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The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

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But when we compare the military type of self-severity with that
of the ascetic saint, we find a world-wide difference in all
their spiritual concomitants.

"'Live and let live,'" writes a clear-headed Austrian officer,
"is no device for an army. Contempt for one's own comrades, for
the troops of the enemy, and, above all, fierce contempt for
one's own person, are what war demands of every one. Far better
is it for an army to be too savage, too cruel, too barbarous,
than to possess too much sentimentality and human reasonableness.

If the soldier is to be good for anything as a soldier, he must
be exactly the opposite of a reasoning and thinking man. The
measure of goodness in him is his possible use in war. War, and
even peace, require of the soldier absolutely peculiar standards
of morality. The recruit brings with him common moral notions,
of which he must seek immediately to get rid. For him victory,
success, must be EVERYTHING. The most barbaric tendencies in men
come to life again in war, and for war's uses they are
incommensurably good."[221]

[221] C. V. B. K.: Friedens-und Kriegs-moral der Heere. Quoted
by Hamon: Psychologie du Militaire professional, 1895, p. xli.

These words are of course literally true. The immediate aim of
the soldier's life is, as Moltke said, destruction, and nothing
but destruction; and whatever constructions wars result in are
remote and non-military. Consequently the soldier cannot
train himself to be too feelingless to all those usual sympathies
and respects, whether for persons or for things, that make for
conservation. Yet the fact remains that war is a school of
strenuous life and heroism; and, being in the line of aboriginal
instinct, is the only school that as yet is universally
available. But when we gravely ask ourselves whether this
wholesale organization of irrationality and crime be our only
bulwark against effeminacy, we stand aghast at the thought, and
think more kindly of ascetic religion. One hears of the
mechanical equivalent of heat. What we now need to discover in
the social realm is the moral equivalent of war: something
heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet
will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has
proved itself to be incompatible. I have often thought that in
the old monkish poverty-worship, in spite of the pedantry which
infested it, there might be something like that moral equivalent
of war which we are seeking. May not voluntarily accepted
poverty be "the strenuous life," without the need of crushing
weaker peoples?

Poverty indeed IS the strenuous life--without brass bands or
uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions;
and when one sees the way in which wealth- getting enters as an
ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one
wonders whether a revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy
religious vocation may not be "the transformation of military
courage," and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in
need of.

Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of
poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown
literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be
poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does
not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making
street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have
lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of
poverty could have meant: the liberation from material
attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the
paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have, the
right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly--the
more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we
of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never
scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put
off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the
thought of having a child without a bank-account and doomed to
manual labor, it is time for thinking men to protest against so
unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.

It is true that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and
exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and
ought to be chosen. But wealth does this in only a portion of
the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the
fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and
propagators of corruption. There are thousands of conjunctures
in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for
whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the
strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if
we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer hold our
tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket.
Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish, our
salaries stop, our club doors close in our faces; yet, while we
lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit, and our
example would help to set free our generation. The cause would
need its funds, but we its servants would be potent in proportion
as we personally were contented with our poverty.

I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is
certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated
classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization

I have now said all that I can usefully say about the several
fruits of religion as they are manifested in saintly lives, so I
will make a brief review and pass to my more general conclusions.

Our question, you will remember, is as to whether religion stands
approved by its fruits, as these are exhibited in the saintly
type of character. Single attributes of saintliness may, it is
true, be temperamental endowments, found in non-religious
individuals. But the whole group of them forms a combination
which, as such, is religious, for it seems to flow from the sense
of the divine as from its psychological centre. Whoever
possesses strongly this sense comes naturally to think that the
smallest details of this world derive infinite significance from
their relation to an unseen divine order. The thought of this
order yields him a superior denomination of happiness, and a
steadfastness of soul with which no other can compare. In social
relations his serviceability is exemplary; he abounds in impulses
to help. His help is inward as well as outward, for his sympathy
reaches souls as well as bodies, and kindles unsuspected
faculties therein. Instead of placing happiness where common men
place it, in comfort, he places it in a higher kind of inner
excitement, which converts discomforts into sources of cheer and
annuls unhappiness. So he turns his back upon no duty, however
thankless; and when we are in need of assistance, we can count
upon the saint lending his hand with more certainty than we can
count upon any other person. Finally, his humble-mindedness and
his ascetic tendencies save him from the petty personal
pretensions which so obstruct our ordinary social intercourse,
and his purity gives us in him a clean man for a companion.
Felicity, purity, charity, patience, self-severity--these are
splendid excellencies, and the saint of all men shows them in the
completest possible measure.

But, as we saw, all these things together do not make saints
infallible. When their intellectual outlook is narrow, they fall
into all sorts of holy excesses, fanaticism or theopathic
absorption, self-torment, prudery, scrupulosity, gullibility, and
morbid inability to meet the world. By the very intensity of his
fidelity to the paltry ideals with which an inferior intellect
may inspire him, a saint can be even more objectionable and
damnable than a superficial carnal man would be in the same
situation. We must judge him not sentimentally only, and not in
isolation, but using our own intellectual standards, placing him
in his environment, and estimating his total function.

Now in the matter of intellectual standards, we must bear in mind
that it is unfair, where we find narrowness of mind, always to
impute it as a vice to the individual, for in religious and
theological matters he probably absorbs his narrowness from his
generation. Moreover, we must not confound the essentials of
saintliness, which are those general passions of which I have
spoken, with its accidents, which are the special determinations
of these passions at any historical moment. In these
determinations the saints will usually be loyal to the temporary
idols of their tribe. Taking refuge in monasteries was as much
an idol of the tribe in the middle ages, as bearing a hand in the
world's work is to-day. Saint Francis or Saint Bernard, were
they living to-day, would undoubtedly be leading consecrated
lives of some sort, but quite as undoubtedly they would not lead
them in retirement. Our animosity to special historic
manifestations must not lead us to give away the saintly impulses
in their essential nature to the tender mercies of inimical

The most inimical critic of the saintly impulses whom I know is
Nietzsche. He contrasts them with the worldly passions as we
find these embodied in the predaceous military character,
altogether to the advantage of the latter. Your born saint, it
must be confessed, has something about him which often makes the
gorge of a carnal man rise, so it will be worth while to consider
the contrast in question more fully.

Dislike of the saintly nature seems to be a negative result of
the biologically useful instinct of welcoming leadership, and
glorifying the chief of the tribe. The chief is the potential,
if not the actual tyrant, the masterful, overpowering man of
prey. We confess our inferiority and grovel before him. We
quail under his glance, and are at the same time proud of owning
so dangerous a lord. Such instinctive and submissive
hero-worship must have been indispensable in primeval tribal
life. In the endless wars of those times, leaders were
absolutely needed for the tribe's survival. If there were any
tribes who owned no leaders, they can have left no issue to
narrate their doom. The leaders always had good consciences, for
conscience in them coalesced with will, and those who looked on
their face were as much smitten with wonder at their freedom from
inner restraint as with awe at the energy of their outward

Compared with these beaked and taloned graspers of the world,
saints are herbivorous animals, tame and harmless barn-yard
poultry. There are saints whose beard you may, if you ever care
to, pull with impunity. Such a man excites no thrills of wonder
veiled in terror; his conscience is full of scruples and returns;
he stuns us neither by his inward freedom nor his outward power;
and unless he found within us an altogether different faculty of
admiration to appeal to, we should pass him by with contempt.

In point of fact, he does appeal to a different faculty.
Reenacted in human nature is the fable of the wind, the sun, and
the traveler. The sexes embody the discrepancy. The woman loves
the man the more admiringly the stormier he shows himself, and
the world deifies its rulers the more for being willful and
unaccountable. But the woman in turn subjugates the man by the
mystery of gentleness in beauty, and the saint has always charmed
the world by something similar. Mankind is susceptible and
suggestible in opposite directions, and the rivalry of influences
is unsleeping. The saintly and the worldly ideal pursue their
feud in literature as much as in real life.

For Nietzsche the saint represents little but sneakingness and
slavishness. He is the sophisticated invalid, the degenerate par
excellence, the man of insufficient vitality. His prevalence
would put the human type in danger.

"The sick are the greatest danger for the well. The weaker, not
the stronger, are the strong's undoing. It is not FEAR of our
fellow-man, which we should wish to see diminished; for fear
rouses those who are strong to become terrible in turn
themselves, and preserves the hard-earned and successful type of
humanity. What is to be dreaded by us more than any other doom is
not fear, but rather the great disgust, not fear, but rather the
great pity--disgust and pity for our human fellows. . . . The
MORBID are our greatest peril--not the 'bad' men, not the
predatory beings. Those born wrong, the miscarried, the broken--
they it is, the WEAKEST who are undermining the vitality of the
race, poisoning our trust in life, and putting humanity in
question. Every look of them is a sigh--'Would I were something
other! I am sick and tired of what I am.' In this swamp-soil of
self-contempt, every poisonous weed flourishes, and all so small,
so secret, so dishonest, and so sweetly rotten. Here swarm the
worms of sensitiveness and resentment, here the air smells odious
with secrecy, with what is not to be acknowledged; here is woven
endlessly the net of the meanest of conspiracies, the conspiracy
of those who suffer against those who succeed and are victorious;
here the very aspect of the victorious is hated--as if health,
success, strength, pride, and the sense of power were in
themselves things vicious, for which one ought eventually to make
bitter expiation. Oh, how these people would themselves like to
inflict the expiation, how they thirst to be the hangmen! And
all the while their duplicity never confesses their hatred to
be hatred."[222]

[222] Zur Genealogie der Moral, Dritte Abhandlung, Section 14. I
have abridged, and in one place transposed, a sentence.

