meditations, ways of devotion or sweetness, though these may be necessary for beginners, but in one necessary thing only, in knowing how to deny themselves in earnest, inwardly and outwardly, giving themselves up to suffer for Christ's sake, and annihilating themselves utterly. He who shall exercise himself herein, will find all this and much more. And if he be deficient at all in this exercise, which is the sum and root of all virtue, all he may do will be but beating the air--utterly profitless, notwithstanding great meditations and communications."
The beginning mystic is very much aware that he is having an unusual experience. This makes him feel that he is being favoured, that he is being lifted high above his fellows. The personal ego is being mixed into the very centre of an impersonal power. The reaction of an advanced mystic, that is, a philosopher--is free from these egoistic blemishes.
Let them not confuse a merely psychological state, however strange it may be, with a truly mystical state. For the first is within the ego, the second with the Overself.
Just as there are three degrees of the spiritual journey--religion, mysticism, and philosophy--so there are three degrees of spiritual illumination--the child, the adolescent, and the adult.
A man who himself passed through various kinds of mystical experience, Ibrahim al Jili, who lived in the fourteenth century at Yemen, Arabia, pointed out in his book, The Perfect Man, that although meditation was the noblest activity of man, he should beware of resting continuously in it to enjoy its bliss. He added that the philosophical mystic will leave it even before it has yielded all its secrets to him, lest it become a barrier to his further advance towards the highest goal.
Yoga takes a man to a certain level, philosophy to another, whilst the ultimate sahaja path takes him to a more complete experience and the highest vantage point of all.
Far safer than endeavouring to reach the trance state, he had better devote his efforts to control of thought and a search for inner tranquillity.
Those alone will ever understand the mystery of the Overself who are willing to penetrate beyond the fitful beatific consciousness of the mystical ecstasy to the continuous equanimity of the Sage.
Whereas ordinary mysticism seeks only to discipline the personality, philosophical mysticism seeks both to discipline and develop it.
The medieval monk emotionally enjoying a rapturous union with God in his cell was not necessarily farther on the way than the advanced Quaker sitting rapt in the still, silent meeting-house three centuries later.
From the philosophical standpoint, it is not enough to say that a man is illumined and leave it at that. The depth and permanence of his illumination need also to be considered.
At this stage of our brief study of the mind and its mystical powers, personal observation and experience involving thousands of contemporary cases among Asiatics, Africans, Europeans, and Americans no less than wide reading in and deep reflection over the past annals of mysticism in the West as well as yoga in the East dictates the stern duty of a warning utterance. In this matter at least we have the privilege of practice as well as the theories of yoga at our fingertips and hence may be presumed to know what we are talking about. If our statements are strongly worded, that is because the importance of the matter justifies it. Many have deplored the innumerable aberrations and the countless delusions, the intellectual vagaries and the pathological states, the hysterical emotionalisms and the half-concealed eroticisms to which mysticism too easily leads its votaries. Why does this happen? Part of the answer is that meditation exercises are often practised incorrectly. This is still true even when they are done under a teacher's guidance, for scientifically imparted instruction is usually difficult to obtain, whereas superstitious or superficial instruction is more easily found. The consequences of wrong practice make themselves marked in time upon both character and capacity. They may appear in the following forms: fancy being mistaken for reality; the decay of reasoning power and the growth of credulity; the surrender to emotional impulse, miscalled intuition, in the belief that this is a higher guide to behaviour than right thinking; and the adoption of a holier-than-thou attitude towards others. Moreover, meditation of a merely self-hypnotic character unaccompanied by philosophical or practical discipline may lead to pathological neuroses, or to dissociations of personality, or to deep self-deceptive hallucinations of personal attainment. Just as the right kind of meditation will expand and develop spiritual life, so the wrong kind will cripple and dwarf it. Those who do not estimate the creative powers of meditation at their real worth may ridicule such a statement. But the fact remains--and is indeed a commonplace matter of mere observation to any competent investigator--that the whole character, mentality, temperament, motives, and reactions of the student who continues for a sufficient period with such practices will undergo a marked change for the better or for the worse. They will indeed either benefit or harm him.
Nevertheless, if erroneous meditation has led some to fantasies and illusions, this is not a warning to give up its practice but to meditate rightly and to gain metaphysical clear-sightedness to see through phantasms and mistakes. Indeed, it is quite possible to erect a shield against these errors by undergoing the philosophical training, which puts its students on their own guard and enables them to protect themselves. Meditation is supremely necessary but the pitfalls that surround it are so grievous as to make it most desirable to practise it as part of the fourfold balanced path, and not merely alone. Moreover, in this world crisis, the service enjoined by this path and usually neglected by unphilosophical meditators is at least as urgent as self-development.
If a man gives up several hours every day to religious devotions, mystical exercises, and metaphysical study, but has not given up his feelings of envy, spite, and malice, then his spiritual development is a superficial affair. True spirituality always penetrates into a man's heart, changes his attitudes toward other people, and purifies his relations with them. If he has no results to show in the moral sphere, do not be deceived by his mystical tall talk or pious mouthings.
Whoever disregards this requirement of a balanced total effort may advance too rapidly for a time and become jubilant over his advance. But sooner or later he will experience a setback and settle in a cul-de-sac. For nobody can outwit the integral evolutionary purpose of Nature.
When the search for inner peace is conducted through meditation alone, ignoring moral re-education, intellectual strengthening, and altruistic service, the result will be deplorably lopsided.
If he is well-grounded in the metaphysics of truth and well-balanced in character, neither the plausible voices of false doctrines nor the pretentious claims of false prophets can deceive him.
The errors into which so many mystics have fallen, could not have lain in their path if their emotions had been submitted to the philosophic discipline and if their thoughts had been conformed to philosophic knowledge.
The more I travel the world of living men and study the recorded experiences of dead ones, the more I am convinced that mystical powers, religious devotion, intellectual capacity, and ascetic hardihood do not possess anything like the value of noble character. I no longer admire a man because he has spent twenty years in the practice of yoga or the study of metaphysics; I admire him because he has brought compassion, tolerance, rectitude, and dependability into his conduct.(P)
We personally believe that Gandhi is as self-realized a mystic as his contemporaries like Ramana Maharishi, Aurobindo, and Ramdas. His whole life and thought, his writing and speech, his deeds and service proclaim it. He himself has declared that he feels "the indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything" and that he is "surer of His existence than of the fact that you and I are sitting in this room." Then why is it that Gandhi's view of the world war was so widely different from Sri Aurobindo's, if both are divinely inspired men? The answer is that in Gandhi we find a perfect illustration of the defects of ordinary mysticism, of the insufficiency of its spiritual self-realization, and of the need for philosophical mysticism. There is no need to doubt, as so many doubt, that he is a genuine saint turned to the genuine service of humanity. But he has carried into that service the unbalance, the fanaticism, and the impracticality which mark so many saints throughout history. This conclusion may be unpalatable to some, but it is unavoidable. Perfect mystics are not the same as perfect beings. They are liable to error.(P)
If a man spends a total of six hours a day in meditation practices, as some I have known have done, but is unable to perceive the truth about the character of other men with whom he is brought into contact, then it is absurd to believe that he is able to perceive the truth about the immeasurably more remote, more intangible and ineffable Transcendental Reality.(P)
Where is the definite evidence in moral excellence, or even moral improvement, that a diviner life has been found? If this is lacking, then the would-be mystic is merely deceiving himself, merely stagnating in an illusory attainment which still remains outside the true soul.
Look for the results of spiritual attainment in character and conduct. If a man has lived his whole life in a yogic ashram but is still mean, petty, treacherous, spiteful, unjust, and unreliable, be sure that all his religious devotions and meditation exercises have only affected his surfaces, not his depths.
