Encounter With Mysticism, Ch. 5 from Martin Buber's Life and

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Encounter With Mysticism, Ch. 5 from Martin Buber's Life and

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ENCOUNTER WITH MYSTICISM
Chapter 5 from "Martin Buber's Life and Work," by Maurice Friedman

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"The noble man is that only-begotten Son of God whom the Father eternally begets." ...

[Buber] went on to assert that mysticism should be understood as a "religious solipsism," a completely isolated experience of the individual self. It is, said Buber, simply a psychological category -- the most absolute realization of that special quality of self-perception and that intensity of self-enhancement which makes possible an "apperception of God," the founding of a personal relation to a content of the soul experienced as God. Although the social forms of religion are sometimes founded on mysticism, mysticism itself negates community. For it there is only one real relationship, the relationship of the individual to God. The pure type of mystic is completely unconcerned with outer freedom, which has for him neither value nor reality in the face of the inner freedom of his relation with the divine. External unfreedom is even a positive value for him, since it pushes him invariably into isolation and thus disciplines him invariably for his task. Mysticism, "the true content of the religious experience," can have nothing to do with the normalization of the relationships between men.

This statement demonstrates dramatically how Buber's early thought did not grow all of a piece but proceeded forward in one direction while remaining behind in another. It is as if Buber were simultaneously at least four different persons at this point: the interpreter and spokesman for Hasidism -- the decidedly communal Jewish mysticism; the editor of the series of forty social-psychological monographs of Die Gesellschaft, for which he coined the category of das Zwischenmenschliche -- what is between man and man; the young prophetic voice calling the Jewish people to awareness of themselves as a people; and the lonely mystic seeking his isolated relationship with God. A long road still lay ahead to that personal integration in the mature light of which Buber criticized Kierkegaard for the very religious solipsism that he here exalted. What is more, the tendency to relegate all reality, including the religious, to the soul, against which Buber was to warn in the strongest possible terms thirteen years later, clearly triumphed here. The psychologism at the heart of his definition of mysticism is unmistakable....

The very opening of the conversation recorded in "With a Monist" is Buber's refusal to allow himself to be labeled a mystic and the consternation that this refusal creates:

"You are a mystic," said the monist, looking at me more resignedly than reproachfully. It is thus that I would represent to myself an Apollo who disdained to flay a Marsyas. He even omitted the question mark ....

"No, a rationalist," I said.

He fell out of his splendid composure. "How? ... I mean ... " he stammered.

After this, Buber led his partner in dialogue through a variety of positions culminating in what was indeed his own most mature thought: that all comprehensibility of the world is only a footstool of its incomprehensibility, but that this latter -- the confronting, shaping, bestowing in things -- can be known by the man who embraces the world, humbly and faithfully beholding what comes to meet him. This eloquent confession served only to bring the monist back to his original contention: "So for all that you are a mystic," he said and smiled in the way that a monist must "when a fellow like me, after diffuse dissembling, in the end turns out to be a hopeless reactionary." Buber reiterated his rejection of the label, this time on two grounds: the place he granted to reason and the affirmation of the sense world:

"No," I answered, and looked at him in a friendly way, "for I still grant to reason a claim that the mystic must deny to it. Beyond this, I lack the mystic's negation. I can negate convictions but never the slightest actual thing. The mystic manages, truly or apparently, to annihilate the entire world, or what he so names -- all that his senses present to him in perception and in memory -- in order, with new disembodied senses or a wholly supersensory power, to press forward to his God. But I am enormously concerned with this world, this painful and precious fullness of all that I see, hear, taste. I cannot wish away any part of its reality. I can only wish that I might heighten this reality .... the reality of the experienced world is so much the more powerful the more powerfully I experience it and realize it.... And how can I give this reality to my world except by seeing the seen with all the strength of my life, hearing the heard with all the strength of my life, tasting the tasted with all the strength of my life? Except by bending over the experienced thing with fervour and power and by melting the shell of passivity with the fire of my being until the confronting, the shaping, the bestowing side of things springs up to meet me and embraces me so that I know the world in it?" ...

Now from my own unforgettable experience I know well that there is a state in which the bonds of the personal nature of life seem to have fallen away from us and we experience undivided unity. But I do not know -- what the soul willingly imagines and indeed is bound to imagine (mine too once did) -- that in this I had attained to a union with the primal being or the godhead. That is an exaggeration no longer permitted to the responsible understanding....

In my earlier years the "religious" was for me the exception. There were hours that were taken out of the course of things. From somewhere or other the firm crust of everyday was pierced. Then the reliable permanence of appearances broke down; the attack which took place burst its law asunder. "Religious experience" was the experience of an otherness which did not fit into the context of life. It could begin with something customary, with consideration of some familiar object, but which then became unexpectedly mysterious and uncanny, finally lighting a way into the lightning-pierced darkness of the mystery itself. But also, without any intermediate state, time could be torn apart -- first the world's firm structure, then the still firmer self-assurance flew apart and you were delivered to fullness. The "religious" lifted you out. Over there now lay the accustomed existence with its affairs, but here illumination and ecstasy and rapture held, without time or sequence. Thus your own being encompassed a life here and a life beyond, and there was no bond but the actual moment of the transition.

-- Encounter With Mysticism, Chapter 5 from "Martin Buber's Life and Work," by Maurice Friedman


Part 1 of 2

Chapter 5: Encounter With Mysticism

AS IMPORTANT AS WAS BUBER'S contribution to early Zionism and the Jewish Renaissance movement, it represented in his own life and thought only the first step in his liberation from the aimlessness of the times. In 1918 he recognized what his early essays on the Jewish Renaissance show no inkling of: that becoming part of the Jewish nation does not by itself transform the Jewish man. It gives him roots, to be sure, but he can be just as poor in soul with it as without it. This does not mean that Buber later saw his early nationalistic fervor as entirely invalid. On the contrary, it was an important and essential stage that led to a further transformation. Yet it did so only because it was to him "not a satiating but a soaring, not an entering into the harbor but a setting out on the open sea." But there is a judgment here for all that. If it was a beginning rather than an ending, nonetheless it was "too easy," as he wrote Weizmann, revealing more enthusiasm than substance. "I professed Judaism before I really knew it." Only after blind groping did Buber reach his second step, wanting to know Judaism, and by knowing he did not mean the storing up of knowledge but the biblical knowing of involvement and mutual contact: the immediate, "eye-to-eye knowing of the people in its creative primal hours." It was through such knowing that Buber came to the second important stage on his way, namely, the discovery of Hasidism.

The Hebrew word Hasid means a pious man, and Hasidism is commonly identified as a form of communal pietism, the popular Jewish mysticism which arose in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century and spread like fire among the communities of oppressed and unhappy Jews. Buber spent a lifetime expounding the uniqueness of Hasidism. Yet the encounter with Hasidism was both preceded and followed by an encounter with mysticism as such.

Ernst Simon has remarked that Buber is the finest example of Rilke's dictum that fame is the collection of misunderstandings piled around a great name. None of us is quite willing or able to dispense with categories, particularly in the case of a philosopher and thinker. But we can at least escape the trap of labeling Buber a mystic or not a mystic by focusing on his encounter with mysticism.

One of Buber's earliest encounters with mysticism was within an explicitly social context, the Neue Gemeinschaft, or New Community, founded by the brothers Heinrich and Julius Hart in or near Berlin. The New Community combined an emphasis on divine, boundless swinging upward, as opposed to comfortably settling down, with the aim of a communal settlement which should anticipate the new age in beauty, art, and religious dedication. The New Community was led and taught by the socialist Gustav Landauer. Next to his marriage, Buber's friendship with Landauer, who was eight years older, was probably the decisive relationship of his adult life. Buber met Landauer in 1899 at the time when the latter was almost twenty-nine. Landauer undoubtedly encouraged the switch in Buber's university studies from science and the history of art to Christian mysticism. In 1906, after years of study, Landauer published the first modern edition of the great German mystic Meister Eckhart, a translation which, Hans Kohn points out, bore many resemblances to the basic principles which guided Buber's first attempts to translate Hasidic writings.

