Science of the Absolute Chapter 6 - Prologue







The Sanskrit title of this chapter is "Karma" and is generally translated as "action". In the Indian spiritual tradition, however, karma, on which depends the meaning of dharma as right action, has varied meanings belonging to the contexts of ritualism and even to theories like reincarnation. Past karma conditions future truth. Not only is it to be understood in its philosophical sense, but it must also be distinguished from jnana or wisdom. Wisdom and action can be treated with or without contradiction, according to the horizontalized or verticalized relation in which they are treated. These matters will be clarified in the Epilogue of this chapter.


We have chosen the word "instrumentalism" for the title of this chapter. This is because it comes as near as possible to the purpose and content intended by Narayana Guru. Pure instruments refer to a verticalized version of action and interaction between the Self and the non-Self. No crude mechanistic action is to be imagined here. Instead, something akin to the action of a man in meditation or even dream is what is meant. The first verse of the karma-darsana refers directly to this dream activity, suggesting a subtle kind of psycho-physical interaction rather than an overtly mechanistic and unilateral form of activity.


Instrumentalism is a fairly recent doctrine arising from the pragmatic outlook in the reconstruction of philosophy by William James, John Dewey and others. Both these men were inspired by the more penetrating and profound philosophy of Charles S. Pierce. This new outlook has not become established and in its own way is full of promise.


Note: The verses of Narayana Guru to which reference is made may be found on pp.912-920.



Philosophy and science can only merge into each other when this method is further perfected and prolonged into more truly contemplative and philosophical domains. It was because of the rare philosophical intuition of Bergson, who took up a more scientific line of thought, that a kind of counterattack was begun against the more classical ways of thinking. The implications of instrumentalism were worked out by Bergson so as to push it to the farthest limits of metaphysical speculation.

Bergson's own original impetus came from his revision and restatement of biological evolution, one of the all-absorbing subjects of his time. Darwin attempted to explain the origin of the species in terms of a mechanistic action and interaction between rival competitive forces. Bergson, on the other hand, thought in terms of "creative evolution", giving to the general theory a new and verticalized orientation. Evolution to Bergson meant a creative process taking place between forces inside living beings meeting their own counterparts from the outside world. According to him, the evolution of the eye in fish or animals results from the vital urges within interacting with the light coming from without. There is a subtle dialectical interaction between counterparts taking place, not in the field of visible movements but in a movement imaginable from inside in terms of a "schéma moteur". This is a verticalized version of actual movement without the contradiction of successive steps needed to accomplish movement from point to point. Paradox is here transcended by Bergson's process of creative evolution. Such a process is intuitively felt rather than discursively analyzed. Furthermore in creative evolution the interaction between the inside and the outside of a thing takes place on the levels of instinct and intelligence. Both these factors participate intimately in the process of evolution.




The subtle implications of action taking place in Bergsonian evolution also forms the basis of Bergsonian instrumentalism. This type of instrumentalism, as we have said, must be distinguished from the ordinary instrumentalism based upon American pragmatism; the philosophy of a democratic technocracy reaching towards expansion and progress. The double-sidedness of Bergsonian instrumentalism is further evidenced by his reference to a "law of twofold frenzy". From this frenzy, Bergson's notion of mysticism arises. Bergson also traces, in his own imagination, the way the various stages of the vital impetus, as it passes from instinctive levels to contemplative ones and terminates in what he calls, "complete mysticism".

We read:
"Shaken to its depths by the current which is about to sweep it forward, the soul ceases to revolve round itself and escapes for a moment from the law which demands that the species and the individual should condition one another. It stops as though to listen to a voice calling. Then it lets itself go, straight onward ... Then comes a boundless joy, an all-absorbing ecstasy or an enthralling rapture; God is there, and the soul is in God.... The ecstasy is indeed rest, if you like, but as though at a station, where the engine is still under steam, the onward movement, becoming a vibration on one spot, until it is time to move forward again ... But though the soul becomes, in thought and feeling, absorbed in God, something of it remains outside; that something is the will, whence the soul's action, if it acted, would quite naturally proceed. Its life then is not yet divine. The soul is aware of this, hence its vague disquietude, hence the agitation in repose which is the striking feature of what we call complete mysticism: it means that the impetus has acquired the momentum to go further, that ecstasy affects the ability to see and, to feel, but that there is, besides, the will, which itself has to find its way back to God." (1)


There is no mistaking here that Bergson's speculation reaches a point beyond which it could not have reached unless he had adopted the role of a continuator of ordinary instrumentalism. Not only is God reinstated, but all the qualities characterizing a man of high spirituality are brought into this living picture of an active contemplative progress as understood in terms of modern biology. Before one can arrive at the basic intuitions of Bergson one must first understand in what sense his instrumentalism comes into the picture of evolution.

