Sadhus & Yogis of India
to homepage (English) to bibliography (English)
naar homepage (Nederlands) naar bibliografie (nederlands)

Mysticism and Philosophy.

Stace, W.T.

London, 1961. [ST]

[ST 14] ... the first problem to be faced ... is whether mystical experience, like sense experience, points to any objective reality or is a merely subjective psychological phenomenon. [] What truths, if any, about the universe does mysticism yield which the mind could not obtain from science and the logical intellect?
[ST 22] We assume, at least as a methodological postulate, the universality of the reign of law in nature. This means that all macroscopic existences and events occurring in the space-time world are explicable without exception by natural causes.
[ST 23] The naturalistic principle forbids us to believe that there ever occur interruptions in the natural working of events or capricious interventions by a supernatural being. David Hume defined a miracle as a breach of the laws of nature. [] But there may be other looser or more liberal conceptions of miracles which are not inconsistent with naturalism. For instance, Professor Broad has .. defined miracles as events which are exceptions, not to natural laws, but to certain specified common-sense presumptions.
The alleged miracles at Lourdes may very well be explicable by natural laws of which we are at present ignorant.
[ST 24] No matter how astonishing, or supernatural, an event may be, we could never, till we are omniscient, have sufficient grounds for asserting that it is a breach of natural law. We could not assert this unless we were certain that we fully knew and understood every natural law in the universe, since any law of which we were ignorant might afford the needed explanation.
[ST 25] Naturalism implies .. that the genesis of mystical states in a human mind is itself the result of natural causes, and in no way constitutes an exception to the reign of law.

[ST 32] The difficulty of deciding what part of a mystic’s descriptive account of his experience ought to be regarded as actually experienced and what part should be taken as his interpretation is indeed far greater than the corresponding difficulty in the case of sense experience.

[ST 85] Suppose that, after having got rid of all sensations, one should go on to exclude from consciousness all sensuous images, and then all [ST 86] abstract thoughts, reasoning processes, volitions, and other particular mental contents; what then would be left of consciousness? There would be no mental content whatever but rather a complete emptiness, vacuum, void. One would suppose a priori that consciousness would then entirely lapse and one would fall asleep or become unconscious. But the introvertive mystics, thousands of them all over the world, unanimously assert that they have attained to this complete vacuum of particular mental contents, but that what then happens is quite different from a lapse into unconsciousness. On the contrary, what emerges is a state of pure consciousness, “pure” in the sense that it is not the consciousness of any particular content. It has no content except itself.
Since the experience has no content, it is often spoken of by the mystics as the Void or as nothingness; but also as the One, and as the Infinite. That there are in it no particular existences is the same as saying that there are no distinctions in it, or that it is an undifferentiated unity. Since there is no multiplicity in it, it is the One. And that there are no distinctions in it or outside it means that there are no boundary lines in it between anything and anything. It is therefore the boundless or the infinite.
The paradox is that there should be a positive experience which has no positive content, an experience which is both something and nothing.

[ST 131] If there are two types of mystical consciousness, the extrovertive and the introvertive, how are they related to one another? They appear to be two species of one genus. []

Common Characteristics of Extrovertive Mystical Experiences.
1. The Unifying Vision all things are One
2. The more concrete apprehension of the One as an inner subjectivity, or life, in all things
3. Sense of objectivity or reality
4. Blessedness, peace, etc.
5. Feeling of the holy, sacred or divine
6. Paradoxicality
7. Alleged by mystics to be ineffable

Common Characteristics of Introvertive Mystical Experiences.
1. The Unitary consciousness; the One, the Void; pure consciousness
2. Nonspatial, nontemporal
3. Sense of objectivity or reality
4. Blessedness, peace, etc.
5. Feeling of the holy, sacred or divine
6. Paradoxicality
7. Alleged by mystics to be ineffable

[ST 133] The mystics themselves take it for granted that the One which is disclosed in the introvertive experience is identical with the One which is disclosed in the extrovertive experience.

