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“The Mystic Union: A Suggested Biological Interpretation” by Alexander Maven

The mystic union has been variously interpreted by those who have experienced it. By most religious mystics it has been thought of as being a spiritual union with God or the Divine, thus partaking of the supernatural, while by most non-religious or pantheistic mystics it has been thought of as such a union with the universe and within the realm of the natural.

In addition to these differences in interpretation, there are differences in description of the experience. Several recent writers (Happold, 1963, pp. 44-45; Laski, 1962, pp. 449-50; Schoeps, 1966, p. 157; Winski, 1965, pp. 76-77) on mysticism have called attention to the fact that most mystics in relating their experience of the mystic union have described it as occurring in either one or the other or both of two contrasting ways. I suggest that both interpretations may be mistaken but that all three of the descriptions may be in part correct.

In support of this suggestion I point to the, perhaps, more significant fact that each of those ways of describing the experience is analogous to a description of the union of sperm and ovum. In that biological union the sperm penetrates or is absorbed by the ovum and dissolves; its protoplasm merges and its chromosomes pair off with the like parts of the ovum.

The result is that the ovum is transformed from a gamete into a zygote and the sperm ceases to exist as a separate entity but continues to exist as an integral part of the zygote.

Bearing that description in mind, let us now consider how mystics have described the mystic union. Some mystics, mostly Western ones, have said that the Divine spirit enters the soul and uniting with it transforms and immortalizes it.

Others, including most Eastern mystics, have said that the soul or self enters the Divine “like a drop of rain falling in the ocean” and therein dissolves and merges with the Divine, thus losing its separate identity and becoming one with the Divine. Still others, few in number, have said that in the mystic union the soul both is entered by and enters the Divine. An example of the last type of description was given by St. Thomas Aquinas (Underhill, 1915, p. 141), who wrote “Here the soul in a wonderful and unspeakable manner both seizes and is seized upon, devours and is herself devoured, embraces and is violently embraced; and by the knot of love she unites herself with God, and is with Him as the Alone with the Alone.” The analogies between these several descriptions of the mystic union and the foregoing description of the union of sperm and ovum are obvious and so close as to suggest the possibility that the experience of the mystic union in its various forms may be a “playback” of a record of the mystic’s biological conception as it might have been experienced, respectively, by the ovum, by the sperm, and by both together.
(Evidence of the existence of memory in unicellular organisms is reported by Halstead and Rucker, 1968.) Besides suggesting how all three of the descriptions given by mystics could be true in spite of the fact that the first two seem to be contraries and the third seems to be paradoxical, this suggested interpretation of the experience of mystic union offers possible explanations of three characteristics of the experience attested to by most, if not all mystics: its immediacy, its ineffability, and its immortalizing effect.

Mystics are almost unanimous in saying that the experience is more immediate than any ordinary experience, so immediate that its reality cannot be doubted. Some even have said the reality disclosed by mystical experience is the only reality, all else being illusion. Their awareness of the experience has been said to be beyond sensing, perceiving, conceptualizing, reasoning, or understanding and unlike anything remembered or imagined. It is, the mystics say, pure intuition, pure consciousness. All this seems tantamount to saying that the awareness is beyond the functioning of a nervous system and a brain. And that, I submit, would be true of any awareness of a unicellular organism such as a gamete or a zygote. If such an organism can consciously or unconsciously experience anything, it must be by some means other and more basic than a nervous system or brain, whether or not it is something physical—some form of extrasensory perception perhaps.

All that is implied by the words “mind” and “mentality” is unthinkable without there being a tangible structure with which to associate it. The brain clearly specializes in mind; but it is not proven that the brain has a monopoly of it. No one would quarrel with so bald a statement now, but it has not always been so. There is, of course, nothing tangible about the mind: it is a function, not an entity, and for this reason the word “mentality” is often preferred (Roddam, 1966, p. 120).

And if, as we must assume, the unicellular organism is capable of recording its experiences somehow so that they can be “played back,” it may well be that the record would be duplicated in every cell of the multicellular organism that develops from the zygote. That duplication might account for the felt immediacy of a “playback” which has led some mystics to say that they felt the experience “in the very marrow of their bones.”

Mystics are also nearly unanimous in saying the experience of mystic union is ineffable. But paradoxically they seem to be able to say a lot about it. Some writers on mysticism attempt to explain this paradox by saying that the experience is ineffable while it is happening but can be talked about when it is remembered. But that does not explain why it is ineffable while it is being experienced. I suggest the reason may be simply that if the mystical experience is a “playback” of the experience of the mystic’s biological conception it is experienced as being ineffable because the original experience of conception, having occurred prior to the mystic’s learning a language, had no verbal component. The “play-back” in the mystical experience therefore also lacks a verbal component and is so experienced. But the “playback” can be described when it is later remembered.

The feeling of immortalization that characterizes the mystic union may also be explainable in terms of the union of sperm and ovum. In the situation in which conception occurs, failure of a gamete to unite with an opposite other means death. But the zygote which results from union is at least potentially immortal in the sense that the spark of life it represents might be passed on to subsequent generations indefinitely.

A fourth characteristic of the mystic union as reported by many is that it is accompanied by extremely pleasurable feelings: usually ecstasy and bliss.

“The Mystic Union: A Suggested Biological Interpretation” by Alexander Maven is an extract from The Highest State of Consciousness edited by John W. White, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores. highest state of consciousness

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