According to biology, man is a highly evolved animal. He is distinguished from the lesser animals by an intelligence meeting his individual urges in the form of consciousness coming from the species as a whole. The interests of the individual and the species form dialectical counterparts, as suggested by Bergson in the above quotation. A conception of God belongs to the context of the highest happiness or joy experienced in the form of "complete mysticism". Man is always striving along a vertical axis of spiritual progress to preserve his race and fulfill its purpose in life. From the side of God there is the opposite tendency where the love of man for God and the love of God for man are interchangeable terms.
Man's body is a kind of instrument of which actual machines are continuations. His hands and feet are meant for work and machines are supposed to aid in this same purpose. When the energy available from such natural products as coal and oil was finally utilized by humanity, a new horizontal expansion of opportunities for work began. This was due to humanity´s innovative and natural genius existing as an innate disposition from prehistoric times.


With the utilization of energy available from products like coal, oil, gas etc., the way was open for development of the present instrumentalist civilization.
Bergson further says:

"Man will rise above earthly things only if powerful equipment supplies him with the requisite fulcrum. He must use matter as a support if he wants to get away from matter. In other words, the mystical summons up the mechanical. This has not been sufficiently realized because machinery, through a mistake at the points, has been switched on to a track at the end of which lies exaggerated comfort and luxury for the few, rather than liberation for all ... The workman's tool is the continuation of his arm, the tool-equipment of humanity is therefore a continuation of its body ... We must add that the body, now larger, calls for a bigger soul, and that mechanism should mean mysticism. The origins of the process of mechanization are indeed more mystical than we might imagine. Machinery will find its true vocation again, it will render services in proportion to its power, only if mankind, which it has bowed still lower to the earth, can succeed, through it, in standing erect and looking heavenwards." (2)



Relating man to the machine and then presenting him in relation to his spiritual aspirations is a modern way of looking at spiritual problems. Narayana Guru adopts this way of looking at things in the "Daiva Dasakam" (Verse 1) when using the analogy of the steamship and its captain. It is surprising therefore to find Narayana Guru, from his remote corner of the world, in sympathy with Bergson and the progressive thought of both Europe and America. Bergson develops his own modern lingua mystica, relating it completely to the actualities of the time. His machine, vibrating and ready to take off at any moment, suggests the workings of the living and vital mind of modern man.


In the worlds of fuels and engines such a type of person has the possibility of using all the opportunities offered to him. Means and ends have to belong together somehow. The older mystical language of the Upanishads uses the image of the horse for a chariot to be drawn. The aptness of such an image has its own subtle implications and even Sankara in his comment on Brahma Sutra III, 4-26 says that a horse is suitable for drawing a chariot and not a plough; ends and means have to be matched, one as instrumental to the other. (3)
The relation between instrument and its action is a thin and pure one with Sankara who is a strict non-dualist who would not admit the slightest disunity between ends and means, not to speak of cause and effect, substance or attribute. He, however, sometimes speaks of a lower (apara) and a higher (para) Absolute (brahman). It is of special interest, therefore, for the careful student to scrutinize closely how he is able to comment on the Brahma Sutra III, 4-26, which reads:

"And there is need of all (works), on account of the scriptural statement of sacrifices and the like; as in the case of the horse."

It is the last clause here that is most intriguing for us. The horse is meant to draw or carry something forward. It could be a plough or a chariot. However, a plough is generally drawn by oxen and a horse is more suitable or compatible to a chariot. There must be some compatibility between ends and means. It is a delicate reciprocity, a complementarity, suitability or correspondence of a one-one order and not any duality or difference that Sankara approves when he explains the reference to the horse in the Sutra in question.


It is worthwhile to read carefully the argument in Sankara's own words:

"The phrase, 'as in the case of the horse', supplies an illustration on the ground of suitability. As the horse, owing to its specific suitability, is not employed for dragging ploughs but is harnessed to chariots; so the works enjoined on the asramas are not required by knowledge for bringing about its results, but with a view to its own origination." (Vedanta Sutras III ,26)


Referring to his law of dichotomy and more particularly to his "law of twofold frenzy", at two levels of this particular evolutionary process of the life-impetus, evolving from the quantitative to the qualitative, Bergson says:

"Now we must not make exaggerated use of the word "law" in a field which is that of liberty...So we will call law of dichotomy that law which apparently brings about a materialization, by a mere splitting up of tendencies which began by being two photographic views, so to speak, of one and the same tendency. And we propose to designate "law of twofold frenzy" the imperative demand, forthcoming from each of the two tendencies as soon as it is materialized by the splitting, to be pursued to the very end - as if there was an end!….The truth is that a tendency on which two different views are possible can put forth its maximum, in quantity or quality, only if it materializes these two possibilities into moving realities, each one of which leaps forward and monopolizes the available space while the other is on the watch unceasingly for its own turn to come. Only thus will the content of the original tendency develop .... And it is precisely when it imitates nature, when it yields to the original impulsion, that the progress of humanity assumes a certain regularity and conforms - though very imperfectly, be it said - to such laws as those we have stated." (4)


Bergson has already referred to mankind looking heavenwards only when the true implications of the machine are understood. The workings of instrumental mysticism take place schematically on two axes of reference. The will of God and the will of man are limiting points on the vertical axis. There is an alternating process of comings and goings involving quantitative and qualitative values. As we have said, we are interested in an Integrated Science of the Absolute and are not personally interested in the doctrines favoured by any philosopher. In Bergson as, quoted above, it is not hard to see how he has to coin new words and define them himself before he could explain his "twofold frenzy" in operation in the context of progress. It is here that the double-sided language found in our schema and scientific definitions could together serve the purpose of a thorough proto-cum-meta-language. This is the way we recommend to arrive at the scientific certitude that we seek.