[ST 135] [The argument from Unanimity] ... what we have is the overwhelming evidence of many thousands of persons in different countries and ages all over the world ...
[my criticism: He doesn’t provide witnesses from Indian Americans, Africans, Pacificans, Eskimos, etc. Thus his “world”, in fact, includes only Eur-Asia.
Cluster 1: Judaism, Christianity, Islam all originated in the same part of the world, and are all closely connected.
Cluster 2: Hinduism and Buddhism (and Jainism, which he doesn’t mention) originated in the same part of the world, and are closely connected.
Since prehistoric times there have been connections between clusters 1 and 2 (and they might even be more intimately related, as part of the Indo-Aryan race). Therefore, there might be an unbroken tradition, a line of preceptors, a “tree” rather, linking all his witnesses.
Moreover, outside these two clusters, do we find any mystics at all? Apart, of course, from magicians-priests, which indeed are found all over the world.]

[ST 143] Since orderliness [i.e. obeyance to natural laws in its internal (subjective) and external (objective) relations] is the criterion of objectivity, we have now to apply it to the mystical states of consciousness to ascertain whether they are objective.
[ST 144] We well take first the introvertive type of mystical experience. .. the very essence of the experience is that it is undifferentiated, distinctionless, and destitute of all multiplicity. There are no distinguishable items or events among which repeatable patterns or regular sequences could be traced. With this the claim of introvertive experience to objectivity collapses. It cannot be objective.
[ST 145] ... it cannot be subjective for precisely the same reason which shows that it cannot be objective. It cannot be disorderly within its own boundaries as would be a dream of a kettle of water freezing when put on the fire. For there are no distinguishable items within it to constitute sequences which are contrary to the constant conjunctions of the world order. [] But there are no items within the introvertive experience which could conflict with anything outside it. It follows from these considerations that it is not subjective.
There is really nothing new in the conclusion which we have reached. We shall find that the proposition that mystical experience is neither subjective nor objective is itself a mystical doctrine which is explicitly put forward by all the more philosophical mystics. They have not reached it by a process of reasoning as we have done in this section. They have simply felt intuitively that it is the natural and proper interpretation of their experience. It is true that this seems to conflict with our finding ... that a sense of objectivity is one of the common characteristics of all mystical experience. But “sense of objectivity” is in reality a very unsophisticated phrase, though it was a convenient one to use at a certain stage of thinking. The fact is that the mystic feels an intense and burning conviction that his experience is not a mere dream a something which is shut up entirely inside his own consciousness. He feels that it transcends his own petty personality, that it is vastly greater than himself, that it in some sense passes out beyond his individuality into the infinite. This he expresses for lack of better words by saying that it is “real,” that it is the “true and only reality,” and so on. It is natural o pass on from this to saying that it “exists” outside himself, that it is objective, etc.
[ST 148] We all, mystics and nonmystics alike, have been conditioned to regard the distinction between subjective and objective as absolute in such a way that any third alternative is excluded. Hence the mystic, who feels that he has been in touch with what is outside and beyond himself, is likely enough to express this by using phrases which imply that the universal self is an objective reality. I am here maintaining that, although the mystic may be justified in his belief in a transcendent and universal self, yet there is a certain error in his way of speaking if he maintains that it has an objective existence. We must for the present rest content with the conclusion that its status is transsubjective.
[ST 149] There is a line of reasoning which, so far as I know, no mystic or anyone else has ever urged or even been conscious of, but which, on the condition that we accept its premise, decisively supports the view of the mystic [of the “objectivity” of the experience] against that of the sceptic. The premise of the argument is that the mystic has in fact eliminated all the empirical contents of his consciousness and is left with the pure consciousness which is his own individual pure ego. This premise does not go beyond his own subjectivity. But once this is admitted, we shall find that it is logically impossible to stop here and that we are compelled to postulate that the pure individual ego is in reality not merely individual but is universal and cosmic.
[ST 151] ... minds are distinguished from one another by their empirical contents and by nothing else. It follows that if A and B have suppressed within themselves all empirical contents then there is left nothing whatever which can distinguish them and make them two; and if A and B have thereby reached the mystical consciousness of their pure egos, then there is nothing to distinguish them or make them two pure egos.
If we make use of the philosopher’s distinction between the pure ego and the empirical ego, then what follows from this argument is that there exists a multiplicity of empirical egos in the universe, but that there can only be one pure ego. Hence the mystic who has reached what seems at first to be his own private pure ego has in fact reached the pure ego of the universe, the pure cosmic ego.
This explains and agrees with the experience of self-transcendence which the mystic always reports. Bot the experience and the wholly independent speculative reasoning of the philosopher just outlined converge on the same conclusion and support each other.
[ST 200] How can that which cannot be said to exist or be objective be the source or first cause of all that does exist? .. we are told that those who have the experience of undifferentiated unity can perceive it differentiating itself while yet remaining undifferentiated (Suzuki), or can perceive the creative energies of the universe “welling out from the Silence” (Aurobindo), etc. This, as Suzuki suggests, is to perceive the eternal process of the creation of the world out of nothing, or, to put the same idea in reverse, to perceive that Unity which is neither objective nor existent nevertheless being “the first cause” of the objective and existent.

