This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

6.3. Mysticism

The narrowness of contemporary mysticism

Our complaint regarding the modern notion of Christian mysticism is not that is associated with the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystics, St. John and St. Teresa, but that it has become associated almost exclusively with their unique style of exposition. This is problematic because their style and emphasis represents the concerns of a specific ‘spiritual temperament,’ and therefore only meets the needs of individuals with that temperament. There are a variety of temperaments and the mystical way properly understood is adaptable to the needs of that variety, but not when it is presented only from the point of view of one: namely, St. Teresa of Avila, in whom we find detailed descriptions of the psychological effects produced during the soul’s journey toward mystical union. As useful as this approach may be to those who share her temperament and are therefore called to tread in her footsteps, it is useful and potentially alienating to others.

For this reason, our desire has been to rediscover a more comprehensive notion of the mystical way that embraces the spectrum of types and their needs. We seek to rejoin to mysticism as commonly understood the full richness of the term. We have already done this by referring to its historical development in Christianity, and we concluded by pointing out that there is also a mystical theology (Pseudo-Dionysius and his corpus) in addition to the mystical experience (Teresa of Avila and her Interior Castle). While latter has proven profound and invaluable for some, there are still others for whom the Carmelite approach is not conducive, and whose natures require a more intellectual contemplatively.

Nonetheless, what we are driving at might still appear vague to the reader, and for this reason it will be good to outline the mystical way as a whole in order to help us understand the nature of the thing. This should clarify and summarize our discussion, hopefully to the reader’s satisfaction.

Karma, bhakti, jnana

We can begin by acknowledging the fundamental differences in spiritual temperament that occur in individuals, and that this variation implies different needs when it comes to spiritual method.

Although there are as many spiritual types as there are people, the primary classifications are three: the way of works, the way of love, and the way of knowledge. This doctrine of the three ways is universally applicable, but most directly enunciated in the Hindu doctrine via the terms karma (works), bhakti (love), and jnana (knowledge), resulting in three corresponding margas (paths) to spiritual realization: karma-marga, bhakti-marga, and jnana-marga. We will note that a corresponding division is present in Sufism with the terms makhafa (fear), mahabba (love), and ma’rifa (gnosis or knowledge). We have deployed these terms elsewhere in this manual and what was said there should also be considered applicable here.

Our first remark here should be that each of these, because they correspond to human nature, are valid as such and appropriate, even if in different contexts one might be emphasized at the expense of another. Thus, in the Hebrew tradition, we find a way of works; in Christianity, a way of love; in Taoism, a way of knowledge. However, we also must acknowledge that in any tradition, we find possibilities for each way, even if that way is not emphasized. Thus, in the Hebrew tradition we find jnana or gnosis in the Kabbalah. Likewise, in Hinduism, from which we have borrowed our terminology, we find distinct paths for each type. All of this is simply to point out the diversity of paths and to note that emphasis on one does not (or should not) imply the exclusion of other possibilities.

Mysticism integrates both love and knowledge

This brings us back to Christianity. Now it is undeniable that Christianity presents itself primarily as a way of love, but also maintains within itself a long tradition of knowledge or gnosis. We find this latter in Dionysius the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart, Albertus Magnus, and Angelus Silesius, to name a few. Because the latter type is no ‘in the main,’ however, it will always find itself somewhat at odds with popular teaching and common attitudes, hence the disruptions caused by the presence of each of these figures in the Church, even if their doctrines are, in the last resort, completely orthodox (it is acknowledged that St. Thomas Aquinas relied on Dionysius more than any non-scriptural source).

If we are correct in describing Christianity as the mystery religion par excellence, and as a result calling its spiritual way the mystical way, then we must admit that this way somehow integrates the two paths mentioned: the bhakti-marga and the jnana-marga.

If we ask: what becomes of the third path, karma-marga or the way of action, we can say that action is always involved in both knowledge and love, but is secondary in both. To further clarify how this is fitted into the Christian paradigm, we can refer to the Gospel scene involving Martha (the way of action) and Mary (seen as the synthetic expression of love-knowledge, rapt in the vision of the Divine Mystery).

This remark—regarding Mary as a synthesis of both love and knowledge—brings us to the notion of contemplation, which is somewhat unique to Christianity, necessarily so because it is concerned with the vision of the mysterion which is Christianity’s essence.

