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Featured Mystical Experiences Do Not Require a Belief in a God or Gods

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by Sunstone, Apr 19, 2020.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    There is an ages old debate among scholars of mysticism regarding whether the proximate origins of mystical experiences in some way or another color or taint the experiences. For instance, does the likelihood that Paul's experience on the road to Damascus was an epileptic fit in some way or another make his experience less than, say, a spontaneous experience with no obvious proximate cause or occasion?

    Various scholars of mysticism have taken various positions on the issue.

    William James, for instance -- pretty much the granddaddy of scholars on the subject -- argued that the cause or occasion of a mystical experience was insufficient grounds for discounting the experience. Aldous Huxley was of a similar opinion. On the other hand, R.C. Zaehner has theorized that origins do indeed matter. Empirical studies tend to favor James and Huxley, but studies addressing just that question are few and far between. So in my opinion, the current evidence comes down slightly on the side of James and Huxley, but the issue has not yet been truly decided.
     
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  2. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    I know of people -- including one person very close to me -- who were strict materialists at the time of their experience. Also, in several cases, they remained materialists following their experience.

    Wishing or desiring to have a mystical experience seems to be problematic when it comes to the sort of experience you might have. Jiddu Krishnamurti was of the opinion that desiring to have an experience hindered or prevented the experience from coming about. However, he qualified that by saying that you might still have what seemed to you a mystical experience. Only it would be -- as he put it -- "of the mind", and not a genuine mystical experience. Today, we would say Krishnamurti believed that desiring to have a mystical experience could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, rather than a true mystical experience, and that a true mystical experience could only come about in the absence of any desire for one.

    I'm not sure to what extent Krishnamurti might have been right about that. But I think he was at least partly right. I do believe that wishing for an experience, desiring an experience, wanting one tends to hinder or prevent one from occurring. Perhaps that is why so many people who have had them are people who were not looking for them.
     
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  3. stvdv

    stvdv Veteran Member

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    Near Death Experience can be a mystical experience. So all people get at least 1 chance to a mystical experience; during Real Death Experience

    I decided to keep that for the last

    God believe is not needed
     
  4. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    Interesting.

    For where I stand, it can be inculcated through long - often lifelong - consistent, preparatory cognitive training, or asceticism, but not procured at will (in Christian theological terms, it is an act of divine grace).

    Even after an autonomous, spontaneous mystical experience, however, if you hope to remain in a mystical state (help make it habitual, as opposed to a one-off luck of the draw that may transform your life thereafter but which you'll never directly partake of again), then it requires some effort on your part to help make that happen.

    I think the Catholic scholastic distinction between infused and acquired is pretty useful in this regard.

    Contemplation is our word for a state of (mental) imagelessness, a perceptual shift in consciousness that gives someone a direct experience of the transcendent - a mystical experience or habitual state - although we differentiate between acquired contemplation which involves a concerted effort on the part of the individual to help bring about the experience or maintain oneself in that state during "waking life" through mental ascesis (clearing or directing the untamed mind) and infused contemplation which is completely autonomous, like an involuntary rapture - unless you've already had the grace of infused contemplation and are now aiming to make it habitual.

    The "infused" contemplative experience (the wholly automative kind) is understood by our mystical theologians to be the 'peak', or breakthrough. The "acquired" variant is understood to be a manifestly lower grade and not purely mystical, more like dipping your toes into the ocean as opposed to diving right in.

    St Teresa of Avila in her Interior Castle (1517)
    described "acquired" contemplation in its highest mode as being akin, analogically, to watering a garden by means of a waterwheel.

    Infused, by contrast, is compared by her to a garden being watered by rainfall. "This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort."

    She explained that whilst you cannot exercise control over when or if the rain falls, in the same sense as you can direct the turning of the waterwheel, a person is able to prepare to receive the shower through ascetic practice and thus be in a better mental disposition for it.

    And the path to beginning down this road, if one consciously chooses the contemplative life, is very simple - all you need to do is learn to sit still and have a less distracted mind, one that is not distracted by "the senses and the operations of the intellect" but has clear focus:


    "....The natural, normal, mode of operation of the mind during its present state of union with the body, is by sense impressions, images, concepts, 'intelligible species', reasoning; when it operates in another mode, without these means it is acting mystically. Fr Browne says:

    In theory it is necessary, unless we want to be lost in hopeless confusion, to state firmly that, as soon as one ceases to use discourse of the faculties, so soon one's prayer begins to be passive and one is really entering on the mystic road' (op, cit. p. 138). This seems to afford a true and easily applicable discriminant delimiting the frontier between mystical and non-mystical prayer."