[ST 208] Pantheism in the widest sense is a theory about the relation of God to the world as a whole. There is a narrower usage of the word common in the literature of Christian mysticism according to which it refers to the relation between God and a particular part of the world, namely the individual self of the mystic when in a state of “union.” Does mystical union with God mean identity with God at least during the period of the union? Or do God and the soul remain distinct entities? The opinion that they become, or are, identical is what Christian writers call pantheism and is the “heresy” of which Christian mystics have been from time to time accused.
[ST 212] According to the definition which I propose, pantheism is the philosophy which asserts together both of the two following propositions, namely:
1. The world is identical with God.
2. The world is distinct from, that is to say, not identical with God.
[ST 212] We may, if we like, say that what is involved here in the pantheistic paradox, and indeed in all mystical paradoxes, is the idea of what has been called [by Hegel] “the identity of opposites” or “identity in difference.”
[ST 213] [example] [By Sankara] ... Brahman is represented as the sole reality. That Brahman is “One without a second” means that there exists no other reality. The empirical world is an illusion which disappears in the reality of Brahman. We need nor comment on the obvious difficulties of any such view. The point is that on this view, maya, the world illusion, cannot be outside Brahman, since nothing except Brahman exists.
[ST 214] But if Brahman and the world are identical, they are also different.
The difference may be tabulated as follows:

Brahman Is: The World Is:
1. Reality
2. Pure unity
3. Relationless
4. Infinite
5. Outside space and time
6. Motionless, unchanging
Illusion, or appearance
The sphere of relations
The sphere of finitude
In space and time
Perpetual flux

