from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #7


#7A:  Mysticism teaches Reality is One (absolute monism), and the mystic strives to experience this Oneness.  Two ways of doing this through meditation (Figure #7a) are: 1) by gradually shrinking consciousness with the goal of eliminating all thought, and 2) by gradually expanding consciousness, steadily including more and more in one's thoughts.  Paradoxically both paths—mentally contracting and expanding—arrive at the same place: where nothing and everything are experienced as the same, zero equals infinity, all distinctions have broken down, and time seemingly has stopped.  

     Such experience of this Oneness has been likened to swimming in an infinite cosmic ocean.  It typically involves an impossible to describe feeling of elation, awakening, joyous-ess, and sense of immortality.  It produces an awakening—the exact moment this occurs is called satori to use the Zen Buddhist term—that elevates this person above ordinary people and places him or her on an enlightened, higher plane of existence.  Such a person is said to have cosmic consciousness —also the title of a famous book (which appeared in 1901) written by Richard Bucke.  The book documents such mystic experience throughout history, describing instances of it in people such as the Buddha, Jesus, Paul, Mohammed, Francis Bacon, William Blake, Walt Whitman, and many others.   

     After enlightenment such people become convinced the normally perceived world is an illusion, one that arises because of our point of view and our need to describe Reality so as to make sense of it.  The Hindu term maya refers to the inappropriateness of equating our description and conceptualization of Reality, with Reality itself—confusing the map of the terrain with the terrain itself.  Under the spell of maya, people see themselves as separate from nature, from the ultimate reality.

     The illusion of time passing originates in similar fashion.  Mathematician Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) described it as follows: "[It] arises from the confusing of the given with the real. Passage of time arises when we think of occupying different realities.  In fact we occupy only givens.  There is only one Reality."  Psychologist Carl Jung's (1875-1961) conception of synchronicity (Figure #7b) not only wreaks havoc with a linear conception of time, but also with causality.  It refers to events that occur either simultaneously or nearly so in meaningful fashion, but yet have no evident cause and effect connection. Jung's followers believe such events occur much more often than would be expected if they were due to random chance coincidence.  They feel that synchronicities provide evidence of a collective unconscious: connectedness at a higher (normally unperceived) level. 

     Mystical states, as altered states of consciousness, are difficult to understand since no one agrees on exactly what consciousness is.  Generally it is thought of as a process not a



thing, held by religious tradition to reside in the soul or spirit and identified with self awareness.  Some physicists (like  Wolfgang Pauli who collaborated with Jung) feel the physical world has no existence independent of human consciousness.  Jung and Pauli attributed to human consciousness unlimited reality-structuring capabilities—linked with synchronicity.

     Chinese Taoist mystical practice centers on finding the way (tao).  Enlightenment comes by overcoming natural tendencies to describe and conceive in dualistic (yin and yang) fashion and recapture the original unity.  Chinese thinkers have sought to explain all natural phenomena and human behavior in terms of a representation involving the dynamic interplay of yin and yang—the archetypes of complementary, polar opposites.

     More generally the term complementarity refers to having  two equally good, complementary but mutually exclusive, even contradictory descriptions or explanations for some phenomena.  Clearly, understanding the reality of something can involve simultaneously embracing both of these complementary representations—often allowing opposing beliefs to peacefully coexist together inside one’s head!  A modern quantum physics complementarity example involves conceiving of light as both a particle and a wave.

#7B: Mysticism is to be distinguished from occultism in that, unlike the former, the latter is concerned with magic, witch-craft, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, numerology, strange rites, secret formulas, etc. and is sometimes associated with malevolent supernatural beings.  Mysticism and magic come together in shamanism: an ancient form of mind/body healing that attempts to restore health to people by helping to put them back into balance with their natural surroundings and all life.   Occultism is associated more with educated, Western cultures, shamanism more with indigenous peoples.  More recently the New Age Movement has provided an umbrella for those interested in these ancient practices, along with those having more modern roots such as parapsychology, the power of positive thinking, etc. (Some even see positive thinking = God!)

     While many associate magic with entertainment (see Figure #7c), in many cultural settings its long-time, continuing practice has more in common with religion.  Both meet similar needs: providing some understanding of, or control over, nature, offer-ing security vs. the unknown, helping people cope with death, and giving spiritual guidance.  More recently, some see certain New Age practices —as others have seen aspects of religion—as recipes for success.  Thus the enthusiasm for the belief that you create your own successful reality by thinking positive thoughts.  Critics see the associated "ask, believe, and receive" mentality as a variation of "wishing makes it so"—something to be deplored as a simplistic, fairy tale, magical, childhood fantasy way of dealing with problems! 

Figure #7a and #7b

a) Two Types of Meditation, 

Paths to Experiencing a Mystical State:

concentrative                           mindfulness 

narrowing                                   expanding

introvertive                                extrovertive

emptiness/ zero              everything / infinity

inner light              unchanging transcendent             

Atman                                            Brahman


b) according to Pauli and Jung, these are the Major Principles Behind the Universe:








Figure #7c: How Magicians Fool Us         

Magic tricks often work by the magician’s use of misdirection: drawing the audience’s attention away from the essential element the trick depends on.  They often use cognitive illusions and visual illusions.  The former refer to mental lapses magicians exploit--including blindness to change, failure to see what is obvious, and willingness to assume one unrelated event causes another.  The latter involve the magician exploiting how the human visual sys-tem works at the neuronal level in the brain’s visual cortex. ).









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