MD FW: 'unmediated experience'

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Mon Apr 07 2003 - 02:54:55 BST

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    Sam and all:

    Sam said:
    I thought I would send you this paper, which I wrote a few years back, on
    "The possibility and relevance of unmediated experience". I still agree with
    what I wrote then, although I think my understandings have a long way to go
    yet. ... It might help our discussions.

    DMB says:
    Thanks for making your paper available. I think its exciting and interesting
    even though I (naturally) mostly disagree. I'd like to respond on many
    points, especially to your take on the perennial philosophy, Kuhn and
    Jantzen, but for now let's take a look at these three exerpts from the

    "I would put the case more strongly: unless these experiences are able to be
    absorbed and valued by a religious community, then they are irrelevant to
    "However, the existence of unmediated experience is, of itself, not
    religiously significant."

    "The fruits of mystical contemplation were to be found in increased social
    engagement - in the search for justice and mercy in the wider social sphere,
    hence the concern for the relief of poverty on the part of the mendicant
    orders and the Beguines."

    DMB continues:
    How you square the first two with the third one is a mystery to me, but what
    I really wonder about, and object to, are the ideas that mystical experience
    is "irrelevant to theology", "not religiously significant" and that the
    fruits of it are "to be found in increased social engagement".

    In the first two you seem to be demanding that these experiences are only
    relevant and valuable to the extent that they are domesticated by
    theological doctrine. I'd agree that the trick is translating the experience
    into a lasting improvment, a real impact on the experiencer, but you seem
    too willing to dismiss it on these grounds. If its irrelevant to theology,
    but vital to one's spiritual life, then I'd say that's exactly what's wrong
    with theology.

    I have more sympathy for the third, but that only means I hate it less. :-)

    I do go along with the notions that humanity's highest and most nobel
    sentiments are born in the mystical experience, that it opens the human
    heart to the value of compassion, justice, mercy, and the like. But I think
    your emphasis on the "social sphere" trivalizes it a bit. I mean, feeding
    the poor is a noble and compassionate thing to do and any sane person would
    applaude it, if not engage in it themselves too. But compared to the kind of
    deep compassion that's born out of identifying with the Ground of Being....

    I think you've misread Jantzen to make this point. She says....

    'Instead of referring to the central, if hidden, reality of scripture or
    sacrament, the idea of "mysticism" has been subjectivised beyond
    recognition, so that it is thought of in terms of states of consciousness or

    You characterize this as a "transition from the public realm to private
    sensation", but I don't think that's what she's saying at all. I think its
    clear that she's refering to the loss of mysticism is the central and hidden
    reality of the scripture and sacrament, and that this realization has been
    lost, relegating mysticism to the realm of the "merely" subjective.

    'It was only with the development of the secular state, when religious
    experience was no longer perceived as a source of knowledge and power, that
    it became safe to allow women to be mystics...The decline of gender as an
    issue in the definition of who should count as a mystic was in direct
    relation to the decline in the perception of mystical experience, and
    religion generally, as politically powerful'.

    I the paper, this quote is presented right after you say, "so part of the
    effect of this shift has been to minimise the impact of women's voices". I
    disagree with this characterization too. I think she's just saying that
    women were allowed into the club only after the club came to be seen as
    unimportant and powerless. The issue became moot because there wasn't
    anything left worth protecting from women. At about this same time, kooties
    were declared theologically invalid at the council of sugar and spice. Since
    then, women have been increasingly accepted into mystical orders, are
    published in the field and in the more liberal demoninations, it is even
    admitted that some women are "kinda cute".

    In short, I think the central importance of the mystical experience to all
    the great religions can hardly be overstated. I think the mystical
    experience is the goal of everyone's spiritual adventure. As Campbell

    All, mythology, whether of the folk or of the literati, preserves the
    iconography of a spiritual adventure that men have been accomplishing
    repeatedly for millennia, and which, whenever it occurs, reveals such
    constant features that the innumerable mythologies of the world resemble
    each other as dialects of a single language.

    And that myth and religion is supposed to support and guide us in that
    adventure, to awaken in us the realization - Thou art that.
    Thanks. For you're time.


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