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W.T. STACE MYSTICISM AND PHILOSOPHY         page created: 02 08 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 5 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 5: Mysticism and Logic

1. The Mystical Paradoxes


The entire body of the world's mystical literature warns us that there is, between mysticism and reason, some relation which is quite unique in the sense that no other body of thought or experience claims to stand in a like relation to reason. A common statement is that mysticism is above reason. In this phrase the word "above" is presumably a value word, used perhaps because the world of the mystic is thought to be divine and not merely earthly.

Presumably, therefore, the mystical experience is believed to be in some way outside the sphere of reason. This much certainly emerges from the world-wide literature on the subject. But this so far is very vague. And so far as I know there exists no clear theory of the actual relations between mysticism and reason. The literature on the subject is a chaos of conflicting suggestions, of which none has got beyond the status of being a suggestion...It is the purpose of this chapter to examine these rival suggestions and to work out a theory.

First of all, we must decide in what sense the word "reason" is to be understood. I shall understand by it the three well-known laws of logic.

Moderation in all things, the middle path, has often been considered more reasonable than extreme action of any kind. But moderation is not more logical than the extremes. It is only better in a value sense. The middle way is recommended as the good way.

When the mystic says that his revelation is outside reason, he plainly does not mean that it is outside the sphere of the reasonable.

We have next to justify the further narrowing of the topic so as to exclude inductive reasoning and conceptual thinking in general.


In the previous chapters of this book I have emphasized the essential paradoxicality of the mystical consciousness. I need merely remind the reader of the pantheistic paradox that God and the world are both identical and nonidentical or distinct; of the positive-negative or plenum-vacuum paradox with its three aspects, that the One or the Universal Mind is both qualitied and unqualitied, both personal and impersonal, both static and dynamic; of the paradox of the dissolution of individuality wherein I cease to be individual and yet retain my individuality; of the paradox that he who reaches nirvana neither exists nor does not exist; and of the paradox of the extrovertive mystical experience that the objects of the senses are both many and one, both identical and distinct.

...the present writer has given an extreme interpretation to this fact by insisting that the paradoxes are flat logical contradictions; and that much less drastic interpretations can be given which will prove satisfactory hypotheses for the elucidation and explanation of the facts of the case.

They are attempts to resolve, or get rid of, the contradictions. There are, I think, four such theories possible. They may be called

1. the theory of rhetorical paradox
2. the theory of misdescription
3. the theory of double location
4. the theory of double meaning, or ambiguity

2. The Theory of Rhetorical Paradox

On this view the paradoxes are merely verbal and do not infect the thought or the experience. The same experiences could be described and the same thoughts expressed without loss of content in nonparadoxical language.

Let us consider a few examples. In the Isa Upanishad:

Or we might ask the same question regarding the passage from Lao-tzu - (Follows a passage which speaks of the Tao)

Is this only poetry and intriguing verbiage? Actually it is a poetic, rendering of the vacuum-plenum paradox. "It" is formless, empty and void; and yet "it" is the Great Tao, the fullness of reality.

(Follows passages by Eliot and Suso's phrase "dazzling darkness" as poetic expressions of the vacuum=plenum paradox.)

The mind is emptied of all specific content of any kind, sensations, images, thoughts, concepts, propositions, reasonings, volitions. This is the vacuum. There is nothing left to be conscious of. And yet there emerges a pure consciousness, which is not a consciousness of anything. And the darkness of this empty consciousness is the light of a full consciousness - Suso's "dazzling obscurity." It may be alleged that at least one element of the natural consciousness is left, viz., emotion or affective tone. It may be love, or it may be a serene peacefulness.

[p 257]

...what has just been said of the vacuum-plenum paradox is true of them all. However we express the pantheistic paradox that the world is both identical with, and distinct from, the One, this assertion remains equally paradoxical and cannot be passed off as a literary device. And so with all the other paradoxes.

3. The Theory of Misdescription

Of course one can, on the ground of the contradictions, refuse to believe that the mystic has any such experience as he says he has. He is not suspected of telling an untruth, but he must be making a mistake. He may be unintentionally misdescribing his experience. He says that he experiences a total void which is yet a fullness, a light which is also darkness. But any such descriptions - like all descriptions of anything anywhere - include elements of interpretation.

