The Truth of Mysticism Author(s): Wendell Marshall Thomas, Jr. Source: The Journal of Religion, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan., 1924), pp.

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a mental feeling of the highest Reality. is here used broadly to mean a warm and intimate individualreligiouslife. then. xvi. What is reality? Nothing deep or cryptic is here intended-not the grasping of Reality as opposed to Appearanceor Illusion. and to lie at the heart of religion. I To start from the outside. JR. 6o . Reality. may be to it honored or scorned by scholars. M. . Meaning of God . Mysticism. very simply. Let us first considerthe claim of mysticismto unite us with the supremereality. Psychology of Religion (Chicago. 1916). . Mysticism today claims to give us union with the supreme reality.and later attempt to discriminate within it as to its value. and then discuss its relation to social activity and to religion. The outcome of a mystical experience depends upon the particular social environment which is emotionally appropriated and interpreted. 1922). Not the supreme reality. 2 E. but any reality for us. W. India Mysticism is here examined from the point of view of functional psychology. the aesthetic or contemplativetype of prayer. chap. Baroda. Inge. Studies in Mysticism (London. 1913). Personal Idealism and Mysticism (London. G. Mysticism (London. but simply the analysis of our common everyday life. . R. 1912).2 but suppose we begin by using the term in its widest sense. The "reality" involved in mysticism is not to be discovered by asking whether the mystical experience yields evidence of some metaphysical entity arbitrarily defined. Such free mysticism would yield a joyous. is just an experi' E. R."and according the definition. The article pleads for a "free" as opposed to a "fettered" mysticism. creative attitude quite compatible with a critical and practical interpretation of environment.THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM WENDELL MARSHALL THOMAS. no matter whetherascetic or practical. (Yale. Hocking. A. Jones. Underhill.' Half a hundred definitionsplay about the head of the term "mysticism. then. to foster social creativity. 19o09). Coe.

How We Think (New York. 1917). The assumptionat the outset is that ourworldis not sharplydivided into appearanceand reality. 1916). a fluid heaving mass of feeling and effort. 3 Dewey in CreativeIntelligence (New York. 4 J.he finds that some portions of the environmentsatisfy desires-these direct active contact fromthe very beginning with his physical and social world of reality.but merge in the common life of the inclusive situation. By asking not. Is the mystic's Reality true. or failure or peace. 1920). Royce. chap. To return.4 Other portions help him to satisfy desires-these become persons. then. to usual human experience. Man is an organism. Dewey.4 Other portions suggest or point to what will satisfy desiresthese become signs or meanings.tabooedor allowed. p.painfulor pleasant. 141. Avowedly. Now man.s A certain group of desires and feelings seems to hang together. responding to the stimuli of his environment. Santayana. What is reality anyhow. p. not an "outer world" or an "inner self" that is hard or soft. Through social trial and error. It seeks to interpretthe actual experience of mysticism to the man of fact rather than convince him of the truth or falsity of any mystical metaphysics. pp. but. 6-8. the self and its are surroundings not distinguished. World and Individual (New York. 1920). G. s J.3 It is the situation. justified if thereby mysticism is placed in a new light whereit can be seen and used. a socialanimal. but it is the approach of sympathetic criticism. Indeed. in his growth. we use a method of approachingmysticism that is frankly critical and practical.THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM 61 ence of events includingboth things and persons. sweet or sour. and to aid or oppose 'William James on the baby's undifferentiated world. 116. vi. 2 .full of grasping or loving. has definite needs and desires. Reason in CommonSense (New York. so immediate is the experiencein its original form in the baby. this is not meeting some types of mysticism on their own ground. or savage group2 that things and persons.

op. and the mindwith otherbodies.and enjoyed. for they lead him to a growing multitude of satisfactions in things and persons. but friends and enemies. Urban. however. C. for they do for him what he would have done. but more effectively. by the changes they made in objects-his fellows can be still more present and realby helpinghim to solvehis problems moresatisfactorily. chap. and thus he introducesscopeand order into his life. Meanings. 4 W.they interpose their responsesat the criticaljuncturewherehe attempts to apply his mind to the problem. were he able. graded and appreciated.3and visible. Persons become not only helpers or annoyers in general. . He still handles things. Almost as real to him as himself are they. H. 1902). xi. supply his lack. working together with him in the same objectivesituation. Through meanings or ideas. organized. ii-v.2 In various ways he learns to discriminate-to associate feelings with himself. World and Individual (New York. but selected.5 S'J.but more helpfully.. do not separatehim from his contacts with reality-rather it is through them that he widens his contacts. like him. cit. s Coe. pp. in conscious selfdevelopment. meanings with the mind. (New York. chap. Valuation (London.let us notice. he still shares experienceswith persons. Part IV.. Cooley.Royce. 3 Hocking. when meanings are not merely followed.. and thus fulfil his desire. Human Nature . his fellows-who were always present to him. In short. so as to engender a feeling of resourcefuland happy intimacy with the world. 1go8). chaps.62 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION others'-this is himself. vi.4 Reality is grasped most fully..controlled. Alive to his difficultiesand to his mental tradition. tabooes or regulations with society. our usual experience of reality consists not only in immediate contact with things and persons. 262 ff. Meanings here are especially helpful. 2 1920).but in a personal evaluation and organizationof these contacts into a more or less satisfactory self.

