What is the purpose of mystical philosophy?
First, it must be realised that mysticism and its philosophical aspects are not ends in themselves.
Mysticism’s ideas and teachings are but instruments to achieve certain specific objectives.
The greatest emphasis or stress has been placed on the so-called spiritual values of mysticism; in other words, a full realisation of self and a consciousness of the relationship of that self to the Absolute, or God.
Mystical philosophers have long lamented that humanity has a limited use of its consciousness. We are seen as resorting primarily to objective experiences— our greatest interest being in sensual matters, worldly things, materialism.
Thus, figuratively speaking, humanity’s state of existence is unilateral, one-sided, worldly.
Now, granted that these charges are basically true, the original question still persists. In other words, what is the purpose of the mystical experience of Oneness, of Cosmic Consciousness, if it is attained?
The answer traditionally given by mystics is illumination.
Concisely, this means enlightenment—an influx of a new gnosis, an exalted knowledge. Knowledge is said to be power. But ideas have power only in their application.
Unused knowledge is inert; it accomplishes nothing. The power of thought manifests only in action, in doing something.
The physical, material side of humanity is not fundamentally evil or corrupt. Such a concept is based on obsolete theological notions.
Our appetites and passions are in accord with the necessities of our being. In our growth, sustaining of life, reproduction, and withering away, we are only conforming to our biological necessities.
But what about the other aspects of human nature—the abstract side? What about the illumination that mysticism urges us to attain?
Must there be a definite cleavage in our nature? Are we to be either sensual and worldly, or seek refuge in mystical experience?
Inspiration and Creation
One of the basic precepts of mysticism is the unity of Self, namely, the integration of all divergent experiences that self is capable of having.
The subconscious, the psychic self, however, must reflect back the illumination it receives to the objective everyday world of reality.
The psychic self must energise the objective self. It must arouse inspiration and aspiration to create in the world those things which represent the inner experience.
In other words, the world must participate in one’s inner experiences if mysticism is to have any value.
Through the ages every spiritual ideal or philosophical principle that has been accepted as good was a motivating force compelling an individual to achieve something higher in his or her lifetime. It is only in this way that we become a whole being, and not divided against ourselves.
Mysticism, then, can and should be a dynamic, constructive force in the world.
False mysticism is a dream world of pleasant escape from the here and now.
From the highest intellectual and moral point of view, life is not simply to live, to exist. Rather, life is to live for a purpose. In its purposefulness humanity distinguishes itself from the lower animals.
But what must that purpose be?
Succinctly, it is the collective welfare of all humanity. Such a phrase is not a cliché, although we hear it often. It is the only true example of human advancement. Individual incentive toward purely personal ends is elementary and primitive.
One is being moved solely by the life impulses and not by the higher intuition and rationalisation which humanity has at its disposal.
To accomplish this greater purpose requires self-discipline.
In fact, acting like this does not require being less ambitious or less aggressive; rather, we extend our self-interest. Thus, our actions are not always limited to the immediate self, but contribute to the ideal of the collective advancement of humanity.
In this sense every human is in some small degree every other person’s benefactor instead of his or her competitor.
Humanity’s advancement can only be accomplished by an understanding of our human emotions and of the Self.
First, we must establish common ideals which elevate the human race. Secondly, the individual must be taught how to stimulate certain impulses to contribute to those ideals.
We must also learn how to restrain other impulses. This would involve the study of the practical points in psychology, mental states, and rational codes of ethics and behaviour.
Peace, therefore, is a complex attainment if we are to advance from primitive forces of the raw life which we see existing today.
We must always remember that peace is primarily a personal attainment. It is nice for us to meet at the United Nations or in all sorts of other groups to consider what humanity is to do. Yet peace cannot be regulated from outside the individual.
It must be individually, personally cultivated.
Those with a gleaming of illumination realise that our inclination to resist change is another of our great problems. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said centuries ago that all is becoming—nothing ever is.