Before leaving the subject of instrumental mysticism there are one or two more features of Bergson's philosophy that we wish to mention. The two limiting points of the vertical axis where mystical contemplation lives, moves and has its being have already been referred to. Bergson uses both Aristotle and Plato as clearly marking out these limiting points in the following manner:

  1. Why did Aristotle posit as first principle a motionless mover, "a Thought thinking itself", self-enclosed, operative only by the appeal of its perfection?
  2. Why, having posited this principle, did he call it God? But in the one case as in the other the answer is easy: the Platonic theory of ideas ruled over the thought of Greece and Rome ere ever it penetrated into modern philosophy." (5)




Tracing the known history of Western mysticism Bergson says:

"There is no doubt that the Dionysiac frenzy was continued into Orphism, and that Orphism went on into Pythagorism: well, it is to this latter perhaps even to the former, that the primary inspirations of Platonism goes back." (6)

Instrumentalism with Bergson is thus a double frenzy bridging the gulf between the mechanical and the mystical.



Conjugates and correlates enter into the complex expression of mystical life involving varying degrees of reciprocity, complementarity or cancellability of counterparts on the basis of a final equality of absolute status between them. From eroticism to saintliness there is a series of expressions of mysticism. There is an equally complex variety of mystical life presented to us between the limiting cases of its active or quietist expressions. To accommodate them all into an integrated Science of the Absolute involves bold schematization and generalization.

Having reached the point in Bergson's instrumentalism where he speaks of Aristotle and Plato as representing two polarities between the philosophical values where the twofold mystical frenzy is explained, we are now obliged to leave behind Bergson's own realistic and vitalistic picture of mysticism where he says, "complete mysticism is action". It is true that a philosopher has to deal with real things and not always with axiomatic abstractions.


Evolution, as understood by Bergson, has two levels: the closed or static and the open or dynamic, through which levels animal life such as that of the bee as well as human social organizations at different stages of history have to evolve. The closed and static is expected sooner or later to become the open and dynamic. The two levels represent a dichotomy between them. This implies also a fanlike expansion and is where the myth-making tendency finds its expression. The different levels are all legitimately to be given their places in one and the same picture of reality, explained by Bergson as a process of becoming. In accommodating all their ideas together Bergson proves himself a philosopher of unified science. We do not wish to speak either in terms of an abstract structuralism or in mere axiomatic language. From the beginning of this work we have explicitly and implicitly kept in mind such a unified outlook where physics and metaphysics could have between them a common structural link. By now this should be sufficiently self-evident to the reader. In Chapter 1 full realism was given to the cosmos, while in the second chapter it was subjected to a negative method of phenomenological reduction. Unreality as a further negative reference characterized the third, while a fuller and more generalized negativity was found in the fourth. In the fifth chapter the two counterparts with a negative ontological status marked the ultimate limits of philosophical realism. It was an existent non-metaphysical Self that was in reality involved in the transition from the existent to the present. Action is a reality given to all life. To deny it amounts to bypassing the real. That is why Narayana Guru refers to something like an active thinking substance where thought attains to a kind of action comparable to dream activity. This activity is looked upon as a by-product of the interaction of consciousness with the subconscious psyche, libido or Self. In speaking of the law of twofold frenzy between the limits of Aristotelian and Platonic values, Bergson does not basically differ from the scope of this chapter, although we have to admit he parts company here with older and deeper notions of mysticism such as that of Plotinus.


As a neo-Platonist it is true that Plotinus has a slant which tends to place him nearer to Plato than to Aristotle. Bergson might have had this slight asymmetry in mind when he denounced Plotinus as well as the rest of Greek thought on the question of complete mysticism. His own form of mysticism is closest to that of St. Theresa, St. Catherine of Siena, and other active mystics and, therefore, he can hardly find Plotinus and the Greeks very compatible in this matter, as we can see from the following:

"In short, mysticism, in the absolute sense in which we have agreed to take the word, was never attained by Greek thought. No doubt it would like to have come into being; as a mere virtuality it knocked more than once at the door. The door opened wider and wider, but never wide enough for mysticism wholly to enter." (7)

