The Varieties Of Religious Experience, By William James
Lectures XVI and XVII
and over again in these lectures I have raised points
and left them open and unfinished until we should have
come to the subject of Mysticism.
Some of you, I fear, may have smiled as you noted
my reiterated postponements.
But now the hour has come when mysticism must be
faced in good earnest, and those broken threads wound
up together. One
may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience
has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness;
so for us, who in these lectures are treating personal
experience as the exclusive subject of our study, such
states of consciousness ought to form the vital chapter
from which the other chapters get their light.
Whether my treatment of mystical states will shed
more light or darkness, I do not know, for my own constitution
shuts me out from their enjoyment almost entirely, and
I can speak of them only at second hand.
But though forced to look upon the subject so externally,
I will be as objective and receptive as I can; and I think
I shall at least succeed in convincing you of the reality
of the states in question, and of the paramount importance
of their function.
of all, then, I ask, What does the expression "mystical
states of consciousness" mean?
How do we part off mystical states from other states?
words "mysticism" and "mystical" are
often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any
opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental,
and without a base in either facts or logic.
For some writers a "mystic" is any person
who believes in thought-transference, or spirit-return.
Employed in this way the word has little value:
there are too many less ambiguous synonyms.
So, to keep it useful by restricting it, I will
do what I did in the case of the word "religion,"
and simply propose to you four marks which, when an experience
has them, may justify us in calling it mystical for the
purpose of the present lectures. In this way we shall
save verbal disputation, and the recriminations that generally
Ineffability.--The handiest of the marks by which
I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative.
The subject of it immediately says that it defies
expression, that no adequate report of its contents can
be given in words.
It follows from this that its quality must be directly
experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others.
In this peculiarity mystical states are more like
states of feeling than like states of intellect.
No one can make clear to another who has never
had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of
it consists. One
must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony;
one must have been in love one's self to understand a
lover's state of mind.
Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the
musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider
him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most
of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent
Noetic quality.--Although so similar to states
of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience
them to be also states of knowledge.
They are states of insight into depths of truth
unplumbed by the discursive intellect.
They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance
and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and
as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority
two characters will entitle any state to be called mystical,
in the sense in which I use the word.
Two other qualities are less sharply marked, but
are usually found. These are:--
Transiency.--Mystical states cannot be sustained
for long. Except
in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or
two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into
the light of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced
in memory; but when they recur it is recognized; and from
one recurrence to another it is susceptible of continuous
development in what is felt as inner richness and importance.
Passivity.--Although the oncoming of mystical states
may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations,
as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily
performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism
prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness
once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were
in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped
and held by a superior power.
This latter peculiarity connects mystical states
with certain definite phenomena of secondary or alternative
personality, such as prophetic speech, automatic writing,
or the mediumistic trance.
When these latter conditions are well pronounced,
however, there may be no recollection whatever of the
phenomenon, and it may have no significance for the subject's
usual inner life, to which, as it were, it makes a mere
interruption. Mystical states, strictly so-called, are never merely interruptive.
Some memory of their content always remains, and
a profound sense of their importance.
They modify the inner life of the subject between
the times of their recurrence.
Sharp divisions in this region are, however, difficult
to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures.
four characteristics are sufficient to mark out a group
of states of consciousness peculiar enough to deserve
a special name and to call for careful study.
Let it then be called the mystical group.
Our next step should be to gain acquaintance with
some typical examples.
Professional mystics at the height of their development
have often elaborately organized experiences and a philosophy
But you remember what I said in my first lecture:
phenomena are best understood when placed within
their series, studied in their germ and in their over-ripe
decay, and compared with their exaggerated and degenerated
range of mystical experience is very wide, much too wide
for us to cover in the time at our disposal.
Yet the method of serial study is so essential
for interpretation that if we really wish to reach conclusions
we must use it.
I will begin, therefore, with phenomena which claim
no special religious significance, and end with those
of which the religious pretensions are extreme.
simplest rudiment of mystical experience would seem to
be that deepened sense of the significance of a maxim
or formula which occasionally sweeps over one. "I've
heard that said all my life," we exclaim, "but
I never realized its full meaning until now."
"When a fellow-monk," said Luther, "one
day repeated the words of the Creed:
'I believe in the forgiveness of sins,' I saw the
Scripture in an entirely new light; and straightway I
felt as if I were born anew.
It was as if I had found the door of paradise thrown
wide open." This sense of deeper significance
is not confined to rational propositions.
Single words, and conjunctions of words, effects
of light on land and sea, odors and musical sounds, all
bring it when the mind is tuned aright. Most of us can remember the strangely moving power of passages
in certain poems read when we were young, irrational doorways
as they were through which the mystery of fact, the wildness
and the pang of life, stole into our hearts and thrilled
words have now perhaps become mere polished surfaces for
us; but lyric poetry and music are alive and significant
only in proportion as they fetch these vague vistas of
a life continuous with our own, beckoning and inviting,
yet ever eluding our pursuit.
We are alive or dead to the eternal inner message
of the arts according as we have kept or lost this mystical
Newman's Securus judicat orbis terrarum is another instance.
"Mesopotamia" is the stock comic instance.--An
excellent Old German lady, who had done some traveling
in her day, used to describe to me her Sehnsucht that
she might yet visit "Philadelphia," whose wondrous
name had always haunted her imagination.
Of John Foster it is said that "single words
(as chalcedony), or the names of ancient heroes, had a
mighty fascination over him.
'At any time the word hermit was enough to transport
him.' The words woods and forests would produce the most
Foster's Life, by Ryland, New York, 1846, p. 3.
more pronounced step forward on the mystical ladder is
found in an extremely frequent phenomenon, that sudden
feeling, namely, which sometimes sweeps over us, of having
"been here before," as if at some indefinite
past time, in just this place, with just these people,
we were already saying just these things.
As Tennyson writes:
"Moreover, something is or seems
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams--
"Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare."
The Two Voices.
In a letter to Mr. B. P. Blood, Tennyson reports
of himself as follows:--
have never had any revelations through anaesthetics, but
a kind of waking trance--this for lack of a better word--I
have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have
been all alone.
This has come upon me through repeating my own
name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were
out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality,
individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away
into boundless being, and this not a confused state but
the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond
words--where death was an almost laughable impossibility--the
loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction,
but the only true life.
I am ashamed of my feeble description.
Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?"
Professor Tyndall, in a letter, recalls Tennyson
saying of this condition: "By God Almighty! there is no delusion in the matter!
It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent
wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind."
Memoirs of Alfred Tennyson, ii. 473.
James Crichton-Browne has given the technical name of
"dreamy states" to these sudden invasions of
vaguely reminiscent consciousness. They bring a sense
of mystery and of the metaphysical duality of things,
and the feeling of an enlargement of perception which
seems imminent but which never completes itself.
In Dr. Crichton-Browne's opinion they connect themselves
with the perplexed and scared disturbances of self-consciousness
which occasionally precede epileptic attacks.
I think that this learned alienist takes a rather
absurdly alarmist view of an intrinsically insignificant
follows it along the downward ladder, to insanity; our
path pursues the upward ladder chiefly.
The divergence shows how important it is to neglect
no part of a phenomenon's connections, for we make it
appear admirable or dreadful according to the context
by which we set it off.
The Lancet, July 6 and 13, 1895, reprinted as the Cavendish
Lecture, on Dreamy Mental States, London, Bailliere, 1895.
They have been a good deal discussed of late by
for example, Bernard-Leroy:
L'Illusion de Fausse Reconnaissance, Paris, 1898.
deeper plunges into mystical consciousness are met with
in yet other dreamy states.
Such feelings as these which Charles Kingsley describes
are surely far from being uncommon, especially in youth:--
I walk the fields, I am oppressed now and then with an
innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if
I could but understand it.
And this feeling of being surrounded with truths
which I cannot grasp amounts to indescribable awe sometimes.
. . . Have
you not felt that your real soul was imperceptible to
your mental vision, except in a few hallowed moments?"
Charles Kingsley's Life, i. 55, quoted by Inge: Christian Mysticism, London, 1899, p. 341.
much more extreme state of mystical consciousness is described
by J. A. Symonds; and probably more persons than we suspect
could give parallels to it from their own experience.
writes Symonds, "at church, or in company, or when
I was reading, and always, I think, when my muscles were
at rest, I felt the approach of the mood.
Irresistibly it took possession of my mind and
will, lasted what seemed an eternity, and disappeared
in a series of rapid sensations which resembled the awakening
from anaesthetic influence.
One reason why I disliked this kind of trance was
that I could not describe it to myself. I cannot even
now find words to render it intelligible.
It consisted in a gradual but swiftly progressive
obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous
factors of experience which seem to qualify what we are
pleased to call our Self. In proportion as these conditions
of ordinary consciousness were subtracted, the sense of
an underlying or essential consciousness acquired intensity.
At last nothing remained but a pure, absolute,
abstract Self. The
universe became without form and void of content.
But Self persisted, formidable in its vivid keenness,
feeling the most poignant doubt about reality, ready,
as it seemed, to find existence break as breaks a bubble
round about it.
And what then? The apprehension of a coming dissolution, the grim conviction
that this state was the last state of the conscious Self,
the sense that I had followed the last thread of being
to the verge of the abyss, and had arrived at demonstration
of eternal Maya or illusion, stirred or seemed to stir
me up again. The
return to ordinary conditions of sentient existence began
by my first recovering the power of touch, and then by
the gradual though rapid influx of familiar impressions
and diurnal interests.
At last I felt myself once more a human being;
and though the riddle of what is meant by life remained
unsolved I was thankful for this return from the abyss--this
deliverance from so awful an initiation into the mysteries
trance recurred with diminishing frequency until I reached
the age of twenty-eight.
It served to impress upon my growing nature the
phantasmal unreality of all the circumstances which contribute
to a merely phenomenal consciousness. Often have I asked
myself with anguish, on waking from that formless state
of denuded, keenly sentient being, Which is the unreality--the
trance of fiery, vacant, apprehensive, skeptical Self
from which I issue, or these surrounding phenomena and
habits which veil that inner Self and build a self of
flesh-and- blood conventionality?
