St Teresa explains away doubts about her mysticism by saying, “All that I know is that I tell the truth; and I shall never believe that any soul who does not possess this certainty has ever been really united to God” (qtd. in James 410).
Likewise, the philosopher William James reproaches scepticism, describing it as “embarking on a sea of wanton doubt,” and he condemned rationalism as “superficial” (72-73, 332). He explains that mystical experience is “… Something in you absolutely know that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalist talk, however clever” (73).
Gary Zukav writes in The Dancing Wu Li Masters, “Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of western religion and by extension rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of western science” (110-11). We find a remarkable difference in religions like Buddhism, where practitioners are invited to test the teachings with the utmost scrutiny. The Buddha told his arahants not to rely on hearsay, tradition, respect for some guru, or adherence to some theory, but to experience for themselves the efficacy of his teachings. Gnostic Christians expressed similar teachings. As Elaine Pagels writes in her book The Gnostic Gospels,
“The gnostic understands Christ’s message not as offering a set of answers, but as encouragement to engage in a process of searching …
Those who merely believe the preaching they hear, without asking questions, and who accept the worship set before them, not only remain ignorant of themselves, but ‘if they find someone else who asks about his salvation,’ they act immediately to censor and silence him (112-13). Gnostics, Buddhists, and a large number of other traditions point to our ignorance, not our lack of blind faith, as the cause of our suffering. Whereas mainstream Western traditions often suggest and promote ignorant faith, Buddhism seeks to eradicate it so that faith is no longer necessary. Many parts of eastern traditions do not contradict a sceptical worldview and yet they interestingly get placed in the “Religious Realm” that the sceptics have labelled unscientific.”
As Nanananda tells us, however, “Truth, according to [the Buddha] is in no one’s custody and has no esoterism or mysticism associated with it. It is a question of ‘seeing things as they are’ and once the necessary clarity of vision is developed, one could see it in all its lucidity and limpidity in the very structure of all phenomena” (81-82). Nirvana departs from mystical states—and from James’s qualifications of them—in that it is not transient, but permanent. For one who achieves it, nirvana exists whether in the most mystical or mundane of experiences. Its realization is independent of any one experience, thought, or mind-state because it involves freedom from attachment to any one experience, thought, or mind-state.
The Buddha claimed to be no different from anyone else on Earth, except in the fact that he was awake, he had brought the practice of moment-to-moment awareness to its fullest fruition—indeed, “Buddha” means “awakened one”. He said of himself, “When I sit, I know that I am sitting; when I walk, I know that I am walking; when I eat, I know that I am eating.”
It is only through this practice of mindfulness that we can bring ourselves out of our greed, hatred, and delusion. This is one of the primary reasons that I meditate—to bring myself out of delusion and aversion. When we see these as the “objects” of our experience and not sense-objects “out there,” we will then fully understand how we participate in the creation of our reality. We will see that in our desire to explain a particular phenomenon, be it a subatomic particle, a mystical experience, or another human being, we automatically participate in its creation in our minds. We will then be in a position to change.
As the Pratyutpanna sutra says,
“A mind with conceptions is stupidity,
a mind without conceptions is nirvana.
There is nothing fixed or firm in any dharma;
They are forever located in thinking.
When one understands emptiness,
One is altogether free of conceptual thinking, perceptions and expectations.. “
“Realms are simply made by thought. Whatever I think, that I see.
The mind creates the Buddha. The mind itself sees him.
The mind is the Buddha. The mind is the Tathagata.
The mind is my body, the mind sees the Buddha. “
James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Penguin Books, 1982.
Nanananda, Bhikkhu. The Magic of the Mind. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1974.
Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Random House, 1979.