It is true that the 'virtuality.' referred to above is a negative quality of mysticism. Even as such it need not be characterized as defective when we think of integrating all types of mysticism under one normative notion. Absolute Realism itself, as against this virtuality is subject to four different perspectives, from which it could be viewed as revealed in the quaternion structure of complex numbers in mathematics. The realism of the electro-magnetic field is not the same realism as Newtonian mechanics or Euclidian space. These are new features of what is true, factual, real or significant that the realism of modern science is compelled to take into account. Eddington's reference to the four chairs and the four different men who have to sit on them (see page 119) brings out the perspective or reality that scientific epistemology will have sooner or later to accept. To understand mysticism in the same normalized structural context of selectionism and subjectivism does not mean one had to relinquish absolute realism at the expense of what if considered virtual. They belong together. We find a reference to an absolute central reality in the context of Mysticism in the following passage from Plotinus:


"This Absolute is none of the things of which It is the Source; Its nature is that nothing can be affirmed of It - not existence, not essence, not life - It transcends all these" (8)

Although there is thus a very slight asymmetry in Plotinus as a Neo-Platonist, and a gap between his mysticism and that of Bergson, he still adopts a fully scientific frame of reference. By refusing to predicate any unilateral attribute to the Absolute, Plotinus only comes closer to the more normative and slightly subjective approach of the Upanishads. This is the negative touch of the neti-neti (not this, not this). This method implies the notion of nothingness; while in truth nothing is abolished when cancelling out counterparts or refusing to affirm unilaterally the nature of the Absolute, whether as positive or negative. Plotinus thus deserves to be included as one of the finest expressions of a fully normalized version of mysticism. Although we fully agree with Bergson's own type of realism distinguishing his "complete mysticism'', we must again point out that it is only one of many other forms both Eastern and Western, all of which are equally valid. They could all be placed at points on a vertical parameter. Bergson's mysticism is not therefore the only form of complete mysticism. Activity should not be the only criterion nor an end in itself, but as Plotinus says below, all action must be "set towards contemplation" to be mystical in the correct sense:


"Action, thus, is set towards contemplation, so that even those whose life is in "doing" have "seeing" as their object; what they have not been able to achieve directly, they hope to arrive at by a circuitous path. They desire a certain thing to come about, they act for the sake of some good, to know it, to see it present before the mind, to hold the good of the action. This vision achieved, the acting instinct pauses; the mind is satisfied and seeks nothing further; the contemplation remains absorbed within as having acquired certainty to rest upon. The brighter the certainty, the more tranquil is the contemplation as having acquired the more perfect unity." (9)



Having done with the implications of Bergson's reference to the modern machine age of industrial production and technocratic civilization and his law of twofold frenzy, we now proceed to discuss the parity between the instrument and action. Cartesian occasionalism is not totally outside this kind of interaction between the instrument and its intellectual value. Humanity, as Bergson hopes, will one day stand erect looking heavenwards. Such a statement represents the same two-sided thinking substance as in Descartes. It is the divine medium where the vertical interaction between the parallel factors of psycho-physics bridges the gap between man and God. For the pure mystic like Eckhart such an interchangeability of the wills of man and God is not strange, although the ecclesiastical authorities of his time denounced him as a heretic, "sowing thorns and thistles amongst the faithful". Nonetheless, Eckhart was a great mystic, as we read in the following quotation where he remarks about the parity between man and God:

"When God laughs at the soul and the soul laughs back at God, the persons of the Trinity are begotten. To speak in hyperbole, when the Father laughs to the Son and the Son laughs back to the Father, that laughter gives pleasure, that pleasure gives joy, that joy gives love, and love gives the persons of the Holy Trinity, of which the Holy Spirit is one." (10)


Eckhart's subtle reciprocity between man and God is not unlike the divine linking element of Descartes, which is a substance comparable to water in a mechanical fountain. The pressure of the water at different levels, when made to subserve the horizontal laws of Nature, may be adjusted to work complex machines imitating a bathing Diana or an animal spouting water. (see page 100). The horizontal mechanistic variety is linked by a simple vertical principle of water pressure. This is how occasionalism works. It links the machine or instrument with its own resultant action. The instrument and action belong together to the context of pure occasionalism. When viewed vertically there is no duality, though implying full duality horizontally between counterparts of action accomplished by an instrument.


The horizontal and vertical correlation of which Descartes is the father is clearly in evidence here, and links the res extensa of space with the res cogitans of experienced time. Bergson also accents this structural relationship in his work "Durée et Simultanéité". In order for us to clarify the contents of the verses of the present chapter, it is necessary to underline this principle of parity between instrument and action. This must be viewed in its pure verticalized implications without being carried away by the horizontal references to industrialization and economic expansion. The instrument thus comes to resemble the Aristotelian organon while even agreeing closely with the élan vital of Bergson.

The cause of action and its effects are to be thought of as dialectically belonging together, in terms of absolute self-consciousness. It is in such a light that; the series of verses will become fully intelligible.


The organon can be conceived as acting in a pure sense, exercising its faculties which are the essence of logical thought. When we imagine the organon as action in this extended sense we transcend the limits of this chapter and attain the subject matter of the next chapter which deals with reason or awareness. The emergent resultant of an interaction between the two aspects of the intelligent Self is awareness. It resembles a white glow of wisdom or pure knowledge, which is not unlike a further and more intensified stage of mysticism when rid of its instinctive or emotional content which belongs to the physical rather then the mental side. This lower mysticism by comparison can therefore be said to represent a red glow of heat also naturally belonging to the Self.

