The Monistic Theory
by Nhân Tử Nguyễn Văn Thọ
the Monistic Theory
There is an intimate link between the
Monistic and Emanation theory with Mysticism. One can say that, if the
Emanation Theory is the Tree of Life, Mysticism is its fruit. On the one
hand, the Monistic Theory is elaborated and formulated by Mystics who
are at the same time philosophers, and on the other hand, the Monistic
Theory can help people realize Mysticism or Union with God.
The Monistic theory formulates that the
external world is proceeding progressively from the One, while Mysticism
proclaims that everything must return to the One. Both form the great
circle of world changes and englobes everything in themselves.
The Monistic Theory is the way of
creation, it is extrovert, while Mysticism is the way of re-creation, it
Mysticism, put simply, is selfless,
direct, transcendent, unitive experience of God or Ultimate Reality, and
the experiencer's interpretation of that experience.
"It is a change whereby that self turns
from the unreal world of sense in which it is normally immersed, first
to apprehend, then to unite itself with Absolute Reality: finally,
possessed by and wholly surrendered to this Transcendent Life, becomes a
medium whereby the spiritual world is seen in a unique degree operating
directly in the world of sense. In other words, we are to see the human
mind advance from the mere perception of phenomena, through the
intuition - with occasional contact - of the Absolute under its aspect
of Divine Transcendence, to the entire realization of, and union with,
Absolute Life under its aspect of Divine Immanence.
The completed mystical life, then, is more
than intuitive: it is theopathetic. In the old, frank language of the
mystics, it is the deified life."
AL-Ghazali comments: "When the mystic
enters into the pure and absolute Oneness of the One and into the
Kingdom of the One and Alone, mortals reach the end of their ascent...
No higher ascent for the soul is possible, for there is no height beyond
the highest and no multiplicity in the face of the Unity..."
This Unitive life is rendered in verses by
"With Thy Sweet Soul, this soul of mine
Hath mixed as Water doth with Wine.
Who can the Wine and Water part,
Or me and Thee when we combine?
Thou art become my greater self,
Small bounds no more can me confine.
Thou hast my being taken on,
And shall not I now take on Thine? ..."
If a mystic is a man who seeks the one
God, the Substance of things, he is the proselyte of the Emanation
Theory. Evelyn Underhill wrote: "One can say that this view appears
early in the history of Greek philosophy. It is developed by Dionysius,
by the Kabalists, by Dante; and is implied in the language of Rulman
Merswin, St. John of the Cross and many other Christian ecstatics.
"The solar system is an almost perfect
symbol of this concept of Reality; which finds at once its most rigid
and most beautiful expression in Dante 'Paradisio'. The Absolute Godhead
is conceived as removed by a vast distance from the material world of
sense; the last or lowest of that system of dependent worlds or states
which, generated by or emanating from the Unity or Central Sun,
become less in Spirituality and Splendor, greater in multiplicity, the
further they recede from their source. That Source - the Great
Countenance of the Godhead - can never, say the Kabalists, be discerned
by man. It is the Absolute of the Neoplatonists, the Unplumbed Abyss of
later mysticism: the Cloud of Unknowing wraps it from our sight. Only by
its "emanations" or manifested attributes can we attain knowledge of it.
By the outflow of these same manifested attributes and powers the
created universe exists, depending in the last resort on the Latens
Deitas: Who is therefore conceived as external to the world which he
illuminates and vivifies."
"St. Thomas Aquinas virtually accepts the
Doctrine of Emanations when he writes: "As all perfections of Creatures
descend in order from God, who is the height of perfection, man should
begin from the lower Creatures and ascend by degrees, and so advance to
the knowledge of God... And because in that roof and crown of all
things, God, we find the most perfect unity, and everything is stronger
and more excellent the more thoroughly it is one; it follows that
diversity and variety increase in things, the further they are removed
from Him who is the first principle of all."
