MYSTICISM: Sameness And Distinction In Religion

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Sameness And Distinction In Religion

In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.  This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.  In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterance an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land.  Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old.  (William James, Varieties of Religious Experience)

It’s funny how certain concepts come down to just one fat drop of thought.

Mysticism.  It’s the mystic’s experience of being one with God.  Of seeing all humanity, all of nature, as one with God.

I had to stop and look at this plop of insight.  This definition.

Is that what my life has been all about?

I would have to say, yes.  Yes, that is what it has been about.

Except that I viewed these experiences of uniting, of being one with God, as not being about me exactly.  More about an abstract understanding that I was graced to be given by God.

Here.  Know this.

Odd how when faced with the idea that in these experiences, I had actually been united with God, it seems even more overwhelming than the actual experiences themselves.

Which are overwhelming in and of themselves.

And you would think (well, I thought anyway) that it would get easier with time.  More comprehensible.  Easier to live with.

Don’t I wish.

I always knew that no matter how much I was learning, that I was really only learning one speck in a bit of dirt lodged under God’s fingernail, so that, essentially, I was just coming up to the level where I could resoundingly assert that I know absolutely nothing about God.

Except a tiny, wee bit that pretty much amounts to nothing.

But now it grows more complicated.  Much, much more painful.  And it is taking away some of the thrill of the challenge.

In short, it feels like my relationship with God is becoming more real as the days go by.

And here is William James, easily, with a gentle sweep of his hand, saying, Well, it’s pretty much the same for all mystics.

God.  Unity.  All the same.

We all sit in the same puddle that is this understanding.

So at the heart of our various religions, at the core, we are all the same.

We all experience the same brilliant realization.  We all know God in the exact same way.

And, yet, oddly enough, we all experience something else as a group: our churches will have none of us.

We, the Mystics, the Knowers, the Ultimate Teachers, we have almost no impact whatsoever on the churches to which we belong.

A very dear man, very much a part of his church, once said to me: My church would prefer it if you were dead.

Not me, specifically.  (I hope, anyway.)  Just those of my kind.

And from my own experience of being a Mystic in The Church, I have never been killed physically, but let’s just say that my contributions have been about singing in the choir, serving as a lay chaplain, helping out with coffee hour, or running a Sunday School.

My knowledge, my very specific, very real knowledge, has never, ever, no, not even once, been called on or used.

I don’t feel alone.

John of the Cross spent nine months locked in a closet with nowhere to relieve himself, and with only enough room to be stooped over.  And once a week, he was taken out to be whipped in front of the other monks.

They didn’t let him go.  He found a means of escape.

And was never the same again.

My relationship with the church has never been quite that bad.  I’ve never been locked in a closet physically.

Just mentally.

Thinking about this essential unity, this same message being shared by all of us, made me see how differently the religions have expressed themselves.

Why, if we, at the heart of the institution that is the direct expression of God, are the same, is it that these institutions not only not resemble each other, they can be in direct opposition to one other in their expressions?

Fine, you say.  In each religion there is an aspect of accepting that God is one with us.

Why, then, are we not one with each other in religion?

Buddhism isn’t even a religion.  There is no God, no deism.  There is only infinite possibility in the person.  This is an odd expression — or perhaps it’s logical — since Buddhism sprang out of the head of a Hindu.

The religion of infinite Gods.

How does one experience a oneness with God if God, himself, is an infinite cast of characters?  Perhaps it’s like polygamy: I’ll be you today, and you tomorrow, and you the day after.

Perhaps a calendar is needed.

And Sufism — with the dervishes who whirl themselves into ecstasy — is a sect of Islam.

Islam that wondrous religion that gave us the African slave trade, the bombing of the World Trade Towers, and, today, self-exploding student terrorists.  Well, they were going to blow themselves up one of these days.  I guess they just didn’t realize they wouldn’t get out of blow-yourself-up school alive.

One with God?  Why they can’t even be one within their own religion.

Which, for a Christian, is very much throwing rocks inside a glass house.

We can, without a brow twitch, declare to the world that we wouldn’t know oneness if it came into our churches, sat down in a pew (or stood, depending on the church) and exuded its wonder onto us.

What would we do with such a gift?

Compete to see who had the best way to express our intolerance of it.

That’s what.

It’s like God has taken all this time and effort (he has with me, anyway, being the not most agreeable of students) to sow the EXACT SAME SEED into those who he deemed to be his fertile fields, and these seeds came out with plants that are absolutely distinct from one another.

How does this work?

How does God’s gift of understanding of unity to us get transformed into what can only be described as the best expression of disunity the world has ever known?

It’s a mystery.

Perhaps that’s why, in the end, there are mystics in the world.

Amen.

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3 Comments on MYSTICISM: Sameness And Distinction In Religion

  1. The answers are all in Frithjof Schuon – ‘The Transcendent Unity of Religions’. Very excellent book.

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    • Thank you for the reference. I will look for it. I’ve been reading about Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Have you read that? Also, about John Hick, who wrote many books, it appears, including An Interpretation of Religion.

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  2. Schuon makes sense of the relationship between exoteric and esoteric religion, where the former is diverse and the latter singular. Good stuff. Sorry, don’t know the writers you mention. So much to read so little time…

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