ENQUIRE THROUGH EASTERN AND WESTERN MYSTICISM
* WHY THE EAST DID NOT DEVELOP SCIENCE *
Armando Martins Janeira
Let us consider now another way of human experience and knowledge at the end of which we will find that Eastern and Western thought (even during the long period when between East and West were no contacts and both ignored each other) came to produce similar conclusions about some fundamental questions - mysticism.
To give definition of a mystic, Dionysus, a fifth century Palestinian monk, mysticism is “an intuitive experience or experimental sense of the divine”, “a cult of holiness, a way for questing for the world invisible”.
Goethe called mysticism “the scholastic of the heart, the dialectic of the feelings”. It was more completely defined by Lasson: “the essence of mysticism is the assertion of an intuition which transcends the temporary categories of the understanding, relying on speculative reason. Rationalism cannot conduct us to the essence of things; we therefore need intellectual vision”. This means that in the mystic state there is a release of latent powers, normal consciousness is extended and vision is widened. (1)
According to Bertrand Russell, mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about the universe”. Russell also believes that “there is an element of wisdom to be learned from the mystical way of feeling, which does not seem to be attainable in any other manner”. ( )
Mystical consciousness is regarded by some thinkers as an extension of rational consciousness resulting in an enlargement and refining of perception, and consequently having a noetic quality, so that through it knowledge of the “real” is gained which could not be gained through rational consciousness. The mysticism of knowledge and understanding, writes F. C. Happold, springs from the urge, inherent in man, to find the secret of the universe, to grasp the wholeness of the universe.
Mysticism comes, of course, from the practice of a certain religion, and to make a full analysis of mysticism we would be obliged to enter the vast and drifting field of comparative religion. For the purpose of our study, it will be enough to point out briefly the essential similarities and main differences among the great religions.
For a brief indication of a common ground, we may limit ourselves with this contention of Arnold Toynbee, in his Study of History, in relation to the fundamentals of Christianity. The story of Christ, writes Toynbee, is not the first story of a dying God. “Behind the figure of a dying demigod, there looms the great figure of a very god who dies for different worlds, under diverse names - for a Minoan world as Lagreus, for a Sumeric world as Tammur, for a Hittite world as Balder, for a Syriac world as Adonis, for a Shi’i world as Husayn, for a Christian world as Christ. Who is this god of many Epiphanies but only one Passion?”.
A similar wide projection in history has the great mythological archetype of the great mother and her divine son who is slain and rises again. These great mythological archetypes, another Christian writer affirms, are to be found in the religious insights of all ages in all parts of the globe (2) They rise, according to Jung, “out of a collective unconscious and express the most profound spiritual insights of the human race on its nature and destiny”.
The higher religions have been born out of encounters between civilizations: Judaism and Zoroastrianism, sprang from an encounter between the Syrian and Babylonian civilizations, Christianity and Islam sprang from an encounter between the Syrian and Greek civilizations; the Mahayana form of Buddhism and Hinduism sprang from an encounter between the Indian and Greek civilizations. (4)
The mutual influences between Buddhist and Christianity in early times have been often discussed. The geographic separation between the primitive focus of each of these religions and the remoteness in time make these approaches rather imprecise. It is significant though, that it is at the time of the first century of Christianity that Buddhism acquires a new concept - the concept of Bodhitsava, a man full of charity and forbearance, selfish-less, who is mostly concerned with the salvation of others, the salvation of the entire world and abandons its primitive ideal of the Arhat (Saint) preoccupied only with his selfish, personal nirvana.
When we consider human desires, we find a common fundamental approach in Eastern and Western religions. According to Saint Augustine, man is doomed to perpetual dissatisfaction because he is trying to satisfy an infinite need with finite sops.
