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The Essentials of Mysticism

1What are the true essentials of mysticism? When we have stripped off those features which some mystics accept and others reject — all that is merely due to tradition, temperament or unconscious allegorism — what do we find as the necessary, abiding and essential character of all true mystical experience? The question is really worth asking. For some time, much attention has been given to the historical side of mysticism, and some — much less — to its practice. But there has been no true understanding of the difference between its substance and its accidents; between traditional forms and methods, and the eternal experience which they have mediated. In mystical literature words are frequently confused with things, and symbols with realities; so that much of this literature seems to the reader to refer to some self-consistent and exclusive dream world, and not to the achievement of universal truth. Thus the strong need for re-statement which is being felt by institutional religion, the necessity of re-translating its truths into symbolism which modern man can understand and accept, applies with at least equal force to mysticism. It has become important to disentangle the facts from ancient formulae used to express them. These formulae have value, because they are genuine attempts to express truth; but they are not themselves that truth; and failure to recognise this distinction has caused a great deal of misunderstanding. Thus, on its theological and philosophical side, the mysticism of Western Europe is tightly entwined with the patristic and mediaeval presentation of Christianity; and this presentation, 2though full of noble poetry, is now difficult if not impossible to adjust to our conceptions of the universe. Again on its personal side mysticism is a department of psychology. Now psychology is changing under our eyes; already we see our mental life in a new perspective, tend to describe it under new forms. Our ways of describing and interpreting spiritual experience must change with the rest if we are to keep in touch with reality; though the experience be unchanged.

So, we are forced to ask ourselves, what is the essential element in spiritual experience. Which of the many states and revelations described by the mystics are integral parts of it; and what do these states and degrees come to, when we describe them in the current phraseology and strip off the monastic robes in which they are usually dressed? What elements are due to the suggestions of tradition, to conscious or unconscious symbolism, to the misinterpretation of emotion, to the invasions of cravings from the lower centres, or the disguised fulfilment of an unconscious wish? And when all these channels of illusion have been blocked, what is left? This will be a difficult and often a painful enquiry. But it is an enquiry that ought to be faced by all who believe in the validity of man's spiritual experience; in order that their faith may be established on a firm basis, and disentangled from those unreal and impermanent elements which are certainly destined to destruction, and with which it is at present too often confused. I am sure that at the present moment we serve best the highest interests of the soul by subjecting the whole mass of material which is called "mysticism" to an inexorable criticism. Only by inflicting the faithful wounds of a friend can we save the science of the inner life from mutilation at the hands of the psychologists.

We will begin then with the central fact of the mystic's experience. This central fact, it seems to me, is an overwhelming consciousness of God, and of his own soul: a consciousness which absorbs or eclipses all other centres of3interest. It is said that St Francis of Assisi, praying in the house of Bernard of Quintavalle, was heard to say, again and again, "My God! My God! what art Thou, and what am I?" Though the words came from St Augustine, they well represent his mental attitude. This was the only question he thought worth asking; and it is the question which every mystic asks at the begining and sometimes answers at the end of his quest. Hence we must put first among our essentials the clear conviction of a living God as the primary interest of consciousness; and of a personal self capable of communication with Him. Having said this, however, we may allow that the widest latitude is possible in the mystic's conception of his Deity. At best, this conception will be symbolic; his experience, if genuine, will far transcend the symbols he employs. "God," says the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, "may well be loved but not thought." Credal forms, therefore, can only be for the mystic a scaffold by which he ascends. We are even bound, I think, to confess that the overt recognition of that which orthodox Christians mean by a personal God is not essential. On the contrary, where it takes a crudely anthropomorphic form the idea of personality may be a disadvantage; opening the way for the intrusions of disguised emotions and desires. In the highest experiences of the greatest mystics the personal category appears to be transcended. "The light in the soul which is increate," says Eckhart, "is not satisfied with the three persons, in so far as each subsists in its difference ... but it is determined to know whence this Being comes, to penetrate into the Simple Ground, into the Silent Desert within which never any difference has lain." The all-inclusive one is beyond all partial apprehensions though the true values that those apprehensions represent are conserved in it. However pantheistic the mystic may be on the one hand, however absolutist on the other, his communion with God is always personal in this sense: that it is 4communion with a living Reality, an object of love capable of response, which demands and receives from him a total self-donation. This sense of a double movement, a self-giving on the divine side answering to the self-giving on the human side, is found in all great mysticism. It has, of course, lent itself to emotional exaggeration, but in its pure form seems an integral part of man's apprehension of Reality. Even where it conflicts with the mystic's philosophy — as in Hinduism and Neoplatonism — it is still present. It is curious to note, for example, how Plotinus, after safeguarding his Absolute One from every qualification, excluding it from all categories, defining it only by the icy method of negation, suddenly breaks away into the language of ardent feeling when he comes to describe that ecstasy in which he touched the truth. Then he speaks of "the veritable love, the sharp desire" which possessed him, appealing to the experience of those fellow mystics who have "caught fire and found the splendour there.. These, he says, have "felt burning within themselves the flame of love for what is there to know — the passion of the lover resting on the bosom of his love."