As mysticism expresses different kinds of frenzy, agony or ecstasy between the limits of eroticism and saintliness, this emotional colouration of activity is true only at a certain level. Mysticism, as expressed by prayer and fasting as well as a plenitude of pious works is best expressed by St. Catherine of Siena. Bergson strongly approves of her and includes her in his list of "incomplete mystics". One can think of this kind of mysticism as one glowing with life and a warm eagerness to serve humanity piously. This service of humanity unfortunately has necessarily a local-fixed or closed character and in the present case is hemmed in by Christian patterns of behaviour not altogether favourable to persons with an open outlook. Anyhow, to the extent that this type of mysticism can be characterized as open and dynamic, the red glow of vitality that is eager to zealously affiliate itself to the requirements of a world of horizontally expanding values gives to such an expression the full character of being practical and realistic.


Let us say in advance that we are not going to attempt any classification of mystics into types so as to correctly pigeonhole them in their respective compartments. Such a task is as complex as trying to classify types of orphans or poverty-stricken people. If happiness is a criterion there are happy slum-dwellers and often much happiness is found in many down-and-out street urchins and destitute hoboes. Any scientific classification has to be undertaken in the light of grades of absolutism expressed in the lives of various mystics. Such a task is properly undertaken in the last chapter by Narayana Guru. The Gita in its last chapter (v.33-35) attempts a classification based on the gunas. It is not easy nor necessary to classify into cut-and-dried types under each chapter where the factors involved are too complex and numerous and the ground still vague and amorphous.

Psychological types such as extroverts and introverts also offer many varieties. General psychological types constitute a study which is vast in itself, as shown by C. G. Jung´s work on the subject. Yogis can be referred to as aspiring to eight different levels of attainment as found in Patanjali, and so can be fairly easily subjected to classification on such a basis in the present work. It is the manifestation of absolutism in the human personality that is the determining factor for any classification under each of the chapters: therefore we shall content ourselves with making passing references to a few selected instances of absolutist mysticism. We shall not attempt to be exhaustive nor adhere to any strict order in the treatment of each case referred to.

The same structuralism should be considered as relating and integrating all the individual chapters. In the present chapter we have to note that although the parity of instrument and action is in principle accepted, it is the instrument as an existent reality which is given priority over the ultimate principle of Good or God to whose love or understanding it is applied.


The position of the chapter, situated where experience and experiment meet, justifies such a standpoint. Bergson has said in many places in his writings that he has no desire to be a dialectician nor a metaphysician. This is because he wants to look at reality only as far as percepts and perceptibles could extend and absolutely no further. Bergson's instrumentalism belongs to the context of experimental or at least experienced science, and refuses to go beyond it into metaphysics proper. This asymmetry in favour of the perceptible is seen to be neutralized when we carefully scrutinize the verses of Narayana Guru. We can see how he does not depart from the overall context of action and actor considered in the abstract as neutrally belonging together with a parity and homogeneity between them. There is always the same reversible equation between the Self and the non-Self. Action, which is a basic function characterizing the Self in its living aspects, is not excluded by Narayana Guru from the scope of his absolutist outlook. In the last verse of the fifth chapter of the Darsana Mala, the non-Self representing the objective side of activity is a superimposition having no ontological reality of its own. Thus the instrumental mysticism of this chapter nourishes itself on the mere dreamlike airy nothingness of suppositions. It belongs to the same context as the absolute lover, madman and poet whose imaginative activity is more pronounced than their own subjective selves. The subject-matter and object-matter have both a mental or thin logical status as between an organon and its reason. Before concluding this section, let us add that a sense of well-being, called by William James 'healthy-mindedness,' is at the core of all mystical experience. The reference to joy or ananda will come into full evidence in the last three chapters. A negative state of agony also belongs to the same sense of healthy-mindedness. Most mystical states are induced by anterior states of ecstasy, agony or trance. These states are not in themselves aids to proper spiritual attainment of the Absolute.


In the last chapter all negative forms of mysticism are referred to as impure. The antinomies of healthy-mindedness and agony however belong together to the same context of happiness or joy. This explains why only the last three chapters refer to ananda (bliss) more intimately than the present, where activity is still within the bounds of reason.



