Friday, November 23, 2007
Reading the Bhagavad Gita I am struck (as usual) by commonalities between mystical philosophies rooted in a method of psychological introspection and meditation. For example, the tendency toward monism is marked across many traditions which emerge out of specific religious or philosophical movements. This even includes the monotheistic religions of the West, whose creeds and beliefs tend to notionally reject monism and imply the separation of a personal God from his Creation. The Perennial Philosphy emergred from this empirical observation of the relatively uniform experience of mystics, and the field of Religious Studies has been influenced this idea, in particular through the work of Mircea Eliade. Eliade and his fellow travelers conceive of religious experience as a window into a sacred reality, distinct from the profane world. Obviously, I don't believe this. Rather, I am struck by the fact that very few mystics ever report that they have looked upon the 6
3 essences of the universe. Or any specific deviation from the One. Rather, mystical trance seems to blur distinctions across categories as all perception melts into a unitary underlying essence, whether you call it God or the One. In contrast to mysticism theology tends to explore a huge sample space of possibilities and configurations. Why is this? I suspect it is because theology tends to rely on explicit chains of inferences based on verbal logic, and quite often individuals may differ in their sense of what is implied by a particular proposition. In contrast, the heightened consciousness of mysticism and the sense of the One is probably reflecting underlying neurological realities. The One isn't the real nature of the universe, it is simply the common output the brain pops out when put under the ascetic stresses or mental techniques which mystics utilize to change their consciousness. I am generally skeptical of neurotheology when it claims to explain religion, but I do believe it is on its way to accurately sketching out the shape of mysticism (obviously it doesn't explain religion because I think that mysticism is simply a subset of religion, not the totality of it).