Again, are men the factors of some dream, the dream-like
unsubstantiality of which they comprehend at such eventful
would happen if the final stage of the trance were reached?"
H. F. Brown: J.
A. Symonds. a Biography, London, 1895, pp. 29-31, abridged.
a recital like this there is certainly something suggestive
The next step into mystical states carries us into
a realm that public opinion and ethical philosophy have
long since branded as pathological, though private practice
and certain lyric strains of poetry seem still to bear
witness to its ideality.
I refer to the consciousness produced by intoxicants
and anaesthetics, especially by alcohol. The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its
power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature,
usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms
of the sober hour.
Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no;
drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes.
It is in fact the great exciter of the YES function
in man. It
brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to
the radiant core.
It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it.
To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the
place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is
part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs
and gleams of something that we immediately recognize
as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only
in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its totality
is so degrading a poisoning.
The drunken consciousness is one bit of the mystic
consciousness, and our total opinion of it must find its
place in our opinion of that larger whole.
Crichton-Browne expressly says that Symonds's "highest
nerve centres were in some degree enfeebled or damaged
by these dreamy mental states which afflicted him so grievously."
Symonds was, however, a perfect monster of many-sided
cerebral efficiency, and his critic gives no objective
grounds whatever for his strange opinion, save that Symonds
complained occasionally, as all susceptible and ambitious
men complain, of lassitude and uncertainty as to his life's
oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently
diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness
in an extraordinary degree.
Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the
truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of
coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed
to clothe itself, they prove to be the veriest nonsense.
Nevertheless, the sense of a profound meaning having
been there persists; and I know more than one person who
is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have
a genuine metaphysical revelation.
years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect
of nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print.
One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that
time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained
is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness
as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness,
whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of
screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely
may go through life without suspecting their existence;
but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they
are there in all their completeness, definite types of
mentality which probably somewhere have their field of
application and adaptation.
No account of the universe in its totality can
be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness
How to regard them is the question--for they are
so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness.
Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot
furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to
give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing
of our accounts with reality.
Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge
towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing
some metaphysical significance.
The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation.
It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness
and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were
melted into unity.
Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong
to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the
nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks
up and absorbs its opposite into itself.
This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed
in terms of common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from
its authority. I feel as if it must mean something, something
like what the hegelian philosophy means, if one could
only lay hold of it more clearly.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to
me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial
mystic state of mind.
What reader of Hegel can doubt that that sense of a perfected
Being with all its otherness soaked up into itself, which
dominates his whole philosophy, must have come from the
prominence in his consciousness of mystical moods like
this, in most persons kept subliminal?
The notion is thoroughly characteristic of the
mystical level and the Aufgabe of making it articulate
was surely set to Hegel's intellect by mystical feeling.
just now spoke of friends who believe in the anaesthetic
them too it is a monistic insight, in which the OTHER
in its various forms appears absorbed into the One.
this pervading genius," writes one of them, "we
pass, forgetting and forgotten, and thenceforth each is
all, in God. There is no higher, no deeper, no other,
than the life in which we are founded. 'The One remains, the many change and pass;' and each and every
one of us IS the One that remains. . . . This is the ultimatum.
. . . As
sure as being--whence is all our care--so sure is content,
beyond duplexity, antithesis, or trouble, where I have
triumphed in a solitude that God is not above."
Benjamin Paul Blood:
The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy,
Amsterdam, N. Y., 1874, pp. 35, 36.
Mr. Blood has made several attempts to adumbrate
the anaesthetic revelation, in pamphlets of rare literary
distinction, privately printed and distributed by himself
at Amsterdam. Xenos
Clark, a philosopher, who died young at Amherst in the
'80's, much lamented by those who knew him, was also impressed
by the revelation.
"In the first place," he once wrote to
me, "Mr. Blood and I agree that the revelation is,
if anything non-emotional.
It is utterly flat.
It is, as Mr. Blood says, 'the one sole and sufficient
insight why, or not why, but how, the present is pushed
on by the past, and sucked forward by the vacuity of the
inevitableness defeats all attempts at stopping or accounting
for it. It
is all precedence and presupposition, and questioning
is in regard to it forever too late.
It is an initiation of the past.' The real secret
would be the formula by which the 'now' keeps exfoliating
out of itself, yet never escapes.
What is it, indeed, that keeps existence exfoliating?
The formal being of anything, the logical definition
of it, is static. For mere logic every question contains its own answer--we simply
fill the hole with the dirt we dug out.
Why are twice two four?
Because, in fact, four is twice two.
Thus logic finds in life no propulsion, only a
goes because it is a-going. But the revelation adds:
it goes because it is and WAS a-going.
You walk, as it were, round yourself in the revelation.
Ordinary philosophy is like a hound hunting his
own tail. The
more he hunts the farther he has to go, and his nose never
catches up with his heels, because it is forever ahead
of them. So
the present is already a foregone conclusion, and I am
ever too late to understand it.
But at the moment of recovery from anaesthesis,
just then, BEFORE STARTING ON LIFE, I catch, so to speak,
a glimpse of my heels, a glimpse of the eternal process
just in the act of starting.
The truth is that we travel on a journey that was
accomplished before we set out; and the real end of philosophy
is accomplished, not when we arrive at, but when we remain
in, our destination (being already there)--which may occur
vicariously in this life when we cease our intellectual
questioning. That is why there is a smile upon the face
of the revelation, as we view it.
It tells us that we are forever half a second too
late-- that's all.
'You could kiss your own lips, and have all the
fun to yourself,' it says, if you only knew the trick.
It would be perfectly easy if they would just stay
there till you got round to them. Why don't you manage
minded readers of this farrago will at least recognize
the region of thought of which Mr. Clark writes, as familiar.
In his latest pamphlet, "Tennyson's Trances
and the Anaesthetic Revelation," Mr. Blood describes
its value for life as follows:--
Anaesthetic Revelation is the Initiation of Man into the
Immemorial Mystery of the Open Secret of Being, revealed
as the Inevitable Vortex of Continuity.
Inevitable is the word.
Its motive is inherent--it is what has to be.
It is not for any love or hate, nor for joy nor
sorrow, nor good nor ill.
End, beginning, or purpose, it knows not of.
affords no particular of the multiplicity and variety
of things but it fills appreciation of the historical
and the sacred with a secular and intimately personal
illumination of the nature and motive of existence, which
then seems reminiscent--as if it should have appeared,
or shall yet appear, to every participant thereof.
it is at first startling in its solemnity, it becomes
directly such a matter of course--so old-fashioned, and
so akin to proverbs that it inspires exultation rather
than fear, and a sense of safety, as identified with the
aboriginal and the universal.
But no words may express the imposing certainty
of the patient that he is realizing the primordial, Adamic
surprise of Life.
of the experience finds it ever the same, and as if it
could not possibly be otherwise.
The subject resumes his normal consciousness only
to partially and fitfully remember its occurrence, and
to try to formulate its baffling import--with only this
that he has known the oldest truth, and that he
has done with human theories as to the origin, meaning,
or destiny of the race.
He is beyond instruction in 'spiritual things.'
lesson is one of central safety:
the Kingdom is within.
All days are judgment days:
but there can be no climacteric purpose of eternity,
nor any scheme of the whole.
The astronomer abridges the row of bewildering
figures by increasing his unit of measurement: so may
we reduce the distracting multiplicity of things to the
unity for which each of us stands.
has been my moral sustenance since I have known of it.
In my first printed mention of it I declared:
'The world is no more the alien terror that was
taught me. Spurning
the cloud-grimed and still sultry battlements whence so
lately Jehovan thunders boomed, my gray gull lifts her
wing against the nightfall, and takes the dim leagues
with a fearless eye.' And now, after twenty-seven years
of this experience, the wing is grayer, but the eye is
fearless still, while I renew and doubly emphasize that
know--as having known--the meaning of Existence:
the sane centre of the universe-- at once the wonder
and the assurance of the soul--for which the speech of
reason has as yet no name but the Anaesthetic Revelation."
--I have considerably abridged the quotation.
has the genuine religious mystic ring! I just now quoted
J. A. Symonds. He
also records a mystical experience with chloroform, as
the choking and stifling had passed away, I seemed at
first in a state of utter blankness; then came flashes
of intense light, alternating with blackness, and with
a keen vision of what was going on in the room around
me, but no sensation of touch. I thought that I was near
death; when, suddenly, my soul became aware of God, who
was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak,
in an intense personal present reality.
I felt him streaming in like light upon me. . .
. I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke from the influence of the anaesthetics,
the old sense of my relation to the world began to return,
the new sense of my relation to God began to fade.
I suddenly leapt to my feet on the chair where
I was sitting, and shrieked out, 'It is too horrible,
it is too horrible, it is too horrible,' meaning that
I could not bear this disillusionment. Then I flung myself
on the ground, and at last awoke covered with blood, calling
to the two surgeons (who were frightened), 'Why did you
not kill me? Why
would you not let me die?' Only think of it.
To have felt for that long dateless ecstasy of
vision the very God, in all purity and tenderness and
truth and absolute love, and then to find that I had after
all had no revelation, but that I had been tricked by
the abnormal excitement of my brain.
this question remains, Is it possible that the inner sense
of reality which succeeded, when my flesh was dead to
impressions from without, to the ordinary sense of physical
relations, was not a delusion but an actual experience?
Is it possible that I, in that moment, felt what
some of the saints have said they always felt, the undemonstrable
but irrefragable certainty of God?"
Op. cit., pp. 78-80, abridged.
I subjoin, also abridging it, another interesting
anaesthetic revelation communicated to me in manuscript
by a friend in England.
The subject, a gifted woman, was taking ether for
a surgical operation.
wondered if I was in a prison being tortured, and why
I remembered having heard it said that people 'learn through
suffering,' and in view of what I was seeing, the inadequacy
of this saying struck me so much that I said, aloud, 'to
suffer IS to learn.'
that I became unconscious again, and my last dream immediately
preceded my real coming to.
It only lasted a few seconds, and was most vivid
and real to me, though it may not be clear in words.
great Being or Power was traveling through the sky, his
foot was on a kind of lightning as a wheel is on a rail,
it was his pathway.
