Mysticism is the key to a region utterly beyond narrow differences of race and the small outlook of the individual. It is the region of the Absolute where there is no second, for “ number does not exist apart from the malady of time ” and here there is no fear and no distinction.
How can there be fear where there is only the One ?
It is the summit of the mountain, and the long training and preparation of the Mystic is very like the arduous efforts of the mountaineer to fit himself for that exhausting struggle. The view of the goal varies according to the stage of the climb, and the route which has been chosen, but when the peak is reached, there are no varying points of view. The climber has arrived, and neither the way of approach nor his individual idiosyncracies matter any more.
How like to this is the journey of the soul. It is only when the goal has been reached that men find that the bitter differences they experienced on the way were caused by the fact that their instruments of perception were conditioned, and only gave them a personal and therefore a limited vision. The view of the personal God is narrowed in this way. He is manifest in the form that can be understood by the devotee, for He can only be apprehended within the limits of the nature of that devotee.
Thus it is that in the worship of the Incarnate One, religion, instead of being the source of universal understanding, divides man from man, deeply and irreconcilably. But all mountains have a summit, and here men meet, irrespective of race and creed.
The goal of the Mystic is the universal region where things are whole and truth is one. The further he penetrates the darkness of “Unknowing” the nearer he comes to other men and other creeds. The Mystic has prayed so often with the Master of Dionysian theology for “ liberation from the life which is in part, and admission to the life which is whole ” that he is only truly at home in that “ dear country ” where all men are his friends, where he knows “ the entire Truth, immediately, impartibly and in real happiness ”.
What is the enemy of this longing of the soul for this hidden knowledge ?
What is it that causes the unreal separation of man from man, and the soul from the immediate experience of God, for which it so deeply yearns ?
The mind forms the barrier, and it is the mind which the true Mystic strives to surmount and to obliterate.
He knows from the testimony of the great Mystics of the past that he must “ give no quarter to inventions of the mind, on pain of scattering himself, and being sold into multiplicity Why is this of such importance ? The Psalmist taught the same truth when he sang that “ day unto day uttereth speech, but night unto night showeth knowledge”.
The mind gives life to the unreal manifestations of differences and by the mind the soul is torn from the whole and imprisoned in the part. In this imprisonment the soul keeps ill company, she is guarded by egoity and forced to consort with narrowness, intolerance, prejudice, jealousy, fear and the like.
Thus arises a sense of separation and a longing for the one perfect identity, and through the pain of this separation, and a compelling devotion to that knowledge which reveals that there is no happiness in the realm of duality, the barriers of sense perception and self-love are surmounted, and “ in darkness and in safety ” the Mystic goes on his quest. He goes in safety because the tumult of the “mind is now obliterated and “ his house is all at rest ”.
Whether it is a personal Saviour who is the object of the love and longing of the soul of the Mystic, or the Absolute—the One without a second, the One without attributes—the fact remains that the key to the kingdom is the “ unceasing and entire renunciation of self-love and self-interest ”, the defeat of the false identification of the true Self with mind and body.
It is hard to express in words the intense realism of the Mystic, his childlike attitude which accepts the given word of Scripture as an injunction which is meant to be put into practice, no matter if it defies common sense, and the most elementary rules of self-preservation. He is flexible where orthodoxy is rigid, but scientifically accurate and uncompromisingly literal when under the compulsion of direct intuition. He is realistic to the point of death in fact, death is actual in his life.
No words have been more misunderstood than those of St. Theresa : “to die and to suffer ”, for the death of a saint or mystic is their life’s work. It is not a sudden annihilation, but the slow patient systematic destruction, not of their earthly life, but of their separative nature.
St. John of the Cross, realist and scientific exponent of the purpose and method of “ dying ”, points out that the words of Christ, so often repeated, so seldom understood, are meant to be taken quite literally, and quite literally to be carried out : “ if you would save your life . . . you must lose it ”. That is, the limitation of the individual ego must be overcome, the little grasping “me” must be relinquished, for it is the meagre part which denies the Whole.
A longing to escape from the “ person ” who denies them life, and who is the absolute enemy of the “ mystic death ” is reiterated, like a cri de coeur in the writings of the mystics .
“ But most especially he feeleth matter for sorrow who knoweth and feeleth that he is.”
No pangs of birth, no struggles of the little bird to break from the enclosing shell, surpass the desperate efforts of the soul of man to free itself from the frustrations of the individual life. He who has not known the anguish of being a separate “ God-excluding self” is no true mystic.
The “ mystic death ”—what does it mean ?
If you extinguish all self-seeking, and self-love ; if you entirely abrogate your will and take every known step to break the assertion of your own individual nature ; if you believe, as the Saints and Mystics do believe, that the ego is the enemy, “ for it is that which opposes itself to the Infinite ” then indeed you are self-naughted.
In the mystical sense, such a one is well and truly dead. He is at one with the Selfless Ones, who “ are naughted in the everlastingness of God, like the stars which are naughted in the Sun ”.
After quoting the words of Christ, St. John of the Cross goes on to say :
“ O that someone would teach us how to understand and practise what is involved in this profound lesson, but they think it enough to deny themselves, without annihilating the self ”.
The rest of his work is a detailed account of this annihilation.
As we have said, the Mystic is above all a realist. To find God, he is eager to leave the things which are less than God, and to him, “ the I, the me and the mine ” are so much less than God as to be negligible.
That pattern and type of the great Western Mystics, the pseudo- Dionysius, says on the first page of his Mystica Theologia :
“ dear Timothy, the only way to the summit of mystical lore is by the unceasing and absolute renunciation of thyself and all things ”.
Unless this renunciation is practised, no one can reach the “ superessential radiance of the divine darkness ”, for it is “ hidden by the light in existing things ”.
His great exponent and follower Meister Eckhart, expresses the same need in unequivocal language :
“A man must be dead, must be dead indeed, devoid of any being of his own, for then God’s being is his being, and God’s existence is his existence—for all God wants of thee is for thee to go out of thyself, in respect of thy creaturely nature, and let God be God in thee ”.
Here is revealed the prize and the goal—to let God be God in the soul, to die to the little life, and accept the divine destiny.