I have been asked to explain the phrase "that God whom meditating mystics and trance-wrapped yogis prematurely grope for within their hearts" which occurs on page 313 of the British edition of The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga and page 365 of the American edition. Some seem to think that the criticism implied therein is directed against the heart as a place wherein to search for God. They have misread my meaning and put the emphasis in the wrong place. The emphasis should be laid on the word "prematurely." The time factor is not seldom as important as any of the others. Its importance should not be underestimated. The right act done at the wrong time itself becomes a wrong act. Mystics who prematurely try to seize the fruits of philosophy without taking the trouble to undergo the philosophic training commit an error. For the fruits thus gained are inevitably transient. And when they advise suffering worldlings to resign themselves to God's will and cease bewailing their lot, they often commit another error in timing. For it may be that the discontented worldling is moved through his very discontent to exert his latent capacities and better his lot, and if he does this rightly he will thus improve both his character and intelligence. Each individual case will necessarily differ, for there are times when it is right to resist karma and times when it is wiser not to do so. To lay down a universal rule of absolute nonresistance, as these mystics do, is to ask many men to invite needless suffering.
The philosophical student must keep clear of the quicksands into which others may fall. He must show how he can keep reasonable and balanced when others become fanatical and hysterical, and how he can continue to be faithful and persevering in this quest while fickle emotionalists try and discard one cult after another.
There are a thousand candidates for adeptship in occult powers. There is scarcely one candidate for adeptship in goodness, self-control, and piety.
The wiser teachers among the ancients advocated asceticism only as a temporary practice, as a means of getting some self-discipline, whereas the more fanatical teachers insisted that all their followers should become ascetics. Life is not limited to disciplinary mysticism alone. It has many other things to offer man's many-sided nature.
This personal wholeness is not so much a means of attaining reality as a guarantee that no personal complexes will intervene in the attainment itself.
Even the man who does not fall into such a deep and dark unethical abyss because his inherent decency is too strong to allow it, is still likely to fall into a lesser danger and involve others in his fall, if he has not undergone the philosophic discipline or if he has not the restraining hand of a personal guide to protect him.
Reason is rightly offended by these notions that a mere physiological trick like changing the manner of breathing or even a psychological trick like stopping the thinking process can confer everlasting inner peace upon a man and give him entry into the kingdom of heaven. This is the error of the rigid hatha yogi. No man can cheat God and find his way into the kingdom without changing his sense of values, his moral character, his desires, and his conduct. Only if he has really done this may such tricks help him to achieve his high purpose.
Only after his first fervour is shaken by doubts is he at all likely to understand that discrimination balance and critical judgement are not less needed in the spiritual realm as in the physical.
He is not set free from the evolutionary task of developing his personality because he has developed the capacity to enter mystical states. He must fulfil this task and thus bring all his capabilities into equilibrium; until he has done this, his enjoyment of the divine bliss will be only a sporadic and broken one. But this task fulfilled, it will become a natural and continuous one.
It is good and important that people practise meditation and thus seek within themselves what can never be found outside themselves. But it is not enough. There are serious obstructions which blur, distort, or prevent our seeing what is within. Unless they are also tackled and removed, the seekers may spend half a lifetime either looking in vain or seeing wrongly.
There are many who are earnest in thought and steadfast in aspiration but who, despite this, have never had any mystical experience, never known any psychical phenomena, and never felt any ecstatic uprush. They may be consoled to learn that, philosophically, these happenings are not at all the most significant indicators of spiritual advancement. The ennoblement of character, the development of intuition, and the cultivation of inner equilibrium are more important.
A sane mysticism is needed if aspirants are to keep their balance in such rarefied atmosphere, as also a metaphysics which does not get lost on its way to philosophy.
At home in two worlds
The eccentrics and fanatics have had a long inning in the mystical field. It is now the turn of the sane and normal.
Why should the mystic not like the two worlds, the practical as well as the mystical, the world of self-indulgence as well as the world of self-discipline, and be at home in both? Why should so many people find it impossible to imagine the mystic being an efficient professional or business man, or being able to enjoy an evening at the musical comedy theatre?
So long as they are withdrawn into and united with the Overself their consciousness is richer than all others. So soon as they leave it, mingle with and apply themselves to human affairs, their consciousness is shaped again by what they habitually are, and largely limited by it. From the Perfect they have returned to the Imperfect. From this moment error may creep into their minds, unwisdom into their actions.
There is an escapism which ignores all events other than personal ones. A form which, in our own experience, it commonly takes is shown by the announcement that "I never read newspapers!" It is pleasant to put out of consciousness the muddle and misery of our times, but in the end it is futile and self-deceptive. The escapist is justified in seeking a defense-mechanism against the constant reports of world tragedy and wickedness, but he should find a better one.
The helplessness of so many mystics in the face of social danger is an instructive symptom. It arises from the fact that mysticism possesses no social trend. Its ideal is specifically inner peace which--however desirable for all--is, when pursued as the highest aim, an individualistic and non-social one.
He may get inner experiences but however much others may praise or envy him for them, they make him unfit to carry on a career in the world: in short, he is now quite unpractical. For there is a deficiency here, a lack of preparedness, an omission in the instruction.
The student who is busily engaged searching inwards through meditation is justified in resorting to social isolation. But he will be very unwise and also very egoistic if he makes it a total and permanent isolation.
Under the pressure of this revision of values and hunger for spirituality he may feel the futility of going down to the office every morning, but can he afford to stop doing so? Can he renounce the world merely by staying at home or by going off to the woods instead?
"Such a man remains seated within himself, useless and inert. This repose is simply laziness, and this tranquillity is forgetfulness of God, one's self and one's neighbour. It is the exact opposite of the peace of divine, the opposite of the peace of abyss; of that marvellous peace which is full of activity, full of affection, full of desire, full of seeking, that burning and insatiable peace which we pursue more and more after we have found it . . . men seek it themselves, and no longer seek God even by their desires. Yet it is not He whom they possess in their deceitful repose. The possession of God demands and supposes perpetual activity. He who thinks otherwise deceives himself and others. All our life as it is in God is immersed in blessedness: all our life as it is in ourselves is immersed in activity. And these two lives form one." These words of John Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), a European mystic who had refused to be content with a merely self-loving mysticism, were uttered in a denunciation of those mystics, whom he called "Quietists," whose goal is simply to enjoy the repose which comes when, as he said, "they abstain from every interior and exterior act."
One kind of mystic who regards time as an illusion, history as a dream, and progress as a myth inevitably comes to take less and less interest in men and events, more and more in himself and his thoughts. In the end, he becomes entirely preoccupied with his own life, entirely indifferent to the lives of others. He makes no practical contribution towards the welfare of society because he does not think it worth making. Life in the world has become, for him, bereft of meaning. For it is God's Lila--sport, dance, or play. Intervention would be senseless, beneficent intervention would be self-deceit.
One wonders how those mystics would behave who have little knowledge of business offices or industrial factories, if they were forced by destiny to earn their living by working in such a world after illumination.
In their metaphysical talk and doctrine they may rant and rave against the world but in their daily life they have to admit its existence. It is then no longer illusion, no longer falsely real. Confronted with its harsh or rosy spectacle they discover it to be quite substantial; it refuses to dissolve and vanish.
There is no direct gearing between the two. A man may be capable of drawing into a rapt absorbed condition but incapable of properly handling practical affairs or correctly judging a course of action.
Mysticism, when psychologically comprehended and correctly practised, can certainly give man--weak-willed, passion-driven, and earthward-bent, as he often is--definite disciplinary, emotional, and ethical benefits. But so far as it shuts him up to lounge in his inner recesses and enjoy their peace alone, or so far as it persuades him to cast society permanently aside and withdraw like a tortoise into his own shell, it does not directly advantage others. The mystic wants to be left alone to meditate without external distractions. His peace is precious to him and he is unwilling to disturb it by sacrificing any part of his personal life for the benefit of others. The serious yogi-in-training usually spends most of a lifetime in segregation from his fellows, untrammeled by family burdens and unperturbed by social responsibility, because he is seeking something whose attainment the presence of others hinders and disturbs. He is naturally wrapped up by his discipline in a cloak of self-centeredness. Every manual of yoga which recommends the novice to turn hermit and forsake cities in moderation at the proper time in the proper place and for a limited duration, is a perfectly justifiable rule. He needs solitude and silence for the practice of his meditations. It is difficult to get these things in society so he quite properly avoids society. The very essence of all genuinely mystical exercises is the process of introversion. But carried to the point of excess, as it usually is when the practitioner is ignorant of the fact that mystic discipline is a means and not an end, it is likely to finish in callous self-centeredness. When he does not realize that asceticism is but a temporary discipline, a jumping-off ground, whence to arrive at the higher and permanent condition of internal disentanglement, he is likely to fall into the trap of making such external disentanglement the goal of life and even become callously indifferent to the well-being of others--not deliberately, of course, but as a consequence of his unbalanced introversion.