The lightning was made entirely of the spirits
of innumerable people close to one another, and I was
one of them. He
moved in a straight line, and each part of the streak
or flash came into its short conscious existence only
that he might travel.
I seemed to be directly under the foot of God,
and I thought he was grinding his own life up out of my
I saw that what he had been trying with all his might
to do was to CHANGE HIS COURSE, to BEND the line of lightning
to which he was tied, in the direction in which he wanted
to go. I
felt my flexibility and helplessness, and knew that he
would succeed. He bended me, turning his corner by means
of my hurt, hurting me more than I had ever been hurt
in my life, and at the acutest point of this, as he passed,
I SAW. I
understood for a moment things that I have now forgotten,
things that no one could remember while retaining sanity.
The angle was an obtuse angle, and I remember thinking
as I woke that had he made it a right or acute angle,
I should have both suffered and 'seen' still more, and
should probably have died.
went on and I came to.
In that moment the whole of my life passed before
me, including each little meaningless piece of distress,
and I UNDERSTOOD them.
THIS was what it had all meant, THIS was the piece
of work it had all been contributing to do.
I did not see God's purpose, I only saw his intentness
and his entire relentlessness towards his means.
He thought no more of me than a man thinks of hurting
a cork when he is opening wine, or hurting a cartridge
when he is firing.
And yet, on waking, my first feeling was, and it
came with tears, 'Domine non sum digna,' for I had been
lifted into a position for which I was too small.
I realized that in that half hour under ether I
had served God more distinctly and purely than I had ever
done in my life before, or than I am capable of desiring
to do. I was the means of his achieving and revealing something, I
know not what or to whom, and that, to the exact extent
of my capacity for suffering.
regaining consciousness, I wondered why, since I had gone
so deep, I had seen nothing of what the saints call the
LOVE of God, nothing but his relentlessness.
And then I heard an answer, which I could only
just catch, saying, 'Knowledge and Love are One, and the
MEASURE is suffering'--I give the words as they came to
me. With that I came finally to (into what seemed a dream
world compared with the reality of what I was leaving),
and I saw that what would be called the 'cause' of my
experience was a slight operation under insufficient ether,
in a bed pushed up against a window, a common city window
in a common city street.
If I had to formulate a few of the things I then
caught a glimpse of, they would run somewhat as follows:--
eternal necessity of suffering and its eternal vicariousness.
The veiled and incommunicable nature of the worst sufferings;--the
passivity of genius, how it is essentially instrumental
and defenseless, moved, not moving, it must do what it
does;--the impossibility of discovery without its price;--finally,
the excess of what the suffering 'seer' or genius pays
over what his generation gains.
(He seems like one who sweats his life out to earn
enough to save a district from famine, and just as he
staggers back, dying and satisfied, bringing a lac of
rupees to buy grain with, God lifts the lac away, dropping
ONE rupee, and says, 'That you may give them.
That you have earned for them.
The rest is for ME.') I perceived also in a way
never to be forgotten, the excess of what we see over
what we can demonstrate.
so on!--these things may seem to you delusions, or truisms;
but for me they are dark truths, and the power to put
them into even such words as these has been given me by
an ether dream."
this we make connection with religious mysticism pure
and simple. Symonds's
question takes us back to those examples which you will
remember my quoting in the lecture on the Reality of the
Unseen, of sudden realization of the immediate presence
of God. The
phenomenon in one shape or another is not uncommon.
know," writes Mr. Trine, "an officer on our
police force who has told me that many times when off
duty, and on his way home in the evening, there comes
to him such a vivid and vital realization of his oneness
with this Infinite Power, and this Spirit of Infinite
Peace so takes hold of and so fills him, that it seems
as if his feet could hardly keep to the pavement, so buoyant
and so exhilarated does he become by reason of this inflowing
In Tune with the Infinite, p. 137.
aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of awakening
such mystical moods. Most of the striking cases which
I have collected have occurred out of doors.
Literature has commemorated this fact in many passages
of great beauty--this extract, for example, from Amiel's
The larger God may then swallow up the smaller one. I take this from Starbuck's manuscript collection:--
never lost the consciousness of the presence of God until
I stood at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara.
Then I lost him in the immensity of what I saw.
I also lost myself, feeling that I was an atom
too small for the notice of Almighty God."
subjoin another similar case from Starbuck's collection:--
that time the consciousness of God's nearness came to
me sometimes. I
say God, to describe what is indescribable.
A presence, I might say, yet that is too suggestive
of personality, and the moments of which I speak did not
hold the consciousness of a personality, but something
in myself made me feel myself a part of something bigger
than I, that was controlling.
I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds,
insects, everything in Nature.
I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being
a part of it all--the drizzling rain, the shadows of the
clouds, the tree-trunks, and so on.
In the years following, such moments continued
to come, but I wanted them constantly. I knew so well the satisfaction of losing self in a perception
of supreme power and love, that I was unhappy because
that perception was not constant." The cases quoted
in my third lecture, pp. 65, 66, 69, are still better
ones of this type.
In her essay, The Loss of Personality, in The Atlantic
Monthly (vol. lxxxv. p. 195), Miss Ethel D. Puffer explains
that the vanishing of the sense of self, and the feeling
of immediate unity with the object, is due to the disappearance,
in these rapturous experiences, of the motor adjustments
which habitually intermediate between the constant background
of consciousness (which is the Self) and the object in
the foreground, whatever it may be.
I must refer the reader to the highly instructive
article, which seems to me to throw light upon the psychological
conditions, though it fails to account for the rapture
or the revelation-value of the experience in the Subject's
I ever again have any of those prodigious reveries which
sometimes came to me in former days?
One day, in youth, at sunrise, sitting in the ruins
of the castle of Faucigny; and again in the mountains,
under the noonday sun, above Lavey, lying at the foot
of a tree and visited by three butterflies; once more
at night upon the shingly shore of the Northern Ocean,
my back upon the sand and my vision ranging through the
Milky Way;--such grand and spacious, immortal, cosmogonic
reveries, when one reaches to the stars, when one owns
the infinite! Moments
divine, ecstatic hours; in which our thought flies from
world to world, pierces the great enigma, breathes with
a respiration broad, tranquil, and deep as the respiration
of the ocean, serene and limitless as the blue firmament;
. . . instants of irresistible intuition in which one
feels one's self great as the universe, and calm as a
god. . . . What hours, what memories! The vestiges they leave behind are
enough to fill us with belief and enthusiasm, as if they
were visits of the Holy Ghost."
Op cit., i. 43-44
is a similar record from the memoirs of that interesting
German idealist, Malwida von Meysenbug:--
was alone upon the seashore as all these thoughts flowed
over me, liberating and reconciling; and now again, as
once before in distant days in the Alps of Dauphine, I
was impelled to kneel down, this time before the illimitable
ocean, symbol of the Infinite.
I felt that I prayed as I had never prayed before,
and knew now what prayer really is:
to return from the solitude of individuation into
the consciousness of unity with all that is, to kneel
down as one that passes away, and to rise up as one
Earth, heaven, and sea resounded as in one vast
It was as if the chorus of all the great who had
ever lived were about me.
I felt myself one with them, and it appeared as
if I heard their greeting:
'Thou too belongest to the company of those who
Memoiren einer Idealistin, Ste Auflage, 1900, iii. 166.
For years she had been unable to pray, owing to
well known passage from Walt Whitman is a classical expression
of this sporadic type of mystical experience.
believe in you, my Soul . . .
Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from
your throat;. . .
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.
I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer
arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge
that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise
of my own, And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my
that all the men ever born are also my brothers and the
women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love."
Whitman in another place expresses in a quieter way what
was probably with him a chronic mystical perception:
"There is," he writes, "apart from
mere intellect, in the make-up of every superior human
identity, a wondrous something that realizes without argument,
frequently without what is called education (though I
think it the goal and apex of all education deserving
the name), an intuition of the absolute balance, in time
and space, of the whole of this multifariousness this
revel of fools, and incredible make-believe and general
unsettiedness, we call THE WORLD; a soul-sight of that
divine clue and unseen thread which holds the whole congeries
of things, all history and time, and all events, however
trivial, however momentous, like a leashed dog in the
hand of the hunter.
[Of] such soul-sight and root-centre for the mind
mere optimism explains only the surface." Whitman charges it against Carlyle that he lacked this perception.
Specimen Days and Collect, Philadelphia, 1882,
could easily give more instances, but one will suffice. I take it from the Autobiography of J. Trevor.
My Quest for God, London, 1897, pp. 268, 269, abridged.
brilliant Sunday morning, my wife and boys went to the
Unitarian Chapel in Macclesfield.
I felt it impossible to accompany them--as though
to leave the sunshine on the hills, and go down there
to the chapel, would be for the time an act of spiritual
I felt such need for new inspiration and expansion in
my life. So,
very reluctantly and sadly, I left my wife and boys to
go down into the town, while I went further up into the
hills with my stick and my dog.
In the loveliness of the morning, and the beauty
of the hills and valleys, I soon lost my sense of sadness
and regret. For
nearly an hour I walked along the road to the 'Cat and
Fiddle,' and then returned.
On the way back, suddenly, without warning, I felt
that I was in Heaven--an inward state of peace and joy
and assurance indescribably intense, accompanied with
a sense of being bathed in a warm glow of light, as though
the external condition had brought about the internal
effect--a feeling of having passed beyond the body, though
the scene around me stood out more clearly and as if nearer
to me than before, by reason of the illumination in the
midst of which I seemed to be placed.
This deep emotion lasted, though with decreasing
strength, until I reached home, and for some time after,
only gradually passing away."
writer adds that having had further experiences of a similar
sort, he now knows them well.
spiritual life," he writes, "justifies itself
to those who live it; but what can we say to those who
do not understand? This, at least, we can say, that it is a life whose experiences
are proved real to their possessor, because they remain
with him when brought closest into contact with the objective
realities of life. Dreams cannot stand this test.
We wake from them to find that they are but dreams.
Wanderings of an overwrought brain do not stand
this test. These
highest experiences that I have had of God's presence
have been rare and brief--flashes of consciousness which
have compelled me to exclaim with surprise--God is HERE!--or
conditions of exaltation and insight, less intense, and
only gradually passing away.
I have severely questioned the worth of these moments.
To no soul have I named them, lest I should be
building my life and work on mere phantasies of the brain.
