Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: A personal and internal experience.

In my earlier posts about spirituality and mysticism, I described an experience that a person has as a result of his contemplation about God. His contemplation takes him to a place where he experiences as if God is present. I realized from comments on my blog and on other Blogs that I have to make it clear that my definition of spirituality is quite different then the one more commonly used in general conversation. Unlike the common understanding that it refers to an entity that is present outside us, a “spiritual” being, I understand spirituality as an internal experience. There is no such thing as a “spiritual” entity. God is NOT a “spirit” whatever that is. That would be defining God and God cannot be defined. It is only after an intellectual quest for understanding the unknowable through the results of His actions that, we as humans the way our minds function, are so strongly convinced of His “presence” everywhere, that we “feel” Him. By definition, God does not “exist” in the sense that He has a place, a location that He fills. One can therefore not say He is somewhere, He is “present” or "I feel His presence" because He is here. I can however say I am so convinced that He “is” that my mind senses His presence. It is akin to an amputee feeling his lost leg. It is really not there but his mind is so accustomed to it being there that it senses it. The word “spiritual” is a description of that feeling.

Rambam in a rare moment of ecstatic outburst writes –

“Glory then to Him who is such that when the intellects contemplate His essence, their apprehension turns into incapacity; and when they contemplate the proceeding of His actions from His will, their knowledge turns into ignorance; and when the tongues aspire to magnify Him by means of attributive qualifications, all eloquence turns into weariness and incapacity!” (MN 1:58)

We know rationally that all our efforts in understanding Him are futile. Clearly, any definition or “God talk” is nonsense. It is however, this understanding itself, the realization that there is an entity that is unknowable that allows us to “feel” this entity’s presence. It is by knowing what He cannot be that our “feeling” of His presence is true. It is only an internal personal experience triggered by our mind, our thoughts, nothing more.


  1. You said on another blog just recently "There is only one Truth and that is God. The ultimate Truth is an entity that is non-contingent... Do you understand that God is the only unique and ultimate Truth?" It came as a bit of a shock. I have two comments. Normally truth is taken as a relation between a sentence and something else, a fact or state of affairs. Even on other views it is a property of sentences or propositions not beings or entities. What is it for an entity to be truth or the truth. How is this use of truth related to more ordinary uses of the word, like 'Newton's theories contain much truth" or "'The cat on the mat' is a true sentence. since the cat is on the mat." Are you saying that most entities are contingent but God is necessary? I don't really know what a necessary being is.(Again, are we talking things or sentences, de dicto or de re)

    Second is God an entity? Is God a being? Is God Being as such?

    If you could provide the dates where you covered this material I would be glad to read up on your views.

  2. EJ I touched on the issue of truth on sept 26 and 30. It is the first perek rambam in MT Yesodei Hatorah 1:1-2.

    יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון. והוא ממציא כל הנמצא; וכל הנמצאים מן שמיים וארץ ומה ביניהם, לא נמצאו אלא מאמיתת הימצאו. [ב] ואם יעלה על הדעת שהוא אינו מצוי, אין דבר אחר יכול להימצאות. [ג] ואם יעלה על הדעת שאין כל הנמצאים מלבדו מצויים, הוא לבדו יהיה מצוי ולא ייבטל הוא לביטולם: שכל הנמצאים צריכין לו; והוא ברוך הוא אינו צריך להם, ולא לאחד מהם.

    ב לפיכך אין אמיתתו כאמיתת אחד מהם. [ד] הוא שהנביא אומר "וה' אלוהים אמת" (ירמיהו י,י)--הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו. והוא שהתורה אומרת "אין עוד, מלבדו" (דברים ד,לה), כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו.

    note how many times the word emet appears. It is quite obvious - he describes non contingency and says lefichach His Truth is unklike any other.

  3. >Normally truth is taken as a relation between a sentence and something else,

    that is extremely well put. That is a contingent truth. God is Truth unrelated to anything else!

    Re Entity, any word we use to describe God is untrue and inexact as we use our language to describe a concept. Even the word concept would be too much and anthropomorphic when referring to God. That is why YHVH is His shem ha'etzem. If you think a little about the meaning of that name you will understand that it describes the only Truth that is not relative to something else (eg time, space etc...)

    You can get a headache if you try to see it - but if you do see it you know you are on the wrong track!

  4. What does it mean to say God is truth over and above saying he existence is not contingent? What does the attribute truth mean when predicated of God?

