PART 2: MYSTICISM IN THEORY
Conceived as a Goal, Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.
The Essential Nature of the Mystic Goal
What is the basic, essential nature of this spiritual “Truth” or spiritual “Goal”? The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of multiplicity and duality to attain the Mystic Consciousness of Unity.
Our normal consciousness is called “Many” or “Two.”
- Many: We are usually aware of many “things” in the world, including the multiplicity of objects of our awareness. Trees are different from tables which are different from birds which are different from clouds, et cetera.
- Two: Our normal awareness or consciousness is sometimes called “Two” or “duality” because there is a fundamental split in our awareness between (a) our self and (b) the world. This is sometimes expressed as the opposition between subject and object or the opposition between ego and non-ego.
The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One.
- The Goal is called Unity because it refers to unification of consciousness: this is the unification of the multiplicity of objects of awareness as well as the more fundamental unification between the subject and object(s) of awareness.
- Since the awareness of a “self” or “ego” requires some kind of distinction between it and something else, the self/ego is said to “die” or “dissolve” or “merge” in this Unity.
- Since there is no distinction between anything, including self and other, this Unity is sometimes called “Non-duality.” In defining the Mystic Goal by what it is not (i.e. not duality), the name “non-duality” avoids defining the Mystic Goal by what it is. Defining things “negatively” in this way is a common method for Mystics. This is often useful because asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Experience (e.g. “it is One”) allows for the introduction of various metaphysical propositions (e.g. “The One is Kether” or “The One is God” or “The One is separate from the Many”), theories, and beliefs, yet these theories and beliefs are forms of rational-intellectual mind that the Mystic attempts to transcend in directly penetrating to the Mystic Goal that is beyond rational-intellectual thinking. Also, asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Goal allows for distinctions to begin to be made – (e.g. “If the One is infinite, it does not include the finite”; “If the One is Good, it does not include the bad”; “If the Goal is powerful, it does not include weakness,” et cetera) – yet the Mystic Goal is beyond distinctions. Nonetheless, defining the Mystic Experience negatively or positively is still defining it, and – as will be seen repeatedly – the Mystic Experience is ultimately ineffable.
In Thelema, this Unity is often said to be “None” instead of “One.” This “None” is also called “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0.” This has its basis in The Book of the Law (I:27) where it is written, “O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, let it be ever thus; that men speak not of Thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!”
- It is understood that even this term “None” is not ideal. Ideally, we should “speak not of thee at all” because of the ineffability of the Mystic Goal as mentioned previously.
- One reason the idea of “None” is used instead of “One” is because the number 1 implies a “deviation” insofar as it is a positive number (in opposition to and balanced by negative numbers). Therefore, the “union of opposites” (one term for the Mystic Goal) can be seen to be between the “X” of ego and the “-X” of non-ego; when they combine, X+(-X), we get Zero or None.
- This “None” is not a lack of something, it is That which contains all things and That which all things – if they united – would cancel out into. Further symbolism of this None/Naught/0 can be studied in The Book of Thoth regarding Atu 0: The Fool.
- In the end, we must remember that “None” – just like every other name, title, or description – is ultimately inadequate to describe the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal.
Characteristics of the Mystic Goal
The primary characteristic of the Mystic Goal is its undifferentiated Unity. There are also a few other characteristics of the Mystic Experience that are universal among all Mystics from across different times and different cultures. The characteristics of the Mystic Goal are:
1. Undifferentiated Unity – This is the fact that the Mystic Experience confers this direct experience of the Unity of all things, and one’s ultimate identity therewith. Whether this Unity is called “Non-duality,” “One,” “None,” “All,” “Infinity,” “God,” “The Absolute,” “Krishna,” “Brahman,” “Emptiness,” “Buddha-nature,” “Silence,” “Darkness,” or “Light,” it is the same fundamental idea of an undifferentiated, undivided It. There are two types of Unity that are actually two sides of the same coin, so to speak: Introvertive Unity and Extrovertive Unity.
a) Introvertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity beyond all sense, thinking, forms, and images. There are no “things” or differentiation; there is simply undifferentiated unity. It is called “introvertive” because the mystic “looks within,” beyond all sensuous and intellectual contents of consciousness to penetrate to the undifferentiated Unity at the ground of all things. It is often spoken of as being “beyond senses,” “beyond images,” “beyond space,” “beyond time,” and “beyond causality.”
b) Extrovertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity as seen within the world, typically phrased as “All things are One.” The Extrovertive Unity “looks outward” into the world of senses and sees Unity permeating the apparent diversity and multiplicity. The sensuous world (the world as experienced through the senses) is transformed or transfigured, not in that anything has changed in the sensory world, but one’s very way of perceiving the sensuous world is altered so that Unity is perceived rather than multiplicity.
