i s   s c i e n c e   c l o s i n g   i n ?


W.T. STACE MYSTICISM AND PHILOSOPHY         page created: 02 04 10

Note: My maya-gaia website is a chronicle of my passing all considered opinion through the lens
of my Nirvikalpa Samadhi with both an open-mind and healthy skepticism.

The following are excerpts in order from Chapter 3: The Problem of Objective Reference of Mysticism and Philosophy by W.T. Stace's - Extended preview of book available online from Wudhi Mysticism.
(I want to express my gratitude for his making Stace's illuminating resource easily accessible as Google Books has no preview.)

Chapter 3: The Problem of Objective Reference

1. The Argument from Unanimity

[p 134]

And we begin with what, for lack of a better label, we will call the argument from unanimity. This takes as its premiss the universality of the same or similar mystical experiences as reported in different advanced cultures, ages, and countries ot the world...The conclusion drawn from this premiss by Professor Broad is that there is a considerable probability - it is more likely than not," to use his phrase - that the mystic in his experience comes in contact with some reality or some aspect of reality with which men do not come in contact in any other way.


We must for the present rest content with the conclusion that its status is transsubjective. Whether anything more definite and satisfying can be said will be discussed in later sections of this chapter.


If we make use of the philosopher's distinction between the pure ego and the empirical ego, then what follows from this argument is that there exists a multiplicity of empirical egos in the universe, but that there can be only one pure ego. Hence the mystic who has reached what seems at first to be his own private pure ego has in fact reached the pure ego of the universe, the pure cosmic ego.

...an experience may be universal and yet illusory...Professor Broad...gives the example of the drunkard's hallucinatory perception of rats and snakes. Such an experience is shared by innumerable drunkards. Even if all these [mystical] experiences were exactly alike, this would of itself show no more than that there is something in the nature of human beings, whether physical or mental, which makes them have these similar experiences.

[p 138]

Suppose we raise the question what, in our daily experience, constitutes the essence of the objective, of a veridical sense perception, for example, as against a subjective experience such as a dream or an hallucination...agreement of experiences is what constitutes objectivity. Why then does not the unanimous agreement of mystics about their experiences constitute those experiences objective?

It is that unanimity, even universal agreement of experiences, though it may be a part of what constitutes objectivity, is not the whole of what constitutes it, either in the case of mystical experience or in that of sense experience. There must be some other condition, some x, which is required, as well as universality, to make an experience objective.

[p 140]

The view which I advocate is that x is order. Being public is one of the characteristics of being orderly, whereas being private is one of the marks of the disorderly.

[p 141]

Those of our experiences which are orderly in terms of this world order are called objective. Those which are disorderly in the sense that, either internally or externally, they infringe the laws of this world order are called subjective and are labeled dreams or hallucinations.

That is why publicity, the capacity to be shared by all persons, the possibility of being publicly verified, is a part, but only a part, of the criterion of objectivity.

[p 144]

We will take fust the introvertive type of mystical experience. It is nonsensuous, since all sensations and images are specifically excluded from it.

But the very essence of the experience is that it is undifferentiated, distinctionless, and destitute of all multiplicity. [p 145]

But there are no items within the introvertive experience which could conflict with anything outside it. It follows from these considerations that it is not subjective.

But the very essence of the experience is that it is undifferentiated, distinctionless, and destitute of all multiplicity.

Hence the same arguments apply to it as to the introvertive experience, and the same conclusion must be drawn. It is neither objective nor subjective.

2. Transsubjectivity

But we may now be more definite than this. For the argument by which we have just shown that the pure ego of the individual is identical with the pure ego of the world can also be used to show that the extrovertive One is identical with the introvertive One. For, since both are empty of content, there is nothing to constitute a principium individuationis between them. For, as already observed on page 146, the sense objects which the extrovertive experience perceives to be "all One" are not themselves parts of the extrovertive One, which is therefore in itself undifferentiated and contentless.


3. The Feeling of Objectivity


Now the fact that self-transcendence is a part of the experience itself is the reason why the mystic is absolutely certain of its truth beyond all possibility of arguing him out of it.