Besides Bergson´s law of twofold frenzy there are other regulative considerations to guide us in recognizing normal and abnormal mysticism.
The second law which we propose is the law of reciprocity. All religious mysticism must imply the will of God and the will of man as interchangeable terms. Nature mysticism need not involve the will of God, but can substitute some greater will than that of ordinary man like that of a superman belonging to the negative side of Nature and not of God.
The third law is the law of compensation. All mystical experience is the result of an equilibrium between the two reciprocal factors mentioned above. When horizontal and vertical considerations are balanced, the resulting mystical expression is normal and stabilized within the personality of the mystic. When thus stabilized, we are obliged to treat all varieties as having an equal value between them.
The fourth law is the law of compensation. What is lost on one side is gained on the other. We have quoted a verse from Narayana Guru at the end of the Introduction (p.883) where this is brought out. We have also to think of a possible lack of balance resulting from undue stress on orthodoxy or heterodoxy, based on closed and static or open and dynamic tendencies. A cruel and exclusive brahmin and a pious saint who despises all non-Christians could hardly be said to have the proper mystical outlook, even when we could overlook some of their personal characteristics as extraneous to the situation. It is the verticalized link between counterparts that is essential.


Narayana Guru in Verses 62 and 63 of the Atmopadesa Satakam brings this out very clearly:

"Mere orthodoxy which says that one should not adopt
As one's own a doctrine belonging to the other side
How can it true knowledge bring? Lip service will not do;
One has earnestly to contemplate the supreme state.

That which is non-distinct from knowledge than knowing which knowledge
Straight away; here there is none other to know
As any ultimate knowing beyond, such the supreme secret
Of the most informed of men., who is there to know?"

Freak and abnormal expressions have a nuisance value in human life and cannot strictly be included under any type of scientific mysticism, although they could belong to the overall context of mysticism. Fanatics and certain martyrs also have disturbing effects on human affairs, though perhaps inevitably. The aesthetic instinct in man is also a form of mysticism. Oscar Wilde is perhaps a good example of this.
Patriotic and fanatical expressions also come under mysticism because of their bipolar affiliation of the inner man with outer values in group life. When a man thinks that a piece of art belongs to him he established a link, however feeble, between his Self and non-Self. This possibility belongs to the context of more specialized cases of mysticism. Narayana Guru points this out in Verse 48 of the Atmopadesa Satakam:

"The dweller within the body from its own status in pure being
In respect of each possible thing, treats all as "That is mine",
Or "This is mine", transcending bodily sense;
Any one becomes a realized man when we come to think in this way."


We shall, therefore, be very selective in choosing instances from some of the more familiar mystics of Europe and the Middle East. In the Epilogue we will include mystics belonging to the far Eastern context. We shall now begin with instances of mystics whom William James would call healthy-minded. In each case we shall try to give some personal traits or biographical details however meagre so as to make the mystic stand out as a real person. The cases that interest us are the ones revealing most clearly those structural aspects with the help of which we could refer them to a normalized type.



We have already spoken of Walt Whitman, whose mysticism stems from Nature and not from any religious exaltation or agony in the ordinary sense of the term. We could refer in this connection to the great English mystic Richard Jefferies (1848-87) as an example. Jefferies was the son of a farmer and during his lifetime was recognized as a writer of deep philosophical and mystical insight. He was accused on many occasions of atheism, because he never mentioned God in his writings, but always went straight to the source of his mysticism in Nature. The following passage is quoted from his spiritual autobiography, "The Story of My Heart":

"I was utterly alone with the sun and the earth. Lying down on the grass, I spoke with my soul to the earth, the sun, the air, and the distant sea far beyond sight. I thought of the earth's firmness - I felt it bear me up; through the grassy couch there came an influence as if I could feel the great earth speaking to me. I thought of the wandering air - its pureness, which is its beauty; the air touched me and gave me something of itself. I spoke to the sea: though so far, in my mind I saw it, green at the rim of the earth and blue in deeper ocean; I desired to have its strength - its mystery and glory. Then I addressed the sun, desiring the soul equivalent of his light and brilliance, his endurance and unwearied race. I returned to the blue heaven over, gazing into its depth, inhaling its exquisite colour and sweetness.
The rich blue of the unattainable flower of the sky drew my soul towards it, and there it rested, for pure colour is rest of heart." (11)


Other great nature mystics in the West are Rousseau, Shelley, Thoreau, Keats, Burns, Wordsworth and many other poets. Saint Francis also resembled a pagan in his personification of natural items like the Sun and elements. All of them in their own way express the same sentiments as Richard Jefferies in the above.



By way of contrast with Jefferies we take the instance of Joan of Arc, in whose case there is no mistaking that her patriotic motives were throbbing with mystical emotion and activity in a sublimated form of patriotism. Joan, the daughter of simple French peasants, left her family at the age of seventeen and in one month became a leader of the Dauphin's army. In 1431 she was tried by the Court of the Inquisition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The Court consisted of one cardinal, six bishops, thirty-two doctors of theology, sixteen bachelors of theology, seven doctors of' medicine, and one hundred and three other clerics. On Joan´s side there was only herself. The following short extract from her trial is sufficient to reveal her mystical state of mind:


"Questioner: Now did St.. Michael look when he appeared to you? Was he naked?
Joan: Do you think that, God has nothing to clothe him in?
Quest: Did he have any hair?
Joan.: Why would it have been cut off?
Quest: Does God hate the English?
Joan.: About the love or hate God may have for the English, I know nothing, but I do know that they will be driven out of France.
Quest: Did your hope of winning a victory rest upon your sword?
Joan: It lay in my Lord and nowhere else.
Quest: Is that all you wish to answer now?
Joan: I look to my judge - he is King of Heaven and Earth.
Quest: Do you mean to say you have no judge on this earth? Is not our Holy father the Pope your judge?
Joan; I will not answer further to that, I have A good Master - that is my Lord - to him only I look and to none other." (12)