Everything is in a state of flux, becoming something else. If things were, and not becoming, the world, the universe, would be static.
Despite changing conditions, humans are creatures of habit. Habit, figuratively speaking, is like the groove of a phonograph record going around and around. It always requires less effort to run in these grooves, to follow these habits. This is especially so when they don’t trouble us, or when they seem to promote satisfaction.
Habits are born out of experience and tradition. Experience is a product of time and circumstance. What one period or event makes pleasurable or practical may not be so tomorrow.
Traditions and Progress
Traditions, on the other hand, are past experiences and customs. They may or may not continue to serve the purpose for which they came into existence.
These traditions often become ready-made ways of acting and thinking; we all fall into that groove. Even if such traditions are innocuous and don’t trouble us, they often bind our mind, making it difficult for changes, or possible advancement, to take place.
The renowned historian James Robinson stated, “The old always enjoys the right of way; it is rarely summoned to prove its case.”
Tradition acquires an air of reverence of which it is often not worthy. If a tradition has merit, it is only as a stepping-stone to something better. No tradition is so sacred that it cannot be questioned as to its present value.
Our contemporary society is cast out of the mould of traditions. By holding to such traditions, society has many of the same festering sores that have plagued it for centuries, such as war, crime, poverty, bigotry, and intolerance. The moral system and religious precepts have not stemmed or stopped these evils.
We are now in a new stage of intellectualism.
This is an age of scepticism in which blind faith and unsubstantiated traditions are challenged—resulting in drastic transitions.
The old foundation of many religious beliefs, political ideologies, morality, and social order are now found wanting. The reaction is one of utter disdain and it is expressed actually and symbolically in the nonconformity we see today.
All of this leaves us a vacuum in place of an ordered, traditional society.
The old is cast aside or being cast aside, yet there is nothing to take its place. This is still a time of probing, experimenting, and experiencing radical flights of freedom or so-called absolute freedom.
The world has experienced such scepticism before in Egypt, Greece, and Rome. In fact, one period of scepticism in Egypt about the fifteenth century BC was called the Period of Pessimism. Such scepticism was also expressed more recently when rationalism replaced superstition in the Middle Ages.
True scepticism, we must understand, is healthy.
It desires to substitute knowledge for blind faith and unsupported belief. Having found the outside world full of error and misleading, many of the younger generation want a new kind of emotional experience.
They feel thrown back upon themselves—alienated and searching within for answers. They want new, lasting, guiding experiences, and they abhor the old dogmatic morals.
We must realise that true illumination is not just a different state of consciousness. It is not just a supplanting of fatigue, anxiety, or depression with some kind of momentary ecstasy.
True mystical illumination is a matter of rejuvenation of our worldly consciousness.
It is a reaching down into the conscious mind of ideas for concepts which will inspire confidence. Mystical illumination compels one to confront life renewed—not to withdraw in isolation, becoming a hermit or recluse.
Mystical philosophy plays an important part in world affairs. We must realise that it is not something that will simply lift us up into a cloud.
Dr. H Spencer Lewis would often say, “Mysticism will lift you up unto a cloud, but have your feet on the ground or you are going to come down with an awful bounce.”
Of the most immediate importance is expounding the real significance of inner experience. Mystical philosophy teaches how the inner experience can be related to the mundane world of today. That is one of the reasons for our International Research Council.
Every conscious thought, or every conscious act, has a thought behind it. So, too, every true advance of humanity must have that psychic motive we term mystical experience.
How often do we realise that humanity’s greatest possession is consciousness? It is the mirror of life.
One of the ancient philosophers said, “Where consciousness is, we are. Where consciousness is not, we’re not.”
But this consciousness, this mirror or consciousness, must be polished to reflect a greater image of reality and the Cosmic.
Adaptation of “Mystical Illumination” Thought of the Month by Ralph Maxwell Lewis, from the Rosicrucian Digest August 1983.