Mysticism is dangerous. But first, you ask, what is
mysticism? There are lots of definitions. My personal favorite, by the 20-Century
British writer on the subject Evelyn Underhill, is “mysticism is first-person religion.”
To paraphrase the rationalist Thomas Paine, Revelation is only for the person
who received it. For everyone else it is mere hearsay. Yet at least the three
Abrahamic religions are based on revelations to others. We “believers” are
simply takingtheirexperiences on
faith. Our religions are thus third-person affairs.
It’s Wednesday, June 8. Evening. Back at our by
now tried-and-true Hesperia Fera Suites in a cloudy and cool Barcelona. The
manager recognized us and made sure we got a room with an exterior view this
time. Nice! Anyway, it’s time to talk a little more Turkey.
First, a few words
about Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in
1923. There are statues of him everywhere. No village is too small. The Turkish
Government, to honor him, made it illegal for anyone else to ever bear the
Asian cultures are famously respectful of teachers. The
Chinese characters for the term are “old” + “soul,” even on the Mainland. The
Japanese sensei is also used as the
most honorific form of address. The prime minister, for example, is called sensei. And nowadays in the West no one
needs to explain the respect contained in the East Indian term guru. Yet Asian traditions also
understand the limitations of even the most outstanding human teacher. One of
the sayings of the Buddha has him telling his monks, “Do not believe what your
teacher tells you out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination
and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of
all beings—that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”
Twelve hundred years later, the great Hindu sage Shankara wrote, “A clear
vision of Reality may be obtained only through our own eyes, when they have
been opened by spiritual insight—never through the eyes of some other seer.
Through our own eyes we learn what the moon looks like: How could we learn this
through the eyes of others?” My spiritual guide, the Javanese mystic Muhammad
Subuh (d. 1987), once said of his role in bringing the Subud spiritual practice
to us was like that of a school janitor who straightens up the classroom, cleans
the blackboard, and makes sure there’s an adequate supply of chalk and erasers.
But our true teacher, he said, is the Great Life Force itself, or God, who would
act in each of us directly. So the True Teacher is not someone out there but
rather, like Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven, something within. Our job, then, is to
sit down at our inner desk and learn. Uh oh! I think the school bell just rang.