Section 1. The Enquiry Is Worthwhile
Hence the first problem to be faced in this book is whether mystical experience, like sense experience, points to any objective reality or is a merely subjective psychological phenomenon.
Bertrand Russel: Therefore mysticism is subjective and supplies no objective truths about the extramental world. "Mysticism," he writes, "is in essence little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in regard to what is believed about.
Section 2: Mohammed's Donkey
There is a story, which I have read somewhere, to the effect that Mohammed once compared a scholar or philosopher who writes about mysticism without having had any mystical experience to a donkey carrying a load of books.
Follows a discussion of the ability of philosophers who have had no mystical experience themselves to contribute anything of value to the understanding of the subjective experience of mystics.
Section 3: The Naturalistic Principle
We assume, at least as a methodological postulate, the universality of the reign of law in nature. This means that all macroscopic existences and events occurring in the space-time world are explicable without exception by natural causes.
We must naw examine some of the things which this naturalistic principle implies, and also take note of a few things which it does not imply. It is applicable, according to our statement of it, to all macroscopic events. These are the only events with which we shall be concerned in this book.
Hence we need take no account of the principle of indeterminacy in nuclear physics. Also the fact that the laws of nature in the macroscopic world are said to be statistical and not absolute need make no difference to us. The possibility that water may run up hill once in a billion years can be ignored.
The naturalistic principle has no bearing on the probiem of free will. Determinism, if that is implied by the principle, is not inconsistent with free will, and indeterminism is no help to it. I have discussed this matter at length elsewhere and will not repeat the discussion here. (8)
The naturalistic principle forbids us to believe that there ever occur interruptions in the natural working of events or capricious interventions by a supernatural being. David Hume defined a miracle as a breach of the laws of nature. Our principle denies that miracles, as thus strictly defined, ever occur.
Prayers, or "orisons,'' as they are called, as understood by the Christian mystics, aim primarily at communion, or union, with what they take to be a Divine Being, and are not requests for favors - except, of course, in so far as such union is itself regarded by the mystic as the supreme favor which a human being can seek.
Naturalism implies, first, that the genesis of mystical state in a human mind is itself the result of natural causes, and in no way constitutes an exception to the reign of law. It may be worthwhile to note that this view is held, not merely by the present writer, but by many mystics. For instance, R. M. Bucke wrote his book Cosmic Consciousness as a direct result of a sudden mystical illumination which came to him unexpected and unsought. "Cosmic consciousness" was his name for mystical experience. He wrote: "Cosmic consciousness . . . must not be looked upon as being in any sense supernatural or supernormal - as anything more than a natural growth."
But it is still a question whether in fact any mescalin experience ever is intrinsically similar to, or descriptively indistinguishable from, the experience of the saint, in which case only would our principle find an empirical application. As to this question, my opinion is that we do not yet know enough about the effects of these drugs to answer it with any confidence.
One guess may be hazarded. The drug-induced experience may perhaps in some cases indistinguishably resemble the extrovertive type of mystical experience, but it is most unlikely that it resembles the far more importart introvertive type. This distinction will be explained later.
Another application of our principle which might be quoted arises in connection with the second of the three well-known periods of mystical illumination in the life of Jakob Boehme. This second illumination is stated to have been induced by gazing at a polished disc. (13) Looking at a polished surface seems just as lowly and unspiritual a causal condition of mystical experience as the taking of a drug. Yet no one, I believe, will deny that Jakob Boehme was a "genuine" mystic.
Section 4: The Principle of Causal Indifference
Our principle says that if the phenomenological descriptions of the two experiences are indistinguishable, so far as can be ascertained, then it cannot be denied that if one is a genuine mystical experience the other is also. This will follow notwithstanding the lowly antecedents of one of them, and in spite of the understandable annoyance of an ascetic, a saint, or a spiritual hero, who is told that his careless and worldly neighbour, who never did anything to deserve it, has attained to mystical consciousness by swallowing a pill.
Section 5: Experience and Interpretation
It is a presupposition of our enquiry that it is important as well as possible to rnake a distinction between a mystical experience itself and the conceptual interpretations which may be put upon it.
The Christian mystic usually says that what he experiences is "union with God." The Hindu rnystic says that his experience is one in which his individual self is identical with Brahman or the Universal Self. The Christian says that his experience supports theism and is not an experience of actual identity with God, and he understands "union" as not involving identity but some other relation such as resemblance. The Hindu insists an identity, and says that his experience establishes what writers on rnysticism usually call "pantheism" - though Hindus usually do not use that Western word. The Buddhist mystic - at least according to some versions of Buddhism - does not speak of God or Brahman or a Universal Self, but interprets his experience in terms which do not include the concept of a Supreme Being at all.
For instance, Hegel was influenced by mystical ideas, but was not himself a mystic in my sense of the word. Nor was William James a mystic. Plato was deeply influenced by mystical ideas, and there are several passages in his writings which suggest that he was himself a mystic, but no one knows this for certain.
I use the word "interpretation" to mean anything which the conceptual intellect adds to the experience for the purpose of understanding it, whether what is added is only classificatory concepts, or a logical inference, or an explanatory hypothesis. Also the interpretation may be the work of a mystic or a nonmystic.
Pantheism is also a mystical idea, even if it is adopted on purely logical grounds by a thinker who considers himself a rationalist.
Section 6: Catholicity of Evidence
It is a presupposition of our enquiry that whatever conclusions we draw ought to be based on a survey of evidence as wide as possible. This means that we should consider not only the mysticism af a single culture, for instance Christian mysticism, but rather the mysticisms of all the higher cultures - at least as many and as much as this enquirer is in a position to study, having regard to his own limitations of knowledge and scholarship. I shall therefore try to take account, so far as these lirnitations allow, of Christian, Islamic, Judaic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist mysticisrns. Zen Buddhism, which is of course highly mystical, first appeared as a special brand of Buddhism in China from whence it passed over into Japan.
We shall very often find that the experiences of such men as Tennyson, J. A. Symonds, R. M. Bucke, Edward Carpenter, and even quite unheard-of and unknown contemporary unattached mystics are of great value to us.