And how can one explain by mutual influence the fact that the empty nothingness of pure consciousness as described by Christian mystics is identical in meaning with the Void of the Mahayana Buddhists. These are but two instances of the independent corroboration of the world's mystics by one another. The instances could be multiplied. But enough has been said to make clear what the case against the hypothesis of mistaken description is.

I conclude that the theory of misdescription must be rejected.

4. The Theory of Double Location

The attempts of Eckhart and Sankara to place the void in one entity and the plenum in another have already been discussed in Chapter 3, Section 5. Eckhart put the void in the Godhead and the fullness in God. Sankara located the void in the Higher Brahman, the fullness in the lower Brahman.


Their mysticism drives them to paradox, their logical natures to logical explanations. Hence they vacillate between the two.

There is therefore no possibility of saying how the double-location hypothesis could even be stated in the case of the pantheistic paradox.

It is equally impossible to apply the theory to the paradox of the dissolution of individuality. The "I" both ceases to exist and continues to exist. It makes no sense to suggest that there are two individuals, one of whom ceases to exist while the other continues in existence.

5. The Theory of Ambiguity

In this theory it is suggested that the apparent contradictions are due to using one word in two different senses, so that when this is pointed out the contradiction disappears.

Thus when we have the proposition "the mystical consciousness is both something and nothing," there is no contradiction because it means that the mystical consciousness is "something" for experience but "nothing" for the intellect. We experience it but cannot conceptualize it.

In regard to the pantheistic paradox, someone may suggest that God and the world are identical in part, but distinct in part, like two circles which intersect each other. This is not exactly an example of one word being used in two senses, but it may as well be brought up at this point. The circles are the sort of sensuous picture or image ' which tends to intrude itself into our consciousness and to mislead us when certain theologians tell us that God is both immanent and transcendent. The picture is absurd because it implies spatial or temporal parts in God. But it is more to the point to observe that it is rejected by the mystical experience which is the source of pantheism. This is the experience that all things, blades of grass, stone, and wood, are One. The extrovertive mystic does not see the One as partly in the objects and partly out of them: He sees a paradoxical identity of opposites, as was shown in our study of that type of mysticism. "I had no doubt," says N.M., "that I had seen God, that is, had seen all there is to see; yet it turned out to be the world that I looked at every day.

I have now discussed several theories all of which have it in common that they are attempts to show that there are no real paradoxes in the sense of logical contradictions in mysticism. They all break down.

6. An Objection

But a radical objection may be taken at this point. How, it may be asked, is it possible to discuss mysticism rationally and logically - as we are trying to do - if mysticism itself is full of contradictions? This book is supposed to be a logical analysis and examination of the utterances of the mystics. How can such a book make sense in the circumstances? Does not the admission or assertion that these utterances are logical paradoxes render our whole enterprise senseless?

The blunder consists in confusing questions of truth with questions of meaning. The correct doctrine is that the laws of logic are concerned with truth and have nothing whatsoever to do with meaning. What the law of contradiction asserts is that two propositions which contradict each other cannot both be simultaneously true. One must be true, the other false.

7. Previous Recognitions of the Contradiction Theory

The view that the mystical paradoxes are outright logical contradictions is no unsupported assertion or original discovery of our own but finds recognition - with varying degrees of clarity - in the writings of a number of previous commentators.

(Follows a discussion of other thinkers [Rudolf Otto, Spinoza, Hegel] on the subject [who have never] felt any urge to pursue the obvious challenge of the antilogicality of mysticism as regards its serious, and perhaps revolutionary, implications in regard especially to the status and foundations of logic.)

[p 269]

Does logic then destroy mysticism, or does mysticism destroy logic? Or is there a third solution possible which will enable us to be loyal to both?

Suzuki can also be quoted as a thinker who has recognized the true antilogical and contradictory character of mysticism. He speaks of "the problem of logical contradiction which when expressed in words characterizes all religious experiences".