Poor Nietzsche's antipathy is itself sickly enough, but we all
know what he means, and he expresses well the clash between the
two Ideals. The carnivorous-minded "strong man," the adult male
and cannibal, can see nothing but mouldiness and morbidness in
the saint's gentleness and self-severity, and regards him with
pure loathing. The whole feud revolves essentially upon two
pivots: Shall the seen world or the unseen world be our chief
sphere of adaptation? and must our means of adaptation in this
seen world be aggressiveness or non-resistance?

The debate is serious. In some sense and to some degree both
worlds must be acknowledged and taken account of; and in the seen
world both aggressiveness and non-resistance are needful. It is
a question of emphasis, of more or less. Is the saint's type or
the strong-man's type the more ideal?

It has often been supposed, and even now, I think, it is supposed
by most persons, that there can be one intrinsically ideal type
of human character. A certain kind of man, it is imagined, must
be the best man absolutely and apart from the utility of his
function, apart from economical considerations. The saint's
type, and the knight's or gentleman's type, have always been
rival claimants of this absolute ideality; and in the ideal of
military religious orders both types were in a manner blended.
According to the empirical philosophy, however, all ideals are
matters of relation. It would be absurd, for example, to ask for
a definition of "the ideal horse," so long as dragging drays and
running races, bearing children, and jogging about with
tradesmen's packages all remain as indispensable differentiations
of equine function. You may take what you call a general
all-round animal as a compromise, but he will be inferior to any
horse of a more specialized type, in some one particular
direction. We must not forget this now when, in discussing
saintliness, we ask if it be an ideal type of manhood. We must
test it by its economical relations.

I think that the method which Mr. Spencer uses in his Data of
Ethics will help to fix our opinion. Ideality in conduct is
altogether a matter of adaptation. A society where all were
invariably aggressive would destroy itself by inner friction, and
in a society where some are aggressive, others must be
non-resistant, if there is to be any kind of order. This is the
present constitution of society, and to the mixture we owe many
of our blessings. But the aggressive members of society are
always tending to become bullies, robbers, and swindlers; and no
one believes that such a state of things as we now live in is the
millennium. It is meanwhile quite possible to conceive an
imaginary society in which there should be no aggressiveness, but
only sympathy and fairness--any small community of true friends
now realizes such a society. Abstractly considered, such a
society on a large scale would be the millennium, for every good
thing might be realized there with no expense of friction. To
such a millennial society the saint would be entirely adapted.
His peaceful modes of appeal would be efficacious over his
companions, and there would be no one extant to take advantage of
his non-resistance. The saint is therefore abstractly a higher
type of man than the "strong man," because he is adapted to the
highest society conceivable, whether that society ever be
concretely possible or not. The strong man would immediately
tend by his presence to make that society deteriorate. It would
become inferior in everything save in a certain kind of bellicose
excitement, dear to men as they now are.

But if we turn from the abstract question to the actual
situation, we find that the individual saint may be well or ill
adapted, according to particular circumstances. There is, in
short, no absoluteness in the excellence of sainthood. It must
be confessed that as far as this world goes, anyone who makes an
out-and-out saint of himself does so at his peril. If he is not
a large enough man, he may appear more insignificant and
contemptible, for all his saintship, than if he had remained a
worldling.[223] Accordingly religion has seldom been so
radically taken in our Western world that the devotee could not
mix it with some worldly temper. It has always found good men who
could follow most of its impulses, but who stopped short when it
came to non-resistance. Christ himself was fierce upon occasion.
Cromwells, Stonewall Jacksons, Gordons, show that Christians can
be strong men also.

[223] We all know DAFT saints, and they inspire a queer kind of
aversion. But in comparing saints with strong men we must choose
individuals on the same intellectual level. The under-witted
strong man homologous in his sphere with the under-witted saint,
is the bully of the slums, the hooligan or rowdy. Surely on this
level also the saint preserves a certain superiority.

How is success to be absolutely measured when there are so many
environments and so many ways of looking at the adaptation? It
cannot be measured absolutely; the verdict will vary according to
the point of view adopted. From the biological point of view
Saint Paul was a failure, because he was beheaded. Yet he was
magnificently adapted to the larger environment of history; and
so far as any saint's example is a leaven of righteousness in the
world, and draws it in the direction of more prevalent habits of
saintliness, he is a success, no matter what his immediate bad
fortune may be. The greatest saints, the spiritual heroes whom
every one acknowledges, the Francises, Bernards, Luthers,
Loyolas, Wesleys, Channings, Moodys, Gratrys, the Phillips
Brookses, the Agnes Joneses, Margaret Hallahans, and Dora
Pattisons, are successes from the outset. They show themselves,
and there is no question; every one perceives their strength and
stature. Their sense of mystery in things, their passion, their
goodness, irradiate about them and enlarge their outlines while
they soften them. They are like pictures with an atmosphere and
background; and, placed alongside of them, the strong men of this
world and no other seem as dry as sticks, as hard and crude as
blocks of stone or brick-bats.

In a general way, then, and "on the whole,"[224] our abandonment
of theological criteria, and our testing of religion by practical
common sense and the empirical method, leave it in possession of
its towering place in history. Economically, the saintly group
of qualities is indispensable to the world's welfare. The great
saints are immediate successes; the smaller ones are at least
heralds and harbingers, and they may be leavens also, of a better
mundane order. Let us be saints, then, if we can, whether or not
we succeed visibly and temporally. But in our Father's house are
many mansions, and each of us must discover for himself the kind
of religion and the amount of saintship which best comports with
what he believes to be his powers and feels to be his truest
mission and vocation. There are no successes to be guaranteed
and no set orders to be given to individuals, so long as we
follow the methods of empirical philosophy.

[224] See above, p. 321.

This is my conclusion so far. I know that on some of your minds
it leaves a feeling of wonder that such a method should have been
applied to such a subject, and this in spite of all those remarks
about empiricism which I made at the beginning of Lecture
XIII.[225] How, you say, can religion, which believes in two
worlds and an invisible order, be estimated by the adaptation of
its fruits to this world's order alone? It is its truth, not its
utility, you insist, upon which our verdict ought to depend. If
religion is true, its fruits are good fruits, even though in this
world they should prove uniformly ill adapted and full of naught
but pathos. It goes back, then, after all, to the question of
the truth of theology. The plot inevitably thickens upon us; we
cannot escape theoretical considerations. I propose, then, that
to some degree we face the responsibility. Religious persons
have often, though not uniformly, professed to see truth in a
special manner. That manner is known as mysticism. I will
consequently now proceed to treat at some length of mystical
phenomena, and after that, though more briefly, I will consider
religious philosophy.

[225] Above, pp. 321-327

Lectures XVI and XVII


Over and over again in these lectures I have raised points and
left them open and unfinished until we should have come to the
subject of Mysticism. Some of you, I fear, may have smiled as
you noted my reiterated postponements. But now the hour has come
when mysticism must be faced in good earnest, and those broken
threads wound up together. One may say truly, I think, that
personal religious experience has its root and centre in mystical
states of consciousness; so for us, who in these lectures are
treating personal experience as the exclusive subject of our
study, such states of consciousness ought to form the vital
chapter from which the other chapters get their light. Whether
my treatment of mystical states will shed more light or darkness,
I do not know, for my own constitution shuts me out from their
enjoyment almost entirely, and I can speak of them only at second
hand. But though forced to look upon the subject so externally,
I will be as objective and receptive as I can; and I think I
shall at least succeed in convincing you of the reality of the
states in question, and of the paramount importance of their

First of all, then, I ask, What does the expression "mystical
states of consciousness" mean? How do we part off mystical
states from other states?

The words "mysticism" and "mystical" are often used as terms of
mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague
and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either facts or
logic. For some writers a "mystic" is any person who believes in
thought-transference, or spirit-return. Employed in this way the
word has little value: there are too many less ambiguous
synonyms. So, to keep it useful by restricting it, I will do
what I did in the case of the word "religion," and simply propose
to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify
us in calling it mystical for the purpose of the present
lectures. In this way we shall save verbal disputation, and the
recriminations that generally go therewith.

1. Ineffability.--The handiest of the marks by which I classify
a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it
immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate
report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from
this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be
imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical
states are more like states of feeling than like states of
intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a
certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists.
One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one
must have been in love one's self to understand a lover's state
of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the
musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him
weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to
his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.

2. Noetic quality.--Although so similar to states of feeling,
mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also
states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of
truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are
illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance,
all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry
with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.

These two characters will entitle any state to be called
mystical, in the sense in which I use the word. Two other
qualities are less sharply marked, but are usually found. These

3. Transiency.--Mystical states cannot be sustained for long.
Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or
two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light
of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but
imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is
recognized; and from one recurrence to another it is susceptible
of continuous development in what is felt as inner richness and

4. Passivity.--Although the oncoming of mystical states may be
facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the
attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in
other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the
characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic
feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes
as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. This latter
peculiarity connects mystical states with certain definite
phenomena of secondary or alternative personality, such as
prophetic speech, automatic writing, or the mediumistic trance.
When these latter conditions are well pronounced, however, there
may be no recollection whatever of the phenomenon, and it may
have no significance for the subject's usual inner life, to
which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical
states, strictly so-called, are never merely interruptive. Some
memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of
their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject
between the times of their recurrence. Sharp divisions in this
region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of
gradations and mixtures.

These four characteristics are sufficient to mark out a group of
states of consciousness peculiar enough to deserve a special name
and to call for careful study. Let it then be called the
mystical group.

Our next step should be to gain acquaintance with some typical
examples. Professional mystics at the height of their
development have often elaborately organized experiences and a
philosophy based thereupon. But you remember what I said in my
first lecture: phenomena are best understood when placed within
their series, studied in their germ and in their over-ripe decay,
and compared with their exaggerated and degenerated kindred. The
range of mystical experience is very wide, much too wide for us
to cover in the time at our disposal. Yet the method of serial
study is so essential for interpretation that if we really wish
to reach conclusions we must use it. I will begin, therefore,
with phenomena which claim no special religious significance, and
end with those of which the religious pretensions are extreme.