During the years 1899 and 1900 Buber was close to the New Community and gave lectures there on the great Lutheran mystic Jacob Boehme and on "Old and New Community." The lecture on Boehme which Buber gave before the New Community undoubtedly formed the basis for the essay on Boehme that he published in 1901 -- the most original and impressive of his earliest writings. Certainly the "wonderful world feeling" of which Buber spoke in this essay is completely consonant with the goals of the New Community. It is more ''world feeling" and the relation of the "I" to the world that absorbed Buber than Boehme's ecstatic experience or his elaborate mystical and gnostic theosophy. What Buber said of Boehme was certainly true of his own experience at this period: for all its effect on one, the world still remained eternally distant and strange. "The individual consumes himself in dumb, hopeless solitude." Nonetheless, we have a relation to the world, which is no completed whole compelling us but is a continual process of becoming. We ourselves form and create this process in that at every moment an unconscious existential judgment about things, i.e., about sense impressions, speaks in us: this is. The changes that our creation awakes themselves become a source of numberless new and liberating sense impressions of many kinds. Thus we are not the slaves but rather the lovers of our world. We do not see the things-in-themselves but our sense impressions -- thus far Buber looked back to Kant. But we enter into a creating and loving relationship with these very sense impressions through which we have an impact on them and they on us.

It is in this essay that Buber quoted Ludwig Feuerbach's thesis that "man with man -- the unity of I and Thou -- is God" -- only to reject it. "We stand nearer today," wrote Buber, "to the teaching of Boehme than to that of Feuerbach, to the feeling of Saint Francis of Assisi who called the trees, the birds, and the stars his brothers and still nearer to the Vedanta." By the Vedanta, Buber meant that central tradition of Hindu mysticism which in its austerest expressions in the Upanishads affirms that reality is nondual (even the statement that it is one would imply a second) and that the seeming multiplicity of the world is actually maya, or the illusion of creation. Buber may have agreed intellectually with the Vedanta at this point, but the prime fact of his experience was the division between the "I" and the world, and the rest of the essay focuses on conflict and love precisely as bridges between separated individuals. Things neither exist in rigid separation nor melt into one another, but reciprocally condition one another.

The world is for Boehme a harmony of individual tones fully developed in their individuality yet born from one movement. But Boehme does not content himself with this bridge between the individual and the world, and "it is in this that he most nearly approaches us. It is not enough that the 'I' unites itself with the world. The 'I' is the world. Since God is the unity of all forces, so each individual bears the properties of all things in himself, and what we call his individuality is only a higher grade or development of this property. Heaven and earth and all creatures and even God himself lie in man." In a curious fusion of Renaissance mysticism and turn-of-the-century vitalism, Buber freely adapted images from the Last Supper and the Christian communion: "When I bring a piece of fruit to my mouth, I feel: this is my body. And when I set wine to my lips, I feel: this is my blood."

The title of Buber's dissertation, written for the University of Vienna, is "From the History of the Problem of Individuation (Nicholas of Cusa and Jacob Boehme)." In the Foreword Buber stated that these were two segments from a larger work which would discuss the history of the problem of individuation from Aristotle to Leibniz and the newer philosophy. Buber chose Cusanus and Boehme with the hope of proving that their metaphysical individualism created the base for that ethics of personality that found its most harmonic philosophical expression in the German theologian Schleiermacher and its most far-reaching literary expression in Emerson. Both Cusanus and Boehme expounded a basic concept that characterized the renewal in Renaissance philosophy of Neo-Platonism (the mysticism of the Greek philosopher Plotinus and his followers): the development of the multiplicity of the sense world out of the unity and simplicity of the idea. For Nicholas of Cusa this meant the emanation of relative realities out of the absolute reality; for Boehme, in contrast, the actualization of the absolute possibility. For both, however, individualization was real. It is significant that Buber did not turn to mysticism, as so many modern thinkers since him have done, as the negation of the self and of personality.

What drew Buber to mysticism was, first of all, his own personal awareness of the threat of infinity and the sense of aloneness in the face of outer separateness and inner contradiction. But it was also clearly that mechanization and mass culture that Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky had protested against in the century that had just concluded. For the medieval mystic the individual was only the bearer of a life experience encompassing the transcendent. Individuation was given only to be renounced and overcome. In contrast to his later interpretation of Meister Eckhart as retaining some independence of the soul from God, Buber here claimed that Eckhart fully identified being with All-being and regarded everything individual as only its negation and as an obstacle on the way to perfection. Although Buber later spoke of Eckhart as the greatest mystic of the Western world, in this early essay he rejected Eckhart's view, or what he supposed it to be, as approaching, in its negation (though only in this), the modern natural sciences. For the natural sciences the individual is also not a specific problem but only in a certain measure the intersection point of several partly known, partly still unknown circles, the point at which the several, more or less investigated, natural laws become operative and are actualized. The world spirit ushered in by the astronomer Laplace would see the individual as only a combination of atoms or of energies in mathematically definable size, manner, and form and their interaction.

Meister Eckhart's theology knows a "Godhead" of which no qualities, except unity and being, can be predicated; it "is becoming," it is not yet Lord of itself, and it represents an absolute coincidence of opposites: "But its simple nature is of forms formless; of becoming becomingless; of beings beingless; of things thingless," etc. Union of opposites is equivalent to unconsciousness, so far as human logic goes, for consciousness presupposes a differentiation into subject and object and a relation between them. Where there is no "other," or it does not yet exist, all possibility of consciousness ceases. Only the Father, the God "welling" out of the Godhead, "notices himself," becomes "beknown to himself," and "confronts himself as a Person." So, from the Father, comes the Son, as the Father's thought of his own being. In his original unity "he knows nothing" except the "suprareal" One which he is. As the Godhead is essentially unconscious, so too is the man who lives in God. In his sermon on "The Poor in Spirit" (Matt. 5: 3), the Meister says: "The man who has this poverty has everything he was when he lived not in any wise, neither in himself, nor in truth, nor in God. He is so quit and empty of all knowing that no knowledge of God is alive in him; for while he stood in the eternal nature of God, there lived in him not another: what lived there was himself. And so we say this man is as empty of his own knowledge as he was when he was not anything; he lets God work what he will, and he stands empty as when he came from God." Therefore he should love God in the following way: "Love him as he is: a not-God, a not-spirit, a not-person, a not-image; as a sheer, pure, clear One, which he is, sundered from all secondness; and in this One let us sink eternally, from nothing to nothing. So help us God. Amen."

The world-embracing spirit of Meister Eckhart knew, without discursive knowledge, the primordial mystical experience of India as well as of the Gnostics, and was itself the finest flower on the tree of the "Free Spirit" that flourished at the beginning of the eleventh century. Well might the writings of this Master lie buried for six hundred years, for "his time was not yet come." Only in the nineteenth century did he find a public at all capable of appreciating the grandeur of his mind.

-- Aion, by C.G. Jung


Cusanus resumed in modern form, said Buber, the perseverance and the absolute value of the individual in his particularity. But individualism for Buber at this juncture, as for Cusanus, did not mean mere difference. It meant uniqueness -- that which makes a person or thing of value in itself, that which is unrepeatable and for which no other value can be substituted, that which is not a matter of usefulness or function but, however much it may exist in relation to others, is an absolute center in itself. This concept of uniqueness -- the uniqueness of the person but also the uniqueness of every thing -- is the first necessary step on Buber's way to the philosophy of dialogue, the "I-Thou" relationship. It is not a sufficient step, however, and for years it was for Buber himself a block to dialogue. Yet the true meaning of the unique relation of the unique person to the unique reality that he encounters can be neither understood nor approached except by way of this concept. This and the idea of the coincidentia oppositorum -- the coincidence of opposites which unites them without diminishing their oppositeness -- are two of the essential ingredients of the "life of dialogue" that Buber took from Nicholas of Cusa and Renaissance mysticism at the beginning of his way. "The seeing of your eye cannot be the seeing of any other eye," he wrote. "The individual is the center point of an infinite world process."

