Jay Michaelson
Does Mysticism Prove the Existence of God?, p.3

Why? Because mystical theology, hewing closely to experience, actually turns out to be more careful theology. If we strip "God" of associations and concepts, we are being more faithful not only to our experience, and not only to our ethics, but to God as well. Any concept we have of God is not God; it is a finite concept, tied to the finite mind, conceptualized in terms of finite substances and ideas which, in their limitation, are not God-in-godself (a concept which itself is inaccurate, because it is a concept). If you have an idea of God, God negates your idea.

So any idea or concept imposed upon the ineffable mystical experience actually takes us further from the Divine. Perhaps this is why mystics are notoriously reticent about describing their experiences, even in reliable religious-mythic terms: because every term is a diminution. Think of something you'd like to say about a mystical experience -- that it was truly of God, for example -- and you'll see that it is actually about a concept. It is wrongly finitizing the Infinite.

Samadhi, devekut, other mindstates -- these are mindstates. They do exist, as mindstates. The only time we get into the whole question of "Is this real? Am I deluded?" is when we are claiming an experience of something outside the self. And that is error. From a negative-theological perspective, the claim is always going to be false, because it is a claim about something. And from a nondual perspective, the claim is false because it is a claim of something outside the self. Either way, the less said, the better.

Delusion, in a nondual perspective, has nothing to do with God. It only has to do with mistaken utterances about the world of appearance.

Mysticism does give experiential access to the nondual truth, but that truth could be deduced from logic anyway, as Spinoza did and Vedantists did, and many Kabbalists did as well. In this light, rather than see contemplative practice as proving something to be true, we might see it as showing something to be true -- something that can be proven apart from experience, but whose power is not really felt until it is experienced. For example, it is possible to see, directly, that even one's longest-held, deepest-felt desires -- the parts of ourselves we really want to call our "self" -- are actually merely arisings. They appear, they disappear, and while we may conventionally refer to their agglomeration as the "self," there's nothing really there that constitutes this "self." And once that illusion is seen -- not argued or proven, but directly seen -- to be illusory, there is no separate self left to be uniting or not uniting with the One. There is only the One.

And the anxieties about what mystical experience does or doesn't prove subside. There is the knowing of all of these experiences, is there not? So who is doing the knowing, if there is no separate self?

Get this: if there isn't someone doing all that knowing, if there's just the epiphenomenon of knowing itself -- well, that's exactly right. Because we've moved away from a concept of "someone" and toward the ineffable. After all, God doesn’t have a self either. We tend to say "Being" as if a gerund were really a noun, but in that statement is a mistaken ascription of self-ness. This contradicts both Buddhist and Jewish dogma (everything is empty) and the idea of the Infinite (Ein Sof) itself. There is nothing more than all of these composites of experience. There is not a "Knower" if by "Knower" we mean some separate thing out there. God is not something in addition to the universe (if God is, then that part is by definition completely unsayable, unknowable and unthinkable). But there is a "Knower" in a more refined sense, a sense free of concepts and anthropomorphism.

There’s this persistent thought that there is some tangible God-consciousness that stands apart from all the strands of reality, and that either does or doesn't exist. But that is bad theology. It is yet again to make an error of selfhood, this time on a huge theological scale. God, also, is Empty – indeed, God is the Emptiness itself.

This is what mysticism shows. It proves nothing, but it provides a direct experience of the Knowing that is without a conventional Knower. It is more sure than dogma or syllogism, and it leads to abundant love.

If we suppose that mysticism can prove the mythic assertions of the Bible, we are mistaken. Myth is its own language, not a poor form of theology. When we ask "Does mysticism really prove there's a God" or "How do you know your experience is real," we are misusing mythical language, and it shows. At this extreme, the mythic language collapses, and seems to be full of mistaken assumptions about what God is or isn't. In fact, these assumptions were never really there to begin with; they get read in by our misappropriation of mythic terms, and our misuse of myth to do something it isn't trying to do. Reading the Bible for theology is like trying to get a recipe for wine by reading a poem about drinking it.

Mystical experience is as the mystics say. That much I can relate to you. And the more carefully we think our theology, the less else it could or should evince. Just one last illustration: A Buddhist might report, after a mystical experience: "I feel love." A Jew might report "I love you, God." The more we can erode the difference between those statements, the closer we are to heaven.

[1]       [2]       3
Image of neuron: Microscopy Analytic Service (Germany)
All images are unprocessed photo/microscopy images

Jay Michaelson lives in Jerusalem and is pursuing his Ph.D. in Hasidism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is chief editor of Zeek.

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