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Mystical Experience


Mike
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It seems to me, in the course of reading, that I've encountered basically two types of mysticism. One is a mysticism that is really very ordinary, meaning it is not rooted in any particular experience, or seeking or expecting any particular experience. The other is a mysticism that is very, for lack of a better word, extravagant. Now, setting aside the attempted synthetical explanation that the mundane is the sublime and vice-versa, which I would not disagree with, there does seem to me to be a genuine difference in the content or character of these two mysticisms. I think particularly of the really very ordinary, or earthy, teaching, like that of Zen master Dainin Katagiri, in contrast to the overtly esoteric spiritualism of a Kirpal Singh which was rooted in a yogic tradition, the specifics of which I am not very familiar. But reading both is like night and day, or day and night, in the former I find a very simple and immediate practice, but with the latter I am immediately hit with a mountain of otherworldly metaphysical pronouncements that I, and I must confess, have trouble making heads or tails of...and while I like to think I have an open mind - feel that it seeks to stretch my credulity too far.

 

Now obviously what I've said thus far betrays my preference, or which mysticism I find most useful to me, but I do not wish to belittle the 'second' type of mysticism either. These men and women tend to speak and write with great conviction about other planes of existence, perhaps even what is normally called the paranormal - out of body experiences, transcending the body into higher dimensions. Obviously I have never had such experiences, or I wouldn't be writing all this. I do not doubt that they have had such experiences, however the experiences themselves may be interpreted. But meditating - also known as 'sitting' - has been for me something so absolutely ordinary that that it could be anything else is rather foreign to my sensibilities. For, seeking some particular experience seems contrary to the whole point.

 

I'd be interested in seeing, of my friends here who are interested in mysticism, which of these two mysticisms they find more appealing, or if they think I'm mistaken in my dividing the two in the first place. What do you say?

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Hi Mike,

 

Being personally familiar experientially with both of the types you seem to have categorized by your words i have found the second you have mentioned to be a true detour that leads to what seems like a variety of endless experiences that in my experience strengthen the ego and identity with the illusions of ego or spiritual ego. All this only edifying the self and not providing the profound peace that is found in the first.

 

Just one man's experience concerning the perceptions received of your words.

 

Love in Christ,

Joseph

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Just feel a little ramble coming on..........so if you're not in the mood, please look away now.

 

Reaching down into the dustbin of my mind two little stories come to mind. One concerns a miracles worker who approaches the Buddhist sage and claims......"My miracles are greater than yours. Look at this." At which point he puts himself into the lotus position and proceeds to rise into the air, thence to swoop about for a while before coming back down to earth!

"No. No. My miracles are greater than that" says the Buddhist sage. "Bah!" says the miracle worker, "watch this!" At which he takes a twig and begins to swirl it in the air, as though writing. As he does so, on a rock face 100 yards away, the words appear on the rock! "No. No. My miracles are greater than that" says the Buddhist sage once again. "Then show me your miracles!" says the miracle worker. "My miracles are these" says the Sage, "when hungry I eat, when tired I sleep. When happy I laugh, when sad I cry."

 

The second is mercifully shorter, and concerns a guy who, reaching a river, walks across the water to meet the Buddha on the other side. "What do you think of that then?" he asks, "I've meditated and studied for thirty years to gain such power". The Buddha says...."What a waste of time, the ferry boat only costs a penny!"

 

Anyway, Mike, hope you have caught the subtle implications of these stories. The Theravada texts, purporting to be the historical word of the Buddha, imply more often than not that the "marvelous and miraculous" may well rear their head when on the path to deliverance, but are merely by-products and are not to be pursued for their own sake. A standard text from the Majjhima Nikaya CH 29 V 7 states.....So this holy life does not have gain, honour, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of virtue for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakeable deliverance of mind that is the goal of this holy life, its heartwood, and its end.

