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Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
08-11-2009, 08:51 PM (This post was last modified: 08-11-2009 08:53 PM by Zagreus.)
Post: #1
Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Please see page 2 of the 'Theism, Atheism, or Neither' thread to see where this is starting from.

GT has stated that he believes many people who claim spiritual experiences are liars, but I think there is something significant to be explored in those who seem to not be telling fibs. I also think that the experiences of mystics are worth investigating for scientific reasons in examining the ideas of religion and theology in general.

As an example, I would like to begin with the Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna, who lived within recorded history (1836-1886) and of whom we have recorded documents of his life and exactly what he said. You can see a wiki page about him at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Ramakrishna

However, I'm not so keen on merely quoting wiki pages to people, as it's a lot to read through, so here are the basics on Sri Ramakrishna:
Ramakrishna was born on 18th February 1836 in the village Kamarpukur in India, and died 70 miles away, in Calcutta on the 16th August 1886. As a child he was said to have had a very strong will and a desire for the truth. His father was known and respected within the village for his honesty and religious devotion, and was a big influence on the young boy. However, Ramakrishna, who was then known as Gadadhar, experienced loss in his early days as well as happiness. At the age of seven his father died, which was an immense personal blow to him. After this, Gadadhar began to spend more time with the passing monks in order to question the transitory nature of life. Ten years later he moved to Calcutta at the request of his brother, who shortly after was appointed priest of the Kali temple there.

Bereavement occurred again at the age of twenty for Gadadhar when his brother died, and it was after this event that he undertook the role of temple priest. It was also around this time that he was given the name Ramakrishna, by which he is now famous. After two years he resigned from the role of priest, but Ramakrishna remained living in a simple room at the temple, which he inhabited for the rest of his life. During this time after being a priest, he spent days and nights meditating in the jungles nearby to the temple (maybe reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the desert, or Muhammad’s time meditating in the Cave of Hira?). He would rub his face against the ground and weep, so much so that many thought he was mad. However, his madness was to increase, and he detailed the night of his revelation; when he saw the sword that was kept in the Kali temple:

‘I determined to put an end to my life. When I jumped up like a madman and seized the sword, suddenly the blessed Mother revealed herself. The buildings with their different parts, the temple and everything else vanished from sight, leaving no trace whatsoever, and in their stead I saw a limitless, effulgent stream of consciousness. What was happening in the outside world I did not know, but within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss, altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother.’

Writers have stated that they are unsure whether Ramakrishna actually saw the Mother Kali in his visions, but he himself said that he saw the goddess in all things after this event. This initial event still left Ramakrishna wanting full union with God, rather than just the experience of his own personal God. Later he was ready for Advaita Vedanta, whereby the aspirant passes this personal God to ‘Being without form or attributes, to become That which is, beyond words and beyond description.’

A monk named Totapuri, who after forty years of spiritual practice had achieved Nirvikalpa Samadhi, which is the state of contentless consciousness, later came to Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna could easily withdraw his mind from all things bar one, the form of the Mother, but could not get past this. Totapuri placed a piece of glass between his disciple’s eyebrows and told him to concentrate on this point. Once the form of the Mother appeared this time, Ramakrishna told that ‘I used my power of discrimination as a sword and with it severed her form in two’. It was now that he became lost in the superconscious state, which he remained in for three days and nights. After Totapuri left him, Ramakrishna returned to this state for six months, being helped and occasionally ‘force fed’ by a monk who was staying there.

Once Ramakrishna had realised God, he began to wonder about all the people who had not heard of Kali, and he became greatly concerned as to whether they too could find God? He ceased visiting the Kali temple and began living the prescribed lives of other religions; worshipping as a Christian he saw God, worshipping as a Muslim he saw the same God!

(Bibliography: Harmony in Chaos – Barbara Foxe; Kali – Elizabeth Harding; Encountering Kali – ed. by R. McDermot & J. Kripal; The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna)
There is obviously so much more about this man, but I feel he might be a good starting point for a discussion, as there is no reason for him to lie, I think he was genuine, his experiences were incredible, he is a major identity within Hinduism, and we have primary historical evidence about his life.

So, my questions here:

Theists:

What do you think of the idea that Ramakrishna saw the same God via Xianity and Islam, having been a Kali devotee? I think it's reminiscent of the famous quote from Guru Nanak (founder of Sikh religion) "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim, so whose path shall I follow? I will follow God's path." Kind of an all religions lead to God feel.