To summarize, Christianity offers one way, which is the mystical way, revolving entirely around Christ the Logos, leading, via contemplation, to union with the Divine. This path embraces both the jnana temperament and the bhakti temperament, and if these can be considered ‘modes of spiritual realization,’ we can easily see that, depending on the type of individual we are dealing with, the journey will be experienced (and therefore described) in very different ways, and will even involve the use of different means or spiritual methods.

Doctrine and method

Every spiritual way is concerned with progressing by degrees through a process of spiritual realization. Each way, as such, is composed of a doctrine and a method. The method involved will differ, adjusted as it must be to the spiritual temperament of the person making use of it, who might be predisposed to either bhakti or jnana. For that reason we will attempt no comprehensive overview of the methods proper to each type here.

The doctrine, on the other hand, always remains the same, and in the case of Christianity it is completely summarized in the first chapter of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. And of his fullness we all have received, and grace for grace.[1]

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me…from henceforth you shall know him, and you have seen him…he that seeth me seeth the Father also.[2]

These passages, as enunciated by the Fathers, provide us with the doctrine of the Logos, which is elaborated as follows:

Christ has two natures. These can be described as the Uncreated Logos by which Christ is fully God, and the created Logos by which He is made manifest and is fully human. His personality, however, is singular: one person, two natures.

By integrating into himself all that is God and all that is man, he took from potency to act what is in every other man only potency: to say it another way, he restored humanity to perfection through his passion. If sin is envisaged as separation from the divine, redemption is a real reintegration of the human into the divine. This is called deification or theosis, and this is Christ’s gift to man, which was a gift of Himself, since he would become the gateway to Divinity, and stated as much by saying that ‘no one comes to the Father but through me.’

We will pause here to note that the founders of the various religions (at least those who acknowledge a founder) general describe themselves in this way, each claiming by this their status as personification of the Logos. And so the Buddha “He who sees the Dharma sees me, and he who sees me sees the Dharma,” while Muhammad said, “He that hath seen me, hath seen God.”

He blazed for all them the trail to do the same, and called them forth to travel it in imitation of Him. What Christ accomplished, all are invited to accomplish in Him and through Him and by Him.

Here again we will point out that as Christians we are not merely following the moral precepts of a teacher, but are called to become Christs. We are called to repeat within ourselves the drama of the Passion, participating in Christ’s work by becoming integrated into Him and through Him with the Absolute, being as he is the only possibly means of achieving this union.

The ultimate goal of the mystical way is aptly summarized in section 460 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the gravity of which cannot be overstated (numbered footnotes are mine):

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:[3] “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”[4] “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”[5] “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”[6]

Now we must conclude: either the Church and the Fathers of the Church are prone to an exaggeration that borders on recklessness, or else there is a deifying reality present in Christian salvation that is a bit more profound than the common understanding of the term, as some kind of legal pardon, would lead us to believe. This necessitates at least brief mention of theosis, or divinization.

[1] John 1:1-16.

[2] John 14:6-9.

[3] 1 Peter 1:4.

[4] St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres. 3, 19, 1.

[5] St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3.

[6] St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

Theosis and the Logos

The doctrine of the Logos as it pertains to mystical union can be diagramed as follows:

—“Beyond Being” (Divine Essence, Supra-Personal God)

God (the Uncreated)

—“Being” (Personal God, Creator, Judge) – Uncreated Logos

—Jesus Christ as God-man, Logos as bridge

—man as Prophet, personifying truth and virtue, “Universal Man”—Created Logos

man (the created)

—fallen, individual man

This serves to demonstrate the predicament of man in terms of his separation from God, and the degrees of separation themselves, as well as the position of Christ and his two natures—created and uncreated.

Man must proceed first from his status as fallen to that of regenerated man, at which point he becomes born again as Prophet and as a participant in the created Logos. From this point, however, in order to truly achieve salvation and ultimately the deifying union of theosis, a transfiguration must occur which would move him from the created to the uncreated. This bridge is Christ, who is both uncreated and created Logos. It is this bridge that can take man into the uncreated and to God.

The three stages of the spiritual life

If we turn now to the three stages of the spiritual life commonly taught in the Church, we find that these can be superimposed visually onto this diagram, allowing us to merge the one schematic onto the other, helping to form a complete picture of what is in question, metaphysically and with respect to the Logos, at each stage.

The first, or purgative stage, is the move of the carnal man toward the created Logos, occurring after recognizing it as such; the second stage, perfection or illumination as it is called, is the process of integration with the created Logos, utilizing as we should expect practices that imitate Jesus and invoke the holy name; it is this integration which makes possible the union which is the third stage, whereby we come into contact with the Uncreated.

