University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
May 7, 1969
Study mysticism if you want to. It will give your heart joy, your mind inspiration and your life a true, fulfilling and soulful assurance. But do not try to define it. Do not try to interpret it. If you try to define mysticism, you are bound to fail. If you try to interpret mysticism, you will most deplorably fail.
We get experiences: from science, scientific discoveries; from history, historical revelations; from philosophy, philosophical data; from religion, religious doctrines. In these experiences, we see the presence of subject and object, essence and existence, vision and reality. But a mystic experience, which is immediate oneness, transcends all such distinctions. This experience is the constant oneness with the Beyond, the ever-transcending Beyond that always remains ineffable. Mysticism, poor mysticism! When it is oversimplified and underestimated, it comes down from its original sphere and stands beside religion. But even here if a person is sincere, he will realise that his highest religious experience is nothing more than an uncertain, obscure and faint perception of Truth; whereas, no matter what kind of mystical experience he has, he will feel the intensity, immensity and certainty of Truth.
We have also to learn that religious ecstasy and mystical ecstasy do not play the same role in our inner life. Religious ecstasy deals mostly with the human in us. This ecstasy is confined to the body-consciousness, the disciplined or undisciplined vital, the illumined or unillumined mind, the pure or impure heart. But the mystical ecstasy transports us at once into the Beyond, where we are embraced by the eternal Life, fed by the all-nourishing Light and blessed by the transcendental Truth. Primitive religion offered ecstasy to the vital in the physical mind and in the desiring heart. Mysticism fully advanced is now offering its ecstasy in infinite measure to the liberated souls and in abundant measure to the souls who are on the verge of liberation.
Poor Hinduism. Whenever and wherever mysticism is looked down upon, Hinduism is considered the main culprit. There are many sophisticated Westerners who not only fail to understand the lofty Hindu mysticism, but badly misunderstand it. To them I want to say that Hindu mysticism is not, as they think, self-hypnotism or self-deception, but rather soulful oneness with Immortality’s Life, Infinity’s Heart and Eternity’s Breath. To know Hinduism well, one has to practise Yoga, usually under the direct guidance of a spiritual adept.
Mysticism in Buddhism has been considerably inspired and influenced by Hindu mysticism. Hence, far from being diametrically opposed, the two traditions practically come to realise the same Truth. Nirvana transcends pain and pleasure, birth and death. The blessedness of Nirvana is the highest mystic oneness with the Liberator. A Hindu mystic, on the strength of his self-realisation, also becomes one with the Absolute and is freed forever from the snares of pleasure and pain, birth and death.
The Sufi mysticism of Islam expresses itself in the strongest intoxication of the inner vital and in the truth-laden symbolic love between bride and bridegroom. This kind of mysticism perhaps brings one considerably closer to the actual possibility of experiencing oneness with the One. Yet it also wants to tell us that the Allah of the Koran demands a strict self discipline and a self-controlled life. According to its adherents, this mysticism eventually leads to free access to Him, which is a very rare achievement.
The glowing mysticism of Judaism is the Kabbalah. This mystic lore is founded on the occult interpretation of the Bible and it has been successfully handed down as an esoteric doctrine to the initiated.
Christianity owes its mystical urge not to Judaism, but to the Greek world. Some scholars are of the opinion that the New Testament is wanting in mystical experience. I find it difficult to agree with them. I wish to say that the New Testament is replete with mystical experiences. What they are actually missing in the New Testament, because of their inability to enter into the depth of its messages, is the key that opens the mystical door that leads to union with God.
In Spain, Teresa of Avila offered to the world something profoundly mystical. Her mystical experience is the most successful culmination of the divine marriage between the aspiring soul and the liberating Christ, and it is here that man’s helpless crying will and God’s omnipotent all-fulfilling Will embrace each other.
Mysticism is not the sole monopoly of Hinduism. Christianity and other religions also discovered the Wealth of mysticism.