Atheists:

What is going on here? I don't believe we can just put this down to delusion or mental health issues (I certainly am not going to buy an idea that all major religions are founded by mentally ill people) How can his experiences be explained? Especially once you learn more about his life and the way he was.

I hope people are interested in this too.
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08-11-2009, 09:16 PM
Post: #2
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Understand that whenever you are dealing with the spiritual, it is not necessarily a delusion. And just one point to clear up - I do think many who have spiritual experiences are liars, especially those who profit from them, but I do not think all of them are. I myself had "genuine" spiritual experiences when I was a Christian. However, you have to understand what these come from.

Very, very rarely will someone actually have a clear vision of god. In almost all cases the situation is more, "I feel god compelling me to do this". They have strong feelings that seem to come from external sources compelling them to do something. To give money to a beggar, to start a church, or to write down a collection of words. Further, many religions have the concept of "vision quests," where under intense emotion, deprivation, or hallucinogenics someone can "see god". But is it really god? No. Instead it is what is inside of us, our own subconscious desires. Often times we know what we should do, but for various reasons we choose not to do it. We block such things. These "spiritual experiences" allow us to get past the blocks. Normally simply by externalizing the feeling. I might not want to give $5 to that person in need, even if I know it's the right thing to do. But if I externalize it, and feel it as a compulsion from god, suddenly I have a compelling reason to do what, subconsciously, I have already decided is right.

Mystical experiences occur in all religions, and that is an important point. They occur in all religions, and they occur in exclusive religions. This, to me, shows us one thing right off the bat - they are no testimonies for exclusive religions. Christianity, Islam, and other such exclusive religions have to answer why those who follow other religions receive the same mystical experiences.

Non-exclusive religions like Hinduism has it a bit easier, as they have a ready explanation for why christians and muslims should experience these things. However, just like near-death visions, there is no evidence that these experiences are anything other than intense emotions and hallucinations expression subconscious desires that are already present. This does not make them crazy. If I spent several days in prayer, eating nothing and depriving my body, I would probably start seeing visions too. It's part of how our body works.

I'm back baby! Thanks for everyone who sent me PMs asking what had happened to me.
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08-11-2009, 11:01 PM (This post was last modified: 08-11-2009 11:06 PM by Raphael.)
Post: #3
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
(08-11-2009 09:16 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  If I spent several days in prayer, eating nothing and depriving my body, I would probably start seeing visions too. It's part of how our body works.

so maybe the holocaust victims should have prayed while being starved?
instead of suffering they would have had mystical experiences and had visions of god thus they should thank their captors for such an experience?

do anorexics who pray for a thinner body have spiritual experiences?

did you say this GT re: the Tarot?
Quote:As an atheist I do not acknowledge any mystic properties from it, but I have always had an interest in the occult from a purely research standpoint.

you are such an expert on ... in topics you don't really believe in.
geesh.....
your logic based on your non-beliefs hangin' by a baptist thread are too funny.
you really are struggling for an identity eh?

keep at it.

namaste

NATURE cannot be HIDDEN only VEILeD with NARRATIVES that defy NATURE

CodeX4 and the Reconciliation of Science and Religion
http://kachina2012.wordpress.com/about/
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08-13-2009, 07:40 PM (This post was last modified: 08-14-2009 04:19 AM by Zagreus.)
Post: #4
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Oi, you two, no arguing at the back of the class, or I'll ask you to sit on your hands, and GT can move closer to the front of the room so he's not distracted...

Seriously though, thank you for both reading and posting. I will deal mainly with GT's comments, but I think some ideas on my part may drift toward's Raphael's. To learn that GT has an interest in the occult will help this discussion, as in about three posts time I might have to resort to either Plato or the Qabalah to explain what I'm driving at, and I'd be very interested for you guys to consider the train of thought I'm going down. To warn also, if I say something that looks like trolling, I'm not, I'm just playing Devil's advocate to test all sides of an argument. I'll argue black is white if necessary to disagree with myself!

I will explain my reasoning for using Sri Ramakrishna as an example in more detail soon, but for now's purposes can I postulate three categories based upon GT's comments:

1) Liars & fakers
2) People experiencing lower level 'mystic' and 'spiritual' states, who are honest, and that these are 'genuine'.
3) 'Prophets', 'enlightened ones', and so forth.