So we may say that the particular mental image which the mystic forms of his objective, the traditional theology, is not essential. Since it is never adequate, the degree of its inadequacy is of secondary importance. Though some creeds have proved more helpful than others to the mystic, he is found fully developed in every great religion. We cannot honestly say that there is any wide difference between the Brahman, Sufi, or Christian mystic at their best. They are far more like each other than they are like the average believer in their several creeds. What is essential is the way the mystic feels about his Deity, and about his own relationship with it; for this adoring and all-possessing consciousness of the rich and complete divine life against the self's life, and of the possible achievement of a level of5being, a sublimation of the self, wherein we are perfectly united with it, may fairly be written down as a necessary element of all mystical life. This is the common factor which unites those apparently incompatible views of the universe which have been claimed at one time or another as mystical. Their mystical quality abides wholly in the temper of the self who adopts them. He may be a transcendentalist: but, if so, it is because his intuition of the divine is so lofty that it cannot be expressed by means of any intellectual concept, and he is bound to say, with Ruysbroeck, "He is neither this nor that." He may be a unanimist; but if he is it is because he finds in other men — more, in the whole web of life — that mysterious living essence which is a mode of God's existence, and which he loves, seeks, and recognizes everywhere. "How can I find words for the beauty of my Beloved? For He is merged in all beauty," says Kabir. "His colour is in all the pictures of the world, and it bewitches the body and the mind." He may be — often is — a sacramentalist; but if so, only because the symbol or the sacrament help him to touch God. So St Thomas [Aquinas]:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,

Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas

[O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee, Who truly art within the forms before me]

The minute the mystic suspects that any of these things are obstacle instead of means, he rejects them; to the scandal of those who habitually confuse the image with reality.

Thus we get the temperamental symbolist, quietist, nature mystic or transcendentalist. We get Plotinus rapt to the "bare pure one"; St Augustine's impassioned communion with Perfect Beauty; Eckhart declaring his achievement of "the wilderness of God"; Jacopone da Todi prostrate in adoration before "the Love that gives all things form"; Ruysbroeck describing his achievement of "that wayless abyss of fathomless beatitude where the Trinity of divine persons possess their nature in the essential Unity"; Jacob6Boehme gazing into the fire-world and there finding the living heart of the Universe; Kabir listening to the rhythmic music of Reality, and seeing the worlds told like beads within the Being of God. And at the opposite pole we have Mechthild of Magdeburg's amorous conversations with her "heavenly Bridegroom", the many mystical experiences connected with the Eucharist, the Sufi's enraptured description of God as the "Matchless Chalice and the Soveregn Wine", the narrow intensity and emotional raptures of contemplatives of the type of Richard Rolle. We cannot refuse the title of mystic to any of these; because in every case their aim is union between God and the soul. This is the one essential of mysticism, and there are as many ways from one term to the other as there are variations in the spirit of man. But on the other hand, when anybody speaking of mysticism proposes an object that is less than God — increase of health, of knowledge, of happiness, occultism, intercourse with spirits, supernormal experience in general — then we may suspect that we are off the track.

Now we come to the next group of essentials: the necessary acts and dispositions of the mystic himself, the development which takes place within him — the psychological facts, that is to say, which are represented by the so-called "mystic way". The mystic way is best understood as a process of sublimation, which carries the correspondences of the self with the Universe up to higher levels than those on which our normal consciousness works. Just as the normal consciousness stands over against the unconscious, which, with its buried impulses and its primitive and infantile cravings, represents a cruder reaction of the organism to the external world; so does the developed mystical life stand over against normal life with its preoccupations and its web of illusions encouraging the animal will-to-dominate and the animal will-to-live. Normal consciousness sorts out some elements from the mass of experiences beating at our doors and constructs from7them a certain order; but this order lacks any deep meaning or true cohesion, because normal consciousness is incapable of apprehending the underlying reality from which these scattered experiences proceed. The claim of the mystical consciousnes is to a closer reading of truth; to an apprehension of the divine unifying principle behind appearance. "The One," days Plotinus, "is present everywhere, and absent only from those unable to perceive it"; and when we do perceive it, we "have another life ... attaining the aim of our existence, and our rest." To know this at first hand — not to guess, believe or accept, but to be certain — is the highest achievement of human consciousness, and the ultimate object of mysticism. How is it done?