The simplest rudiment of mystical experience would seem to be
that deepened sense of the significance of a maxim or formula
which occasionally sweeps over one. "I've heard that said all my
life," we exclaim, "but I never realized its full meaning until
now." "When a fellow-monk," said Luther, "one day repeated
the words of the Creed: 'I believe in the forgiveness of sins,'
I saw the Scripture in an entirely new light; and straightway I
felt as if I were born anew. It was as if I had found the door
of paradise thrown wide open."[226] This sense of deeper
significance is not confined to rational propositions. Single
words,[227] and conjunctions of words, effects of light on land
and sea, odors and musical sounds, all bring it when the mind is
tuned aright. Most of us can remember the strangely moving power
of passages in certain poems read when we were young, irrational
doorways as they were through which the mystery of fact, the
wildness and the pang of life, stole into our hearts and thrilled
them. The words have now perhaps become mere polished surfaces
for us; but lyric poetry and music are alive and significant only
in proportion as they fetch these vague vistas of a life
continuous with our own, beckoning and inviting, yet ever eluding
our pursuit. We are alive or dead to the eternal inner message
of the arts according as we have kept or lost this mystical

[226] Newman's Securus judicat orbis terrarum is another

[227] "Mesopotamia" is the stock comic instance.--An excellent
Old German lady, who had done some traveling in her day, used to
describe to me her Sehnsucht that she might yet visit
"Philadelphia," whose wondrous name had always haunted her
imagination. Of John Foster it is said that "single words (as
chalcedony), or the names of ancient heroes, had a mighty
fascination over him. 'At any time the word hermit was enough to
transport him.' The words woods and forests would produce the
most powerful emotion." Foster's Life, by Ryland, New York,
1846, p. 3.

A more pronounced step forward on the mystical ladder is found in
an extremely frequent phenomenon, that sudden feeling, namely,
which sometimes sweeps over us, of having "been here before," as
if at some indefinite past time, in just this place, with just
these people, we were already saying just these things. As
Tennyson writes:

"Moreover, something is or seems
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams--

"Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare."[228]

[228] The Two Voices. In a letter to Mr. B. P. Blood, Tennyson
reports of himself as follows:--

"I have never had any revelations through anaesthetics, but a
kind of waking trance--this for lack of a better word--I have
frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all
alone. This has come upon me through repeating my own name to
myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the
intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality
itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and
this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the
surest, utterly beyond words--where death was an almost laughable
impossibility--the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no
extinction, but the only true life. I am ashamed of my feeble
description. Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?"

Professor Tyndall, in a letter, recalls Tennyson saying of this
condition: "By God Almighty! there is no delusion in the matter!
It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder,
associated with absolute clearness of mind." Memoirs of Alfred
Tennyson, ii. 473.

Sir James Crichton-Browne has given the technical name of "dreamy
states" to these sudden invasions of vaguely reminiscent
consciousness.[229] They bring a sense of mystery and of the
metaphysical duality of things, and the feeling of an enlargement
of perception which seems imminent but which never completes
itself. In Dr. Crichton-Browne's opinion they connect themselves
with the perplexed and scared disturbances of self-consciousness
which occasionally precede epileptic attacks. I think that this
learned alienist takes a rather absurdly alarmist view of an
intrinsically insignificant phenomenon. He follows it along the
downward ladder, to insanity; our path pursues the upward ladder
chiefly. The divergence shows how important it is to neglect no
part of a phenomenon's connections, for we make it appear
admirable or dreadful according to the context by which we set it

[229] The Lancet, July 6 and 13, 1895, reprinted as the Cavendish
Lecture, on Dreamy Mental States, London, Bailliere, 1895. They
have been a good deal discussed of late by psychologists. See,
for example, Bernard-Leroy: L'Illusion de Fausse Reconnaissance,
Paris, 1898.

Somewhat deeper plunges into mystical consciousness are met with
in yet other dreamy states. Such feelings as these which Charles
Kingsley describes are surely far from being uncommon, especially
in youth:--

"When I walk the fields, I am oppressed now and then with an
innate feeling that everything I see has a meaning, if I could
but understand it. And this feeling of being surrounded with
truths which I cannot grasp amounts to indescribable awe
sometimes. . . . Have you not felt that your real soul was
imperceptible to your mental vision, except in a few hallowed

[230] Charles Kingsley's Life, i. 55, quoted by Inge: Christian
Mysticism, London, 1899, p. 341.

A much more extreme state of mystical consciousness is described
by J. A. Symonds; and probably more persons than we suspect could
give parallels to it from their own experience.

"Suddenly," writes Symonds, "at church, or in company, or when I
was reading, and always, I think, when my muscles were at rest, I
felt the approach of the mood. Irresistibly it took possession
of my mind and will, lasted what seemed an eternity, and
disappeared in a series of rapid sensations which resembled the
awakening from anaesthetic influence. One reason why I disliked
this kind of trance was that I could not describe it to myself. I
cannot even now find words to render it intelligible. It
consisted in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of
space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous factors of
experience which seem to qualify what we are pleased to call our
Self. In proportion as these conditions of ordinary consciousness
were subtracted, the sense of an underlying or essential
consciousness acquired intensity. At last nothing remained but a
pure, absolute, abstract Self. The universe became without form
and void of content. But Self persisted, formidable in its vivid
keenness, feeling the most poignant doubt about reality, ready,
as it seemed, to find existence break as breaks a bubble round
about it. And what then? The apprehension of a coming
dissolution, the grim conviction that this state was the last
state of the conscious Self, the sense that I had followed the
last thread of being to the verge of the abyss, and had arrived
at demonstration of eternal Maya or illusion, stirred or seemed
to stir me up again. The return to ordinary conditions of
sentient existence began by my first recovering the power of
touch, and then by the gradual though rapid influx of familiar
impressions and diurnal interests. At last I felt myself once
more a human being; and though the riddle of what is meant by
life remained unsolved I was thankful for this return from the
abyss--this deliverance from so awful an initiation into the
mysteries of skepticism.

"This trance recurred with diminishing frequency until I reached
the age of twenty-eight. It served to impress upon my growing
nature the phantasmal unreality of all the circumstances which
contribute to a merely phenomenal consciousness. Often have I
asked myself with anguish, on waking from that formless state of
denuded, keenly sentient being, Which is the unreality--the
trance of fiery, vacant, apprehensive, skeptical Self from which
I issue, or these surrounding phenomena and habits which veil
that inner Self and build a self of flesh-and- blood
conventionality? Again, are men the factors of some dream, the
dream-like unsubstantiality of which they comprehend at such
eventful moments? What would happen if the final stage of the
trance were reached?"[231]

[231] H. F. Brown: J. A. Symonds. a Biography, London, 1895, pp.
29-31, abridged.

In a recital like this there is certainly something suggestive of
pathology.[232] The next step into mystical states carries us
into a realm that public opinion and ethical philosophy have long
since branded as pathological, though private practice and
certain lyric strains of poetry seem still to bear witness to its
ideality. I refer to the consciousness produced by intoxicants
and anaesthetics, especially by alcohol. The sway of alcohol
over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the
mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by
the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety
diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands,
unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the YES
function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery
of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one
with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it. To
the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony
concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery
and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we
immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so
many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what in its
totality is so degrading a poisoning. The drunken consciousness
is one bit of the mystic consciousness, and our total opinion of
it must find its place in our opinion of that larger whole.

[232] Crichton-Browne expressly says that Symonds's "highest
nerve centres were in some degree enfeebled or damaged by these
dreamy mental states which afflicted him so grievously."
Symonds was, however, a perfect monster of many-sided cerebral
efficiency, and his critic gives no objective grounds whatever
for his strange opinion, save that Symonds complained
occasionally, as all susceptible and ambitious men complain, of
lassitude and uncertainty as to his life's mission.

Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when
sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical
consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of
truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out,
however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words
remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be
the veriest nonsense. Nevertheless, the sense of a profound
meaning having been there persists; and I know more than one
person who is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have
a genuine metaphysical revelation.

Some years ago I myself made some observations on this aspect of
nitrous oxide intoxication, and reported them in print. One
conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my
impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is
that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as
we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all
about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie
potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go
through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the
requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their
completeness, definite types of mentality which probably
somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No
account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves
these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to
regard them is the question--for they are so discontinuous with
ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though
they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail
to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of
accounts with reality. Looking back on my own experiences, they
all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help
ascribing some metaphysical significance. The keynote of it is
invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the
world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our
difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do
they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus,
but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the
genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself.
This is a dark saying, I know, when thus expressed in terms of
common logic, but I cannot wholly escape from its authority. I
feel as if it must mean something, something like what the
hegelian philosophy means, if one could only lay hold of it more
clearly. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear; to me the
living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic
state of mind.[233]

[233] What reader of Hegel can doubt that that sense of a
perfected Being with all its otherness soaked up into itself,
which dominates his whole philosophy, must have come from the
prominence in his consciousness of mystical moods like this, in
most persons kept subliminal? The notion is thoroughly
characteristic of the mystical level and the Aufgabe of making it
articulate was surely set to Hegel's intellect by mystical

I just now spoke of friends who believe in the anaesthetic
revelation. For them too it is a monistic insight, in which the
OTHER in its various forms appears absorbed into the One.

