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 A CRITIQUE ON MYSTICISM

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PostSubject: A CRITIQUE ON MYSTICISM   Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:32 pm

NOTE;

this is a personal-philosophical reflection on the articles of St. Teresa of Avila; a mystic.


Since I was born I had never encountered any mystical experience and the mystics themselves do not have any charm on me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I belong to the class whom William James had named as the outsiders from the mystical states but I also agree with him that as thinkers we must not set aside the mystical experience although they do not hold any authority over us.

Like my classmates, I was tasked to make my own personal-philosophical reflections on the articles of St. Teresa of
Avilaand William James. Articles that I had read more than five times but still cannot grasp fully but anyhow I must do it because it was a memorandum for the subject philosophy of religion.


After reading and rereading the article of St. Teresa about religious experience and after realizing that I am not a mystic, a question came to my mind, “was the religious experience of St. Teresa for real or was it only that she believed so much, so strongly that she thought she was seeing Christ that she did saw him?” I admit I do not know the answer. But taking it to account that the experience had changed her personality towards good and that she claimed that her soul was changed towards being virtuous and strong, it made me realized that at least her experience was not diabolical, otherwise we might had lost a very religious person and with that I felt relieved.


Another realization I made was that man was indeed merely a dust in the presence of the all glorious Christ the Lord that even the saintly Teresa must need to perceive the Lord in a graduated manner if indeed her accounts were true and not merely an imagined one.


At first she was not able to see him with the eyes of the body as well as with the eyes of her soul but she was certain that it was indeed Him because of the internal illumination that she felt. It must then be taken into account that it was St. Teresa who gave the three areas of certitude for the religious experience by claiming that through the eyes of the body, through the eyes of the soul and with the internal illumination, one will be certain that the religious experience was true.


These were the areas that she experienced in a graduated manner that lead her to be resolved on the veracity of her experience. I can only hope that someday, somehow I might also feel the same way but fortunately or unfortunately I am not a mystic and I do not see myself as one, not now, not ever.


At this time, I had already read St. Teresa’s article so many times that my eyes voluntarily close but still I cannot comprehend. Perhaps I will never be simply because reason cannot grasp fully the mystical states. But there was one thing that had caught my attention and that was the fruition of the mystical states to the life of St. Teresa of Jesus. It made her a better person, to the saint that she was. And what could better eradicate all doubts regarding an unsure situation that the result of it.

The religious experience made her a better person, that her soul was changed; she was turned from wickedness to sainthood. Such change that was clearly seen from her made me have my final realization. That she was a mystic, that in her own rights she experienced the majestic presence of Christ our lord in a graduated manner, first just through being conscious of Him, then seeing Him through the eyes of her soul, sometimes His hands, sometimes His majestic face and finally in his whole divine humanity.

All the while changing her personhood and influencing others until she attained a personality that we all know that she is a saint. The fruition of her religious experience made me agree to the veracity of her experience, at least I felt it so and indeed what can be more blissful than to be able to see the divinity of our Lord? Nothing can surpass it that can lead only to the visionary’s change of personality.

Another article which had contributed to the aching of my eyes and had tired my mind was that of William James’ “Religious Experience as the Root of Religion”. In which I poured in the same vigor that I had poured in reading the article of St. Teresa but just the same, I could not also fully understand.

I agree with William James that feeling is the deeper source of religion. Well, feeling is the source of everything in this world. Feeling is the beginning of love, of joy and of every single emotion, even of hatred hence it is also the beginning of philosophical and theological inquiries. We will not have anything with out at first feeling it. Even

St.Thomas Aquinas had said that there is nothing in the mind that has not pass through the senses. Feeling is the beginning. I am talking here of religious feeling and I was made to believe that religion has its roots in feeling, that it is beyond reason and faith themselves and at this very moment, I tried to simulate feeling’s vastness but my mind cannot simply fathom. It is so simple and so deep. That this "feeling" is the root of religionis indubitable. But feeling does not stop in just being the root. Indeed before there was anything in this world, there was feeling; perhaps God may have felt the necessity for the creation. But feeling alone is not enough, it is too private and dumb. One cannot even win in a case in the court by just merely saying “I felt it so”. Religion may not survive by just depending on feeling. Hence, it gave birth to philosophy and theology to depend her from attackers. Every philosopher had poured all their minds in order to establish the truthfulness or religion just because they had felt the necessity for it. But we all know that reason is not enough because there are things in this world that cannot be explained and yet we must necessarily believe. Hence, we had the theologians who had interpreted to us the matters of faith. They did so because they had felt the necessity for it. Thus, we find that feeling is the root, the guiding principle of religion. It is something that goes beyond faith and reason. Through it we had felt that God is so near that he is just a prayer away. In this case feeling too may also be the fruit of religion.


f there is something that I had at least understand about the article was that of William James’ four marks of mystical states. According to him, an experience is said to be mystical if it is ineffable or that which cannot be expressed fully in words because it defies expression; if it has noetic quality or that which possesses state of knowledge; if it is transient and if it makes the owner of the said experience do something that he cannot normally do as if somebody is controlling his or her body.


Recalling the case of St. Teresa, if we apply the four marks of mystic states according to William James, we can easily notice that three of the four marks are readily applicable to her case. Then perhaps her mystic experience was indeed true and I am glad of it but still I cannot help but to feel an outsider to mysticism.