In the Upanishad it is said that “desire is never satisfied by the enjoyment of the objects we desire, it grows more and more as does the fire to which fuel is added”. (3)
Rudolf Otto, in his book “Mysticism, East and West”, has made a long study about two of great representatives and interpreters of Eastern and Western mysticism, the German Meister Eckhardt and the Indian Acharya Sankara. In the similarities he finds in both, Prof. Otto sees the revelation of “likenesses in human soul, which transcend the barrier of nation, time, race and culture”. Expressions from their writings are “exactly or almost exactly equivalent”, “sentences would be taken unchanged” to correspond to the other’s thought. “More astonishing still, both mystics express themselves in a metaphysic which seems to be essentially “anthological”, essentially a speculation as to the nature of being, using methods which are startling alike, and a still similar terminology. ( )
This community of thought stressed by Christian Rudolf Otto is also noticed by Buddhist D.T. Suzuki in his book “Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist”, in which he writes that Meister Eckhardt “closely approached Buddhist thought, so closely indeed that one could stamp them almost definitely coming out of Buddhist speculations”.
Bolder religions writers are not content with analysing these common points between Christianity and Buddhism, they want to go as far as incorporating in one religion the ideas and practice of the other.
Aelred Graham, a former Benedictine monk, in a surprising book “Zen Catholicism - an enquiry into religious encounter of East and West with the suggestion that the two may meet at the spirit’s center” goes till the point of affirming: “Placed in the context of faith in God and our dependence on his Grace, the Zen insight may cleanse the Christian mind a little - cleanse it from an overburdening sense of guilt”. The author thinks that “the spirit of Zen may find a congenial dwelling place in Catholicism.”
These statements from a follower of a church so zealous of its unique truth as Catholicism, has certainly a far reaching meaning. And it is not the only example. In the conservative Jesuit quarters, Father Heinrich Dumoulin, specialized in the study of Zen Buddhism, does not consider impossible a priori to attempt to put the Zen technique at the service of Christian spirituality.
This eclecticism, is not so surprising to see in a Japanese Buddhist leader, though he goes much further: “Unless we adapt the spirit and techniques of Christianity, specifically of the Catholic Church, Japanese Buddhism may soon be a Thing of the Past”. “Buddhism is the rice and Christianity the vegetables. Modern Japan wants to eat of both and mix them to her taste”.
We have seen in the last Ecumenical Council in Rome how Catholic religion has broadened its views and is bringing some of its old practises and traditions up to the line of our time. Thus it is not so surprising that the priests of various religions begin to realize the similarities between principles and practices and to see that the idea of God and its manifestation by faith are not so essentially different in every man.
We should add that the field of mysticism, Eastern and Western, is the one that has been most widely covered, by a vast literature which tries to bring out the important points in common.
We can conclude here with this general affirmation of Rudolf Otto: “Whether the flower of mysticism blooms in India or in China, in Persia or on the Rhine and in Erfurt, its fruit is one. Whether it clothes itself in the delicate Persian verse of a Jelaleddin Rumi or in the beautiful Middle German of a Meister Eckhardt, in the scholarly Sanskrit of the Indian Sankara, or in the laconic riddles of the Sino-Japanese Zen school, their forms could always be exchanged one for the other. For one and the same experience speaks here, only by chance in varying dialects”.
In spite of this, conceptual differences which separate Buddhism and Christianity are fundamental.
Let us see which are these differences, according to the point of view of a Christian and of a Buddhist. A Protestant priest, Sidney Lewis Gulick, in his interesting book The East and the West points out as main differences between Christianity and Buddhism: The first believes that there is one God and that man is son of God and shares his divine nature; the second has no belief of God and every man must work out his own salvation. Buddhism is pessimist and negative, Christianity is optimist and positive. Christ never thought of himself as different from other men. He recognized his “greatness” due to his illumination; Jesus believed in God, his Father, creator of heaven and earth. ( )
For Suzuki, a Buddhist philosopher, the fundamental differences between Christianity and Buddhism are: the first has a transcendental God, and the second has a dynamical world where each thing is embraced by all the others, interfused with them, interpenetrated by them (Kegon world of Jiji Muge); “the one is apt to stress the dualistic aspect of existence while the other teaches the logic of self-identity; the one is more for social justice, individual liberty, communal welfare, moral responsibility etc., but the other, historically conditioned, shows an inclination towards solitariness, aloofness, a contemplative life, political indifference etc..” (8) The Japanese philosopher Okakura Kozuko points out another difference: “the broad expanse of love for the ultimate and Universal which is the common thought-inheritance of every Asiatic race, enabling them to produce all the great religions of the world”, distinguishes them “from those maritime people of the Mediterranean and Baltic, who have to dwell on the “Particular, and to search out the means, not the end, of life”. Buddhism does not want to invade nor to get hold of the universe, but to attain with it a point of absolute communion; it aims at breaking the feeling of human solitude of being separated from a universe to which man belongs, to which he will be again integrated.
