Archive for November, 2007

On the roller-coaster

Monday, November 19th, 2007

It is easy to understand how material things and material well-being can become so important, and easy to forget that they are nevertheless ephemeral. We know this – though it is not usually admitted – especially when we encounter the limit situations and reality checks which insist on intruding into even the most protected of lives. What we do not know is how to reach beyond the ephemeral and touch Reality.

Why are silence, solitude and stillness so important if one wants to pierce through the ephemeral? It struck me the other day that life is like a roller-coaster. There is a long steep climb to begin, then a rushing series of highs and lows, soaring loops and plunging dives, swerving changes of direction until one enters the gradual descent to the end. Such is the speed of the ride and the pressure of events that there is no time to become aware of the wider fairground. But it is possible to stop the roller-coaster, or at least freeze-frame the action and become aware of the wider scene – the framework on which it is built, the adjoining stalls and rides, the car park, the roads and even the peaceful countryside beyond. We may even discover that, while we cannot get off the roller coaster until it finishes its journey, its speed and direction are not entirely beyond our control. 


Saturday, November 17th, 2007


Back to Deikman. He seems to see mystical union in only in monistic terms. The individual is subsumed into the whole, losing its individuality, like a drop of water falling into the ocean. But unity need not imply singularity. In the mystical context it is dynamic, not static. When a pianist plays all the disparate elements of his body, his heart, mind and emotions become a unity. Likewise with an orchestra. The idea of God as the Lord of the Dance is not coincidental. We are all elements in the cosmic dance, only we are not aware of it for the most part. Union is one-mindedness, more than just co-operation and co-ordination. ‘Have the same mind in you as was in Christ Jesus,’ said Paul to the Philippians. Mystical union is not the realisation of an ontological primordial state. It is the realisation of one mind, one will. Hence the importance of conversion. 

What I am trying to express here is not easy and needs a lot of working out. Although Deikman is often very clear, at other times he confuses things. In his chapter on Intuition he begins by treating mysticism as a science. Whatever it is, mysticism is not a science. An art? – better, but this does not include the moral element. Moran is quite right in asserting that a concept of what it means to be human, and what is involved in human development, must include the idea of conversion. We are, above all, moral creatures. There are plenty of descriptions of drug induced mystical experiences which agree, more or less word for word, with natural mystical experiences. The assumption by many, including I think Deikman, is that they are the same. My feeling is that this is too simplistic. There are other factors involved.

There are different types of mystical experience, a feeling of expansion, nature mysticism, soul mysticism, pan-en-henism, the numinous encounter with the mysterium tremendum, transforming union – to give a rough list. Some are natural states which do not involve a personal or moral commitment. 

We are, above all, moral beings. Love is a fundamental driving force. The idea that the experience of union with the Absolute, with God, is amoral, i.e. does not require any moral commitment, does not seem correct. In other words, the experiences of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Alduous Huxley, Timothy Leary, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Augustine are not equivalent although their descriptions of these experiences may be similar.

The scientific approach to mysticism is that of the detached observer. The mystical approach is one of engagement. The scientific approach is limited because it can only evaluate in a detached way from outside the context of the mystic’s experience. It cannot experience what it is to be the dynamic confluence of relationships that a person really is.


Friday, November 16th, 2007

Reading Deikman – The Observing Self – sparked off some inconclusive ideas. He makes a contrast between religion and mysticism. The former is concerned with ritual and with propitiating the deity; the latter with bringing about the realisation that ‘I’ = God. He is much too simplistic when it comes to mysticism, seemingly aware only of the monistic variety. He does not appear to have read any Christian writers on the subject. There are, broadly speaking, two mystical traditions. One sees fulfilment in union with God – a union that is not a merging of identities, the other sees it in the realisation of identity. Within these two schools there are variations based on subtle distinctions. Given the impossibility of articulating mystical experience and the varieties of understanding and interpretation, I don’t think these differences are irreconcilable. However, Deikman raises an interesting question – is there a progression from religious experience to mystical experience? It is tempting to say yes on the grounds that the mystical experience is a foretaste of what happens after death. But, as Moran** points out, that assumes that there is a clearly determined end point. Perhaps there is, and perhaps, given the endless variety of individuals, there isn’t.