One of the best instances of this type of mysticism is Henry Suso. Born in Germany (1295-1365), he was disposed towards asceticism. He was one of the most exuberant of Christian mystics, a disciple of Eckhart and well trained in philosophy and theology. One of his ascetic practices was to nail himself on a cross. This extreme form of asceticism he later denounced. The following speaks for itself:

"None can come to the sublime heights of divinity, said the Eternal Wisdom, or taste its ineffable sweetness, if first they have not experienced the bitterness and lowliness of My humanity. The higher they climb without passing by My humanity the lower afterward shall be their fall. My humanity is the road which all must tread who would come to that which thou seekest: My sufferings are the door by which all must come in." (13)


The sufferings of Boethius while in prison where he composed his "Consolations of Philosophy" belong to the same mystical context. St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross are also good examples of the mysticism of agony. Both were also very active in their lives and their mysticism was frowned upon by the Church orthodoxy of their time but in later years they became saints. Boethius lived from 470 to 525 and was strongly influenced by neo-Platonism, St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross lived in the 16th Century. Their lives are well known and we need not go into any detail.



When we come to philosophic mysticism we can include such names as Jacob Boehme, William Law, Meister Eckhart, John Ruysbroeck and John Tauler. We will quote briefly from each of the above mentioned. Many other mystics can be included in this list, even though they have not been philosophical in the strictest sense of the word. Such mystics are St. John of the Cross, Henry Vaughan, the Cambridge neo-Platonists, the Port Royal quietists, St. Bonaventura, the unknown authors of the Theologia Germanica and the "Cloud of Unknowing", Nicholas of Cusa and in modern times, the great American visionary, Thomas Merton. For lack of space we simply cannot include them all, so we must content ourselves with the first five mentioned.

Jacob Boehme, (1575-1624) considered by many to be the greatest mystic-philosopher of the Protestant tradition, was a shoemaker by profession and a mystic by temperament. His writings, though in many places difficult to comprehend, had a great influence on the German philosophy of later years. Boehme knew none of the great mystical writings of his time. He derived much of his inspiration from Nature, the Bible and the alchemist philosopher, Paracelsus.


The following is from "Six Theosophic Points":

"Nor have I ascended into heaven, nor have I seen all the works and creations of God, but heaven has revealed itself within my spirit in such a way that I therefore recognize the divine works and creation. By my own powers I am as blind as the next man, but through the spirit pierce all things". (14)

William Law (1686-1761) was greatly influenced by the writings of Jacob Boehme. Law stressed an individualistic Christianity, along with a mysticism guided by Boehme. Law was a brilliant stylist and was able to express in much clearer terms the more obscure parts of Boehme. It is fair to say that in Law we find the best continuation of Boehme. Up to that time Boehme's name was usually associated with the unbalanced aspect of mysticism and many people thought he was just an occultist indulging in mediumistic phenomena and wild visions. This was due to the misrepresentation and misunderstanding of his teachings. In the following passage, Law not only displays his mystical vision but also his great humanity and universality.
Regardless of a man's religion, salvation comes when the desire of the soul turns to God:

"Now there is but one possible way for man to attain this salvation or life of God in the soul. There is not one for the Jew, another for a Christian, and a third for the heathen. No; God is one, human nature is one, salvation is one, and the way to it is one; and that is, the desire of the soul turned to God. When this desire is alive and breaks forth in any creature under Heaven, then the lost sheep is found and the shepherd has it upon his shoulders.... See how plainly we are taught that no sooner is this desire arisen and in motion towards God, but the operation of God´s Spirit answers to it, cherishes and welcomes its first beginnings. Thus does this desire do all, it brings the soul to God and God into the soul, it unites with God, it cooperates with God, and is one life with God". (15)

Meister Eckhart, to whom we have previously referred, has influenced not only mystics like Tauler and Suso, but even philosophers like Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. We read the following from Eckhart:


"The just man lives in God and God in him, for God is born in him and he in God. With each virtue of the just person, God is born and made glad, and not only with each virtue, but with each deed, however trifling, done out of virtue and justice, and resulting in that there is nothing in the core of the Godhead that does not dance for joy! Ordinary persons can only believe this; but the enlightened know it." (16)

John Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) was one of the greatest of Flemish mystics. Indebted to both Augustine and Eckhart, he used the latter's philosophy as a foundation for his own highly personal mysticism. Ruysbroeck's influence on later generations was great and his disciple Gerard Groot founded the contemplative Brotherhood of the Common Life. Among others Ruysbroeck had great influence on Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) and the "learned and holy Platonist", Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464). The following is from "The Adornment of the Spiritual Life":

"But he who is united with God, and is enlightened in this truth, he is able to understand the truth by itself. For to comprehend and to understand God above all similitudes, such as He is in Himself, is to be God with God, without intermediary and without any otherness that can become a hindrance or an intermediary." (17)

John Tauler (1300-1361) was a friar-preacher in Strasbourg. He was a great teacher who, like Eckhart combined theological learning with mystical insight. Tauler was highly critical of Church orthodoxy and had a wide humanity. His influence spread all over Europe and, although a Roman Catholic, he was influential in an indirect way in the Protestant Reformation that followed.