This concept marks also the essential differences between East and West in the field of Art. Western Art is anthropocentric, it gives to the human figure a sacred value; the Christian painting of the Middle Ages and, still more, of the Renaissance, gives a dramatic expression to the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and to the long theory of figures and stories of the Old and New Testaments. Man is here glorified, he is the master of the landscape, the center of the Artist’s world. Classical Oriental Art is cosmocentric; man is subordinated to the surrounding world; landscape is a world of absolute beauty, of infinite mystery. The Eastern painter would not dare to analyse it, to master it, like his Western brother, because man is only an infinite part of that grandeur in which he will be dissolved.
It is hazardous to classify a doctrine according to the social atmosphere in which it developed. Christianity was certainly more optimist in its first centuries than in the Middle Ages, when a dark doom of pessimism and superstition permitted the development of the dance, macabre and grim practices of witchcraft. When we say that Christianity is characterised for its positiveness and progress and bent to individual liberty, we should not forget that Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei were burned by the Catholic Church. I think that we should stick to the field of principles and here we can briefly sum up the essential differences saying that Buddhism does not need the idea of God - Buddhism is not interested in the question of knowing who created the Universe; Buddhism does not admit the existence of an immortal soul - the supreme destiny of the soul is the liberation from the wheel of reincarnations, is to be dissolved, annihilated in Nirvana. While Christianity is individualistic, and considers man the measure of the Universe, the fundamental principle of Buddhism is the negation of the self. The seed of action of Western civilization, its dynamic impulse for progress, comes from before Christianity.
In Greek thought we find already the concept of a rational universe, presided by law and divine order, and the idea that man, by means of his reason and effort, could explore and understand this universe, interfere in its material phenomena and perhaps in its destiny.
This active Greek approach to reality was reinforced by the significance given to history in the Bible. Hebrew religion was absorbed in history, interested as it was in the objective world and human behaviour - God is the God of history. Buddhism, on the contrary, has no interest in history nor in what happens in the objective world - it turns inward and concentrates in the world of the self, formulating metaphysical doctrines, speculating on the occult. The world is an endless repetition, without a progress towards and an end; thus historical progress has no meaning and no value.
In spite of this, the study of the ethic contents of the great religions shows, as a Christian has asserted, that “the fundamental moral characteristic ascribed to Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism and the theistic faiths of India to the supreme objects of their respective faiths is frankly similar”. (9)
The real debate between Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity, lines not in the realm of moral ideas, but in the realm of sanctions or postulates underlying their moral teachings.
Let us now look at the similarities in the field of mystic experience.
There is a mystic experience in all great religions; such experience is considered a way of knowledge, as well as a way to a state of mind in which is attained a point of full communion with the universe, with God.
In mystical experience, writes C.E.M. Joad, man has achieved “the fullest knowledge of the world of value of which he is as yet capable”.
The mystic experience described in the writings of the main mystics of several religions show the same general pattern. Some writers point out here some differences, of the same nature of those noticed in the parallel between Western and Eastern religions. Albert Schweitzer wrote that oriental mysticism is “world and life negating” while Western mysticism is “world and life affirming”. Professor Rudolf Otto says that Christian mysticism flows out of the living God “who is a stream of glowing vitality, whereas oriental mysticism aims at a being “in eternal repose”. Notwithstanding these differences, Prof. Otto acknowledges that Western and Eastern mysticism are rather alike in many aspects.
The first experience common to all mystics is the experience of renunciation, detachment and self-mortification. Where this experience has been more complete, is in the practice of asceticism.