2. Sense of Objectivity/Reality - The Mystic Goal, the undifferentiated unity, is sensed or intuited to be objective and real. It is often said to be “more real” than our normal “dualistic” awareness which is therefore labeled as “illusion.” It is the intuitive insight that is normally said to be “gnosis,” the direct experiential “knowledge” that the undifferentiated unity is true; this is the non-rational “certainty” that is given by the Mystic Experience.
3. Deeply felt Positive Mood – This is the “peace” and “bliss” spoken of by virtually every Mystic throughout history (called “ananda” in Sanskrit). It is sometimes referred to as “love” or “joy” or virtually any other positive emotion raised to an exponential degree, e.g. “Perfect Happiness” as is stated in “Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass.”
4. Sense of Sacredness – This is an intuitive, direct sense of the sacredness or divine nature of this Mystic Experience. Its characteristic reactions involve awe, humility, and reverence. It is called “numinous” by Otto Rank, which he describes as referring to a sense of a tremendous mystery that is simultaneously both (a) awful/terrible (causes trembling and reverence; the “fear of God” of Judaism) and (b) fascinating/entrancing. This is sense of sacredness is generally related to various Mystics interpreting their experience as relating to God or the Divine. Also, this is somewhat related to the ‘deeply felt positive mood’ but not necessarily identical with it; one can feel blissful without the sense of sacredness and vice versa.
5. Ineffability – This refers to the fact that the Mystic Experience is universally said to be “ineffable.” This means the Mystic Experience is ultimately beyond words; it is impossible to describe. One of the most classic formulations of this idea comes from the Tao Teh Ching, “The Tao that is spoken of is not the Tao.” Although the Mystic Goal is ineffable, Mystics tend to write endlessly about it. For example, the previously mentioned line from the Tao Teh Ching is followed by 80 more chapters about the nature of the Tao. Although silence would most accurately portray the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal, Mystics often feel the need to communicate about the Truth they experience and so they must resort to words, metaphors, and symbols regardless of their inadequacy. The ineffability of the Mystic Experience is why Mystics universally assert that the Mystic Goal is “beyond words,” “beyond reason” or “supra-rational,” or “beyond definition.”
6. Paradoxicality – This refers to the logical contradictions that appear if the various definitions and descriptions of the Mystic Experience are analyzed rationally. Paradoxicality is the natural result of the identity of opposites that occurs in the Mystic Experience by virtue of the fact that it transcends the normal duality of perception and speech. Mystics use many terms to refer to the Mystic Experience that appear to be blatant contradictions. There are innumerable examples of this throughout Mystical literature:
- “It stirs and It stirs not” (Isa Upanishad)
- “dazzling darkness” (Henry Suso)
- “dark brightness” (Tao Teh Ching)
- “The One is everything and not everything” (Plotinus)
- “I am the first and the last; I am the honored one and the scorned one; I am the whore and the holy one” (“Thunder: Perfect Mind”)
- “I am light, and I am night, and I am that which is beyond them; I am speech, and I am silence, and I am that which is beyond them; I am life, and I am death, and I am that which is beyond them” (The Vision and the Voice, 1st Aethyr)
- “there is no subject, and there is no predicate; nor is there the contradictory of either of these things” (The Book of Lies)
- “a light undesired, most desirable” (Liber AL, II:61), et cetera.
Therefore, there are several characteristics that can be seen to be true of the Mystic Experience regardless of time period or culture. The primary characteristic is the experience of an undifferentiated unity – this is the defining characteristic of the Mystic Goal and it is always present in some form. The other characteristics include an intuitive sense of objectivity or reality (the Mystic Experience is understood as true and with supra-rational certainty), deeply felt positive mood (joy, bliss, peace), a sense of sacredness (holy, sublime, numinous, divine), ineffability (beyond words and description), and paradoxicality (descriptions are logically contradictory).
It should be noted that expressions of the Mystic Experience do not necessarily – or even usually – include all 6 of these characteristics at once. Sometimes the ineffability is emphasized, sometimes the bliss of positive emotion is emphasized, sometimes paradoxicality is emphasized, et cetera. Certain cultures emphasize different qualities – for example, Sufism tends to stress the positive emotion of bliss and love while Buddhism tends to stress ineffability. Some Mystics write with much more clarity while others write with much more romantic poeticism; some try to speak rationally while some speak in parable or metaphor. Nonetheless, they all refer to the same Mystic Experience. When the various utterances of a Mystic are brought together, they usually encompass most or all of these characteristics. Thelema in particular is a system that has instances of all of these characteristics of the Mystic Experience.