Philosophy and mysticism
Whereas an incomplete mysticism arrests progress and leads to lethargy, because it regards worldly indifference as the necessary result of worldly detachment, the riper philosophic mysticism stimulates progress and inspires action. This is because it regards first, inner value rather than outer appearance, and second, altruistic duty as well as personal satisfaction.
If he cannot enter the spiritual state without shutting himself up in an undisturbed room and meditating, then it is assuredly not the final state. If he has to pass into a trance or close his eyes, he has still to travel to reach the goal. If he cannot keep the higher awareness when he returns to social existence, it is not the eternal one. All these have to be transcended if the philosophic experience is to be attained.
Its refusal to separate the inner life from the worldly one is perhaps one of the features which distinguish philosophical mysticism from the ordinary kind.
When the whole world lies stretched out before them, how dare they go on ignoring it, or else dismissing it as a device of Satan to entrap and ensnare them! We must enquire into the world which the senses contact no less than into the self which is viewing that world. How can the ascetic obtain the knowledge of the All when he gives up such a huge portion of it? Giving up the world does not lead to Reality, but it leads to peace of mind. Men who lack intelligence, who possess little brains, must take to mysticism and yoga, but only the mature and developed mind can enter the quest of enquiry into Truth. This means therefore that pupils are generally not initiated into this enquiry by gurus prematurely. They must first have developed their egos and their minds to a high degree, and only after that should they be taught to renounce what has been fostered with so much pain. This is evolution: although Truth is ideally attainable here and now, technically it is attainable only at the end of the pageant of evolution, when the whole being of man has been highly developed and is ripe to receive the greatest of all gifts.(P)
Not all mystics have settled down to make the enjoyment of a self-centered peace their loftiest aim in life. Some, like the Quakers, have been generous enough to include the relief of human suffering in such an aim.
To seek no meaning in the universal life but only in one's own life, to limit enquiry solely to the self without caring to extend it to the world in which that self finds itself, is to shut one's eyes to the divine purpose in endowing man with intelligence and all the possibilities of developing it.
This indifferentism has been tersely put on record by Thomas Traherne, the seventeenth-century English mystical clergyman and poet. The result of his inner experiences was that he understood, "All things were well in their proper places. Whereupon you will not believe, how I was withdrawn from all endeavours of altering and mending outward things. They lay so well, methought, they could not be mended; but I must be mended to enjoy them." Traherne merely expressed what every mystic must feel when the beauty of the Inner Reality is revealed to him and the task of withdrawing himself from earthly enchainments and disturbances to its unhindered enjoyment is confronting him. Such a mood is inevitable, necessary, and natural. It is quite right at this stage of his quest. Only when he has succeeded in the task of withdrawal and has perfected himself in the work of contemplation, is the mood likely to change and his whole development complete itself by ascending to the philosophical level. There, he will feel the urge to give out what he has gained and there he will comprehend that, although the world is in God's hands, there is something in man which has been made in God's image and that therefore he may participate in God's work.
Quietism, the smug doctrine that it is enough for the mystic to give himself up to passivity and ecstasy, refraining from personal activity or social service, from intellectual improvement and aesthetic culture, was medieval Europe's counterpart of India's yoga. Philosophy walks all the way with quietists and yogis when they would have us go into retreat from the world and when they would have us learn the art of meditation. But it turns off their road when they would make retreat the business of an entire lifetime, when they proclaim a specific virtue in physical or intellectual lethargy, and when they debar positive effort in meditation in favour of a limp waiting on God. Their enjoyment of this inward rest is legitimate, but their enjoyment of it to excess--to the point where every other duty is dropped for its sake--is not. The intellect degenerates, the morals stultify, the heart shrivels. Idleness, whether of the body or the mind, is not holiness.
This study must be prefixed by the study of self, and a knowledge of the springs which actuate human actions and human motives must be obtained.
"What am I?" The formula is excellent for novices, who are naturally and legitimately interested more in themselves than in the world at large. But it will not do for the advanced seeker, who has outgrown this narrowness and has begun to vex his head as much with universal questions as with personal ones.
He will have achieved what is a goal for himself but what is only the starting point of a further path for the philosophical student. If, preoccupied with the Part (himself), he ignores the Whole (the sensuous universe) when his retracted attention returns to his external environment, he will be a mystic--a perfect mystic indeed, but not more.
The mystic is forced by the tempo of formidable events into a new usefulness and practicality. He is having to bring society into his purview, the State into his scheme of things, ephemeral history into his contemplations of eternity, and hard economics into his spiritual problems. He is being made to surrender amateurish dabbling in meditation or neurotic playing with it. He is being compelled to forego the tea-table treatment of the mystical experience as though it were mere embroidery on life instead of being the very core of life itself.
There is an elusive horizon in mystical studies, researches, and experiments. The farther one advances the more it recedes. There is no end to them in this lifetime. The present great crisis in humanity's history, with its war and upheaval, has provided the opportunity to delve into, and glean revelations about, a field which the advanced mystic might never have touched in normal times. The result leads him to conclude that this troubled and misunderstood world must be considered, however more attractive other, higher realms may be. The former mystical attitude of mere escapism and sheer indifference is false, meaningless, and selfish today. The correct attitude must be to wish to spiritualize life in the world--not to ignore, deny, or run away from it. This requires a certain mental equilibrium, but it is quite attainable.
Those who cannot demonstrate by their achievements what they can do for themselves--whether spiritually or materially--will never be able to do anything worthwhile for humanity. Yet the irony is that so many visionary people who talk about service belong to this ineffective class.
Philosophic mystics are those who are not satisfied with the feeling of inner peace alone, although they enjoy it, and want to understand the world in which they live sufficiently to know how to live with more good health and less avoidable suffering. That is, they not only want to know God, as all mystics do, but also God's workings in the environment in which they find themselves--in the world of physical Nature, which includes their physical bodies. They want to know the way the divine World-Idea is expressed outside and inside those bodies so that they can co-operate with it, obey its laws, and live in harmony with it.
Whatever ordinary mysticism may be, philosophical mysticism seeks to escape, not from, but into reality.
The first vital difference is that whereas ordinary mysticism uses only the mental pictures of spiritual leaders for its meditations, philosophic mysticism uses their mind, character, and realization along with, and ultimately in place of, the pictures. That is, it replaces form by essence. The second shows the philosophic insistence on developing a compassionate attitude and helping others through special meditations.
Philosophic mysticism has a higher object than merely tranquillizing the passions or peaceably sitting in trance. These are excellent attainments, but they are not enough. For they tend by themselves to lead to a cessation of active life. They cannot constitute a sufficient and complete goal for human beings. We are here to live. Is our life to end in dreams alone, not deeds? We find ourselves among other human beings; have we no duty to them? Can we rest content in self-absorption and, as a mystical friend once remarked, "Let the world go to the dogs!" He justified in his own mind his indifference to the world-wide butchery of war, which was raging at the time, but will this justify it in humanity's mind?
Speaking of the mystic who has attained this highest degree, and speaking with the authority of personal experience, Saint Teresa uttered a similar warning: "You may think, my daughters, that the soul in this state should be so absorbed that she can occupy herself with nothing. You deceive yourselves. She turns with greater ease and ardour than before to all that which belongs to the service of God."
However exalted their experiences, the latter are all of a self-centered character. Is it not nobler to seek similar experiences but to seek them against a background of the social concepts of compassion duty and service?
It is impossible for the human being to separate itself from the outside world in which it lives and with which it has an inescapable relationship. How can it truly know itself if it refuses to learn about this relationship?