I think we have lost utterly the ideal of death giving meaning to life. This is very clear from Sogyal Rinpoche’s: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. The myth of the ‘fountain of youth’ is just that, a wish fulfilment for eternal youth, eternal childhood even. It sees the meaning of life as narcissistic carefree play in a garden of pleasures. Death does give meaning to life, not because it is an end but because it is the end of the beginning. Deikman suggests that the answer to the problem of meaning does not lie within our ordinary perception. Reality as experienced by caterpillars, butterflies, sea anemones and kittywakes are all different and all limited. With a little imagination we can visualise something of reality as they perceive it. If we can appreciate this, why do we assume that our perception of reality is complete?

Deikman goes on to make two crucial points. 1. Our core sense of personal existence – the ‘I’ – is located in awareness, not in its content. I am not my thoughts, feelings or emotions. 2. We cannot observe the observing self; we must experience it directly. It has no defining qualities, no boundaries, no dimensions. One of the reasons why the preoccupation of the senses, with pleasure, with material things leads to alienation is because it dislocates the ‘I’ from its centre. It attaches it to an object or a self-construct. It reifies the soul.

I find his description of the observing self very interesting, especially coming from a scientist. It goes a long way towards describing the soul. For a long time I have been bothered by the concept ‘soul’. What does it mean to have a soul? Can one ‘have’ a soul? Where are you when your soul is in Heaven, Purgatory, or wherever? Is the soul your ‘self’? How can that be if it is directly created by God and infused into the body? So many questions with no satisfactory answers. On the one hand soul seemed redundant, another term for ‘self’. And yet it denoted the spiritual element in us which ‘self’ could do only partially. What he describes is a spiritual entity. Everything to do with a person is physical, or material, or energy which is derived from physical processes, except the observing self. Somehow, the OS emerges from the mental activity of the brain. This idea begs so many questions. How does it emerge? I can see there is something in the Dalai Lama’s contention that previous lives are the condition for the emergence of this one. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. Is what emerges a particular aspect of Being which takes on my distinctive characteristics? I suspect that this is nearer the truth than that each of us is absolutely unique. If we were unique how could there be empathy?

*(Deikman, Arthur J., The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy, Beacon Press, Boston, 1982)
**(Moran G., Alternative Developmental Images in Fowler, Nipkow and Schweitzer eds., Stages of Faith and Religious Development, SCM Press, London 1991)


Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Meditation and prayer are very different. I find myself wanting to pray during meditation but cannot. Not because I cannot pray, in fact the impulse to do so is often urgent with eloquence, but because the way I see God has changed radically in the last few years. When I prayed it was, not just to a person, but to Person. It was to the Almighty who could, if he wished, grant any desire. Very often prayer was like a bleeding wound pouring out the blood of anguish and desolation, asking to be healed and comforted, what Jean-Louis Chrétien calls ‘wounded speech’. Often it was a cry for intervention, a plea for the rearrangement of events so that I might feel better – though I never allowed myself to think in such a blatantly selfish fashion and always put an altruistic spin on things. Even though I realised there were so many problems with a worldview that saw God as a Transcendent manipulator, as Someone who intervened in history in order to arrange events so they fitted his plan, this realisation did not percolate through to my emotional life. God the Intervenor fitted my emotional needs. The God that made intellectual sense did not. I lived quite happily with this dichotomy for a long time, never questioning the prayer of petition.

However, since I have retired and since I have been meditating regularly and seriously it has been less and less easy to pray like that – for a number of reasons. The sight of the starving children in southern Sudan on the TV screens nearly every day, homeless people sleeping in doorways, young people rejected by their families, the victims of war – there are so many who deserve divine intervention more than I that it is no longer possible to pray just for my needs, I can only pray for others.