There are two ways of attacking this problem which may conceivably help us. The first consists in a comparisons of the declarations of various mystics and a sorting out of that which they have in common; a careful watch being kept, of course, for the results of conscious or unconscious imitation, of tradition and theological preconceptions. In this way we get some firsthand evidence of factors which are at any rate usually present, and may possibly be esential. The second line of enquiry consists in a re-translation into psychological terms of those mystical declarations; when many will reveal the relation in which they stand to the psychic life of man.

Reviewing the first-hand declarations of the mystics, we inevitably notice one prominent feature: the frequency with which they break up their experience into three phases. Sometimes they regard these objectively, and speak of three worlds, or three aspects of God of which they become successively aware. Sometimes they regard them subjectively and speak of three stages of growth through which they pass, such as thos of Beginner, Proficient and Perfect; or of phases of spiritual progress in which we first meditate upon reality, then contemplate reality, and at last are united8with reality. But among the most widely separated mystics of the East and West this threefold experience can nearly always be traced. There are, of course, obvious dangers in attaching absolute value to number-schemes of this kind. Numbers have an uncanny power over the human mind; once let a symbolic character be attributed to them, and the temptation to make them fit the facts at all costs becomes overwhelming. We all know that the number "three" has a long religious history, and are therefore inclined to look with suspicion on it's claim to interpret the mystic life. At the same time there are other significant numbers — such as "seven" and "ten" — which have never gained equal currency as the bases of mystical formulae. We may agree that the mediaeval mystics found the threefold division of spiritual experience in Neoplatonism; but we must also agree that a formula of this kind is not likely to survive for nearly two thousand years unless it agrees with the facts. Those who us it with the greatest conviction are not theorists. they are the practical mystics who are intent on making maps of the regions into which they have penetrated.

Moreover, this is no mere question of handing on one single tradition. the mystics describe their movement from appearance to reality in many different ways, and use many incompatible religious symbols. the one common factor is the discrimination of three phases of consciousness, no more, no less, in which we can recognise certain common characteristics. "There are," says Philo, "three kinds of life: life as it concerns God, life as it concerns the creature, and a third intermediate life, a mixture of the former two." Consistently with this, Plotinus speaks of three descending phases or principles of Divine Reality: the Godhead or absolute and unconditioned One; its manifestation as Nous, the Divine Mind or Spirit which inspires the "intelligible" or eternal world; and Psyche, the Life or Soul of the physical universe. Man, normally in correspondence with this physical world of 9succession and change, may by spiritual intuition achieve first consciousness of the eternal world of spiritual values, in which, indeed, the apex of his soul already dwells; and in brief moments of ecstatic vision may rise above this to communion with its source, the Absolute One. There you have the mystic's vision of the universe, and the mystic's way of purification, enlightenment and ecstasy bringing new and deeper knowledge of reality as the self's interest, urged by its loving desire of the Ultimate, is shifted from sense to soul, from soul to spirit. There is here no harsh dualism, no turning from a bad material world to a good spiritual world. We are invited to one gradual, undivided process of sublimation, penetrating ever more deeply into the reality of the Universe, to find at last "that One who is present everywhere and absent only from those who do not perceive him." What we behold, that we are: citizens, according to our own will and desire, of the surface world of the senses, the deeper world of life, or the ultimate world of spiritual reality.

An almost identical doctrine appears in the Upanishads. At the heart of reality is Brahma, "other than the known and above the unknown". His manifestation is Ananda, that spiritual world which is the true object of aesthetic passion and religious contemplation. From it, life and consciousnes are born, in it they have their being, to it they must return. Finally there is the world process as we know it, which represents Ananda taking form. So, too, the mystic, Kabir, who represents an opposition to the Vedantic philosophy, says, "From beyond the Infinite, the Infinite comes, and from the Infinite, the finite extends." And again: "Some contemplate the formless and others meditate on form, but the wise man knows that Brahma is beyond both." Here we have the finite world of becoming, the infinite world of being, and Brahma, the unconditioned absolute, exceeding and including all. Yet as Kabire distinctly declares again and again, there are no fences between these aspects of the 10Universe. When we come to the root of reality we find that "conditioned and unconditioned are but one word"; the difference is in our degree of awareness.

