Atheism in mysticism

On agnostic and humanistic mysticism
by R. Delpierre S.J.
p 97 in Religious atheism? Apostel, Pinxten, et al.

It is my intention with the present paper, as the title indicates, to argue in defence of the possibility,the existence and the desirability of an agnostic and humanistic mysticism. Two simple facts should be mentioned immediately:
(l) an atheistic mysticism exists: taoism, and
(2) if mysticism is inherent to human nature, whereas beliefs and convictions are subject to change, then the coexistence of mysticism and atheism in a particular person or group is to be expected.
I will try and demonstrate that an atheistic prayer is possible. I will situate my thesis, which is part of a volume to be published on "Wisdom and the art to be happy" (in French), in the context of the analysis of the problem of happiness. Three types of people will be compared with each other:
I. the desiring man, II. the wise man, and III. the mystic.

I. Desire.
In essence desire is in opposition with reality. It leads to the sharp and forceful separation of object from subject. Other human beings are experienced as rivals who compete with the desiring man to possess what is longed for. Things and persons are devices, instruments. The desiring person will try to get the object of his longing (whether it be power, possessions, love or knowledge) by means of a competent and supple adaptation to reality. Nevertheless, it is inevitable (because of the fact of the separation between subject and object) that the correspondence between reality and human being will always be insecure, endangered. The typical western anxiety-neurosis is the expression of this fact. It is equally inevitable that the desiring person will be alone, that he feels himself to be non-committing and is felt as such by others. We cannot communicate our satisfaction to others, to our most individual desires. Through desire and as a result of life in terms of satisfaction of our desires, we cannot reach happiness. Happiness can only be reached, provided we are fundamentally happy from the start, from the start of our search for satisfaction. Happiness can only be found within ourselves. Both intellectual meetings and love are, with the lack of fundamental happiness from the very start, nothing else but the meetings and joining of forms of despair. It is important to remark that the desiring man can be found on the religious level as well; he never lives in the present as he lives in the expectation of his future union with God. He deduces the existence of God from his longing for him. This will never allow him to reach a solution for his doubts or to establish a meeting with the object of his We should state that religion as well as action, culture, love and art, can all enhance the intensity of our happiness, provided that happiness in there to begin with, but that they never can make us happy in themselves.

II. Wisdom.
The wise man lives in communication with things and people. He is fundamentally simple. He does not need "to become happy;" he is happy. He respects what exists because of its existence. Each thing and every person deserve respect in his eyes: he meets the other as the other, he acknowledges, he accepts. Everything which exists has a bidden beauty in his eyes. Tomorrow does not exist, yesterday has gone by: he lives in the present. Leisure time is his first reality, not work. He is at ease. He is a practical person and accepts and knows things as they are, without hiding himself in dreams. Reality is fundamentally transparent. We can suspect that such wisdom has existed (and continues to do so with some). But the West has, by and large, lost this wisdom. Going back to it from our present comfortable position is impossible.

III. Mysticism.
The mystic attitude has been lost in the West as well; the East has safeguarded this attitude. But the superiority of the East lies not in this fact: they lack active desire. Nevertheless, the East could teach us about innerness. Let us try and explain what mysticism is, by starting from our well-known everyday attitudes. We act, we think, we perceive. Let us try to be silent, not to think, yet not to sleep. Let us try to continue being conscious without thinking or looking and without making decisions. The world of being in silence which subsists when thought has ceased, is a first level of mysticism. The second level of mysticism is meditation without an object, emptiness To be present with yourself without memory, without desire, without images, without object. Ruusbroec describes this state in a good way. It can be reached through the application of specific techniques. In the West the first approach was followed by some individuals who are linked to mysticism. In the East methods and techniques have been developed. One of these methods is Zen meditation, a combination of buddhism and taoism, two different but connected atheistic religions that have developed in Japan. Japan bears the same relation to China like Rome to Greece. Consequently, the method developed is very concrete. One is seated in lotus posture and breathes regularly and decontracted. One remains completely still, waiting in complete inertia. Disconcerting thoughts will come up. One should let them go by without reacting (neither accepting nor refuting), "waiting for dawn." One listens and realizes a continuous presence. Throughout the waiting period one should remain confident. Slowly thought will become less and less frequent.