Thus the pantheistic paradox is plainly present in the Vedanta.
[ST 219] Dualism is the view that the relation between God and the world, including the relation between God and the individual self when in a state of union, is a relation of pure otherness or difference with no identity. Monism is the view that the relation is pure identity with no difference. Pantheism is the view that it is identity in difference.
[ST 219] Although the Christian mystics themselves can generally be quoted in their most decisive passages on the side of dualism, it remains a question whether this would have been their view if they were not overborne and subjected to threats by the theologians and the ecclesiastical authorities of the Church. [my criticism: But many Indian mystics past and present are dualists (e.g. the bhakti movement) without threats from any authority. Therefore, perhaps:] [ST 234] Partly perhaps they are troubled by a genuine philosophical difficulty. They do not understand the pantheistic paradox with its notion of identity in difference. Instinctively (and rightly) feeling that the pure identity cannot be the truth, they turn from it and embrace pure difference.
[ST 232] ... the dualistic interpretation is contrary to the whole spirit of mystical utterances wherever found. The mystical consciousness when projected down onto the logical plane of the intellect involves three things, viz.: (1) that there are no distinctions in the One; (2) that there is no distinction between object and object, e.g., between the blades of grass and stone, and (3) that there is no distinction between subject and object. This is plainly the fully developed and completed mystical attitude, and if any of these propositions is denied, what we shall have is a diminished, stunted, or underdeveloped mysticism. Dualism is such an undeveloped mysticism.
[ST 237] The theory that God and the world are identical [monism] may take two forms, one of which amounts to atheism, the other to acosmism. If it means that nothing exists apart from the sum-total of finite objects suns, start, trees, rocks, animals, individual selves and that God is merely another name for this collection of finite objects, then it is atheism.
[ST 237] The acosmic form of monism will have to say that the world of finite things as separate from God does not exist at all. ... it is the substance of Sankara’s advaita Vedantism. But it is not difficult to show that the theory, in whatever form it is held, must necessarily land its holder in nonsense. The crucial question to ask is, how does the theory explain the appearance of the multiplicity of finite objects? [ST 238] It has to explain them as due to “ignorance” [maya] or to “false imaginings” or to “illusion.”
[ST 238] The refutation of all such views must begin by applying Descartes’s principle “I think therefore I am.” We need not follow Descartes in supposing that this proposition establishes the existence of a permanently existing mental substance. But at least it proved that “I” exist, even if “I” only means a momentary consciousness or a momentary empirical ego. If, then, anyone says that my belief that the finite world exists is due to my illusion, or ignorance, or false imagining, we must ask the Cartesian question, How can I have illusions or ignorant ideas if I do not exist? Therefore at least one finite being, namely myself, exists. Or we may put it in another way. The world is an illusion. Whose illusion? Mine? Then I must exist to have the illusion. But perhaps I am an illusion in the mind of some other individual. Then that other individual must exist, unless he is an illusion in the mind of a third individual. Thus we get a vicious regress.
But there are two other alternatives, both to be found in Indian literature, which may avoid the particular absurdities just mentioned. It may be held that the finite world is an illusion or false imagining which has its seat, not in the minds of finite individuals, but in the mind of God. But this view leads to a self-contradiction, though not to the infinite regress in which the previous version of monism ended. For it introduces the multiplicity of the world into God, into the pure One which is beyond all multiplicity. If the appearances of houses and trees and stars are somehow appearances or illusions in God, they constitute a multiplicity of illusions, if not of realities. To call them illusions is apparently only to apply a derogatory word to them. The illusions still exist as illusions.
[ST 239] There is still another alternative which has been put forward by some Indian philosophers. This theory holds that the “ignorance” which is responsible for the world illusion is an impersonal cosmic principle, part of the world, and not a state of mind, human or divine. But in the first place, this only appears meaningful as a result of a misuse of words. The words “ignorance,” “illusion,” and “imagination” necessarily refer to subjective states of some mind finite or infinite. To say that it is just ignorance, without being the ignorance of any conscious being, is to use words which have no meaning.
[ST 239] But apart from this, suppose we are allowed to say that ignorance is a principle or characteristic of the cosmos and not of any mind, [ST 240] human, or divine, or animal. This can only mean that ignorance exists in the world of rocks and rivers and trees and stars. We may put the same thing in Hindu terms. If the ignorance is not in Brahman, it must be in the finite manifestations of Brahman, i.e., the world. But in order to be ignorant, these things the rocks, rivers, stones, and trees must exist, which contradicts the theory which the supposition was introduced to support.
[ST 243] Are there ... not merely pantheistic interpretations based upon their experiences, but actual pantheistic experiences? By a pantheistic experience I mean an experience of identity in difference between God and the world, or God and the soul.
[ST 244] I will quote here a passage from Eckhart ... He asks what happens to the soul which “has lost her proper self in the unity of the Divine nature.” The word “proper” here is used in the sense of “peculiar to oneself,” or “individual”; so that “proper self” means the self as a separate individual. [] Eckhart writes:
Does she find herself or not? ... God has left her one little point from which to get back to herself ... and know herself creature.
[] ... it is evident that the “one little point” is the point in which the “I” still remains its individual self even when “lost” in the Divine Unity.
[ST 246] There seem to be three main causes for the theistic distrust of pantheism. First, theism stresses the notion of a personal God, whereas pantheism seems to Western thinkers to tend to an impersonal Absolute. It is of the essence of Christian worship and the same, of course, is true of Judaism and Islam [and Hinduism] that the worshipper addresses himself in prayer to God, and that he asks for forgiveness, help, and grace. [in my opinion, this is magic; thus magic opposes pantheism] But can he pray to the world, or ask forgiveness and grace from the Absolute? Second, the objection is made that if, as pantheism alleges, the world with all that exists in it is divine, then the evil in it is divine too. Or, in an alternative version of the objection, if God is beyond all distinctions, then he must be beyond good and evil. In either case, moral distinctions seem to be blurred or regarded as illusory. Third, there is the feeling ... of the “awfulness” of God. [] Man is as nothing before God, as dust and ashes. He is a sinful being, estranged from God, who in his natural and unredeemed state is fit only to “flee away before the face of the Lord.” This being so, it is preposterous, indeed blasphemous that he should claim union, in the sense of identity, with God.