4. Mystical Monadism

As an example of this we may quote the following remarkable passage from Martin Buber: Now from my own unforgettable expericnce I know well that there is a state in which the bonds of the personal nature of life seem to have fallen away and we experience an undivided unity. (mg: Immediately after his mystical experience Buber interprets his unity as with the primal being or the Godhead. But later in his life (perhaps under the sway of the Jewish tradition against union and on separation of the individual soul and its confrontation with the Celestial Throne of God as described by Ezekiel) he has changed his mind and now asserts that the undifferentiated unity which he experienced was only the unity of his own self, his private individual pure ego, one among billions of individual pure egos, and not "the soul of the All".)


In the tradition of the Semitic religions generally there is considered to be a great gulf fixed between creature and Creator which is such that the individual soul can never annul it, and that indeed it is a kind of blasphemy to claim that it has been annulled. This is true of Islam as well as Judaism. And Christianity inherited it from Judaism. It is evident that there have been numerous mystics within all three religions who have experienced that sense of the dissolution of individuality, that passing beyond oneself, which we have called transsubjectivity. But all three religions are, in greater or less measure, frightened of it lest it should lead to the "heresy" of pantheism.

Islam also insists on the gulf between God and man and repudiates pantheism; nevertheless among the Sufis the claim to union and even identity with God was far commoner than among the Jewish mystics and was in fact the rule rather than the exception.

[The prophetic religions maintain that] the individual soul forever remains a spiritual monad distinct from all other spiritual monads and distinct, of course, from the Supreme Monad.


Whereas in [The nondual traditions of Vedanta and Buddhism] if an individual has eliminated all internal psychical multiplicity and reached the basic pure unity of his pure ego, there then remains nothing by which it can be distinguished from other pure egos, so that by a dialectic of inner logical necessity individuation becomes impossible, and all selves pass into the one cosmic self.

But even outside Judaism - in India of all places - we find mystical monadism as a minor tradition. The Samkhya and Yoga philosophers and also the Jains apparently belong to it. There seems every reason to believe that both the sages of the Samkhya and Yoga, and the Jain saints and saviours - the Tirthankaras or "makers of the crossing" [9] from the world of time to the world of eternity - were introvertive mystics in the sense that they possessed the same experience of distinctionless undifferentiated unity which is the final stage of introvertive mysticism all over the world. This same experience the sages of the Upanishads interpreted as an identity of the individual self with the Universal Self, and this became the major mystical tradition of the Vedanta; while the Samkhya and the Jain mystics interpreted it monadistically. For both the Samkhya and the Jain systems, salvation consists in the disentanglement of the purusha, i.e., the individual pure ego, from its involvement with matter and sensation and in its attainment of eternal isolation from the world and from all other life monads. The life of the purushas thereafter would be one of everlasting peace, silence, and calm, undisturbed by any distraction from the world or from other living beings. They will be pure egos, drops of pure consciousness, clear as crystal, colorless and flawless, without taint of the faintest empirical impurity. This is their nirvana. This is the salvation to which the Tirthankaras have themselves attained, and they have won this triumph through the Yoga practice of "the stopping of the spontaneous activities of the mind-stuff."

5. The Universal Self; and the Vacuum-Plenum

We have concluded that the concept of the Universal Self, or Cosmic Self, in which the individuality of the mystic becomes merged at the time at least of his "union," is the correct interpretation of the introvertive mystical experience. It remains a question whether this mystical concept of the Universal Self is to be identified with the theological concept of God. And it also remains a question what the word "is" means when we make any such statement as "There is a Universal Self." Since it is neither subjective nor objective, it cannot mean "exist" in the sense in which we say that trees and rivers and stones exist.

This Void, this nothing, is as we have seen at the same time the Infinite; it is pure conscious- ness, pure ego, the One of Plotinus and the Vedanta, the Divine Unity of Eckhart and Ruysbroeck; and it is the Universal Self...I shall call this the paradox of the vacuum- plenum.

