Mysticism and Reality8 min read

The philosophy of Yoga is neither idealistic nor realistic. Idealism sees mind in nature ; realism sees nature in mind.

There is a third system which is more realistic, more practical and more idealistic than either of these, and it is mysticism.

Yogis adhere to the philosophy of mysticism.

What is it ? In what way does it differ from Platonic or Hegelian idealism ?

The main difference is that idealists are monists who retain the subject-object relationship. Hegel looks upon the world s a manifestation of his Absolute ;

but in mysticism there is neither dualistic nor monistic thought, it rises above them both. It can be expressed by one word only—non-dualism (advaita).

What are its chief doctrines ?

  1. Reality is one. In this the mystical doctrine is opposed to all the atomistic and pluralistic metaphysical doctrines.
  2. Reality is indescribable. No epithet, attributed to it or predicated of it, is adequate to describe it.
  3. The real essence of the human Self is identical with Reality. Reality is to be found either by looking without or by looking within. In either case, Reality is the same.
  4. It is vitally important for a life of real satisfaction and happiness to gain an intuitive knowledge of our identity with this absolute Reality, which can only be described as beyond unity and duality.
  5. The way to achieve that Reality, which is identical with our own real Self and the imperishable essence of the universe, is by an effort which is primarily moral and disciplinary, not theoretical.

It can be readily seen that mysticism is a counterpart of realism.

In the Upanishads this concept is fully developed, with incomparable beauty and lucidity.

“ Bring hither fruit from yonder tree,” says the Teacher. “ Here it is, venerable sire,” replies the disciple.

“ What dost thou see in it, my son ? ”

“ I see, venerable sire, many very small seeds.”

“ Divide one of them, my son.”

“ It is divided, venerable sire.”

“ What seest thou therein now ? ”

“ Nothing at all, venerable sire.”

Then the Teacher says : “ The subtle essence which thou canst not perceive,  from that truly has the great tree arisen. Believe me, dear one, that which is this subtle essence, of its being is the universe ; this is the Real, that is, the soul. That thou art, O Svetaketu.”

The most important word in the philosophy of Yoga is Self. Self means the essence of an object and something much more. The essence of a tree is in a sense the sap which pervades it and keeps it alive, but there is something in a tree yet subtler than sap, something which unifies all its functions and directs its growth and expansion in space and also connects it as a phenomenon with the cosmic Reality. In this sense, Self is all and there is nothing beyond it. The mystic tries to know this Self and to relate it properly to the universe.

Metaphysically speaking, mysticism is the doctrine of the Real, but the Real has no mark or characteristic. No possible predicate can be applied to it. It is neither ‘ great ’ nor ‘ not great ’ ; it is just the Real.

The Real can be whole and entire in the minutest being. The salt of the ocean is discoverable even in the smallest drop of sea water. Being beyond all description, the Real is neither good nor evil, nor a mixture of the two. The distinctions of relativity are applied from our human point of view. The Real is neither mental nor non-mental.

The One is not neutral, nor is it cosmic ; there is no rod by which it can be measured. When the mystic is pressed to explain his point of view, he becomes silent. But this is not agnosticism, nor the doctrine of the unknowable. The Real cannot be called good, yet it is certain that good comes nearer to truth than evil.

The mystics have often been in trouble with the orthodox, who believe literally in the personality of God, but the mystic does not attribute personality to the Real. Spinoza ultimately believed in Nature, or God.

The mystic believes that the One exists, but he does not pretend to know what it is, because to know it would be to condition it to the range of the mind.

Here it may be objected :   “ How can you practise mysticism without knowing what it is ? ”

The answer is that those who play chess work for a solution with all their mental force without knowing what the solution will be.

Sometimes it seems that mysticism is something in between theism and atheism.

According to the mystics, the atheist is partly right, because the Real cannot be described. But though the mystic appears to be like an agnostic when he says that the Real is beyond the mind and uses the expression “ Not this, not this ”, yet it is a positive fact that the Real can be directly experienced. Acquaintance with a person gives a more satisfactory knowledge of that person than the best possible description of him.