"Suso, whose mystical system, like that of
most Dominicans, is entirely consistent with Thomist philosophy, is
really glossing Aquinas when he writes: "The supreme and super-Essential
Spirit has ennobled man by illuminating him with a ray from the Eternal
Godhead... Hence from out the great ring, which represents the Eternal
Godhead, there flow forth... little rings, which may be taken to signify
the high nobility of natural creatures".
The theory of
Immanence is the second pillar of mysticism
"To the holder of this theory, wrote Mrs.
Evelyn Underhill, the quest of the Absolute is no long journey, but a
realization of something which is implicit in the self and in the
universe: an opening of the eyes of the soul upon the Reality in
which it is bathed... "God", says Plotinus, "is not external to anyone,
but is present with all things, though they are ignorant that He is so."
In other and older words, "The Spirit of God is within you". "The
Absolute, Whom all seek, does not hold Himself aloof from an
imperfect material universe, but dwells within the flux of things:
stands as it were at the very threshold of consciousness and knocks,
awaiting the self's slow discovery of her treasures." "He is not far
from any of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being". Aquinas
says: "Since God is the universal cause of all Being, in whatever region
Being can be found, there must be the Divine Presence." The theory of
immanence..."is the philosophical basis of that practice of
introversion, which has been the "method" of all great practical mystics
of all creeds. That God, since He is in all - in a sense, is all
- may most easily be found within our self... They claim with
Ruysbroeck, that "by a simple introspection in fruitful love",
they "meet God without intermediary." They hear the Father of Lights
"saying eternally, without intermediary or interruption, in the most
secret part of the Spirit, the one, unique, and abysmal Word."
"This discovery of a "divine" essence or
substance, dwelling, as Ruybroeck says, at the apex of man's soul is
that fundamental experience _ found in some form or degree in all
genuine mystical religion - which provides the basis of the New
Testament doctrine of the indwelling spirit. It is, variously
interpreted, the "spark of the soul" of Eckhart, the "ground" of Tauler,
the Inward Light of the Quakers, the "Divine Principle" of some modern
Transcendentalists; the fount and source of all true life. At this
point, logical exposition fails mystic and theologian alike. A tangle of
metaphors takes its place. We are face to face with the "wonder of
wonders" - that most real, yet most mysterious, of all the experiences
of religion, the union of man and divine, in a nameless
something, which is "great enough to be God, small enough to be me".
"According to the doctrine of Immanence,
creation, the universe, could we see it as it is, would be perceived
as the self-development, the self- revelation of this indwelling Deity.
"I understood", says St. Teresa, "how our
Lord was in all things, and how He was in the soul; and the illustration
of a sponge, filled of water was suggested to me."
"The world-process, then, is the slow
coming to fruition of that Divine Spark which is latent alike in the
Cosmos and in man. "If," says Boehme, "thou conceivest a small minute
circle, as small as a grain of mustard seed, yet the Heart of God is
wholly and perfectly therein: and if thou art born in God, then there is
in thyself (in the circle of thy life) the whole Heart of God
"It is worth noticing that both the
theological doctrines of reality which have been acceptable to the
mystics implicitly declare, as science does, that 'the universe is not
static but dynamic; a World of Becoming'. According to the doctrine of
Immanence, this universe is free, self-creative. The divine action
floods it: no part is more removed from the Godhead than any other part.
"God," says Eckhart, "is nearer to me than I am to myself; He is just as
near to wood and stone, but they do not know it."
Mysticism: Return to the One, Union with the One
A true mystic must be an emanationist; a
true emanationist must be a mystic.
Both start their vocation by an
illumination: The mystery of Being is revealed to them. They see
nature's secret and God in all things. They realize that the Godhead, as
Being or Essence, is manifesting itself by emanation, through all the
Thus, they start their new life by a
personal experience and not by a hearsay. After experiencing the
presence of God in their soul, they see God immanent in the world. They
declare with Eckart: "All that a man has here externally in multiplicity
is intrinsically one. Here all blades of grass, wood and stone, all
things are one." They sing with William Blake:
To see a 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.
