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7 Mysticism in Jung and Patañjali’s Yoga MYSTICISM DEFINED The study of mysticism has occupied an important place in almost all of the great religious traditions. In recent years, however, the term mysticism has been used so loosely in everyday language that its traditional meaning is in danger of becoming lost. Bookstores typically link mysticism with the occult and frequently display books on mysticism in the “occultism” section. Such psychic phenomena as visions, levitation , trances, and altered states of consciousness are frequently dubbed “mystical.” Walter Principe reported the following newspaper item: Last May the Toronto Star’s headline-writer announced: “Scientist offers electronic way to mysticism”—this to entice readers to an article about a “meditation machine” or revolving bed that is “intended,” says the photo-caption, “to help people enjoy the spiritual experiences formerly available only to religious mystics.”1 With such imprecision in the use of the term mysticism abounding, it is important that any scholarly discussion begin with a precise definition of the subject. In his book entitled Mysticism and Philosophy, Walter Stace points out that the very word mysticism is an unfortunate one. “It suggests mist, and therefore foggy, confused, or vague thinking. It also suggests mystery and miraclemongering, and therefore hocus-pocus.”2 But when an examination is made of the experiences reported by the great mystics, something which is much different emerges. Rather than being “misty” or “confused,” mystical experiences are typically described as clear illuminations having all the qualities of direct sensory perception. Stace, in fact, suggests that it is helpful to think of mystical experience as in some respects parallel to ordinary sense experience, that is, as a perception of a spiritual presence which is 71 greater than humankind. Defining it as a perception, says Stace, allows one to avoid Russell’s error of describing mysticism as only an emotion, and therefore as simply subjective.3 The question raised is this: Does mystical experience, like sense experience , point to any objective reality, or is it a merely subjective psychological phenomenon ? This question is, of course, one which is formulated by a philosopher for philosophical reasons, but it is a question which necessarily raises psychological issues . Is the psychological process of the mystical experience in some way analogous to sense perception? Or is it, as Rudolf Otto (following Immanuel Kant) suggests, something that begins amid all the sensory data of the natural world and indeed cannot exist without such data, and yet does not arise out of them but is merely occasioned by them.4 Otto, of course, prefers an analogy to aesthetic experience as the best way of evoking a sense of the mystical. He also seems to suggest the existence of a separate psychological faculty specially suited for the reception of numinous stimuli emanating from the wholly other (the numen). Frederick Copleston pointed out a paradox which is characteristic of mystical experience. “In the case of mysticism a man may be conscious of the fact that the experience described transcends the range of his own experience; and yet at the same time his reading and effort of understanding may be for him the occasion of a personal awareness of God.”5 On this point virtually all scholars agree. Mysticism is characterized by the experience of an unseen reality,6 a spiritual presence,7 a numen,8 or an absolute9 that is transcendent in that “it is identifiable neither with the empirical world as its appears to us in everyday experience and in natural science nor with the finite self considered as such . . .”10 It is this very transcendent character of mystical experience that causes scholars to reject psychic phenomena, such as imaginative visions, voices, ecstasies, raptures, and so on, as not mystical in and of themselves. As Copleston puts it, “we all know that some people see things or hear voices without even a prima facie connection with the divine. And of course there are also pathological psychological states resembling ecstasy which can be accounted for by purely naturalistic explanations.”11 Mystical experience, by contrast, is transcendent of both the sensory experience of the empirical world and any allencompassing identification with a finite ego of the sort which typifies pathological states. Other than a general agreement that mystical experience is transcendent in nature and must not be confused with extraordinary psychic accomplishments and certain pathological states, there seems to be little consensus about the psychological processes involved. There is Stace’s suggestion that something like sense perception is the...


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