This peculiar linking-together of opposites -- knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism -- is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even when there is no practical reason for them. Thus, the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism. It preaches a contempt for the working class unexampled for centuries past, and it dresses its members in a uniform which was at one time peculiar to manual workers and was adopted for that reason. It systematically undermines the solidarity of the family, and it calls its leader by a name which is a direct appeal to the sentiment of family loyalty. Even the names of the four Ministries by which we are governed exhibit a sort of impudence in their deliberate reversal of the facts. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted -- if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently -- then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

-- Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), by George Orwell


Each creature is perfect even if in relation to another it appears less than perfect, Buber wrote. Each wants to persist in its own being. Even if this persistence should lead to conflict, this conflict is the source of becoming as well as of destruction. And only through the fact that each unfolds itself with all its powers does the harmony of the world-happening awaken, which figures forth the one God in the numberless variety. Over against this multiplicity of absolutely different, indeed opposite, things stands the absolute unity and identity of the divine ground of the world. All is God: the undivided origin, the unfolded world, and the goal of the unification of all being. In Him all things, even the opposites, are included without losing their opposition: He is the complicatio contradictoriorum, the coincidentia oppositorum. The activation and realization of the spiritual power of God is the goal of the creation and of every particular being. The universe is included in each thing, but in each as this particular thing. Everything concrete attains rest in God as in its perfection. Each creature has its line of realization; but God is the point in which all lines of perfection meet. God does not want to abolish the differences of the things in which he reveals himself but to perfect himself in them.



In Boehme, Buber found a more modern thinker than Cusanus and one whose influence on him was equally great and lasting. Boehme combined a really modern dynamic with a dialectic of good and evil taken from the Hebrew Kabbala, a dialectic which Buber later encountered anew in another child of the Kabbala -- Hasidism. "Each thing longs for the other, for it is determined by the other." Its powers are lured out of it and made actual through its encounter with the other. This process leads again not to the overcoming but to the intensification and spread of individuation. Even "fire," Boehme's "lower ternary" into which everything is drawn and consumed, indirectly serves the "upper ternary" of light. The higher it flames up, the higher is the light.

Suspicions aroused by the facts that the Zohar was discovered by one person, and that it refers to historical events of the post-Talmudic period while purporting to be from an earlier time, caused the authorship to be questioned from the outset. Joseph Jacobs and Isaac Broyde, in their article on the Zohar for the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, cite a story involving the noted Kabbalist Isaac of Acco, who is supposed to have heard directly from the widow of de Leon that her husband proclaimed authorship by Shimon bar Yochai for profit:

A story tells that after the death of Moses de Leon, a rich man of Avila named Joseph offered Moses' widow (who had been left without any means of supporting herself) a large sum of money for the original from which her husband had made the copy. She confessed that her husband himself was the author of the work. She had asked him several times, she said, why he had chosen to credit his own teachings to another, and he had always answered that doctrines put into the mouth of the miracle-working Shimon bar Yochai would be a rich source of profit. The story indicates that shortly after its appearance the work was believed by some to have been written by Moses de Leon.

-- Zohar, by Wikipedia


We have learnt that on the dread day when a man's time comes to depart from the world, four quarters of the world indict him, and punishments rise up from all four quarters, and four elements fall to quarrelling and seek to depart each to its own side. Then a herald goes forth and makes proclamation, which is heard in two hundred and seventy worlds. If the man is worthy, all the worlds welcome him with joy, but if not, alas for that man and his portion! We have learnt that when the herald makes proclamation, a flame goes forth from the North and passes through the "stream of fire", and divides itself to the four quarters of the world to burn the souls of sinners. It then goes forth and flies up and down till it alights between the wings of a black cock. The cock then flaps its wings and cries out at the threshold of the gate. The first time it cries: "Behold, the day cometh burning like a furnace, etc." (Mal. III, 19). The second time it cries: "For lo, he that formeth the mountains and createth the wind and declareth unto man what is his thought" (Amos IV, 13); that is the time when a man's deeds testify against him and he acknowledges them. The third time is when they come to remove his soul from him and the cock cries: "Who would not fear thee, King of the nations? For to thee doth it appertain, etc." (Jer. X, 7).

Said R. Jose: 'Why must it be a black cock?'

R. Judah replied: 'Whatever the Almighty does has a mystic significance. We have learnt that chastisement does not fall save upon a place which is akin to it. Now black is the symbol of the side of Judgement, and therefore when the flame goes forth, it strikes the wings of a black cock, as being the most appropriate. So when man's judgement hour is near, it commences to call to him, and no one knows save the patient himself, as we have learnt, that when a man is ill and his time is approaching to depart from the world a new spirit enters into him from above, in virtue of which he sees things which he could not see before, and then he departs from the world. So it is written: "For man shall not see me and live"; in their lifetime they may not see, but at the hour of death they may.

We have further learnt that at the time of a man's death he is allowed to see his relatives and companions from the other world. If he is virtuous, they all rejoice before him and give him greeting, but if not, then he is recognized only by the sinners who every day are thrust down to Gehinnom. They are all in great gloom and begin and end their converse with "woe!". Raising his eyes, he beholds them like a flame shooting up from the fire, and he also exclaims "woe!".

We have learnt that when a man's soul departs from him, all his relatives and companions in the other world join it and show it the place of delight and the place of torture. If he is virtuous he beholds his place and ascends and sits there and enjoys the delights of the other world. But if he is not virtuous, his soul remains in this world until his body is buried in the dust, and then the executioners take hold of him and drag him down to Dumah and to his appointed storey in Gehinhom.'

R. Judah said: 'For seven days the soul goes to and fro from his house to his grave, and from his grave to his house, mourning for the body, [219a] as it is written: "His flesh shall suffer pain for him, and his soul shall mourn for it" (Job XIV, 22), and it grieves to behold the sadness in the house. We have learnt that after seven days the body begins to decay, and the soul goes in to its place. It enters the cave of Machpelah, where it is allowed in up to a certain point according to its deserts. It then reaches the place of the Garden of Eden and meets the Cherubim and the flashing sword which is in the lower Garden of Eden, and if it is worthy to enter, it enters. We have learnt that four pillars are waiting there with the form of a body in their hands, and with this it gleefully clothes itself and then remains in its appointed circle in the Garden of Eden for its allotted time.

Then a herald makes proclamation and a pillar of three colours is brought forward, which is called "the habitation of Mount Zion" (Is. IV, 5). By means of this pillar it ascends to the gate of righteousness, in which are Zion and Jerusalem. If it is worthy to ascend further, then happy is its portion and lot that it becomes attached to the Body of the King. If it is not worthy to ascend further, then "he that is left in Zion and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called holy" But if it is privileged to ascend further, then it beholds the glory of the King, and enjoys the supernal delight from the place which is called Heaven. Happy he that is vouchsafed this grace.'

-- The Zohar, by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon


The Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig published one passage from Buber's dissertation as his contribution to a volume of "unknown writings" issued in honor of Buber's fiftieth birthday. The passage in question was a brief side discussion of the teaching of Valentin Weigel, who seemed, to the Buber of that period, to offer a more satisfactory answer to the problem of opposites than Boehme, who treated it historically, as a problem of creation. Boehme oscillates between theism and pantheism, wrote Buber, and never worked his way out of this conflict.

Oscillation noun \ˌä-sə-ˈlā-shən\: the act of regularly moving from one position to another and back to the original position; a frequent change from one state, position, or amount to another; the act of changing from one belief, feeling, etc., to an opposite one.

