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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 4: Pantheism, Dualism and Monism from 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 4: Pantheism, Dualism and Monism

Section 1: Pantheism

In this sense, then, we have reached the conclusion that mystical experience is not merely subjective, but is in very truth what the mystics themselves claim, namely a direct experience of the One, the Universal Self, God.

I shall begin in this section by discussing only the question of what the doctrine of pantheism actually is, i.e., what relation it asserts between God and the world, or between God and the finite self. What is the proper concept or definition of pantheism? And for the purpose of this discussion I shall take Spinoza and the Upanishads as the empirical examples of pantheism from which the definition of pantheism is to be derived.

Professor Abraham Wolf in an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes as follows: In philosophy and theology pantheism is the theory that God is all and all is God. The universe is not a creation, distinct from God. . . . God is the universe, and the universe is God. . . . The classical exponent of the philosophy of pantheism was Spinoza.

"All this is Brahman," says the Mandukya Upanishad. And in the Svetasvatara Upanishad we find this passage: (The passage follows- listing attributes of the universe and nature.)

It is a shame to dissect this lovely and moving poetry with the knife of logic. But I have to point out that one of the phrases used of Brahman, namely, "thou the creator of all," seems on the face of it to be inconsistent with the theory of strict identity. For this would mean that the universe is the creator of the universe. And Spinoza's phrase "sui causa" really involves the same combination of inconsistent ideas, since cause and effect are by definition distinct.

And it is true that the prevailing sense of the words in this passage and elsewhere in the Upanishads does undoubtedly emphasize the concept of identity. Another evidence of this same emphasis on identity is the famous identification of atman and Brahman, the individual self and the Universal Self, expressed in the oft-quoted words "That art thou."

The proposition that the world is both identical with, and different from, God, may be called the pantheistic paradox.

[p 213]

[This] "the identity of opposites" was not invented by Hegel. It is at least three thousand years old, being a part of that mysticism which has influenced Parmenides, Plato, Plotinus, Spinoza, and many other philosophers before Hegel. What Hegel did was to recognize, and state in explicit terms, what had been latent and implicit in so much of the greatest human thought before his time.

That this notion of identity in difference between God and the world is actually involved in the pantheistic philosophies of the Vedanta and Spinoza is not difficult to show.

Philosophers such as Shankara [represent Brahman] as the sole reality. That Brahman is "One without a second" means that there exists no other reality. The empirical world is an illusion which disappears in the reality of Brahman. We need not comment on the obvious difficulties of any such view. The point is that on this view, maya, the world illusion, cannot be outside Brahman, since nothing except Brahman exists.

Thus the pantheistic paradox is plainly present in the Vedanta. Heinrich Zimmer interprets one of the legends as meaning that "the secret of Maya is the identity of opposites. Maya is a simultaneous-and-successive manifestation of . . . processes contradicting and annihilating each other: creation and destruction, evolution and dissolution... . . This 'and,' uniting incompatibles, expresses the fundamental character of the Highest Being. . . . The opposites are fundamentally of the one essence, two aspects of the one Vishnu."

Zimmer applies a similar interpretation to the famous rock-hewn [three-faced] image of Siva in the Elephanta caves near Bombay. . ."the middle head is a representation of the Absolute. Majestic and sublime it is the divine essence out of which the [two profiles- male, female] proceed. . . . The middle head is self-enclosed in a dreamy aloofness. . . . [It] is the face of Eternity.

[p 215]

The two profiles are happening; the universe is happening; the individual is happening. But . . . do they really happen? The central mask is meant to express the truth of the Eternal, in which nothing happens, nothing comes to pass, changes or dissolves again. The divine essence, the solely real, the Absolute in itself, . . . abides in itself, steeped in its own sublime Void . . . containing all and everything."

If [Spinoza] had caught himself falling into a logical paradox, he would have hastily covered up his tracks by using suitable evasions - a proceeding which would not have occurred to the simple-minded hermits who composed the Upanishads. Spinoza, being a professional rationalist, could not admit contradiction into his system in the blatant way the Vedantists did. Nevertheless, one can find in him the pantheistic paradox if one looks below the surface.

Spinoza has three categories for the explanation of reality - substance, attribute, mode. The world, I think, can be identified with the attributes and modes. God seems sometimes to mean only substance, and sometimes the totality of substance, attribute, and mode.

[p 217]

My suggestion is that [Spinoza] exhibited in himself the living paradox of being a God-intoxicated atheist.

But that in Spinoza's philosophy "God" is just another word for "nature" in the same sense as "automobile" is just another word for "motorcar," . . .

I conclude that the philosophical theory of pantheism properly means the identity in difference of God and the world, and not their bare identity. Since what I called pantheism in the narrower sense is merely a particular case of pantheism in the wider sense, it should follow that pantheism would regard the relation between God and the finite self in a state of union as also one of identity in difference, and not mere identity.

