Ramblings & ephemera

Transcendence, described by the East & West

From Steve Paulson’s “The disbeliever” (Salon: 7 July 2006):

But it does raise the question, what do you mean by spiritual? And what do you mean by mystical?

By spiritual and mystical — I use them interchangeably — I mean any effort to understand and explore happiness and well-being itself through deliberate uses of attention. Specifically, to break the spell of discursive thought. We wake up each morning, and we’re chased out of bed by our thoughts, and then we think, think, think, think all day long. And very few of us spend any significant amount of time breaking that train of thought. Meditation is one technique by which to do that. The sense that you are an ego, busy thinking, disappears. And its disappearance is quite a relief.

Well, it’s interesting to hear this description of mysticism because I don’t think that’s how most people would see it. I mean, most people would play up the more irrational side. Yes, you’re losing yourself, but you’re plunged into some larger sea of oneness, of perhaps transcendent presence. Obviously, you’re staying away from that whole supernatural way of thinking.

Well, it’s very Buddhist of me to do that. The Buddhists tend to talk in terms of what it’s not. They talk about it being no self, they talk in terms of emptiness. But the theistic traditions talk in terms of what the experience is like. There, you get descriptions of fullness and rapture and love and oneness.

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