-- Oscillation, by Merriam Webster


Weigel, like Buber himself at this period, points to "the becoming God" -- a teaching which Buber many years later rejected categorically. In 1904, however, Buber suggested that Weigel went beyond Boehme precisely in his doctrine that only through the creation of the world does God become God and the doctrine that God comes to that self-knowledge which completes consciousness only in man, i.e., in the evolution of creation, the evolution of God in the world. Rosenzweig rightly contrasts this statement with Buber's later (1923) condemnation of "the hopelessly perverted conception that God is not but rather becomes -- in man or in mankind." Buber himself pointed to it later as something that had been destroyed in him during the First World War:

Since 1900 I had first been under the influence of German mysticism from Meister Eckhart to Angelus Silesius ....


Angelus Silesius echoes:

Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born
And not within thyself, thy soul will be forlorn.
The Cross on Golgotha thou lookest to in vain
Unless within thyself it be set up again.

-- The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, by Max Heindel


according to which the primal ground (Urgrund) of being, the nameless, impersonal godhead, comes to "birth" in the human soul; then I had been under the influence of the later Kabbala and of Hasidism, according to which man has the power to unite the God who is over the world with his shekinah dwelling in the world. In this way there arose in me the thought of a realization of God through man; man appeared to me as the being through whose existence the Absolute, resting in its truth, can gain the character of reality.

There are three types of men who drive away the Shekinah from the world, making it impossible for the Holy One, blessed be He, to fix His abode in the universe, and causing prayer to be unanswered. One is he who cohabits with a woman in the days of her separation. There is no impurity comparable with this. He defiles himself and all connected with him. The child born of such a union is shapen in impurity, imbibes the spirit of impurity, and its whole life is founded on impurity. Next is he who lies with a heathen woman, for he profanes herewith the sacred sign of the covenant which constitutes the support of the sacred Name and the essence of faith. As soon as "the people committed whoredom" with the daughters of Moab, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel (Num. XXV, 1-3). The leaders of the people, who did not endeavour to prevent them, were the first to be punished, and in every generation it is the leaders who are made responsible for all the members of the community in regard to the profanation of the sign of the covenant, which is "sun and shield": as the sun gives light to the world, so does the holy sign give light to the body, and as the shield protects, so does the holy sign protect. He who keeps it in purity is guarded from evil. But he who transfers this sign of holiness into a strange domain, breaks the commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods but Me"; for to deny the king's seal is equivalent to denying the king himself. Next is he who purposely prevents the seed from coming to fruition, for he destroys the King's workmanship and so causes the Holy One to depart from the world. This sin is the cause of war, famine, and pestilence, and it prevents the Shekinah from finding any resting place in the world. For these abominations the spirit of holiness weeps. Woe to him who causes this: it were better that he had never been born.

-- The Zohar, by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon


It is clear from this confession that Meister Eckhart had more decisive and lasting influence on Buber than his doctoral dissertation suggests. The eternal birth of God in the soul, the dialogue between the soul and God in which God laughs at the soul and the soul laughs back at God, the emphasis upon life as more basic than the meaning of life -- all entered not only into Buber's early mysticism but into his later existentialism and his philosophy of dialogue.

[HI 150] Are you lonely, Oh Image, I see no entourage and no companions around you; Image is only your other half. You live with flowers, trees, and birds, but not with men. Should you not live with men? Are you still a man? Do you want nothing from men? Do you not see how they stand together and concoct rumors and childish fairy tales about you? Do you not want to go to them and say that you are a man and a mortal as they are, and that you want to love them? Oh Image, you laugh? I understand you. Just now I ran into your garden and wanted to tear out of you what I had to understand from within myself.

Oh Image, I understand: immediately I made you into a savior who lets himself be consumed and bound with gifts. That's what men are like, you think; they are all still Christians. But they want even more: they want you as you are, otherwise you would not be to them and they would be inconsolable, if they could find no bearer for their legends. Hence they would also laugh, if you approached them and said you were as mortal as they are and want to love them. If you did that, you would not be Image. They want you, Image, but not another mortal who suffers from the same ills as they do.

I understand you, Oh Image, you are a true / [150/151] lover, since you love your soul for the sake of men, because they need a king who lives from himself and owes no one gratitude for his life. They want to have you thus. You fulfill the wish of the people and you vanish. You are a vessel of fables. You would besmirch yourself if you went to men as a man, since they would all laugh and call you a liar and a swindler, since Image is not a man.

I saw, Oh Image, that crease in your face: you were young once and wanted to be a man among men. But the Christian animals did not love your pagan humanity, since they felt in you what they needed. They always sought the branded one, and when they caught him somewhere in freedom, they locked him in a golden cage and took from him the force of his masculinity, so that he was paralyzed and sat in silence. Then they praise him and devise fables about him. I know, they call this veneration. And if they do not find the true one, they at least have a Pope, whose occupation it is to represent the divine comedy. But the true one always disowns himself, since he knows nothing higher than to be a man.

Are you laughing, Oh Image? I understand you: it irked you to be a man like others. And because you truly loved being human, you voluntarily locked it away so that you could be for men at least what they wanted to have from you. Therefore I see you, Oh Image, not with men, but wholly with flowers, the trees and the birds and all waters flowing and still that do not besmirch your humanity. For you are not Image to the flowers, trees, and birds, but a man. Yet what solitude, what inhumanity! / [151/152]

***

[HI 152] Why are you laughing, Oh Image, I cannot fathom you. But do I not see the blue air of your garden? What happy shades surround you? Does the sun hatch blue midday specters around you?

Are you laughing, Oh Image? Alas, I understand you: humanity has completely faded for you, but its shadow has arisen for you. How much greater and happier the shadow of humanity is than it is itself! The blue midday shadows of the dead! Alas, there is your humanity, Oh Image, you are a teacher and friend of the dead. They stand sighing in the shade of your house, they live under the branches of your trees. They drink the dew of your tears, they warm themselves at the goodness of your heart, they hunger after the words of your wisdom, which sounds full to them, full of the sounds of life. I saw you, Oh Image, at the noonday hour when the sun stood highest; you stood speaking with a blue shade, blood stuck to its forehead and solemn torment darkened it. I can guess, Oh Image, who your midday guest was. [280] How blind I was, fool that I am! That is you, Oh Image! But who am I! I go my way, shaking my head, and people's looks follow me and I remain silent. Oh despairing silence! / [152/153] [HI 153]

-- The Red Book: Liber Novus, by C.G. Jung


In 1921 Buber was to quote, as a companion saying to the central teaching of Hasidism, one of the propositions of Meister Eckhart condemned by the Pope in 1329: "The noble man is that only-begotten Son of God whom the Father eternally begets."

The frame of society is aristocratic, the taste of the people is loyal. The estates, names, and manners of the nobles flatter the fancy of the people, and conciliate the necessary support. In spite of broken faith, stolen charters, and the devastation of society by the profligacy of the court, we take sides as we read for the loyal England and King Charles’ “return to his right” with his Cavaliers,—knowing what a heartless trifler he is, and what a crew of God-forsaken robbers they are. The people of England knew as much. But the fair idea of a settled government connecting itself with heraldic names, with the written and oral history of Europe, and, at last, with the Hebrew religion, and the oldest traditions of the world, was too pleasing a vision to be shattered by a few offensive realities, and the politics of shoemakers and costermongers. The hopes of the commoners take the same direction with the interest of the patricians. Every man who becomes rich buys land, and does what he can to fortify the nobility, into which he hopes to rise. The Anglican clergy are identified with the aristocracy. Time and law have made the joining and moulding perfect in every part. The Cathedrals, the Universities, the national music, the popular romances, conspire to uphold the heraldry, which the current politics of the day are sapping. The taste of the people is conservative. They are proud of the castles, and of the language and symbol of chivalry. Even the word lord is the luckiest style that is used in any language to designate a patrician. The superior education and manners of the nobles recommend them to the country.

