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#2561 - Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - Editor: Jerry Katz

This issue concludes the excerpt from A Church Not Made with Hands, by Michael Roden. This is a book on the teaching of nonduality from the viewpoint of Jesus Christ and His disciples, as presented by Michael Roden.  

This excerpt speaks more to mystical experience than nondual being, and that's not a nondually correct thing to spend much time on. However, even today's most hip, integrated, aware writings on nonduality will seem out of date in the near future, though still bearing authority.   

About eight years ago when the world of online nonduality forums started, "nonduality" was a term used in academic or ashramic contexts. When everyday people were asked, "What is nonduality?" they took the question seriously.  

But things have changed. The term "nonduality" is now widely known among people drawn to the core of spirituality. So nowadays it's like, why even bother trying to talk about nonduality? If nothing is separate, how can a bridge of words be constructed? From where to where? The eye cannot see itself. People have "become" walking definitions of nonduality.    T

hings change but authority remains. Here is a rendering by Michael Roden on how nonduality was spoken about in the time of Jesus.   --Jerry    


A Church Not Made with Hands:
Christianity as Spiritual Experience

by Michael Roden   "Look inside" at      

    Mystical experience is reached through the gradual transcendence of that which hides underlying union. The mystical process generally proceeds from purification (the overcoming of self-interest), through illumination (encounter with God), and finally to union (sharing the Being of God). Mysticism sees no self separate from God. It is concerned wholly with the more ultimate reality within Self at one with others and God. It arrives with a new concept-free, definition-defying identity and purpose in God.
     Therefore, with mystical experience comes a sense of liberation, of having escaped from a transitory, limiting reality. Time no longer seems like bondage, ending in death. Time, in fact, begins to take on the quality of eternity. The world opens to a new Earth illumined by the internal sun of Heaven.
     Mystical individuals of all traditions share something, not because they believe the same doctrines (though they do end up with doctrines that point in a similar direction), but because they share and experience the same Spirit. The objectivity within their subjectivity transcends all particular subjectivity and even individuality. They share a longing for reunion with God, and the spiritual means to attain it.
     Spiritual experience is the great equalizer, allowing young and old alike to experience the perfect serenity of perfect oneness in innocence. The mystic takes to heart what Joel prophesied (and what Peter repeated in Acts 2:14–18):

     And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour my spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit (Joel 2:28–29).

     For the mystic, revelation is not entirely of a bygone era. The prophets spoke of this eternal outpouring. The Spirit flows freely, where it wills. The purpose of all revelation is to illuminate the present, transcending time to resume the Self in the present where God is.
     Christianity gains richness with a renewed emphasis on spiritual experience. Its roots are deeper and more universal than often thought. It offers a vital experience along with its doctrines, rituals, and systems. Were there no great experience at the heart of Christianity, God would be only a concept or a system of concepts handed down through the generations. Mysticism reveals the life in God and in the holy Self He created. For the mystic, such life is shared through experience: “O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)
     Mystical experience offers radical change in the here and now. Heaven is more tangible, Earth more tranquil. What could be more real than moments spent in union with God? Whom God fills, He fills completely, with knowledge of primordial equality. God and world are transposed, so that now God is first, and the world reposed. All that is, rests in God. There is a spontaneous rejoicing. “Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!”
     Mysticism places experience of God at the center of the self, and so also at the center of all worship and of every doctrine. Highest mysticism adheres to one fundamental truth, that the experience of God, being possible, should imbue all things with its holy light. Experience should be shined in every corner, like turning on a light. Jesus said:

     Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light (Mark 4:21–22).

     Spiritual experience casts new light on the world, and renders vision otherworldly. The world is saved by being made holy through spiritual vision. It is the same world, now shined through with the light of God. The world shines with God, when His Spirit enlightens the eye of the heart.
     Christianity, like mysticism, begins with the inner individual and ends when that individual is returned to Oneness. No one can really mediate this for a person. No particular group can claim exclusiveness on Oneness. It must be an individual and profoundly personal experience, and yet it rises well beyond any sense of separate self.
     There is one spiritual reality, given many names. Nothing else approaches the experience of the Oneness of all being in God. All things are gathered within it. To experience God is to experience a new sense of Being in God. The sense of separation is succeeded by the Self at one with all things through God.