    (Dom Cuthbert Butler OSB, Western Mysticism (published 1922)


    It has been empirically found that those who do so, by and large, eventually experience the infused state.

    For two thousand years, Christian monastics - just like ascetics of other religions - have plumbed the depths of the mystical experience and extensively chronicled it by "preparing" the mind in this way.

    In the process, an entire branch of theology developed from which modern scholars actually derived the term "mystical" for this class of experiences:


    Dictionary : MYSTICAL THEOLOGY


    The science of the spiritual life, with stress on the operation of divine grace. It deals with the higher forms of mental prayer and with such extraordinary phenomena as are recorded in the lives of the saints. It is the science of the study of the mystic states.


    Note how it is described as a "science".


    Mystical theology - Wikipedia

    Mystical theology is the branch of theology that explains mystical practices and states, as induced by contemplative practices such as contemplative prayer.


    CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Mystical Theology

    Mystical theology has a nomenclature all its own, seeking to express acts or states that are for the most part purely spiritual in terms denoting analogous experiences in the material order.

    Usually it does not form part of the ordinary class-room studies, but is imparted by spiritual masters in their personal direction of souls, or inculcated, as in seminaries and novitiates, by special conferences and courses of spiritual reading. Preliminary to the study of mystical theology is a knowledge of the four ordinary forms of prayer: vocal, mental, affective, and the prayer of simplicity (see PRAYER).

    The last two, notably the prayer of simplicity, border on the mystical. Prayer is often called active or acquired contemplation to distinguish it from passive or higher contemplation, in which mystical union really consists.

    Mystical theology begins by reviewing the various descriptions of extraordinary contemplation, contained in the works of mystics and of writers on mystical subjects, and the divisions which help to describe its various phases,

    Here some theologians treat in detail of the preliminary or preparatory dispositions for contemplation, of natural or moral aptitude, solitude, prayer, mortification or self-denial, corporal and spiritual, as a means of soul-purification; these topics, however, belong more properly to the domain of ascetical theology.

    What strictly comes within the province of mystical theology is the study of the processes of active and passive purification through which a soul must pass to reach the mystical union. Although the active processes are also treated to some extent in ascetical theology, they require special study inasmuch as they lead to contemplation


    They have found that it is efficacious, as have Buddhists through the Noble Eightfold Path, in tandem with the meditative practices and degrees of bhāvanā ("mental development") and jhāna/dhyāna (mental training resulting in a calm and luminous mind).
     
    #24 Vouthon, Apr 20, 2020
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  5. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    To sum up, Mattá al-Miskīn, an Oriental Orthodox monk explained:


    Meditation is an activity of one's spirit, while [infused] contemplation is a spontaneous activity of that spirit... Contemplation then follows to relieve man of all effort. Contemplation is the soul's inward vision and the heart's simple repose

    Mattá al-Miskīn, Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way (St Vladimir's Seminary Press 2003 ISBN 0-88141-250-3), p. 56


    It often arises within souls who are already well-disposed to experience it (i.e. through life experiences, meditation, spiritual discipline and son) although this is not always the case: it can occur suddenly and without anticipation in many individuals (as it did for St. Paul of Tarsus), like a light-bulb going off.

    But it can often take the form of transformed insight into ordinary experiences, such as looking at a tree, or working in a kitchen (as with Brother Lawrence in the 16th century).
     
    #25 Vouthon, Apr 20, 2020
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  6. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    Hard and fast atheist and i really don't know what a mystical experience is...

    But, i know that extreme pain can bring about an altered state of consciousness that can take your mind on a journey away from the agony

    Also when the pain ends an overwhelming love gushes forth towards the object of that pain.

    I am of course talking of childbirth.

    So, given my ignorance of the mystical is there anyone here who could enlighten me on whether the intense pain followed by profound emotion can be recognised as a mystical experience?
     
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  7. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    I am not one for quoting scripture at folks but this passage strikes me as just so very apropos to what your saying, that it would be remiss of me not to cite it.

    Jesus's parable of the labouring woman in the fourth gospel:


    "Truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world."