Art without science is nothing

Remember always that art without science is nothing, and that a sacred art, which is mystical method and experience, depends upon sacred science, which is the truth around which it revolves. One cannot accomplish a thing if one does not know what one is really trying to accomplish.

The temperaments and their corresponding weaknesses

While the jnana will emphasize the objective aspects of the mystical way, proceeding as he must through intellection, the passional man or bhakti will emphasize the aspects of ‘longing’ and tend to conceive of the journey in subjective terms, and here we can point to the common imagery of the lover longing for the beloved.

Each of these are valid, and the weaknesses of each are implicit in the aspects of the mystical way that they ignore: the jnana will tend to fixate on doctrine and knowledge of God and will easily neglect to put these realities into practice, and may neglect method altogether as below him. This of course has disastrous consequences, since, although St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that virtue is not directly related to contemplation, it is how we dispose ourselves to it, and to allow oneself to be indisposed to contemplation of the truth is completely undermining to the jnana.

On the other hand, the bhakti will fixate on the subjective aspects of the journey and may tend to ignore doctrine, insisting on the sufficiency of their ‘personal relationship’ with Christ, and in many cases by fueling the passions due to an incorrect identification of passion with mystical experience itself. Additionally, the bhakti will be far more likely to deny the legitimacy of the jnana on the grounds that it is ‘coldly intellectual’ and lacks love, merely because the love of the jnana has a different appearance, for love expressed by a jnana may be unrecognizable to a bhakti, since it is produced via a different mode of spiritual realization.

The invocation of the Divine Name as a universal method

Having provided an overview of the doctrine of the Logos which is at the center of Christian spiritual realization, we are in a position to understand the significance of the universal practice of invocation of the Divine Name, which in this context is Jesus Christ. This leads naturally to a discussion of Hesychasm in the East and its Western counterpart: the Rosary. However, before we delve directly into Hesychasm it will help us to situate this Christian method within the context of invocation as a universal practice, and to explain how appropriate this is to the Kali Yuga.

To begin with, the New Testament instructs believers: “in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.” This along with the injunction to “pray without ceasing” are the basic principles of the Hesychast, and they have their correspondences in other traditions, namely Amidism and Sikhism.

In Hinduism we can refer to yoga, which is something quite different than what goes under the same name in the West. What we encounter in the West, which involves a regimen of exercises and physical postures with an eye toward concentration and calm. These actions are derived from the traditional yoga of India, but they are its most external aspect and are derived from only one of its parts, called hatha-yoga. Yoga means literally ‘union,’ and this is why the individual who has achieved spiritual union in this life is called a ‘yogi’. Thus, yoga is not limited to a set of physical postures but is rather a doctrine and an orthodox ‘point of view’ in Hinduism itself. In addition to hatha-yoga, which should be seen as a kind of preparatory practice designed to remove any physical barriers to contemplation,  there is also raja-yoga, the ‘royal art,’ which is more directly concerned with spiritual. More to the point of our discussion here, we also find japa-yoga, which is nothing other than ‘prayer without ceasing’ through the use of a mantra or formula involving the Divine Name.

In Japan, the corresponding practice is called Nembutsu, while in Islam we can refer to dhikr Allah, the ‘remembrance of God’ involving, again, the invocation of His Name.

Invocation and its appropriateness to the Dark Age

Everything centers are the repetition of this name and its integration into the spiritual life.

Now this practice is effective in itself, and under any conditions on the basis of the universal doctrine of the Logos. However, we can further remark that this method is more strongly recommended for our age due to the fact that it can be put into practice by any believer at any time in any place, and as a means of counteracting the disintegrating conditions that are perpetually at work on the world. In other words, invocation is a balm for the believer in the Dark Age, when confusion seems to reign both inside the soul and around it.

It is precisely this idea which we find enunciated by one Sikh guru:

Now, the Dark Age of Kali Yuga has come.

Plant the Naam, the Name of the One Lord.

It is not the season to plant other seeds.

Do not wander lost in doubt and delusion.

And in the Hindu text Vishnu-Dharma-Uttara, we find the same:

That which is obtained by meditation in the age of Krita, by sacrifice in the age of Treta, by devotion in the age of Dwapara, is obtained in the Kali age by celebrating Keshava [Vishnu].

The repetition of His Name, O Maitreya, is for faults the equivalent of fire for metals.