Compare with this three of the great mediaeval Catholic mystics: that acute psychologist, Richard of St Victor, the ardent poet and contemplative Jacopone da Todi, and the profound Ruysbroeck. Richard of St Victor says that there are three phases in the contemplative consciousness. the first is called dilation of mind, enlarging and deepening our vision of the world. the next is elevation of mind in which we behold the realities which are above themselves. the third is ecstasy, in which the mind is carried up to contact the truth in its pure simplicity. this is really the universe of Plotinus translated into subjective terms. So, too, Jacopone da Todi says in the symbolism of his day that three heavens are open to man. he must climb from one to the other; it is hard work but love and longing press him on. First, when the mind has achieved self-conquest, the "starry heaven" of multiplicity is revealed to it. Its darkness is lit by scattered lights; points of reality pierce the sky. Next, it achieves the "crystalline heaven" of lucid contemplation where the soul is conformed to the rhythm of divine life, and by its loving intuition apprehends God under veils. Lastly, in ecstasy, it is lifted to that ineffable state which he calls the "hidden heaven" where it enjoys a vision of imageless reality and "enters into possession of all that is God". Ruysbroeck says that he has experienced three orders of reality: the natural world, theatre of our moral struggle; the essential world, where God and Eternity are indeed known, but by intermediaries; and the super-essential world, where, without intermediary and beyond all separation, "above reason and without reason", the soul is united to "the glorious and absolute One".

Take again, a totally different mystic, Jacob Boehme. he says that he saw in the Divine Essence three principles11or aspects. The first he calls "the deepest Deity, without and beyond nature", and the next its manifestation in the Eternal Light-world. The third is that outer world in which we dwell according to the body, which is a manifestation, image or similitude of the Eternal. "And we are thus", he says, "to understand reality as a threefold being, or three worlds in one another." We observe once again the absence of watertight compartments. the whole of reality is present in every part of it; and the power of correspondence with all these aspects of it is latent in man. "If one sees a right man," says Boehme again, "he may say, I see here three worlds standing."

We have now to distinguish the psychological element in all this. How does it correspond with psychological facts? Some mystics, like Richard of St Victor, have frankly exhibited its subjective side, and so helped us translate the statements of their fellows. Thus Dionysius the Areopagite says in a celebrated pasage: "Threefold is the way to God. the first is the way of purification, in which the mind is inclined to learn true wisdom. the second is the way of illumination, in which the mind by contemplation is kindled to the burning of love. the third is the way of union, in which the mind, by understanding, reason and spirit is led up by God alone." This formula restates the Plotinian law; for the "contemplation" of Dionysius is the "spiritual intuition" of Plotinus, which inducts man into the intelligible world; his "union" is the Plotinian ecstatic vision of the One. It profoundly impressed the later Christian mystics, and has long been accepted as the classic description of spiritual growth, because it has been found again and again to answer to experience. It is therefore worth our while to examine it with some care.

First we notice how gentle, gradual and natural is the process of sublimation thaty Dionysius demands of us. According to him, the mystic life is a life centred on reality; the life that first seeks reality without flinching, then loves and12adores the reality perceived, and at last, wholly surrendered to it, is "led by God alone." First, the self is "inclined to learn true wisdom." It awakes to new needs, is cured of its belief in sham values, and distinguishes between real and unreal objects of desire. that craving for more life and more love which lies at the very heart of our selfhood, her slips from the charmed circle of our senses into a wider air.. When this happens abruptly, it is called "conversion"; and may then have the character of a psychic convulsion, and be accompanied by various secondary psychological phenomena. But often it comes without observation. Here the essentials are a desire and a disillusiuonment sufficiently strong to overcome our natural sloth, our primitive horror of change. "The first beginnings of all things is a craving," says Boehme; we are creatures of will and desire." The divine discontent, the hunger for reality, the unwillingness to be satisfied with the purely animal or the purely social level of consciousness is the first essential stage in the development of mystical consciousness.