But I find that, after every questioning and test,
they stand out to-day as the most real experiences of
my life, and experiences which have explained and justified
and unified all past experiences and all past growth.
Indeed, their reality and their far-reaching significance
are ever becoming more clear and evident.
When they came, I was living the fullest, strongest,
sanest, deepest life.
I was not seeking them.
What I was seeking, with resolute determination,
was to live more intensely my own life, as against what
I knew would be the adverse judgment of the world.
It was in the most real seasons that the Real Presence
came, and I was aware that I was immersed in the infinite
ocean of God."
Op. cit., pp. 256, 257, abridged.
the least mystical of you must by this time be convinced
of the existence of mystical moments as states of consciousness
of an entirely specific quality, and of the deep impression
which they make on those who have them.
A Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. R. M. Bucke, gives
to the more distinctly characterized of these phenomena
the name of cosmic consciousness.
"Cosmic consciousness in its more striking
instances is not," Dr. Bucke says, "simply an
expansion or extension of the self-conscious mind with
which we are all familiar, but the superaddition of a
function as distinct from any possessed by the average
man as SELF-consciousness is distinct from any function
possessed by one of the higher animals."
prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is a consciousness
of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an
intellectual enlightenment which alone would place the
individual on a new plane of existence--would make him
almost a member of a new species.
To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an
indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness,
and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as
striking, and more important than is the enhanced intellectual
these come what may be called a sense of immortality,
a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that
he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has
a study in the evolution of the human Mind, Philadelphia,
1901, p. 2.
was Dr. Bucke's own experience of a typical onset of cosmic
consciousness in his own person which led him to investigate
it in others. He has printed his conclusions In a highly interesting volume,
from which I take the following account of what occurred
had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends,
reading and discussing poetry and philosophy.
We parted at midnight.
I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging.
My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas,
images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk,
was calm and peaceful.
I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment,
not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and
emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind.
All at once, without warning of any kind, I found
myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud.
For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration
somewhere close by in that great city; the next, I knew
that the fire was within myself.
Directly afterward there came upon me a sense of
exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately
followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to
other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I
saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter,
but is, on the contrary, a living Presence; I became conscious
in myself of eternal life.
It was not a conviction that I would have eternal
life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life
then; I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic
order is such that without any peradventure all things
work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation
principle of the world, of all the worlds, is what we
call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in
the long run <391> absolutely certain.
The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone; but
the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what
it taught has remained during the quarter of a century
which has since elapsed.
I knew that what the vision showed was true.
I had attained to a point of view from which I
saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction, I may say that consciousness, has
never, even during periods of the deepest depression,
Loc. cit., pp. 7, 8.
My quotation follows the privately printed pamphlet
which preceded Dr. Bucke's larger work, and differs verbally
a little from the text of the latter.
have now seen enough of this cosmic or mystic consciousness,
as it comes sporadically.
We must next pass to its methodical cultivation
as an element of the religious life.
Hindus, Buddhists, Mohammedans, and Christians
all have cultivated it methodically.
India, training in mystical insight has been known from
time immemorial under the name of yoga.
Yoga means the experimental union of the individual
with the divine. It is based on persevering exercise; and the diet, posture,
breathing, intellectual concentration, and moral discipline
vary slightly in the different systems which teach it.
The yogi, or disciple, who has by these means overcome
the obscurations of his lower nature sufficiently, enters
into the condition termed samadhi, "and comes face
to face with facts which no instinct or reason can ever
the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond
reason, a superconscious state, and that when the mind
gets to that higher state, then this knowledge beyond
reasoning comes. . . . All the different steps in yoga
are intended to bring us scientifically to the superconscious
state or Samadhi. . . .
Just as unconscious work is beneath consciousness,
so there is another work which is above consciousness,
and which, also, is not accompanied with the feeling of
egoism . . . . There is no feeling of I, and yet the mind
works, desireless, free from restlessness, objectless,
the Truth shines in its full effulgence, and we know ourselves--for
Samadhi lies potential in us all--for what we truly are,
free, immortal, omnipotent, loosed from the finite, and
its contrasts of good and evil altogether, and identical
with the Atman or Universal Soul."
My quotations are from Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, London,
completest source of information on Yoga is the work translated
by Vihari Lala Mtra:
Yoga Vasishta Maha Ramayana. 4 vols.
Vedantists say that one may stumble into superconsciousness
sporadically, without the previous discipline, but it
is then impure.
Their test of its purity, like our test of religion's
value, is empirical:
its fruits must be good for life. When a man comes
out of Samadhi, they assure us that he remains "enlightened,
a sage, a prophet, a saint, his whole character changed,
his life changed, illumined."
A European witness, after carefully comparing the results
of Yoga with those of the hypnotic or dreamy states artificially
producible by us, says:
"It makes of its true disciples good, healthy,
and happy men. . . . Through the mastery which the yogi
attains over his thoughts and his body, he grows into
a 'character.' By the subjection of his impulses and propensities
to his will, and the fixing of the latter upon the ideal
of goodness, he becomes a 'personality' hard to influence
by others, and thus almost the opposite of what we usually
imagine a medium so-called, or psychic subject to be.
Skizze, Munchen, 1896, p. 21.
Buddhists used the word "samadhi" as well as
the Hindus; but "dhyana" is their special word
for higher states of contemplation.
There seem to be four stages recognized in dhyana.
The first stage comes through concentration of
the mind upon one point.
It excludes desire, but not discernment or judgment:
it is still intellectual.
In the second stage the intellectual functions
drop off, and the satisfied sense of unity remains.
In the third stage the satisfaction departs, and
indifference begins, along with memory a self-consciousness.
In the fourth stage the indifference, memory, and
self-consciousness are perfected.
[Just what "memory" and "self-consciousness"
mean in this connection is doubtful.
They cannot be the faculties familiar to us in
the lower life.] Higher stages still of contemplation
are mentioned--a region where there exists nothing, and
where the mediator says:
"There exists absolutely nothing," and
stops. Then he reaches another region where he says:
"There are neither ideas nor absence of ideas,"
and stops again.
Then another region where, "having reached
the end of both idea and perception, he stops finally."
This would seem to be, not yet Nirvana, but as
close an approach to it as this life affords.
I follow the account in C. F. Koeppen:
Die Religion des Buddha, Berlin, 1857, i. 585 ff.
the Mohammedan world the Sufi sect and various dervish
bodies are the possessors of the mystical tradition.
The Sufis have existed in Persia from the earliest
times, and as their pantheism is so at variance with the
hot and rigid monotheism of the Arab mind, it has been
suggested that Sufism must have been inoculated into Islam
by Hindu influences. We Christians know little of Sufism,
for its secrets are disclosed only to those initiated.
To give its existence a certain liveliness in your
minds, I will quote a Moslem document, and pass away from
a Persian philosopher and theologian, who flourished in
the eleventh century, and ranks as one of the greatest
doctors of the Moslem church, has left us one of the few
autobiographies to be found outside of Christian literature.
Strange that a species of book so abundant among
ourselves should be so little represented elsewhere--the
absence of strictly personal confessions is the chief
difficulty to the purely literary student who would like
to become acquainted with the inwardness of religions
other than the Christian. M. Schmolders has translated
a part of Al-Ghazzali's autobiography into French:--
For a full account of him, see D. B. Macdonald: The Life Of Al-Ghazzali, in the Journal of the American Oriental
Society, 1899, vol. xx., p. 71.
Science of the Sufis," says the Moslem author, "aims
at detaching the heart from all that is not God, and at
giving to it for sole occupation the meditation of the
divine being. Theory
being more easy for me than practice, I read [certain
books] until I understood all that can be learned by study
and hearsay. Then I recognized that what pertains most
exclusively to their method is just what no study can
grasp, but only transport, ecstasy, and the transformation
of the soul. How
great, for example, is the difference between knowing
the definitions of health, of satiety, with their causes
and conditions, and being really healthy or filled. How different to know in what drunkenness consists--as being
a state occasioned by a vapor that rises from the stomach--and
BEING drunk effectively.
Without doubt, the drunken man knows neither the
definition of drunkenness nor what makes it interesting
for science. Being
drunk, he knows nothing; whilst the physician, although
not drunk knows well in what drunkenness consists, and
what are its predisposing conditions.
Similarly there is a difference between knowing
the nature of abstinence, and BEING abstinent or having
one's soul detached from the world.--Thus I had learned
what words could teach of Sufism, but what was left could
be learned neither by study nor through the ears, but
solely by giving one's self up to ecstasy and leading
a pious life.
on my situation, I found myself tied down by a multitude
of bonds--temptations on every side.
Considering my teaching, I found it was impure
before God. I
saw myself struggling with all my might to achieve glory
and to spread my name.
[Here follows an account of his six months' hesitation
to break away from the conditions of his life at Bagdad,
at the end of which he fell ill with a paralysis of the
tongue.] Then, feeling my own weakness, and having entirely
given up my own will, I repaired to God like a man in
distress who has no more resources. He answered, as he answers the wretch who invokes him.
My heart no longer felt any difficulty in renouncing
glory, wealth, and my children.
So I quitted Bagdad, and reserving from my fortune
only what was indispensable for my subsistence, I distributed
the rest. I
went to Syria, where I remained about two years, with
no other occupation than living in retreat and solitude,
conquering my desires, combating my passions, training
myself to purify my soul, to make my character perfect,
to prepare my heart for meditating on God--all according
to the methods of the Sufis, as I had read of them.
retreat only increased my desire to live in solitude,
and to complete the purification of my heart and fit it
for meditation. But the vicissitudes of the times, the affairs of the family,
the need of subsistence, changed in some respects my primitive
resolve, and interfered with my plans for a purely solitary
life. I had never yet found myself completely in ecstasy, save in
a few single hours; nevertheless, I kept the hope of attaining
this state. Every
time that the accidents led me astray, I sought to return;
and in this situation I spent ten years.
During this solitary state things were revealed
to me which it is impossible either to describe or to
point out. I
recognized for certain that the Sufis are assuredly walking
in the path of God.
Both in their acts and in their inaction, whether
internal or external, they are illumined by the light
which proceeds from the prophetic source.
