Terence Stace is the most frequently quoted expert when
defining mysticism. An English-born philosopher, teaching
at Princeton (1932–55) Stace wrote on mysticism after
his retirement in 1955. His most famous work on this subject,
Mysticism and Philosophy (1960), was book of schloarship
with less emphasis on the mystical experience than one
might assume from the title. Fortunately, in the same
year, Stace published a book for general audiences, The
Teachings of the Mystics. This publication included
Stace's thoughts on mystical experience, a few examples
of that experience, and a wide ranging collection of writings
on mystical philosophy gathered from the world's literature.
Below are highlights from
his introductory chapter in The Teachings of the
Mystics. This introduction clearly shows that Stace
was a "purist" in that he did not honor beginning
or intermediate states people experience along the path
to full mystical experience. Visions, voices, insights,
or powerful dreams are not mystical experience as he
defines it. Only a "nonsensuous and nonintellectual"
union fits his definition.
A Mystic is a Mystic
- "By the word "mystic"
I shall always mean a person who himself has had mystical
experience. Often the word is used in a much wider
and looser way. Anyone who is sympathetic to mysticism
is apt to be labeled a mystic. But I shall use the
word always in a stricter sense. However sympathetic
toward mysticism a man may be, however deeply interested,
involved, enthusiastic, or learned in the subject,
he will not be called a mystic unless he has, or has
had, mystical experience. (p.9)"
Some things which mysticism
- "The word mysticism"
is popularly used in a variety of loose and inaccurate
ways. Sometimes anything is called "mystical"
which is misty, foggy, vague, or sloppy. It is absurd
that "mysticism" should be associated with
what is "misty" because of the similar sound
of the words. And there is nothing misty, foggy, vague,
or sloppy about mysticism.
- A second absurd association
is to suppose that mysticism is sort of mystery-mongering.
There is, of course, an etymological connection between
"mysticism" and "mystery." But
mysticism is not any sort of hocus-pocus such as we
commonly associate with claims to be the elucidation
of sensational mysteries. Mysticism is not the same
as what is commonly called the "occult"...Nor
doe it include what are commonly called parapsychological
phenomena such as telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance,
precognition. These are not mystical phenomena. It
is perhaps true that mystics may sometimes claim to
possess such special powers, but even when they do
so they are well aware that such powers are not part
of, and are to be clearly distinguished from, their
mystical experience. (pp.10-11)
- Finally, it is most
important to realize that visions and voices are not
mystical phenomena, though here again it seems to
be the case that the sort of persons who are mystics
may often be the sort of persons who see visions and
hear voices...And there are, one must add, good reasons
for this. What mystics say is that a genuine mystical
experience is nonsensuous. It is formless, shapeless,
colorless, odorless, soundless. But a vision is a
piece of visual imagery having color and shape. A
voice is an auditory image. Visions and voices are
sensuous experiences. (pp. 10-12)"
The Central Characteristic
- "The most important,
the central characteristic in which all fully developed
mystical experiences agree, and which in the last
analysis is definitive of them and serves to mark
them off from other kinds of experiences, is that
they involve the apprehension of an ultimate nonsensuous
unity in all things, a oneness or a One to which neither
the senses nor the reason can penetrate. In other
words, it entirely transcends our sensory-intellectual
- It should be carefully
noted that only fully developed mystical experiences
are necessarily apprehensive of the One. Many experiences
have been recorded which lack this central feature
but yet possess other mystical characteristics. These
are borderline cases, which may be said to shade off
from the central core of cases. They have to the central
core the relation which some philosophers like to
call "family resemblance. (pp.14-15)"
Two Types of Mystical
- "One may be called
extrovertive mystical experience, the other introvertive
mystical experience. Both are apprehensions of the
One, but they reach it in different ways. The extrovertive
way looks outward and through the physical senses
into the external world and finds the One there. The
introvertive way turns inward, introspectively, and
finds the One at the bottoom of the self, at the bottom
of human personality. The latter far outweighs the
former in importance both in the history of mysticism
and in the history of human thought generally. The
introvertive way is the major strand in the history
of mysticism, the extrovertive way a minor strand.
- The extrovertive mystic
with his physical senses continues to perceive the
same world of trees and hills and tables and chairs
as the rest of us. But he sees these objects transfigured
in such manner that the Unity shines through them.
Because it includes ordinary sense perceptions, it
only partially realizes the description...(that is,
an experience of complete unity)...It is suggested
that the extrovertive type of experience is a kind
of halfway house to the introvertive. For the introvertive
experience is wholly nonsensuous and nonintellectual.
But the extrovertive experience is sensory-intellectual
in so far as it still perceives physical objects but
is nonsensuous and nonintellectual in so far as it
perceives them as "all one."
- Introvertive mysticism..."Now
it happens to be the case that this total suppression
of the whole empirical content of consciousness is
precisely what the introvertive mystic claims to achieve.
And he claims that what happens is not that all consciousness
disappears but that only the ordinary sensory-intellectual
consciousnessness disappears and is replaced by an
entirely new kind of consciousness, the mystical consciousness."
- "Of the introvertive
mystical consciousness the Mandukya (Upanishad) says
that it is "beyond the senses, beyond the understanding,
beyond all expression...It is the pure unitary consciousness,
wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity
is completely obliterated. It is ineffable peace.
It is the Supreme Good. It is One without a second.
It is the Self.""..."Not only in Christianity
and Hinduism but everywhere else we find that the
essence of this experience is that it is an undifferentiated
unity, though each culture and each religion interprets
this undifferentiated unity in terms of its own creeds
and dogmas." (p.20-21)
Stace, Walter T. The
Teachings of the Mystics, (New York:The New American
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