Ch 34. Mysticism vs philosophy

In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram – impersonal and unattainable – the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, and alive.

Evelyn Underhill

Most of modern academic philosophy, to its detriment, remains in the sphere of the mind. It is concerned with intellectual ideas, and then naturally, who has the better ones. It creates abstractions, disconnected from the real, and then wrestles with those abstractions as if they were real, based on logic and reason, arguing, debating, debunking, etc.

Mysticism is an entirely different endeavor. It looks like philosophy, because in order to share it we must use words and ideas to describe the things we find. But the nature of mysticism is a relationship, a real and complicated evolving relationship, with an intelligence that is beyond human grasp or comprehension. It is an internal/external engagement with a vast and complicated system, often resembling an obstacle course, other times deeply human. It is relational, as much as personal. It is tangible. It is transactional. It is more real and concrete than any material thing, and it manifests in and through the material.

The mystic goes swimming in an actual sea of truth that is unseen and unseeable by others, diving deeply to cultivate wisdom. His experiences and observations aren’t theoretical ideas, they are the very structures and currents and architectures that make up the depths. The concepts and teachings are the actual mechanical operations of various inner systems. His inner world and landscape are his personal laboratory and gym, in which he learns, tests, and derives depth of understanding, while training in courage, fortitude, and faith. He excavates and digests mountains of trauma. He confronts and navigates horrors and terrors through labyrinthian pathways. He untangles infinite knots of pain and attachment, and extinguishes the charge of temptations and desires, retracting their multitude of tentacles. And because the process is transformative and aimed at virtue and higher consciousness, the experiences and truths exist on the strangest and most distinct polarities. They are contradictory and paradoxical by their very nature, which ought to be understood correctly and patiently, (if one wishes to understand) rather than used as a basis of invalidation.

For the mystic, whose work is terrifying and often extremely painful, the neat and structured ideas of philosophers, their one-sidedness and lack of paradoxical dimension are silly. It’s not a matter of arrogance, only a matter of fact. There is nothing neat or structured or logically cohesive in the sphere of mystery (not by human standards, anyway). It is not reasoned theory, but a swiss cheese of experiences.

Mystics go authentically to the source of what philosophy holds as its aim – the love of wisdom via the search for truth. Mystics risk and sacrifice everything. They lose everything. They pay the highest price for their discoveries and experiences. It’s something most academic philosophers can’t begin to understand…