Psychology and Spiritual Experience

     Mysticism has always played a small but deep part in Christian tradition. In earliest Christianity and its texts, it is indeed plentiful, as we shall see. It has enriched the religion because it has taken hold of individuals who found the Spirit of God within themselves. For such mystical individuals escaping the constraints of dogma and even creaturehood down through the centuries, mystical or spiritual experience was the inspiration behind the highest and deepest traditions of their religion.

     Yet mysticism does not stop at tradition. The mystical individual knows that spiritual experience cannot be contained. Tradition might help to evoke it, but tradition is also prone to cover it. Tradition carries the seed, but the full flowering is always “hidden” or inherent within the individual, yet beyond the individual. It is immanent yet transcendent, personal yet universal.

     I have mentioned the psychological nature of the spiritual experience. There is more than hope, and more than what generally passes for faith, in the mystical experience. There is a sense of knowing when one participates fully in what is known by the unlimited mind. The mind limited to conceptualization finds intellectual aspects of a religion easier to grasp than the experiential, but the experiential aspects restore the entire mind. Mind begins to know itself as more than the intellect, and the Self is again more than the individual.

     Spiritual experience is mystical or hidden because it eludes endeavors to grasp it intellectually. It escapes any classification system and category. This is why psychologist William James speaks of it as being ineffable—unspeakable and unknowable in ordinary human conception. Mystical experience is not comprehensible to the ordinary state of mind; a new self or consciousness is needed to comprehend it. James’ well-known quote regarding mystical experience stresses its difference from ordinary consciousness:

     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 flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.

     Psychology was not a named field of knowledge until the late 1800s when Freud and William James began their practices. But various psychological states and entirely different states of consciousness were known in the ancient world, as psychologist John A. Sanford states:

     The reality of the inner world was also known to the people of the New Testament. The demons and angels, principalities and powers, dreams and visions that throng the pages of the New Testament bear testimony to the conviction of the early Christian that conscious life was immersed in a sea of spiritual reality. This same conviction that there was a realm of nonphysical reality that was experienced in nonsensory ways continued for several hundred years and dominated the early formative centuries of the Christian faith.

     So spiritual experience and therefore subjective psychology were part of Christianity’s origins, even if they could not be systemized as such. And although strictly speaking the discipline of psychology did not yet exist, the study of the mind has always existed. Something had to account for these experiences, and in the Bible they are often expressed in poetic terms that, in their attempt to symbolize something beyond words, seem to carry their own supreme logic and reason.

     Psychologists also speak of mystical experience as a direct way of knowing, often called intuition. Dr. Arthur J. Deikman quotes philosopher Henri Bergson saying that there is:

     a deep distinction between two ways of knowing a thing. The first implies going all around it, the second entering into it. . . . [A]n absolute can only be given in an intuition, while all the rest has to do with analysis.14

     Deikman points out that intuition for the philosopher Plato was knowing “more than we should” because it bypasses ordinary rationality based on sensory experience.15 The same was true for Spinoza:

     Spinoza’s definition of intuition is closest of all the philosophers’ to that of mystical science. . . . This highest knowledge he termed intuition, something that grows out of empirical and scientific knowledge but rises above them. In essence, it is Knowledge of God.

     The mystic has found a way to know God directly. The mystical experience has as much to do with the psychology of sacred relationship as it does with that of the individual. Mystical experience, being the meeting place between God and Self, is also the meeting place or final destination of psychology, religion, highest philosophy, and even science.

     Some philosophers and psychologists wonder whether “the mystical state of consciousness is more basic” than “the waking state.” As stated, the mystical state of consciousness seems more basic and fundamental. Philosopher Jacob Needleman expresses the nature of the difference between these two realities:

     In myself and in the whole of nature there is a reality and an appearance. The reality is freedom, mind, the realm of divinity; the appearance is mechanism, materiality, necessary connection without ultimate purpose. Incommensurate realms—that is to say, the realm of freedom and mind exists on a scale incommensurate with all the activities and efforts of my ordinary mind and self.

     To experience spiritual experience is to experience a state of mind more real than ordinary consciousness, the yardstick of reality being in the experience itself.

     Mysticism has always infused fountains of depth psychology and spirit into Christianity.