Water suffices to put out fire, the sunrise to disperse the darkness; in the Kali age the repetition of the Name of Hari [Vishnu] suffices to destroy all errors.

Such is the power of the Divine Name. But to solidify the importance of this invocation not merely in the abstract but within the context of the Dark Age, I will provide another citation, this time of Buddhist origin:

In the present age, which belongs to the fourth half-millennium after Buddha, what we have to do is to repent of our transgressions, cultivate the virtues, and pronounce the Name of Buddha. Is it not said that to think of the Buddha Amitabha and to pronounce His Name…purifies us of all transgressions committed by us in all our lives during eighty thousand million kalpas?

The devotee must utter without interruptions [‘pray without ceasing’] the Name of Buddha with one sole thought, leaving no room in his mind for anything else, and he is then sure to be reborn in the presence of Buddha.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Hesychasm or the recitation of the Rosary could, conceivably, replace even the sacramental economy in the end, when there is nowhere left to turn but to the invocation of the Divine Name. This idea seems to recall the words of the prophet Joel: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come, but whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.”

Regardless, we should not see this method as a ‘last resort’ that is thereby inferior, but as a means of grace made universally available to those who employ it, and this is why it is said in the Manava-Dharma-Shastra:

There is no doubt that a Brahmin can attain to Beatitude by invocation alone.

Finally, for the sake of completeness, we will offer a sample from the Islamic doctrine:

Remember Me, and I will remember you.

It is certain that the invocation of Allah is of all things the greatest.

Allah leads to Himself all those who turn to Him, who believe in Him, and whose hearts have rest in the invocation of Allah; is it not by the invocation of Allah that hearts find rest?

And from an ahadith, the content of which should be familiar to Christians who recall Christs words about believers who are ‘gathered in my name’:

Whenever men gather together to invoke Allah, they are surrounded by Angels, the Divine Favor envelops them, and Peace descends upon them, and Allah remembers them in His assembly.

The example of Hesychasm

We repeat again the command of the New Testament: “in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

On the basis of this command an entire method has been elaborated, finding its fullest Christian expression in Hesychasm, which is summarized St. John Damascene:

We must learn to invoke God’s Name more often than we breath, at all times and everywhere and during all our labors. The Apostle says: Pray without ceasing, which is to say that we must remember God all the time, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

And again:

The most important means in the life of prayer is the Name of God invoked in prayer. Ascetics and all who lead a life of prayer from the anchorites of the Egyptian desert to the Hesychasts of Mount Athos…insist above all on the importance of the Name of God. Apart from the Offices there exists for all the Orthodox a “rule of prayer,” composed of psalms and different orisons; for monks it is much more considerable. But the most important thing in prayer, the thing that constitutes its very heart, is what is named the Prayer of Jesus: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have pity on me, a sinner.” The repetition of this prayer hundreds of times, and even indefinitely, is the essential element of every monastic rule of prayer. It can, if necessary, replace the Offices and all the other prayers, since its value is universal. The power of the prayer does not reside in its content. which is simple and clear (it is the prayer of the tax;. gatherer). but in the sweet Name of Jesus. The ascetics bear witness that this Name contains the power of the Presence of God. Not only is God invoked by this Name-He is already present in the invocation. This can certainly be said of every Name of God: but it is true above all of the Divine and human Name of Jesus. which is the proper Name of God and of man. In short. the Name of Jesus present in the human heart communicates to it the power of deification accorded to us by the Redeemer.

The Name of Jesus is not only light. It is also nourishment. All food is too dry to be assimilated by the soul if it is not first sweetened by this condiment it is too insipid unless this salt seasons its tastelessness. I have no taste for thy writings if l cannot read this Name there: no taste for thy discourse if I do not hear it resounding therein. It is honey for my mouth, melody for my ears, joy for my heart, but it is also a medicine. Does any one among you feel overcome with sadness? Let him then taste Jesus in his mouth and heart, and behold how before the light of His Name all clouds vanish and the sky again becomes serene. Has one among you allowed himself to be led into a fault, and is he experiencing the temptation of despair? Let him invoke the Name of the Life and the Life will restore him.[1]

The power of the Hesychast doctrine is in the invocation of the Divine Name, which is not like the repetition of any other name. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2666):

The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies.