The next step is to see the two selves
1). An individual self or the
human soul constituting with the body, the world of phenomena and of
becoming: a transient world with transient sentiments, thoughts, dreams
and imaginations, with physiological and anatomical changes, a world of
actual facts, a world of personalities and separateness.
2). An Universal or Divine Self,
constituting the world of Essence, of permanence, of eternity, of
immortality and ideal, of serenity and happiness...
If asked for the choice between the two
selves, the mystic must naturally opt for the Divine Self, and reject
the phenomenal and transitory self. This greatest event, experienced
only by greatest mystics in the world, is termed as Sudden Illumination,
or Sudden Self-Realization .
Plotinus said: "No doubt we should not
speak of seeing; but we cannot help talking in duality, seen and seer,
instead of boldly the achievement of unity. In this seeing, we neither
hold an object not trace distinction: there is no two. The man is
changed, no longer himself nor self-belonging; he is merged with the
Supreme, sunken into it, one with it...
Then, no more Thou-I relationship, no more
separateness, no more distinction, since:
" All that is not one must ever
Suffer with the wound of Absence,
And whoever in Love's city
Enters, finds but room for One
And but in One-ness, Union."
Everything external is considered by a
mystic as his companions, helping him on his way to God. A dying Hindu
ascetic expressed himself as follows:
" Oh Mother Earth, Father Sky
Brother Wind, Friend Light, Sweetheart
Here take my last salutation with
For today I am melting away into the
Because my heart became pure,
And all delusion vanished,
Through the power of your good company.
This transcendental state requires, then,
the prior loss of self, prior loss or prior death of human
self, or human soul. It is what is referred to in the Gospel as
self-denial (Mat. 16:24. Mark 8:34. Luke 9: 23). Jesus was emphatic
about that. In the Latin version of the Vulgate, he said: "Qui enim
voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdiderit eam; qui autem
perdiderit animam suam propter me, inveniet eam. (Mat. 16:26) (For
whosoever will save his soul, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his
soul for my sake, shall find it.)
This loss of the human self is termed by
Buddhists, as annihilation of personality
Sufis, as total absorption in God
Chuang Tzu, as loss of self
; by Hindu
mystics, as "that art thou"
We see that the greatest mystics always
profess the doctrine of annihilation of the ephemeral personality, of
the ephemeral self or human soul, or of the limited personality, and
they are reluctant to use the term "perfecting of personality", or
transformation of the self into God, because, according to their
view, the ephemeral cannot be changed into the eternal.
On the contrary, many Christian and Moslem
mystics prefer the I-Thou formula. For them, the mystical life
consists of Love, and finally of Spiritual Marriage between the human
soul -the Bride- and God or Christ -The Bridegroom-. In the Divine
Union, they like to keep their own identity and personality. For me,
this is a very low conception of mysticism, because it implicates
The Medieval Alchemists thought that they
could purify the Soul, which stands for the Lead -, and transmute it
into the "pure Gold", -which stands for God or Christ. They called it
"the Great Work'. This could be done, if they could have at their
disposition the "Philosopher's Stone" -which stands for the "Immanent
Common people look at the Mystic Way as an
external pilgrimage, a quest for the Holy Grail, or for a Hidden
Treasure in some lost land...
Poets, such as the Sufi poet, Attar,
describe the mystic way as a journey through "Seven Valley", an arduous
trip from the material to the spiritual world.
"Through all these metaphors of pilgrimage
to a goal, a road followed, distance overpassed, fatigue endured, there
runs one definite idea: that the traveling self, in undertaking the
journey, is fulfilling a destiny, a law of the transcendental life;
obeying an imperative need. The chosen Knights are destined or called
to the quest of the Grail. "All men are called to their origin", says
Rulman Merswin, and the fishes which he sees in his Vision of Nine Rocks
are impelled to struggle, as it were "against nature ", uphill from pool
to pool towards their source.
"All mystical thinkers agree in declaring
that there is a mutual attraction between the Spark of the Soul, the
free divine germ in man, and the Fount from which it came forth. "We
long for the Absolute," says Royce, "only is so far as in us the
Absolute also longs and seeks, through our very temporal striving, the
peace, that nowhere in Time, but only, and yet absolutely, in Eternity."
