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Reviewed by:
  • Mystical Consciousness: Western Perspectives and Dialogue with Japanese Thinkers
  • Pamela D. Winfield
Mystical Consciousness: Western Perspectives and Dialogue with Japanese Thinkers. By Louis Roy, O.P.Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. Pp. 229. Hardcover $62.50. Paper $20.95.

Mystical Consciousness: Western Perspectives and Dialogue with Japanese Thinkers by Louis Roy presents a stimulating array of thinkers on the subject of consciousness, self-reflective consciousness, and mystical consciousness. Louis Roy's primary sources focus on the somewhat standard canon of via negativa and Zeninfluenced thinkers and practitioners (Plotinus, Eckhardt, Schleiermacher, Nishitani, Hisamatsu, and Suzuki), but he also includes Bergson, Brentano, Heidegger, Hume, Husserl, Nietzsche, Nishida, Sartre, Schelling, and Tillich in his discussion. His secondary sources range widely, so the competing terminologies and conceptual schemes of Crosby, Forman, Granfield, Heiler, Helminiak, James, Johnston, Moore, Morelli, Price, Searle, and Tart can at times be confusing without an outline or chart. He aptly organizes his material into three sections, however: part 1 summarizes major Western philosophies of consciousness, part 2 presents three classic mystical writings from the Western canon, and part 3 compares Western views of the self and nothingness with those of Zen Buddhism. Roy's careful research and terse writing style, moreover, serve as an excellent introduction and basic starting point for further research into each one of these individual thinkers.

Of all these sources however, it is evident that Roy favors the fourfold scheme of the Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. As he states in his preface, Roy sets out "to develop an understanding of consciousness, mostly rooted in Bernard Lonergan's works and applied to the mystical life" (p. x). Lonergan traces the trajectory of human intentionality across four levels: (1) averting to an object, (2) knowing it, (3) [End Page 493] judging it to be true, and (4) appreciating its value. Following Lonergan's cue, Morelli has consequently claimed that "Being in love with God is the basic fulfillment of our conscious intentionality" (p. 32), and Michael Sharkey has characterized Lonergan's philosophy as a nondualistic "cognition by communion, and not encounter."1 Roy now articulates a threefold scheme to explicate the transition from everyday objectifying consciousness to this mystical, unitive consciousness.

In order to accomplish this transition, Roy establishes a middle baseline B-consciousness that mediates between everyday and mystical consciousness. This analytic scheme can be outlined as follows.2

(1) Consciousness C: "consciousness of" things. This everyday positional awareness engenders subject-object dualism.

(2) Consciousness B: ordinary "consciousness in" that permeates all mental acts (noesis). This is a baseline non-positional consciousness that pervades and underlies all subject-object distinctions. In moments of self-reflection, this kind of "consciousness-in" can itself become C's object of awareness (what Plotinus calls antilepsis).

(3) Consciousness A: mystical (as opposed to ordinary) "consciousness in." This is the same as consciousness B but is present in objectless states. Roy indicates that this highest or deepest consciousness refers to union with God, the divine, the sacred, or emptiness or nothingness in the Zen Buddhist sense. He argues that since consciousness C can become aware of B, then it can avert to, know, accurately judge, and appreciate A as well. Roy writes:

Thanks to his [i.e. Lonergan's] efforts, we have come to realize that our conscious intentionality [what Roy calls consciousness-of, also called consciousness C] is able to develop an account of ordinary consciousness [consciousness B] and to employ this account analogically so as to make true judgments about mystical consciousness [consciousness A], without presuming that the latter can be fully comprehended.

(p. 188)

Throughout the volume, Roy provides ample evidence that we can become aware of our own noetic activity and noematic content (i.e., the act of thinking as well as our thoughts). He also surveys a wide range of apophatic mystics and philosophers who seem to indicate that this intentional process extends to becoming aware of consciousness A's "no-thinking" and "no-thought" as well (what Zen Buddhism terms munen-musō). But can our everyday objectifying awareness truly grasp the subjectless-objectless state of no-thingness so often described by mystics the world over? Can union with the Godhead or...


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