The vacuum-plenum paradox has in general three aspects which are more or less traceable in all religions and philosophies in which mysticism plays a part. These aspects are not mutually exclusive. It will be seen below that the first really includes the other two. Perhaps, therefore, we ought to call them three modes of expression and emphasis, and not three clearly distinguishable aspects. They are shown in the table below:

The vacuum-plenum paradox has in general three aspects which are more or less traceable in all religions and philosophies in which mysticism plays a part. These aspects are not mutually exclusive. It will be seen below that the first really includes the other two. Perhaps, therefore, we ought to call them three modes of expression and emphasis, and not three clearly distinguishable aspects. They are shown in the table below:

Positive Aspects (Plenum)
The Universal Self
Is personal
Is dynamic, creative, and active

Negative Aspects (Vacuum)
Has no qualities
Is impersonal
Is totally inactive, static, motionless

In poetic and metaphorical language the positive side is often spoken of as light or sound, the negative side as darkness or silence. Hence the expression the "dazzling obscurity" of Suso expresses both sides of the paradox, whereas Ruysbroeck's phrase "the dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves" refers only to the negative side.


In the case of any paradox or antinomy which presents itself to consciousness, there will always appear in the human mind - whether that of the mystic or the nonmystic - the tendency to explain away and get rid of the logical contradiction by one means or another.

There may be the deliberate and sophisticated attempt of the philosophical mind to explain it away by suggesting that the predicate which is being both asserted and denied of the subject is used in one sense when it is asserted and in another sense when it is denied...A more naive method of relieving the mind of the tension of paradox consists in ignoring or forgetting about x when not-x is being spoken of, and ignoring or forgetting not-x when x is discussed. In Hindu literature the former method tends to be employed by a philosopher like Sankara, the latter by the more simple-minded authors of the Upanishads; in Christian literature the former method is used by the highly philosophical and intellectual mystic, Eckhart, the latter in popular religious talk...I shall maintain however that all these expedients of the common-sensical mind are in vain...

It would also seem that if we pass from the Upanishads to the Gita - between which some hundreds of years may have elapsed - we notice a gradual change of emphasis. In the Upanishads, especially the earlier ones, the negative, unqualified, impersonal, inert, nature of Brahman tends to be stressed. In the Gita, on the contrary, it is the personality and activity of God which are most prominent. Krishna appears as a God to whom prayer, worship, and love may be directed...

In poetic and metaphorical language the positive side is often spoken of as light or sound, the negative side as darkness or silence. Hence the expression the "dazzling obscurity" of Suso expresses both sides of the paradox, whereas Ruysbroeck's phrase "the dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves" refers only to the negative side.


I turn now from Hindu versions of the paradox to the Buddhist version. We may note first that Suzuki in his own capacity as a Buddhist mystic writes of the Enlightenment experience that

It is a state of absolute Suchness, of absolute Emptiness which is absolute fullness.

But according to all introvertive mystics, whether in the East or the West, when the mind thus becomes void and empty the light of pure consciousness emerges. Therefore the Tibetans believe, quite logically, that at that moment of death the mind has a glimpse of the Clear Light of the Void, which is nirvana. If only it could hold fast to this condition permanently it would have attained the liberation of nirvana and would never be reborn.

(Follows an examination of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and bardo.)

There is no real change in the basic philosophy of the Vedanta from the Upanishads to the Gita. There is only a change of emphasis from one side of the paradox to the other.

It is interesting to find in Chinese (Taoist) mysticism the following:

The Way (Tao) is like an empty vessel
That may yet be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless: the very progenitor of all things in the world. . . .
It is like a deep pool that never dries.
I do not know whose child it could be.
It looks as if it were prior to God.

...their true meaning can only be understood if we have in our possession a knowledge of the profoundest depths of the mystical consciousness. We should note not only the idea of the vacuum-plenum as expressed in the first five lines. We should notice also the last two lines. The empty vessel which is also full "looks as if it were prior to God:' What does this mean? Just another poetical fancy? Not so, for Lao-tzu is saying there what Eckhart says when he tells us that behind and beyond God = the three Persons - lies the unity of the "barren Godhead" which is prior to God and from which the manifestation of the threefold personality proceeds.

Not so, for Lao-tzu is saying there what Eckhart says when he tells us that behind and beyond God - the three Persons - lies the unity of the "barren Godhead" which is prior to God and from which the manifestation of the threefold personality proceeds. How did Lao-tzu come to have the same surely very unconventional conception as Eckhart had unless we explain this agreement by supposing that both are drawing their ideas from the same deep well of mystical experience?


...to be thus empty and full is to attain Buddhahood.