Section 2: Dualism

As a matter of terminology I shall assign to dualism, monism, and pantheism the following meanings. Dualism is the view that the relation between God and the world, including the relation between God and the individual self when in a state of union, is a relation of pure otherness or difference with no identity. Monism is the view that the relation is pure identity with no difference. Pantheism is the view that it is identity in difference.

Extrovertive mystical experience appears to be the main source from which the pantheistic and monistic identifications of God and the world as a whole are derived. Introvertive mystical experience is the main source of the identification of God and the individual self when in a state of union. The extrovertive mystics see the world around them, the grass, the trees, the animals, and sometimes "inanimate" objects such as rocks and mountains, as God-impregnated, or as shining from within with the light of a life which is one and the same life flowing through all things. As R. M. Bucke expressed it, "I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is on the contrary a living presence." (see p. 78) Boehme, Eckhart, N. M., and many others have, as already shown, expressed themseIves in similar language. The question for us is whether extrovertive mystical experience actually supports dualism, monism, or pantheism.

[p 220]

The introvertive mystic, getting rid of sensations, images, and thought content, comes at last to find within himself the pure self which becomes, or is, unified with the Universal Self, or God. This is the source of our problem in so far as it especially concerns relations of identity or difference between God and the individual self. In particular, what is most relevant here is the experience of the "melting away'' or "fading away'- "fana" as the Sufis call it - of individuality into "boundless being" which Tennyson, Koestler, and others have described in more modern and nontheological language.

In this section I shall discuss the dualistic view of the theistic religions and quote the evidence of the mystics themselves in favor of it. The Christian mystics speak of their experience as "union with God." It will facilitate our discussion if we use their own language in regard to this. The question then is, What happens at the moment of mystical union? Does the soul of the mystic become simply identical with God? Or does it remain a being wholly distinct and different from God? Or is there identity in difference?

...we have to study the statements of the mystics about their experience, since these are in the last resort the only raw material which is presented to us for analysis. And it is on these that we have to base whatever interpretation we propose to accept as the best.

(mg commentary: I can now define the moment immediately after the blazing light annihilated my body and "I" - that "no-self" explosively expanded in union with God like a drop diffusing into an ocean of light, bliss and love- instantly become acosmic, wide-aware, infinite and still.

St. Teresa, St. John of the Cross, Ruysbroeck, (St John- a generally "extravertive" mytical experience), Henry Suso, In addition to its plain statement of dualism, this passage is also noteworthy for the use of the words "the spirit passes away." This shows that Suso's mystical experience included what the Sufis called "fana," also experienced by Tennyson, Koestler, and others already quoted. It adds its quota to the evidence of the basic similarity of mystical experiences in all ages, religions, and cultures.

Meister Eckhart, the most philosophical of all the medieval Christian mystics, we find a strange situation. He frequently framed sentences - chiefly in his sermons - which caused him to be accused by the Church authorities of claiming identity with God.

He is that One who denies of every other that it is anything except himself.

[p 226]

It seems evident that Eckhart's thinking tended to interpret his own experience monistically or pantheistically - no doubt without distinguishing between these two. In his defense he repudiated these "heresies," thus accepting dualism at the behest of the papal authorities.

Occasionally he speaks of "absorption in God" as being the goal which the Sufis seek and reach. But absorption is an ambiguous metaphor compatible with either dualism or monism. Al Ghazzali certainly means it dualistically. Evelyn Underhill quotes him as saying: "The end of Sufism is total absorption in God. . . . In this state some have imagined themselves to be amalgamated with God, others to be identical with him, others again to be associated with him: but all this is sin." (17) And Mr. Claud Field quotes him as condemning such extravagant utterances as those of Mansur al Hallaj and other Sufis who used the same sort of wild language and adding: the matter went so far that certain persons boasted of a union with the Deity, and that they . . . beheld Him, and enjoyed familiar converse with him. . . and Ghazzali referred to such mystics as "foolish babblers."

[p 228]

The idea of union with God is not, according to G. G. Scholem's book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, at all prominent in Judaism.


the spirit of Jewish mysticism in general is dualistic, insisting, like Islam, on the gulf which separates the Creator from the creature.

ln summary, the general picture which we get of the three theistic religions of the West is that the evidence of their mystics is decidedly in favor of dualism.. But very definite tendencies towards pantheism also appear in all three religions. The greatest of those who show this tendency is of course Eckhart.

Section 3: Critique of Dualism

Dualism is the typical interpretation put upon mystical experience by the theistic religions of the West - though we saw that there were many atypical exceptions, usually condemned as heresy by the ecclesiastical authorities.

Therefore the problem which presents itself to us is whether dualism or monism is the true interpretation or whether we must accept a synthesis of both in the pantheistic paradox.

In the present section I shall argue that dualism, whether in its Christian, Islamic, or Judaic versions, is an untenable interpretation. There are several arguments which show that dualism is a mistaken interpretation. The first is that dualism is a flat contradiction of the nuclear common characteristic of all mystical experience, viz., that it is an ultimate unity which is "beyond all multiplicity."