But what if I am not a complete outsider to it? William James speaks of the steps to the mystical ladder, of the sudden feeling of “having-been-here-before”. I admit that I had experienced it a lot. Many times did I found myself in a seemingly familiar place, familiar situation, familiar faces and actions that I had wondered if I had just dreamt about it. “Déjà vu” as what it was commonly known. It always fascinates me for I find it funny, something weird and absurd. Until now, I had subscribed to what the experts say about it, that it was familiar because it had already happened in my dreams. But here comes William James saying that dreamy states such as these were aspects of a peculiar power of awakening mystical mood. That this is the first step to the mystical ladder.

I guess I have to subscribe to the Vedanist claim that one may stumble into the superconscious sporadically without any kind of discipline. And I have to calm myself that somehow these kind of consciousness is impure and I wish that it will be that way until my earthly life expires.


When I came across the Yoga discipline, the first picture that came to my mind was that of a monk in a lotus position, his calmness while uttering some prayers. The Yoga as what I had understood it was a spiritual union. And the Yogi never fails to fascinate me, with all those mind concentration, the seemingly impossible posture, the proper breathing, all with one goal; to unite himself with the absolute. But could it be that possible to unite the lowly man to the majestic God? Could it be that the only satisfaction that the Yogi only experiences was the only of the intellectual satisfaction which was wrongfully associated with the union with the Divine? I know that I am not in the position to question an age long discipline. But could it be really that the satisfaction of finishing a 1000-page book or after solving a very difficult math problem and that of the attainment of the Yogi belong to the same level of satisfaction? Belonging to that of the intellectual satisfaction.

Because there is this certain feeling of satisfaction that can be attain when one had finished a very difficult mathematical problem or after finishing a 1000-page book. This feeling is very soothing to the mind. On the other hand there was this certain feeling attained after perfecting the Yogi discipline. This feeling too was soothing to the mind. The only difference perhaps was that the former lasts only for a few moments while the latter can last a little longer. Besides, there was this certain chemical excreted by a certain gland located in the brain to sooth the body when it was stressed or stretched more than it could take. This natural chemical had the same effect like that of the downer drug. We must remember that the lotus position is a difficult position to attain and to maintain. Could it be that this certain chemical was excreted when the yogi is in this position? Could this explain the supposed to be mystical feeling experienced by the yogi? Maybe yes, maybe not but we could not exclude the possibility.

When William James talked about the mysticism in other religions, especially the oriented religions, I cannot help but to recall my Indian Philosophy class, The Yoga thing and the like, the methods to eradicate ignorance and achieve the truth whereby one is united with the absolute.

The Yoga, Samadhi Dyana and the science of the Sufis, were the mysticism of the oriental, they offer methods to attain super conscious state of, methods that I had tried to follow but had failed to achieve their end. However, my failure has not meant that the methods were erratic. Perhaps, I merely do not have the discipline that one must necessarily possess before one might achieve the end of this oriental mysticism. I have seen (at least in the picture) the Yogi and had noticed the calmness of their aura. Could it be that it is the same calm state stated by

St. Theresa in the Prayer of Quietness?

I do not know any single Sufi but William James had included it in his article and I was amazed how the Sufi people had managed to unite themselves with the absolute. It was one great meditation even though I can last only a couple of minutes or more before my mind begins to travel. I experience calmness whenever I meditated successfully. Could it be called absorption to God? I don’t really know but I hope it is not.

Another mystical experience that offers a method of achieving mystical state is orison which was practiced in the Christian Church. The practice of which includes detachment from other sensations, a graduated series of efforts to imagine holy scenes. The end of which has the semi-hallucinatory of seeing an imaginary figure if Christ. At this moment, I cannot help but to once again go back to the case of St. Theresa. Was she a practitioner of orison? I think that if she is not then she is close of being one. She always talked about the eyes of the soul one must go beyond the eyes of the body, a detachment from the outer senses. This is precisely the first method of orison.

St.Theresa who claimed that his union of Christ was in graduated manner, could it be that she made a graduated series of efforts to imagine some holy scenes? The result of which make her saw the Divine Hand, then the Divine Face and lastly the Divine Humanity all in a graduated manner. This is simply the method of orison. It follows two that since the end of orison was a hallucination and the Christ that she saw was imaginary? Or could it be that St. Theresa went beyond the method of orison and that she firmly believed that she was seeing Christ that she did saw Him and this caused the change of her personality? Then I might say that indeed St. Theresa was a mystic practitioner of orison that had attained higher level of mystical experience.

But no matter what I do, mystics and mysticism does not have any charm on me because I believe that mysticism had a person into 180ْ turn from the former personhood. It is something that I don’t want to do because like St. Thomas Aquinas who had said that “I wanted to change but not right now”, I too was not yet ready to change my life.

I acknowledge that mysticism then. Who wouldn’t? if one had seen the majestic Christ and talking the visionary on what to do, who would not beg? But still, since I had never experiences mysticism except those “have-been-here-before” moments that William James named one step forward to the mystical ladder. I would not accept the same authority over me because I am an outsider to it however, no matter what I do, I cannot disregard their experience and tagged as untrue.

There is one thing about mysticism that I cannot understand is that its simply being mystical, it is something that an outsider like me cannot upset even though the most powerful use of reasoning. After all, it ought to be mystical and reveled only to the few that actually experienced it.


It was my ardent and passionate desire to understand everything that was written in the articles of St. Teresa and William James but no matter how many times that I had read them, I realized that I only understood it only a little.
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