So the self is either suddenly or gradually inclined to "true wisdom"; and this change of angle affects the whole character, not only or indeed specially the intellectual outlook, but the ethical outlook too. This is the meaning of "purgation." False ways of feeling and thinking, established complexes which have acquired for us an almost sacred character, and governed though we knew it not all our reactions to life — these must be broken up. that mental and moral sloth which keeps us so comfortably wrapped in unrealities must go. This phase in the mystics growth has been specially emphasised and worked out by the Christian mystics, who have made consuiderable additions to the philosophy and natural history of the soul. The Christian sense of sin and conception of charity, the Christian notion of humility as a finding of our true level, an exchanging of the unreal standards of egoism for the disconcerting realities of life seen from the angle of Eternity;13the steadfast refusal to tolerate any claim to spirituality which is not solidly based on moral values, or which is divorced from the spirit of tenderness and love — all this has immensely enriched the mysticism of the West, and filled up some of the gaps left by Neoplatonism. It is characteristic of Christianity that, addressing itself to all men — not, as Neoplatonism tended to do, to the superior person — and offering to all men participation in Eternal Life, it takes human nature as it is; and works from the bottom up instead of beginning at a level which only a few of the race attain. Christianity perceived how deeply normal men are enslaved by the unconscious; how great a moral struggle is needed for their emancipation. Hence it concentrated on the first stage of purgation, and gave it a new meaning and depth. the monastic rule of poverty, chastity and obedience — and we must remember that the originasl aim pf monasticism was to provide a setting in which the mystical life could be lived — aims at the removal of those self-centred desires and attachments which chain consciousness to a personal instead of a universal life. He who no longer craves for personal possessions, pleasures or powers, is very near to perfec t liberty. His attention is freed from its usual concentyration on the self's immediate interests, and at once he sees the Universe in a new, more valid because disinterested, light.

Povertate e nulla avere

e nulla cosa poi volere

ed omne cosa possedere

en spirito de libertade

Yet this positive moral purity which Christians declared necessary to the spiritual life was not centred on a lofty aloofness from human failings, but on a self-giving and disinterested love, the complete abolition of egoism. this alone, it declared, couyld get rid of that inward disharmony —one aspect of the universal conflict between the instinctive14and the rational life — which Boehme called the "powerful contrarium" warring with the soul.

Now, this "perfect charity in life surrendered," however attained, is an essential character of the true mystic; without it contemplation is an impossibility or a sham. But when we come to the means by which it is to be attained, we re-enter the region of controversy; for here we are at once confronted by the problem of asceticism, and its connection with mysticism — perhaps the largest and most difficult of the questions now facing those who are concerned with the re-statement of the laws of the spiritual life. Originally regarded as a gymnastic of the soul, an education in those manly virtues of self-denial and endurance without which the spiritual life is merely an exquisite form of hedonism, asceticism was identified by Christian thought with the idea of mortification; the killing out of all those impulses which deflect the soul from the straight path to God. For the true mystic, it is never more than a means to an end; and is often thrown aside when that end is attained. Its necessity is therefore a purely practical question. fasting and watching may help one to dominate unruly instincts, and so attain a sharper and purer concentration on God; but make another so hungry and sleepy that he can think of nothing else. Thus Jacopone da Todi said of his own early austerities,, that they resulted chiefly in idigestion, insomnia and colds in the head; whilst John Wesley found in fasting a positive spiritual good. Some asctic practices again are almost certainly disguised indulgences of those very cravings which they are supposed to kill, but in fact merely repress. Others — such as hair shirts, chains, and so forth — depended for their meaning on a mediaeval view of the body and of the virtuers of physical pain which is practically extinct, and now seems to most of us utterly artificial. No one will deny that austerity is better than luxury for the spiritual life; but perfect detachment of the will and senses can be achieved15without resort to merely physical expedients by those living normally in the world, and this is the essential thing.

The true asceticism is a gymnastic not of the body but of the mind. It involves training in the art of recollection; the concentration of thought, will, and love upon the eternal realities which we commonly ignore. The embryo contemplative, if his spiritual vision is indeed to be enlarged, and his mind kindled, as Dionysius says, to "the burning of love" must acquire and keep a special state of inward poise, an attitude of attention, which is best described as "the state of prayer"; that same condition which George Fox called "keeping in the Universal Spirit." If we do not attend to reality we are unlikely to perceive it. The readjustments which shall make this attention natural and habitual are a phase in man's inward conflict for the redemption of consciousness from its lower and partial attachments. This conflict is no dream. It means hard work; mental and moral discipline of the sternest kind. the downward drag is incessant, and can be combatted only by those who are clearly aware of it, and are willing to sacrifice lower interests and joys to the demands of the spiritual life. In this sense, mortification is an integral part of the "purgative way". Unless the self's "inclination to true wisdom" is strong enough to inspire those costing and heroic efforts, its spiritual cravings do not deserve the name of mysticism.