If we agree on these categories, I would then state thus:

1) Let's ignore these guys. By definition, they are not involved in our conversation.
2) GT, you have said pretty much that you fall into this category, and I would say that Raph does too. By this I mean that you have had experiences that you have labelled 'mystical', and that these are beyond your day to day experiences. Again, this is going to get confusing with language choices. I also have had experiences that I would label thus, and if I wasn't so skeptical I might attribute them to some sort of divine experience. (For the record, some were as a result of meditation or some such activity, but others were drug induced, though that's another conversation...) I would also put such people as Mother Teressa in this category, as she had a calling, but was not exactly someone who experienced the same thing as Sri Ramakrishna.
3) These are the people I'd like to discuss - so if my comments above are acceptable, I'll move onto these types of people; if their experiences are just in their heads, then what's going on?!? Why are these things attributed to the divine? Can science and philosophy disagree with these people's experiences?
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08-13-2009, 10:21 PM
Post: #5
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Let me add one caveat to category 2) - these are intense experiences, but fully explainable. As I believe I mentioned, intense emotion can bring them on, a meditative state, or simply externalizing things that we know we should be doing, but do not wish to admit. So it is important to agree that category 2 is no evidence for a mystical being, that although these feel like "spiritual" experiences, they are experienced by everyone, and are explainable through purely natural phenomenon.

So, category 3) would be the only truly mystical category. And I posit that no one in this category actually exists. That they are all either in category 1) or 2).

I'm back baby! Thanks for everyone who sent me PMs asking what had happened to me.
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08-15-2009, 07:32 PM (This post was last modified: 08-15-2009 07:35 PM by Zagreus.)
Post: #6
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
I agree that the experiences in category 2) should be fully explainable, and that explanation is what I'm enquiring about. I won't deny that intense emotion could bring on 'mystical experiences', but in some cases I think there is more to it than that.

However, I have failed to define what I mean by 'mystic', which was a mistake on my part, and I think we need to agree on that to further the discussion. I say this due to your comment 'no evidence for a mystical being' - I am not trying to suggest that these experiences are proof of a divine being. To quote from my Collins Gem Dictionary, the definition is:

‘Mystic n person who seeks spiritual knowledge. adj mystical. Mystical adj having a spiritual or religious experience beyond human understanding. Mysticism n’

or to use http://www.dictionary.com that we all have access to: (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mystic)

–adjective
1. involving or characterized by esoteric, otherworldly, or symbolic practices or content, as certain religious ceremonies and art; spiritually significant; ethereal.
2. of the nature of or pertaining to mysteries known only to the initiated: mystic rites.
3. of occult character, power, or significance: a mystic formula.
4. of obscure or mysterious character or significance.
5. of or pertaining to mystics or mysticism.

–noun
6. a person who claims to attain, or believes in the possibility of attaining, insight into mysteries transcending ordinary human knowledge, as by direct communication with the divine or immediate intuition in a state of spiritual ecstasy.
7. a person initiated into religious mysteries.

So, I'm not saying that the experience is divine, but that it is certainly something out of the usual scope of human experience. It is from this that I think people can exist in 3), as they are people who have had a 'mystical experience', but one a thousand times more intense. Even if you don't agree with what they said, they are the people who have shaped history. I believe that some of the people who experience this attribute it to 'God', as they are religious and have no other way to explain their insight. Jesus' teachings are hardly orthodox Judaism, but the guy was raised a Jew (according to most traditions), so whatever happened to him in the desert he attributed to JHVH and it was a new mystical revelation for him.

Buddha also had a mystical experience, but it must be remembered that Buddhism is an atheist religion; the same can be said for Taoism, and I certainly wouldn't try to deny that Lao Tzu's most famous work is mystical in nature. It is the idea of it being 'beyond human understanding' that interests me, because if we don't understand it now, then it's something to be worked towards, surely?

Does this make sense and do you agree at all, GT? (or anyone else!)
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08-15-2009, 11:34 PM
Post: #7
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
I appreciate the acknowledgment that Buddhism, in its purest form, is an atheist religion. Though it is most often coupled with Hinduism.

Once again, it all comes down to word choice. I tend to avoid words like "mysticism" and "spirituality" although given my views on truth, how humans should treat each other, and on the nature of reality they could certainly apply in some sense. But if I were to adopt those terms, then suddenly those who arrive at their "mysticism" not through study, not through a seeking of truth, but for religious dogma would begin to muddy the waters.