through the uttermost harmonious. in creation. the great industrial managercontrols the drillingfor oil in Wyoming. then. as in artistic appreciation. the whole mingled joy and tragedy of the Russian people. The supreme experience would be in intimate personal touch with all reality. II We have now seen the nature of the experience of the supremereality. powerful.THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM 63 We are now in a betterpositionto ask what is the experience of the supremereality. and (2) a supremelysatisfactoryorganizationof these contacts. as the savage who sharesin the customsof his tribe lives a life more full and real than the poor brutish individual who has been thrust forth into exile. It is simply the usual experienceof reality raised to its highest power in scope and satisfaction.with their far-reaching contactsand by actually moving within this system of meaningsa man may come into contact with a wide range of life. so as to bring before the mind. two aspects: (i) a wide and varied contact with things and persons. as. meanings themselves may personally be grasped and manipulated to sway vast domains of events. meaningsmay be graspedand enjoyed. With the naturalgrowthof the mind. and in so far as we share in this. a joyous control. whereevil meaningsarescorned shunned. 2. a Tschaikowskymarch. It includes. Moreover. meaningsmay be graspedand sifted. and are preparedto evaluate mysticism as a . which we may call. and satisfying meanings. Such must be the experienceof God.and the growingof tea in Ceylon. in vast blissful memory and fulsome action: in short. goodmeanings and and are harmonizedinto a strong and joyous contact with reality. as was hinted above. in practical life. but less full and real than the modern man who is in touch with worldaffairs. as in the moral struggle. for brevity. we come into contact with the supremereality. things and persons assume ever new meanings.

or favorable to free conduct. 2 E. Religious Consciousness (New York. boldly asserts that in spite of the fact that mysticism exhibits within itself a variety of difference' in theology. whereas the radical distinction among types in the mystic life is caused by a radical differencein social environment. and show us the way to God. technique. Practical Mysticism (London. B. (New York. then. and visions or the lack of them-in spite of these differences. xvi. 1920). rejecting all tendencies.mysticism in general follows the same psychologicalmethod. 190o2).. If this is true. and human relationswhich cannot be harmonized. xvi-xx. employ the same psychology--a unification of life by mental feeling: but they differaccordingto whether their social system is oppressive. . then. who would scornmysticism) that without its method of joyous control. objects. Pratt. . we cannot feel God as close as we feel ourselves. Underhill. we find that the three stages2 of the method in all mysticism which correspondto distinctions in psychologicalfunction are purification. and union. J. This paper. but on the other hand (in contrast to those who would embracemysticismuncritically)it meansthat we cannot experiencereality or God fully. then. ideas. (i) Purification is a selective or moral activity. in co-operation with adequateouter conduct. habit of life. xvii. James. which do not contribute 1 W. of intelligentaesthetic appreciation. I914). The mystic method.64 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION method of leading us to this us the experience supreme of This means on the one hand (in contrast to those reality. or one aspect of the supremeexperience. nervous stability. chaps. Discriminatingwithin the mystic method of joyous control. temperament. Varieties . when social justice is everywhereachieved. metaphysics.we cannot experience supreme reality. The mystics. mystics will readily unite. It is the thesis of this paper that the method of mysticism. tradition. illumination. is always a joyous control. unless our social order allows a free and adequate outer expression of life. chaps..

