a1 Weston School of Theology, Massachusetts
Are mystical states essentially ‘everywhere the same’? Though this question is notoriously obscure and difficult to answer, many contemporary writers on mysticism seem to favour an affirmative response to it, for a variety of reasons. First of all, some are impressed by the undeniable similarity in the testimony of mystics from widely divergent backgrounds and cultures; like most readers of mystical literature, they are deeply struck by the degree of apparent consensus between Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist contemplatives, for example. Secondly, there is a commendable desire in recent times to adopt a more positive and open-minded approach to other religions, and to acknowledge the value of their spiritual traditions; consequently, Christian authors today tend to focus on the common elements in Christian and non-Christian spiritualities, downplaying any differences. In the third place, those who wish to defend the cognitive value of mystical experiences on the basis of the ‘universal agreement’ of mystics will naturally maintain that there is a fundamental unanimity behind their different reports.
* I am grateful to Professor Allen Wood for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.