[ST 266] How, it may still be asked, can we conduct a logical discussion of professed illogical and contradictory material, whether it be the paradoxes of mysticism or of Zeno? The answer seems to the present writer to be that each side of a paradox may be, if considered by itself, a logical and rational proposition. It will be capable of logical analysis and examination. It will also be possible to draw out from it any possible implications or entailments which are wrapped up in it. Both sides of the paradox can be taken up in turn and treated in this way. Of course we shall never by this procedure get away from paradox. [] But if the conclusion which we have to draw in the end is that some human experiences ... are actually paradoxical and that logicality therefore is not part of the universal and final nature of the world, these seem to be intelligible and important truths which we ought to know. Moreover, this conclusion is itself a perfectly logical and rational one.
[ST 267] But some logician or some supposed expert in the theory of meaning will say that whoever asserts “A is B and A is not B” is in fact saying nothing since the first halve of the statement is cancelled out by the second. [] Hence the compound sentence “A is B and A is not B” is meaningless or senseless. I entirely repudiate this charge as being based upon an elementary logical blunder ... The blunder consists in confusing questions of truth with questions of meaning. The correct doctrine is that the laws of logic are concerned with truth and have nothing whatsoever to do with meaning. What the law of contradiction asserts is that two propositions which contradict each other cannot both be simultaneously true. One must be true, the other false. Hence if we say “A is B and A is not B,” one of the two parts of this sentence will be true, the other false. Hence, in that area to which the laws of logic apply the compound sentence “A is B and A is not B” is false. This conclusion refutes the view that the compound sentence is senseless in the technical sense of being meaningless. For to be meaningless means to be either true or false. Hence if the compound sentence is false, it is ipso facto shown to be meaningful.
Moreover, if “A is B” is a meaningful statement, and “A is not B” is also meaningful, it is impossible that the connective “and” placed between them should render the conjunction of the two meaningful statements meaningless.
[ST 267] Thus the paradox asserts two factual statements. It says two things and therefore it cannot be said to “say nothing.” We must not be misled by the metaphors of “cancelling’ and “taking back.” The utterer of the paradox does not take back the first half. He continues to assert it along with the second.
[ST 270] What the paradoxes show is that, although the laws of logic are the laws of our everyday consciousness and experience, they have no application to mystical experience.
[ST 272] But although there is no clash between logic and mystical paradox, each occupying its own territory, yet the discovery that there is an area of experience to which logic does not apply has revolutionary implications for the theory of the status and foundations of logic, and therefore of mathematics also.
[ST 272] But the paradoxes do constitute a threat to certain views held by contemporary philosophers about the nature of logic. [] It is for example a popular dogma among contemporary philosophers that no experience could ever conceivably contravene the laws of logic, and that these laws would be valid for any possible experience in any possible realm or world. It is this dogma which is now shown to be in error.
If we abandon it, several other common views about logic will have to be given up. For instance, we are told that the laws of logic “say nothing” or “tells us nothing about the world.” Connected with this is the view that the laws of logic are only verbalisms or linguistic rules. But the existence of a nonlogical kind of experience [ST 273] forces us to give up these notions and to say rather that logical principles do tell us something about the world of our everyday experience because they are ways of expressing the nature of multiplicity the nature of common experience as distinguished from mystical experience.
[ST 297] Mystical experience, during the experience, is wholly unconceptualizable and therefore wholly unspeakable. This must be so. [] We cannot, for example, at that time class it and speak of it as “undifferentiated,” for this is to classify it as distinct from what is differentiated. We cannot speak of it as “unity’ or the “One” because to do so is to distinguish it from multiplicity.
