Mysticism: a Critique and a Response, Part 2

Over the last few hundred years, the scientific method, and the processes of the intellectual logical reasoning intelligence have become the “standard” by which humanity can judge the facts of its experience.  We expect that truth will be verifiable and repeatable, such that individuals will get the same result when attempting to implement the truth.  We look at our success in the fields of industry, technology and mechanics as a sign of the validity of this analysis.  When it comes, then, to the approach of the mystic, there is a critique that it is all subjective, that different individuals, attempting the same practice, come up with different experiences and results, and thus, there is no way to validate or accept the results of the mystical endeavour.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine:  “But it is urged that the actual result of this method is not one truth common to all, there are great differences; the conclusion suggested is that this knowledge is not truth at all but a subjective mental formation.  But this objection is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of spiritual knowledge.  Spiritual truth is a truth of the spirit, not a truth of the intellect, not a mathematical theorem or a logical formula.  It is a truth of the Infinite, one in an infinite diversity, and it can assume an infinite variety of aspects and formations: in the spiritual evolution it is inevitable that there should be a many-sided passage and reaching to the one Truth, a many-sided seizing of it; this many-sidedness is the sign of the approach of the soul to a living reality, not to an abstraction or a constructed figure of things that can be petrified into a dead or stony formula.  The hard logical and intellectual notion of truth as a single idea which all must accept, one idea or system of ideas defeating all other ideas or systems, or a single limited fact or single formula of facts which all must recognise, is an illegitimate transference from the limited truth of the physical field to the much more complex and plastic field of life and mind and spirit.”

“This transference has been responsible for much harm; it brings into thought narrowness, limitation, an intolerance of the necessary variation and multiplicity of view-points without which there can be no totality of truth-finding, and by the narrowness and limitation much obstinacy in error.  It reduces philosophy to an endless maze of sterile disputes; religion has been invaded by this misprision and infected with credal dogmatism, bigotry and intolerance.  The truth of the spirit is a truth of being and consciousness and not a truth of thought: mental ideas can only represent or formulate some facet, some mind-translated principle or power of it or enumerate its aspects, but to know it one has to grow into it and be it; without the growing and being there can be no true spiritual knowledge.  The fundamental truth of spiritual experience is one, its consciousness is one, everywhere it follows the same general lines and tendencies of awakening and growth into spiritual being; for these are the imperatives of the spiritual consciousness.  But also there are, based on those imperatives, numberless possibilities of variation of experience and expression: the centralisation and harmonisation of these possibles, but also the intensive sole following out of any line of experience are both of them necessary movements of the emerging spiritual Conscious-Force within us.  …  This difference and variation is needed for the freedom of spiritual search and spiritual growth: to overpass differences is quite possible, but that is most easily done in pure experience; in mental formulation the difference must remain until one can exceed mind altogether and in a higher consciousness integralise, unify and harmonise the many-sided truth of the Spirit.”

“…the supreme Self is one, but the souls of the Self are many and as is the soul’s formation of nature, so will be its spiritual self-expression.  A diversity in oneness is the law of the manifestation; the supramental unification and integration must harmonise these diversities, but to abolish them is not the intention of the Spirit in Nature.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Five, The Development of the Spiritual Man, pp. 59-61

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