Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Assuming God Exists Is Not Mysticism

This morning I was surfing blogs. One link led to another and I found myself on a site devoted to "mysticism". But as I read the site's introduction, I was struck by the author's insistence that God exists ontologically:

"Basically all religions teach the same basic truth: man's existence has a metaphysical basis, to which man wants to relink his life. This metaphysical basis is usually referred to as God, Brahman, Allah etc. But it is the same in every man. This magnificent and unspeakable source of life and happiness will here be called the God/Brahman, but you can give it any name you want, according to your own convictions."
Man's existence has a metaphysical basis? I doubt anyone wisely begins a study of mysticism by assuming god exists ontologically, as some kind of metaphysical entity. That's like preparing to shop for groceries by assuming you already have enough food in your house: It's a foolish assumption that will retard your progress until you discard it.

The spirit and substance of mysticism is to discover whatever there is to discover through one's own experience. Mysticism is not theology, and, unlike theology, it is not fundamentally speculative, nor is it hearsay. Instead, mysticism is grounded in direct experience, in personal discovery.

Personal experience is open ended and uncertain. Hence, mysticism is open ended and uncertain. I cannot today tell you with absolute certainty how I will feel tomorrow. Perhaps I will bounce out of bed feeling like a new man. Perhaps I will wake up with a cold. If I cannot even tell you with absolute certainty how I will feel tomorrow, how much of a fool must I be to pretend it is absolutely certain God is an ontologically existing metaphysical entity?


Brendan said...

Ontology and theology turn mysticism inside out (literally). Whether "God" exists or not is not nearly as important as the personal meaning to me of religious myths and symbols.

Ontology and theology concern "belief" in someone else's experiences and the artistic express of those experiences in metaphor. Mysticism concerns my experiences and my own artistic expression of meaning.

Paul said...

You're right; mysticism is an experiential matter. Sometimes people who believe in God never meditate or have that type of experience spontaneously; sometimes unbelievers do.

Also, if someone who has this type of experience claims to know x,y, and z theologically as a result of it, it usually seems to turn out that what they've learned corroborates the tenets of their religion. So there's a distinction to be made between the experience itself and the interpretations people may place on it.

Paul said...

I couldn't agree with you more that ontology and theology turn mysticism inside out, Brendan! If they were designed to do it, they couldn't do a better job of it.

Hi Paul! Long time, no see! You make some excellent points there. I am especially beholden to you for mentioning that the experience and the interpretation of the experience must be distinguished. Making that distinction is crucial to understanding mysticism.

Mystic Wing said...

Well, personally, I don't have a great deal of trouble with the quote you cite. I don't think it's a reach at all to assume that there is a metaphysical basis to our existence—a link that we have perhaps lost and are seeking to reestablish through mysticism. In sheerly pragmatic terms, that's what the human situation "feels" like to me. What could be more experiential than that.

I think it's clearly a mistake to pose metaphysics, or mysticism, as lying opposite of "experiential." That's the whole point of debate, isn't it? The mystics who insist that their experience is perfectly experiential, the skeptics who insist it is not.

Oemar said...

Wow, it looks like you 're Immanuel Kant's fan... his 'Critique of Pure Reason' discusses more or less the same stuff with similar views... like priori - knowledge obtained due to experience and posteriori - knowledge obtained without experience.

Paul said...

I've been thinking about what you've said, Mystic, and while I can't entirely agree with you -- I think it is indeed a reach to assume a metaphysical basis for our existence -- I can easily see how that question could be answered differently by different people, each being true to his or her own experience.

Hi Oemar! That's a very interesting comparison to Kant! Thank you for that!