In any case it is no longer possible to believe in a God who intervenes for some in response to prayer while he allows millions to continue suffering and dying. More and more prayer, and meditation, has become an exercise in searching for God in the depths of being. ‘Searching’ is the wrong word, as though God was some discrete being concealed from view. It is more an exercise in coming to see in a new way. The story of the little fish searching for the ocean sums up what I am trying to say. It is so difficult to say anything at all about God and yet he is the oxygen of life.


Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Solitude is not a natural state. We are, in our deepest essence, social beings, constituted by the relationships which make us what we are. Take these relationships away, as happens when one finds oneself all alone, and it is as though various aspects of self have been torn away leaving bleeding wounds. There is an overwhelming temptation to alleviate the pain these cause by drifting into a fantasy world, living vicariously, a fantasy self engaged in fantasy relationships. This escape is all the more tempting if it distracts from the nagging worries which thrust the stark reality of the three brute facts of existence into the forefront of consciousness. The quicksands of insecurity surround on all sides, far more real than the possibilities of success and a good outcome. But the fantasy self is a chimera and its insubstantiality only adds to unhappiness.

The irony is that the notion of solitude is itself a fantasy and not real. Oh, it is possible to be solitary, even in the midst of a city, but one is never alone. Being alone is a state of mind. Even weather beaten tramps in their incessant walking impinge on the consciousness of others and are themselves dependent. At a superficial level we may look like ants scurrying to and fro but at a deeper lever we are all engaged in a dance to a song we cannot hear but whose rhythms shape our lives. At a deeper level still we are one with the singer of the song. But we are not aware of the deeper levels. They exist in our minds, if they exist at all, only as a possibility and possibilities do not assuage hunger or keep out the cold, nor are they a shoulder to cry on, nor a friend to laugh with. The possibility has to become a reality. This is where religion and meditation come in.

Being human

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. What Sogyal Rinpoche has to say about Dzogchen has set ideas sparking in my mind. Dzogchen is the primordial state, our true nature. This is what we naturally are. The problem, however, is ignorance. Dzogchen is not part of our experience and we imagine ourselves to be other than we really are. People take many paths pursuing different goals. Enlightened ones take the path which leads to fruition.

This fundamental nature is buddha nature – a term that describes the ineffable. In Christian terms we could say the divine. I am reminded of Athanasius: ‘God became man so that man might become God.’ Cats and rabbits grow naturally to the fullness of their nature. They are biologically determined. We humans are far more complex. As persons we are multi-faceted with biological, conscious, social and volitional dimensions. Each of these is determining to an extent. Sometimes one is dominant, sometimes another. It is in the volitional element that our freedom lies. It has the ability to override the other determinants, the biological, the social and the rational. And there is something else – a spiritual element. We use words like soul and spirit but we do not know what they mean, or have only a vague idea.

If we were only biological, social and rational animals then the behaviourists would be correct and B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two could become a reality. But we are also free agents in that we have the power to stand back from ourselves, look at ourselves reflectively, and make a response not dictated by the stimuli we are exposed to. We do not always exercise this power. Very often it is not in our interest to do so. The biological impulses to eat and to reproduce are vital and are only denied at our peril. A perceived social demand to be slender rather than plump may lead to anorexia. An ideological imposition of celibacy may result various psychological problems. Yet at other times the witness of a hunger strike may change the mind of a whole nation, as Gandhi discovered, and celibacy provide the freedom to reach out to others.

There is also a very mysterious dimension to being a person – the fact that we can be aware of transcendence, of a spiritual dimension to reality. This, taken together with the ability to act freely, is the very essence of what it means to be human. We are animals, but not just animals. We are social beings, but not just social beings. We can also reason and act freely. And there is something else, something we cannot describe, explain or easily put into words – a feeling, but more than just a feeling, of infinite depth. People have described it in different ways at different times but the description I like best is from the Chhandogya Upanishad.

