For Many Mystics, God is Not an Idea, But an Experience

For many mystics, god is not an idea but an experience.  Precisely speaking, the god of the mystics is the experience that one seems almost certain to have should a person’s subject/object perceptions abruptly end, thus dissolving the process that creates the self, while experiencing yet continues.

That god, the god of some mystics,  is incomprehensible.   It can be experienced, but it cannot be believed in.  “…God is not a conviction: it is an experience not based on any belief or dogma, or on any previous experience. If you have an experience born of belief, your experience is the conditioned response of that belief.” Any belief one has about that god no matter how subtle; or any knowledge one has of that god by a previous experience no matter how true; will work to prevent one from experiencing that god, the god of the mystics, which, so far as I know, is the only god that can be experienced.

Even the very word, “god”, is a ridiculous and most likely foolish attempt to describe the experience that occurs when subject/object perception ends while awareness yet continues.  Why call that experience, “god”, unless you mean to in some sense describe the experience?  And doesn’t calling the experience, “god” — doesn’t describing the experience that way — become an expectation, an idea, that works to prevent the experience from occurring?

It’s tradition for a few mystics to call a certain kind of experience, “god”.   I guess that has some limited utility, which I won’t get into here, but it’s almost certain to work against the experience itself.  At least, that’s how I see it.

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22 thoughts on “For Many Mystics, God is Not an Idea, But an Experience

  1. I agree with you about the use of the word God. I prefer to use the word source.

    During times of heartbreak or hardship I sometimes trace the pain back to its source, like following a river back to the vast ocean. Tracing back the actual experience leads me back into an experience of vastness.

    Following the actual feeling of pain or yearning back to where it originates is a visceral experience and not just an idea.

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  2. Hi Kysha! I think it’s quite understandable that you would prefer the word “source” to “god”. That troublesome word “god” carries with it quite a bit of baggage, doesn’t it?

    I mean, it’s hard for me to see that word, “god”, without thinking of God, the Abrahamic deity. And I have some strong, negative feelings about that particular deity. “Source” doesn’t carry the same baggage.

    Now, as I said in the blog post, I think god — at least, the “god” of some mystics — is not a being but an experience. Thirty or so years ago, I came up with calling it “a transformative experience” when I needed a name for it. I’m toying with picking up that name, dusting it off, and using it again, instead of using this “god” that I’ve been using in recent years.

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  3. Saying that god is an experience is fine and all, but it means you can’t then try to shape society around that experience; it is completely personal. It also opens up the possibility that it has more to do with how the brain works than how the universe is.

    Glad you’re back, by the way! Missed you.

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  4. George!!!!! I am so glad to see you! I’ve missed you too. 🙂

    By the way, I like the new look to your blog. It’s beautiful.

    So far as I can see, you are absolutely spot on about the implications. I’ve thought of posting on those implications, but I keep putting it off, mostly out of sheer laziness.

    I am convinced that the reason the early Christian church, except for the Gnostics, went with god as logos, rather than god as gnosis, was because it allowed them to “try to shape society”, as you state it. That’s something god as gnosis would not have so easily allowed. But what is the difference between god as logos and god as gnosis other than the difference between merely thinking of god versus experiencing god?

    At any rate, I need to toss aside my laziness and get to writing sometime soon about those two points you bring up. Both strike me as completely spot on. Thank you so much!

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  5. I think that logos is favored over gnosis in many aspects of society, not just religion.

    Wholistic medicine is becoming more mainstream but it is still secondary to the “script” writers.

    Technology, entertainment, porn, video games, are replacing real experience, and real intimacy.

    Our education system does not teach how to be a balanced, fully functioning human being.

    Nor does our social system invest in or nuture healthy parenting.

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  6. Hi Kysha! It’s good to see someone else up at this hour — it is just past midnight here in the Rockies.