And here, again, wide as the differences may be, it is undeniable that we find in the life of Christian and Buddhist monks many things alike. There has been in certain period of Christianity a particular religious phenomenon which consisted in the rising, in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria, of communities of ascetics and monks. Their experience, which started during the fourth century, lighting innumerable hearts. These Fathers of the Desert run away from the society of men to live in solitude and religious contemplation. It is interesting to note that more or less at the same time, in China, in Ceylon, in Tibet, a similar phenomenon appears. In China there were 77 thousand monks in about the middle of the fifth century and, about one century later, this number increased to two million. In Ceylon, also in the middle of fifteenth century, there were fifty thousand monks and in Tibet one third of the male population lived in convents or hermitages. The severe monastic rules prescribed to the Buddhist monks to live in the forest, near a tree, under the open sky, and to live from alms. In its essence, Buddhism is a movement of monastic ascetics. (10) Buddha himself was just one of thousands of ascetics who were seeking the way to salvation.
The principles which teach to live in poverty detachment from the world, contemplation and prayer, are common to Christian and Buddhist monastic communities. This not only is the reason why mystic literature of both religions show so many common traces, but also explains why the attitudes and methods of teaching by the example show sometimes surprising similarities. The anchorites (from the Greek anachoresis, departure) of the deserts of Egypt, Palestine and Syria were called the athletes of exile; they lived in caves, as small as “hyenas holes”, and had to use constantly superhuman efforts to lift their souls above temptation and try to attain the high planes of sanctity. The scientific explanation of the reactions of body and psyche under the extraordinary conditions in which all anchorites live, will be probably the same whether they are Catholic or Buddhist. We could even say that their psychological reactions are not very different. If we consider some attitudes of those Christian anchorites, we find that they are surprisingly alike those, in similar conditions, we know of some Zen hermits.
We can mention, for instance, what did John the Small to the Roman Arsene, a rich noble who was the tutor of the children of the Emperor Theodore the Great. Arsene has decided to retire from the world and to become a disciple of John. John, who knew who Arsene was, did not receive him during a whole day, and at night threw him a piece of bread, which Arsene ate quickly with his hands on the soil. When the visitors were astonished to see him in this posture, John would say: “It is Arsene, the tutor of the Emperor’s children”. Similar examples of Zen masters who obliged their disciples to wait one or more days before they would say a word to them, are numerous. Christian and Buddhist anchorites preached through the example more than by words. Silence is the rule of the desert. Thus an anchorite called Zenon receives a disciple and spends two years with him in his company, in the same cell, without even asking him his name.
“A disciple came one day to call on Macarius, the Old, a Christian monk who lived in the desert: “Macarius, what shall I do to save my soul?”, asked the disciple. Macarius answered: “Go and insult the dead”. The disciple went to the cemetery, insulted the dead and came back to see Macarius again. “What have said the dead?” asked Macarius. - “They have said nothing”, retorted the disciple. Macarius told him then: “Go back to the cemetery and bless the dead”. The disciple went back to the cemetery, blessed the dead and came back to Macarius. “What have said the dead?”, asked Macarius. “They have said nothing”, answered the disciple. “Be like the dead, said Macarius, judge nobody and learn to be silent”. (11)
We can approach this apophthegm of the following Buddhist one: - One day, when Buddha was taking a rest under a tree in the woods there came a number of young men chasing after a woman who had stolen their possessions. One of them asked - Didn’t you see a woman here? Buddha asked in return - “Young men, which do you think is more important, to look for the woman or to look for yourselves?”
Not so rich in moral meaning, but also thought-provoking, there is a Zen anecdote which aims to stimulate similar super-rational reactions. “When a master was asked who Buddha was, he answered: ‘The cat climbs the post’; the disciple confessed his inability to grasp the meaning and the master said: ‘If you don’t, ask the post”. (12)
Wakuan complained when he saw a picture of a bearded Bodhidharma: “Why hasn’t the fellow a beard?” (13)
The importance of contemplation has been stressed by all religions, as a way to rise above all contradictions and separations made by the mind and attain a sense of unity where absolute rest lies. This state of being detached from physical conditions and servitudes of ordinary life, and soaring above them, is exemplified by several Christian anchorites: Saint Simon, the Stylite who stayed forty days closed up without eating, Saint Macarius, forty days bent in a whole, James of Nisibe praying in winter, immobile, buried under the snow without even noticing it.