These, then, seem essential factors in the readjustment which the mystics call "purgation". We go on to their next stage, the so-called "way of illumination". Here, says Dionysius, the mind is kindled by contemplation to the burning of love. there is a mental and an emotional enhancement, whereby the self apprehends the reality it has sought; whether under the veils of religion, philosophy, or nature-mysticism. may mystics have made clear statements about this phase in human transcendence. thus the Upanishads invite us to "know everything in the Universe as enveloped16in God." "When the purified seeker," says Plato, "comes to the end, he will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty. . . . Beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting." His follower, Plotinus, says that by spiritual intuition man "wrought into harmony with the Supreme," enters into communion with Nous, the "intelligible world" of eternal realities — that splendour yonder which is his home: and further, that this light, shining upon the soul, enlightens it, makes it a member of the spiritual order, and so "transforms the furnace of this world into a garden of flowers." Ruysbroeck declares that this eternal world "is not God, but it is the light in which we see Him." Jacopone da Todi says that the self, achieving the crystalline heaven, "feels itself to be a part of all things," because it has annihilated its separate will, and is conformed to the movement of the Divine Life. Kabir says, "The middle region of the sky, wherein the spirit dwelleth, is radiant with the music of light." Boehme calls it the "light-world proceeding from the fire-world"; and says it is the origin of that outward world in which we dwell. "This light," he says, "shines through and through all, but is onlyapprehended by that which unites itself thereto." It seems to me clear that these, and many other descriptions I cannot now quote, refer to an identical state of consciousness, which might be called an experience of Eternity, but not of the Eternal One. I say "an experience", not merely a mental perception. Contemplation, which is the traditional name for that concentrated attention in which this phase of rreality is revealed, is an activity of all of our powers; the heart, the will, the mind. Dionysius emphasizes the ardent love which this revelation of reality calls forth, and which is indeed a condition of our apprehension of it; for the cold gaze of the metaphysician cannot attain it, unless he be a lover and a mystic too. "By love he may be gotten and holden, by thought never," says the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

It is only through17the mood of humble and loving receptivity in which the artist perceives beauty, that the human spirit can apprehend a reality which is greater than itself. the many declarations about noughting, poverty, and "holy nothingness" refer to this. The meek and poor of spirit really are the inheritors of Eternity.

So we may place the attitude of selfless adoration, the single-hearted passion of the soul, among the essentials of the mystic in the illuminated way. A very wide range of mystical experiences must be attrributed to this second stage in man's spiritual growth. Some at least of its secrets are known to all who are capable of aesthetic passion; who in the presence of beauty, know themselves to stand on the fringe of another plane of being, where the elements of common life are given new colour and value, and its apparent disharmonies are resolved. So, too, that deep sense of a divine companionship which many ardent souls achieve in prayer is a true if transitory experience of illumination. We shall probably be right in assuming that the enormous majorityof mystics never get beyond this level of consciousness. Certainly a large number of religious writers on mysticism attribute to its higher and more personal manifestations the names of "divine union" and "unitive life", thereby adding to the difficulty of classifying spiritual states, and showing themselves unaware of the great distinction which such full-grown mystics as Plotinus, Jacopone da Todi, or Ruysbroeck describe as existing between this "middle heaven" and the ecstatic vision of the One which alone really satisfies their thirst for truth. Thus Jacopone at first uses the styrongest unitive language to describe that rapturous and emotional intercourse with Divine Love which characterises his middle period; but when he at last achieves the vision of the Absolute, he confesses that he was in error in supposing that it was indeed the Truth Whom he thus saw and worshipped under veils. 18Or, parme fo fallanza

non se' quel che credea

tenendo non avea

verta senza errore

Thus Ruysbroeck attributes to the contemplative life "the inward and upweard-going ways by which one may pass into the Presence of God," but distinguishes these from that superessential life wherein "we are swallowed up, beyond reason and above reason, in the deep quiet of the Godhead which is never moved."

All the personal raptures of devotional mysticism, all the nature-mystics joyous consciousness of God in creation, Blakes's "world of imagination and vision," the "coloured land" of AE., the Sufi's "tavern on the way" where he is refreshed by a draught of supersensual wine, belong to the way of illumination. For the Christian mystic the world into which it inducts him is, pre-eminently, the sphere of the divbine Logos-Christ, fount of creation and source of all beauty; the hidden Steersman who guides and upholds the phenomenal world:

Splendor che dona a tutto 'l mondo luce,

amor, Iesu, de li angeli belleza,

cielo e terra per te si conduce

e splende in tutte cose tua fattezza.

