Consciousness seems to me to be like a small house in a primary forest. Within this house, there is light but outside there is only darkness; the darkness of the Great Unknown.
It is out of this Great Unknown that everything happens that can change our lives: strokes of fate, unexpected meetings and any serious consequences they may have, illnesses, accidents, good fortune, inspiration – and death. It is not within out human nature to simply accept the Unknown. We want to know what it is that determines our fate, and the fate of the world.
What do you see?
What do you see when you leave a brightly lit house and step out into the darkness? Hardly anything. You won’t even be able see the ground you are standing on. Only after several minutes, you’ll manage to make out a strip under your feet and you realize that it is the path. There are patches to your left and right that are darker than the sky and you suppose that those must be trees.
There is a certain something shining through the darkness of the Great Unknown, but – contrary to the darkness of a walk in the countryside – we have absolutely no frame of reference here by which to recognize the shapes’ outlines. And yet we do recognize things. If somebody expects, consciously or subconsciously, to see beings then that person will see beings. Another, who has heard rumors of a godly light, will discern a certain luminescence.
Our consciousness wants to link observations with content, that is what it is programmed to do. This is how the various stories about the Great Unknown come into the world. This is how mystical narratives come about. And mysticism.
Sometimes, you are unable to recognize the connection your consciousness has made and you think: that cannot have come from me. Or from him, or her. What, for instance, are you supposed to make of “The Secret Doctrine” by Helena Blavatsky? Did she simply invent the detailed esoteric model of the universe outlined in this book?
The things people say when they are under hypnosis can also be bewildering. The functioning of the human brain has been understood only to a small degree up until now. The human subconscious is as obscure as the cosmos. But nowhere near as quiet.
As far as I am concerned, there is only one thing that can be stated unequivocally about mysticism. The only thing I can be sure of, is that I or somebody else experienced something unusual once, something which goes beyond my usual frame of reference. All I can do then is do my best not to forget that it is unusual and that it is outside my frame of reference.
Buddha on the road
Zen master Rinzai once said: ‘If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.’
In other words, beware images, especially holy images. Whatever image you may receive, it will always be a figment of your imagination. The human consciousness certainly does not operate as a calm, clear mirror.
In spirituality, and in mysticism in particular, we are confronted by an immense range of images. Symbolic images, universal images, collective images, personal images, holy images, inspiring images, strange images, fantasies, et cetera. Everybody has their own image factory and their own image collection.
I find it a bit strange when I hear people talk about the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ images. To me, that is just as ridiculous as right or wrong dreams. In my opinion, mysticism is all about recognition.
You experience something. The feeling is intense, exciting and thrilling. You see something others do not see, you – and only you – hear a sound, music or a voice. You speak with somebody about it and they recognize something of your story in their own experience. Either that, or it is completely alien to them. There is, in all likelihood, not much more to it than that, unless one includes faith…
As far as faith is concerned, the possibilities are endless. People can believe in anything they like, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. Yet realistic mysticism goes no further than the ‘recognition line’. It simply looks at the range of beliefs without venturing into this field in order to find determine own place.
Most of us prefer to drink wine and not get drunk, and many people know how. Similarly, would be good to stay sober if you “meet the Buddha”.