The Norwegian pirate got what he could, and held it for his eldest son. The Norman noble, who was the Norwegian pirate baptized, did likewise. There was this advantage of western over oriental nobility, that this was recruited from below. English history is aristocracy with the doors open. Who has courage and faculty, let him come in. Of course, the terms of admission to this club are hard and high. The selfishness of the nobles comes in aid of the interest of the nation to require signal merit. Piracy and war gave place to trade, politics, and letters; the war-lord to the law-lord; the law-lord to the merchant and the mill-owner; but the privilege was kept, whilst the means of obtaining it were changed.

The foundations of these families lie deep in Norwegian exploits by sea, and Saxon sturdiness on land. All nobility in its beginnings was somebody’s natural superiority. The things these English have done were not done without peril of life nor without wisdom and conduct; and the first hands, it may be presumed, were often challenged to show their right to their honors, or yield them to better men. “He that will be a head, let him be a bridge,” said the Welsh chief Benegridran, when he carried all his men over the river on his back. “He shall have the book,” said the mother of Alfred, “who can read it;” and Alfred won it by that title: and I make no doubt that feudal tenure was no sinecure, but baron, knight, and tenant often had their memories refreshed, in regard to the service by which they held their lands. The De Veres, Bohuns, Mowbrays, and Plantagenets were not addicted to contemplation. The Middle Age adorned itself with proofs of manhood and devotion. Of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, the Emperor told Henry V. that no Christian king had such another knight for wisdom, nurture, and manhood, and caused him to be named, “Father of curtesie.” “Our success in France,” says the historian, “lived and died with him.”

-- Aristocracy, from "Essays and English Traits," by Ralph Waldo Emerson


Buber opened his 1904 article on Landauer's writings with a quotation from Landauer's translation of Meister Eckhart. Through this article we can understand Landauer's impact on Buber and the way in which the dialogue between the two men issued into a fruitful dialectic in Buber's own thought. Though none of Buber's own writings even hint at the radical skepticism that underlay Landauer's mysticism as well as his anarchism and his socialism, it is clear that Buber confronted that skepticism and developed his own thinking in response to it. The modern mystic has often, indeed, come to his mysticism by way of radical negation.

"My own role? Nothing. Zero ... So one day, if the Dalai Lama becomes a mass murderer, he will become the most deadly of mass murderers." [Laughs]

-- The Dalai Lama Interview, by Amitabha Pal
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Re: Encounter With Mysticism, Ch. 5 from Martin Buber's Life

Postby admin » Thu Feb 26, 2015 9:18 am

Part 2 of 2

But Buber extended this insight into a hardly tenable generalization, supposedly true of all mystics and philosophers, and he made Landauer the crowning representative of them all.

... That which is the representative meaning of his work, the insight that all true working is rooted in the deepest doubt, all genuine creation rests in the most radical negation, all pure world-affirmation proceeds from the most ultimate despair, philosophers and mystics of all ages have intimated; but none has won this insight for our immediate life feeling and made it as fruitful as he had, with no one has this basic motif taken so far-reaching and manifold forms ...; he does not exhaust himself in attacking dogmas, making answers questionable, shattering securities, but each time he knows to replace an old dogma by a new world-image, an old answer by a new world-metaphor, and he erects a kingdom of playful, creatively conscious illusion there where all ground has given way under one's feet.

If we can recognise such a person by his signs what epitomises the nature of the experience that he has? What concept better describes the process of reconciliation of the opposites, than suffering?

1. Whipping John 19:1-29
2. Crown of thorns "
3. Humiliation "
4. Beating "
5. Carrying cross "
6. Crucifixion "
7. Vinegar "

-- Reconciliation, Orientation and Unity, by Jack Courtis, Kabala Series, Rosicrucian Archive


Landauer was above all else a pathbreaker for Buber in his slow and painful progress from soaring enthusiasm to the "lived concrete." Landauer left the New Community after a short while, rejecting as utopian quackery the Hart brothers' suspension of all opposites in a bath of optimistic good will. Landauer recognized the tragic as an essential element of life. As a man of the new age, he demanded, like Buber later, looking reality in the face without fear, affirming its tragedy without sentimentality and working in and through it.

Buber's great personal admiration for Landauer is evident from his comparison of two essays on anarchy that Landauer had written six years apart. The road from one to another is not merely a development, he said, but one of the most beautiful documents of human self-liberation. In the latter Landauer recognized that in his earlier desire to bring freedom to the people he was not an anarchist but a despot. Those are free, Buber commented, who detach themselves from all compulsion of the soul and now devote themselves to erecting a new society in the midst of the old one.

And Mary continued again and said: "My Lord, all men who have received the mysteries of the First Mystery and the mysteries of the Ineffable, those who have not transgressed, but whose faith in the mysteries was in sincerity, without play-acting, -- they then have again sinned through the compulsion of the Fate and have again turned and repented and again prayed in any of the mysteries, how often will it be forgiven them?"

And the Saviour answered and said unto Mary in the midst of his disciples: "Amēn, amēn, I say unto you: All men who shall receive the mysteries of the Ineffable and moreover the mysteries of the First Mystery, sin every time through the compulsion of the Fate, and if they, when they are still in life, turn and repent and abide in any of their mysteries, it will be forgiven them at every time, because those mysteries are compassionate and forgiving for all time. For this cause then have I said unto you before: Those mysteries will not only forgive them their sins which they have committed from the beginning onwards, but they do not impute them to them from this hour onwards, -- of which I have said unto you that they receive repentance at any time, and that they also will forgive the sins which they commit anew.

-- Pistis Sophia, translated by G.S.R. Mead


4. What Kind of Love?

The preceding passage may introduce the last section of our study, the question of what kind of love is at stake here. As we remarked earlier, the kind of love has really ceased to be a separate issue because the question of what is loved now completely defines the kind of love involved. One has a certain kind of love for a child, for a parent, for a man or woman, for an animal, for a piece of music, for a painting, for a landscape. They are all different feelings, which get lumped together under the well-worn blanket term love. But in each case the type of love is attuned to its "object," to what is loved. Thus, if the soul loves fate, the kind of love must be appropriate to fate, must be fate-ful -- in other words, the soul itself becomes fate. This is a bold statement that we must consider very carefully. Let us look at a passage from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, entitled "On the Great Longing":

O my soul, I taught you to persuade so well that you persuade the very ground -- like the sun who persuades even the sea to his own height.

O my soul, I took from you all obeying, kneebending, and "Lord"-saying; I myself gave you the name "cessation of need" and "destiny."

O my soul, I gave you new names and colorful toys; I called you "destiny" and "circumference of circumferences" and "umbilical cord of time" and "azure bell." [17]

This passage dramatically expresses why we are no longer dealing with two separate questions: Fate is a name for the soul. The soul is placed in a cosmic dimension in that it is compared to the sun, just as Zarathustra often speaks with the sun and, like it, periodically goes under. This means that the soul is not to be understood in a personal or psychological way, but as part of the cosmos, indeed as a very important part. Playing on the word for necessity, Not-wendigkeit, Nietzsche gives it the very concrete meaning of "turning the need" and couples it with fate. The soul is fate and necessity, fate and turning the need.

-- The Other Nietzsche, by Joan Stambaugh


Anarchy is, in truth, a basic disposition of every man who wants to form a new being out of himself; he feels that a death must precede every rebirth. It is precisely this insight that one must become nothing in order to reach the really new that Buber adopted two years later in the startlingly different form of the teachings of the Baal-Shem-Tov.

The path without a heart will turn against men and destroy them. It does not take much to die, and to seek death is to seek nothing.

-- The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda


Even in this earlier form, the mystical quality is unmistakable. He is freest who is most inwardly bound to the world, Buber proclaimed; for he lets what is most inward in him rule. In him the life of all the generations from which he has come has become a new, unique reality. This statement looks back to "the wonderful world feeling" of Buber's 1901 essay on Boehme and forward to the contrast between inward "blood" and outward "environment" in the first of his "Speeches on Judaism."