The first condition for a Sufi is to purge his
heart entirely of all that is not God. The next key of
the contemplative life consists in the humble prayers
which escape from the fervent soul, and in the meditations
on God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely. But
in reality this is only the beginning of the Sufi life,
the end of Sufism being total absorption in God.
The intuitions and all that precede are, so to
speak, only the threshold for those who enter.
From the beginning revelations take place in so
flagrant a shape that the Sufis see before them, whilst
wide awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets. They hear their voices and obtain their favors.
Then the transport rises from the perception of
forms and figures to a degree which escapes all expression,
and which no man may seek to give an account of without
his words involving sin.
"Whosoever has had no experience of the transport
knows of the true nature of prophetism nothing but the
may meanwhile be sure of its existence, both by experience
and by what he hears the Sufis say.
As there are men endowed only with the sensitive
faculty who reject what is offered them in the way of
objects of the pure understanding, so there are intellectual
men who reject and avoid the things perceived by the prophetic
blind man can understand nothing of colors save what he
has learned by narration and hearsay.
Yet God has brought prophetism near to men in giving
them all a state analogous to it in its principal characters.
This state is sleep. If you were to tell a man
who was himself without experience of such a phenomenon
that there are people who at times swoon away so as to
resemble dead men, and who [in dreams] yet perceive things
that are hidden, he would deny it [and give his reasons].
Nevertheless, his arguments would be refuted by
actual experience. Wherefore, just as the understanding is a stage of human life
in which an eye opens to discern various intellectual
objects uncomprehended by sensation; just so in the prophetic
the sight is illumined by a light which uncovers hidden
things and objects which the intellect fails to reach.
The chief properties of prophetism are perceptible
only during the transport, by those who embrace the Sufi
prophet is endowed with qualities to which you possess
nothing analogous, and which consequently you cannot possibly
should you know their true nature, since one knows only
what one can comprehend?
But the transport which one attains by the method
of the Sufis is like an immediate perception, as if one
touched the objects with one's hand."
A. Schmolders: Essai
sur les ecoles philosophiques chez les Arabes, Paris,
1842, pp. 54-68, abridged.
incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of
all mysticism. Mystical
truth exists for the individual who has the transport,
but for no one else.
In this, as I have said, it resembles the knowledge
given to us in sensations more than that given by conceptual
with its remoteness and abstractness, has often enough
in the history of philosophy been contrasted unfavorably
is a commonplace of metaphysics that God's knowledge cannot
be discursive but must be intuitive, that is, must be
constructed more after the pattern of what in ourselves
is called immediate feeling, than after that of proposition
and judgment. But
our immediate feelings have no content but what the five
senses supply; and we have seen and shall see again that
mystics may emphatically deny that the senses play any
part in the very highest type of knowledge which their
the Christian church there have always been mystics. Although
many of them have been viewed with suspicion, some have
gained favor in the eyes of the authorities.
The experiences of these have been treated as precedents,
and a codified system of mystical theology has been based
upon them, in which everything legitimate finds its place.
The basis of the system is "orison" or meditation,
the methodical elevation of the soul towards God.
Through the practice of orison the higher levels
of mystical experience may be attained.
It is odd that Protestantism, especially evangelical
Protestantism, should seemingly have abandoned everything
methodical in this line.
Apart from what prayer may lead to, Protestant
mystical experience appears to have been almost exclusively
sporadic. It has been left to our mind- curers to reintroduce methodical
meditation into our religious life.
Gorres's Christliche Mystik gives a full account of the
does Ribet's Mystique Divine, 2 vols., Paris, 1890.
A still more methodical modern work is the Mystica
Theologia of Vallgornera, 2 vols., Turin, 1890.
first thing to be aimed at in orison is the mind's detachment
from outer sensations, for these interfere with its concentration
upon ideal things.
Such manuals as Saint Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises
recommend the disciple to <398> expel sensation
by a graduated series of efforts to imagine holy scenes.
The acme of this kind of discipline would be a
semi-hallucinatory mono-ideism--an imaginary figure of
Christ, for example, coming fully to occupy the mind.
Sensorial images of this sort, whether literal
or symbolic, play an enormous part in mysticism.
But in certain cases imagery may fall away entirely,
and in the very highest raptures it tends to do so.
The state of consciousness becomes then insusceptible
of any verbal description.
Mystical teachers are unanimous as to this. Saint
John of the Cross, for instance, one of the best of them,
thus describes the condition called the "union of
love," which, he says, is reached by "dark contemplation."
In this the Deity compenetrates the soul, but in
such a hidden way that the soul--
no terms, no means, no comparison whereby to render the
sublimity of the wisdom and the delicacy of the spiritual
feeling with which she is filled. . . . We receive this
mystical knowledge of God clothed in none of the kinds
of images, in none of the sensible representations, which
our mind makes use of in other circumstances.
Accordingly in this knowledge, since the senses
and the imagination are not employed, we get neither form
nor impression, nor can we give any account or furnish
any likeness, although the mysterious and sweet-tasting
wisdom comes home so clearly to the inmost parts of our
a man seeing a certain kind of thing for the first time
in his life. He can understand it, use and enjoy it, but
he cannot apply a name to it, nor communicate any idea
of it, even though all the while it be a mere thing of
much greater will be his powerlessness when it goes beyond
the senses! This is the peculiarity of the divine language.
The more infused, intimate, spiritual, and supersensible
it is, the more does it exceed the senses, both inner
and outer, and impose silence upon them. . . .
soul then feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude,
to which no created thing has access, in an immense and
boundless desert, desert the more delicious the more solitary
it is. There, in this abyss of wisdom, the soul grows
by what it drinks in from the well-springs of the comprehension
of love, . . . and recognizes, however sublime and learned
may be the terms we employ, how utterly vile, insignificant,
and improper they are, when we seek to discourse of divine
things by their means."
M. ReCeJac, in a recent volume, makes them essential.
Mysticism he defines as "the tendency to draw near
to the Absolute morally AND BY THE AID OF SYMBOLS."
See his Fondements de la Connaissance mystique,
Paris, 1897, p. 66.
But there are unquestionably mystical conditions
in which sensible symbols play no part.
Saint John of the Cross:
The Dark Night of the Soul, book ii. ch. xvii.,
in Vie et Oeuvres, 3me edition, Paris, 1893, iii. 428-432.
Chapter xi. of book ii. of Saint John's Ascent of Carmel
is devoted to showing the harmfulness for the mystical
life of the use of sensible imagery.
I cannot pretend to detail to you the sundry stages
of the Christian mystical life. Our time would not
suffice, for one thing; and moreover, I confess that the
subdivisions and names which we find in the Catholic books
seem to me to represent nothing objectively distinct.
So many men, so many minds:
I imagine that these experiences can be as infinitely
varied as are the idiosyncrasies of individuals.
In particular I omit mention of visual and auditory hallucinations,
verbal and graphic automatisms, and such marvels as "levitation,"
stigmatization, and the healing of disease.
These phenomena, which mystics have often presented
(or are believed to have presented), have no essential
mystical significance, for they occur with no consciousness
of illumination whatever, when they occur, as they often
do, in persons of non-mystical mind.
Consciousness of illumination is for us the essential
mark of "mystical" states.
cognitive aspects of them, their value in the way of revelation,
is what we are directly concerned with, and it is easy
to show by citation how strong an impression they leave
of being revelations of new depths of truth.
Saint Teresa is the expert of experts in describing
such conditions, so I will turn immediately to what she
says of one of the highest of them, the "orison of
the orison of union," says Saint Teresa, "the
soul is fully awake as regards God, but wholly asleep
as regards things of this world and in respect of herself.
During the short time the union lasts, she is as
it were deprived of every feeling, and even if she would,
she could not think of any single thing. Thus she needs to employ no artifice in order to arrest the
use of her understanding:
it remains so stricken with inactivity that she
neither knows what she loves, nor in what manner she loves,
nor what she wills.
In short, she is utterly dead to the things of
the world and lives solely in God. . . .
I do not even know whether in this state she has
enough life left to breathe.
It seems to me she has not; or at least that if
she does breathe, she is unaware of it.
Her intellect would fain understand something of
what is going on within her, but it has so little force
now that it can act in no way whatsoever.
So a person who falls into a deep faint appears
as if dead. . . .
does God, when he raises a soul to union with himself,
suspend the natural action of all her faculties.
She neither sees, hears, nor understands, so long
as she is united with God. But this time is always short,
and it seems even shorter than it is.
God establishes himself in the interior of this
soul in such a way, that when she returns to herself,
it is wholly impossible for her to doubt that she has
been in God, and God in her.
This truth remains so strongly impressed on her
that, even though many years should pass without the condition
returning, she can neither forget the favor she received,
nor doubt of its reality. If you, nevertheless, ask how
it is possible that the soul can see and understand that
she has been in God, since during the union she has neither
sight nor understanding, I reply that she does not see
it then, but that she sees it clearly later, after she
has returned to herself, not by any vision, but by a certitude
which abides with her and which God alone can give her.
knew a person who was ignorant of the truth that God's
mode of being in everything must be either by presence,
by power, or by essence, but who, after having received
the grace of which I am speaking, believed this truth
in the most unshakable manner. So much so that, having
consulted a half-learned man who was as ignorant on this
point as she had been before she was enlightened, when
he replied that God is in us only by 'grace,' she disbelieved
his reply, so sure she was of the true answer; and when
she came to ask wiser doctors, they confirmed her in her
belief, which much consoled her. . . .
how, you will repeat, CAN one have such certainty in respect
to what one does not see?
This question, I am powerless to answer.
These are secrets of God's omnipotence which it
does not appertain to me to penetrate.
All that I know is that I tell the truth; and I
shall never believe that any soul who does not possess
this certainty has ever been really united to God."
The Interior Castle, Fifth Abode, Ch. i., in Oeuvres,
translated by BOUIX, iii. 421-424.
kinds of truth communicable in mystical ways, whether
these be sensible or supersensible, are various.
Some of them relate to this world--visions of the
future, the reading of hearts, the sudden understanding
of texts, the knowledge of distant events, for example;
but the most important revelations are theological or
Ignatius confessed one day to Father Laynez that a single
hour of meditation at Manresa had taught him more truths
about heavenly things than all the teachings of all the
doctors put together could have taught him. . . .
