In the course of supporting his larger thesis about mysticism, Steven Katz argues that, ‘Every religious community and every mystical movement within each community has a “model” or “models” of the ideal practitioner of the religious life.' Among thirteen functions of such models he mentions three that partially overlap. He says that these model lives set standards of perfection to measure believers' actions, they are perfect examples of what it is to be a human being, and they are moral paradigms. (...) Katz mentions various saints, sages, and other exemplary figures, and sums up with the claim that in the Christian tradition the function of ‘ models’ is expressed in Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ . Taking all of this together, one could conclude that he intends to say that every religious tradition contains accounts of morally perfect persons who are examples to be imitated. (shrink)
Mystics have always claimed that a very significant kind of self-perception is possible, at the end of certain spiritual disciplines. The self that is then supposed to be known is a unity, identical from one experience to the next, and not to be identified with any particular experiences, such as impressions or ideas, which the self has. In short, mystical testimony supports something like a theory of the essential self as simple and unchanging.
Since the late nineteenth century, studies of mysticism have presented us with two contrasting conclusions. The first is that mystics all over the world report basically the same experience, and the second is that there are great differences among the reports, and possibly among the experiences. On the positive side there are such works as Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy , with its claim that all mystics say that all beings are manifestations of a Divine Ground, that men learn of this (...) by direct intuition, that men have two natures, one phenomenal and one eternal, and that identification with his eternal nature is the purpose of man. Walter Stace supports this view, in a modified way, with his observation that, while each mystic seems to advance a peculiar explanation of his experience, their statements collectively exhibit strong similarities. Mystics commonly report a consciousness of unity, carrying with it feelings of objectivity, blessedness, and holiness. They describe their experience in paradoxical language, and say that ultimately it is ineffable. These twentieth-century observations are repetitions of those of William James, so that this basic point has become a cliché, and, as R. C. Zaehner says, ‘We have been told ad nauseum that mysticism is the highest expression of religion and that it appears in all ages and in all places in a more or less identical form, often in a religious milieu that would seem to be the reverse of propitious.’. (shrink)