 

I'm unable to testify from personal experience as to both kinds. The last time I tried walking on water I just got a good soaking, but I have done simple "watching the breath" meditation for a number of years. At first I just felt like a self-conscious twit sitting on a chair - unable to manage the lotus position (at least, not when meditating!) - but eventually it did bring benefit. First I think it tends to slow the mind down - not in actual fact, but apparently. I was able to catch processes that had maybe passed by too quickly before. Like seeing the instant reaction to finding a slow/old person getting in my way, the instant desire to literally kick them aside in frustration........before the "real" me kicked in with its "compassion" and "concern" for their welfare. Second, I think it is the constant and repetitive stream of waffle flying through our minds that helps construct the sense of "self" as solid and "real". Just the very simple fact of habitually returning to the breath, of coming back to the moment, and breaking the chain of on-going thought, has the result of bringing about what I can only call a lighter sense of "being". The Buddha did say that simple breathing meditation did lead on to the "highest".

 

For a couple of years now, seeing some of the traps within "techniques" of any kind, I have dropped any form of meditation. for better or worse. Opening, I trust, to "grace", beyond calculation. All part of the egalitarian way of the Pure Land, intended for lay life and not the monastic community. "No working is true working". And as it is all about "letting go" and "trust", I'm not delving too deep into whether its working, so will remain silent on that one. I have no real idea, except sometimes to be "surprised by joy."

 

Faith does not arise

Within oneself.

The Entrusting Heart is itself

Given by the Other Power (Rennyo)

 

Its the "easy path"....yet few their be who walk it

 

All the best

Derek

Edited by tariki
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Mike,

 

I think that mysticism is often mistakenly associated with dramatic special effects, or strange psychic phenomena like levitation, stigmata. etc.

What appeals to me about mysticism is the blending of the mundane and the sublime - “the exquisite ache of living between two worlds” -- and the fact that mystics of all major faiths have more in common than different branches of the same religion.

The British mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote a lot on combining the practical and spiritual in daily life and work. She defined mystics as having a consecrated personality. “Contemplation and action are not opposites, but two interdependent forms of a life that is one.” God calls some people to activity, others to intellect and study; and the mystic to a direct, immediate experience of God’s presence.

 

There have been times in my life, not many, where an event, coincidence or connection spoke to me in a way that changed my sense of direction or purpose. I’m still pondering the significance of a couple of them.

 

Catherine of Siena - “Christian contemplation faces us toward our suffering world in loving service and just action.”

 

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science…This knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religion.” --Albert Einstein

 

“Mysticism is a way of living that makes this consciousness of God’s presence the shaping context, the compelling energy of our lives.” --John Kirvan, God Hunger

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I appreciate everyone's responses. I am finding a definite consensus here that perhaps what I've identified as the 'second' kind of mysticism really is 'second', as in 'secondary.' I have often read that mysticism's virtue must really be in its simplicity, directness, mindfulness. And, having extraordinary esoteric experiences is not the point or goal. It is precisely the wrong approach to have a point or goal that stands over against the practice in and of itself. The desire for experience, or to reiterate an experience, can become an obsession of the ego, and is an expression of ego-effort, ego-centeredness, as Joseph has pointed out.

 

Tariki mentions dropping meditation. I think this may be for better depending on one's disposition about the matter. I think when people, at least Western people, normally think of meditation they tend to envision an esoteric, overtly spiritual discipline reserved for people only with peculiar mental fortitude. But when you actually practice it - for any length of time at all - one cannot fend off the growing suspicion that one is, well, just sitting there. This can either be a beautiful thing or a discouraging thing (or both), depending on one's expectations, or the lack thereof. It is a struggle; it is a challenge to open oneself up and enter into life directly, without mediation, with no other point than to be fully alive, aware, mindful. It is at once a means and an end, and therefore in this simplicity one is truly free from the fetters of karma, you might say.

 

But if traditional meditation is simply sitting, then there's no reason why all of life cannot itself be a practice, an opening up to the grace that permeates the dynamic of our very being.

 

As for the 'secondary' mysticism, my philosophical curiosity sometimes gets the best of me and I become interested in what these reported experiences are like and what they might mean. But speculating about it is no good either, because only a firsthand experience really gives one an insight into the nature of the experience.

 

Anyway, more thoughts are welcome if anyone is thusly moved. If anyone disagrees with me that is welcome too, I won't be offended.