    Perhaps because it is late, I’m not sure I follow what you are getting at. That is, I certainly agree with you that logos is often favored over gnosis in our society, but I’m not sure how that is shown by your examples. Could you please elaborate for me on what you mean by logos and gnosis? And what, say, does wholistic medicine have to do with either? Or what does healthy parenting have to do with either? etc.

    I apologize for being slow to catch on, but it’s been a long day.

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  7. Nice to have you back!

    I agree with you. But I find myself trapped by language. If I take a right turn and go as far as I can I find God. If I take a left turn and go to the same place I find my-self.
    God, self, being. All the same and failed utterly by language. All experiences and none of them things.

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  8. I was using gnosis and logos to refer to other areas of society where decisions are made from ideas that are removed from actual experience .

    In medicine, there is a formula, an ideology and a prescription. My 91 year old grandfather was treated like a number (91 yr old) by the doctors in the hospital due to lack of actual experience of him. Conversely his primary physician has known him for 30 years and treats him medically as someone in their 70’s.

    I was referring to absentee parenting where there is not enough actual experience between parents and children because of the demands of our society and lack of importance placed on time together.

    Our education system is designed for indoctrination, not actual learning which requires hands on interaction, experimentation, discovery, and mastery.

    Their sleep deprived brains are supposed to passively absorb information while their bodies are starved for activity and experience.

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  9. Thanks Paul!

    You certainly bring up some interesting topics for discussion.

    This also reminds me of the reality-based vs.fantasy-based discussion.

    I’d say both are fantasy-based, if you asked me, for similar reasons as stated here .

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  10. What I mean is that reality is relative and interpretations of reality are not the reality itself. The map is not the territory.

    Two people can witness the same event and have completely different interpretations of that event and therefore different realities even when they both agree that the event was real.

    In the first week after my grandfather had a stroke, he was seeing things in the room that no one else could see. He would ask us if we could see that girl in the red dress walking through the room or that dog or that basket up on the wall and numerous other things.

    This is not like him at all. He is usually very practical and reality-based. When he mentioned these things I told him that we couldn’t see what he was seeing. By the second week after the stroke, he stopped seeing things although the memories of what he had seen still remain.

    He still remarks that these things seemed as real as anything else in the room that we all agree is there. One thing I can say for certain is that his brain was telling him that his eyes were seeing these things.

    I suppose the process of asking if what he is seeing is seen by others eventually helped him redevelop his “reality” filter. I wonder what would have happened if we went along with him and pretended to see what he saw. I wonder if his reality filter would have returned.

    Conversely, my grandmother who has dementia, doesn’t remember things that happened five minutes ago. To her, it never happened.

    I have often felt uncomfortable about certain New Age beliefs particularly ones about leaving the body or astral travel. I thought perhaps it was just one interpretation of an experience but that it wasn’t real objectively.

    One night after an intense tai chi workout, I fell asleep while meditating and had an experience that I could only interpret to be out of body. There was nothing dream-like about it. The experience felt real, especially the physical jolt of slamming back into my body.

    However, I do not think it is useful to try to label it as real when so much of what we consider real is simply our learned interpretation of sensory information. The experience was still an experience whether or not it was purely subjective. I experienced a sense of freedom and exhilaration that changed my attitude about the meaning of life.

    I also reguarly experience chi as a physical sensation and many people who do not have that experience cannot accept that.

    Trying to label it as either real or unreal seems unproductive. Similarly, I think the arguments between atheists and believers is equally unproductive. I think it is fine to communicate about ones own experience but we need to learn to accept that it is only an interpretation and not place so much emphasis on believing what our minds tell us.

    I think the focus should be on whether something is useful, is meaningful, improves the value of our lives, etc.

    If the reality we are experiencing is not useful, meaningful, adding to the quality of life, instead of arguing about whether it’s real or not, we should be looking for ways to change it.

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  11. Thank you, Kysha! You usually say something stimulating, and this time around is no exception. “Reality is relative.” “The map is not the territory.”