Buddhist tradition can present a great number of similar cases. The revered Milarepa, the greatest poet of Tibet, was found in a cave closed by the snow during six months, after which he came out “with glad heart, sang and danced” with his disciples. (14)
Another fundamental religious experience shows, again, striking similarities of vision. It is known what a decisive role vision has played in the life of many Catholic Saints and devotees, like the simple peasant girls of Lourdes and Fatima, to mention only modern examples. Kukai, a Japanes noble born in the eighteenth century, after deep studies which left him more desperate and thirsty of truth, after wandering among mountains and forests, in many years of mental struggle, one day saw a vision of a Buddhist Saint - that is how he became a Buddhist.
The efforts one needs to impose to oneself to reach the mystic state, to get free from the chains of rationality and attain revelation, show similarity when we consider religions as different as Christianity and Buddhism. Here is a witnessing of a Japanese trying to reach illumination, satori, through the practice of Zen Buddhism. Exerting his strongest efforts he tells himself: “All this pain comes from meditation (zazen), and you can escape it if you wish. But if you were dying in the agony, you would be unable to escape suffering, so bear this pain in the same spirit and die if need be!”; he fought this torment with every once of his strength, he says, and, finally, he reached illumination. (15)
A Buddhist nun says also: “There is pain in the world, but nothing more painful than the exercise of Zen meditation”. This strong fight with all the strength of the self reminds us of the advice given by Santa Teresa d’Avila to her nuns: “Strive like strong men until you die in the attempt, for you are here for nothing else than to strive”. (16) A Catholic priest, who studied Zen, has arisen the question whether the Zen technique can be placed at the service of Christian spirituality. This attempt, writes Father Heinrich Dumoulin, could not be called impossible a priori, but it again would produce results different from historical Zen”. Techniques exist in Christian asceticism too, but they are subordinated in principle to the personal effort and the personal aim. And he acknowledges that in Zen practice exists an “amazingly frequent presence of the personal element”. It is true that when we read mystics of several religions about the techniques they used to reach a mystic state, we are surprised with how much these techniques look alike.
The German mystic of the seventeenth century, Jacob de Boehme advises in his Dialogues:
“Cease from thine own activity, fix thine eye upon one point (...) Gather in all the thoughts and by faith press into the center (...) Be silent before the Lord, sitting alone with Him in thy inmost and most hidden cell, thy inward being centrally united in itself, and attending his will in the patience of hope”.
Buddha and Lao Tse advise to look at a point at the end of the nose, to begin inner contemplation. This, in Buddhism is called the “center in the midst of conditions”; in Taoism is called the “yellow middle”. “When one thought comes, you must examine and pursue it both until where it begun and where it fades out. You cannot try to go beyond the point of origin of this thought because consciousness cannot penetrate into unconsciousness.” “Through this, your heart will be in rest and there is possible contemplation and, through it, to attain illumination”.
Harada-roshi, one of the great Japanese Zen masters of today, urges his disciples “to concentrate their mind’s eyes (i.e. the attention, the Summation point of all their total being) in their hara”, telling them: “you must realize that the center of the universe is the pit of your belly”. (17)
All religions teach that revelation will never come while a man is bound up by the chain of logical reasonableness; revelation is something supernatural and super-rational, altogether beyond the power of thinkability. Religious experience does not appeal to intellect, but to the deeper strata of personality. The last truth, all religions assert, is more easily attainable by simplicity of heart than by great knowledge. The intellect is unable to go beyond itself, and religious men proclaim that it should rise above itself, that the words are needed to transcend words. The self is considered the root of all evils, and every religious leader has preached against the limits of the self, as it erects an insurmountable barrier between God and man if he is a Christian, or, if he is a Buddhist, it leads him “towards laying up the stock of a demerit and strengthening all the time the hindrance of the karma”. (18) This fight against intellect is emphasized in Zen, a sect which claims to transmit the quintessence of Buddhism. Zen is against intellect, claiming that “its uniqueness is irrationality, or its absolutely passing beyond our logical comprehensibility”, as Zen greatest theoretician, Daisetz Suzuki, puts it, “What makes Zen unique in our spiritual experience, consists in its way of handling deep abstract subjects in a most concrete, natural, realistic way, without appealing to reasoning”. Suzuki blames Western mind for having over-intellectualized even religious concepts. “We are thoroughly saturated with intellectualization”, he complains.