We find the same principle in the following Amidist texts, which emphasize the ‘bhaktic’ nature of Christianity in addition to the power of the Divine Name:

The invocation of the holy Name must be accompanied by an absolute sincerity of heart and the most complete faith in the goodness of Amida. whose will it is that all creatures should be saved. In place of virtues. in place of knowledge, Amida, taking pity on the men of the ··Latter Days,” has allowed that there be substituted faith in the redemptive value of His Grace, in order that they may be delivered from the sufferings of the world We are all equal by the effect of our common faith and of our confidence in the Grace of Amida Buddha Every creature, however great a sinner he may be, is certain of being saved and enfolded in the light of Amida and of obtaining a place in the eternal and imperishable Land of Happiness. if only he believes in the Name of Amida Buddha and abandoning the present and future cares of the world takes refuge in the liberating Hands so mercifully stretched out toward all creatures. reciting His Name with an entire sincerity of heart We know the Name of Amida through the preaching of Shakyamuni. and we know that included in this Name is the strength of Amida’s desire to save all creatures. To hear this Name is to hear the voice of Salvation saying. ··Have confidence in Me and I shall surely save you.” words that Amida addresses to us directly. This meaning is contained in the Name “Amida.” Whereas all our other actions are more or less stained with impurity, the repetition of the Namu-Amida is an act devoid of all impurity, for it is not we who recite it but Amida Himself who, giving us His own Name, makes us repeat It When once belief in our salvation by Am ida has been awakened and strengthened our destiny is fixed: we shall be reborn in the Pure Land and shall become Buddhas. Then. it is said we shall be entirely enfolded in the Light of Amida and living under His loving direction. our life will be filled with joy unspeakable, gift of the Buddha.[2]

And again,

The original vow of Amida is to receive in his Land of Felicity whoever shall pronounce His Name with absolute confidence: happy then are those who pronounce His Name! A man may possess faith, but if he does not pronounce the Name his faith will be of no use to him. Another may pronounce the Name while thinking of that alone, but if his faith is not sufficiently deep, his re-birth will not take place. But he who believes firmly in re-birth as the goal of nembutsu [invocation) and who pronounces the Name, the same will without any doubt be reborn in the Land of Reward.[3]

Although Amida Buddhism emphasizes the most clearly, the same teaching is present throughout the Buddhist world.

Since, according to most Traditions, the central ‘organ of the spirit’ is the heart, rather than the mind, the repetition of the Divine Name should not be taken as an attempt to fixate on an idea, but rather to create a kind of inner focusing of the will as well, with the ultimate goal of union and identity with the Divine name being uttered.

The formula for the Hesychast practice is usually: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In meditation, the first half of the phrase would be timed during inhaling through the nose, while the second half would come while exhaling through the mouth.

Since the Name of the Lord is identical to the Lord Himself, to invoke it is a supernatural act. That is why it is said that the Prayer of Jesus surpasses all the virtues in excellence.

We can summarize by citing St. John Chrysostom’s Epistle to Monachos:

Persevere unceasingly in the Name of our Lord Jesus that thy heart may drink the Lord and the Lord may drink thy heart, to the end that in this manner the two may become one.

The supreme state toward which the Jesus Prayer guides us is the ‘Holy Silence,’ which corresponds to the nirvana of the Hindus and Buddhists as well as the Sufic fana, both of these latter terms meaning ‘extinction,’ which is appropriate since it is the extinction of the superficial self that is in question when we become identified with the true Self.

[1] Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles, 15.

[2] E. Steinilber-Oberlin and Kuni Matsuo in Les Sectes bouddhiques japonaises.

[3] D.T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism.

The Jesus Prayer in the West, and the Rosary

In the West there are practices analogous to Hesychasm, going so far back as the medieval period and through figures such as Anselm of Canterbury. Pope Gregory X provided official recognition of this style of veneration at the Council of Lyons in 1274.

Centuries later we find a significant elaboration on this theme in the person of Maria Consolata who experienced visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was instructed through them to recite: ‘Jesus, Mary, I love you! Save souls!’ Her Jesu-Maria recitation became very popular alongside her promotion of the Rosary as an instrument of mystical practice. This instance brings us to the part of the Rosary in the Western Church and the emphasis on Marian devotion in general.

Our intent is to discuss the Mystery of the Virgin more thoroughly in a section dedicated to that purpose, so here it will suffice to say that the Rosary is ‘the Jesus Prayer of the Western Church,’ and this implies certain nuances, not only doctrinally due to the meaning of the Marian mystery that is involved, but also methodologically, since alongside the recitation of the Rosary we find a highly developed collection of images (the ‘mysteries’) that are adopted as a point of focus.