    (John 16:20-21)


    Many who have had a so-called mystical experience would relate to what you describe so very well in your above post and indeed as Jesus reputedly, according to the author of the fourth gospel, described it above through the analogy of childbirth.

    And they call it in my tradition "the dark night of the soul" which precedes the bliss of mystical cognition:


    What is the Dark Night of the Soul? — Kenneth Sørensen


    The concept the “dark night of the soul” is being used by many to describe a long and painful crisis where they undergo a deep transformation. Roberto Assagioli also speaks about the “dark night of the soul” but in a much more specific way, than many do today. I have collected most of his quotes here: Dark Night of The Soul.

    However, the crisis is not only related to intense pain and depression but a death experience we undergo before entering the most intense spiritual light. The concept was made famous by the mystic St. John of the Cross, and Assagioli quotes him a lot when dealing with this theme:


    Before the full and final victory, however, the soul has to undergo another test: it must pass through the ‘dark night’ which is a new and deeper experience of annihilation, or a crucible in which all the human elements that go to make it up are melted together. But the darkest nights are followed by the most radiant dawns and the soul, perfect at last, enters into complete, constant and inseparable communion with the Spirit, so that – to use the bold statement employed by St John of the Cross – ‘it seems to be God himself and has the same characteristics as him’. (Transpersonal Development, p 146-147)
     
    #27 Vouthon, Apr 20, 2020
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  8. crossfire

    crossfire Antinomian feminist heretic freak ☿
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    Yes.
     
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  9. atanu

    atanu Member
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    But such experience can change one’s worldview.

    God experience can change atheists

    ...
     
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  10. Regiomontanus

    Regiomontanus retired astronomer

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    Perhaps you are just not recognizing the source/cause of that experience? :)


    16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

    1 Corinthians 3:16
     
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  11. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    It certainly can, although not necessarily always in the direction of a religious worldview.

    The acclaimed Irish novelist James Joyce, for instance, chronicled one of his own transcendental experiences - which he called artistic epiphanies - in his semi-autobiographical, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

    This encounter with the mystical side of consciousness, actually led him away from religion towards atheism - or, at least, irreligious scepticism and secularism.

    It provoked a conversion experience in him, every bit as monumental for his belief system as St. Paul's Damascus road experience was for his transformation from unbeliever to believer in Christ the crucified Messiah; the only substantive difference being that Joyce had an epiphany which helped him to ultimately reject religious claims to truth about life.

    Here is Joyce's description of his mystical experience, which was occassioned by his momentary encounter with a young woman bathing at a beach at the end of chapter IV:


    The Project Gutenberg eBook of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce


    He was alone. He was unheeded, happy and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight and gayclad lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air.

    A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and softhued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slateblue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird’s, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some darkplumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

    She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

    —Heavenly God! cried Stephen’s soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

    He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.

    Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

    He halted suddenly and heard his heart in the silence. How far had he walked? What hour was it?

    The significance of this ecstasy for the writer:


    Chapter IV


    Shortly thereafter, a group of his friends playfully announce his arrival: "Here comes The Dedalus!" Stephen interprets this mild derision as a kind of prophesy, and impetuously he casts aside his uncertainties. He vows to be like his namesake — Daedalus, the "great artificer." He will soar above the religious and cultural restrictions of his past and fly toward a future of his own artistic freedom.

    Realizing the importance of this revelation, he senses that he has left his boyhood behind. "Alone . . . unheeded . . . and near to the wild heart of life," Stephen moves toward the sea, where he sees a young girl standing in midstream, gazing out to sea, her skirts tucked up around her waist. Stephen studies her as she stands before him, and she returns his gaze. Silently, she gives him the answer he seeks.

    This is a moment of epiphany for Stephen. He cries out "Heavenly God!" in "an outburst of profane joy." In this girl's image, Stephen realizes the importance of solitude in the appreciation of beauty. He can "worship" her as though she were an object of art, and he no longer has to feel shame because of his desire for her. She reveals to Stephen that his vocation, or his "call," is to live his life fully, regardless of error, and while doing so, "recreate life out of life!"
     
    #31 Vouthon, Apr 20, 2020
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  12. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    Further to the above:

    Transforming into a “priest of eternal imagination”: The Joycean Epiphany in Stephen’s beach journey


    The protagonist, Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce’s autobiographical novel, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, discovers the aesthetic value of the epiphany. The Joycean epiphany is “a sudden spiritual manifestation… [t]hey themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments (Beja 18).