Blood is therefore the material that builds up the human body. We have before us a process in which the blood extracts from its cosmic environment the highest substance it can possibly obtain, viz., oxygen, which renews the blood and supplies it with fresh life. In this manner our blood is caused to open itself to the outer world.

We have thus followed the path from the exterior world to the interior one, and also back again from that inner world to the outer one. Two things are now possible. We see that blood originates when man confronts the external world as an independent being, when out of the perceptions to which the external world has given rise, he in his turn produces different shapes and pictures on his own account, thus himself becoming creative, and making it possible for the Ego, the individual Will, to come into life. A being in whom this process had not yet taken place would not be able to say "I." In the blood lies the principle for the development of the ego. The "I" can only be expressed when a being is able to form within itself the pictures which it has obtained from the outer world. An "I-being" must be capable of taking the external world into itself, and of inwardly reproducing it.

Were man endowed with only a brain, he would only be able to reproduce pictures of the outer world within himself, and to experience them within himself: he would then only be able to say: "The outer world is reflected in me as in a mirror." If, however, he is able to build up a new form for this reflection of the external world, this form is no longer merely the external world reflected, it is "I." A creature possessed of a sympathetic nervous system only reflects the world which surrounds it; it does not perceive that outer world as itself, as its inner life. A being possessed of a spinal cord and a brain perceives the reflection as its inner life. But when a creature possesses blood, it experiences its inner life as its own form. By means of the blood, assisted by the oxygen of the external world, the individual body is formed according to the pictures of the inner life. This formation is expressed as the perception of the "I."

The ego turns in two directions, and the blood expresses this fact externally. The vision of the ego is directed inwards: its will is turned outwards. The forces of the blood are directed inwards: they build up the inner man, and again they are turned outwards to the oxygen of the external world. This is why, on going to sleep, man sinks into unconsciousness; he sinks into that which his consciousness can experience in the blood. When, however, he again opens his eyes to the outer world, his blood adds to its constructive forces the pictures produced by the brain and the senses. Thus the blood stands midway, as it were, between the inner world of pictures and the exterior living world of form. This role becomes clear to us when we study two phenomena, viz., ancestry -- the relationship between conscious beings -- and experience in the world of external events. Ancestry, or descent, places us where we stand in accordance with the law of blood-relationship. A person is born of a connection, a race, a tribe, a line of ancestors, and what these ancestors have bequeathed to him is expressed in his blood. In the blood is gathered together, as it were, all that the material past has constructed in man; and in the blood is also being formed all that is being prepared for the future.

-- The Occult Significance of Blood, by Rudolf Steiner


That there is a Nietzschean and even a Cartesian element in the skepticism of Landauer as interpreted by Buber is not surprising.

[Carlos Fuentes, Writer and Friend] The greatest surrealism isn't French. Surrealism was born in France, but was only theory. Born in rationalism, it's a Cartesian surrealism, and that's a paradox, right? But the great surrealist artists, like Max Ernst in Germany and Bunuel in Spain, go to their cultural roots and from there extract the surrealist worldview. Bunuel is a modern surrealist, but he has behind him Goya, Valle Inclan, Cervantes, the picaresque, St. John of the Cross, and all that extraordinary Spanish culture that feeds him.

-- A Proposito de Bunuel (Regarding Bunuel), La consejeria del Gobierno de Aragon, Con la ayuda del Ministerio de Cultura ICAA, Producciones AmArAntA, Scriptwriter Agustin Sanchez Vidal


Descartes' certainty only of his own existence, reducing all else to the status of unreal phantoms, can be overcome, wrote Buber, only by an act of Nietzschean will that creates the world even when it has no ground to do so -- out of the sheer unwillingness to live in a solipsistic hell.

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.

-- Mark Twain


If the world that is thus created is mystical, it is a mysticism so frankly subjective as to alienate him who looks to mysticism to supply the meaning which the world has not offered. "This world is mine," asserted Buber, "created by me, with that highest validity that only the act of creating can lend it. The spectre of absolute truth is driven away; only the world-images of the individuals live, and that means comprehending the world not with the detached intellect but with one's whole personal being."

Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration. As moral relativism, the term is often used in the context of moral principles, where principles and ethics are regarded as applicable in only limited context. There are many forms of relativism which vary in their degree of controversy.The term often refers to truth relativism, which is the doctrine that there are no absolute truths, i.e., that truth is always relative to some particular frame of reference, such as a language or a culture (cultural relativism)....

The Catholic Church, especially under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, has identified relativism as one of the most significant problems for faith and morals today. According to the Church and to some theologians, relativism, as a denial of absolute truth, leads to moral license and a denial of the possibility of sin and of God. Whether moral or epistemological, relativism constitutes a denial of the capacity of the human mind and reason to arrive at truth. Truth, according to Catholic theologians and philosophers (following Aristotle) consists of adequatio rei et intellectus, the correspondence of the mind and reality. Another way of putting it states that the mind has the same form as reality. This means when the form of the computer in front of someone (the type, color, shape, capacity, etc.) is also the form that is in their mind, then what they know is true because their mind corresponds to objective reality. The denial of an absolute reference, of an axis mundi, denies God, who equates to Absolute Truth, according to these Christian theologians. They link relativism to secularism, an obstruction of religion in human life....

John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor: "As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature."

-- Relativism, by Wikipedia


There are no individuals, only communities, Buber paraphrased Landauer. The generations are only the rhythm of the waves of a great stream; in each individual the whole of the world of his ancestors is real and effective, and so much the stronger the more he withdraws from the environment into himself. It was Buber and not Landauer, as Hans Kohn has pointed out, who made this insight of Landauer's a guidepost for his life. Although Buber was never the man simply to adopt another man's ideas, there is no question but that the influence of his friendship with Landauer on his own development was incalculable.

In his earlier writing, Landauer was unwilling and perhaps unable to give finished artistic expression to his personal development in the very process of its becoming. In this respect, the two men could have formed no greater contrast; for Buber's own early works of a year or two hence were all too artistic. Yet Buber paid tribute to the unity of life-experience which Landauer expressed in these works as deeper and greater than "the great mass of smooth and well-rounded productions that are today called literature." One feels, Buber wrote, that here someone has set down his innermost struggles, still trembling with life -- pure, undialectical becoming, which he makes no attempt to explain causally. Buber summed up the two main stages of Landauer's development in the two sentences: "We must burst all bonds in order to find ourselves," and "We must bind ourselves in the moment that we have burst all bonds." The freedom of the first is a revolution which is not merely talked about but already formed. Through it the breath of the free mountains blows, and in it we can feel the stretching of unshackled limbs; yet the freedom of the second is greater still: lived rebirth.

In Ecstatic Confessions (1909) Buber brought together a large number of personal descriptions of mystic ecstasy from a wide range of times, religions, and cultures which he had spent many years in assembling. In 1903 he shared the plan for this project with Gustav Landauer when he sent him his comments on his unpublished Eckhart manuscript. In 1907 he wrote Eugen Diedrichs, the future publisher, that although he intended to include a number of little-known German Catholic women in his selection, such as Mechtild von Magdeburg, his "Confessions" had as little to do with Catholicism as with Protestantism and was much more concerned with life-affirmation and positive genius than with asceticism and world-flight. He saw these "communications of visionary, dream-endowed persons about their innermost lives" as "a document of the greatest importance for the soul of humanity," but if he did not find the publishers he thought just right for it, he was quite ready to postpone or even abandon the project and keep it for his personal pleasure.

In the introductory essay, "Ecstasy and Confession," Buber presented what he believed to be the essence of those experiences. The ecstatic at the time of ecstasy has achieved true and perfect unity, Buber claimed, in which the world and the "I" are one and all multiplicity has disappeared. Speech is a part of the world of multiplicity and therefore can have no place in the experience of the ecstatic, nor can anything external, whether person or thing. Yet when the ecstatic returns to the meeting with his fellowmen, he cannot help but try to communicate his experience to them. To attempt to express the ineffable is the tension and pathos of the ecstatic -- the impossible task which he can neither fulfill nor lay aside.