"Into this pervading genius," writes one of them, "we pass,
forgetting and forgotten, and thenceforth each is all, in God.
There is no higher, no deeper, no other, than the life in which
we are founded. 'The One remains, the many change and pass;' and
each and every one of us IS the One that remains. . . . This is
the ultimatum. . . . As sure as being--whence is all our
care--so sure is content, beyond duplexity, antithesis, or
trouble, where I have triumphed in a solitude that God is not

[234] Benjamin Paul Blood: The Anaesthetic Revelation and the
Gist of Philosophy, Amsterdam, N. Y., 1874, pp. 35, 36. Mr.
Blood has made several attempts to adumbrate the anaesthetic
revelation, in pamphlets of rare literary distinction, privately
printed and distributed by himself at Amsterdam. Xenos Clark, a
philosopher, who died young at Amherst in the '80's, much
lamented by those who knew him, was also impressed by the
revelation. "In the first place," he once wrote to me, "Mr.
Blood and I agree that the revelation is, if anything
non-emotional. It is utterly flat. It is, as Mr. Blood says,
'the one sole and sufficient insight why, or not why, but how,
the present is pushed on by the past, and sucked forward by the
vacuity of the future. Its inevitableness defeats all attempts
at stopping or accounting for it. It is all precedence and
presupposition, and questioning is in regard to it forever too
late. It is an initiation of the past.' The real secret would be
the formula by which the 'now' keeps exfoliating out of itself,
yet never escapes. What is it, indeed, that keeps existence
exfoliating? The formal being of anything, the logical
definition of it, is static. For mere logic every question
contains its own answer--we simply fill the hole with the dirt we
dug out. Why are twice two four? Because, in fact, four is
twice two. Thus logic finds in life no propulsion, only a
momentum. It goes because it is a-going. But the revelation
adds: it goes because it is and WAS a-going. You walk, as it
were, round yourself in the revelation. Ordinary philosophy is
like a hound hunting his own tail. The more he hunts the farther
he has to go, and his nose never catches up with his heels,
because it is forever ahead of them. So the present is already a
foregone conclusion, and I am ever too late to understand it.
But at the moment of recovery from anaesthesis, just then, BEFORE
STARTING ON LIFE, I catch, so to speak, a glimpse of my heels, a
glimpse of the eternal process just in the act of starting. The
truth is that we travel on a journey that was accomplished before
we set out; and the real end of philosophy is accomplished, not
when we arrive at, but when we remain in, our destination (being
already there)--which may occur vicariously in this life when we
cease our intellectual questioning. That is why there is a smile
upon the face of the revelation, as we view it. It tells us that
we are forever half a second too late-- that's all. 'You could
kiss your own lips, and have all the fun to yourself,' it says,
if you only knew the trick. It would be perfectly easy if they
would just stay there till you got round to them. Why don't you
manage it somehow?"

Dialectically minded readers of this farrago will at least
recognize the region of thought of which Mr. Clark writes, as
familiar. In his latest pamphlet, "Tennyson's Trances and the
Anaesthetic Revelation," Mr. Blood describes its value for life
as follows:--

"The Anaesthetic Revelation is the Initiation of Man into the
Immemorial Mystery of the Open Secret of Being, revealed as the
Inevitable Vortex of Continuity. Inevitable is the word. Its
motive is inherent--it is what has to be. It is not for any love
or hate, nor for joy nor sorrow, nor good nor ill. End,
beginning, or purpose, it knows not of.

"It affords no particular of the multiplicity and variety of
things but it fills appreciation of the historical and the sacred
with a secular and intimately personal illumination of the nature
and motive of existence, which then seems reminiscent--as if it
should have appeared, or shall yet appear, to every participant

"Although it is at first startling in its solemnity, it becomes
directly such a matter of course--so old-fashioned, and so akin
to proverbs that it inspires exultation rather than fear, and a
sense of safety, as identified with the aboriginal and the
universal. But no words may express the imposing certainty of
the patient that he is realizing the primordial, Adamic surprise
of Life.

"Repetition of the experience finds it ever the same, and as if
it could not possibly be otherwise. The subject resumes his
normal consciousness only to partially and fitfully remember its
occurrence, and to try to formulate its baffling import--with
only this consolatory afterthought: that he has known the oldest
truth, and that he has done with human theories as to the origin,
meaning, or destiny of the race. He is beyond instruction in
'spiritual things.'

"The lesson is one of central safety: the Kingdom is within.
All days are judgment days: but there can be no climacteric
purpose of eternity, nor any scheme of the whole. The astronomer
abridges the row of bewildering figures by increasing his unit of
measurement: so may we reduce the distracting multiplicity of
things to the unity for which each of us stands.

"This has been my moral sustenance since I have known of it. In
my first printed mention of it I declared: 'The world is no more
the alien terror that was taught me. Spurning the cloud-grimed
and still sultry battlements whence so lately Jehovan thunders
boomed, my gray gull lifts her wing against the nightfall, and
takes the dim leagues with a fearless eye.' And now, after
twenty-seven years of this experience, the wing is grayer, but
the eye is fearless still, while I renew and doubly emphasize
that declaration. I know--as having known--the meaning of
Existence: the sane centre of the universe-- at once the wonder
and the assurance of the soul--for which the speech of reason has
as yet no name but the Anaesthetic Revelation." --I have
considerably abridged the quotation.

This has the genuine religious mystic ring! I just now quoted J.
A. Symonds. He also records a mystical experience with
chloroform, as follows:--

'After the choking and stifling had passed away, I seemed at
first in a state of utter blankness; then came flashes of intense
light, alternating with blackness, and with a keen vision of what
was going on in the room around me, but no sensation of touch. I
thought that I was near death; when, suddenly, my soul became
aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so
to speak, in an intense personal present reality. I felt him
streaming in like light upon me. . . . I cannot describe the
ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke from the influence of
the anaesthetics, the old sense of my relation to the world began
to return, the new sense of my relation to God began to fade. I
suddenly leapt to my feet on the chair where I was sitting, and
shrieked out, 'It is too horrible, it is too horrible, it is too
horrible,' meaning that I could not bear this disillusionment.
Then I flung myself on the ground, and at last awoke covered with
blood, calling to the two surgeons (who were frightened), 'Why
did you not kill me? Why would you not let me die?' Only think
of it. To have felt for that long dateless ecstasy of vision the
very God, in all purity and tenderness and truth and absolute
love, and then to find that I had after all had no revelation,
but that I had been tricked by the abnormal excitement of my

"Yet, this question remains, Is it possible that the inner sense
of reality which succeeded, when my flesh was dead to impressions
from without, to the ordinary sense of physical relations, was
not a delusion but an actual experience? Is it possible that I,
in that moment, felt what some of the saints have said they
always felt, the undemonstrable but irrefragable certainty of

[235] Op. cit., pp. 78-80, abridged. I subjoin, also abridging
it, another interesting anaesthetic revelation communicated to me
in manuscript by a friend in England. The subject, a gifted
woman, was taking ether for a surgical operation.

"I wondered if I was in a prison being tortured, and why I
remembered having heard it said that people 'learn through
suffering,' and in view of what I was seeing, the inadequacy of
this saying struck me so much that I said, aloud, 'to suffer IS
to learn.'

"With that I became unconscious again, and my last dream
immediately preceded my real coming to. It only lasted a few
seconds, and was most vivid and real to me, though it may not be
clear in words.

"A great Being or Power was traveling through the sky, his foot
was on a kind of lightning as a wheel is on a rail, it was his
pathway. The lightning was made entirely of the spirits of
innumerable people close to one another, and I was one of them.
He moved in a straight line, and each part of the streak or flash
came into its short conscious existence only that he might
travel. I seemed to be directly under the foot of God, and I
thought he was grinding his own life up out of my pain. Then I
saw that what he had been trying with all his might to do was to
CHANGE HIS COURSE, to BEND the line of lightning to which he was
tied, in the direction in which he wanted to go. I felt my
flexibility and helplessness, and knew that he would succeed. He
bended me, turning his corner by means of my hurt, hurting me
more than I had ever been hurt in my life, and at the acutest
point of this, as he passed, I SAW. I understood for a moment
things that I have now forgotten, things that no one could
remember while retaining sanity. The angle was an obtuse angle,
and I remember thinking as I woke that had he made it a right or
acute angle, I should have both suffered and 'seen' still more,
and should probably have died.

"He went on and I came to. In that moment the whole of my life
passed before me, including each little meaningless piece of
distress, and I UNDERSTOOD them. THIS was what it had all meant,
THIS was the piece of work it had all been contributing to do. I
did not see God's purpose, I only saw his intentness and his
entire relentlessness towards his means. He thought no more of
me than a man thinks of hurting a cork when he is opening wine,
or hurting a cartridge when he is firing. And yet, on waking, my
first feeling was, and it came with tears, 'Domine non sum
digna,' for I had been lifted into a position for which I was too
small. I realized that in that half hour under ether I had
served God more distinctly and purely than I had ever done in my
life before, or than I am capable of desiring to do. I was the
means of his achieving and revealing something, I know not what
or to whom, and that, to the exact extent of my capacity for

"While regaining consciousness, I wondered why, since I had gone
so deep, I had seen nothing of what the saints call the LOVE of
God, nothing but his relentlessness. And then I heard an answer,
which I could only just catch, saying, 'Knowledge and Love are
One, and the MEASURE is suffering'--I give the words as they came
to me. With that I came finally to (into what seemed a dream
world compared with the reality of what I was leaving), and I saw
that what would be called the 'cause' of my experience was a
slight operation under insufficient ether, in a bed pushed up
against a window, a common city window in a common city street.
If I had to formulate a few of the things I then caught a glimpse
of, they would run somewhat as follows:--

"The eternal necessity of suffering and its eternal
vicariousness. The veiled and incommunicable nature of the worst
sufferings;--the passivity of genius, how it is essentially
instrumental and defenseless, moved, not moving, it must do what
it does;--the impossibility of discovery without its
price;--finally, the excess of what the suffering 'seer' or
genius pays over what his generation gains. (He seems like one
who sweats his life out to earn enough to save a district from
famine, and just as he staggers back, dying and satisfied,
bringing a lac of rupees to buy grain with, God lifts the lac
away, dropping ONE rupee, and says, 'That you may give them.
That you have earned for them. The rest is for ME.') I perceived
also in a way never to be forgotten, the excess of what we see
over what we can demonstrate.