     The word mystica came into Christianity by way of the famous late fifth-century Syrian monk, Pseudo-Dionysius, who wrote the mystical classic, Mystica Theologia. For him, mysticism involved the secrecy of the mind or that trans-conceptual state of consciousness which experiences God as a ray of divine Darkness.

     The influential Pseudo-Dionysius (whose Mystical Theology was written circa 500) as well as the medieval mystical classic The Cloud of Unknowing championed the via negativa, the negative way in the practice of mysticism. This negative way was the process of the mind rejecting (or negating) as too limited and too human every thought and attribute of God, in order to come to an experience beyond conceptualization. Neither God nor the soul’s experiential relationship with Him can be articulated; God transcends any attribute we have for him. Within this nonconceptual experience, beyond the self, beyond the world, God has been hidden.

     Contemporary historian of mysticism Bernard McGinn observes that a strain of Judaism in the centuries immediately preceding Christianity was moving away from seeing God’s presence as being confined to the Temple in Jerusalem, “and therefore to possibilities of divine-human encounter outside traditional religious structures.” Mystical experience is, at its highest, just such an encounter between individuals and God. John E. Smith states:

     If experience is understood as encounter, there is no difficulty whatever in supposing that a reality can be ingredient in experience while also transcending—in the sense of not being identical with—that experience.

     Smith goes on to write that:

     It is sometimes thought that approaching religion through experience means a denial of what has been understood in the Christian tradition as revelation. On the contrary, experience understood as encounter is always disclosure of reality transcending the one who experiences. . . . Experience properly understood requires that some place is made for encounter, for the experiencing self to meet what is other than itself, whatever that “other” may turn out to mean.

     Early Christians seized upon these “possibilities of divine-human encounter.” They experienced in their transcendence of self a new Self, because even individual experience is revealed at its core to be relational: encounter with another Being.

     The basic conflict within the self, say the Christian texts, is between inner and outer, light and darkness, spirit and flesh. A choice is put before the individual as to which is more meaningful, with consequences as to which self will be followed and which world will be seen. It is characterized as an urgent choice because it straddles two opposing ways of being. Human beings are trained to see along the horizontal axis, the world spread out before their physical eyes, and yet real vision takes place along the vertical axis, the Self that rises out of the world in order to find another with whom true communion might occur. Mysticism allows the human being to see what is above and beyond the world and self of the world, even to make this above and beyond one’s own reality.

     Mysticism is a way of following Saint Paul’s proscription to “not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2, my italics). To be so transformed, he says elsewhere, is to be glorified in the Divine. As such, to be renewed is to be reborn. It is to be liberated in the Spirit from the intrinsic limitations of the world. Paul speaks of his own experience as taking him well beyond any physical limitation, saying he was “caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows” (2 Cor. 12:2). It was his mystical experiences that helped make Paul what he was, and which led to the loftiest of his transconceptual thinking.

     The psychological process of mysticism is a paradoxical one to the poor intellect that remains confined to sensory-based premises. It sometimes takes a long time to get to something so exquisitely simple. Though perhaps our experience is not yet strong and does not soar, simply to acknowledge and to take responsibility for the emptiness within is to stand at the brink of a sense of fullness. It is the increasingly convincing nature of Spirit, through experience, that makes the believer believe. For a few, there are sudden transformative experiences, openings to vision or to revelation. For others, there is a subtle shedding of light through the windows of the soul. One common factor seems to be that each type seeks to maintain singleness of intention and purpose in heart: The mind is set on God, the heart fixed on Him. Sanford states of accepting Jesus’ parables of the kingdom of God:

     A person who takes his or her “heart” seriously ultimately arrives at the kingdom, for it is when we consciously accept the inner world that the possibility for wholeness emerges.

     First comes simple acknowledgment of the inner world, and then it must be allowed to unfold in the heart or center of one’s being. Time is given in order that the heart may increasingly accept guidance from intuition and from timeless Spirit. The depths of being are eventually experienced to glow with God, Who dwells in the heart.

     In mysticism and in Christianity, the inner world awaits recognition, calling from within even as the wayward mind directs its sights outward. To allow this inner world to reintegrate the mind is to begin to feel whole. Mysticism seeks only openness to the possibility of highest spiritual experience to learn firsthand what it is. Ultimately, to have a great sense of purpose, some kind of deeply unifying inner experience is required.

