Quintessential Quotations

Mysticism


Beauty and the Real

In the Beauty of the World lies the ultimate redemption of our mortality. When we shall become at one with nature in a sense profounder even than the poetic imaginings of most of us, we shall understand what now we fail to discern.

Fiona Macleod
Quoted in Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, p. 1

Aesthetics is only the lowest form of perception of the Real.

Barqi
Quoted in Indries Shah, The Way of the Sufi

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

Albert Einstein
What I Believe

To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men.

Albert Einstein
What I Believe

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Creation

This self-emptying or renunciation of power by the godhead is called in Greek kenosis, self-emptying. The idea that God creates the world by giving up power, by instituting a constitutional monarchy instead of a tyrannical one.

Alan Watts
Western Mythology: Its Dissolution and Transformation (in Myths, Dreams, and Religion, ed. Joseph Campbell, p. 25)

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Deifying What We Don't Understand

Men think it is divine merely because they don't understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.

Hippocrates
quoted in Richard Restak, The Brain, Chapter 1

Around the frontiers of advancing science there are always areas where our understanding is incomplete, and there are always some people who will seize upon these areas as a justification for introducing some kind of metaphysical entity a god of the gaps.

John Randall
Parapsychology and the Nature of Life, quoted in Lyall Watson, Lifetide, Chapter Seven

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Hidden Truths

Perhaps, I thought, while her words still hung in the air between us like a wisp of tobacco smoke a thought to fade and vanish like smoke without a trace perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door; perhaps you and I are only types and this sadness which sometimes falls between us springs from disappointment in our search, each straining through and beyond the other, snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us.

Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited, Book II, Chapter Four

The world is a parable the habitation of symbols the phantoms of spiritual things immortal shown in material shape. May the blessed second-sight be mine to recognize under these beautiful forms of earth the ANGELS who wear them; for I am sure we may walk with them if we will, and hear them speak.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Uncle Silas, Conclusion

Nada del mundo es verdad por lo que mi ojos ven. (Nothing in the world is true that meets the eye.)

Anonymous
Mexican Saying

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Levels of Perception

In many cases, I didn't know whether I was taken on a trip by God or by one of his business officers in the outer galaxy. Guides at each level above ours pretend to be God as long as you believe them. But when you finally get to know the guide, he says, "Well, God is really the next level up." God keeps retreating into infinity.

John C. Lilly
quoted in Judith Hooper and Dick Teresi, The Three-Pound Universe

Modern set theorists do sometimes try to talk about Cantor's Absolute Infinity as well. They use a capital Omega, Ω, to stand for it. The odd thing about Ω is that it is a size level that, by definition, lies beyond any possible means of comprehension; Ω is so big that there is no way for us to single it out. Whenever we think we are talking about Ω, it turns out that we are really talking about some much smaller size level. Put a bit more precisely, if P is some property such that P[Ω], then there is some A less than Ω such that P[A] as well. This ensures that Ω can't be defined as "the first size level with the property P." This characteristic of Ω is known as the "reflection principle."

Rudy Rucker
Mind Tools: The Five Levels of Mathematical Reality. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1987.

You may follow one stream. Realize that it leads to the Ocean. Do not mistake the stream for the Ocean.

Jan-Fishan
quoted in Idries Shah, The Way of the Sufi

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Mysticism as Impairment

The techniques of obtaining a mystic experience are all, whether quick and chemical or long and physical, those of diminishing the effectiveness of the cortex, of temporarily blasting some of its circuits, by means of food or sleep deprivation, or by excessive sensory input, or by thrusting a biochemical spanner into the cerebral works. The impairments in the functioning of the cortex, in terms of the relationship of the individual with the objective world, are clear; the validity of the distorted and shadowy world which the drug induces is minimal wherever it can be tested against the objective world of day-to-day experience without explanatory or predictive value. In so far as the function of the brain is to enable the organism to exist in harmony with, survive in, operate upon, and understand the environment of its owner, the nonmystic brain manifestly functions better than the mystic one. The survival value of the mystic experience is low, and in evolutionary terms its potential or desirability is equally low. Like poetry, music and art, its effects may be a moving and significant part of the experience of being human. But so for some may be the artificial induction of an epileptic fit by stroboscopic flashes.