    These moments of heightened perception amid ordinary events transforms Stephen, forging a way to an aesthetic vocation. The bird-girl scene near the end of Chapter IV is a climactic moment, confirming the victory of creativity, beauty and art over religion.

    This embracement of art and life follows the embracement of the prostitute in Chapter II and Holy Spirit in Chapter III. His beach journey depicts the complete transformation from religious piety and self-loathing to “profane joy” (186) and an appreciation for “mortal beauty” (186) which is only possible through the use of the Joycean epiphany.

    By discussing the necessity of the Luciferian character in the framework of a life of piety; the yearning for wisdom through firstly Christianity and then art; the importance of Stephen’s name during the moment of the epiphany; and lastly, the understanding of art during the bird-girl scene, this essay will show that the epiphany during the beach journey is the first step towards Stephen’s destiny as an artist.

    Only the Luciferian character with the exceptional courage and will to rebel and break out of the controlling confinement of Christianity has a story to tell (Hemling 95). In order to become an artist, Stephen has to “fly by” the nets of “nationality, language, [and] religion” (220). Stephen realises these nets are flung at the soul “to hold it back from flight” (220).
     
  13. atanu

    atanu Member
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    Actually, I quoted a scientific study in the link.
     
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  14. Vouthon

    Vouthon Dominus Deus tuus ignis consumens est
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    Indeed, I think it may be the same one from John Hopkins I quoted earlier in the thread :)

    The study is fascinating but not every atheist who has a mystical experience becomes religious. I've heard of many people ranging from the likes of Sam Harris to Bertrand Russell, who have experienced such without that, thereby, changing their irreligion and atheism.

    Many do, as your study evidences, but others remain materialists and still others, like Joyce, actually have a transformative "epiphany" that leads them away from religious thinking to a more secular worldview.

    Interpretations of the experience markedly differ, in terms of what an individual takes from it after the fact.
     
    #34 Vouthon, Apr 20, 2020
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  15. 9-10ths_Penguin

    9-10ths_Penguin 1/10 Subway Stalinist
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    I've personally had experiences that "emphasize oneness, wholeness, or unity as a characteristic or trait of the experience," but I've never referred to them as "mystical," "religious," or "spiritual" because I didn't approach them through that lens.

    I would guess that the number of non-theists who have experienced what you're calling a mystical experience is rather high - or at least on par with the proportion of religious people who have had them. The language around it just pushes many non-theists and non-religious people away.
     
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  16. izzy88

    izzy88 Active Member

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    Saint Paul didn't believe Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead, yet he still had a vision of him on the road to Damascus.
     
  17. atanu

    atanu Member
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    True. Not every atheist who has a mystical experience becomes spiritual.

    In Indian tradition, especially in the Advaita tradition, a non-dual samadhi experience is considered a culmination of all experiences and a sustained abidance in the non-dual awareness is said to lead to Moksha -- severing the self's identification to the changing names-forms.

    For example, a few who have the non-dual experience may come to realise that one is not the troubled individual that appears to be hitting one barrier after another in the dream or waking states and also not the 'unknowing' self of the deep sleep state -- such a person may come to re-define the understanding of the personhood as the non-dial awareness that witnesses the temporary selves of the states: waking, dreaming, and sleeping. Metaphorically, one may realise that one is a wave only temporarily, but one is truly the water that assumes many forms.

    Also, most people even after the profound grace of the non-dual experience may keep up the self-deluding prattle believing 'Brain chemicals did it'. So, for the transformation to occur, mental preparedness is certainly required. In all Eastern philosophies, the mental readiness to appreciate a non-dual experience as the experience that can confer freedom from fear of death is said to be acquired over lifetimes.

    ...
     
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  18. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Over the years, I have been told by a handful of people that a mystical experience caused them to become agnostic or atheist. Andrew Newberg somewhere reports the same phenomena -- I think in his book, "Why God Won't Go Away".

    On the other hand, I think a sizable number of nontheists who have mystical experiences end up adopting one or another form of theism -- or at least something like ietism. That probably happens way more often than theists becoming nontheists. Some people -- not you and I -- would jump on that news as strong evidence for the existence of deity, just as if the question could be properly settled by majority vote. Sometimes, I wish it were that simple.

    And so it goes.
     
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  19. firedragon

    firedragon Veteran Member

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    Psychedelics help I heard.
     
  20. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Endorsing their use is against Forum rules.
     
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