Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reading on Mysticism from Sophie's World


1.
A mystical experiences is an experience of merging with God or the "cosmic spirit." Many religions emphasize the gulf between God and Creation, but the mystic experiences no such gulf. He or she has experienced being "one with God" or "merging" with him.

The idea is that what we usually call "I" is not the true "I". In short glimpses we can experience an identification with a greater "I". Some mystics call it God, others call it the cosmic spirit, Nature, or the Universe. When the fusion happens, the mystic feels that he is "loosing himself"; he disappears into God or is lost in God in the same way that a drop of water loses itself when it merges with the sea. An Indian mystic once expressed it in this way: "When I was, God was not. When God is, I am no more." The Christian mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) put it another way: Every drop becomes the sea when it flows oceanward, just as at last the soul ascends and thus becomes the Lord.

Now you might feel that it cannot be particularly pleasant to "lose oneself." I know what you mean. But the point is that what you lose is so very much less than what you gain. You lose yourself only in the form you have at the moment, but at the same time you realize that you are something much bigger. You are the universe. In fact, you are the cosmic spirit itself, Sophie. It is you who are God.

If you have to lose yourself as Sophie Amundsen, you can take comfort in the knowledge that this "everyday I" is something you will lose one day anyway. Your real "I" - which you can only experience if you are able to lose yourself - is according to the mystics, like a mysterious fire that goes on burning to all eternity.

But a mystical experience like this does not always come of itself. The mystic may have to seek the path of "purification and enlightenment" to his meeting with God. This path consists of the simple life and various meditation techniques. Then all at once the mystic achieves his goal, and can exclaim, "I am God" or "I am You."

Mystical trends are found in all the great world religions. And the descriptions of mystical experiences given by the mystics show a remarkable similarity across all cultural boundaries. It is in the mystic's attempt to provide a religious or philosophic interpretation of the mystical experience that his cultural background reveal itself.

In Western Mysticism - that is, within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the mystic emphasizes that his meeting is with a personal God. Although God is present both in nature and in the human soul, he is also far above and beyond the world. In Eastern Mysticism - that is, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese religion - it is more usual to emphasize that the mystic experiences a total fusion with God or "the cosmic spirit."

"I am the cosmic spirit," the mystic can exclaim, or "I am God," For God is not only present in the world, he has nowhere else to be.

In India, especially, there have been strong mystical movements, since long before the time of Plato. Swami Vivekananda, an Indian who was instrumental in bringing Hinduism to the west, once said, "Just as certain world religions say that people who do not believe in a personal God outside themselves are atheists, we say that a person who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the splendor of one's own soul is what we call atheism."

A mystical experience can also have ethical significance. A former president of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, once said, "Love thy neighbor as thyself because you are your neighbor. It is an illusion that makes you think that your neighbor is someone other than yourself."

People of our own time who do not adhere to a particular religion also tell of mystical experiences. They have suddenly experienced something they have called "cosmic consciousness" or an "oceanic feeling." They have felt themselves wrenched out of Time and have experienced the world "from the perspective of eternity."

2.
Sophie sat up in bed. She had to feel whether she still had a body. As she read more and more about Plato and the mystics, she had begun to feel as though she were floating around in the room, out of the window and far off from the town. From here she had looked down on all the people in the square, and had floated on and on over the globe that was her home, over the North Sea and Europe, down over the Sahara and across the African savanna.

The whole world had become almost like a living person, and it felt as if that person were Sophie herself. The world is me, she thought. The great big universe that she had often felt to be unfathomable and terrifying - was her own "I". Now, too, the universe was enormous and majestic, but now it was herself who was so big.

The extraordinary feeling was fleeting, but Sophie was sure she would never forget it. It felt as if something inside her had burst through her forehead and become merged with everything else, the way a drop of color can tint a whole jug of water.

When it was all over, it was like waking up with a headache after a wonderful dream. Sophie registered with a touch of disillusionment that she had a body which was trying to sit up in bed. Lying on her stomach reading the pages from Alberto Knox had given her a backache. But she had experienced something unforgettable. 

Eventually she pulled herself together and stood up. The first thing she did was to punch holes in the pages and file them in her ring binder together with the other lessons. Then she went into the garden.

The birds were singing as if the world had just been born. The pale green of the birches behind the old rabbit hutches was so intense that it seemed as though the Creator had not yet finished blending the color.

Could she really believe that everything was one divine "I"? Could she believe that she carried within her a soul that was a "spark from the fire"? If it was true, then she was truly a divine creature.


- From The New York Times Bestseller SOPHIE'S WORLD by Jostein Gaarder


# Resources:
. What is mysticism? by Pat Revels
. Mysticism in different faith tradition
. Mysticism from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
. Resources on Western Mysticism
. Commentary on the Mystical Philosophy of St. John of the Cross
. Mysticism by Annie Wood Besant
. Sufism, the mysticism of Islam
. Mysticism in Islam by William C. Chittick
. Early Islamic mysticism by Michael Anthony Sells

# Books On Mysticism (download in PDF format):
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