Stephen Rose
The Conscious Brain, Chapter 12

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Mysticism Different from Knowledge

In other words, by knowing brahman one does not know anything but brahman: not physics, not mathematics, not the stock-market else the monastic profession in India would be much more affluent than it is. The naive assumption is that yogic vision, the zero-experience, also brings about knowledge of all things to be known. This is nonsense. The implication is quite clear; that the knowledge of the Absolute, the mystical knowledge, the zero-experience, is of a precious sort all of its own and does not generate other types of knowledge.

Agehananda Bharati
The Light at the Center, quoted in Sudhir Kakar, Shamans, Mystics, and Doctors

It is a pity that neither of them took the trouble to analyze the situation and look for a logical explanation, but both, of course, were mystics, and thoroughly credulous.

Henry Kuttner
Hydra

The primary questions that might lead one to mysticism, such as "What is the meaning of life?" and "What is the nature of man?" cannot, as we have seen, be answered in any systematic manner. An adequate treatment of these questions lies within the realm of personal experiential knowledge, in the life situations of individuals. To pose these questions in purely academic terms is inappropriate, an unfortunate mixture of levels of analysis, and often results in a mere incomprehensible doctrine . . . That many bizarre and absurd notions are continually associated with spirituality does not mean, as the positivists would have it, that these important questions should not be asked. It is, rather, a matter of the appropriateness of the response and the differing mode of the question.

Robert E. Ornstein
The Mind Field, Chapter 8

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Subconscious Attitudes

A man's religion is a much broader matter than the mere question of his beliefs.

Mahomet Abd-er-Rasul
in Michael Paine, Cities of the Dead, Chapter 2

We only know what is on our mind, rarely what is in our mind.

Robert E. Ornstein
The Evolution of Consciousness, Chapter 1

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Suspending the World

When you have medicine, you have power because your presence in this world is suspended. Only the uninitiated would fail to comprehend that magic occurs not because of the presence of some powerful person, like a sorcerer, but because of his or her momentary absence.

Heather Valencia
Queen of Dreams, Chapter 10

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The Illusion of Separateness

Things that seem separate on one level of being emerge as united parts of a single reality when viewed from higher levels of being. Our feeling of the separateness of things is a direct result of the limitation of our vision.

Darryl Reanney
After Death: A New Future for Human Consciousness

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The Imaginal World

Miracles and fantastic appearances are well attested to in the writings of all the world's major religious traditions . . . Some sects of mysticism tend to play down the independent reality of the visionary landscape out of fear that its wonders will detract the spiritual initiate from the single-minded pursuit of release from the incarnate world, but among others, particularly the Sufis, this dimension is viewed with greater respect. Philosophers in that tradition, such as Avicenna and Ibn 'Arabi, created an extraordinarily sophisticated catalogue of visionary states, the subtlety and discernment of which is such that most contemporary writings on the transpersonal dimension read like primitive fumblings by comparison. Henry Corbin, the preeminent modern interpreter of this body of wisdom, coined the term "imaginal" to describe the general dimension of psychological experience that these philosophers address: the term's meaning and implications are extremely difficult to summarize, but essentially it refers to realms of psychological experience that are not simply subjective or objective but somewhere in between. In Sufi thought, it is not enough to say that a perceived reality is either real or imagined, for these cut-and-dried terms fail to address a limitless middle ground in which phenomena are both shaped by the imagination of the observer while at the same time existing independently of him or her.

Between the shores of the simply imaginary and the indisputably concrete lies an ocean of experience that, while partaking of a reality infinitely more profound and complete than the one revealed by ordinary daylight, does not like to manifest on command or hold still for measurement.

Ptolemy Tompkins
This Tree Grows Out of Hell: Mesoamerica and the Search for the Magical Body

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The Importance of Mysticism

It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknown. It fills life with something impersonal, a numinosum. A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated.

The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole.

Carl Gustav Jung
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, quoted in Lyall Watson, Lifetide, Part Three

One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final, which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.

William James
The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lectures XVI and XVII, Mysticism.