In consequence of this simple but strenuous meditation we will detect several things. In the first place, I detect what I am, not what I do nor what I am becoming. I detect that I am unbounded and connected with everything that exists. This finding is expressed in a mixture of happiness and love. Both are equally fundamental. Human beings have in themselves a source of energy or radiation which goes beyond everything concrete. In fact I am who I am and, being that way, I am kin to and feel solidarity with everything in the ocean of existence. I accept myself in my acceptance of everything, in my joining everything. In the second place, after having merged several times into silence, I am approached by a real force outside me, which is the essence itself of reality. This essence of reality reveals itself to me and through me as a total being (anorganic, organic, conscious, human dimensions). This total being is related to the totality of all beings, to total love, to total happiness. The universe is alone and unique, and in relation to me totally different (for the atheist the universe is the cosmos, for the theist it is God). This inexpressible presence is enlightenment. Being is like a fire, a fullness, a transformation of life. Everything that exists is but a wave which waxes and wanes. I am the expression of all this, and I am at the same time physical, living, animal and human. Enlightenment is a personal, a communal and a cosmic area. When I return from meditation into the everyday world, I remain in communication with that level of existence in my concrete actions in the phenomenal world. Even my body has been transformed. This is the essence of religion: to communicate with the total other. It is clear this experience is not pathological, that it is not an object of psychoanalytic treatment or of a cure. In fact it realizes a total integration of the human being who is the summum of mental sanity: what mystics call the experience of Pentecostal, the reception of the supramental pneuma, is -in clinical language- an experience of integration.

After the description of this experience of the total other I can now state that this meeting with it will be differently named and categorized by me according to my personal history. If I am an atheist then the total other is the cosmos, with human beings as the center of speculation and reflection. The cosmos
(1) exists, and
(2) is totally different from what I am,
(3) is the all-encompassing entity that is superordinate to me and
(4) is self-assertion. Hence happiness and love.
This cosmos is for me, as an atheist, a reason to live, to reach new heights, to go beyond constraints, to reach for the deeper and the more complete, in happiness and love. I am willing, as an atheist, to share in this cosmos and to correspond to it as much as possible. If I am a pantheist, then this cosmos is not only a material cosmos, but also a central "exist" in relation to which I have similar feelings. If I am a monotheist then the absolute exists as the perfection and is not dependent on the cosmos which is only asserted through this transcendental being. To get in contact with the absolute is the purpose of the great religious institutions. Atheism, pantheism and monotheism are different ways to describe, understand and develop the common mystic experience we started with. It is wrong to say that the monotheist is a human failure. It is also wrong to say that the atheist is a human failure. Atheism and monotheism are two different, similar and mutually complementing human destinies, which are both necessary and which share a lot, provided they share the mystic experience. In the East this complement of the big families of mystic experiences is well understood. All are encouraged and all have their followers. Nevertheless, the monotheist is closer to the atheist than to the pantheist who is so common in the East. Both share the experience of profetism and both have their mystery which they proclaim throughout history by means of the words of inspired teachers. Ecumenism is the insight of this complement of the great methods to interpret mystic experiences and the insight in the universal existence of mystic experiences in all important spiritual families. Some of our conclusions are:
1. The former history of religious is, however important no doubt, not essential: the movement which reaches from the past to the future is important, the becoming.
2. It is extremely important for all spiritual families (be they atheistic, pantheistic or monotheistic) to re-detect the experience of innerness: all of these families, also atheism, should develop their mystic life.
3. It is very important, both for the East and the West, to rediscover their subjacent unity: the unity of the acting human being of the Greek and Jewish-Christian tradition with the contemplative human being of the East.

All discussion between monotheists, pantheists and atheists about their mutual superiority is useless. The sole proof would be the testimony of direct mystical experience, the sincere depth of which would be visible for all. Such proof is not in our hands, but its absence is of no importance. The central concern of all spiritual families should be the deepening of their religious experience.

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