The direct experience of the Real is a privileged state of being. It is a gift and cannot be obtained by force. It is the result of initiation. The experience of the mystic satisfies both the intellect and the will. Plato, Plotinus, Eckhart and Dante believe that the Real transcends commonplace description.

Plotinus has described the experience in which he was aroused from the body to the true Self. In the Self he beheld a marvellous beauty, which he calls identity with the Godhead.

The mystic’s experience of the Real is something like our perception of beauty in Nature. While studying the harmony, variety and unity of Nature, we begin to have occasional glimpses of a beauty which in the ordinary sphere of experience we miss.

We feel that Nature has within it a Reality, which is akin to ourselves. Appreciation of beauty means realisation of our union with the inner Reality of Nature.

The Indian mystic Kabir and the love- mystic Surdas describe the attainment of that knowledge of the Real which is the main and unique prerogative of the mystic.

To prepare the mind, or rather the soul, for this priviledged experience of unity in diversity, the mind has to be trained by a discipline which consists in part of certain abstinences and in part of certain ceremonies of purification, called initiations.

The Orphic mystics of Greece abstained fr0m certain kinds of meat and fish, and they prescribed a peculiar garb and insisted upon an ascetic, detached manner of life.

There is another form of mystic preparation for the realisation of the Real. In this, searching self-examination, a review of one’s habitual ways of thinking and wishing and a total rejection of what is partial or untrue play the dominant part in the pursuit of the Real.

The objects of ordinary natural interest and ambition are rejected on the ground of their being something less than the Supreme Good. They are regarded as obstructions to the free flight of the mind from the relative to the Absolute.

Mysticism prescribes a flight from the world in a vein of renunciation very foreign to our prevalent temper.

Some say it is a negative path ; it may be, but what is called the negative path of the mystic is negative only in form. The mystic applies a negative method in order to reach a positive good.

He seeks to get rid of the misleading fascination of the inferior goods in order that the superior Good may appear to his mind unimpeded.

The mystic denies himself the fragmentary in order to achieve the whole. Plotinus expresses this sentiment in the following words :

“ All those other things in which the soul used to delight once—such as power, strength, wealth, beauty, science—are held in contempt as the mystic advances towards the divine goal.” Professor Hocking calls it “ a world flight or retreat, physical, intellectual and moral.”

Socrates says in Plato’s Phaedo, rather whimsically, that the true disciple of philosophy (by which he means mysticism) is likely to be misunderstood by common men.

They do not perceive that the mystic is ever pursuing what is called in worldly parlance, death and dying.

Socrates insists that the ultimate Truth is revealed only to the hignest thought, if at all. The mind must be gathered into itself and neither sounds, sight, pain nor any pleasure should be able to disturb it. The intensity of the sheer pursuit of the Real can only be described as an aspiring after being.

Concentration plays an important part in the realisation of the Real. It is not the ordinary concentration, like that of Romeo on Juliet, of the miser on his gold, or of the patriot on what he considers to be his mother-country. Lady Macbeth’s concentration on the murder of Duncan is not comparable to the concentration of the mystics.

Prayer and worship are the two modes of concentration which lead to an instinctive turning away from the ordinary currents of sense experience.

We can sum up the outer discipline of the mystic in two words : they are, recollection and quest.

The mystic seeks the Real and not the natural.

He reminds himself constantly that nothing in the world, neither friendship, nor duty to an old mother, is real.

Our life is incomplete unless we reject all such merely apparent ideas.

Meister Eckhart calls this process ‘ laying aside the creatures’.

These are his words : “ If a man will work an inward work, he must pour all his powers into himself and into a corner of the soul and must hide himself from all images and forms.

Then he must come into a forgetting, a not-hear- ing. He must be in a stillness and silence where the ineffable word may be heard.

When one knows nothing, it is opened and revealed.”