Here the reality behind appearance is still mediated to the mystic under symbols and forms. The variation of these symbols is great; his adoring gaze now finds new life and significance in the appearances of nature, the creations of music and art, the imagery of religion and philosophy, and reality speaks to him through his own credal conceptions. But absolute value cannot be attributed to any of these, even the most sacred; they change, yet the experience remains. thus an identical consciousness of close communion with God is obtained by the non-sacramental Quaker in his silence and by the sacramental Catholic in the Eucharist.19The Christian contemplative's sense of personal intercourse with the Divine as manifest in the incarnate Christ is hard to distinguish from that of the Hindu Vaishnavite when we have allowed for the differeny constituents of his apperceiving mass:

Dark, dark, the far Unknown and closed the way

To thought and speech; silent the Scriptures; yea,

No word the Vedas say.

Not thus the Manifest. How fair! how near!

Gone is our thirst if only He appear—

He, to the heart so dear.

So, too, the Sufi mystic who has learned to say: "I never saw anything without seeing God therein;" Kabir exclaiming: "I have stilled my restless mind, and my heart is radiant; for in Thatness I have seen beyond Thatness, in company I have seen the Comrade Himself;" the Neoplatonist rapt in contemplation of the intelligible world "yonder"; Brother Lawrence doing his cooking in the presence of God, reveal under analysis an identical type of consciousness. this consciousness is the essential; the symbols under which the self apprehends it are not.

Among these symbols we must reckon a large number of the secondary phenomena of mysticism: divine visions and voices, and other dramatisations of the self's apprehension and desires. The best mystics have always recognised the doubtful nature of these so-called divine revelations and favours, and have tried again and again to set up tests for discerning those which really "come from God" — ie, mediate a valid spiritual experience. Personally I think very few of these phenomena are mystical in the true sense.

Just as our normal consciousness is more or less at the mercy of invasions from the unconscious region, of impulses which we fail to trace to their true origin; so too the mystical consciousness is perpetually open to invasion from the lower20centres. These invasions are not always understood by the mystic. Obvious examples are the erotic raptures of the Sufi poets, and the emotional, even amorous relations in which many Christian ascetics believe themselves to stand to Christ or Our lady. The Holy Ghost saying to Angela of Foligno, "I love you better than any other woman in the vale of Spoleto"; the human raptures of Mechthild of Magdeburg with her Bridegroom; St Bernard's attitude to the Virgin; the passionate love songs of Jacopone da Todi; the mystical marriage of St Catherine of Siena; St Teresa's wound of love; these and many similar episodes, demand no supernatural explanation, and add nothing to our knowledge of the work of the Spirit in man's soul. So, too, the infantile craving for a sheltering and protective love finds expression over and over again in mystical literature, and satisfaction in the states of consciousness which it has induced. The innate longings of the self for more life, more love, an ever greater or fuller experience, attains a complete realisation in the loifty mystical state called union with God. But failing this full achievement, the self is cap[able of offering itself many disguised satisfactions; and among these disguised satisfactions we must reckon at least the majority of "divine favours" enjoyed by contemplatives of an emotional type. Whatever the essence of mysticism may turn out to be, it is well to recognise these lapses to lower levels as among the least fortunate of its accidents.

We come to the third stage, the true goal of mystic experience; the intuitive contact with that ultimate reality which theologians mean by the Godhead and philosophers by the Absolute, a contact in which, as Richard of St Victor says, "the soul gazes upon Truth without any veils of creatures — not in a mirror darkly, but in its pure simplicity." The claim to this is the loftiest claim which can be made by human consciousness. There is little we can say of it, because there is little we know; save that the vision or experience is always21the vision or the experience of a Unity which reconciles all opposites, and fulfils all man's highest intuitions of reality. "Be lost altogether in Brahma like an arrow that has completely penetrated its target," say the Upanishads. This self-loss, says Dionysius the Areopagite, is the Divine Initiation: wherein we "pass beyond the topmost altitudes of the holy ascent, and leave behind all divine illumination and voices and heavenly utterances; and plunge intoi the darkness where truly dwells, as Scripture saith, that One which is beyond all things." Some recent theologians have tried to separate the conceptions of God and of the Absolute; but mystics never do this, though some of the most clear sighted, such as Meister Eckhart, have separated that unconditioned Godhead known in ecstasy from the personal God who is the object of devotional religion, and who represents a humanisation of reality. When the great mystic achieves the "still, glorious and absolute Oneness" which finally satisfies his thirst for truth — the "point where all lines meet and show their meaning" — he generally confesses how symbolic was the object of his earlier devotion, how partial his supposed communion with the Divine. Thus Jacopone di Todi — exact and orthodox Catholic though he was — when he reached "the hidden heaven," discovered and boldly declared the approximate character of all his previous conceptions of, and communion with, God; the great extent to which subjective elements had entered into his experience. In the great ode which celebrates his ecstatic vision of Truth, when "ineffable love, imageless goodness, measureless light" at last shone in his heart, he says, "I thought I knew Thee, tasted Thee, saw Thee under image: believing I held Thee Thy completeness I was filled with delight and unmeasured love. But now I see I was mistaken — Thou art not as I thought and firmly held." So Tauler says that compared with the warm colour and multiplicity of devotional experience, the vey Godhead is a "rich nought," a "bare, pure, ground"; and 22Ruysbroeck that it is "an unwalled world," "neither this nor that." "This fruition of God," he says again, "ios a still and glorious and essential oneness beyond the differentiation of the Persons, where there is neither an indrawing or an outpouring of God, but the Persons are still and one in fruitful love, in calm and glorious unity.... There is God our fruition and His own, in an eternal and fathomless bliss."