 

Peace to you (all),

Mike

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I would hesitate to call ecstaticmysticism “secondary” to ordinary mysticism. Yes, there is adanger of feeding the ego with the fruit of “specialness” becauseone has an experience others don't. But so too is there the dangerof feeding the ego with the fruit of “specialness” because onedoesn't need such a crutch or such a fantastic imagination to bespiritual. Both have their light and dark sides. Personally, I findboth to be empowering as well as threatening to my own personalgrowth, depending on the day, the weather, and/or what I've had forbreakfast.

 

I believe that whatever practice leadsus to become better conduits of an other-centered, justice-oriented,and self-giving love should be our “primary” path. Whateverworks best today may need to take a backseat to what is to cometomorrow. And then it may move back to the forefront on Wednesday, right after lunch.

 

 

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Hi XA,

 

I can understand what you're saying with no disagreement. The ego can and will latch onto anything to claim as its own. The danger is always present. For my own life it seems like my ego is more likely to crave extraordinary experiences. The ordinary pattern of things (and precisely because they are patterned) tend to get boring, and when that happens we're lulled into a dull passivity. To my understanding, perhaps if one has an extra-ordinary experience, it is best to let it go and not claim it as one's own. By all observation, such experiences seem to be spontaneous. On the other hand, the ordinary is, if nothing else, reliable.

 

What I gain from your concluding thoughts that we need to take each moment as it comes, whatever experience the moment brings is sufficient unto the moment. I agree, and appreciate you pointing out that whatever works today may not be what tomorrow calls for. We must remain open always to life, whether extraordinary or ordinary, and that to me is authentically mystical.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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A mystical experience, if genuine, is produced by a cross section of complex processes some of which are conscious and some not. The ego, as such, is highly selective and directed at internal and external "objects". Viewed in this fashion, the "ego" is neither good nor bad. In other words, there seems to be a great deal of confusion in our language when mental content and mental processes are are fused together as though they were one and the same thing. Another problem is encountered when emotion and cognition are thought to be different "things", they are a heterogeneous set of different processes. The same can be said for intuition. Some would divide emotion from reason as though they were at war with each other, but this does not accord with the facts. A person with blunted emotions will have a very difficult time with practical reasoning. Emotions exhibit intrinsic intentionality in that their formal objects are aspects of the world as received(at least initially).

 

If meditation is the search for clarity in ones mental processes, then the question is what processes are we concerned with and are they conscious processes associated with the ego or with consciousness itself? Are they unconscious processes that produce content directly accessible to consciousness? Or not? An so on ... If meditation is the search for content, the story is a bit different.

 

As for mystic experiences, the problems are similar. If the experience proceeds from the bottom up, from unconscious processes to conscious processes the ultimate content will tend to appear "natural" to the introvert and "foreign" to the extravert. If the content comes from the outside world it will appear "natural" to the extravert and "foreign" to the introvert.

 

Spontaneous mystical experiences tend to be assoicated with mental processes collected under the abstract concept of intuition undivided from emotion. In their primary functioning, emotion and intuition have a "bottom up" direction of fit to the ego, from unconscious to conscious. Once processed in consciousness, they are no longer what they were in their pure state.

 

All that really counts is what the experience means to the person at a cross section of processes in a particlar moment of time. Call it novelty and one aspect emerges. Call it creative, yet another, and so on ... In any case, calling it "this" or "that" IS what the ego does most reliably.

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I feel we all use different modes of expression to form an authentic experience behind our material world, and I feel they are all legitimate. For me the mystical experience is similar to my breath when I breath in, the outside comes in and I am at one with it. When I breath out, I project myself outward and that is also an experience of unity outside myself, but the most profound is between the breaths when there is neither an inward or outward movement. That stillness that just being is at the end of both the inhale and exhale cycle. The mind is closely related to the breath so we take deep breaths to calm the mind before an important act. The various spiritual experiences transform mankind above materialism to a spiritual understanding and an experience with God. I feel people who don't believe in the word God also have this experience in their unity with all so people refer some of them as humanist because of their charity and compassion.

 

I have found that at times in my life I needed to be on the road witnessing the actions of my journey, and at other times I needed to be stationary on the side of the road watching and witnessing the people around me on their road or journey of life. Serving others, strict studying concepts to find truth, trying to change society, withdrawing to be alone, or just enjoying nature and art lead to a spiritual experience and progress. I encourage all experiences that are vital to spiritual understanding so that God will cease to be an object and become an actual experience.