But afterwards when the experience is remembered the matter is quite different. For we are then in our ordinary sensory-intellectual consciousness. We can contrast the two kinds of consciousness.
[ST 298] But this is plainly not the whole story. ... mystics do in fact find great difficulty in describing even a remembered experience and still tend to say that it is ineffable.
[ST 305] The language which he finds himself compelled to use is, when at its best, the literal truth about his experience, but it is contradictory. This is the root of his feeling of embarrassment with language. And he is embarrassed because he is, like other people, a logically minded man in his nonmystical moments.
[ST 327] It may be taken as a fact that love and compassion are feelings which are parts of, or necessary and immediate accompaniments of, mystical experience; and that from this source love can flow into the hearts of men and so come to govern their actions. But this is not in itself enough to establish the mystical theory of ethics. For that theory requires it to be shown not only that love flows from the mystical consciousness but that that consciousness is the only source from which love flows into the world. If mysticism is to be the basis of ethics, then the sole fountain of love, which is the principle of ethics, must be in the mystical experience.
[ST 328] When a man loves his children or his friends, these feelings of affection seem to arise quite naturally in human beings including those who certainly are quite unaware of any mystical elements in their own natures. Moreover even animals feel love for their young and act altruistically towards them. And it is likely to be thought fantastic to attribute the feelings of a horse or a dog to mysticism! Yet this would not have appeared foolish to Plato. Important passages in his writing suggest that all appetition, all desire of any kind for anything, is for him a mystical phenomenon.In The Republic, speaking in this case no doubt only of human souls, he suggests that the Good, the summum bonum, is that which “every soul possesses as the end of all her actions, dimly divining its existence, but perplexed and unable to grasp its nature.” In The Symposium, putting the words in the mouth of Diotima, he asks: “what is the cause, Socrates, of love and the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds as well as beasts, in their desire of procreation are in agony when they take the infection of love? ... Why should animals have these feelings? [it is because] love is of the immortal ... the mortal nature seeking as far as possible to be everlasting and immortal, and this is attained only by generation because generation always leaves behind a new existence in place of the old.” The source of all appetition, whether in men or in animals, is the hunger for the Immortal, the Good, the One.
[ST 329] However fantastic these ideas may seem to the reader, the mystical theory of ethics is logically forced into the position of maintaining that all love (though not necessarily all kinds of appetition), whether in men or in animals, arises out of mystical experience either explicit or latent. The mystical theory can thus only maintain itself by supposing that mystical experience is latent in all living beings, but that in most men and in all animals it is profoundly submerged in the subconscious; and that it throws up influences above the threshold in the form of feelings of sympathy and love. To say that I love or sympathize with another living being is to say that I feel his feelings for instance that I suffer when he suffers or rejoice when he rejoices. The mystical theory will allege that this phenomenon is an incipient and partial breaking down of the barriers and partitions which separate the two individual selves; and if this breakdown were completed, it would lead to an actual identity of the “I” and the “he.” Love is thus a dim groping towards that disappearance of individuality in the Universal Self which is part of the essence of mysticism.
[ST 330] In Hindu thought the doctrine that the mystical consciousness is potential in all of us appears in the central theme of the Upanishads, namely, that the individual self [atma] is identical with the Universal Self [the Brahman]. It is not that in the enlightenment experience we become identical with Brahman. We are now, and have always been, identical with Brahman. But our ordinary sensory-intellectual consciousness does not realize this identity. What happens in the enlightenment experience is that we cease to be deceived by the illusion of separateness.

For comments: Dolf Hartsuiker