When a few pages later we turn to examine the paradox as it appears in the West, we shall find - perhaps to our astonishment - that Eckhart and Ruysbroeck entirely agree with the Tibetan account of the paradox - though not, of course, with the Tibetan beliefs about reincarnation.

But even before we in the West became...Zen-conscious...we could say that the ordinary accounts of Buddhism...- whether Hinayana or Mahayana - tell the same story... In the Hinayana at least there is no concept of God in the Western sense. But there is a concept of the unconditioned, which is nirvana, and which is the Buddhist counterpart of the theistic concept of God.

[p 171]

Nirvana is in fact nothing but the enlightenment consciousness conceived not as a transient flash of illumination, but as permanent or rather as altogether transcending time. As such it is the vacuum-plenum, but the early accounts of it in the West supposed it was mere vacuum.


(Follows an examination of how the vacum-peniuum is compared in Christianity, Hindusim and Buddhism) So that all three aspects of the antinomy appear in both, and both use the same logical device to avoid contradiction. Extended references to quotations by Tennyson, Koestler, Symonds, Eckhart, Roysbroeck, Aurobindo, Plato, A. Suzuki, Rudolph Otto, the Buddha, Hinduism, Christian mystics, Miss Underhill, Judaism, Tohah, En-Sof


Miss Underhill herself comes near to admitting the sheer contradiction of the paradox when she writes: "the balance to be struck in this stage of introversion can only be expressed, it seems, in paradox. The true condition of quiet, according to the great mystics is at once active and passive."


Since the mystics are also beings moved by their intellectual and logical faculties, and since there is certainly a tension and conflict between the mystical and the logical halves of the human spirit - the philosophical implications of which will be discussed in a later chapter - it is not to be wondered at that the mystics themselves show a certain vacillation and tendency to oscillate between the conflicting elements in their own personalities. And this is so especially in the West. A Suzuki does not hesitate from uttering absolute paradox, sheer logical contradiction; he does not hesitate to speak of the vacuum-plenum, of "a state of absolute emptiness which is absolute fulness". The author of the Upanishad does not shy away from saying of the Universal Self that "it stirs and it stirs not". Buddhism even apart from Zen, is especially insistent on absolute paradox, as we shall have occasion to point out later in more detail. And it seems to me that this difference between East and West is due to the fact that the mysticism of the East is more sure of itself, more full-grown, more profound and all-embracing, than the somewhat fumbling and immature mysticism of even the greatest Western mystics. The mysticism of Europe is an amateur affair compared with the mysticism of Asia.

6. The Word "God">

Introvertive mystical experience inevitably leads, as we have seen, to the conception of the Universal Self, the absolute unity, the One, which is, in our view, its correct interpretation. We have now to ask the question whether the Universal Self can properly be identified with God.

One must distinguish between the popular sense of the word "God" and the more. sophisticated meanings which have been given to it by philosophers and theologians. According to Professor Broad, God in the popular sense is a person; and to be a person, he thinks, an entity must think, feel, and will; and these states of consciousness must, in so far as they are simultaneous, possess the unity which is involved in being states of a single mind; and in so far as they are successive, they must possess personal identity.

We shall therefore have to cut the knot. I shall enquire only whether the Universal Self, as we have discussed it in the last section, possesses the characteristics which seem to me to be the minimum of those which would be fairly universally recognized as necessary if the word "God" is to be appropriately used. (Follows five characteristics minimum which would be fairly universally recognized s necessary if the word "God" is to be appropriately used.) 1. Living and conscious; 2. salvation of everlasting peace; 3. holy and sacred; 4. ultimate values; 5. ultimate source


Nevertheless there is a good deal to be said for avoiding the use of ["God"] where possible, and using rather such phrases as the One, the Universal Self, etc. By doing so one avoids the crude and superstitious associations which inevitably tend to cling to the word God.

The Theory of "Being Itself"

(Follows an examination of whether statements about the Universal Self are "true" and that the Universal Self "exists", whether mystical experience is objective or subjective, whether God, though not a particular Being is Being itself, various theories of Aristotel, Plato, Kant, David Hume, etc.)