As for me, the Goal of all mystics is in
our heart, and not outside. We have not to consider it as a long
external journey. We must find our way in our self.
To reconcile these different views, we can
say that the final Goal is the same - that is Union with God - while
initial conceptions and personal expressions can vary according to
temperament, to cultural contexts, to linguistic preference and to
Mystics are aware of these differences:
"There are two kinds of Samadhi," writes
Nikhilananda. In the one, the aspirant "retains consciousness of the
individual soul, the body, and the world, and at the same time sees them
all as permeated by Brahman..." In the other, "the I-consciousness is
totally obliterated, and there no longer remains any distinction between
knower, knowledge, and the object of knowledge."
Prabhavananda writes: "Samadhi is chiefly
of two kinds: Savikalpa, lower Samadhi, and Nirvikalpa, the higher kind.
In the lower form of Samadhi, there exist the sense of "I" as
distinct, though not separate from God, wherein is realized the
personal aspect of God. God the Creator, God the Father, God the Mother,
God the Friend, God the Beloved - any or all of these aspects of God may
then be realized in their completeness.
"Nirvikalpa is the higher form of Samadhi,
wherein no sense of the separate ego is left, and there is
realized the oneness of the self with God, the Impersonal. In that
experience, there is neither I nor you, neither one nor many.
Pantajali defines it as the cessation of all waves of the mind, that is,
the complete stoppage of all thoughts and impressions of the minds,
conscious and unconscious. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart mentions
the same method of attainment in Mystiche Schriften.
"Memory, understanding, will tend toward diversity and
multiplicity of thought, therefore you must leave them all aside, as
well as perception, ideation, and everything in which you find your self
or seek your self. Only then can you experience this new birth -
Evelyn Underhill wrote: "The metaphysical
mystic, for whom the Absolute is impersonal and transcendent, describes
his final attainment of that Absolute as deification, or the
utter transmutation of the self in God.
The mystic for whom intimate and personal
communion has been the mode under which he best apprehended Reality,
speaks of the consummation of this communion, its perfect and permanent
form, as the Spiritual Marriage of his soul with God...
The language of "deification" and of
"Spiritual Marriage" then is temperamental language: and is related to
subjective experience rather than to objective fact. It describes on the
one hand the mystic's astonished recognition of a profound change
effected in his personality - the transmutation of his salt, sulfur, and
mercury into Spiritual Gold - on the other, the rapturous consummation
of his love...
It is worth noticing that these different
attitudes can be explained also by the influence of different religions,
which exert upon mystics and individuals.
According to Will Herbert "... The higher
religions of mankind fall into two main groups distinguished by widely
different, often diametrically opposed preconceptions and attitudes.
One group we may quite properly call
Hebraic, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The other group
consists, as Moore points out, of "the esoteric religions and
philosophies of India and of Greece, and the foreign mysteries of the
Hellenistic-Roman world." Perhaps the most appropriate designation for
this type would be Greco-Oriental; Buddhism and Yoga are its best known
"... Hebraic and Greco-Oriental religion,
agree in affirming some Absolute Reality as Ultimate, but they differ
fundamentally in what they say about this Reality. To Greco-Oriental
thought whether mystical or philosophic, the Ultimate Reality is some
primal impersonal force. To call it God, as so many has done,
would be misleading; it is more nearly "goodness" than God, an
all-engulfing divine quality, the ground and end of everything.
Whether one names it Brahman or the All-Soul or Nature (as Spinoza
does), or Nothing At All (as is the way of many mystics) does not really
matter; what is meant is very much the same in all cases: some
ineffable, immutable, impassive divine substance that pervades the
universe or rather is the universe insofar as the latter is all real.
This of course is pantheism; the All is "God". Greco- Oriental
religion, whatever its specific form, irresistibly tends towards
a pantheistic position.
