"Religion therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow. In these lectures, however, as I have already said, the immediate personal experiences will amply fill our time, and we shall hardly consider theology or ecclesiasticism at all."
(Recall recently this article that points to exactly this focus in transpersonal psychology, and to the neglect of the social aspect.)
"The sort of appeal that Emersonian optimism, on the one hand, and Buddhistic pessimism, on the other, make to the individual and the sort of response which he makes to them in his life are in fact indistinguishable from, and in many respects identical with, the best Christian appeal and response. We must therefore, from the experiential point of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds 'religions'; and accordingly when in our definition of religion we speak of the individual's relation to 'what he considers the divine,' we must interpret the term 'divine' very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether it be a concrete deity or not.
"But the term 'godlike,' if thus treated as a floating general quality, becomes exceedingly vague, for many gods have flourished in religious history, and their attributes have been discrepant enough. What then is that essentially godlike quality- be it embodied in a concrete deity or not- our relation to which determines our character as religious men? It will repay us to seek some answer to this question before we proceed farther.
"For one thing, gods are conceived to be first things in the way of being and power. They overarch and envelop, and from them there is no escape. What relates to them is the first and last word in the way of truth. Whatever then were most primal and enveloping and deeply true might at this rate be treated as godlike, and a man's religion might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it might be, towards what he felt to be the primal truth."
Metaphysical? Post? Neither? Both? Combination?
James was obviously writing before the pomo revolution, so his metaphysical commitments seem obvious to us now. What is "divine" to him are not specific gods but what is godlike, and that entails first principles, what is primal and deeply "true." In other words, there is a given reality that can be discovered through personal experience. We see nothing of the postmetaphysical contention that truths are enacted and constructed. Granted even the latter accepts a "reality" as the base of our constructions but not a definite, given reality that is merely uncovered and experienced as it is.
Looking over Balder's link to the previous post, James quoted Benjamin Blood:
“No words may express the imposing certainty of the patient that he is realizing the primordial Adamic surprise of Life.”
Realizing primordiality? It seems the critique of reason is accurate enough, that it tries to create certainty through an “all-pervasive unity.” But this is rebuffed with the variegated pluralism of direct experience, the latter taken it seems at face value, that such experiences of altered states of consciousness are given, real and direct to the thing in itself, the mystery. The experience is sacrosanct and irrefutable. Granted each altered state might be unique (hence plural) but the experience per se is given authenticity and the reasons we create for it afterward are superfluous, quite possibly even a detriment to such experience. Again here we see the influence of the time period in which he writes, not accounting for the social construction and pre-disposition for the experiences themselves.
In Lecture XVI he deals with mysticism:
"One may say truly, I think, that personal religious experience has its root and centre in mystical states of consciousness."
Again we see the "primal truth" of transpersonal psychology that mystical states are the ballgame of spirituality. So what are they and how are they differentiated from other states? We discern by these properties:
"1. Ineffability.- The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one's self to understand a lover's state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
"2. Noetic quality.- Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.
"These two characters will entitle any state to be called mystical, in the sense in which I use the word. Two other qualities are less sharply marked, but are usually found. These are:
"3. Transiency.- Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is recognized; and from one recurrence to another it is susceptible of continuous development in what is felt as inner richness and importance.
"4. Passivity.- Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. This latter peculiarity connects mystical states with certain definite phenomena of secondary or alternative personality, such as prophetic speech, automatic writing, or the mediumistic trance. When these latter conditions are well pronounced, however, there may be no recollection whatever of the phenomenon and it may have no significance for the subject's usual inner life, to which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical states, strictly so called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence. Sharp divisions in this region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures."
Regarding #1. We see once again the strict distinction between reason and experience, as if they are two completely different realms. The Cartesian dualism is not so subtle here but rather is the basis for defining the worth of said mystic experience: it is ineffable. And not only that but privileged because one who has not had the same or similar experience could never understand. It must be rare and only those who undertake special religious practices, ostensibly in a "community of the adequate," can know this experience directly. But like the other experiences he references, like falling in love, so-called mystic experience too is quite common and just about everyone has such experiences. So of course we all know that experience and we can certainly put it into words, and quite accurately. Especially when we acknowledge the bodily-environmental, nondual connection between experience and linguistic formation and reason. Of course this de-mystifies the experience to a degree, and this de-metaphysicalizing said experience is akin, if not identical, to religious heresy not only to supposed fundamental religious adherents but to the transpersonal and developmental psychologists.
#2 is really an extension of #1, for the intellect in incapable of such direct truth. The irony here is that the illuminating and revelatory aspects of said experiences comes from the interpretative apparatus, which of course develops from culture, language, thought; all those things that are ignored by this phenomenological path.
For more see our IPS discussion.