    I agree “the map is not the territory.” But I have difficulty agreeing with the notion that “reality is relative”.

    Maybe I am not understanding those notions the same way you do. For instance, “the map”, as I understand it, is basically comprised of our conscious and unconscious thoughts about the territory. The “territory”, on the other hand, is basically comprised of our experiences. And if a reality external to us exists, then some of our experiences might be of that reality. The saying, “The map is not the territory” means thoughts are not the same as the experiences they reference or refer to, and I believe that is usually the case.

    “Reality is relative”: It seems you are saying that because two people can arrive at two very different interpretations of something such as an event. Am I right about that? Or, is there more to it than that?

    I appreciate your time and patience, Kysha. I hope I am not being too annoying in pursuing all of this?

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  12. I’d go as far as to say perception is relative. Reality, not so much. If you didn’t see the other car, it can still collide with your own, and so forth. The closer your perception is to the objective reality (other car’s presence and vector) the better your chances of adapting to the reality and preventing the collision.

    Of course that’s a very crude analogy given that god is perceived in so many different ways. It leads me to conclude that the reality of god is the perception.

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  13. Thanks Paul,

    Annoying? Quite the contrary. You manage to pull off creating a space that is respectful and tolerant of differing views, something very few manage to do so Kudos to you!

    I would like to use this as an opportunity to think through my thoughts by articulating them here. Who knows where I will end up?

    Perception and reality, where do you draw the line? How much of reality is perception and mutual agreement? A family of color-blind people will all agree that there is no green spot on that red wall.

    Perception is more than just sight. All the senses are part of perception. Crashing into a car is also one way of perceiving it and thereby acknowledging its objective existence. But if you’ve never perceived a car or even heard of one, does it exist in your version of reality?

    I suppose we would have to allow for distinctions between objective and subjective reality. If two or more people agree on an external event, this becomes the agreed upon reality. But then again, you have whole groups of people and whole countries who disagree about what that objective reality consists of.

    Democrat vs Republican, Corporation vs individual, Politician vs taxpayer, Stockbroker vs investor, all seem to have different versions of reality.

    Even if you are just referring to physical reality, you will get varying descriptions of a single event but there will still be areas we can all agree on.

    My point is, we can simply agree to disagree in areas that do not directly impact our quality of life. We can be tolerant and even respectful of differing perspectives.

    We can have different gods or no god and your god (or lack of) does not have to beat up my god, nor do we need to ridicule each other.

    Then we can turn our attention to the areas of reality we are all ignoring that do directly impact our quality of life and our future.

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  14. George: “It leads me to conclude that the reality of god is the perception.”

    That’s quite an interesting question. I wonder: Even if it could be established that the reality of god was not the perception, would god matter to us any more than if the reality is the perception? And if so, how?

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  15. Thank you for your kind words, Kysha!

    An aspect of this topic that has long fascinated me is that fact science has done so well at creating consensus between people (mainly scientists) about what is or is not the case on issue after issue. It’s been far from perfect at that job, and yet, it has done its job an order of magnitude better than any other consensus building technique I can think of.

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  16. I would say God is in the perceiving.

    Nothing creates more consensus than actually perceiving.

    Insight meditation seems to be the fastest route to actually perceiving. Its too bad more people do not do this.

    The Chinese knew this, this is why the Tibetan culture was such a threat to them.

    They had perceiving down to a science.

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  17. “God” is really an old gothic name-word for incomprehensible natural force. It is probably best left there. If there is an “IS” transcending existence, it most certainly would not be a “name-word,” would it?

    That said, what interests me is the statement “god is an experience.”
    I wonder –
    Is there an experience that is not internal to human consciousness? Can one have “an experience” if one does not recognize that one is “having an experience? If I re-cognize (know again) an “experience,” isn’t it already old. Surely “my experience” is only a part of “me,” contained in and limited to “my consciousness.”

    So, is “my experience” the source of “existence” and “reality?”

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