pp. or oppressive social systems deflect the individual from his normal intelligent practice. mysticism cannot give us union with the supreme reality. pp. 210. cit. 2 120 ff. 380. This reason. cit. This abstract mysticism gives the desired unity of life. the elements in his life which he can select. . It is thus that the mystic is sure of a revelation. it is narrow. but harmonizesand emphasizesby "affective logic"' like the logic of poetry. Dewey.and to feeling. HumanNatureand Conduct (New York. op. (3) In moments of ineffable joy.which explores. the mood is transient. p. though he cannot express it in the common language of thought. psychologically. Owing to the relatively uncontrollableyet intensely affective nature of this experience. James. chiefly intuitive. It discovers nothing new. and thereafter is strongly potent in guiding conduct.the subject is passive. 149. The joyous controlis forcedto work upon inadequate material. organize. is a correlationof ideas by their feeling end. grasps. known as the ecstatic union. op. 1922).THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM 65 to self-realization. 265. and only a meager experience is reached. But if a wide and varied contact with things and persons is denied..3 and the content of meaningis fixed as by authority.and enjoys. this intuitive pattern is stamped upon the mind by the pressureof pure feeling.and confined chiefly to the imagination.2 but must rely upon the symbols and artistry of feeling. but compared to the unity possible under a free social system.. Such fettered mysticism is linked socially with oppression. it is poor and constricted. It should be clear that this threefold process is supremely effective in bringing the devotee into the closest contact with the widest and best reality his circumstances have permitted him to embrace. injustice. 3 J. (2) The effect of illuminationor meditation on these selected tendencies is to organize and expand them and by reason. and though self-realizationoccurs.with extreme emphasison feeling IUrban. When tyranny. and enjoy are very few.

and metaphysically.or a monism of illusion. This free mysticism is based. It solves problems and clinches the solution with a glow of feeling. unsocial. over what depths and ranges of experience does free mysticism offer us a joyous control? (i) The intuitive state of mysticismis conduciveto the congenialupwellingof portions of subconscious life. The joyous control of wide and varied contacts with things and persons raises experience to its highest power in scope and satisfaction.our early and forgotten education and resolves. hemmed in by obnoxious depersonalizing a stingy and twisted arrayof life's activities at hand. or sinful tendencies which disturb the harmony of the normal values. cism. upon a moral choice: it is distinguished.66 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION to the exclusionof intelligenceand effort. mysticism does co-operate in giving us union with the supremereality. but in free mysticism. But if the wide and varied contact with personsand things is made. (2) The passive and receptive attitude renders the mystic attuned to those subtler expressionsof mind or minds which may be winging their way in the pervasive . like other types of prayer. but an organizingforce that helps us to deal with the busy world in a mood of joyful poise and confident efficiency. with dualism. our instinctive tendencies. embodying ages of racial experience. reveling in the adventurous delights of business achievementand social control.and makes it a union (as far as it goes) with the supremereality. Once the morally rigorousselection of tendencies is exercised. however. by going further in the way of unificationby mental feeling.the responses whichhave escapedour direct attention. It is by no means a mere way of escape from the hurry and bustle of the busy world. with only purificationdemandsan ascetic rejectionof nearly all normal values if the individualis to attain an innerpeace. We become one with the solid satisfactionsof our past unknownlife.the purificationappliesmerely to the ethical expurgationof those characterless. In fetteredmystisocial bonds.

Meaning and object reciprocallyshare the appreciationwhich falls to the lot of the other. achievementsof industry. the mystic mood affordsa ready tool for their progressiveexploitation in the interestsof creativeunity of life. of course. thence to descend with more sympathetic vision and controlling vim to embody these eternal contacts in the daily toil. for instance. The morality or lack of it lies in the nature of the previouspurification. The feeling of certainapprovalwhich the mystic considers be the sanction to of God does not. Whatever value may lie in the feasible hypothesis of telepathy. each intuited meaning has clinging to its ends the particular objects and persons and social groups which it expresses.with all sorts of persons. even fromthe usualhasty prayer.and lifts us to unaccustomed far-stretching earnest mental play. You cannot dwell on the meaning of friendship. (3) Most significant. in the unifying of playful aesthetic mental activity (known as illumination and ecstasy) effects an objective correlationof the total variety of humaninterests -laws of science.and the grasp of meanings stimulates one to the sharing of work and play. In meditation. Such an experience sweeps us from the rut of routine. victories of social agencies. our free mysticism.without thinkingdirectlyor indirectlyof particular friendswho are united in that bond: in so far as a meaningis truly a meaning it refers to solid plunges into life's currents.make the experiencean ethicalone: it merely intensifieswhat is already there.THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM 67 continuum of mental force.tenderjoys of home. Since free mysticism works upon a wide and varied contact with things and persons. warmthof friendships. Thus the free mysticism . the contact with personsgives rise to a luxuriantgrowth of meanings. of joys and sorrows.and the briefblissful trancecaps theirbeauty with its sureapproval.these widespreadmeaningsare gathered in a finerunity of oscillatingidea and feeling. or of spirit rapport. It fills the life with "the expulsive power of a new affection"and fends off the attempted return of the exiled sinful urges.beautiesof art.