The following is from Tauler's "Sermon for Septuagesima Sunday":

"His spirit is as it were sunk and lost in the Abyss of the Deity, and loses the consciousness of all creature-distinctions. All things are gathered together in one with the divine sweetness, and the man's being is so penetrated with the divine substance that he loses himself therein, as a drop of water is lost in a cask of strong wine. And thus the man's spirit is so sunk in God in divine, that he loses all sense of distinction ..." (18)



To the Sufi Mystic, God is eternally beautiful. Many great mystics have been Sufis. Probably the most well known is Jalal ud´din-Rumi (1207-1275) whose Ma'thnawi is one of the most popular works among Sufi followers. The following is from his poem, "Love in Absence":

"0 Thou Whose Soul is free from 'we' and 'I',
0 Thou, Who art the essence of the spirit in men and women,
When men and women become one, Thou art that One,
When the units are wiped out, lo, Thou art That Unity.
Thou didst contrive this "I" and "We" in order to play the game of worship with Thyself
That all "I" ´s and "Thou´s" might become one soul and at last be submerged in the Beloved" (19)

There have been many other great Sufi mystics such as Hafiz, Jami, Ansari of Herat, Al-Hazily, Attar, Fazil etc.


As space does not allow us to give a full picture of Sufi expression, we have decided to use Jami´s great "Poem on Beauty". It is one of the greatest mystical poems found anywhere in the world:

"In solitude where Being sinless dwelt,
And all the Universe still dormant lay
Concealed in selflessness, One Being was
Exempt from "I" or "Thou" – ness and apart
From all duality; Beauty Supreme,
Unmanifest, except unto Itself.
By Its own light, yet fraught with power to charm
The souls of all; concealed in the Unseen,
An Essence pure, unstained by aught of ill.
No mirror to reflect its loveliness,
Nor comb to touch Its looks; the morning breeze
Ne´er stirred Its stresses; no collieries,
Lent lustre to Its eyes nor rosy cheeks,
O'er shadowed by dark curls like hyacinth,,
Nor peach-like down were there; no dusky mole
Adorned Its face; no eye had yet beheld
Its image. To Itself it sang of love
In wordless measures,. By itself it cast
The die of love.

Beware! Say not, "He is All-Beautiful,
And we His Lovers" Thou art but the glass,
And He the Face confronting it, which casts, its image on the mirror.
He, alone is manifest, and thou in truth art hid."
"Pure Love, like Beauty, coming but from Him,
Reveals itself in thee. If steadfastly
Thou canst regard, thou wilt at length perceive He is the mirror also –
He alike The Treasure and the Casket.
"I" and "Thou" Have here no place, and are but fantasies
Vain and unreal. Silence! for this tale
Is endless, and no eloquence hath power
To speak of Him. This best for us to love,
And suffer silently, being as naught." (20)


The beauty of the above references, particularly the excerpts from Jami should not carry us away from our main line of interest which is to accomplish the scientific integration of all spiritual and religious expressions. What is important in the above quotations is their adherence to a fourfold structural scheme.

We hope to include in the last three chapters some more Western mystics and this is one of the reasons why such people as St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa and others have not been included in this chapter.




[1] Bergson, pp.230-231.


[2] Bergson,Two Sources, pp. 309-310


[3] Ved. Sut. Comm. Sank., Vol. II, p.306


[4] Bergson, Two Sources, pp. 296-297


[5] Bergson, Two Sources, pp. 242


[6] Bergson, Two Sources, p. 219


[7] Bergson, Two Sources, p.221


[8] McKenna, p.116


[9] McKenna, pp. 111-112


[10] Blakeny, p.245.


[11] R. Jefferies,"Story of My Heart".


[12] Joan of Arc, from the chapter on her trial


[13] H. Suso,  "Little Book of Eternal Wisdom", tr. London, 1910, by C.H. Mckenna


[14] J.Boehme, "Six Theosophical Points", tr. By Nicolas Berdyaev, Univ. of Michigan, 1958


[15] Happold, "Mysticism", London, 1963, pp-351-352.


[16] Blakney, p.246


[17] J.Ruysbroek, "The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage", tr. by Maurice Maeterlinck, Brussels,1900.


[18] S. Winkworth (trans), "The History of Life of the Rev. Doctor John Tauler", London, 1906, p.253.


[19] "Selections from the Ma'thnawi", trans. R. Nicholson, London, 1950


[20] E.Browne, "Poems from the Persian", London.