The developed mystic needs but neglects the undeveloped thinker within himself, just as the thinker needs but neglects the mystic. It is not enough to arrive at truth through mystical feelings; we must also arrive at it through metaphysical thinking. The liability to strive for unrealizable ends, as well as the tendency to mistake in his hurry mere reflection of reality for the Real itself, will then be eliminated. Truth can never suffer from the proper activity of human reason and experiment, but only from their improper or unbalanced activity. The moment the mystic seeks to convey his experience to others, when his trance, ecstasy, or inspiration is over, that moment he has to begin to analyse it. If he lacks the proper intellectual equipment to do this with scientific objectivity and precision, he will convey it faultily, insufficiently, and to some extent ineffectively. This is most often the case, unfortunately, because the distaste for intellectual activity is one of the customary reasons why a number of men have taken to mysticism. Without such equipment, the aspirant will be unable to extract the precise significance of his own mystical experiences, as he will be unable to check the correctness of his opinions upon them; whereas with it in his possession, he will be able to examine any such experience and any such opinion by the light of a systematic, thoroughly tested world view. The vagueness of his concepts, the looseness of his thinking, the confusion of his facts, and the partisan character of his conception of life all combine to render the average mystic's understanding of the truth about his own inner experience often unsatisfactory and his evaluation of other men's vaunted occult claims often untenable. We must distinguish between ebullient emotion and deep love. Those whose aspirations are still in the region of the first may sneer at any other spiritual path than the devotional one, yet if an aspirant is really devoted to the Divine, as he says, he ought not to object to learning all he can about his beloved, which is to say that he ought not to be averse to study of the metaphysics of truth, however difficult and strange it is likely to be.(P)
We may make ourselves deeply sensitive to mystical feelings and thoroughly convince our intellects of mystical truths, without falling into mystical superstitions or foolishness.
The hypnosis of the wakeful consciousness is pleasant, but it is no substitute for the enlightenment of the wakeful consciousness. A yoga-path which merely stills the mind, but does not instruct it, is a help on the way, not the end of the way.
Why may I not be satisfied with the peace gained in meditation? This is a question which may justly be asked. The best answer to it is that those who have realized the Overself, and know whereof they speak, themselves declare that this study is essential. It is only through such study that the mystic can learn what the Overself cannot be. This negative result is not therefore to be deemed unimportant. For if he learns that it is utterly without form, he will no longer be deceived by visions or abnormal occult experiences.
The mistake of the mystic is to seek in immediate feeling a reality through which the reason has not worked its way, instead of boldly renouncing that feeling for the higher work of reflection and thus eventually attaining a loftier form of realization which preserves the results of that reflection whilst outgrowing its limitation.
A man may be quite advanced mystically but yet quite in error intellectually.
When the triumph of emotional unbalance over calm reason is announced and accepted as a heaven-sent inspiration, when error is asserted in the name of mystical communion with God, we can only stand aside thoughtfully and note the dangers of unphilosophic mysticism.
He must beware of making glandular satisfaction a sufficient criterion of philosophical truth. Philosophy need not object to his having such satisfactions, but it must vigorously object to his setting them up in the seat of judgement upon itself. For a physiological state, however ecstatic it be, is not to be equated with the faculty of reason or with the power to penetrate reality.
The demand is twofold. I want a scientific as well as a metaphysical mysticism. I want mystics to become rationally minded and scientifically observant.
So long as the mystic is unable to function fully in his intellect, why should he expect to function clearly in what is beyond intellect?(P)
The mystic who overbalances himself with ephemeral ecstasies pays for them by deep moods of depression. This is worth noting, but it is not all. If there is not a rationally thought-out metaphysical foundation to give constant and steady support to his intuitions of truth, he may find these intuitions telling him one thing this year and the opposite next year. But this foundation must be a scientific and not merely a speculative metaphysics, which means that it must itself be irrefragable, gathering its facts not with the critical intellect alone, but also with the spontaneous intuition and above all with the insight. Such a system exists only in the metaphysics of truth.(P)
A mysticism ennobled by service and fortified by science could attract and help many more persons, but a mysticism indifferent to service and opposed to science will continue to eke out a lethargic life in an obscure corner.
Resistances are set up by the average mystic simply because of his metaphysical ignorance. He is somewhat like a person who has never studied the theory of music nor learned to read a musical manuscript but who can play two or three tunes on a violin solely by ear. The comprehension of what he is doing during meditation is missing. The ability to play any tune whatsoever and not merely two or three is lacking.
The untrained mystic's understanding of his own inner experiences is often superficial and generally confused. This is because it lacks a metaphysical foundation. Again because it starts usually from the standpoint of personal emotion it develops various vagaries. A common example is that the bad habit of attributing everything he does not understand to something supernatural or of finding the mysterious hand of God in the most ordinary happenings, becomes an ingrained one.
An intelligent mysticism may not have been so necessary in the olden days when a mystic was almost always a monk, an anchorite, a begging hermit, or a wandering friar. It is necessary in these days when he may have to be a business executive.
There are too many people who mistake a confused mass of unrelated assertions, unrefined terms, and unproven statements for mysticism. They do so because they think that mysticism is beyond logical proof, above scientific demonstration, and out of reach of mathematical exposition. They consider mysticism to be entirely a matter of feeling and not of thinking. These are the people who fall victim to the charlatans and the impostors. The kind of mysticism they espouse is a bemused one.
Those who call themselves "pure mystics" because they will not "adulterate" mysticism with rational, practical, altruistic, and other activities naturally adopt a contemptuous attitude toward philosophical teaching. This often happens because they are not usually conscious of the intellectual and demonistic pitfalls which beset their journey. Therefore we protest against such a partial view. Those who are sincere but lack judgement will not be saved by their sincerity alone from the sufferings into which their errors may lead them. If this, the practical reason were the only one for adding a philosophical background it would surely be enough. The mystics who throw away the use of reason, throw away one of the chief tools which Nature has given them to adjust themselves successfully to their environment. It is strange how they are so shy of this fact and actually flee from it. It is only in the hard school of bitter experience that their hallucinations may begin to fade. Those who use their mysticism to become confirmed in their foolishness are welcome to do so. But not all of us can afford to do so. Life's leaden tread sooner or later comes down on the foolish and makes them suffer for the unwisdom of their deeds. It is not an accident but a consequence that misty vagueness prevails in such circles whereas definite clarity prevails in the philosophical ones. Spiritual progress may free itself from these delusions and dangers only on the basis of a clear understanding of what spirituality really means.
So long as the mind pursues satisfaction and not truth, it will never attain truth. Yogic samadhi is a form of satisfaction. Therefore the successful yogi may feel happy. But he does not know the meaning of life. The craving for gratification of some desire--whether it be the desire of flesh, fame, or God--enslaves man, makes him a dependent, and sets up a stone wall 'twixt him and truth.
Mental alertness and not mental death is the characteristic of this farther road.
The mysticism which the twentieth century needs is not a drug to enervate reason and paralyse activity. It is a way of combining useful life in the world with intelligent search for the soul.
The medieval mystic gave himself the unnecessary choice between following reason's thinking or following the soul's intuition. The modern mystic cannot afford such a narrow outlook. For him, it is thinking and intuition, reason and the soul.
Without this philosophical exploration of what lies behind religion and mysticism, there will often be a confusion of levels of reference in the minds of students and believers.
If so much spiritual doctrine has been at the mercy of megalomaniac teachers and demented prophets in the past, that has partly been due to lack of education, inability to adopt a more scientific attitude, and insufficient balance, experience, or study. But the opportunity to counteract these causes is becoming more and more a feature of this century.
The philosophic student seeks peace of mind just as much and just as personally as the others do. But he does not seek it at any cost; he will not pay for it with his reason. Nor does he want it as a drug, wherewith to suppress the symptoms of emotional weakness and egoistic neuroticism.
Both the man who has despised rational learning and the man who has applauded it have been able to attain the soul's consciousness. Let the first type of mystic not be so intolerant nor the second so conceited.
Mysticism will only benefit and not suffer if its intellectual basis is enlarged. It can then better meet the dominant questions of our time and better serve the kind of life which a twentieth-century individual has to live. But whether contemporary mystics understand this or not, such is the view upon which evolutionary necessity will confer forcibly in the future.