[Suzuki writes:] When language is forced to be used for things of this world [the "transcendental world"] it becomes warped and assumes all kinds of crookedness: oxymora, paradoxes, contradictions, absurdities, oddities, ambiguities, and irrationalities. Language itself is not to be blamed for it. It is we ourselves who, ignorant of its proper functions, try to apply it to that for which it was never intended. [7] [I'd concur in this. DCW]

Suzuki has also written of prajna (which may be translated as "mystical intuition") that: Sometimes it asserts, sometimes it negates and declares that A is not A and therefore it is A. This is the logic of prajna intuition.


Like Otto, Suzuki makes the mistake of supposing that mysticism has a peculiar logic of its own. But our point is that he does recognize the contradictions.

In describing his own experiences, Arthur Koestler writes: "[These words] will also contradict each other for we are moving here through strata that are held together by the cement of contradiction." He feels the sense of contradiction [in language] he is forced to use to describe his own experiences. It will be remembered that what he described is the dissolution of individuality, which we have seen to be one of the mystical paradoxes.

8. Philosophical Implications of the Paradoxes

What the paradoxes show is that, although the laws of logic are the laws of our everyday consciousness and experience, they have no application to mystical experience.

The essence of any multiplicity is that it consists of self-identical distinguishable items. But in the One there are no separate items to be kept distinct, and therefore logic has no meaning for it. For the same reason mathematical principles have no meaning for it, since there are no items in it to be numbered. It is for this reason that Eckhart says, "No one can strike his roots into eternity without being rid of the concept of number."


The view that the many is the sphere of logic while the One is the sphere of paradox is likely to meet the following objection. If the paradoxes were confined to the undifferentiated unity, leaving the multiplicity strictly logical, then - it may be said - our solution might be acceptable. But this is not so. For mysticism asserts paradoxes about the world of multiplicity as well as about the One. For example, the pantheistic paradox asserts that the world, which is the multiplicity, is both identical with God and distinct from him. This plainly asserts the paradox about the multiplicity and not merely about the unity. And the extrovertive mystic asserts about the many "blades of grass, wood, and stone" the paradox that they are all one.

This objection arises because the separation between the multiplicity and the unity is an abstraction. There is a first stage of the introvertive experience in which the unity is experienced alone and the multiplicity is dismissed from consciousness. This is the standpoint of the Mandukya Upanishad, and most mystics never get beyond it. They pass into the distinctionless nirvana leaving distinctions behind in samsara. Nirvana is then paradoxical, samsara logical. But there is still the final distinction to be annulled, namely that between nirvana and samsara. Nirvana and samsara, God and the world are one, or rather are identical in their difference. This is the position of Madyamika Buddhism and also of Zen. In Christian mysticism it is apparently the stage called "deification," which was


attained by St. Teresa and some others. The life in this world and the life in the divine world are integrated in a single permanent union.

Therefore our solution that the many is the sphere of logic, the One the sphere of paradox, is correct.

(Follows an analysis of how mystical paradox has revolutionary implications for philosophical dogmas about the nature of logic.)

Indeed all mystics hold that the One of the extrovertive experience is identical with the One of the introvertive experience. This is the meaning of the Indian identification of Atman and Brahman. "He who is the Self in man, and he who is the Self in the sun, are one," says the Taittiriya Upanishad [10] And Eckhart never made any distinction between the One perceived by him in blades of grass, wood, and stones and the One experienced in the apex of the soul.


The view which I have put forward in this section is in some respects similar to certain of Kant's theories.

It is perhaps important to observe that this discussion of the nature of logic is entirely independent of the question of the objectivity, subjectivity, or transsubjectivity, of mystical experience. It follows that our results regarding the nature of logic will be valid even if it is held that mystical experience is hallucinatory. For the laws of logic apply to any experience of a multiplicity, whether the experience is objective or not. They apply to the worlds of dream and hallucination.


(Follows percept that there can be no contradiction in logic: Hume's imagining, dreams and hallucinations and Zeno's paradox over the laws of motion.)

For our purposes the importance of this conclusion is that if the paradoxical character of mystical experience is once admitted we are compelled also to admit the view of logic here put forward, namely, that logic does not apply to all experience - the only alternative being to deny that the experience is paradoxical.




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