the mystic method is surely the essence of religion. cannotbe generally enjoyed while the world-widedualismbased on social-injustice persists. in art. we need the co-operationof the manifold social agencies themselves. in world politics. to overcome our vast cultural dualism. The fetteredmysticismof idle leisureand the degrading routine of the workaday world are two faulty extremes which may be reconciledand transformedin a free mysticism of social creativity. III It remains. This paper is thus not only a brief for ethical worshipof the individual meditativesort. in the cleft of philosophic dualism. whose symptoms are seen in the cleftbetweenprofitand the toiler. individual experience. will be securedonly by the vision and toil of us all. but that free mysticism acts as a powerfullycreative stimulus to social renewal. with active play and engagingwork for all. but in a free. As to religion. in education. between ends and means. The necessary leisure and quiet and beauty. between Reality and Appearance. between creative play and the public. and finally. between the curriculum and the student. to union with the supremereality. But this distinctionbetweentypes of mysticismneed not always remain. or spasmodicallyantinomian. . whichalonecan give us the supremereality.finally. the Known and the Knower. As to social activity. and to religion. in a fettered.68 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION leads us to the personalenjoyment and control of a social life of wide variety. for us briefly to survey the relation of mysticism to social activity. but only as we achieve a world-widesocial unity: and to attain social unity is a industry. Although free mysticismis a potent stimulusin effectingthis reconstruction. betweennational honor and individual happiness. each busied with a particular rift. but also a declarationthat this worship. we can now readily see that fettered mysticism has only a slight effect upon social life-narrowly disciplinary.

a common interest in work and play. The wider and the more diverse this sharing. blends with the subjective "Self" in the mystic meanings intuitive communion. the keener the sense of God. namely. Now the mystic intuition varies accordingto the temperamentof the worshiperfrom a mild glow to a sparklingecstasy of rapture.without which God may be an external and authoritative creator. but without such an intuition of objective ethical meanings at least as intimate as the most intense feeling of self in other activities. a fluid inner world quite essential to it. Both unite in the free mystic life.the mystic method. 19o09). p. 57. or a discreet social mind. we would have no right on empirical groundsto declarethat God is personal. an endless system of knowledge. the tradition of the personality of God springs from the intuitive experience of ethical leaders. the direct experienceof the personalityof God. the greater is the harmony achieved. Though it is not the whole of religion. Indeed.THE TRUTH OF MYSTICISM 69 social religion the mystic method is but one phase. The other phase is the wide and varied practical control. but never a personal friend. Strong. and this demandsa sharingof experience with our fellows.and not the mere intense arrogantfeelingof self. Just as the trade between temperateclimesand the tropicsis economically more fruitful and creative than trade in the same belt. Psychology of Prayer (Chicago. L. 2 A. so likewise. .192i.that God is its intuition.Journal of Philosophy. making a contribution afforded by no other activity.. we must again insist (in accordance with our principle that a wide and varied contact with things and persons is one necessary aspect of free mysticism) that the Othermust include a social mind or community. a rigid moral law. the sharing of experiencewith men of other classes and tempers is morally more creative than a routine acquaintance I Leuba. realized in the self. and "Other''* things. It is when the objective of and persons. But for such a personal realization to be an intuition of God.

it should continuallyreconstructits experience. we must likewise insist (in accordance with our principle that a joyous control is the other necessary aspect of free mysticism) that the Self which unites with the Other must actually exercisecontrol. and not a mere intense submergedfeeling of a rigid Absolute. TheNew State (New York. Follett. not a stereotyped idol. ' M. 1920).2 God will be found. xvii. its contactsand meanings.without which our cause is not divine.xvi. though absolute. may be a freshand growingworship: so that its sanction. 382. and practical. To unite man with man and group with groupin such a "belovedcommunity"gives us the deepest communionwith God.. social. P. .op. 2 Urban. cit.chaps. p.70 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION with likeminded folks. then.e And finally. but the personal-socialharmonizing. Modestlyrecognizing limit to a its graspof reality. not one more personor power added to our cause to help us win.for such a personalrealizationto be an intuition of God.and generouslyconcedingto all others their right to the truth.

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