Jacob Boehme was a competent and advanced mystic. His little book, Dialogues on the Supersensual Life, would alone testify to that and his career adds further evidence. Yet, because he had not undergone the liberating process of a philosophic discipline, his mind was so confined that he would allow no other God-sent prophethood than that of Jesus.
"By doubting we come at truth," were the words which Cicero set down in Latin to guide the thoughtful among his fellow Romans. But our yogic friends do not care to become his disciples. Hence their strange disregard of actuality and their lofty flights into fantasy.
That some mystics have obtained excellent results with superstitious procedures and without any intellectual understanding of the processes employed does not mean that they would not have obtained better results had they possessed rational techniques and correct understanding.
The belief that the most illumined state is so rapturous that it degrades human reason to the lowest place, is a primitive one.
The advance in educational attainment always means the lapse in superstitious belief.
The power of rational faith
Religious devotion is good, mystical contemplation is far better, but when enlightened by knowledge both become immeasurably superior. Hence the mystic has nothing to fear from metaphysics. It will rob him of nothing worth keeping whilst it will present him with a clearer perception and stronger impression of the truth.
Those who are willing to learn the doctrines and practise the methods of scientific mysticism are few. Such an approach does not appeal to the many. This is because they are hypnotized by authority and simply cannot think for themselves; or because their experience is too narrow, too parochial; or because they prefer sentimentality, miracle-mongering, and pseudo-intuition; or that they are too ready to take as facts what are merely surmises. It will never be a popular one. Yet the mystic will lose little and gain much if he makes a scientific approach; if he places facts above speculations and does not take the unchecked play of the imaginative faculty--whether it be his own or some authority's--for ascertained data or verified observations. The scientific spirit is a proof-wanting one. It seeks certainty. The mystic may ignore or despise such a spirit, but the philosopher welcomes and incorporates it in his own. For he perceives that here is the difference between blind faith and assured knowledge. Even if there are matters that he has to take on faith, at least he takes them on a reasonable faith, not a blind one. Our appeal is against a negative misleading emotionalist mysticism. It is directed toward a rational and scientific modern mysticism, and therefore it is at the same time a crucial test of the wisdom of our readers. If they take the first and easier path, the loss in the end will only be their own. For I seek neither a single follower nor supporter for myself, and certainly not popularity. I am self-content and self-contained. If they take the second and harder path the gain will be entirely their own. They will be saved from wasting years in sterile beliefs and deceptive practices. They will learn a healthy self-reliance, of which half-blind guides or exploiting cults would have robbed them. They may even come to regard these warnings and pointers with gratitude.
Most mystical enlightenments arising out of religious devotion alone or aspirational meditation alone are partial ones. Mysticism needs the support of knowledge to attain self-maturation and self-completion. It does not possess an adequate understanding of itself. The intelligent mystic will sooner or later feel the want of an adequate formulation of his own inward experience. But this can only be done through a metaphysical system, and if he seeks and finds the right one, which is the metaphysic of truth, he will find something which will be both a guiding star amid all the bewildering maze of his inner experiences and a supporting hand to help him keep his balance amid their confusing alternations. It will provide him with a definite means of assessing the truth-value of doctrines, ideas, movements, or masters. It will enable him to determine the proper moral attitude to adopt in whatever kind of situation he may find himself.
Accurate ideas about the nature of the soul he is seeking to unite with--that is, right thinking--will not only not hinder his venture in meditation but actually promote its success.
Nobody is likely to be a worse mystic but, on the contrary, he is likely to be a better one if he adds to his knowledge of the laws which govern human existence a knowledge of the forces which operate in human life and the influences which affect human mind. His mystical experiences will not suffer if he develops more clarity of mind about the world in which he lives and more definite understanding about the personality through which he functions.
Yes, mystical experience can be rightly interpreted only by a rightly disciplined mentality. But the discipline required is so subtle, so hard, and so complex that it is rarely undergone in all its fullness.
He will be all the better and not worse if he brings to his mystical path a scientific method of approach, a large historical acquaintance with the comparative mysticisms of many countries, a scientific knowledge of psychology, and a practical experience of the world. He will be all the better and not worse if he learns in advance, and in theory, what every step of the way into the holy of holies will be like.(P)
There is hope for the seeker who wishes to recapture the joys of a past mystical experience. But the experience may be regained in a different form. The emotional excitement that accompanied its earlier phases is more likely to be balanced--as it should be--by greater intellectual understanding of what is happening and how to control it.
In view of the growing interest, it is more needful than ever to dispel the confusions which hang like clouds around mystic thought and practice. All who seek truth with open eyes and not with blindfolded ones must sooner or later face the same problems which then confronted us. If no ray of metaphysical understanding penetrates the minds of others, then they are practising mysticism in the dim twilight--if not altogether in the dark night. The wise aspirant will one day refuse to walk through the spiritual life without full consciousness of where each step is leading him, as he will eventually refrain from striving vaguely for aims which are not clear to him. Let others do what they wish, but he should not tolerate such confused thinking in his own mind.
What harm will it do the mystically inclined if they desist from shallow and unsystematic thinking? And how much good will it surely do them if they begin to deepen and systematize their thoughts! What lessening of their devotion to the Divine will result if they critically base it upon the pure truth about the Divine instead of blindly revelling in personal imaginations about it? And how far are they better off with their glorification of intellectual poverty?
It is not a merit to be proclaimed but a defect to be deplored when mysticism would put a taboo on modern knowledge and scientific attitudes. The medievally-disposed mystic who looks down upon the practical inventions and mental achievements of science is not really being spiritual, as he believes, but merely being foolish. And those who scorn literature and vaunt anti-intellectualism are dreamers of the dreamiest kind. Sharpness of intelligence and breadth of experience are not only at a large discount in such circles but are actually regarded with disfavour. You will not find the kingdom of heaven between the covers of a book, but you may find some ideas which could point the way to the kingdom. If so, the book has served you well. Mystical denunciations of intellectual activity find their logical conclusion in the advocacy of absolute idiocy, in futile stagnation. Moreover, we need the intellectually formulated doctrines to guide our thinking and conduct because we cannot hold for long the moods of religious reverence and mystical inspiration. They give us something to hold on to when we are bereft of inward experience. The endeavour to make a scientific analysis of the contradictory situations which arise in meditational practice or mystical doctrine and thus clarify its issues, is often avoided with horror as being blasphemous! Those who are afraid to look such shortcomings in the face--or who even deny that they exist--are not suited for philosophy. We may find in their uncritical enthusiasms and vague outlooks and anti-rational attitudes some of the grounds why mysticism has not commended itself to the educated Western mind. For the latter expects and rightly expects that what is claimed to be a higher way of life should surely raise and not lower the level of intelligence of its readers.
Even some of the great Christian medieval mystics began to see these truths glowing on the horizon. Saint Victor advocated ordered thinking as a preparation for the mystical experience. Saint Thomas Aquinas proclaimed that intellectual endeavour was "no less a service of God than any other" and also advised aspirants to "live like men, that is, like embodied souls and remember that souls embodied cannot behave as though they were disembodied."