"And so on!--these things may seem to you delusions, or truisms;
but for me they are dark truths, and the power to put them into
even such words as these has been given me by an ether dream."

With this we make connection with religious mysticism pure and
simple. Symonds's question takes us back to those examples which
you will remember my quoting in the lecture on the Reality of the
Unseen, of sudden realization of the immediate presence of God.
The phenomenon in one shape or another is not uncommon.

"I know," writes Mr. Trine, "an officer on our police force who
has told me that many times when off duty, and on his way home in
the evening, there comes to him such a vivid and vital
realization of his oneness with this Infinite Power, and this
Spirit of Infinite Peace so takes hold of and so fills him, that
it seems as if his feet could hardly keep to the pavement, so
buoyant and so exhilarated does he become by reason of this
inflowing tide."[236]

[236] In Tune with the Infinite, p. 137.

Certain aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of
awakening such mystical moods.[237] Most of the striking cases
which I have collected have occurred out of doors. Literature
has commemorated this fact in many passages of great beauty--this
extract, for example, from Amiel's Journal Intime:--

[237] The larger God may then swallow up the smaller one. I take
this from Starbuck's manuscript collection:--

"I never lost the consciousness of the presence of God until I
stood at the foot of the Horseshoe Falls, Niagara. Then I lost
him in the immensity of what I saw. I also lost myself, feeling
that I was an atom too small for the notice of Almighty God."

I subjoin another similar case from Starbuck's collection:--

"In that time the consciousness of God's nearness came to me
sometimes. I say God, to describe what is indescribable. A
presence, I might say, yet that is too suggestive of personality,
and the moments of which I speak did not hold the consciousness
of a personality, but something in myself made me feel myself a
part of something bigger than I, that was controlling. I felt
myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything
in Nature. I exulted in the mere fact of existence, of being a
part of it all--the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds,
the tree-trunks, and so on. In the years following, such moments
continued to come, but I wanted them constantly. I knew so well
the satisfaction of losing self in a perception of supreme power
and love, that I was unhappy because that perception was not
constant." The cases quoted in my third lecture, pp. 65, 66, 69,
are still better ones of this type. In her essay, The Loss of
Personality, in The Atlantic Monthly (vol. lxxxv. p. 195), Miss
Ethel D. Puffer explains that the vanishing of the sense of self,
and the feeling of immediate unity with the object, is due to the
disappearance, in these rapturous experiences, of the motor
adjustments which habitually intermediate between the constant
background of consciousness (which is the Self) and the object in
the foreground, whatever it may be. I must refer the reader to
the highly instructive article, which seems to me to throw light
upon the psychological conditions, though it fails to account for
the rapture or the revelation-value of the experience in the
Subject's eyes.

"Shall I ever again have any of those prodigious reveries which
sometimes came to me in former days? One day, in youth, at
sunrise, sitting in the ruins of the castle of Faucigny; and
again in the mountains, under the noonday sun, above Lavey, lying
at the foot of a tree and visited by three butterflies; once more
at night upon the shingly shore of the Northern Ocean, my back
upon the sand and my vision ranging through the Milky Way;--such
grand and spacious, immortal, cosmogonic reveries, when one
reaches to the stars, when one owns the infinite! Moments
divine, ecstatic hours; in which our thought flies from world to
world, pierces the great enigma, breathes with a respiration
broad, tranquil, and deep as the respiration of the ocean, serene
and limitless as the blue firmament; . . . instants of
irresistible intuition in which one feels one's self great as the
universe, and calm as a god. . . . What hours, what memories!
The vestiges they leave behind are enough to fill us with belief
and enthusiasm, as if they were visits of the Holy Ghost."[238]

[238] Op cit., i. 43-44

Here is a similar record from the memoirs of that interesting
German idealist, Malwida von Meysenbug:--

"I was alone upon the seashore as all these thoughts flowed over
me, liberating and reconciling; and now again, as once before in
distant days in the Alps of Dauphine, I was impelled to kneel
down, this time before the illimitable ocean, symbol of the
Infinite. I felt that I prayed as I had never prayed before, and
knew now what prayer really is: to return from the solitude of
individuation into the consciousness of unity with all that is,
to kneel down as one that passes away, and to rise up as one
imperishable. Earth, heaven, and sea resounded as in one vast
world-encircling harmony. It was as if the chorus of all the
great who had ever lived were about me. I felt myself one with
them, and it appeared as if I heard their greeting: 'Thou too
belongest to the company of those who overcome.'"[239]

[239] Memoiren einer Idealistin, Ste Auflage, 1900, iii. 166.
For years she had been unable to pray, owing to materialistic

The well known passage from Walt Whitman is a classical
expression of this sporadic type of mystical experience.

"I believe in you, my Soul . . .
Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat;. . .
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.
I mind how once we lay, such a transparent summer morning.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge
that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers and the
women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love."[240]

[240] Whitman in another place expresses in a quieter way what
was probably with him a chronic mystical perception: "There is,"
he writes, "apart from mere intellect, in the make-up of every
superior human identity, a wondrous something that realizes
without argument, frequently without what is called education
(though I think it the goal and apex of all education deserving
the name), an intuition of the absolute balance, in time and
space, of the whole of this multifariousness this revel of fools,
and incredible make-believe and general unsettiedness, we call
THE WORLD; a soul-sight of that divine clue and unseen thread
which holds the whole congeries of things, all history and time,
and all events, however trivial, however momentous, like a
leashed dog in the hand of the hunter. [Of] such soul-sight and
root-centre for the mind mere optimism explains only the
surface." Whitman charges it against Carlyle that he lacked this
perception. Specimen Days and Collect, Philadelphia, 1882, p.

I could easily give more instances, but one will suffice. I take
it from the Autobiography of J. Trevor.[241]

[241] My Quest for God, London, 1897, pp. 268, 269, abridged.

"One brilliant Sunday morning, my wife and boys went to the
Unitarian Chapel in Macclesfield. I felt it impossible to
accompany them--as though to leave the sunshine on the hills, and
go down there to the chapel, would be for the time an act of
spiritual suicide. And I felt such need for new inspiration and
expansion in my life. So, very reluctantly and sadly, I left my
wife and boys to go down into the town, while I went further up
into the hills with my stick and my dog. In the loveliness of
the morning, and the beauty of the hills and valleys, I soon lost
my sense of sadness and regret. For nearly an hour I walked
along the road to the 'Cat and Fiddle,' and then returned. On
the way back, suddenly, without warning, I felt that I was in
Heaven--an inward state of peace and joy and assurance
indescribably intense, accompanied with a sense of being bathed
in a warm glow of light, as though the external condition had
brought about the internal effect--a feeling of having passed
beyond the body, though the scene around me stood out more
clearly and as if nearer to me than before, by reason of the
illumination in the midst of which I seemed to be placed. This
deep emotion lasted, though with decreasing strength, until I
reached home, and for some time after, only gradually passing

The writer adds that having had further experiences of a similar
sort, he now knows them well.

"The spiritual life," he writes, "justifies itself to those who
live it; but what can we say to those who do not understand?
This, at least, we can say, that it is a life whose experiences
are proved real to their possessor, because they remain with him
when brought closest into contact with the objective realities of
life. Dreams cannot stand this test. We wake from them to find
that they are but dreams. Wanderings of an overwrought brain do
not stand this test. These highest experiences that I have had
of God's presence have been rare and brief--flashes of
consciousness which have compelled me to exclaim with
surprise--God is HERE!--or conditions of exaltation and insight,
less intense, and only gradually passing away. I have severely
questioned the worth of these moments. To no soul have I named
them, lest I should be building my life and work on mere
phantasies of the brain. But I find that, after every
questioning and test, they stand out to-day as the most real
experiences of my life, and experiences which have explained and
justified and unified all past experiences and all past growth.
Indeed, their reality and their far-reaching significance are
ever becoming more clear and evident. When they came, I was
living the fullest, strongest, sanest, deepest life. I was not
seeking them. What I was seeking, with resolute determination,
was to live more intensely my own life, as against what I knew
would be the adverse judgment of the world. It was in the most
real seasons that the Real Presence came, and I was aware that I
was immersed in the infinite ocean of God."[242]

[242] Op. cit., pp. 256, 257, abridged.

Even the least mystical of you must by this time be convinced of
the existence of mystical moments as states of consciousness of
an entirely specific quality, and of the deep impression which
they make on those who have them. A Canadian psychiatrist, Dr.
R. M. Bucke, gives to the more distinctly characterized of these
phenomena the name of cosmic consciousness. "Cosmic
consciousness in its more striking instances is not," Dr. Bucke
says, "simply an expansion or extension of the self-conscious
mind with which we are all familiar, but the superaddition of a
function as distinct from any possessed by the average man as
SELF-consciousness is distinct from any function possessed by one
of the higher animals."

"The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is a
consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of
the universe. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there
occurs an intellectual enlightenment which alone would place the
individual on a new plane of existence--would make him almost a
member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral
exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and
joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully
as striking, and more important than is the enhanced intellectual
power. With these come what may be called a sense of
immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction
that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it

[243] Cosmic Consciousness: a study in the evolution of the
human Mind, Philadelphia, 1901, p. 2.