 

As an old man with almost 62 years of experiences I an forgetting the different forms that I have identified with and I am identifying more with the soul that is formless. I feel I am becoming the soul with a body where before I was a body with a soul.

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I feel we all use different modes of expression to form an authentic experience behind our material world, and I feel they are all legitimate. For me the mystical experience is similar to my breath when I breath in, the outside comes in and I am at one with it. When I breath out, I project myself outward and that is also an experience of unity outside myself, but the most profound is between the breaths when there is neither an inward or outward movement. That stillness that just being is at the end of both the inhale and exhale cycle. The mind is closely related to the breath so we take deep breaths to calm the mind before an important act. The various spiritual experiences transform mankind above materialism to a spiritual understanding and an experience with God. I feel people who don't believe in the word God also have this experience in their unity with all so people refer some of them as humanist because of their charity and compassion.

 

I have found that at times in my life I needed to be on the road witnessing the actions of my journey, and at other times I needed to be stationary on the side of the road watching and witnessing the people around me on their road or journey of life. Serving others, strict studying concepts to find truth, trying to change society, withdrawing to be alone, or just enjoying nature and art lead to a spiritual experience and progress. I encourage all experiences that are vital to spiritual understanding so that God will cease to be an object and become an actual experience.

 

As an old man with almost 62 years of experiences I an forgetting the different forms that I have identified with and I am identifying more with the soul that is formless. I feel I am becoming the soul with a body where before I was a body with a soul.

 

Thanks for sharing your insights Soma. I was waiting, and wondering if you were going to respond, and I wasn't disappointed.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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Mike, Thank you. Your reply means a lot to me. I can't put it into words, but I am glad someone else hears the inner sage. May you continue to enhance inner harmony and outer effectiveness. Your brother in Christ Soma

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Mike

To my understanding, perhaps if one has an extra-ordinary experience, it is best to let it go and not claim it as one's own. By all observation, such experiences seem to be spontaneous.

 

In reviewing my journaling about ecstatic experiences of the divine the accounts all ended with ". . .and I am exactly where God wants me." I find it difficult to let go of the experience - and have the "glow" affect my behavior positively. And ego is certainly attracted to the specialness of ecstasy.

 

Breathing in and breathing out is as you say "reliable". But so hard for me.

 

Dutch

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Mike

 

 

In reviewing my journaling about ecstatic experiences of the divine the accounts all ended with ". . .and I am exactly where God wants me." I find it difficult to let go of the experience - and have the "glow" affect my behavior positively. And ego is certainly attracted to the specialness of ecstasy.

 

Breathing in and breathing out is as you say "reliable". But so hard for me.

 

Dutch

 

Hi Dutch,

 

Very good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

 

Perhaps I sounded too dismissive of special or ecstatic experiences. I would not say they are of no value, as they tend to affect people very profoundly. It's just that to me it is important not to make our encounters with the divine synonymous with such experiences, and then by grasping after them make them an object which distracts us from where we are at now. I feel that perhaps if we can center ourselves in our prayers and breathing, we may find that the here and now is exactly where God wants us. I know this is very much easier said than done. I don't mean to preach because I'm just like anybody else. It's very hard to do, and I'm very easily distracted.

 

By 'letting go' I don't mean dismissing as if it were without value. Experiencing something wonderful, divine, sacred is very nourishing and I do not in any way wish to criticize that. I think more along the lines of 'this experience was not fundamentally "mine" to have or possess, to lay claim of'. 'Letting go' is in a way the same as 'letting in', it means not getting in our own way, not getting between yourself and God. I think of it more in Taoist terms which we've talked about - simplicity, spontaneity, mindfulness, allowing the ego-centered self to disappear into wholeness.

 

Wishing you peace and refreshment in the Spirit,

Mike

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Mike,

 

I didn't think you were dismissive. In quoting from my accounts I meant to emphasize how important "I" is and that there is a struggle between ego building and allowing oneself to be transformed.

 

perhaps if we can center ourselves in our prayers and breathing, we may find that the here and now is exactly where God wants us.

 

So I am told by several who care and so I try. :)

 

Dutch

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