It is unfortunate that few mystics have ever been trained in critical habits of thought and scientific habits of observation. The ordinary mystic seldom raises the question: "What is the intrinsic truth of my inner experience?" But the philosophic mystic must do so. For instance, mental inertia may be mistaken for mental peace. And the fact of experiencing a mystical vision is no guarantee of the authenticity of its revelation. It was not an utterly materialist sceptic nor a fully enlightened philosopher but one of the best and most famous mystics amongst a people who have produced Europe's greatest mystics, the Spaniard Saint John of the Cross, who dryly remarked of a certain nun's meditations: "All this that she says, `God spoke to me, I spoke to God,' seems nonsense." Saint John could never have arrived at such a perception if he had not himself arrived at the very end of the mystical path and so come to know quite well what he was talking about. Such beliefs as this nun's can only be accepted by people whose capacity for critical judgement is very weak. Mysticism unchecked by reason may degenerate into mere superstition. That men cling to fantasies and accept absurdities merely evidences their lack of intellectual capacity--not their spirituality. It is good to be a mystic but it is better to be a critical mystic. The mystic who suffers from intellectual, muddleheaded, or emotional hysteria should not be content with these defects but should try to get rid of them. In a region where yogic aberrations and mystical excesses abound so freely, the value of scientific attitude, accuracy of statement, disciplined imagination, and broad-based learning is surely indisputable. When the scientific habit of observation is missing, when reason is under-developed and emotion over-weighted, the mystic receives his experiences in an unbalanced way or holds his views in a disproportionate relationship. Most necessary indeed is the scientific antidote to the excrescences of unbalanced mysticism, which magnifies the trivial and minifies the essential; most valuable is the rationalist counter to the impulses of shady superstitions; most helpful is prudent reserve against the exaggerations of antiquated mysteriosophy; most assuring is the mental armour against premature conclusions; and most desirable is self-criticism, too, as a safeguard against the truth's being turned by our fancies, imaginations, or desires into something quite different. The mystic must use his whole intelligence--that is, his scientific faculties of criticism, observation, and fact-finding, plus his metaphysical faculties of abstract reflection upon facts--to check his inspired emotions and spiritual experiences. Such a remorselessly critical method of approach loosens the bond of dogma and superstition and thus prepares the way for a genuine understanding which shall be as impeccable as it will be rational.
What the mystic fails to see is that there cannot be an adequate realization of life without an adequate ideology of life. Otherwise his practices, however emotionally satisfying they may be, will necessarily be blind ones. How much wiser and safer will be that mystic who is guided in his practices by a correct understanding of what he is about.
The use of intellect need not detract from the use of intuition. The mystic will be all the better for it. Only if he is unbalanced, and misuses it, will he be worse.
There is no sound reason why a man's critical faculty should be forced into a coma merely because he seeks to cultivate a higher faculty.
The mystic gazes at God with the eye of personal feeling. The eye of rational understanding remains shut. He must open it with the help of metaphysics to get a correct view.
There are those who believe they are spiritual because they are unpractical. This is idealism run aground, cast on the shore of folly. For even here, on this non-worldly quest, there is need of intelligence, just as few would doubt there is in their dealings with the world.
The goal of truth
Nature (God) has given the mystic physical eyes, and he gladly uses them. It has also given him mental eyes (reason), yet he foolishly refuses to use them. The sharpening of reason and the development of practicality constitute valuable features of the general human evolution. Scientific observation and rational thought are necessities of a higher human life. Those mystics who do not believe this to be the case, who persist in maltreating their intuition and maiming their intellects, can be quickly discerned by their neurotic attitudes and exaggerated statements. They abound in every mystical movement, cult, and society. To get at the truth we must reject their partial one-sided and oversimple approach. To repudiate or denounce reason as being unspiritual and to disdain or discard balance as being unnecessary, to follow every upsurge of fancy and to accept every claimant as intuition--this may lead the mystic further along the path he has chosen, but it will also lead him nearer to the unfortunate necessity of requiring a psychiatrist's attention. Only an incorrect metaphysical approach could contemptuously pronounce intelligence to be an enemy of intuition, just as it always pronounces "spirit" to be eternally opposed to "matter."
Without a complete and penetrative understanding of philosophical truth, a real union with the Overself cannot be effected, but only an apparent one. This is why yoga alone is insufficient, although recommended as a help to fit the mind for such understanding.
All emotional realizations, with their claims to a false finality, are deceptive. They must pass; the fluctuant moods of the mystic are not reality. We have to think and think our way through to Truth. Such thought must be long sustained and tranquil, hence the need of yogic ability in concentrative thought. When we gain an impetus in meditation practice, we should use it not merely for gaining temporary peace (which is all the peace it can give) but for philosophical study.
The fact that these differences between men inevitably occur, these conflicts of interpretation leading to conflicts of bodies, does not mean that we are therefore to regard intellect as an enemy of mystical experience. For the same intellect which creates false ideas that divide and antagonize men may also create true ideas that can unite and harmonize them.
The aspirant who is sincere but ill-informed is always in a less secure position than one who is well-informed. This is not only because "knowledge is power," as an old thinker once said, but because the opposition of evil forces has to be encountered and mastered.
He will lose nothing and gain much if he tries to know scientifically why these experiences arise. And he will be a better mystic if he can relate them to the rest of life, if he can move forward to a fuller understanding of his place in the universal scheme, if he can reach an explicit and self-conscious comprehension of his own mysticism. If we grant that he can successfully attain his mystical goal without this definite knowledge, he cannot become an effective teacher and guide without it. So long as his interest is confined to himself this need not matter, but as soon as he seeks to serve mankind it does matter. For then only can he present the way and the goal in the detail and with the clarity that helps to convince others.(P)
Those who enter Shangri-la with prepared beliefs about its glamorous spiritual personages but without any prepared critical judgement, may find what they come to see--but only at the cost of deceiving themselves.
The true mystic values inward experience out of all proportion to the theories about it. This is at once a virtue and a defect. Virtue, because the inward is the reality and the intellectual its shadow. Defect, because the path to it and the manifestation of it are so subtle that without a sound rational conception of mystical practice and an accurate metaphysical conception of mystical attainments, it is immeasurably easy to go astray from the one or to distort the other.
Answers are sometimes so subtle and vague that critical observers might think them one way of evading questions if they did not know that the mystic was perfectly sincere. The fact is he cannot describe what he does not know.
The disappearance of balance from mysticism means the disappearance of intellectual self-reliance, of the validity of reason, and of the realistic attitude towards life. The heavy price which mystics pay for this loss has been revealed by history. For when superstition supplants reason, suffering follows like a shadow.
The seeker who has not awakened the critical faculty--and is therefore still a child in his intellectual development--is naturally unsuspicious, plastic and docile. Even the seeker who has awakened it is sometimes so overawed by exaggerated or false claims as to leave it off on the threshold when he enters the presence of spiritual charlatanry.
These gullible people are admittedly humble but they do not understand the immense importance of being humble before facts, of setting aside their emotional predilections and prostrating themselves at the feet of fact, of withholding belief from men or doctrines where it is not warranted by the facts yielded by prior investigation.
Metaphysical and scientific knowledge of the leading features of the cosmic plan for human existence and human achievement is necessary to the mystically minded; their inner experiences do not exempt them from this necessity. Without such knowledge they may become victims of self-deceived "masters" or of plausible errors or they may constantly vacillate from one belief to another.
Let them not court suffering by misplaced faith, or invite trouble by misguided action, when the suffering is unnecessary and the trouble unwelcome. Wisdom protects: let them seek it first.
The attempt to secure protection against impending evil, disaster, or misfortune by proclaiming its unreality, before proper analysis has unveiled the cause and cure, is a premature one and can end only in failure.
They would die for truth but they would not think for it.
So much wishful thinking and imaginative nonsense enters mysticism that the seeker must apply independent judgement to his study of it if he wants to find truth and keep sanity.
The emotional nature needs to be balanced by the intellectual faculties, in the mystic even more than in others. Otherwise mental disease can easily parade itself as spiritual experience.
There is a difference between transcending reason and contradicting reason. Both the foolish sceptic and the foolish mystic may not see this and thus fall into error.
The mystic who claims that his knowledge is verbally incommunicable and that it is useless trying to explain it intellectually, is stretching a difficulty into an impossibility.
It is the thinking mystic who can best explain mysticism to others and even to himself. And it is the active mystic who can best demonstrate its worth.
The narrow mystic who sets up for others his personal limitations in mystical development, does a dangerous thing. His justifiable fear of barren, dry intellectualism may become exaggerated into a fear of wisely discriminating reason. This can end only in over-credulous accepting of superstition and disturbance of the mind's balance. It may even lead in weak intelligences to a mild insanity.
If the intellectual and realistic attitude is not developed previously to coming into the mystical life, it will have to be developed afterwards. Only as it is inserted into and balanced with the psychic and intuitive attitude will the results be consistently reliable. Without it the seeker will be lost at times--through emotion, whim, theory, auto-suggestion, or prejudice--in baseless fantasies, irresponsible vacillations, and fanciful experiences.
