James-Mysticism - f ””711—5— MyS/VC‘ISI)’...

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Unformatted text preview: f- _' ””711—5— MyS/VC‘ISI)’; Lectures XVI and XVII MYSTICI SM VER and over again in these le 1 ctures I h ‘ 0 points and left them open and unfinishedaiiiiitlilusvil'.Li and those broken threads wound , that personal reli- . centre in m stical st consclo - ' y ates 0f usness, so for us, who 11] these lectures are treating ps‘rfslonal CXPCI’ICHCC' as the exclusive subject of our stud states of consctousness ought to form the vital chaptcii’ from which the other cha ' ' _ pters get their 1: ht. W treatment of mystical states will shed moi: lighimcii1 cdai-Ift}: Fm of all, then, I ask, What does the cal states of consciousness” mean? Ho mystical states from other states? expression “mysti- w do We part off r some writers a “mystic" is 35 MYSTICISM 371 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 kefil‘ it useful by restricting it, I will do what I did in the c355 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 lecturCS- In this way we shall save verbal disputation, and the “3' criminations that generally go therewith. I. Ineflability.—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 adC' quate report of its contents can be given in words. It follow:5 from this that its quality must be directly experienced; '1 cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculial" ity 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 0" worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to knc!W the value of a symphony; one must have been in love 0116.5 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 treatment. 2. Noetic qualityr-Although so similar to states of feel— ing, mystical states seem to those who experience them [0 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 impor— tance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a roll: they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after- time. These two characters will entitle any state to be called mystical, in the sense in which I use the word. Two otht‘lr wiLti/I-J/fi J” - AME; . When: 7/5.: 0/: w K’EUG/ods' EXPEf/E 1" CC— 372 THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERlENCE qualities are less sharply marked, but are usually found. These are:v— 3. 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. Parriviry.—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 second- ary or alternative personality, such as prophetic speech, au- tomatic writing, or the mediumistic trance. When these lat« ter 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, stricrly snacalled, 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 divi— sions in this region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures. These four characteristics are suflicient 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. ...._...M._ ._ l MYSTICISM 373 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 based thereupon. 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 exagger— ated and degenerated kindred. The range of mystical ex— perience 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. 1 will begin, therefore, with phenomena which claim no special religious significance, and end with those of which the religious pretensions are extreme. The 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 fellowr monk,” said Luther, “one day repeated the words of the Creed: 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins,‘ I saw the Scrip- ture 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 para— dise thrown wide open." 1 This sense of deeper significance is not confined to rational propositions. Single words,2 and 1 Newman’s Serum: judimt orbit termmm is another instance. 2 “Mesopotamia" is the stock comic instance—An excellent old German lady, who had done some traveling in her day, used to de- scribe to me her Schmuck: that she might yet visit "Philadeiphia," whose wondrous name had always haunted her imagination. Of John Foster it is said that “single words (as chalcedony), or the names of aneient‘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 powerful emotion." Foster's Life, by Rump, New York, 1846, p. 3. 374 THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE 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 them. The 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 susceptibility. A 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 hav- ing “been here before,” as if at some indefinite past time, in just this place, with just these people, we were already say- ing 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.” 1 1 The Two Voices. In a letter to Mr. B. P. Blood, Tennyson reports of himself as followsw— “l have never had any revelations through anzsthetics, 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 r"- MYSTICISM 375 Sir James Crichton—Browne has given the technical name of “dreamy states" to these sudden invasions of vaguely reminiscent consciousness.1 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 occastonally precede epileptic attacks. I think that this learned alienist takes a rather absurdly alarmist view of an intrinstcally in— significant phenomenon. He 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 ap- pear admirable or dreadful according to the context by which we set it off. Somewhat 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 youthzr- ”When 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 some— 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 con- dition: uBy God Almighty! there is no delusmn 1n the matter!IIt is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, assoctated with absolute clearness of mind." Memoirs of Alfred Tennyson, 11. 47§IThe Lancet, Iulv 6 and 13, 1895, reprinted as the Cavendish Lec— ture, on Dreamy Mental States, London, Bailliere, 1395. They have been a good deal discussed of late by psychologists. See, for example, BERNARD-LEROY: L'Illusion dc Fausse Reconnaissance, Paris, 1898. Wigs-E _ 376 THE VARIETIES 0F RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE times. . . . Have you not felt that your real soul was imper- ceptible to your mental Vision, except in a few hallowed rno— ments?” 1 A much more extreme state of mystical consciousness is described by I. A. Symonds; and probably more persons than we suspect could give parallels to it from their own experience. "Suddenly,’l 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 pos- sesston of my mind and will, lasted what seemed an eternity, and disappeared in a series of rapid sensations which resembled the awakening from anzsthetic influence. One reason why I dis- liked this kind of trance was that I could not describe it to my- self. 'I cannot even now find words to render it intelligible. It consrsted in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous factors of experi— ence 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 acqulred intensity. At last nothing remained but a pure, abso- lute, 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 con- scious 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 grad— ual though rapid influx of familiar impressions and diurnal in- terests. At last I felt myself once more a human being; and _1 Charles Kingsley's Life, i. 55, quoted by Ines: Christian Mysti’ (ism, London, 1899, p. 341. MYSTICISM 377 though the riddle of what is meant by life remained unsolved, I was thankful for this return from the abysthhis deliverance from so awful an initiation into the mysteries of skepticism. “This 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 circum» stances 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—{he 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 fleshland- blood conventionality? Again, are men the factors of some dream, the dream-like unsubstantiality of which they compre- hend at such eventful moments? What would happen if the final stage of the trance were reached?” 1 In a recital like this there is certainly something sugges- tive of pathology.2 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 anxsthetics, 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 1H. F. Baowu: I. A. Symonds, :1 Biography, London, 1895, pp. 29—31, abridged. 2Crichton-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, how ever, a perfect monster of many-sided cerebral efficiency, and his critic gives no obieetive 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 mission. 378 THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE 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 con— certs 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 vouch- safed 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 conscious- ness, and our total opinion of it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole. Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical conscious- ness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This 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 revela- [10“. Some 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 re- mained unshaken. It is that our normal waking conscious- ness, 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 conscious- ness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, MYsrichM 379 and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, defi- nite 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 quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so diseontinuous 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 meta— physical 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 con— trasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the germs, and so soaks up and abrorbs 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 author— ity. 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 bear, let them hear; to me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.1 I just now spoke of friends who believe in the anesthetic revelation. For them too it is a monistic insight, in which the other in its various forms appears absorbed into the One- 1What 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, musthave come from the prominence in his consciousness of mystical moods like this, in most persons kept sub— liminal? The notion is thoroughly characteristic of the mystical level, and the Aufgabe of making it articulate was surely set to Hegel's in- tellect by mystical feeling. 380 THE VARIETIES 0F RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE _ “Into 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-l 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 i...
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