[p 234]

[The mytics dutifully curb their pantheistic tendencies at the behest of their [dualist] superiors. There need be nothing insincere or false in this obedience, in this unaffected humility. The mystic as such is not a theorist, nor interested in theory- with a few great exceptions such as Eckhart, Plotinus, and the Buddha. [The ecclesiastical authorities - the theologians- should not be accused of mere prejudice, ignorance, or obscurantism, for they too have not understood the pantheistic paradox.]

It appears to me that the criticisms which have here been developed against dualism cannot be met, and that dualism must accordingly be rejected as an incorrect interpretation of mystical experience.

Section 4: Monism

One might suppose that the alternative to the dualistic theory of pure diference which we have rejected would be the monistic theory of pure identity. God and the world are simply identical. Also God and the individual self in union are simply identical.

The theory that God and the world are identical may take two forms, one of which amounts to atheism, the other to acosmism. If it means that nothing exists apart from the sum-total of finite objects - suns, stars, trees, rocks, animals, individual selves - and that God is merely another name for this collection of finite objects, then it is atheism.

The acosmic form of monism will have to say that the world of finite things as separate from God does not exist at all. God alone is real, and God is an undifferentiated unity wherein there is no multiplicity of finite objects. We find statements that nothing exists except the Void, i.e., the undifferentiated unity, in some of the texts of Mahayana Buddhism. And, stated in different words, it is the substance of Sankara's Advaita Vedantism. But it is not difficult to show that the theory, in whatever form it is held, must necessarily land its holder in nonsense. The crucial question to ask is, how does the theory explain the appearance of the multiplicity of finite objects?

[p 238]

It has to explain them as due to "ignorance" or to "false imaginings'' or to "illusion." (24) Some such term as ignorance or nescience is common in Hindu forms of the theory.

If, then, anyone says that my belief that the finite world exists is due to my illusion, or ignorance, or false imagining, we must ask the Cartesian question, How can I have illusions or ignorant ideas if I do not exist? [or the result of a vicious regress of illusions in the minds of others]

[In Indian literature] It may be held that the finite world is an illusion or false imagination which has its seat, not in the minds of finite individuals, but in the mind of God.

There is still another alternative which has been put forward by some Indian philosophers. This theory holds that the "ignorance" which is responsible for the world illusion is an impersonal cosmic principle, part of the world, and not a state of any mind, human or divine.

[p 240]

But apart from this, suppose we are allowed to say that ignorance is a principle or characteristic of the cosmos and not of any mind, human, or divine, or animal. This can only mean that ignorance exists in the world of rocks and rivers and trees and stars. We may put the same thing in Hindu terms. If the ignorance is not in Brahman, it must be in the finite manifestations of Brahman, i.e., the world. But in order to be ignorant, these things - the rocks, rivers, stones, and trees - must exist, which contradicts the theory which the supposition was introduced to support.

There is thus no possible version of monism which does not end in nonsense. Thus since neither dualism nor monism can be accepted, we are driven on to their synthesis in the pantheistic paradox. This so far is the negative justification of pantheism. Our further consideration of it in the next section will show that there is plenty of positive justification as well.

Section 5: Justification of Pantheism

We take as our starting point the experience of the pure ego, the Universal Self, pure consciousness, which we saw to be what is revealed in introvertive mystical experience. This Universal or Cosmic Self is that which the theistic religions interpret as God. It is also the Brahman-Atman of the Upanishads. And since it is empty of all empirical content, it is the Void of the Buddhists, the nothingness of Eckhart, the darkness and silence which according to all mystics lies at the centre of the world. These are some of the points which have been established and from which we now start.

The other sense of the word "infinite" can be found most easily either in the Upanishads or in Spinoza. In the Chandogya Upanishad it is written:

Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else, that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else, that is the finite. (27)

In other words the infinite is that outside which, and other than which, there is nothing.

The world cannot be other than, or fall outside of, God. This is the source of the pantheism of the Upanishads as well as of Spinoza.

We see therefore that pantheism is forced upon us by mysticism together with a proper understanding of the meaning of the notion of the infinite.

It will be remembered that according to Tennyson the loss of his individuality which was felt to "dissolve and fade away into boundless being" was for him "no extinction but the only true life."

The same thing is even clearer if we refer to the language which Koestler uses: The "I," he says, "ceases to exist because it has . . . been dissolved in the universal pool." But he goes on to say that when the "I" thus ceases to exist he experiences "the peace that passeth all understanding." Who experiences it? It can only be the "I," Arthur Koestler. I remain I, even when I have been absorbed and disappeared into the Infinite Being. Identity in difference is plainly expressed here. Inasmuch as I have been dissolved in the Infinite Being and have ceased to exist as myself, I have become identical with that being; but inasmuch as I still feel that I, Koestler or Tennvson, experience peace or blessedness, I still remain my individual self and am distinct from the Infinite Being.

H. C. stated that the problem of evil finds in mystical experience no intellectual or logical solution, but the problem dissolves and ceases to exist.




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