Zen means meditation, and it aims, through meditation, to attain what Buddha himself attained - the emancipation of one’s mind. It offers a method of self searching, “to break the shell of one’s limited mind and attain second birth, satori, enlightenment”.
Even to express the wisdom, fruit of their experience, mystic writers use similar language, employing the via negativa:
Says Saint John of the Cross:
“In order to arrive at possessing everything, desire to
In order to arrive at being everything, desire to be
In order to arrive at knowing everything, desire to know
In the Kena-Upanishad:
“Who says that the spirit is not know, knows;
Who claims that he knows, knows nothing”.
The Tao Te Ching develops this same concept still further:
“Not knowing that one knows is best;
Thinking that one knows when one does not know is
Only when one becomes sick of this sickness can be
free from sickness;
The sage is never sick;
Because he is sick of this sickness, therefore he is
This concept is one particularly developed in Buddhism. Suzuki gives a new expression to it:
“Non-thinking means not to divide, that is to pass beyond all intellectualization, and the whole of Buddhist teaching revolves about this central idea of no-thought, or no-nothingness, or no-mindness, or achintya-prajna, showing that no spiritual truth could be grasped by rationalization”.
The universality of the mystic experience itself has often been stressed. “Though mystical theologies of the East and West differ widely, though the ideal of life which they hold out to the soul differs too, yet in the experience of the Saint, this conflict is seen to be transcended”. The German theologian Hermann wrote about the Christian mystics: “Whenever the religious feeling in them soars to its highest flights, then they are torn lose from Christ and float away in precisely the same realm with the non-Christian mystics of all ages”. (19)
When we read certain pages of Santa Teresa de Ávila or San Juan de la Cruz and approach them to some pages of Arabic mystics like the tenth century Al-Hallaj, a remarkable figure of early Sufism, and his disciple Al-Kalabadhi or, one century later, Al Ghazzali, we are bound to find not only ideas common among them but even common expressions of their fervorous religious exaltation. If we pass to Buddhist and Taoist mystics, there we will find the same love for solitude, a rigid-self imposed discipline, a contempt for the pleasures of the world, humility, a complete disdain for the body. These traces are certainly common, in various degrees, to Christian, Hindu, Moslem and Buddhist mystics. Taoist mysticism shows a particular character of moderation, it is more abstract, its aim was to “make one’s self equal to ether”, to “throw off the body”. The Taoist mysticism does not lead to rejection of the world, but to minimization of worldly action; it has a concept of sanity, basic for Lao-Tse, expressed by a scripture symbol which means humility. (20) We can see better the main characteristics of Taoist mysticism when we compare its mystics with Confucius, who, refusing the concept of sanctity, preached, as ideal, the cultivation and adaptation to the world and society. (21)
The various paths or degrees along which mystical experience approaches God or the oneness with the universe, show surprising similarities when we read of them in the mystical theology of the neoplatonist Dionysius, in the “Conference of the Birds”, by the Sufi Farid al-din Attar, or in Buddha’s first sermon on “Setting in Motion the Wheel of Law”.
Even in the inferior manifestations of mysticism, as the individuals possessed by evil and unclean spirits in the Biblical tradition, and individuals fox-possessed in Shinto belief, have been noticed to be similar. Reverend Gulick tells us that, when he visited a shrine where fox-possessed persons and their friends regularly gathered, the similarity of the phenomena he saw in this shrine “and those described by St. Mark were indeed striking”, the passage of the Gospel about the possessed by evil and unclean spirits, describing “their fits, foaming of mouth, grinding of the teeth, led to think that the demoniacal possession of the New Testament was just like Japanese fox-possession” (22)
The analysis of the mystical state has been made under the philosophical point of view as well as under the scientific or medical one. I am considering here mysticism as a type of experience, which is a way of knowledge, as concentration and meditation is the highest way to explore ideas and find truth. As such, it is interesting to see into mystical experience how the relations of man with the objective world can be modified.