It was Dr. Bucke's own experience of a typical onset of cosmic
consciousness in his own person which led him to investigate it
in others. He has printed his conclusions In a highly
interesting volume, from which I take the following account of
what occurred to him:--

"I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends,
reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at
midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My
mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and
emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and
peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment,
not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions
flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once,
without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a
flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an
immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the
next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward
there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness
accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual
illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did
not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not
composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living
Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was
not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a
consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all
men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that without any
peradventure all things work together for the good of each and
all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all the
worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and
all is in the long run <391> absolutely certain. The vision
lasted a few seconds and was gone; but the memory of it and the
sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the
quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what
the vision showed was true. I had attained to a point of view
from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that
conviction, I may say that consciousness, has never, even during
periods of the deepest depression, been lost."[244]

[244] Loc. cit., pp. 7, 8. My quotation follows the privately
printed pamphlet which preceded Dr. Bucke's larger work, and
differs verbally a little from the text of the latter.

We have now seen enough of this cosmic or mystic consciousness,
as it comes sporadically. We must next pass to its methodical
cultivation as an element of the religious life. Hindus,
Buddhists, Mohammedans, and Christians all have cultivated it

In India, training in mystical insight has been known from time
immemorial under the name of yoga. Yoga means the experimental
union of the individual with the divine. It is based on
persevering exercise; and the diet, posture, breathing,
intellectual concentration, and moral discipline vary slightly in
the different systems which teach it. The yogi, or disciple, who
has by these means overcome the obscurations of his lower nature
sufficiently, enters into the condition termed samadhi, "and
comes face to face with facts which no instinct or reason can
ever know." He learns--

"That the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond
reason, a superconscious state, and that when the mind gets to
that higher state, then this knowledge beyond reasoning comes. .
. . All the different steps in yoga are intended to bring us
scientifically to the superconscious state or Samadhi. . . .
Just as unconscious work is beneath consciousness, so there is
another work which is above consciousness, and which, also, is
not accompanied with the feeling of egoism . . . . There is no
feeling of I, and yet the mind works, desireless, free from
restlessness, objectless, bodiless. Then the Truth shines in its
full effulgence, and we know ourselves--for Samadhi lies
potential in us all--for what we truly are, free, immortal,
omnipotent, loosed from the finite, and its contrasts of good and
evil altogether, and identical with the Atman or Universal

[245] My quotations are from Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, London,
1896. The completest source of information on Yoga is the work
translated by Vihari Lala Mtra: Yoga Vasishta Maha Ramayana. 4
vols. Calcutta, 1891-99.

The Vedantists say that one may stumble into superconsciousness
sporadically, without the previous discipline, but it is then
impure. Their test of its purity, like our test of religion's
value, is empirical: its fruits must be good for life. When a
man comes out of Samadhi, they assure us that he remains
"enlightened, a sage, a prophet, a saint, his whole character
changed, his life changed, illumined."[246]

[246] A European witness, after carefully comparing the results
of Yoga with those of the hypnotic or dreamy states artificially
producible by us, says: "It makes of its true disciples good,
healthy, and happy men. . . . Through the mastery which the yogi
attains over his thoughts and his body, he grows into a
'character.' By the subjection of his impulses and propensities
to his will, and the fixing of the latter upon the ideal of
goodness, he becomes a 'personality' hard to influence by others,
and thus almost the opposite of what we usually imagine a medium
so-called, or psychic subject to be. Karl Kellner: Yoga: Eine
Skizze, Munchen, 1896, p. 21.

The Buddhists used the word "samadhi" as well as the Hindus; but
"dhyana" is their special word for higher states of
contemplation. There seem to be four stages recognized in
dhyana. The first stage comes through concentration of the mind
upon one point. It excludes desire, but not discernment or
judgment: it is still intellectual. In the second stage the
intellectual functions drop off, and the satisfied sense of unity
remains. In the third stage the satisfaction departs, and
indifference begins, along with memory a self-consciousness. In
the fourth stage the indifference, memory, and self-consciousness
are perfected. [Just what "memory" and "self-consciousness" mean
in this connection is doubtful. They cannot be the faculties
familiar to us in the lower life.] Higher stages still of
contemplation are mentioned--a region where there exists nothing,
and where the mediator says: "There exists absolutely nothing,"
and stops. Then he reaches another region where he says: "There
are neither ideas nor absence of ideas," and stops again. Then
another region where, "having reached the end of both idea and
perception, he stops finally." This would seem to be, not yet
Nirvana, but as close an approach to it as this life

[247] I follow the account in C. F. Koeppen: Die Religion des
Buddha, Berlin, 1857, i. 585 ff.

In the Mohammedan world the Sufi sect and various dervish bodies
are the possessors of the mystical tradition. The Sufis have
existed in Persia from the earliest times, and as their pantheism
is so at variance with the hot and rigid monotheism of the Arab
mind, it has been suggested that Sufism must have been inoculated
into Islam by Hindu influences. We Christians know little of
Sufism, for its secrets are disclosed only to those initiated.
To give its existence a certain liveliness in your minds, I will
quote a Moslem document, and pass away from the subject.

Al-Ghazzali, a Persian philosopher and theologian, who flourished
in the eleventh century, and ranks as one of the greatest doctors
of the Moslem church, has left us one of the few autobiographies
to be found outside of Christian literature. Strange that a
species of book so abundant among ourselves should be so little
represented elsewhere--the absence of strictly personal
confessions is the chief difficulty to the purely literary
student who would like to become acquainted with the inwardness
of religions other than the Christian. M. Schmolders has
translated a part of Al-Ghazzali's autobiography into

[248] For a full account of him, see D. B. Macdonald: The Life
Of Al-Ghazzali, in the Journal of the American Oriental Society,
1899, vol. xx., p. 71.

"The Science of the Sufis," says the Moslem author, "aims at
detaching the heart from all that is not God, and at giving to it
for sole occupation the meditation of the divine being. Theory
being more easy for me than practice, I read [certain books]
until I understood all that can be learned by study and hearsay.
Then I recognized that what pertains most exclusively to their
method is just what no study can grasp, but only transport,
ecstasy, and the transformation of the soul. How great, for
example, is the difference between knowing the definitions of
health, of satiety, with their causes and conditions, and being
really healthy or filled. How different to know in what
drunkenness consists--as being a state occasioned by a vapor that
rises from the stomach--and BEING drunk effectively. Without
doubt, the drunken man knows neither the definition of
drunkenness nor what makes it interesting for science. Being
drunk, he knows nothing; whilst the physician, although not drunk
knows well in what drunkenness consists, and what are its
predisposing conditions. Similarly there is a difference between
knowing the nature of abstinence, and BEING abstinent or having
one's soul detached from the world.--Thus I had learned what
words could teach of Sufism, but what was left could be learned
neither by study nor through the ears, but solely by giving one's
self up to ecstasy and leading a pious life.

"Reflecting on my situation, I found myself tied down by a
multitude of bonds--temptations on every side. Considering my
teaching, I found it was impure before God. I saw myself
struggling with all my might to achieve glory and to spread my
name. [Here follows an account of his six months' hesitation to
break away from the conditions of his life at Bagdad, at the end
of which he fell ill with a paralysis of the tongue.] Then,
feeling my own weakness, and having entirely given up my own
will, I repaired to God like a man in distress who has no more
resources. He answered, as he answers the wretch who invokes
him. My heart no longer felt any difficulty in renouncing glory,
wealth, and my children. So I quitted Bagdad, and reserving from
my fortune only what was indispensable for my subsistence, I
distributed the rest. I went to Syria, where I remained about
two years, with no other occupation than living in retreat and
solitude, conquering my desires, combating my passions, training
myself to purify my soul, to make my character perfect, to
prepare my heart for meditating on God--all according to the
methods of the Sufis, as I had read of them.

"This retreat only increased my desire to live in solitude, and
to complete the purification of my heart and fit it for
meditation. But the vicissitudes of the times, the affairs of
the family, the need of subsistence, changed in some respects my
primitive resolve, and interfered with my plans for a purely
solitary life. I had never yet found myself completely in
ecstasy, save in a few single hours; nevertheless, I kept the
hope of attaining this state. Every time that the accidents led
me astray, I sought to return; and in this situation I spent ten
years. During this solitary state things were revealed to me
which it is impossible either to describe or to point out. I
recognized for certain that the Sufis are assuredly walking in
the path of God. Both in their acts and in their inaction,
whether internal or external, they are illumined by the light
which proceeds from the prophetic source. The first condition
for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God.
The next key of the contemplative life consists in the humble
prayers which escape from the fervent soul, and in the
meditations on God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely.
But in reality this is only the beginning of the Sufi life, the
end of Sufism being total absorption in God. The intuitions and
all that precede are, so to speak, only the threshold for those
who enter. From the beginning revelations take place in so
flagrant a shape that the Sufis see before them, whilst wide
awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets. They hear their
voices and obtain their favors. Then the transport rises from
the perception of forms and figures to a degree which escapes all
expression, and which no man may seek to give an account of
without his words involving sin.

"Whosoever has had no experience of the transport knows of the
true nature of prophetism nothing but the name. He may meanwhile
be sure of its existence, both by experience and by what he hears
the Sufis say. As there are men endowed only with the sensitive
faculty who reject what is offered them in the way of objects of
the pure understanding, so there are intellectual men who reject
and avoid the things perceived by the prophetic faculty. A blind
man can understand nothing of colors save what he has learned by
narration and hearsay. Yet God has brought prophetism near to
men in giving them all a state analogous to it in its principal
characters. This state is sleep. If you were to tell a man who
was himself without experience of such a phenomenon that there
are people who at times swoon away so as to resemble dead men,
and who [in dreams] yet perceive things that are hidden, he would
deny it [and give his reasons]. Nevertheless, his arguments
would be refuted by actual experience. Wherefore, just as the
understanding is a stage of human life in which an eye opens to
discern various intellectual objects uncomprehended by sensation;
just so in the prophetic the sight is illumined by a light which
uncovers hidden things and objects which the intellect fails to
reach. The chief properties of prophetism are perceptible only
during the transport, by those who embrace the Sufi life. The
prophet is endowed with qualities to which you possess nothing
analogous, and which consequently you cannot possibly understand.

