Mystical Experience: Einstein – R.M. Bucke
Posted on 05 November 2013, 11:13
“Many eminent scientists have been more or less openly religious, and receptive to mysticism in particular. Einstein (1949), for example, remarked that ‘the religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of [cosmic] religious feeling… In my view it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are capable of it… I maintain that cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest incitement to scientific research.’ “
I am quoting once more from p. 500 in Irreducible Mind, a Psychology for the 21st Century, 2006, [“IM”] from which work I derive much of what follows. Serious thinkers about this kind of thing should buy this book.
In thinking about mystical experience there is a much quoted passage from R.M. Bucke’s (below) Cosmic Consciousness:
“I had spent the evening in the great city, with two friends, reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind, deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk, was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images, and emotions flow of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame coloured cloud. For an instant I thought of fire, an immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city, the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. Directly afterward there came upon me as sense of exaltation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not really come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is, on the contrary, a living Presence: I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but the consciousness that I possessed eternal life then. I saw that all men are immortal, that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the benefit of each and all, that the foundation principal of the world, of all the worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone, but the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed. I knew that what the vision showed me was true. I had attained to a point of view from which I saw that it must be true. That view, that conviction I may say that consciousness has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost.” [quoted p.499 IM]
IM warms to the theories of analytic philosopher W.T. Stace: (1960/1987). Stace mentions five features present in most mystical experience: The first feature (1) is the sense of the objectivity and reality of the experience. “I knew what the vision showed me was true.” (2) There is a strong positive affect, with feelings of “calm, peace, blessedness, joy, bliss, and the like.” (3) The feeling, “closely related to the previous, that what is apprehended or contacted in the experience is somehow holy, sacred, or divine.” (4) “Paradoxicality, a sense that the experience inherently defies or overpasses ordinary rules of logic, permitting or demanding simultaneous application of normally incompatible predicates such as active/inactive, full/empty, light/dark and so on. (5) “Ineffability” meaning that the experience cannot adequately be put into words. It has its own reality, which cannot be described in terms of some other picture of reality.
Here, words from Robert Browning’s Sordello–Book the Sixth come to mind:
“And, as in moments when the past
Gave partially enfranchisement, he cast
Himself quite through mere secondary states
Of his soul’s essence, little loves and hates,
Into mid-deep yearning overlaid
By these: as to who should pierce hill, plain, grove and glade,
And on to the very nucleus probe
That first determined there exist a globe…
the sudden swell
Of his expanding soul showed ill and well,
Surprise and Joy, Beauty and Ugliness,
Virtues and Vice, the Larger and the Less,
All qualities in fine recorded here,
Urgent on these, but not of force to bind
Eternity, as Time - as matter - Mind,
If Mind, Eternity, should choose to assert
Their attributes within a Life: thus girt
With circumstance, next change behold them cinct
Quite otherwise - with Good and Ill distinct….
Once this understood,
As suddenly he felt himself alone,
Quite out of Time and this world; all was known.”
After reading this extract from Browning’s poem, we may perhaps discern, embodied in his words, some of the features already described of the mystical experience.
The German mystic Jacob Boehme tells this story: “Sitting Monday in his room his eyes fell upon a burnished pewter disk, which reflected the sunshine with such marvellous splendour that he fell into an inward ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if he could now look into the principles and deepest foundations of things… Fearing that this might be just a trick of his imagination, Boehme went outside to test it. Here he remarked that he gazed into the very heart of things, the verdant herbs and grass, and that actual nature harmonized with what he had inwardly seen… And, in viewing the herbs and grass of the field in his inward light, he saw into their essences, use and properties.”
William Blake, much influenced by Boehme, sees “a world in a grain of sand and, and heaven in a wildflower.”
In the autobiography of Richard Jefferies he describes an experience at age 18 in which a sense of hidden unity first began to flood into him as he lay alone in the grass: “Having drunk deeply of the heaven above and felt the most glorious beauty of the day, and remembering the old, old and sea…. I am now became lost, and absorbed into the being or existence of the universe. I felt down deep into the earth, under, and high above into the sky, and farther still to the sun and stars. Still farther beyond the stars into the hollow of space, and losing thus my separateness of being came to seem like part of the whole.” (IM p505)
In a short blog like this, we cannot go into much detail. We can note that the mystical experience of oneness, and the forgetting of the individual self is described by mystics of all religions, or no religion. IM mentions, amongst others, Plotinus, Arthur Koestler, Evelyn Underhill, Tennyson, St Teresa of Avila and the Sufis: but there are a host of other well known names amongst the Christian saints, and the writings of Indian philosophers.
Look things up in Google, and we will be overwhelmed by the number of mystics who seem to have great stature in the world. In my Afterlife Teaching from Stephen the Martyr it will be found that Stephen concentrates in his teaching on helping us to come to terms with the real world of the mystic, the realm that Stephen himself inhabits. His prayer sums it up: “Lord, let me forget that I am me, Let me remember that I am with thee, Let me not separate myself from thee, because I am me.” Those of us who have experienced much synchronicity, may well testify that the meaningful coincidences that seem to suspend the normal laws of physical cause and effect, that they too can lead us into mystical experience, a feeling of connectedness with the All, and a sense that all is right with the world.
So-called paranormal events also testify to the reality of the world of the mystic. Distance viewing or clairvoyance, telepathy, communication with the dead through a medium, and the phenomena of genius and creativity, all bear witness to a realm of spirit that is ultimately a unity. Those of us who have not yet knowingly experienced the world of the mystic can profit from hearing the stories told by those who have. Often people who have Near Death Experiences testify of entering the world of the mystic, the realm of bliss.
We should accept that the mystical experience leads us directly into unitive consciousness of the world of Spirit, as opposed to other exceptional human experiences that only suggest such a consciousness.
For further reading try:
Michael Cocks edits the journal, Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.