Far better that I use entirely secular language, and thus be very clear by what I mean. I believe unusual experiences are quite possible in this world. But I believe that, while unusual, these experiences are not in any way supernatural.

I'm back baby! Thanks for everyone who sent me PMs asking what had happened to me.
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08-16-2009, 12:54 AM
Post: #8
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Before I answer, let me note that Christianity is not an "exclusive religion", but there are Christians who are exclusivists - there's a difference.

Anywho, to answer the OP, I believe that all religion/spirituality undertaken sincerely is oriented toward God, regardless of the label one puts on it or its components. I suspect that someone such as Ramakrishna is a genuine seeker of God and probably has a legitimate connection/relationship/whathaveyou with God. Now, that doesn't mean that I agree with him theologically, and as a Christian I necessarily believe that the God that someone such as Ramakrishna communes with is the same triune God that I worship, regardless of whether the person in question identifies Him as such.

On the other hand, I generally suspect that there are more fake mystical experiences stemming from emotion or outright deception than there are legitimate ones (although simple emotion certainly has its role). IMHO, mysticism stems from the contemplative life, not the charismatic.

If you should see evident sins or defects, draw out of those thorns the rose; perceiving, moreover, that such apparent sinners may frequently have a good intention, for no one can judge the secrets of the heart of man.
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08-16-2009, 11:01 AM
Post: #9
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
Sorry, I should have defined my terms. It is exclusive in the fact that, unlike religions like Hinduism, there is no room in Christianity for other religions. If Christianity is true, then by definition Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, etc., must not be true. "I am the way, the truth, and the light, no man cometh to the father but by me", "Though shalt have no other gods before me," and countless verses condemning those who follow false gods or whom reject the specific gospel of Jesus shows this. Islam is the same way.

I did not mean that christians could not accept others, although many (most?) do not. But philosophically speaking, the religion does not allow for other religions to be true.

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08-16-2009, 08:23 PM
Post: #10
RE: Mysticism & Spiritual Experience
(08-15-2009 11:34 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  I appreciate the acknowledgment that Buddhism, in its purest form, is an atheist religion. Though it is most often coupled with Hinduism.

Erm, no it isn't. Buddhism is one of the major world religions in its own right. Yes, something like Tibetan Buddhism might use symbols from Hinduism, but if you said that to many Thai Buddhists you would get a strange look. That comment is like saying that Muslims believe that Jesus was God because they acknowledge him as a prophet. In fact, this is more absurd, you can't infer the idea that most Buddhists believe in a God, when this is just not true!

(08-15-2009 11:34 PM)GTseng3 Wrote:  Once again, it all comes down to word choice. I tend to avoid words like "mysticism" and "spirituality" although given my views on truth, how humans should treat each other, and on the nature of reality they could certainly apply in some sense. But if I were to adopt those terms, then suddenly those who arrive at their "mysticism" not through study, not through a seeking of truth, but for religious dogma would begin to muddy the waters.

Far better that I use entirely secular language, and thus be very clear by what I mean. I believe unusual experiences are quite possible in this world. But I believe that, while unusual, these experiences are not in any way supernatural.

OK, I see your reasoning for avoiding such words, but this is why I felt the need to define them, via a dictionary, so that we know where we are coming from and are not missing each other's point, which I feel we may have a little so far.

Now, we once again agree; these experiences are unusual, and they are not supernatural. I have said this all along, and this is what I would like to discuss. If it's not something you are interested in, GT, then just say and I'll change the subject / start a new thread on something else.

I can completely see why you are reluctant to use certain words, but these things are a must if certain ideas are to be conveyed. For instance, you may or may not know that the Ancient Greeks had two words for love: (Eros - sexy times, Agape - brotherly love). If we limited our discussion to just the English word 'love', then we might get confused about Jesus feeling 'love' towards Lazarus, but if we define further towards agape, then we see what we mean. This is obviously an over simplification of an example, but I hope you get the idea. Surely, by definition, using secular language inhibits us discussing theology?

We are dealing with something which is, currently, beyond human (scientific?) understanding, and as such needs an open mind and specific definitions of vocabulary. I am basically saying I think St.Paul was in category 2) (I really like your theory on that too, is it your own, or from elsewhere?) whereas Jesus would be in category 3) as his experience was quite considerably more significant, whatever that may have been. I used Sri Ramakrishna as my opening example as the descriptions of his experiences are certainly up there with the best of them, and he is considered by many Hindus to have been an avatar of Vishnu (an incarnation of that god).
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