The important question that we must ask is whether the unity which the mystic experiences in ecstasy was seen by Buber simply as a subjective phenomenon, as he later held it to be, or whether it has metaphysical significance. Not suspecting that their poor individual "I" contains the world "I," asserted Buber, most mystics have connected their experience with God and have made of it a multiform mystery. Only in the primitive world of India is the "I" proclaimed that is one with the All and with the One. The unity which the ecstatic experiences when he has brought all his former multiplicity into oneness is not a relative unity; for the ecstatic man no longer has outside of himself others with whom he has community: it is the absolute, unlimited oneness which includes all others -- complete identification.

No sooner had he stated this position of unqualified nondualism, however, than Buber modified it in the direction of the dynamic mysticism of Boehme and Meister Eckhart. The mystic desires to create a lasting memorial of his ineffable experience of ecstasy, and in so doing he brings the timeless into time and changes the unity without multiplicity into the unity of all multiplicity. On the magic wings of communication and the word, Buber glided from mystical ecstasy to the great myths of the One which becomes the many because it wishes to see and be seen, to comprehend itself as many while remaining One. This is the myth of the primeval Self that turns itself into world, that of the "In that creates a ''Thou.'' Thus the ecstatic experience is only one pole of the movement of the world spirit from the many to the one and the one to the many. "We turn inward and listen -- and we do not know which sea's roar it is that we hear."

As I have pointed out in Touchstones of Reality, there is a distinction between accepting the validity of mystical experience and the ontological or metaphysical concepts that mystics have inferred from that experience. Even at this early stage, Buber was unwilling to equate the experience of nonduality with an unqualified philosophy of nonduality. At the same time it is clear that he did not see the mystic experience as the Christian unio mystica or as an encounter with a power that accosted and seized him, but as a turning inward to some ground of being beneath the individual "I." Forty-five years later, Buber wrote me:

As far as I understand mysticism, its essential trait is the belief in a (momentous) "union" with the Divine or the absolute, a union not occurring after death but in the course of mortal life, i.e., as interruption. If you read attentively the introduction to Ekstatiche Konfessionen, you will see that even then, in my "mystical" period, I did not believe in it, but only in a "mystical" unification of the Self, identifying the depth of the individual self with the Self itself.


In 1910, a year after the publication of Ecstasy and Confession, Buber attended the first German conference of sociologists at Frankfurt am Main. In a major address, the eminent German sociologist and historian of religion Ernst Troeltsch proposed that mysticism should be added to church and sect as a sociological category. During the debate which followed, Buber quite properly criticized this attempt to erect a type of religious experience into a social form or group. But he went on to assert that mysticism should be understood as a "religious solipsism," a completely isolated experience of the individual self.

It is, said Buber, simply a psychological category -- the most absolute realization of that special quality of self-perception and that intensity of self-enhancement which makes possible an "apperception of God," the founding of a personal relation to a content of the soul experienced as God. Although the social forms of religion are sometimes founded on mysticism, mysticism itself negates community. For it there is only one real relationship, the relationship of the individual to God. The pure type of mystic is completely unconcerned with outer freedom, which has for him neither value nor reality in the face of the inner freedom of his relation with the divine. External unfreedom is even a positive value for him, since it pushes him invariably into isolation and thus disciplines him invariably for his task. Mysticism, "the true content of the religious experience," can have nothing to do with the normalization of the relationships between men.

This statement demonstrates dramatically how Buber's early thought did not grow all of a piece but proceeded forward in one direction while remaining behind in another. It is as if Buber were simultaneously at least four different persons at this point: the interpreter and spokesman for Hasidism -- the decidedly communal Jewish mysticism; the editor of the series of forty social-psychological monographs of Die Gesellschaft, for which he coined the category of das Zwischenmenschliche -- what is between man and man; the young prophetic voice calling the Jewish people to awareness of themselves as a people; and the lonely mystic seeking his isolated relationship with God. A long road still lay ahead to that personal integration in the mature light of which Buber criticized Kierkegaard for the very religious solipsism that he here exalted. What is more, the tendency to relegate all reality, including the religious, to the soul, against which Buber was to warn in the strongest possible terms thirteen years later, clearly triumphed here. The psychologism at the heart of his definition of mysticism is unmistakable.

In ''The Teaching of the Tao," written in the same year that this sociological conference was held, Buber took a decisive step forward in integrating his encounter with mysticism into his personal philosophy. This essay focuses not upon mystical experience but upon a central teaching and a central person. The teaching is a simple whole which includes all of one's life. It must be distinguished from science and law -- which are concerned only with a part of one's life -- and from religion, which, as a degeneration of the teaching, is a collection of parts. The teaching goes beyond "is" and "ought," knowledge and command; it only knows how to say the one thing needful that must be realized in genuine fulfilled life. This realization is no abstract conception, feeling, or act of will, no unity of world, knowledge, God, spirit, or being. Rather it is the unity of this human life and this human soul. Genuine life is united life. Each thing reveals the Tao through the way of existence, through its life. But the oneness of the world is only the product and reflection of the oneness of the completed human being.

The teaching is realized in genuine life, wrote Buber in 1910, the life of the "central man." The central man adds no new element to teaching. Rather he fulfills it in authentic, unified life, raising the conditioned into the unconditioned. He seeks out and speaks to the simple, his poor brothers in spirit, in the language that they can hear: in parable. When he dies, the memory of his life becomes a parable itself. Parable is the insertion of the absolute into the world of events, myth the insertion of the world of things in to the absolute. Parable and myth stand between teaching and religion, leading from the one to the other. They "attach themselves to the central human life in which the teaching has found its purest fulfillment: the parable as the word of this man himself, the myth as the impact of this life on the consciousness of the age."

If the teaching must be refracted in the prism of the parable, so the life too of the central man is not seen as reflected in a mirror but as refracted in a prism: it is mythicized.

Myth does not mean that one brings the stars down to earth and allows them to tread it in human shape; rather in it the bliss-bestowing human shape is elevated to heaven, and moon and sun, Orion and the Pleiades, serve only to adorn it. Myth is not an affair of yonder and of old, but a function of today and of all times, of this city where I write and of all places of man. This is an eternal function of the soul: the insertion of what is experienced... into the magic of existence. The stronger the tension and intensity of the experience, the greater the formative power that is experienced. Where the highest shape, the hero and saviour, the sublimest event, the life that he has lived, and the mightiest tension, the profound emotion of the simple, meet, the myth arises which compels all the future.


The great German sociologist Georg Simmel wrote Buber that with the concept of "teaching" he had singled out a very important and autonomous category that hitherto had been obscured amid other tendencies. "What you communicate out of Chinese philosophy is of extraordinary significance. Like the theses of Meister Eckhart, it gives one the feeling of something necessary breaking out of the depths."

The emphasis on realization of unity of life as more important than any philosophical knowledge or religious belief, and the doctrine of the action which is performed with the whole being, play an increasingly significant role in Buber's philosophy from this time forth and enter into his interpretation of Hasidism and Judaism. Yet the teaching of the unity of the central person and the world is still "mystical" in a sense that Buber's mature thought is not.

At this period and immediately after it. Buber was working on his first attempt at a comprehensive and original philosophical statement -- Daniel: Dialogues of Realization. In Daniel, the mystic's demand for a life lived in terms of the highest reality and the existentialist's demand for self-realization and genuine existence meet in spirit. As such it forms an important transition between Buber's early mysticism and his later existentialism of dialogue. It also shows explicitly why Buber had to pass through mysticism in order to reach his own independent relation to being and why he could not simply reject mysticism after he arrived at dialogue as so many of the Protestant theologians who have adopted the "I-Thou" philosophy do. The reason Buber had to turn his back on his earlier mystical philosophy is an existential one. He recognized that through this philosophy he had tried to attain unity at the cost of denying his life-experience. Yet mysticism bequeathed to Buber a glimpse of an essential reality which had to be realized in the fragmentariness of existence. Thus the way of the Vedanta confirmed in him the striving for unity; for what revealed itself to him in detachment and concentration must prove itself true in the scattered totality of his life-experience.