The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal
For as many Mystics have existed, there are at least as many different symbols, names, titles, and metaphors to describe the Mystic Goal. Each of these symbols implies a view about the world or various metaphysical propositions, which is one of their shortcomings. Every symbol is an image and, since the Mystic Goal is ultimately beyond all images, names, forms, and all other partial phenomena, there is no symbol that can be “true” as opposed to all others; they are all ultimately “degradations” of the Truth. They can only be signposts – fingers pointing to the moon, so to speak – and they must be taken as such. Nonetheless, symbols are also helpful in that they can aid us in understanding the nature of the Mystic Goal, or at least the language and ideas surrounding this within a particular system.
It will be seen very quickly that these symbols overlap. Sometimes an individual will use many of these metaphors/symbols at once. In the end, these all refer to the same Mystic Goal. In general, the West tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate Being whereas the East tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate State of being (although there are examples where the opposites are true).
The One - The Goal is sometimes explained numerically as “the One.” “One” implies something that is single, undivided, and complete.
- In the Qabalah, this “One” is Kether, the 1st Sephirah on the Tree of Life, which literally means “Crown.” In Qabalistic terms, “All numbers [are] Veils of the One, emanations of and therefore corruptions of the One” (Crowley in 777)
- The same term is often used by Neoplatonists such as Plotinus who says, “It is the simple unbroken Unity” (Enneads, I:1:9).
- This “One” is – in the West – identified with God as in one of the central prayers of Judaism, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), in Christ’s statement that, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30), and in the Quran, “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (Surah 112).
None – The Goal is sometimes, as mentioned previously, explained as “None” (or “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0”). “None” implies no division, no distinction, no opposition, no separation, and other similar negatives.
- In the Qabalah, this “None” is the Negative Veils of Existence that “pre-exist” Kether. The three Negative Veils are “Ain,” “Ain Soph,” and “Ain Soph Aur,” which can be translated as “Nothing,” “No Limit,” and “Limitless Light,” respectively.
- Numerically, “None” can be expressed as 0 = X + (-X), which implies that it contains opposites as well as that it is the “result” of uniting opposites.
- The same idea also appears in Zen, as when Shunryu Suzuki writes, “True being comes out of nothingness, moment after moment. Nothingness is always there, and from it everything appears.” Similarly, Joshu Sasaki Roshi says, “The whole universe is one: equality holds difference and discrimination within it. The activity of equality includes plus and minus. Therefore, it is zero… Inevitably, the state in which you no longer claim yourself will be manifested. Buddhism concludes that this is the true self, true love, and the ultimate truth. Zen’s view is that words cannot point out the ultimate truth. It is utterly, completely zero.”
God – In the West, God is the ultimate goal of union. God is conceived as the ultimate Being who is omnipotent (contains all forces), omnipresent (contains all forms), and omniscient (contains all knowledge or all relations); God is therefore said to be “infinite.” The examples from every single Western Mystic are too innumerable to even begin to list.
- Because of the Western notion that each individual has or “is” a soul that is separate from God, the Mystic Goal is seen as “union with God” (called “henosis” in Neoplatonism which literally means “oneness”).
- God is the ultimate Good, the ultimate Truth, and philosophers equate their notion of the Absolute with that of God.
- Alternate ways to refer to this same idea include “the Divine,” “the Lord,” and “Godhead” as well as the innumerable names of God from various systems (“YHVH,” “Adonai,” “Christ,” “Allah,” “Tetragrammaton,” “Elohim,” “El,” et cetera).
The Absolute – In Western philosophy, the concept of the Absolute is the unconditional, infinite, ultimate Reality.
- While it is a way that Westerners have pointed to the same Mystic Goal, religious people inevitably equate this philosophical concept of the Absolute with God.
- The Absolute is equivalent to the “Ain Soph” of Qabalah, the “Pleroma” of Gnosticism, the “Tao” or the “Wu Ji” of Chinese philosophy, the “Brahman” of Hinduism, et cetera.
The Sun - The Sun is one of the most ancient symbols of the Mystic Goal. In the West, it is endlessly associated with God in various ways.
- The Sun is the source of light in the world, and therefore makes us able to “see” reality. Light is constantly associated with knowledge or awareness (as in “enlightenment”) whereas darkness is constantly associated with ignorance or delusion.
- The Sun is the source of life in the world, so it is understood as a symbol of being the source of creative power/force of this Absolute/God, i.e. omnipotence.
- The Sun is the “eye of the world,” so it is understood as seeing or being aware of all things, i.e. omniscience.
- The Sun rules the ordering of days, seasons, and years, so it is understood as a symbol of order, harmony, law, and the “Architect” (source of all rules/laws and all forms) of the Cosmos.