One day in orison, on the steps of the choir of
the Dominican church, he saw in a distinct manner the
plan of divine wisdom in the creation of the world.
On another occasion, during a procession, his spirit
was ravished in God, and it was given him to contemplate,
in a form and images fitted to the weak understanding
of a dweller on the earth, the deep mystery of the holy
last vision flooded his heart with such sweetness, that
the mere memory of it in after times made him shed abundant
vie de Saint Ignace de Loyola, i. 34-36. Others
have had illuminations about the created world, Jacob
Boehme for instance.
At the age of twenty-five he was "surrounded
by the divine light, and replenished with the heavenly
knowledge, insomuch as going abroad into the fields to
a green, at Gorlitz, he there sat down and viewing the
herbs and grass of the field, in his inward light he saw
into their essences, use, and properties, which was discovered
to him by their lineaments, figures, and signatures."
Of a later period of experience he writes:
"In one quarter of an hour I saw and knew
more than if I had been many years together at an university.
For I saw and knew the being of all things, the
Byss and the Abyss, and the eternal generation of the
holy Trinity, the descent and original of the world and
of all creatures through the divine wisdom.
I knew and saw in myself all the three worlds,
the external and visible world being of a procreation
or extern birth from both the internal and spiritual worlds;
and I saw and knew the whole working essence, in the evil
and in the good, and the mutual original and existence,
and likewise how the fruitful bearing womb of eternity
brought forth. So that I did not only greatly wonder at
it, but did also exceedingly rejoice, albeit I could very
hardly apprehend the same in my external man and set it
down with the pen.
For I had a thorough view of the universe as in
a chaos, wherein all things are couched and wrapt up,
but it was impossible for me to explicate the same."
Jacob Behmen's Theosophic Philosophy, etc., by
Edward Taylor, London, 1691, pp. 425, 427, abridged.
George Fox: "I
was come up to the state of Adam in which he was before
he fell. The
creation was opened to me; and it was showed me, how all
things had their names given to them, according to their
nature and virtue.
I was at a stand in my mind, whether I should practice
physic for the good of mankind, seeing the nature and
virtues of the creatures were so opened to me by the Lord." Journal, Philadelphia, no date, p. 69. Contemporary "Clairvoyance" abounds in similar revelations.
Andrew Jackson Davis's cosmogonies, for example,
or certain experiences related in the delectable "Reminiscences
and Memories of Henry Thomas Butterworth," Lebanon,
with Saint Teresa.
"One day, being in orison," she writes,
"it was granted me to perceive in one instant how
all things are seen and contained in God.
I did not perceive them in their proper form, and
nevertheless the view I had of them was of a sovereign
clearness, and has remained vividly impressed upon my
is one of the most signal of all the graces which the
Lord has granted me. . . .
The view was so subtile and delicate that the understanding
cannot grasp it."
Vie, pp. 581, 582.
goes on to tell how it was as if the Deity were an enormous
and sovereignly limpid diamond, in which all our actions
were contained in such a way that their full sinfulness
appeared evident as never before.
On another day, she relates, while she was reciting
the Athanasian Creed--
Lord made me comprehend in what way it is that one God
can be in three persons.
He made me see it so clearly that I remained as
extremely surprised as I was comforted, . . . and now,
when I think of the holy Trinity, or hear It spoken of,
I understand how the three adorable Persons form only
one God and I experience an unspeakable happiness."
still another occasion, it was given to Saint Teresa to
see and understand in what wise the Mother of God had
been assumed into her place in Heaven.
Loc. cit., p. 574
deliciousness of some of these states seems to be beyond
anything known in ordinary consciousness.
It evidently involves organic sensibilities, for
it is spoken of as something too extreme to be borne,
and as verging on bodily pain.
But it is too subtle and piercing a delight for
ordinary words to denote.
God's touches, the wounds of his spear, references
to ebriety and to nuptial union have to figure in the
phraseology by which it is shadowed forth.
Intellect and senses both swoon away in these highest
states of ecstasy.
"If our understanding comprehends," says
Saint Teresa, "it is in a mode which remains unknown
to it, and it can understand nothing of what it comprehends.
For my own part, I do not believe that it does
comprehend, because, as I said, it does not understand
itself to do so.
I confess that it is all a mystery in which I am
lost." In the condition called raptus or ravishment
by theologians, breathing and circulation are so depressed
that it is a question among the doctors whether the soul
be or be not temporarily dissevered from the body.
One must read Saint Teresa's descriptions and the
very exact distinctions which she makes, to persuade one's
self that one is dealing, not with imaginary experiences,
but with phenomena which, however rare, follow perfectly
definite psychological types.
Saint Teresa discriminates between pain in which the body
has a part and pure spiritual pain (Interior Castle, 6th
Abode, ch. xi.). As for the bodily part in these celestial joys, she speaks
of it as "penetrating to the marrow of the bones,
whilst earthly pleasures affect only the surface of the
think," she adds, "that this is a just description,
and I cannot make it better."
Ibid., 5th Abode, ch. i.
Vie, p. 198.
the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested
and imitated hypnoid states, on an intellectual basis
of superstition, and a corporeal one of degeneration and
these pathological conditions have existed in many and
possibly in all the cases, but that fact tells us nothing
about the value for knowledge of the consciousness which
they induce. To
pass a spiritual judgment upon these states, we must not
content ourselves with superficial medical talk, but inquire
into their fruits for life.
fruits appear to have been various.
Stupefaction, for one thing, seems not to have
been altogether absent as a result. You may remember the
helplessness in the kitchen and schoolroom of poor Margaret
Mary Alacoque. Many
other ecstatics would have perished but for the care taken
of them by admiring followers.
The "other-worldliness" encouraged by
the mystical consciousness makes this over-abstraction
from practical life peculiarly liable to befall mystics
in whom the character is naturally passive and the intellect
feeble; but in natively strong minds and characters we
find quite opposite results.
The great Spanish mystics, who carried the habit
of ecstasy as far as it has often been carried, appear
for the most part to have shown indomitable spirit and
energy, and all the more so for the trances in which they
Ignatius was a mystic, but his mysticism made him assuredly
one of the most powerfully practical human engines that
ever lived. Saint John of the Cross, writing of the intuitions and "touches"
by which God reaches the substance of the soul, tells
enrich it marvelously.
A single one of them may be sufficient to abolish
at a stroke certain imperfections of which the soul during
its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself, and to
leave it adorned with virtues and loaded with supernatural
single one of these intoxicating consolations may reward
it for all the labors undergone in its life--even were
Invested with an invincible courage, filled with
an impassioned desire to suffer for its God, the soul
then is seized with a strange torment--that of not being
allowed to suffer enough."
Oeuvres, ii. 320.
Teresa is as emphatic, and much more detailed. You may
perhaps remember a passage I quoted from her in my first
lecture. There are many similar pages in her autobiography.
Where in literature is a more evidently veracious
account of the formation of a new centre of spiritual
energy, than is given in her description of the effects
of certain ecstasies which in departing leave the soul
upon a higher level of emotional excitement?
Above, p. 22.
infirm and wrought upon with dreadful pains before the
ecstasy, the soul emerges from it full of health and admirably
disposed for action . . . as if God had willed that the
body itself, already obedient to the soul's desires, should
share in the soul's happiness. . . . The soul after such
a favor is animated with a degree of courage so great
that if at that moment its body should be torn to pieces
for the cause of God, it would feel nothing but the liveliest
it is that promises and heroic resolutions spring up in
profusion in us, soaring desires, horror of the world,
and the clear perception of our proper nothingness. .
. . What
empire is comparable to that of a soul who, from this
sublime summit to which God has raised her, sees all the
things of earth beneath her feet, and is captivated by
no one of them?
How ashamed she is of her former attachments! How
amazed at her blindness! What lively pity she feels for
those whom she recognizes still shrouded in the darkness!
. . . She groans at having ever been sensitive to points
of honor, at the illusion that made her ever see as honor
what the world calls by that name.
Now she sees in this name nothing more than an
immense lie of which the world remains a victim.
She discovers, in the new light from above, that
in genuine honor there is nothing spurious, that to be
faithful to this honor is to give our respect to what
deserves to be respected really, and to consider as nothing,
or as less than nothing, whatsoever perishes and is not
agreeable to God. . . . She laughs when she sees grave
persons, persons of orison, caring for points of honor
for which she now feels profoundest contempt.
It is suitable to the dignity of their rank to
act thus, they pretend, and it makes them more useful
to others. But
she knows that in despising the dignity of their rank
for the pure love of God they would do more good in a
single day than they would effect in ten years by preserving
it. . . . She laughs at herself that there should ever
have been a time in her life when she made any case of
money, when she ever desired it. . . .
Oh! if human beings might only agree together to
regard it as so much useless mud, what harmony would then
reign in the world! With what friendship we would all
treat each other if our interest in honor and in money
could but disappear from earth! For my own part, I feel as if it would be a remedy for all
Vie, pp. 229, 230, 231-233, 243.
conditions may, therefore, render the soul more energetic
in the lines which their inspiration favors.
But this could be reckoned an advantage only in
case the inspiration were a true one.
If the inspiration were erroneous, the energy would
be all the more mistaken and misbegotten. So we stand
once more before that problem of truth which confronted
us at the end of the lectures on saintliness.
You will remember that we turned to mysticism precisely
to get some light on truth.
Do mystical states establish the truth of those
theological affections in which the saintly life has its
spite of their repudiation of articulate self-description,
mystical states in general assert a pretty distinct theoretic
drift. It is possible to give the outcome of the majority of them
in terms that point in definite philosophical directions.
One of these directions is optimism, and the other is
monism. We pass into mystical states from out of ordinary
consciousness as from a less into a more, as from a smallness
into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest
to a rest. We
feel them as reconciling, unifying states.
They appeal to the yes-function more than to the
no-function in us. In them the unlimited absorbs the limits
and peacefully closes the account.
Their very denial of every adjective you may propose
as applicable to the ultimate truth--He, the Self, the
Atman, is to be described by "No! no!" only,
say the Upanishads--though it seems on the surface
to be a no-function, is a denial made on behalf of a deeper
yes. Whoso calls the Absolute anything in particular,
or says that it is THIS, seems implicitly to shut it off
from being THAT --it is as if he lessened it.