"Nothing could be further from normative
Hebraic religion. To Hebraic religion, God is neither a metaphysical
principle nor an impersonal force. God is a living Will, a "living",
active Being... endowed with personality." As against the Greco-Oriental
conception of immanence, of divinity permeating all thing and
constituting their reality, Hebraic religion affirms God as a
transcendent Person, who has indeed created the universe but who
cannot without blasphemy be identified with it.
Where Greco-Oriental thought sees
continuity between God and the Universe, Hebraic religion insists on
discontinuity. "Hebrew religion, Frankfort declares. "rejects precisely
this doctrine (that the divine is immanent in nature). The absolute
transcendence of God is the foundation of Hebrew religious thoughts. God
is absolute, unqualified, transcending every phenomenon... God is not in
sun and stars, rain and wind: they are his creatures and serve him."
Our study on the Theory of Emanation, and
Mysticism leads us to this very important conclusion:
Mysticism can be labeled as an
esoteric religion, common to East and West. It is based on the
Emanation Theory, viewing the world as proceeding from God; on the
dual nature of man - human and Divine -; on the dual aspect of the
world - transient and eternal, phenomenal and essential; on the
immanence of God; on salvation by personal gnosis and illumination; and
on final union with God. We must repeat that for mystics, God or the
Ultimate Reality is rather a primal impersonal force, pervading the
world. It is an esoteric religion, characterized by "the Kingdom of God
within", by the search of the immanent God within the soul.
It is, therefore, reserved for an elected
few. The aim of this esoteric religion is Union with God, which means
Deification. It does not search for a Spiritual Marriage with God or
Christ. It is not a communion with God, because this still implicates
duality. It is not a long pilgrimage, because it is an internal quest
for the Immanent God. It does not search for Paradise, nor for the
beatific vision of God, but for the Identity with God.
In our way back to God, we are given a
great gift, namely our Conscience, which, if we listen to it, can become
a Pole Star or a beacon, leading us safely to our final goal.
The laws that govern mystics are eternal
laws written in the heart of everything, as well as in their heart.
These laws are not easy to be found out, and we should be very careful
to find them. They are physical, anatomical, physiological,
psychological, and spiritual, that guide us only to our best. In our
times, we find out that between us and the environment, there is an
harmonious symbiosis. And we are trying to keep our balance with the
environment: no ecological pollution, no whimsical deforestation, no
whimsical killing of animals etc
Institutional religions are based
on the theory of creation ex nihilo; on the only human nature of
man, and his depravity; on the transcendence and separateness of God
from the world; they can be termed as exoteric religions,
characterized by the "Kingdom of God without", "Kingdom of God among
men, instead of within men"; by the search of God in churches, in
temples, in external ceremonies, in sacraments, pomps and prayers. They
are different from each other, and try to have as many followers as
possible, and can be engaged in inhuman and bloody wars in order to
consolidate their power and their control over men. Their aim is the
fruition of the Beatific Vision of God in some Paradise, and the
avoidance of eternal damnation in Hell. For them, the world is governed
by arbitrary laws of God, who can destroy it at any time.
These two views of reality can help us
have a better insight on the dual aspect -esoteric and exoteric- of the
Hal Bridges, American Mysticism, Harper and Row, 1970, p. 2.
Everlyn Underhill, Mysticism, A Meridian Book, p. 174-175.
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, A Meridian Book, 1974, p. 97.
Summa Contra Gentiles, 1,iv. cap. i.(Rickaby's translation).
Underhill, Mysticism, A Meridian book, 1974, p. 97.
Common translation: "For whosoever will save his life etc and whosoever
will lose his life, etc.
Gia Fu Feng & Jane English, trans., Chuang Tzu, Alfred A. Knoff.
Hal Bridges, American Mysticism, p. 75.
Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, A Meridian Book, 1974, p. 132.
Swami Prabhavananda, Yoga and Samadhi. From Christopher
Ishwerwood, ed. Vedanta for the Western Word. 1945.
Evelyn Underhill. Mysticism, p. 415.
Will Herbert, The Fundamental Outlook of Hebraic Religion,
from Judaism and Modern Man, 1951, pp. 282-283.
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