If we analyse the greatest link between man and reality, time, we see, again, the same attitude in Eastern and Western mystics.
The passing of time has, since its very beginning, puzzled man. We know that the non-mystic concept of time in Europe and America is measured by the life of a man, it has a conscience of limitedness and urgency which is the origin of a prevailing feeling of anxiety, as it is responsible as well for the rapid development of science and the conquest of the material world. In Eastern countries, time is considered cyclically, the individual is dissolved in vastness of time, as he is dissolved in the universe.
Yet this difference does not exist in the mystics of East and West: the sense of timelessness is a common experience to all of them, inspired by their cosmic intuition. Together with this suppression of the sense of time, all mystics show the sense of suppressing all polar opposites, which are expressed in Chinese philosophy by Yang and Yin, that is light and dark, above and below, good and evil; the feeling of duality, even the duality of god and man, fades away. Though expressed in different ways, this can be seen in the writings of Hindu, Sufi mystics, Plotinus, and in the great Christian contemplatives.
The last experience of the mystic is the experience of union with God or of making one with the universe. This is the meaning of the assertion of Master Eckhardt: “the knower and the known are one”. “The eye with which I see God is the same as that with which he sees me”. “Since we find God in oneness, that oneness must be in him who is to find God”. “God and I, we are one in knowledge”. A Persian mystic, Jali, tells of the same experience: “I passed away in nothingness. I vanished, and so, I am the All-Living, only God I saw”. Tung-Shan Liang-Chieh, known in Japan as Tozan Ryokai, who lived in the ninth century China, wrote also:
“I am going alone this moment all by myself.
And wherever I may be, I meet him
He is no other than myself
I am not he now, however
I should be thus understood
For it is there that Suchness is fully testified”.
We can see in all these examples the dissatisfaction with the rational explanation of things and the belief in unknown capacities of man to reach ultimate truth. The anxious attitude of the believer enquiring into the unintelligible, the indefinite realm beyond the reality of sensible things, the obscure powers which he tries to employ and develop are not very different, though the object of belief may differ. Zen masters try to use, as a rule, the powers of irrationality, believing that through them they can reach a state where they suppress the self and become one with the whole universe. Saint Thomas d’Aquinas, in his Summa Teologica, says that human understanding can reach certain intelligible things, the knowledge of which can be attained by means of sensible objects; but human understanding cannot reach the highest intelligible things if it is not helped by the light of grace. The meaning of this is that union with God is only possible through the help of God’s grace. (27)
The spirit is always trying to go beyond all known limits, to go beyond itself. It is therefore important for any man to know the experience and spiritual adventure of others who dared to invade a world of obscure human powers, the nature and strength of which ordinary man completely ignores.
Mysticism as a way of knowledge, is a very controversial issue. But even agnostics should be interested in its manifestations, being, as it is, one of the most persistent spiritual activities through the ages and everywhere on earth. Without it any consideration of humanism would be incomplete. Though there is in mysticism a negative aspect, the sensation of absolute annihilation of the individual in which all mystics of all times so much delighted, together with a complete indifference toward other human beings in themselves (these do not lift the thought of the mystic towards heaven, “they are figures of the absolute”) it is true that mysticism is the original force and inspiration of some of the greatest works of art - the Gothic cathedrals, the great Buddhist temples and mosques, the paintings of the greatest Western and Buddhist masters until one century ago, not to mention the treasures of thought and wisdom which are the Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching. (25) The scale of its diversity goes from the Buddhist chant till St. Mathews Passion by Bach.
And when we have a broad look at these great works of men it is comforting to see that, in the East or in the West, they spring from the same source of human power and whichever is the religious creed, its manifestations show significant similarities which can only be explained by common, deep roots in the same ground of human nature.