In 1914, the year after the publication of Daniel, Buber wrote two separate essays which cast a curiously contrasting light on his relationship to mysticism. In "The Altar" Buber described the famous Issenheim altar, a triptych by the painter Matthias Grunewald, whom Buber called a brother to Meister Eckhart, who preached two centuries before in the same Alsatian cloisters. The traditional Christian figures in the painting emerge in Buber's treatment as the characters in a drama of color pointing to a new sort of mysticism -- found within the world of sense rather than apart from it. The glory above color is the spirit of heaven which does not disclose itself to earth. "Our world, the world of colors, is the world." Yet we are not condemned to a fragmentary existence. The person who realizes the teaching in a central life becomes one through the strength with which he embraces the world. He rejects none of its colors, yet he receives none of them before it is pure and intensified. Through this the real world, the world of colors, is revealed. This is not the original unity. It is the unified glory achieved out of becoming and out of deed. "He loves the world, but he fights for its unconditionality against all that is conditioned." And we can do the same: "We cannot penetrate behind the manifold to find living unity. But we can create living unity out of the manifold."

This is clearly panentheism in which existence is only potentially holy and needs to be hallowed and not pantheism in which the world is seen as already holy. It is life- and world-affirming rather than life-denying. It is the qualified nondualism of the One becoming the many and the many returning to the One rather than a simple proclamation of the identity of the Self with Being as such. But it is unmistakably mysticism. Therefore, it is with some astonishment that we read in an essay written in the same year, published in the same book, and bearing much of the same feeling about the sense world, that Buber did not consider himself a mystic at this time!

The very opening of the conversation recorded in "With a Monist" is Buber's refusal to allow himself to be labeled a mystic and the consternation that this refusal creates:

"You are a mystic," said the monist, looking at me more resignedly than reproachfully. It is thus that I would represent to myself an Apollo who disdained to flay a Marsyas. He even omitted the question mark ....

"No, a rationalist," I said.

He fell out of his splendid composure. "How? ... I mean ... " he stammered.


After this, Buber led his partner in dialogue through a variety of positions culminating in what was indeed his own most mature thought: that all comprehensibility of the world is only a footstool of its incomprehensibility, but that this latter -- the confronting, shaping, bestowing in things -- can be known by the man who embraces the world, humbly and faithfully beholding what comes to meet him. This eloquent confession served only to bring the monist back to his original contention: "So for all that you are a mystic," he said and smiled in the way that a monist must "when a fellow like me, after diffuse dissembling, in the end turns out to be a hopeless reactionary." Buber reiterated his rejection of the label, this time on two grounds: the place he granted to reason and the affirmation of the sense world:

"No," I answered, and looked at him in a friendly way, "for I still grant to reason a claim that the mystic must deny to it. Beyond this, I lack the mystic's negation. I can negate convictions but never the slightest actual thing. The mystic manages, truly or apparently, to annihilate the entire world, or what he so names -- all that his senses present to him in perception and in memory -- in order, with new disembodied senses or a wholly supersensory power, to press forward to his God. But I am enormously concerned with this world, this painful and precious fullness of all that I see, hear, taste. I cannot wish away any part of its reality. I can only wish that I might heighten this reality .... the reality of the experienced world is so much the more powerful the more powerfully I experience it and realize it.... And how can I give this reality to my world except by seeing the seen with all the strength of my life, hearing the heard with all the strength of my life, tasting the tasted with all the strength of my life? Except by bending over the experienced thing with fervour and power and by melting the shell of passivity with the fire of my being until the confronting, the shaping, the bestowing side of things springs up to meet me and embraces me so that I know the world in it?" [1]

This is still "personal mysticism" creating unity out of the manifold. Yet Buber was right, nonetheless, to reject the label. For the ordinary conception of mysticism is indeed one that turns away from the world and denies the life of the senses. For all its fervor, one can hear in these lines the approach of the existentialism of dialogue, the pointing to the "lived concrete" that marked Buber's mature thought. If Daniel is a transition from mysticism to existentialism, "With a Monist" is a whole stage further along the same road. It is only a stage, however, and it is one that comes just before the decisive turning in Buber's life that began, by his own report, with the First World War.

Mysticism gave Buber a new approach to reality, claims Kohn, in which his heart could break through from the mechanization, superficiality, and indirectness of that period to the immediacy of spiritual life. But it also served to remove Buber into an ecstasy in which he no longer heard the call of the immediate hour. What was problematic was not the mystical experience itself but the interpretation of it and the effect of this interpretation on his life.

Now from my own unforgettable experience I know well that there is a state in which the bonds of the personal nature of life seem to have fallen away from us and we experience undivided unity. But I do not know -- what the soul willingly imagines and indeed is bound to imagine (mine too once did) -- that in this I had attained to a union with the primal being or the godhead. That is an exaggeration no longer permitted to the responsible understanding.


What is permitted to the responsible understanding, Buber asserted, is the recognition of an undifferentiated prepersonal unity hidden beneath all personal change, though even this is not above the creaturely situation but beneath it. In experiencing this unity of one's own basic self one naturally tends to see it as unity in general; for one is no longer aware of any reality other than oneself. The consequence of this compelling but "irresponsible" interpretation is the duality that rips life asunder into the everyday creaturely life and the "deified" exalted hours. The experience of ecstasy leads the mystic to regard everyday life from then on as an obstacle or at best a mere means to recapturing the moment of ecstasy. It is precisely this "exalted form of being untrue," as Buber later called it, that characterized Buber's own ecstasy and the divided life it produced:

In my earlier years the "religious" was for me the exception. There were hours that were taken out of the course of things. From somewhere or other the firm crust of everyday was pierced. Then the reliable permanence of appearances broke down; the attack which took place burst its law asunder. "Religious experience" was the experience of an otherness which did not fit into the context of life. It could begin with something customary, with consideration of some familiar object, but which then became unexpectedly mysterious and uncanny, finally lighting a way into the lightning-pierced darkness of the mystery itself. But also, without any intermediate state, time could be torn apart -- first the world's firm structure, then the still firmer self-assurance flew apart and you were delivered to fullness. The "religious" lifted you out. Over there now lay the accustomed existence with its affairs, but here illumination and ecstasy and rapture held, without time or sequence. Thus your own being encompassed a life here and a life beyond, and there was no bond but the actual moment of the transition.


Buber did not attain his ecstasies through the regular practice of "meditation" -- quiet sitting and concentration of mind and spirit on some word or image. "I never had anything to do with willed, 'pre-meditated' meditations," Buber wrote me. "As to meditations coming spontaneously, I knew them in earlier days, but never since my thought reached its maturity." Buber reached his mature understanding after he not only gave up the hours of mystical exaltation but also the belief that accompanied it, namely the belief "in a 'mystical' unification of the Self, identifying the depth of the individual self with the Self itself." "Perhaps the main point in my personal evolution was the rejecting of this mysticism too."

How resolutely Buber turned away from such an illegitimate division of life we can only understand in the context of his encounter with the First World War. But Buber's "conversion" did not mean, as some have thought, a rejection of mysticism in toto. On the contrary, much of it remained with him and informed his lifetime of work on Hasidism and his own philosophy. Presence, presentness, immediacy, ineffability, a meaning which can be lived and confirmed but cannot be defined, the action that appears like nonaction because it is whole and does not interfere -- all these accompanied Buber on the long road ahead.

_______________

Notes:

1. See Note in Sources to Chapter 5, p. 385.
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