"How, then, am I to love the Godhead?" says Eckhart. "Thou shaly love Him as He is: not as a God, not as a spirit, not as a Person, not as an image, but as a sheer, pure One. And in this One we are to sink from nothing to nothing, so help us, God." "This consciousness of the One," says Plotinus, "comes not by knowledge, but by an actual Presence superior to any knowing. To have it, the soul must rise above knowledge, above all its wandering from its unity." He goes on to explain that all partial objects of love and comtemplation, even Beauty and Goodness themselves, are lower than this, springing from the One as light from the sun. To see the disc, we must put on smoked glasses, shut off the rays and submit to the "radiant darkness" which enters so frequently into mystical descriptions of the Absolute.

It is an interesting question whether this consummation of the mystic way need involve that suppression of the surface consciousness which is called ecstasy. the majority of mystics think that it must; and probably it is almost inevitable that so great a concentration and so lofty an intuition should for the time it lasts drive all other forms of awareness from the field. Even simple contemplation cannot be achieved without some deliberate stilling of the senses, a deliberate focussing of our vagrant attention, and abolishes self-consciousness while it lasts. this is the way that our mental machinery works; but this should not make us regard trance states as any part of the essence of mysticism. The ecstatic condition is no guarantee of mytic vision. It is frequently23pathological, and is often found along with other abnormal conditions in emotional visionaries whose revelations have no ultimate characteristics. It is, however, just as uncritical to assume that ecstasy is necessarily a pathological symptom as it is to assume that it is necessarily a mystic state. We have a test that we can apply to the ecstatic; and which separates the results of nervous disorder from those of spiritual transcendance. "What fruit dost thou bring back from this thy vision?" is the final question which Jacopne da Todi addresses to the mystic's soul. And the answer is: "An ordered life in every state." The true mystic in his ecstasy has seen, however obscurely, the key of the Universe: "la forma universal di questo nodo." hence he has a clue by which to live.. Reality has become real to him; and there are no others of whom we can fully say that. So, ordered corresondence with each level of existence, physical and spiritual, successive and eternal — a practical realization of the proportions of life—is the guarantee of the genuine character of that sublimation of consciousness which is called the mystic way; and this distinguishes it from the fantasies of psychic illness or the disguised self-indulgences of the dream-world. The real mystic is not a selfish visionary. He grows in vigour as he draws nearer and nearer the sources of true life, and his goal is only reached when he participates in the creative energies of the Divine Nature. The perfect man, says the Sufi, must not only die into God in ecstasy (fana), but abide in and with Him (baqa), manifesting his truth in the world of time. He is called to a life more active, because more contemplative, than that of other men: to fulfil the monastic ideal of a balanced carreer of work and prayer. "Then only is our life a whole," says Ruysbroeck, "when contemplation and work dwell in us side by side, and we are perfectly in both of them at once."

Plotinus speaks in the same sense under another image in one of his most celebrated passages: "We always move round the One, but we do not always fix our gaze upon It. We are like a choir of singers standing round the conductor, who do not always sing in time because their attention is diverted to some external object. When they look at the conductor, they sing well and are really with him. So we always move around the One. If we did not, we should dissolve and cease to exist. But we do not always look towards the One. When we do, we attain the end of our existence and our rest; and we no longer sing out of tune, but form in truth a divine choir about the One." In this conception of man's privilege and duty we have the indestructible essence of mysticism.

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