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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds

Nature, And The Absolute

As just stated, metaphysics and theology are to be avoided. But
since Mysticism is generally associated with belief in an
Unconditioned Absolute, and since such an Absolute is fatal to
the claims of any genuine Nature Mysticism, a preliminary
flying incursion into the perilous regions must be ventured.

Mysticism in its larger sense is admittedly difficult to define. It
connotes a vast group of special experiences and speculations
which deal with material supposed to be beyond the reach of
sense and reason. It carries us back to the strangely illusive
"mysteries" of the Greeks, but is more definitely used in
connection with the most characteristic subtleties of the wizard
East, and with certain developments of the Platonic philosophy.
Extended exposition is not required. Suffice it to state what may
fairly be regarded as the three fundamental principles, or
doctrines, on which mystics of the orthodox schools generally
depend. These principles will be subjected to a free but friendly
criticism: considerable modifications will be suggested, and the
way thus prepared for the study of Nature Mysticism properly

The three principles alluded to are the following. First, the true
mystic is one possessed by a desire to have communion with the
ultimately Real. Second, the ultimately Real is to be regarded as
a supersensuous, super-rational, and unconditional Absolute--
the mystic One. Third, the direct communion for which the
mystic yearns--the _unio mystica_--cannot be attained save by
passive contemplation, resulting in vision, insight, or ecstasy.

With a view to giving a definite and concrete turn to the critical
examination of these three fundamentals, let us take a passage
from a recently published booklet. The author tells how that on
a certain sunny afternoon he flung himself down on the bank of
a brimming mill-stream. The weir was smoothly flowing: the
mill-wheel still. He meditates on the scene and concludes thus:
"Perhaps we are never so receptive as when with folded hands
we say simply, 'This is a great mystery.' I watched and
wondered until Jem called, and I had to leave the rippling weir
and the water's side, and the wheel with its untold secret."

There are certain forms, or modes, of experience here presented
which are at least mystical in their tendency--the sense of a
deeper reality than that which can be grasped by conscious
reason--a desire to penetrate a secret that will not yield itself to
articulate thought and which nevertheless leaves a definite
impress on the mind. There is also a recognition of the passive
attitude which the ordinary mystic doctrine avers to be essential
to vision. Will these features warrant our regarding the
experiences as genuinely mystical?

The answer to this question brings into bold relief a vital
difference between orthodox mystics and those here called
nature-mystics, and raises the issue on which the very existence
of a valid Nature Mysticism must depend. The stricter schools
would unhesitatingly refuse to accord to such experiences the
right to rank with those which result in true insight. Why?
Because they obviously rest on sense impressions. An English
mystic, for example, states in a recent article that Mysticism is
always and necessarily extra-phenomenal, and that the man who
tries to elucidate the visible by means of the invisible is no true
mystic; still less, of course, the man who tries to elucidate the
invisible by means of the visible. The true mystic, he says, fixes
his eyes on eternity and the infinite; he loses himself when he
becomes entangled in the things of time, that is, in the
phenomenal. Still more explicit is the statement of a famous
modern Yogi. "This world is a delusive charm of the great
magician called Maya. . . . Maya has imagined infinite illusions
called the different things in the universe. . . . The minds which
have not attained to the Highest, and are a prey to natural
beauties in the stage of Maya, will continually have to turn into
various forms, from one to another, because nothing in the stage
of Maya is stable." Nor would the Christian mystics allow of
any intermediaries between the soul and God; they most of
them held that the soul must rise above the things of sense,
mount into another sphere, and be "alone with the Alone."

What, then, is the concept of the ultimately Real which these
stricter mystics have evolved and are prepared to defend? It is
that of pure and unconditioned Being--the One--the Absolute.
By a ruthless process of abstraction they have abjured the world
of sense to vow allegiance to a mode of being of which nothing
can be said without denying it. For even to allow a shadow of
finiteness in the Absolute is to negate it; to define it is to
annihilate it! It swallows up all conditions and relations without
becoming any more knowable; it embraces everything and
remains a pure negation. It lies totally and eternally beyond the
reach of man's faculties and yet demands his perfect and
unreasoning surrender. A concept, this, born of the brains of
logical Don Quixotes.