8. The Theory of Poetic Truth

This theory, like the theory of Being Itself, has correctly perceived that the Primal Being is neither objective nor subjective, or in other words that statements about it are neither true nor false in the ordinary sense of these words. But it asserts that there is another sense of "truth," namely, the truth which is possessed by poetry - and presumably other forms of art - and that religion and mysticism possess this kind of truth. Truth in the usual sense may be called scientific [p.186] or intellectual truth, and this new kind may be called poetic truth. What are its criteria, and what distinguishes it from intellectual truth?

(Follows an examaination of ways in which intuition may provide reality insight without the laborious mediation of discursive thinking (or the labor of meditative practice)- references works of Shelly, Tennyson, Marlowe, Swineburg and theories about poetic truth by Professor Philip Wheelwright and Professor Arnold Toynbee.)


My conclusion is that the theory of poetic truth, whether in Wheelwright's or Toynbee's verslon, or any other, should be rejected.

The Status of the Universal Self

That Being who or which is variously described by the mystics as the One, the Universal Self, the vacuum-plenum, or God, is to be considered as Reality in three senses. It transcends and is independent of any individual subject, so that it cannot be called subjective. It has supreme value, or is the supreme good. And it is the creative source of the world. And yet it is not objective. This raises two main problems. First, since it is neither subjective nor objective, what status is to be assigned to it, and to statements about it such as "it is; it is timeless, eternal, etc." Secondly, if it is not objective, and does not "exist," in what sense can it be the first cause of the objective and existent world? Its aspects as supreme value and as creativity need not be further discussed at this stage. But in this section the problem of status will be further examined.

It should be noted first of all that although we have reached the conclusion. that the One is neither subjective nor objective partly by applying methods of analysis to the meanings of such terms as "existence," "objectivity," and "subjectivity," yet this same conclusion may be found occasionally in' the utterances of the mystics themselves, arrived at by them no doubt intuitively rather than logically.


The Mandukya Upanishad, after mentioning three normal states of mind, namely the waking state, the dreaming state, and the state of dreamless sleep, goes on to say that there is a fourth, namely the mystical, and proceeds:

"The Fourth, say the wise, is not subjective experience, nor objective experience, nor experience intermediate between these two· . . . It is pure unitary consciousness."

(Follows quotes from Professor R. C. Zaehner, Schopenhauer, Plotinus, Dionysius the Areopagite, the Buddha, Suzuki, Eckhart, Aurobindo, and Lao-tzu, that infer the status of the mystical state is neither objective nor subjective.)

...exactly the same problem and the same difficulties confront many mathematical and rationalistic philosophers who cannot be suspected of being "tainted with mysticism". Consider for example the problem of universals as it has come down to us from Plato and Aristotle. Plenty of tough-minded and hardheaded mathematicians and logicians at the present day still accept what is conventionally called the theory of the objectivity of universals. They affirm that numbers are such universals. If we ask what account they can give of the status of these universals, we shall find that they cannot escape the very same problem with the very same difficulties as confront the mystic. For universals, according to the theory, are timeless and spaceless, and cannot therefore be said to "exist" or be "objective:' Yet, as they are not subjective, they must be called transsubjective. What then is their status? We see that the problem for these philosophers of mathematics is parallel to the problem of the mystic.

And in the Mahayana writings one gets the ultimate paradox of mysticism, the paradox, one might almost say, which ends all paradoxes. This is as follows. Since nirvana is the ultimate truth, and since nirvana is undifferentiated and without distinctions or dualities, therefore in the ultimate truth there is no distinction between nirvana and nonnirvana, between truth and untruth, between the teaching and the nonteaching.

10. Alternative Solution

Perhaps [my arguments] will be considered "dialectical" - whatever that may mean - or "metaphysical," an excellent word with which to poison the atmosphere. At any rate, it is better to assume that the argument is likely io fall short of being universally convincing.


I cannot but attach importance to my belief that, where mystics have, as the vast majority of them do, a feeling of strong convictiction that the experience brings them into contact with some outside reality, this feeling is caused by the fact that they take transsubjectivity to be something actually experienced by them.


Thus, the conclusion that mystical experience is subjective only should in no way be regarded as destroying its value...The philosopher wno holds the opinion that moral and aesthetic values are subjective - as being grounded in emotions or ' attitudes - does not mean to say that these values are not valuable, or that morality and art ought to be left behind as superstitions! It ought to be obvious that the same is true of the values of mystical experience.




email> smalltownsATusaDOTcom