The path beyond yoga
The common opinion implicit in most mystical literature places all illumined mystics on the same level, since they are all supposed to experience the same God. But the truth is that they are at different levels and have different experiences. For even within illumination itself there is a primary degree, which most remain at, and a perfected degree, which only those who master and embody the philosophic mysticism can attain. What is required for the first degree is so much less that it is easier and simpler to pass.
All genuine mystics who claim this God-experience may be granted their claim, if we substitute the word Overself for the word God. But what cannot be granted is that all of them have an equal awareness of the Overself. There are different degrees of this awareness.
The degree of enlightenment which a mystic has reached corresponds also to the degree of freedom from the ego which he or she has reached.
The atmosphere of muddle-headedness which is prevalent in such circles is one inevitable consequence of pouring scorn on intellectual advancement. The first step out of this fog of confused appreciation of mystical culture is to learn that the latter possesses various strata. What he has achieved through aspiration and meditation is excellent but not enough. It may even be self-deceptive if it lulls him into thinking he has done enough. He must be warned not to fall into the easy temptation of jumping prematurely to sweeping general conclusions from inadequate data but to be patient until the whole landscape can be surveyed. He must beware of comfortably believing that he has already attained the larger goal when he has merely attained a lesser goal on the way, as much as he must beware of mistaking a fitful glimpse for an abiding enlightenment. He has not reached, as he fondly believes, the end of man's possible course. He must do one thing more, without which the achievement will in the end prove unsatisfactory and imperfect.
Just as the infant human has to learn to balance his body, and then to walk in the physical world, so the infant mystic has to learn to balance his soul, and then to walk in the mystical world.
Few mystics ever achieve the ultimate of mysticism. Most live in the same field of awareness as ordinary people and only occasionally do they achieve a limited contact with the soul.
These early mystical experiences are representative of the divine in man; they present it to us in action, but they are not the divine itself in all its magnitude and fullness.
Some have succeeded in getting a hazy intuition of the soul, but they are very far from getting a vivid realization of it.
When the mystic comes to the end of this phase of his career but believes he has come to the end of the career itself, he falls under an illusion from which it is hard to recover.
Caught up by the newness and strangeness of the experience, exuberant in its delight and freedom, it is not surprising that he should refuse to heed those who tell him there is a far journey yet from this child's first acquaintance with Spirit to the adult's completed understanding of it.
Enlightenment is not equal in all mystics. With most it is only at its beginning, whatever they personally may believe to the contrary; with some it is more developed; with a few others it is perfect. In all cases it is proportionate to the extent to which the ego's influence is obliterated.
Few mystics attain an exalted condition all at once, or are able to maintain it permanently. It is reached by successive stages.
Whereas the ordinary yogas seek primarily to control the activities of consciousness, the higher yoga seeks in addition to bring enlightenment to its practiser both about the objects of his consciousness and about the consciousness itself. Consequently it is different from them in inward spirit as well as outward form. Thus the earlier yogas serve really as starting points whence we travel to the ultimate one. They are not ends in themselves but only means to help us reach an end. The error of most Westerners and many Orientals is to regard the various yoga paths as approaches of equal value rather than as stages of increasing importance. All other yogas prepare the aspirant to be fit to follow this philosophic and higher yoga. They do not and cannot take him to the ultimate realization. Nevertheless, although they cannot bring the full insight to birth, they are necessary prerequisites for this birth.
A common but wrong idea, into which some writers on mysticism fall, is that the final goal is realized by becoming one with the universe--a part of and united with Nature. That is indeed a state which often arises either on the way to the goal or on the return from it, but it is certainly not the ultimate goal itself. Man's highest source is in the infinite fullness of being whereas Nature is an expression of that being just as he is. It is the lesser thing, not the Ultimate Fact. The mystic's true goal must lie beyond it.
Ordinary mysticism is the intermediate state of inner development. When this phase has closed and intuitional mind powers are mature, then the truths of philosophy may be taught. They constitute the final doctrines and they do not need to deprive their predecessor of its place.
Their path will be determined by their object. If primarily they wish to give themselves some satisfaction, they need not go beyond ordinary yoga. If however, they seek truth as well as satisfaction, they must go beyond it.
To unite the ego with the Overself is the highest achievement open to the mystic whilst yet in the flesh. It is not possible for him to become one and the same identity with God, united in every possible way, and with his own separate and distinct identity utterly lost.
There are likely to be many who will reject these criticisms and revaluations of yoga because they emanate from one who is a Westerner and who is therefore supposed not to know what he is talking about in such an exotic matter. Let us therefore learn what some competent Indian authorities themselves say. His late Highness, The Maharaja of Baroda, who was famous for his frequent association with and patronage of the most learned Indian pundits, scholars, philosophers, and yogis, said in his inaugural address to the Third Indian Philosophical Congress held in Bombay in 1927: "The Yoga system in its essence is a series of practical means to be adopted as a preliminary to the attainment of the highest knowledge. . . . what the yoga system may have to teach us as to the preparation for the attainment of true philosophic insight needs to be disassociated from the fantastic and the magical." And at the same Congress, the general president, Sir Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, did not hesitate to declare that "the Indian tradition gives the first place to the pursuit of philosophy."(P)
If those who have hitherto given their faith and thought to the ordinary presentations of yoga will now give further faith and more thought to the higher teaching here offered, they need lose nothing of their earlier understanding but will rather amplify it. Nor is anyone being called upon to renounce meditation; those who criticize me for this are as mistaken as they are unjust. What is really being asked for is the purging of meditation, the putting aside as of secondary and temporary interest those phases of yoga experience which are not fundamental and universal. But meditation itself should and must continue, for without it the Ultimate can never be realized. Only let it be directed rightly. Hence the inferior yogas are not for a moment to be despised, but it should be recognized that they are only relative methods useful at a particular stage only. Thus they will take their place as fit means leading towards the ultramystic practices and not be confounded with them.(P)
A mysticism based on the dualism of body and soul leads to passive mental emptiness, but this is not the same as the enlightened mental realization. As the Buddha put it when referring to Samkhya, one of the Indian forms of such dualistic mysticism: "This doctrine goes not to Nirvana but only to the attainment to the Realm of Nothingness."
Mystical meditation, like metaphysical thinking, is after all a preparatory act. Its ultimate end must be kept in sight. It must not itself be mistaken for that end. This tragic confession of Sadhu Sundur Singh is worth noting for its hard but wholesome factuality: "I have spent hours in meditation every day. That may have helped me to cultivate my spiritual faculties but I did not understand spiritual reality. It [yoga] only assisted me up to a certain point." Let nobody fail to see the full significance and tremendous gravity of this admission. The fault however does not lie with meditation. It lies with an incomplete and misconceived theory of meditation.
If we compare his state with the state of the crass materialist, his is certainly the better one. It is good that he feels that only when he gives himself up to meditation does he live at all. But it cannot be for this alone that his spirit was made flesh, his being brought down to earth. Life must certainly be large enough to include meditation but it cannot end with it.
It is only when vague misgivings begin to trouble him, only when indefensible acts begin to distress him, that he is likely to perceive that mysticism is insufficient in practical life and its revelation only partial in intellectual life.
Gautama learned yoga from two renowned teachers, Alara and Uddaka, passing through the successive degrees of samapatti (ecstatic meditation) with them but left them when he discovered it was not the way to ultimate Enlightenment.
It is not enough to master yoga, as this term is ordinarily understood. Something beyond it is also needed. Hence one of the texts belonging to this teaching, the Lankavatara Sutra, says of those who have perfected themselves in yoga: "When they reach the eighth degree they become so drunk with the bliss of inner peace that they do not grasp that they are still in the sphere of separateness and that their insight into reality is not yet perfect."
The search after mystical adventures can go on indefinitely and fill a whole lifetime, but one such experience can only yield another to repeat or replace it. It cannot end in the Unutterable Peace.
Yogic experience must be prolonged for many years before the yogi can realize that extravagant hopes of attainment will be disappointed.
There is a fourfold evolution in humanity and it unfolds successively--physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hence the mystic has to return to rebirth to complete his evolution despite his "union" which is consequently temporary. For riddance of the ego being the price of attainment, riddance of the emotional ego still leaves the intellectual ego untouched; that must be dealt with at its own level. Hence after emotional union has subsided he must cultivate his mental powers and regain it again as "intellectual union."