And it is for such a monstrous abstraction we are asked to give
up the full rich world of sense, with all it means to us. It is
surely not an intellectual weakness to say: "Tell us what you
will of existence above and beyond that which is known to us;
but do not deny some measure of ultimate Reality to that which
falls within our ken. Leave us not alone with the Absolute of the
orthodox mystic, or we perish of inanity! Clearly the _elan
vital_--the will to live--gives us a more hopeful starting-point in
our search for the Real. Clearly the inexhaustible variety of the
universe of sense need not be dubbed an illusion to save the
consistency of a logic which has not yet succeeded in grasping
its own first principles. No, the rippling weir and the mill-wheel
were real in their own degree, and the intuitions and emotions
they prompted were the outcome of a contact between the inner
and the outer--a _unio mystica_--a communion between the
soul of a man and the soul in the things he saw.

"But" (says the orthodox mystic) "there is a special form of
craving--the craving for the Infinite. Man cannot find rest
save in communion with a supreme Reality free from all
imperfections and limitations; and such a Reality can be found
in nothing less than the Unconditioned Absolute." Now we may
grant the existence and even the legitimacy of the craving thus
emphatically asserted while questioning the form which it is
made to assume. The man gazing at the mill-wheel longed to
know its secret. Suppose he had succeeded! We think of
Tennyson's "little flower in the crannied wall." We think of
Blake's lines:

"To see the world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."

Is it really necessary to forsake the finite to reach the infinite--
whatever that term may be taken to mean? Do we not often
better realise the infinity of the sky by looking at it through the
twigs of a tree?

For the craving itself, in its old mystic form, we can have
nothing but sympathy. Some of its expressions are wonderfully
touching, but their pathos must not blind us to the maimed
character of the world-view on which they rest. Grant that the
sphere of sense is limited and therefore imperfect, let it at any
rate be valid up to the limit it does actually attain. The rippling
weir and the mill-wheel did produce some sort of effect upon
the beholder, and therefore must have been to that extent real.
What do we gain by flinging away the chance to learn, even
though the gain be small? And if, as the nature-mystic claims,
the gain be great, the folly is proportionately intensified.

Coleridge is quoted as an exponent of the feeling of the stricter

"It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On the green light that lingers in the West;
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life whose fountains are within."

This, however, is too gentle and hesitating, too tinged with love
of nature, to convey the fierce conviction of the consistent
devotee of the Absolute, of the defecated transparency of pure
Being. If, as is urged by Recejac, we find among some of the
stricter mystics a very deep and naive feeling for nature, such
feeling can only be a sign of inconsistency, a yielding to the
solicitations of the lower nature. Granted their premisses, the
world of sense can teach nothing. It is well to face this issue
squarely--let the mystic choose, either the Absolute and Maya,
or a Ground of existence which can allow value to nature, and
which therefore admits of limitations. Or, if there is to be a
compromise, let it be on the lines laid down by Spinoza and
Schelling. That is to say, let the name God be reserved for the
phenomenal aspect of the Absolute. But the nature-mystic will
be wise if he discards compromise, and once for all repudiates
the Unconditioned Absolute. His reason can then chime in with
his intuitions and his deepest emotions. He loses nothing; he
gains intellectual peace and natural joy.

The never-ceasing influence of the genuine Real is bound to
declare itself sooner or later. Buddhism itself is yielding, as
witness this striking pronouncement of the Buddhist Lord
Abbot, Soyen Shaku. "Buddhism does not, though sometimes
understood by Western people to do so, advocate the doctrine of
emptiness or annihilation. It most assuredly recognises the
multi-tudinousness and reality of phenomena. This world as it
is, is real, not void. This life, as we live it, is true, and not
a dream. We Buddhists believe that all these particular things
surrounding us come from one Ultimate Source, all-knowing
and all-loving. The world is the manifestation of this Reason, or
Spirit, or Life, whatever you may designate it. However diverse,
therefore, things are, they all partake of the nature of the
Ultimate Being. Not only sentient beings, but non-sentient,
reflect the glory of the Original Reason."

Assuredly a comforting passage to set over against that of the
Yogi quoted above! But is not the good Abbot a little hard on
the Westerners? For the full truth is that while the Yogi
represents the old Absolutism, the Abbot is feeling his way to a
wider and more human world-view. Buddhism has evidently
better days in store. Let our views of ultimate Reality be what
they may, the nature-mystic's position demands not only that
man may hold communion with nature, but that, in and through
such communion, he is in living touch with the Ground of

Next: Mystic Intuition And Reason

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