- In the New Aeon, we know (a) the Sun is the center of our system, and (b) the Sun never ‘dies.’ Therefore, it is a symbol of being (a) the central, ordering principle of the universe and therefore the center or “soul” of ourselves, and (b) eternal, immortal, infinite, deathless, et cetera.
- Horus in His various forms – Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Ra-Hoor, Hoor-Apep, Hoori, Heru-Ra-Ha, et cetera – is a symbol of this “Sun.”
The common symbol of the Sun, the point in the circle, is itself a symbol of the union of opposites: in this context, the Sun represents the Whole, the One, the All, et cetera. Sometimes the Sun (Sol) is seen as a complement to the Moon (Luna): in this context, the Sun is represented as one half of the whole, the Bridegroom as opposed to the Bride, the Male as opposed to the Female, the God as opposed to the Soul, et cetera.
Union of Opposites – Since the Mystic Goal involves transcending duality, all symbols that involve the union of opposites in some way are symbolic of the Mystic Goal. These are innumerable as well but some examples include the Union of:
- Soul and God (virtually all Western Mystics)
- Bride and Bridegroom (many Christian and Sufi Mystics)
- Male and Female
- The Child as the union of Father and Mother (Horus as Crowned and Conquering Child)
- Sun and Moon (Planetary)
- Microcosm and Macrocosm; Pentagram and Hexagram; 5 and 6 (Hermetic)
- Lingam and Yoni (and virtually all sexual symbolism; Hindu)
- Lance and Cup/Chalice/Grail (Parsival; the Gnostic Mass)
- Cross and Rose (Rosicrucian)
- Lion and Eagle (Alchemical)
- Cross and Circle; Point and Circle; Square and Circle (Geometric)
- Square and Compass (Masonic)
- Heart and Serpent (Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV)
- Egg and Serpent (Orphic Mysteries)
Reality – The Mystic Goal is sometimes equated with “Reality.” This implies that normal understanding or awareness is “illusion,” i.e. the “Fall” of Western religion or the “illusion” (“Maya”) of Eastern philosophies. Virtually all Mystics equate the Mystic Goal to the ultimate Reality in some way or another. It is also called “Truth.” This emphasizes the “Sense of Objectivity/Reality” aspect of the Mystic Goal mentioned previously.
True Self – The “True Self” is sometimes used to distinguish from the “false self” of the dualistic and limited ego-self. This emphasizes that the Mystic Goal is not something separate from oneself.
- The True Self is sometimes called “True Nature,” the “pure soul,” or the “Oversoul.”
- In Hinduism, it is the “Atman” in Hinduism that is understood to be identical with “Brahman,” the infinite, boundless Reality, i.e. the “Absolute” of Hindu philosophy.
- In Buddhism, the “True Self” is sometimes called the “Adi-Buddha” (“primordial Buddha”) in Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhism, and the “True Nature” is sometimes called the “Buddha-dhatu” (“Buddha-nature”).
- In the Qabalistic system, this is the “Yechidah” (or “Jechidah”), the primal individuality attributed to Kether on the Tree of Life.
- The Golden Dawn and others call this the “Genius” or “Daimon” or “Augoeides.” It can, in certain ways, be identified with the Holy Guardian Angel of Thelemic mysticism.
Enlightenment – In Eastern systems there are various terms that are essentially equivalent to our English term “enlightenment.” The term implies insight into one’s True Self or True Nature or into the true nature of Reality. Various scholars and philosophers have introduced distinctions between these terms and various other sub-sets of these terms, but they all ultimately refer to the same Mystic Goal. There are various terms for this in different systems:
- Samadhi – In the Hindu system, the term “Samadhi” is used to refer to the union of subject and object of perception in meditation. This brings “liberation” (“moksha”) from the Wheel of Samsara, i.e. of birth, death, and rebirth.
- Nirvana – In the Buddhist system, the term “Nirvana” is used to refer to the cessation of the sense of self or of “desire” that frees one from the First Noble Truth of suffering (“dukkha”). It is equivalent to the Muslim “fana” (“to pass away/cease”).
- Kensho/satori – “Kensho” and “satori” are words used in Zen Buddhism that essentially mean “seeing into one’s true nature.”
The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal
As we can see, there are more ways to symbolically express the Mystic Goal than can possibly be listed in this short essay. There are two main points to remember:
1. All of these symbols refer to the same Mystic Goal of transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One. The diversity of the symbolism veils its ultimate Unity.
2. The difference of these symbols enables us to not get dogmatically “stuck” in any one of them to the exclusion of others. One of the virtues of Thelemic Mysticism is the explicit awareness of these many different names and forms of expressing the same Mystic Goal, so we are particularly on guard against asserting one to be “more true” than another.
The question still remains: “How do I achieve the Mystic Goal?” or “What is the Mystic Path?” This will be explained in the next section, Mysticism in Practice.