The basic efforts of the mystic, insofar as they attempt to reorient attention inwards toward the divine source of thought, are not mistaken ones. Hence, the ascent to philosophy does not require the abandonment of what we have previously learned, but it does require a shift in emphasis. It neither renounces the sublime fruits of mysticism nor liquidates the essential value of mysticism. The higher teaching does not come to destroy but to fulfil, does not seek to supplant but to augment.
We must arrive at a correct understanding of the place of yoga in the curriculum which leads to truth, and this can be done only by drawing a sharp distinction between what is known through experience and what is ascertained after inquiry.
Yoga serves as a contributory help, as a means of removing certain hindrances, and finishes tentative conceptions, to secure the proper conditions for studying Advaita. It does not lead directly to Truth.
Even Patanjali opens his famous classic manual by declaring that the goal of yoga is to equilibrate the agitations of the mind. Note that he does not say it is to cross beyond the mind altogether.
Mysticism, rid of its delusive fancies, purified from its wild eccentricities, freed from slavish taints of preconception and suggestion, becomes a part of philosophy.
The inner peace of elementary mysticism results in a satisfied personality whereas that of philosophic mysticism results in a surrendered personality.
The mystic must grow into the philosopher as the religionist must grow into the mystic.
The completion in knowledge
Students must be warned however that yoga exercise cannot of itself suffice to yield the ultimate realization of the All but only the realization of the inner self, the "soul," rare and advanced though such an attainment be.
The attainment of this deep state of oneness in meditation by an ordinary mystic may seem to be the end of the quest. Nevertheless the cycle of reincarnation will not end for him until he has become a philosophical mystic. For even though all earthly desires have been given a quietus, there will remain a latent desire to know, to understand his own experience and the world experience. To satisfy this desire, which will slowly come to the surface under the compulsion of Nature, he will have to develop intelligence to the proper degree. If he cannot do it quickly enough, then the work will have to continue into as many other births as are needed to finish it. For nature is shepherding the human race not only along the road of spiritual evolution but also of intellectual evolution.
Man does not exist alone, isolate. He is himself part of the universe into which he is born. Therefore he cannot obtain an adequate answer to the question "What am I?" unless he also obtains an answer to the question "What is my relationship to the universe?" Consequently the mystic who is satisfied with the answer which he discovers through meditation to the first question, is satisfied with a half-truth.
Mystical experience does not yield a cosmogony, hence does not tell us something new about the universe or about God's relation to the universe, even though it does tell us something gloriously new about ourselves--that is, about man. In such experience, it is not the universe that reveals the inner mysteries of its own nature, but man.(P)
He cannot obtain from ordinary mystical experience alone, precise information upon such matters as the universe's evolution, God's nature, or the history of man. This is because it really does lack an intellectual content. The only reliable increment of knowledge he can obtain from it is an answer to the question "What am I?"--an affirmation of the existence of man as divine soul apart from his existence as body. Apart from that his inner experience only improves the quality and increases the intensity of his life, does not constitute a way to new knowledge about what extends beyond it.(P)
The mystic seeks to stifle all thinking activity by a deliberate effort of willpower and thus arrive at a sense of oneness with the inner being which lies behind it. When his practice of the exercise draws to a successful end, the object upon which he concentrates vanishes from his field of focus but attention remains firmly fixed and does not wander to anything else. The consequence is that his consciousness is centered and this is true whether he feels it to be withdrawn into a pin-point within his head, as results from the commoner methods, or bathed in a blissful spot within his heart, as results from other ones.(P)
From the point of view of yoga practice, the yogi gradually succeeds in bringing his field of awareness to a single centre, which is at first located in the head and later in the heart. This achievement is so unusual that he experiences great peace and exaltation as a result--something utterly different from his normal condition. For him this is the soul, the kingdom of heaven, the Overself. But from the point of view of the philosophy of Truth, any physical localization of the Overself is impossible, because space itself is entirely within the mind, and the mind is therefore beyond any limits of here and there, and the Overself and Pure Mind (unindividualized) holds all bodies within it without being touched by them.(P)
The quietistic condition got by ordinary yoga is got by withdrawing from the five senses. But the hidden prenatal thought tendencies which are the secret origin of these senses still remain, and the yogi has not withdrawn from them because his attention has been directed to vacating the body. Thus the trance-condition he attains is only a temporary, external inactivity of the senses. Their internal roots still abide within him as mental energies which have evolved since time immemorial. Without adequate insight into the true nature of sense operations, which are fundamentally exteriorizations of interior mental ones, the yogi has only deceived himself when he thinks he has conquered them.(P)
The successful mystic certainly comes into contact with his real "I." But if this contact is dependent upon meditational trance, it is necessarily an intermittent one. He cannot obtain a permanent contact unless he proceeds further and widens his aspiration to achieve contact with the universal "I." There is therefore a difference between the interior "I" and the universal "I," but it is a difference only of degree, not of kind, for the latter includes the former.(P)
It would be a grave mistake to believe that the following of ascetic regimes and the stilling of wandering thoughts causes the higher consciousness to supervene. What they really do is to permit it to supervene. Desires and distraction are hindrances to its attainment and they merely remove the hindrances. This makes possible the recognition of what we really are beneath them. If however we do nothing more than this, which is called yoga, we get only an inferior attainment, often only a temporary one. For unless we also engage in the rooting out of the ego, which is called philosophy, we do not get the final and superior transcendental state.(P)
The unphilosophic mystic says: "God is in me." The philosophic mystic says simply: "God is!"
Regarding the mystical God-realization, its characteristic experience is not only a "mere" feeling of bliss, but an overwhelming one. This feeling may come without any vision whatsoever, but in several cases a vision does precede the profoundest state of bliss. In such cases it is nearly always a consequence of the devotion given by the devotee either to a living teacher or to a historical saviour. However it is only the accompaniment to the goal and not necessarily a part of the goal itself. Apart from this vision of some human or divine personage, the only other vision which may be experienced at this stage is of an ocean of light surrounding and permeating the mystic. This is only the case in the penultimate stage and vanishes when the highest goal is reached. Along with the bliss, there is a certain intuitive knowledge which may best be described as the knowledge that a divine power is present within the heart and that this power is beneficent, immaterial, and righteous. This knowledge is overwhelming in its certitude to the mystic. However, he must note at this point that this experience concerns the mystic himself, that the realization associates him with God, and does not concern itself with the rest of the world. Whatever else he believes he experiences, or in whichever way he understands these experiences, there will be added the workings of his own intellect or imagination or the unconscious agency of his tendencies. To put the matter briefly, the mystic attains intuitive knowledge that he is a divine self or soul, but the knowledge does not extend beyond that. It gives him no certitude or knowledge about the world outside of his self.
The visions seen by mystics who have not made the return-to-earth journey and who have not understood God as the world movement, will always be unreliable--sometimes correct but often wrong--in the same way that dreams are often jumbled and irrational. The ultimate path gives knowledge, yields only correct, truthful vision, and alone completes realization of the All. Mystical experience is incomplete because it is the experience of withdrawal only. It shows one aspect of divinity, not the whole of it.
The entry into objectless thought-free contemplation may be made year after year and a wonderful state it is too. But however pleasant and peaceful it is, the seeds of negative feelings are not made sterile but are only rendered inactive until new outer circumstances appear which bring them back to life--although the longer their suppression the weaker they become. Only knowledge of the truth and application of its understanding can end the bondage to ego where these tendencies lurk. Hence if the practice of contemplation is accompanied or followed or, although not usual, preceded by the path of knowledge, a real rooting-out of ego-bondage is possible. This alone leads to permanent reform of character and transformation of outlook. It is done by stages, or rather depths of insight, but the final one is quite abrupt.
Ordinary meditation exercises aim in their earlier phases at rendering the mind concentrated and undistracted, and in their higher phases at resting in the Spiritual Self or in God--which usually means in a concept of God. Philosophic meditation exercises do this too but refuse to stop with a concept and seek to exclude all preconceptions from the mystical experience. They go farther still because they also expand the aim into contemplation of the infinity of being, the universality of consciousness, and the illusoriness of ego.