In this body, in this town of Spirit, there is a little house shaped like a lotus, and in that house there is a little space. One should know what is there.
What is there? Why is it so important?
There is as much in that little space within the heart as there is in the whole world outside. Heaven and earth, fire, wind, sun, moon, lightening, stars; whatever is and whatever is not, everything is there.
If everything is in man’s body, every being, every desire, what remains when old age comes, when decay begins, when the body falls?
What lies in that space does not decay when the body decays, nor does it fall when the body falls. That space is the home of Spirit. Every desire is there. Self is there, beyond decay and death, sin and sorrow; hunger and thirst; His aim truth; His will truth.

Our growing and becoming is not predetermined. We are songs woven by many voices. And yet, in a sense, we become what we have always been. The becoming is an awakening from a dark and claustrophobic dream.

Ultimate meaning

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Ideas come during meditation, even though it is not a time for thinking. I keep see-sawing back and forth between the desire to understand in a rational way that can be explained to others, and the desire to experience. I know that the received wisdom is not to get involved in rational thought during meditation, that concepts are a hindrance rather than a help, but I do not think this is quite correct. Thought, language and experience are so interwoven that I do not think they can be so arbitrarily separated. Nor is the separator between subliminal and conscious experience impermeable. There is a constant seepage into consciousness, of which one is aware, but the moment the searchlight of direct awareness is turned on it it vanishes. In this way the Jesus Prayer keeps saying itself throughout the day, and it is not just a mere repetition of words.

What I want to get on and talk about is the fact that I am the centre of the universe. Each person is the centre, not just of his/her universe but, of THE UNIVERSE. Everything is seen from the perspective of the centre and the centre is I. This is a fact of experience even though I know it is not true, even though I know that I am a temporary, infinitesimal speck in a cosmos vast beyond all imagining. Only what touches me has meaning for me. The birth and death of stars, the collisions of galaxies, the extermination of species, the awesome power of a supernova and the cold silence of space – none of these have any meaning for me unless I am touched by them. Nor do the billions of lives, the trillions of human dramas, joys and tragedies about which I know nothing. Yet each life is the centre of the universe, warmed by the same sun.

If only what touches my life has meaning for me and if there are billions of others who could say the same thing; if there are billions of lives, each in its private bubble of meaning, how can one find ultimate meaning? Is there ultimate meaning? The problem is the bubble, the bubble of our individuality. We can only see from inside our individual bubbles. There is no other perspective. From inside the bubble we cannot reach out and make contact. Only if the bubble pops can I be merged with the whole. But the skin of the bubble is my individuality. It is my universe and I am at its centre. It is my only protection against dissolution. Once it is pierced I will be emptied out. Will I then cease to be? Is this what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Whoever would save his life must lose it.’ Is this what is meant by anatman? The individual self, protected inside the bubble of his conscious awareness, is unaware of true reality, is unaware of what/who he really is. This morning, just for a fleeting moment, I had a vision of what it would be like for the bubble to burst. The emptying out and merging would not be to lose but to gain.

Communion II

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

One of the problems with religious experience is that it is raw and unmediated. There are no labels attached, no identifying tags, no introductory explanations. It comes and, after a while, it goes. They are, as William James described, ‘states of absolute knowledge. They are states of insight into the depths of absolute truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance… and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for aftertime.’ (Varieties of Religious Experience, Fontana, 1970, p. 367) The recipients would often claim that they were never more certain of anything and that from that moment their life changed. And ever since Sir Alister Hardy set up the Religious Experience Research Centre at Oxford it has become clear that such experiences are far from uncommon. One of the more unusual experiences from the archives of RERC is the following.

Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre Record No. 000861 10.3.70
Name: {name} (Widow); Age 73; British. Father, a well-known author, dead. Mother, dead. Father an agnostic. Mother, Church of England. Neither parent tried to influence their children towards any religious faith; but we were taken regularly to church, and I was educated at a very religious Anglican boarding school where we were taken to Church three times on Sundays and once every day. My husband was a deeply devout Roman Catholic, converted by a vision of the Virgin Mary, which changed his whole life. We respected and never sought to change each other’s beliefs.

At the age of nine, at boarding school, I knelt one evening as usual to say my prayers, as I always had done, when suddenly, like a flash, came the question, as if asked from outside myself ‘Is there anyone to pray to?’ and the answer seemed to come: ‘No!’ There was no God. This was followed by a great sense of relief, thankfulness, pleasure. I need never pray again. Why pray to nothing and no one? I never did pray again. Even during the most tragic experiences, and one overwhelming tragedy when my husband died, I have never felt that I needed anything supernatural on which to lean, to whom to appeal, but just the reverse.

At the age of fourteen, standing alone in the stem of a steamer taking me to France, leaning over the taffrail, watching the wake and smoky wraiths from the funnel diminishing to the horizon, rising from the water as if the waves spoke to me, I heard a voice saying: ‘All men are brothers! Every land is home’. And I felt quite stunned with joy. Henceforth I had a sublime faith. The whole world would be home and every person in it my brother. National frontiers and racial differences would be no more than walls between rooms and variations between members of one family. Every journey would be from home to home. Thenceforth all barriers of class, religion, colour, culture, race, for me broke down, and all people in truth became my brothers. I travelled all over the world, and everywhere people were akin to me. With such a religion, no supernatural beings were necessary or needed. I feel no lack of one, rather joy. It is much easier to explain many problems – example, of evil – without god and devil etc. than with them.

I wish I could impart to everyone else my happiness and relief in being freed from any supernatural-centred religion – and I have studied them all with the deepest attention and sympathy – The universe became for me much more sublime and wonderful when I ceased to believe in such a faith. Man must be his own salvation. He can be, if he wills to be. So could he be his own destruction.

Her unbelief was not an intellectual one but derived from a profound intuition. She knew in some way that the God of school assemblies and childhood prayers – what Pascal called ‘the God of philosophers and savants’ – did not exist. Her initial intuition blossomed when she was fourteen, alone, leaning over the stern of a ship, between the sea and the sky. Her experience is far more complex than the brevity and simplicity of her account would imply. It’s noetic content is a clearly defined concept – all men are brothers, every land is home. She says the words were spoken in her mind ‘as if’ by the waves. I suspect, however, that what she experienced was an intuition which she herself interpreted and articulated and which included far more than two simple phrases. How otherwise can one explain, the unshakeable conviction, the ‘stunned with joy’, ‘sublime faith’ and the ‘sublime and wonderful universe’? The waves ‘spoke’ to her. ‘All men are brothers! Every land is home.’ With such a religion she said, ‘No supernatural beings were necessary nor needed.’ The most interesting characteristic of her experience, almost unique as far as I am aware, is that the profound sense of unity she experienced was not with nature, nor within herself, or with God as she understood him, but with others. Every person was her brother. Here is a penetrating relational consciousness. As she leaned over the stern she became aware, not just of the unity of nature, nor of her union with it, but of a deep bond linking her and all persons. She experiences a communion which remains just that and is not subsumed into a generalised other, nor merged into an absolute Other.

Are we missing something, I wonder, if we think of God only in a vertical dimension. When we receive communion why are we never aware of our union with each other in Christ? The scholastic theologians said that the essence of God is to exist. It might be more correct to say that God’s essence is to relate. As one theologian puts it – for God being is communion.


Friday, November 9th, 2007

Ireneus was not a Platonist and he represents a Christian worldview which quickly disappeared under the influence of Neo-Platonism. His emphasis on the materiality of the body is an important counterweight to the influence of dualism and the remains of Manichaism. I suddenly realised how little weight is given in spiritual writing, and in mysticism generally, to the fact that we are social beings. There is the ‘love your neighbour’ bit but this is seen as an interim ethic for this life, important, but a sort of second best to loving God. The more the religious life is directed towards contemplation the higher it is believed to be. Carthusians are held in awe – solitary lives dedicated solely to contemplation. There is the idea of the Communion of Saints but it does not loom large in the writing of the mystics and I began to wonder why not.