How should you know their true nature, since one knows only what
one can comprehend? But the transport which one attains by the
method of the Sufis is like an immediate perception, as if one
touched the objects with one's hand."[249]

[249] A. Schmolders: Essai sur les ecoles philosophiques chez
les Arabes, Paris, 1842, pp. 54-68, abridged.

This incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of all
mysticism. Mystical truth exists for the individual who has the
transport, but for no one else. In this, as I have said, it
resembles the knowledge given to us in sensations more than that
given by conceptual thought. Thought, with its remoteness and
abstractness, has often enough in the history of philosophy been
contrasted unfavorably with sensation.

It is a commonplace of metaphysics that God's knowledge cannot be
discursive but must be intuitive, that is, must be constructed
more after the pattern of what in ourselves is called immediate
feeling, than after that of proposition and judgment. But our
immediate feelings have no content but what the five senses
supply; and we have seen and shall see again that mystics may
emphatically deny that the senses play any part in the very
highest type of knowledge which their transports yield.

In the Christian church there have always been mystics. Although
many of them have been viewed with suspicion, some have gained
favor in the eyes of the authorities. The experiences of these
have been treated as precedents, and a codified system of
mystical theology has been based upon them, in which everything
legitimate finds its place.[250] The basis of the system is
"orison" or meditation, the methodical elevation of the soul
towards God. Through the practice of orison the higher levels of
mystical experience may be attained. It is odd that
Protestantism, especially evangelical Protestantism, should
seemingly have abandoned everything methodical in this line.
Apart from what prayer may lead to, Protestant mystical
experience appears to have been almost exclusively sporadic. It
has been left to our mind- curers to reintroduce methodical
meditation into our religious life.

[250] Gorres's Christliche Mystik gives a full account of the
facts. So does Ribet's Mystique Divine, 2 vols., Paris, 1890. A
still more methodical modern work is the Mystica Theologia of
Vallgornera, 2 vols., Turin, 1890.

The first thing to be aimed at in orison is the mind's detachment
from outer sensations, for these interfere with its concentration
upon ideal things. Such manuals as Saint Ignatius's Spiritual
Exercises recommend the disciple to <398> expel sensation by a
graduated series of efforts to imagine holy scenes. The acme of
this kind of discipline would be a semi-hallucinatory
mono-ideism--an imaginary figure of Christ, for example, coming
fully to occupy the mind. Sensorial images of this sort, whether
literal or symbolic, play an enormous part in mysticism.[251]
But in certain cases imagery may fall away entirely, and in the
very highest raptures it tends to do so. The state of
consciousness becomes then insusceptible of any verbal
description. Mystical teachers are unanimous as to this. Saint
John of the Cross, for instance, one of the best of them,
thus describes the condition called the "union of love," which,
he says, is reached by "dark contemplation." In this the Deity
compenetrates the soul, but in such a hidden way that the soul--

"finds no terms, no means, no comparison whereby to render the
sublimity of the wisdom and the delicacy of the spiritual feeling
with which she is filled. . . . We receive this mystical
knowledge of God clothed in none of the kinds of images, in none
of the sensible representations, which our mind makes use of in
other circumstances. Accordingly in this knowledge, since the
senses and the imagination are not employed, we get neither form
nor impression, nor can we give any account or furnish any
likeness, although the mysterious and sweet-tasting wisdom comes
home so clearly to the inmost parts of our soul. Fancy a man
seeing a certain kind of thing for the first time in his life. He
can understand it, use and enjoy it, but he cannot apply a name
to it, nor communicate any idea of it, even though all the while
it be a mere thing of sense. How much greater will be his
powerlessness when it goes beyond the senses! This is the
peculiarity of the divine language. The more infused, intimate,
spiritual, and supersensible it is, the more does it exceed the
senses, both inner and outer, and impose silence upon them. . . .

The soul then feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude,
to which no created thing has access, in an immense and boundless
desert, desert the more delicious the more solitary it is. There,
in this abyss of wisdom, the soul grows by what it drinks in from
the well-springs of the comprehension of love, . . . and
recognizes, however sublime and learned may be the terms we
employ, how utterly vile, insignificant, and improper they are,
when we seek to discourse of divine things by their means."[252]

[251] M. ReCeJac, in a recent volume, makes them essential.
Mysticism he defines as "the tendency to draw near to the
Absolute morally AND BY THE AID OF SYMBOLS." See his Fondements
de la Connaissance mystique, Paris, 1897, p. 66. But there are
unquestionably mystical conditions in which sensible symbols play
no part.

[252] Saint John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul, book
ii. ch. xvii., in Vie et Oeuvres, 3me edition, Paris, 1893, iii.
428-432. Chapter xi. of book ii. of Saint John's Ascent of Carmel
is devoted to showing the harmfulness for the mystical life of
the use of sensible imagery.

I cannot pretend to detail to you the sundry stages of the
Christian mystical life.[253] Our time would not suffice, for one
thing; and moreover, I confess that the subdivisions and names
which we find in the Catholic books seem to me to represent
nothing objectively distinct. So many men, so many minds: I
imagine that these experiences can be as infinitely varied as are
the idiosyncrasies of individuals.

[253] In particular I omit mention of visual and auditory
hallucinations, verbal and graphic automatisms, and such marvels
as "levitation," stigmatization, and the healing of disease.
These phenomena, which mystics have often presented (or are
believed to have presented), have no essential mystical
significance, for they occur with no consciousness of
illumination whatever, when they occur, as they often do, in
persons of non-mystical mind. Consciousness of illumination is
for us the essential mark of "mystical" states.

The cognitive aspects of them, their value in the way of
revelation, is what we are directly concerned with, and it is
easy to show by citation how strong an impression they leave of
being revelations of new depths of truth. Saint Teresa is the
expert of experts in describing such conditions, so I will turn
immediately to what she says of one of the highest of them, the
"orison of union."

"In the orison of union," says Saint Teresa, "the soul is fully
awake as regards God, but wholly asleep as regards things of this
world and in respect of herself. During the short time the union
lasts, she is as it were deprived of every feeling, and even if
she would, she could not think of any single thing. Thus she
needs to employ no artifice in order to arrest the use of her
understanding: it remains so stricken with inactivity that she
neither knows what she loves, nor in what manner she loves, nor
what she wills. In short, she is utterly dead to the things of
the world and lives solely in God. . . . I do not even know
whether in this state she has enough life left to breathe. It
seems to me she has not; or at least that if she does breathe,
she is unaware of it. Her intellect would fain understand
something of what is going on within her, but it has so little
force now that it can act in no way whatsoever. So a person who
falls into a deep faint appears as if dead. . . .

"Thus does God, when he raises a soul to union with himself,
suspend the natural action of all her faculties. She neither
sees, hears, nor understands, so long as she is united with God.
But this time is always short, and it seems even shorter than it
is. God establishes himself in the interior of this soul in such
a way, that when she returns to herself, it is wholly impossible
for her to doubt that she has been in God, and God in her. This
truth remains so strongly impressed on her that, even though many
years should pass without the condition returning, she can
neither forget the favor she received, nor doubt of its reality.
If you, nevertheless, ask how it is possible that the soul can
see and understand that she has been in God, since during the
union she has neither sight nor understanding, I reply that she
does not see it then, but that she sees it clearly later, after
she has returned to herself, not by any vision, but by a
certitude which abides with her and which God alone can give her.

I knew a person who was ignorant of the truth that God's mode of
being in everything must be either by presence, by power, or by
essence, but who, after having received the grace of which I am
speaking, believed this truth in the most unshakable manner. So
much so that, having consulted a half-learned man who was as
ignorant on this point as she had been before she was
enlightened, when he replied that God is in us only by 'grace,'
she disbelieved his reply, so sure she was of the true answer;
and when she came to ask wiser doctors, they confirmed her in her
belief, which much consoled her. . . .

"But how, you will repeat, CAN one have such certainty in respect
to what one does not see? This question, I am powerless to
answer. These are secrets of God's omnipotence which it does not
appertain to me to penetrate. All that I know is that I tell the
truth; and I shall never believe that any soul who does not
possess this certainty has ever been really united to God."[254]

[254] The Interior Castle, Fifth Abode, Ch. i., in Oeuvres,
translated by BOUIX, iii. 421-424.

The kinds of truth communicable in mystical ways, whether these
be sensible or supersensible, are various. Some of them relate
to this world--visions of the future, the reading of hearts, the
sudden understanding of texts, the knowledge of distant events,
for example; but the most important revelations are theological
or metaphysical.

"Saint Ignatius confessed one day to Father Laynez that a single
hour of meditation at Manresa had taught him more truths about
heavenly things than all the teachings of all the doctors put
together could have taught him. . . . One day in orison, on the
steps of the choir of the Dominican church, he saw in a distinct
manner the plan of divine wisdom in the creation of the world.
On another occasion, during a procession, his spirit was ravished
in God, and it was given him to contemplate, in a form and images
fitted to the weak understanding of a dweller on the earth, the
deep mystery of the holy Trinity. This last vision flooded his
heart with such sweetness, that the mere memory of it in after
times made him shed abundant tears."[255]

[255] Bartoli-Michel: vie de Saint Ignace de Loyola, i. 34-36.
Others have had illuminations about the created world, Jacob
Boehme for instance. At the age of twenty-five he was
"surrounded by the divine light, and replenished with the
heavenly knowledge, insomuch as going abroad into the fields to a
green, at Gorlitz, he there sat down and viewing the herbs and
grass of the field, in his inward light he saw into their
essences, use, and properties, which was discovered to him by
their lineaments, figures, and signatures." Of a later
period of experience he writes: "In one quarter of an hour I saw
and knew more than if I had been many years together at an
university. For I saw and knew the being of all things, the Byss
and the Abyss, and the eternal generation of the holy Trinity,
the descent and original of the world and of all creatures
through the divine wisdom. I knew and saw in myself all the
three worlds, the external and visible world being of a
procreation or extern birth from both the internal and spiritual
worlds; and I saw and knew the whole working essence, in the evil
and in the good, and the mutual original and existence, and
likewise how the fruitful bearing womb of eternity brought forth.
So that I did not only greatly wonder at it, but did also
exceedingly rejoice, albeit I could very hardly apprehend the
same in my external man and set it down with the pen. For I had
a thorough view of the universe as in a chaos, wherein all things
are couched and wrapt up, but it was impossible for me to
explicate the same." Jacob Behmen's Theosophic Philosophy, etc.,
by Edward Taylor, London, 1691, pp. 425, 427, abridged.