So we deny the "this," negating the negation
which it seems to us to imply, in the interests of the
higher affirmative attitude by which we are possessed.
The fountain-head of Christian mysticism is Dionysius
describes the absolute truth by negatives exclusively.
Muller's translation, part ii. p. 180.
cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect; nor
has it imagination, opinion, or reason, or intelligence;
nor is it reason or intelligence; nor is it spoken or
is neither number, nor order, nor magnitude, nor littleness,
nor equality, nor inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity.
It neither stands, nor moves, nor rests. . . .
It is neither essence, nor eternity, nor time.
Even intellectual contact does not belong to it.
It is neither science nor truth.
It is not even royalty or wisdom; not one; not
unity; not divinity or goodness; nor even spirit as we
know it," etc., ad libitum.
T. Davidson's translation, in Journal of Speculative Philosophy,
1893, vol. xxii., p. 399.
these qualifications are denied by Dionysius, not because
the truth falls short of them, but because it so infinitely
excels them. It is above them. It
is SUPER-lucent, SUPER-splendent, SUPER-essential, SUPER-sublime,
SUPER EVERYTHING that can be named.
Like Hegel in his logic, mystics journey towards
the positive pole of truth only by the "Methode der
"Deus propter excellentiam non immerito Nihil vocatur."
Scotus Erigena, quoted by Andrew Seth:
Two Lectures on Theism, New York, 1897, p. 55.
come the paradoxical expressions that so abound in mystical
when Eckhart tells of the still desert of the Godhead,
"where never was seen difference, neither Father,
Son, nor Holy Ghost, where there is no one at home, yet
where the spark of the soul is more at peace than in itself."
As when Boehme writes of the Primal Love, that "it
may fitly be compared to Nothing, for it is deeper than
any Thing, and is as nothing with respect to all things,
forasmuch as it is not comprehensible by any of them.
And because it is nothing respectively, it is therefore
free from all things, and is that only good, which a man
cannot express or utter what it is, there being nothing
to which it may be compared, to express it by."
Or as when Angelus Silesius sings:--
ist ein lauter Nichts, ihn ruhrt kein Nun noch Hier;
Je mehr du nach ihm greiffst, je mehr entwind er
J. Royce: Studies
in Good and Evil, p. 282.
Jacob Bellmen's Dialogues on the Supersensual Life, translated
by Bernard Holland, London, 1901, p. 48.
Cherubinischer Wandersmann, Strophe 25.
this dialectical use, by the intellect, of negation as
a mode of passage towards a higher kind of affirmation,
there is correlated the subtlest of moral counterparts
in the sphere of the personal will. Since denial of the finite self and its wants, since asceticism
of some sort, is found in religious experience to be the
only doorway to the larger and more blessed life, this
moral mystery intertwines and combines with the intellectual
mystery in all mystical writings.
continues Behmen, is Nothing, for "when thou art
gone forth wholly from the Creature and from that which
is visible, and art become Nothing to all that is Nature
and Creature, then thou art in that eternal One, which
is God himself, and then thou shalt feel within thee the
highest virtue of Love. . . . The treasure of treasures
for the soul is where she goeth out of the Somewhat into
that Nothing out of which all things may be made.
The soul here saith, I HAVE NOTHING, for I am utterly
stripped and naked; I CAN DO NOTHING, for I have no manner
of power, but am as water poured out; I AM NOTHING, for
all that I am is no more than an image of Being, and only
God is to me I AM; and so, sitting down in my own Nothingness,
I give glory to the eternal Being, and WILL NOTHING of
myself, that so God may will all in me, being unto me
my God and all things."
Op. cit., pp. 42, 74, abridged.
Paul's language, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth
in me. Only
when I become as nothing can God enter in and no difference
between his life and mine remain outstanding.
From a French book I take this mystical expression of
happiness in God's indwelling presence:--
has come to take up his abode in my heart.
It is not so much a habitation, an association,
as a sort of fusion.
Oh, new and blessed life! life which becomes each
day more luminous. . . . The wall before me, dark a few
moments since, is splendid at this hour because the sun
shines on it. Wherever
its rays fall they light up a conflagration of glory;
the smallest speck of glass sparkles, each grain of sand
emits fire; even so there is a royal song of triumph in
my heart <410> because the Lord is there.
My days succeed each other; yesterday a blue sky;
to day a clouded sun; a night filled with strange dreams;
but as soon as the eyes open, and I regain consciousness
and seem to begin life again, it is always the same figure
before me, always the same presence filling my heart.
. . . Formerly the day was dulled by the absence of the Lord.
I used to wake invaded by all sorts of sad impressions,
and I did not find him on my path. To-day he is with me; and the light cloudiness which covers
things is not an obstacle to my communion with him. I feel the pressure of his hand, I feel something else which
fills me with a serene joy; shall I dare to speak it out?
Yes, for it is the true expression of what I experience.
The Holy Spirit is not merely making me a visit;
it is no mere dazzling apparition which may from one moment
to another spread its wings and leave me in my night,
it is a permanent habitation.
He can depart only if he takes me with him.
More than that; he is not other than myself:
he is one with me.
It is not a juxtaposition, it is a penetration,
a profound modification of my nature, a new manner of
Quoted from the MS. of an old man by Wilfred Monod:
II Vit: six
meditations sur le mystere chretien, pp. 280-283.
overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual
and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement.
In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute
and we become aware of our oneness.
This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical
tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.
In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian
mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note,
so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal
unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think,
and which brings it about that the mystical classics have,
as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech
antedates languages, and they do not grow old.
Compare M. Maeterlinck:
L'Ornement des Noces spirituelles de Ruysbroeck,
Bruxelles, 1891, Introduction, p. xix.
art Thou!" say the Upanishads, and the Vedantists
a part, not a mode of That, but identically That, that
absolute Spirit of the World."
"As pure water poured into pure water remains
the same, thus, O Gautama, is the Self of a thinker who
in water, fire in fire, ether in ether, no one can distinguish
a man whose mind has entered into the Self."
"'Every man,' says the Sufi Gulshan-Raz, whose
heart is no longer shaken by any doubt, knows with certainty
that there is no being save only One. . . .
In his divine majesty the ME, and WE, the THOU,
are not found, for in the One there can be no distinction.
Every being who is annulled and entirely separated from
himself, hears resound outside of him this voice and this
echo: I AM
GOD: he has
an eternal way of existing, and is no longer subject to
In the vision of God, says Plotinus, "what
sees is not our reason, but something prior and superior
to our reason. . . . He who thus sees does not properly see, does not distinguish
or imagine two things.
He changes, he ceases to be himself, preserves
nothing of himself. Absorbed in God, he makes but one with him, like a centre of
a circle coinciding with another centre." "Here," writes Suso, "the spirit dies, and yet
is all alive in the marvels of the Godhead . . . and is
lost in the stillness of the glorious dazzling obscurity
and of the naked simple unity. It is in this modeless
WHERE that the highest bliss is to be found."
"Ich bin so gross als Gott," sings Angelus
Silesius again, "Er ist als ich so klein; Er kann
nicht uber mich, ich unter ihm nicht sein."
Upanishads, M. Muller's translation, ii. 17, 334.
Schmolders: Op. cit., p. 210.
Enneads, Bouillier's translation. Paris, 1861, iii. 561. Compare pp. 473-477, and vol. i. p. 27.
Autobiography, pp. 309, 310.
Op. cit., Strophe 10.
mystical literature such self-contradictory phrases as
"dazzling obscurity," "whispering silence,"
"teeming desert," are continually met with.
They prove that not conceptual speech, but music
rather, is the element through which we are best spoken
to by mystical truth.
Many mystical scriptures are indeed little more
than musical compositions.
who would hear the voice of Nada, 'the Soundless Sound,'
and comprehend it, he has to learn the nature of Dharana.
. . . When
to himself his form appears unreal, as do on waking all
the forms he sees in dreams, when he has ceased to hear
the many, he may discern the ONE--the inner sound which
kills the outer. . . . For then the soul will hear, and will remember.
And then to the inner ear will speak THE VOICE
OF THE SILENCE. . . .
And now thy SELF is lost in SELF, THYSELF unto
THYSELF, merged in that SELF from which thou first didst
radiate. . .
. Behold! thou hast become the Light, thou hast
become the Sound, thou art thy Master and thy God.
Thou art THYSELF the object of thy search:
the VOICE unbroken, that resounds throughout eternities,
exempt from change, from sin exempt, the seven sounds
in one, the VOICE OF THE SILENCE.
Om tat Sat."
H. P. Blavatsky:
The voice of the Silence.
words, if they do not awaken laughter as you receive them,
probably stir chords within you which music and language
touch in common. Music gives us ontological messages which non-musical criticism
is unable to contradict, though it may laugh at our foolishness
in minding them.
There is a verge of the mind which these things
haunt; and whispers therefrom mingle with the operations
of our understanding, even as the waters of the infinite
ocean send their waves to break among the pebbles that
lie upon our shores.
begins the sea that ends not till the world's end.
we stand, Could we know the next high sea-mark set beyond these
We should know what never man hath known, nor eye
hath scanned. . . .
Ah, but here man's heart leaps, yearning towards
with venturous glee,
From the shore that hath no shore beyond it, set
in all the sea."
the Verge, in "A Midsummer vacation."
doctrine, for example, that eternity is timeless, that
our "immortality," if we live in the eternal,
is not so much future as already now and here, which we
find so often expressed to-day in certain philosophic
circles, finds its support in a "hear, hear!"
or an "amen," which floats up from that mysteriously
We recognize the passwords to the mystical region
as we hear them, but we cannot use them ourselves; it
alone has the keeping of "the password primeval."
Compare the extracts from Dr. Bucke, quoted on pp. 398,
As serious an attempt as I know to mediate between the
mystical region and the discursive life is contained in
an article on Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, by F. C. S. Schiller,
in Mind, vol. ix., 1900.
have now sketched with extreme brevity and insufficiency,
but as fairly as I am able in the time allowed, the general
traits of the mystic range of consciousness.
It is on the whole pantheistic and optimistic,
or at least the opposite of pessimistic.
It is anti-naturalistic, and harmonizes best with
twice-bornness and so-called other-worldly states mind.
next task is to inquire whether we can invoke it as authoritative.