  5. EJ

    The way I understand it is first there is really no attribute of God that is anything more than words that we use to describe an understanding we have of Him. Having said that, the question you should have asked is what is truth in its most basic meaning?
    Here is a definition in the American Heritage Dictionary:

    Reality; actuality.
    often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

    In that sense, by saying that God is nonm contingent we are in fact saying that He is the only independent reality and therefore the supreme Truth.

  6. So God is truth means
    1) God is reality.2) God is actuality 3)God is the supreme reality 4)God has the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

    I realize I am being picky but if you are going to offer up such a big idea on the basis of one of the meanings for truth in one of many dictionaries it is worth a 2nd look. I am unclear on the relation between 1,2,and 3.Notice you are not using truth here as accuracy or honesy so that God is in accordance with reality. I think you are saying God is reality,etc.In 4 I am once again unclear what 'has' means.

    I am not writing to tchepe but to ask you to clarify your thoughts if you so chose.A reference where to look would also be adequate.

  7. EJ
    you are really asking good questions and I should clarify it (even to myself) as it is not an easy concept. I dont think I wrote much about it on my blog though I find myself repeating things every so often.

    The answer to your question is all of the above. 1, 2, 3 are really the same thing from different aspects. God is really the only reality and therefore the ultimate reality. As everything is contingent on something else its reality is dependent - thus has no reality without that something else. God does. The same therefore goes for actuality as time is dependent on existence. If you understand actuality in terms of space that too is dependent on existence. (Rabbis say hashem is mekomo shel olam ve'ein ha'olam mekomo). I therefore think that 4 is a derivative of the above.

    Again this is not for a comment. I will try to address it in several posts but I have to think how to make this clear as it is quite hard to grasp and follow. i will also check at home and see some good writings on it and send it to you. i know that Yeshayahu Leibowits addresses it but I have to find it.

  8. Looking forward to your new posts. While you're at it I noticed that for the second time you offer up the formula "hashem is mekomo shel olam..." Taken literally this aphorism is a statment of panentheism, which is different from pantheism and from what I thought was the Rambam's position.

    There is a renaissance in panentheistic theology, so if you are okay with that formula there are straight forward ways of giving the Rambam a more modern patina.(See the book by John W. Cooper and the book by Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke).

  9. >Taken literally this aphorism is a statment of panentheism,

    I know and Rambam debunks that in MN. i will have to address that too but when...?

  10. >" It is akin to an amputee feeling his lost leg. It is really not there but his mind is so accustomed to it being there that it senses it. The word “spiritual” is a description of that feeling."

    I don't understand your analogy.To me it seems to be the opposite to what you're saying.
    The amputee has the illusory feeling of his non existent leg,the same as the believer has an illusory feeling of a "spiritual presence",which doesn't exist.

  11. >has an illusory feeling of a "spiritual presence",which doesn't exist.

    And I say is not there. The conviction of His existence is so certain that one has the illusion of His presence even though He cannot be "there" as He has no connection with space or place.

  12. Returning to the main subject(s): your point is well taken (about the definition of the Divine Presence). I have seen an interesting article on the web, that proves that (according to the earliest Pre-Zohar/pre-midievil scholars), the Divine Presence was in the category of a creation (of HaShem). As G-D is infinite, He had to create something for man to behold. This is totally in line with Saadia and Rambam. That being said, your point about the definition of G-D (or inability to define G-D) is super strong. It appears to me that too many people today are worshipping the incorrect concept of G-D. This borders on idol worship. Also, ask most folks about the "soul" (neshoma), and they will usually call it a PART of G-D. According to the concept of ribbi reshayoth (a multiplicity of reigns), we know that is impossible! You said it was internal. Well, it has no place - we agree. According to the Kuzari and others, it connects with our minds. Therefore, the nashoma is a non-physical connection to G-D. So if you want to call that internal, I would agree. But as you said, it takes up no space or parts of G-D. Shabboth Tuv umevorakh...

  13. It is important to differentiate between references to HaShem and references to his Shekhina or Kavode (IE: Presence), which is created.

    Also, it would be nice if someone on this blog talked about the ability (limitations?) of defining G-D in the Negative. For example, G-D is not corporeal. In this way, we may be able to define G-D, to a degree. But this only goes so far.

  14. >defining G-D in the Negative.

    I think I have addressed it in label transcendence. Also see my article in Hakirah (link on the sidebar) Negative Attributes for a comprehensive discussion