So George Fox: "I was come up to the state of Adam in which he
was before he fell. The creation was opened to me; and it was
showed me, how all things had their names given to them,
according to their nature and virtue. I was at a stand in my
mind, whether I should practice physic for the good of mankind,
seeing the nature and virtues of the creatures were so opened to
me by the Lord." Journal, Philadelphia, no date, p. 69.
Contemporary "Clairvoyance" abounds in similar revelations.
Andrew Jackson Davis's cosmogonies, for example, or certain
experiences related in the delectable "Reminiscences and Memories
of Henry Thomas Butterworth," Lebanon, Ohio, 1886.

Similarly with Saint Teresa. "One day, being in orison," she
writes, "it was granted me to perceive in one instant how all
things are seen and contained in God. I did not perceive them in
their proper form, and nevertheless the view I had of them was of
a sovereign clearness, and has remained vividly impressed upon my
soul. It is one of the most signal of all the graces which the
Lord has granted me. . . . The view was so subtile and delicate
that the understanding cannot grasp it."[256]

[256] Vie, pp. 581, 582.

She goes on to tell how it was as if the Deity were an enormous
and sovereignly limpid diamond, in which all our actions were
contained in such a way that their full sinfulness appeared
evident as never before. On another day, she relates, while she
was reciting the Athanasian Creed--

"Our Lord made me comprehend in what way it is that one God can
be in three persons. He made me see it so clearly that I
remained as extremely surprised as I was comforted, . . . and
now, when I think of the holy Trinity, or hear It spoken of, I
understand how the three adorable Persons form only one God and I
experience an unspeakable happiness."

On still another occasion, it was given to Saint Teresa to see
and understand in what wise the Mother of God had been assumed
into her place in Heaven.[257]

[257] Loc. cit., p. 574

The deliciousness of some of these states seems to be beyond
anything known in ordinary consciousness. It evidently involves
organic sensibilities, for it is spoken of as something too
extreme to be borne, and as verging on bodily pain.[258] But it
is too subtle and piercing a delight for ordinary words to
denote. God's touches, the wounds of his spear, references to
ebriety and to nuptial union have to figure in the phraseology by
which it is shadowed forth. Intellect and senses both swoon away
in these highest states of ecstasy. "If our understanding
comprehends," says Saint Teresa, "it is in a mode which remains
unknown to it, and it can understand nothing of what it
comprehends. For my own part, I do not believe that it does
comprehend, because, as I said, it does not understand itself to
do so. I confess that it is all a mystery in which I am
lost."[259] In the condition called raptus or ravishment by
theologians, breathing and circulation are so depressed that it
is a question among the doctors whether the soul be or be not
temporarily dissevered from the body. One must read Saint
Teresa's descriptions and the very exact distinctions which she
makes, to persuade one's self that one is dealing, not with
imaginary experiences, but with phenomena which, however rare,
follow perfectly definite psychological types.

[258] Saint Teresa discriminates between pain in which the body
has a part and pure spiritual pain (Interior Castle, 6th Abode,
ch. xi.). As for the bodily part in these celestial joys, she
speaks of it as "penetrating to the marrow of the bones, whilst
earthly pleasures affect only the surface of the senses. I
think," she adds, "that this is a just description, and I cannot
make it better." Ibid., 5th Abode, ch. i.

[259] Vie, p. 198.

To the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested
and imitated hypnoid states, on an intellectual basis of
superstition, and a corporeal one of degeneration and hysteria.
Undoubtedly these pathological conditions have existed in many
and possibly in all the cases, but that fact tells us nothing
about the value for knowledge of the consciousness which they
induce. To pass a spiritual judgment upon these states, we must
not content ourselves with superficial medical talk, but inquire
into their fruits for life.

Their fruits appear to have been various. Stupefaction, for one
thing, seems not to have been altogether absent as a result. You
may remember the helplessness in the kitchen and schoolroom of
poor Margaret Mary Alacoque. Many other ecstatics would have
perished but for the care taken of them by admiring followers.
The "other-worldliness" encouraged by the mystical consciousness
makes this over-abstraction from practical life peculiarly liable
to befall mystics in whom the character is naturally passive and
the intellect feeble; but in natively strong minds and characters
we find quite opposite results. The great Spanish mystics, who
carried the habit of ecstasy as far as it has often been carried,
appear for the most part to have shown indomitable spirit and
energy, and all the more so for the trances in which they

Saint Ignatius was a mystic, but his mysticism made him assuredly
one of the most powerfully practical human engines that ever
lived. Saint John of the Cross, writing of the intuitions and
"touches" by which God reaches the substance of the soul, tells
us that--

"They enrich it marvelously. A single one of them may be
sufficient to abolish at a stroke certain imperfections of which
the soul during its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself,
and to leave it adorned with virtues and loaded with supernatural
gifts. A single one of these intoxicating consolations may
reward it for all the labors undergone in its life--even were
they numberless. Invested with an invincible courage, filled
with an impassioned desire to suffer for its God, the soul then
is seized with a strange torment--that of not being allowed to
suffer enough."[260]

[260] Oeuvres, ii. 320.

Saint Teresa is as emphatic, and much more detailed. You may
perhaps remember a passage I quoted from her in my first
lecture.[261] There are many similar pages in her autobiography.
Where in literature is a more evidently veracious account of the
formation of a new centre of spiritual energy, than is given in
her description of the effects of certain ecstasies which in
departing leave the soul upon a higher level of emotional

[261] Above, p. 22.

"Often, infirm and wrought upon with dreadful pains before the
ecstasy, the soul emerges from it full of health and admirably
disposed for action . . . as if God had willed that the body
itself, already obedient to the soul's desires, should share in
the soul's happiness. . . . The soul after such a favor is
animated with a degree of courage so great that if at that moment
its body should be torn to pieces for the cause of God, it would
feel nothing but the liveliest comfort. Then it is that promises
and heroic resolutions spring up in profusion in us, soaring
desires, horror of the world, and the clear perception of our
proper nothingness. . . . What empire is comparable to that of a
soul who, from this sublime summit to which God has raised her,
sees all the things of earth beneath her feet, and is captivated
by no one of them? How ashamed she is of her former attachments!
How amazed at her blindness! What lively pity she feels for those
whom she recognizes still shrouded in the darkness! . . . She
groans at having ever been sensitive to points of honor, at the
illusion that made her ever see as honor what the world calls by
that name. Now she sees in this name nothing more than an
immense lie of which the world remains a victim. She discovers,
in the new light from above, that in genuine honor there is
nothing spurious, that to be faithful to this honor is to give
our respect to what deserves to be respected really, and to
consider as nothing, or as less than nothing, whatsoever perishes
and is not agreeable to God. . . . She laughs when she sees
grave persons, persons of orison, caring for points of honor for
which she now feels profoundest contempt. It is suitable to the
dignity of their rank to act thus, they pretend, and it makes
them more useful to others. But she knows that in despising the
dignity of their rank for the pure love of God they would do more
good in a single day than they would effect in ten years by
preserving it. . . . She laughs at herself that there should
ever have been a time in her life when she made any case of
money, when she ever desired it. . . . Oh! if human beings might
only agree together to regard it as so much useless mud, what
harmony would then reign in the world! With what friendship we
would all treat each other if our interest in honor and in money
could but disappear from earth! For my own part, I feel as if it
would be a remedy for all our ills."[262]

[262] Vie, pp. 229, 230, 231-233, 243.

Mystical conditions may, therefore, render the soul more
energetic in the lines which their inspiration favors. But this
could be reckoned an advantage only in case the inspiration were
a true one. If the inspiration were erroneous, the energy would
be all the more mistaken and misbegotten. So we stand once more
before that problem of truth which confronted us at the end of
the lectures on saintliness. You will remember that we turned to
mysticism precisely to get some light on truth. Do mystical
states establish the truth of those theological affections in
which the saintly life has its root?

In spite of their repudiation of articulate self-description,
mystical states in general assert a pretty distinct theoretic
drift. It is possible to give the outcome of the majority of
them in terms that point in definite philosophical directions.
One of these directions is optimism, and the other is monism. We
pass into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness as
from a less into a more, as from a smallness into a vastness, and
at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them as
reconciling, unifying states. They appeal to the yes-function
more than to the no-function in us. In them the unlimited absorbs
the limits and peacefully closes the account. Their very denial
of every adjective you may propose as applicable to the ultimate
truth--He, the Self, the Atman, is to be described by "No! no!"
only, say the Upanishads[263]--though it seems on the surface to
be a no-function, is a denial made on behalf of a deeper yes.
Whoso calls the Absolute anything in particular, or says that it
is THIS, seems implicitly to shut it off from being THAT --it is
as if he lessened it. So we deny the "this," negating the
negation which it seems to us to imply, in the interests of the
higher affirmative attitude by which we are possessed. The
fountain-head of Christian mysticism is Dionysius the Areopagite.

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