     I have mentioned that in mysticism there is an active search, but there is also a natural inner unfolding. There is an original intention for unification and then a letting go of the means toward that intention, so that it might find its own way, so that unity might find itself. The intention is kept in mind, while faith stirs the fire of the heart to see us through the dark empty night and into the brilliant light of full experience. Intention becomes fulfillment, as that which was before conceived conceptually and imperfectly becomes more and more that which truly is.

     To access the psychological capacity of intuition, an individual decides against conscious planning. In a subconscious way, a person learns to follow the inner call rather than the outer. One must, as Jesus advocates, take the second place, humble oneself in regard to the world in order to devote oneself to a higher truth. Much of this work is, by definition, effortless. Jesus also advises that one be willing to lose oneself in order to find oneself. (See chapter 8 for an exposition of how this sense of fullness is found in emptiness.) This exchange of selves is necessary because, as Jung states; “Our present day consciousness is a mere child that is just beginning to say ‘I.’”

Prayer for Experience

     For the Christian mystic, to know Jesus is to encounter him, and to encounter him involves following him, which involves knowing oneself deep in the Spirit, as he did. Spirit unfolds inside even while the individual is preoccupied with the world at arm’s length. The call goes out everywhere, its light piercing preoccupation, because it reveals in everyone the urge for reunion with God.

     The intellect, trying to understand what experience already knows, tends to make a legalistic and formulaic system out of the raw material of spirit, while the more whole mind of Being much more easily emphasizes the sense of fullness and freedom found in transcendent experience. The subconscious mind steeped in the reality of such experience gracefully begins to reveal spiritual Being. Loss becomes gain, individual experience becomes encounter. To know it is to value it, and to value it is to allow it to undo what was ineffective before, and to unlearn past, imperfect presuppositions about God and ourselves.

     The early Christians prayed from the depth of their soul that God’s subtle light might shine upon them, illuminating paths in the wilderness. They prayed that they might have “the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). They prayed in ecstasy, out of the body and in the Spirit, to the inscrutable God “who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). They prayed for internal transformation so as to find themselves within the “unapproachable light.”

     Prayer for experience offers a way to evoke this inner light of shared experience and the psychological processes of spiritual transformation. The following psalm, taking into account the psychological and emotional context of religion, prays for the process of opening oneself to find another experience:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
According to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions
. . . and cleanse me from my sin! . . .
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. . . .
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
And take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
And uphold me with a willing spirit
(Pss. 51:1–2, 6, 10–12).

     Paul prays for experience when he asks that God:

     may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you (Eph. 1:17–18).

     Jesus tells his disciples, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops” (Matt. 10:27). The core inner truth is hidden no more. Invoking highest mystical experience, that of union, Jesus prays in John’s gospel:

     that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17: 21–23).25

     This is a prayer for reality; it is a prayer for unity in the Spirit. Above all else, it is spiritual oneness that causes the heart to rejoice. It is a prayer for highest spiritual experience, mystical because it is hidden within the heart until it is acknowledged as part of oneself, to remain elusive until it is accepted as oneself.

     The process of attaining mystical or spiritual experience begins quite simply, with the mere acknowledgment of the inner world. Its vastness and its depths need not be initially known. Yet once one begins to “taste and see,” it begins to spring up everywhere. The greater part of the unconscious is simply the Self that is denied by ordinary consciousness. When experienced, mystical transcendence becomes valued above all else, to be sought and found in all things, and ultimately in the essential oneness of all that lives.

     Sublime mystical experience is not so much the window as the doorway into Heaven. Heaven and the mystical Earth gleam through the opened self with the depths of the living God. Spiritual truth and living wisdom are never really hidden, nor can they ever be entirely out of reach. They are always freely given, freely flowing from an eternal source. In the eternal openness of love, there is no fear. And in the progress toward the experience of certainty, all that was lost and hidden now is found, darkness brought to light, the world returned renewed with the Self, the glory of God, His eternal creation.

     Spiritual or mystical religious psychology can evoke the experience of Heaven. Through experience of the Unity of Heaven is revealed the great plan and purpose of God on Earth. All things are joined at the level at which they are true to themselves. In the words of Saint Paul:

     For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he has set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9–10,).

     Toward this end, says Paul: “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5).

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