Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wayne Teasdale, Mysticism and its Misconceptions

Mysticism is the attempt to directly encounter or experience God through various techniques – visualizations, repetitions, imaginations, meditations, and even drugs. Many Eastern traditions understand God as a passive, impersonal force or consciousness. However, mystic Wayne Teasdale insists that God must be more. He must provide the rationale for relationships, love, and the wonders of creation. In this regard, the Eastern god is inadequate:

  • In the Eastern tradition’s various doctrines of the ultimate state of reality, there does not seem to be a reasonable accounting for the human dimension and for Creation… These [Eastern] doctrines do not make sense of human life, for the relational characteristic is totally lacking…. And yet in this life, in this consciousness, every flower, every tree and bird, and every individual person eloquently proclaims, just by being, the personal nature of the Absolute, and Being itself [as opposed to an impersonal, non-creative cosmic consciousness]. And that somehow has got to be part of Ultimate Reality itself, as we see in the Christian doctrine/intuition of the Trinity. This is why I regard Eastern traditions, and others, as at a greater distance from the Center. (Bede Griffiths, An Introduction to His Interpersonal Thought, 189 – 90) 

Why is the Eastern conception of God beneath the dignity of God? By simply observing life, Teasdale is able to surmise that God must be greater than just a passive force or consciousness. In fact, the entire mystical enterprise is predicated on the fact that the mystic embraces a force or a reality greater than himself. If He is not greater, then why bother!

According to the Eastern understanding, we do not achieve a relationship with God but rather a consciousness that “we” are merely part of an impersonal consciousness. However, if this force or consciousness is non-willful (non-purposeful), non-creative, and non-relational, then the mystic is taking a giant step backwards into a diminished “reality.” In such a world, there can be no love, no purpose, and no relationship. The “we” or the “I” simply become the One bland, insipid consciousness.

However, I think that Teasdale also leaves much out of his understanding of God. We are also moral beings, who experience righteous anger, indignation, a drive for justice, moral satisfaction, guilt, and shame. To embrace an amoral god is to meld with something less than ourselves. It is also to diminish God and to wrongly represent Him.

How does the mystic do this? By teaching that achieving oneness with God is a matter of practicing amoral techniques like the meditations on our inner states or visualizations! This is to misrepresent God as less than what He is, and even what we are.

In contrast, the Bible not only presents God as omnipotent and omniscient, it also presents Him as a God who is intensely concerned about truth and righteousness. In order to embrace this God, we must not embrace impersonal, amoral techniques, things that God doesn’t care a whit about, but the things that He does care about – confession of sins, repentance, obedience, and a willingness to embrace His truths.

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