The fact that we are social beings is of fundamental importance in our ordinary lives. It is social interaction which makes us what we are, gives us our identity and provides meaning for our lives. True, possessive individualism is a modern phenomenon and pretty widespread in this country. I listened to a programme driving in the car yesterday on why more and more women were deciding not to have children. The basic reason seemed to be the desire to be free of commitments so that they could do their own thing. To me this leads to the impoverishment both of the individual and of society. Paradoxically, we are most fully ourselves when we are most fully involved in relationships with others. The loners, those who hold themselves aloof from demanding commitments, are one-dimensional.

Of course relationships can be, often are, difficult. The more we give, the more is expected of us and we can often feel more drained than filled. Perhaps one of the roots of romantic love is the hope of finding one individual who can encapsulate all that we need in loving and being loved. One relationship is so much easier to deal with than a multitude and the couple becomes a microcosm of society. But even a true love can never be enough and we remain a son/daughter, father/mother, uncle/aunt, friend, cousin, neighbour, whatever. All these are aspects of our personality and to abandon them for just one relationship, or deny them, or cut them off is to diminish ourselves. Donne had it right all those years ago when he said,

‘No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’

All the more surprising then to find that in mystical experience generally there is very seldom the idea of union with others. There are experiences of union with nature, with the cosmos, with God but not, as far as I am aware, with other persons. The talk is of being oned with nature, of God dwelling in the depths of the soul, of the soul being caught up in God. It is all on an individual and one-to-one basis. This is understandable from a monistic worldview. The analogy of the individual drop falling into the ocean fits in with Hinduism but not with Christianity. Given that God is God, the transcendent, the absolute other, creator, origin of all that is – in comparison to whom the individual is less than a speck of dust, as Isaiah puts it – one can understand that the experience of union with him would be so overwhelming that all other relationships would fade to insignificance. God is love and all love is subsumed in him. If all individual love is subsumed in the love of God then so are the individuals. We are back to a sort of monism. This may be the reality of mystical experience but is it the reality of life after death?

If in loving one’s neighbour one loves God, the reverse must also be true. Love is self-giving. It is the giving of oneself to another. The strange thing about it is that the more one gives the more one has to give. It is an emptying of oneself but, like Elisha’s pot, the love does not run out. It is also a strange thing that one can love more than one person. In fact the more one loves the more one is able to love. Surely then in the utter transparency of life after death, when one encounters God face to face, is loved by him and loves in return, everyone else does not vanish from the picture. The experience of Heaven must also be an experience of a community of love. If then the communion of saints is a reality why does it not figure in mystical experience? People experience God, encounter Mary, sometimes individual saints, but never the community of love of all the blessed. Why? More on this later.


Thursday, November 8th, 2007

It is becoming crystal clear that meditation is not just a matter of 20 or 40 minutes a day and the rest of the time one can carry on as normal. This is something I have thought about before. In the old days it was called metanoia, or conversion. Usually it was spoken about in terms of a religious experience. The individual is passive and perceives reality in a way he never has before. He becomes aware of God, or God’s love, or universal love, or the oneness of everything. The experience has a transforming effect. St. Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus is the classic example. St. Augustine’s experience, sparked off by hearing ‘Tolle lege’, is often compared to Paul’s but the two are very different. Augustine had been searching for God for a long time. His search was primarily an intellectual one as he agonised over the possibility of God, his nature, etc. As one would expect of someone steeped in the Greek philosophers, he believed that truth and understanding could be arrived at intellectually, that the highest form of knowledge (which must therefore include knowledge of God) was rational. Nevertheless, he had an instinctive feeling that the discovery of God required more than ratiocination, that it demanded a moral commitment. This is why he used to pray, ‘Oh God make me chaste, but not yet.’