Does it furnish any WARRANT FOR THE TRUTH of the
twice-bornness and supernaturality and pantheism which
must give my answer to this question as concisely as I
can. In brief
my answer is this--and I will divide it into three parts:--
Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and
have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the
individuals to whom they come.
No authority emanates from them which should make it a
duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their
They break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic
consciousness, based upon the understanding and the senses
show it to be only one kind of consciousness.
open out the possibility of other orders of truth, in
which, so far as anything in us vitally responds to them,
we may freely continue to have faith.
will take up these points one by one.
1. As a matter of psychological fact, mystical
states of a well-pronounced and emphatic sort ARE usually
authoritative over those who have them. They have
been "there," and know.
It is vain for rationalism to grumble about this.
If the mystical truth that comes to a man proves to be
a force that he can live by, what mandate have we of the
majority to order him to live in another way?
We can throw him into a prison or a madhouse, but
we cannot change his mind--we commonly attach it only
the more stubbornly to its beliefs. It mocks our
utmost efforts, as a matter of fact, and in point of logic
it absolutely escapes our jurisdiction.
Our own more "rational" beliefs are based
on evidence exactly similar in nature to that which mystics
quote for theirs.
Our senses, namely, have assured us of certain
states of fact; but mystical experiences are as direct
perceptions of fact for those who have them as any sensations
ever were for us.
The records show that even though the five senses
be in abeyance in them, they are absolutely sensational
in their epistemological quality, if I may be pardoned
the barbarous expression--that is, they are face to face
presentations of what seems immediately to exist. 
I abstract from weaker states, and from those cases of
which the books are full, where the director (but usually
not the subject) remains in doubt whether the experience
may not have proceeded from the demon.
John Nelson writes of his imprisonment for preaching Methodism:
"My soul was as a watered garden, and I could
sing praises to God all day long; for he turned my captivity
into joy, and gave me to rest as well on the boards, as
if I had been on a bed of down. Now could I say, 'God's service is perfect freedom,' and I
was carried out much in prayer that my enemies might drink
of the same river of peace which my God gave so largely
to me." Journal, London, no date, p. 172.
mystic is, in short, INVULNERABLE, and must be left, whether
we relish it or not, in undisturbed enjoyment of his creed.
Faith, says Tolstoy, is that by which men live.
And faith-state and mystic state are practically convertible
But I now proceed to add that mystics have no right to
claim that we ought to accept the deliverance of their
peculiar experiences, if we are ourselves outsiders and
feel no private call thereto.
The utmost they can ever ask of us in this life
is to admit that they establish a presumption.
They form a consensus and have an unequivocal outcome;
and it would be odd, mystics might say, if such a unanimous
type of experience should prove to be altogether wrong.
At bottom, however, this would only be an appeal
to numbers, like the appeal of rationalism the other way;
and the appeal to numbers has no logical force.
If we acknowledge it, it is for "suggestive,"
not for logical reasons: we follow the majority because to do so suits our life.
even this presumption from the unanimity of mystics is
far from being strong.
In characterizing mystic states an pantheistic,
optimistic, etc., I am afraid I over-simplified the truth.
I did so for expository reasons, and to keep the
closer to the classic mystical tradition.
The classic religious mysticism, it now must be
confessed, is only a "privileged case."
It is an EXTRACT, kept true to type by the selection
of the fittest specimens and their preservation in "schools."
It is carved out from a much larger mass; and if we take
the larger mass as seriously as religious mysticism has
historically taken itself, we find that the supposed unanimity
To begin with, even religious mysticism itself,
the kind that accumulates traditions and makes schools,
is much less unanimous than I have allowed.
It has been both ascetic and antinomianly self-indulgent
within the Christian church. It is dualistic in Sankhya,
and monistic in Vedanta philosophy.
I called it pantheistic; but the great Spanish
mystics are anything but pantheists.
They are with few exceptions non-metaphysical minds,
for whom "the category of personality" is absolute.
The "union" of man with God is for them
much more like an occasional miracle than like an original
different again, apart from the happiness common to all,
is the mysticism of Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Richard
Jefferies, and other naturalistic pantheists, from the
more distinctively Christian sort.
The fact is that the mystical feeling of enlargement,
union, and emancipation has no specific intellectual content
whatever of its own. It is capable of forming matrimonial alliances with material
furnished by the most diverse philosophies and theologies,
provided only they can find a place in their framework
for its peculiar emotional mood.
We have no right, therefore, to invoke its prestige
as distinctively in favor of any special belief, such
as that in absolute idealism, or in the absolute monistic
identity, or in the absolute goodness, of the world.
It is only relatively in favor of all these things--it
passes out of common human consciousness in the direction
in which they lie.
Ruysbroeck, in the work which Maeterlinck has translated,
has a chapter against the antinomianism of disciples.
H. Delacroix's book (Essai sur le mysticisme speculatif
en Allemagne au XIVme Siecle, Paris, 1900) is full of
antinomian material. compare also A. Jundt:
Les Amis de Dieu au XIV Siecle, These de Strasbourg,
Compare Paul Rousselot:
Les Mystiques Espagnols, Paris, 1869, ch. xii.
see Carpenter's Towards Democracy, especially the latter
parts, and Jefferies's wonderful and splendid mystic rhapsody,
The Story of my Heart.
much for religious mysticism proper.
But more remains to be told, for religious mysticism
is only one half of mysticism.
The other half has no accumulated traditions except
those which the text-books on insanity supply.
Open any one of these, and you will find abundant
cases in which "mystical ideas" are cited as
characteristic symptoms of enfeebled or deluded states
of mind. In
delusional insanity, paranoia, as they sometimes call
it, we may have a DIABOLICAL mysticism, a sort of religious
mysticism turned upside down. The same sense of ineffable
importance in the smallest events, the same texts and
words coming with new meanings, the same voices and visions
and leadings and missions, the same controlling by extraneous
powers; only this time the emotion is pessimistic:
instead of consolations we have desolations; the
meanings are dreadful; and the powers are enemies to life.
It is evident that from the point of view of their
psychological mechanism, the classic mysticism and these
lower mysticisms spring from the same mental level, from
that great subliminal or transmarginal region of which
science is beginning to admit the existence, but of which
so little is really known.
That region contains every kind of matter:
"seraph and snake" abide there side by
come from thence is no infallible credential.
What comes must be sifted and tested, and run the
gauntlet of confrontation with the total context of experience,
just like what comes from the outer world of sense.
Its value must be ascertained by empirical methods,
so long as we are not mystics ourselves.
more, then, I repeat that non-mystics are under no obligation
to acknowledge in mystical states a superior authority
conferred on them by their intrinsic nature.
In chapter i. of book ii. of his work Degeneration, "Max
Nordau" seeks to undermine all mysticism by exposing
the weakness of the lower kinds.
Mysticism for him means any sudden perception of
hidden significance in things. He explains such perception by the abundant uncompleted associations
which experiences may arouse in a degenerate brain.
These give to him who has the experience a vague
and vast sense of its leading further, yet they awaken
no definite or useful consequent in his thought.
The explanation is a plausible one for certain
sorts of feeling of significance, and other alienists
(Wernicke, for example, in his Grundriss der Psychiatrie,
Theil ii., Leipzig, 1896) have explained "paranoiac"
conditions by a laming of the association-organ.
But the higher mystical flights, with their positiveness
and abruptness, are surely products of no such merely
It seems far more reasonable to ascribe them to
inroads from the subconscious life, of the cerebral activity
correlative to which we as yet know nothing.
3. Yet, I repeat once more, the existence of mystical
states absolutely overthrows the pretension of non-mystical
states to be the sole and ultimate dictators of what we
may believe. As a rule, mystical states merely add a supersensuous
meaning to the ordinary outward data of consciousness.
They are excitements like the emotions of love
or ambition, gifts to our spirit by means of which facts
already objectively before us fall into a new expressiveness
and make a new connection with our active life.
They do not contradict these facts as such, or
deny anything that our senses have immediately seized.
It is the rationalistic critic rather who plays the part
of denier in the controversy, and his denials have no
strength, for there never can be a state of facts to which
new meaning may not truthfully be added, provided the
mind ascend to a more enveloping point of view.
It must always remain an open question whether
mystical states may not possibly be such superior points
of view, windows through which the mind looks out upon
a more extensive and inclusive world.
The difference of the views seen from the different
mystical windows need not prevent us from entertaining
The wider world would in that case prove to have
a mixed constitution like that of this world, that is
all. It would
have its celestial and its infernal regions, its tempting
and its saving moments, its valid experiences and its
counterfeit ones, just as our world has them; but it would
be a wider world all the same.
We should have to use its experiences by selecting
and subordinating and substituting just as is our custom
in this ordinary naturalistic world; we should be liable
to error just as we are now; yet the counting in of that
wider world of meanings, and the serious dealing with
it, might, in spite of all the perplexity, be indispensable
stages in our approach to the final fullness of the truth.
They sometimes add subjective audita et visa to the facts,
but as these are usually interpreted as transmundane,
they oblige no alteration in the facts of sense.
this shape, I think, we have to leave the subject.
Mystical states indeed wield no authority due simply
to their being mystical states.
But the higher ones among them point in directions
to which the religious sentiments even of non- mystical
men incline. They
tell of the supremacy of the ideal, of vastness, of union,
of safety, and of rest.
They offer us HYPOTHESES, hypotheses which we may
voluntarily ignore, but which as thinkers we cannot possibly
supernaturalism and optimism to which they would persuade
us may, interpreted in one way or another, be after all
the truest of insights into the meaning of this life.
the little more, and how much it is; and the little less,
and what worlds away!"
It may be that possibility and permission of this
sort are all that are religious consciousness requires
to live on. In
my last lecture I shall have to try to persuade you that
this is the case.
Meanwhile, however, I am sure that for many of
my readers this diet is too slender. If supernaturalism
and inner union with the divine are true, you think, then
not so much permission, as compulsion to believe, ought
to be found. Philosophy
has always professed to prove religious truth by coercive
argument; and the construction of philosophies of this
kind has always been one favorite function of the religious
life, if we use this term in the large historic sense.
But religious philosophy is an enormous subject,
and in my next lecture I can only give that brief glance
at it which my limits will allow.