Materialism as a system of philosophy never tries to explain the why of things.

William James
Quoted in Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, xxxiii

Man grappling with reality fails to find a serious explanation for anything whatsoever that he sees.

Jean Henri Fabre
The Hunting Wasps, quoted in Lyall Watson, Lifetide, Chapter Seven

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The Infinite Presence

If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.

William Blake
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As one very wise man whom I knew once said to me, "Gnosis, the perfect wisdom or enlightenment, is to be surprised by everything."

Alan Watts
Western Mythology: Its Dissolution and Transformation (in Myths, Dreams, and Religion, ed. Joseph Campbell, p. 25)

The real magic lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Marcel Proust
quoted in p. 145, The Druid Way, by Philip Carr-Gomm (Shaftesbury, etc.: Element Books Ltd., 1993)

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The Limits of Language

An American who has traveled in Asia and an Englishman who has traveled in Australia may meet in Paris and exchange traveling experiences with mutual understanding, because both of them have experienced travel; and they will have an adequate vocabulary to describe such experience, because most men have also experienced travel. But a saint who has known the spiritual condition called ecstasy cannot explain ecstasy to a man who has never known it, and if he should try to do so would discover at once that no modern language is suitable for the purpose . . . Among the Ancients, who dealt so largely with psychical sciences, there seems to have been a common language which could be used to explain the invisible world and its inhabitants; but we of this age have not yet developed such a language.

W. Y. Evans-Wentz
The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, xxv

Heart to heart is an essential means of passing on the secrets of the Path.

Rudbari
quoted in Idries Shah, The Way of the Sufi

At a certain time, more can be conveyed by distracting useless attention than by attracting it.

Khurqani
quoted in Idries Shah, The Way of the Sufi

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The Pearl of Rare Price

But if the way which, as I have shown, leads hither seems very difficult, it can nevertheless be found. It must indeed be difficult, since it is so seldom discovered, for if salvation lay ready to hand and could be discovered without great labor, how could it be possible that it should be neglected almost by everybody? But all noble things are as difficult as they are rare.

Benedict de Spinoza
The Ethics

Man conceives a human character much more stable than his own, and sees that there is no reason why he should not himself acquire such a character. Thus he is led to seek for means which will bring him to this pitch of perfection, and calls everything which will serve as such means a true good. The chief good is that he should arrive, together with other individuals if possible, at the possession of the aforesaid character. What that character is we shall show in due time, namely, that it is the knowledge of the union existing between the mind and the whole of nature. This, then, is the end for which I strive, to attain to such a character myself, and to endeavour that many should attain to it with me. In other words, it is part of my happiness to lend a helping hand, that many others may understand even as I do, so that their understanding and desire may entirely agree with my own.

Benedict de Spinoza
On the Improvement of the Understanding

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The Power of Music

No man, however civilized, can listen for very long to African drumming, or Indian chanting, or Welsh hymn-singing, and retain intact his critical and self-conscious personality... If exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages.

Aldous Huxley
The Devils of Loudun, quoted in Leonard George, Altered Realities

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The Universe Within

In this body, in the town of Spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus, and in that house there is a little space. There is as much in that little space within the heart as there is in the whole world outside.

Unknown
Chandogya Upanishad, quoted in Chapter 1 of A House Like a Lotus, by Madeleine L'Engle

As large as the universe outside, even so large is the universe within the lotus of the heart. Within it are heaven and earth, the sun, the moon, the lightning, and all the stars. What is in the macrocosm is in this microcosm.

Unknown
Chandogya Upanishad, in The Upanishads, New York: Mentor, 1957, p. 74

We bring the answer with us. All the traditions, all the paths, teach us to see what is already here. That is the central Mystery of our Mystery that I never convinced Miriam of. The secret is that there is no secret.

Rosemary Edghill
Speak Daggers to Her

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Wrong and Right

To God all things are fair and good and right; but men hold some things wrong and some right.

Heraclitus
trans F. M. Cornford, Greek Religious Thought from Homer to the Age of Alexander (quoted in Myths, Dreams, and Religion, ed. Joseph Campbell, p. 163)

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