For St. Paul, on the other hand, morality as enshrined in the Law, was the whole of religion. It defined the Covenant relationship of the Jews with God. ‘God’ was not an intellectual problem but a fact of life. His experience on the road to Damascus showed him that the ‘God’ he believed in, the God of the Old Testament, was not in fact God. The God of the Old Testament, Father, Creator, Judge who punishes the wicked and rewards the good, bore no resemblance to God who is Love.

Both Paul and Augustine, although they came to their experiences from very different directions and with different preconceptions, were both overwhelmed by love. They responded by committing themselves totally to God. Broadly speaking their experiences have been reflected by mystics since then. There are those, like Paul, who are not looking for God, who may even have been atheists and hostile the idea of God, like Simone Weil, whose lives are totally changed by the encounter with him. And there are those, like Augustine, who have spent years searching, praying and meditating without success when, suddenly, they too are overwhelmed. One cannot do anything to bring about an experience of the first kind. Can one, I wonder, do anything to bring about an experience of the second kind?

According to Zaehner there are three types of mystical experience – nature, soul and theistic mysticism. The first is relatively common and probably can be induced given the right circumstances. The second would seem to correspond to the experiences of some types of meditation and almost certainly can be induced. Very often the first merges into the second, for example Richard Jeffrey. The third, however, is pure grace; entirely the gift of God and nothing the individual does can initiate it. My feeling is that this last point is a bit too simplistic. It depends on a particular view of God – that he is totally transcendent and wholly other. McGinn thinks that Zaehner is too restrictive in limiting himself to three types of mysticism and I am inclined to agree with him

I think too that, given the ontological link between God and man, there must be something in human experience which opens out into God. I think that Zen in particular, and Buddhism in general, lead to the threshold of the transcendent. The perception of this threshold is not purely a rational, or mental awareness. It requires self-sacrificial love. We are not usually aware of how our perceptions are coloured by emotions, feelings and hidden assumptions. The whole point of Buddhist meditation is to cut these out and arrive at a simple awareness. I am becoming more and more convinced that while a simple awareness may be arrived at solely by means of disciplined and concentrated meditation, unless this is accompanied by a radical moral conversion to self-sacrificial love the awareness will remain on an empirical level – awareness of being aware – no more. I think the reason for this is that at an unconscious level selfishness and self-centredness still operate. Feelings moods and emotions run very deep and are only partially in the control of the rational mind. These are, more often than not, self-centred. I am unhappy, hungry, angry, vindictive etc. I want, hope, hate, love, recoil from… etc. These emotions reinforce the assumption that there is an independent and imperial self whose wishes and demands have priority over all else and which must be satisfied in order to achieve peace, happiness and security. Such a self is a myth. It is what the Sufis call the Commanding Self and it is at the root of the Buddhist concept of anatman (no-self). Such a self with its deep roots in the unconscious, over which we have no conscious control, colours all our perceptions including those in meditation. It is not the True Self that comes to meditation but the Imperial Self and it is the Imperial Self who sits and wills that the mind should simply observe thoughts and feelings as they come and go. After meditation it is the Imperial Self which gets up and goes about the everyday tasks. One cannot, by conscious activity, get at the unconscious, to examine it and alter it. Someone once said,

‘The Unconscious is not unconscious, only the Conscious is unconscious of what the Unconscious is conscious of’.

And the unconscious makes its presence felt, shaping our perceptions and colouring our awareness all unknown to the Conscious. This is why by meditation alone one cannot shed this false assumption and come to see reality as it is. It is why sila, morality as spelled out in the first six steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, is the essential prerequisite. A conscious commitment to radical and self-sacrificial love, because it goes against the grain, because it runs counter to our instinct for self-survival, will gradually alter the hidden assumptions of the unconscious.