Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 22: Inspiration and the Overself > Chapter 4: Introduction To Mystical Glimpses
Introduction To Mystical Glimpses
A glimpse is a transitory state of mental enlightenment and emotional exaltation.
It is an experience of self-discovery, not the discovery of some other being, whether a guru or a god.
These brief flashes bring with them great joy, great beauty, and great uplift. They are, for most people, their first clear vivid awakening to the existence and reality of a spiritual order of being. The contrast with their ordinary state is so tremendous as to shame it into pitiful drabness. The intention is to arouse and stimulate them into the longing for re-entry into the spirit, a longing which inevitably expresses itself in the quest.
In the past these glimpse experiences were regarded as wholly religious. Today the truth about them is better understood. They may be aesthetic, psychological, intellectual, or creative--happening outside the religious circle.
All our ordinary experience comes to us through sense responses or intellectual workings. But here is a kind of experience which does not come through these two channels. It is not a series of sensations nor a series of thoughts. What is it, then? Philosophy says it belongs to the transcendental world.
The uniqueness of this moment shines out against the relatedness of all other moments. Words only limit it by their precision and their pressure, yet they are all some of us have with which to make a likeness of it to show friends, or to hold before ardent seekers, or even to return to ourselves in dark and difficult periods.
The glimpse may be best compared to a moment of wakefulness in a long existence of sleep.
These mystical glimpses have close parallels with the best features of the best types of religious conversion. Indeed, as might be expected, they are deeper and more developed and better controlled forms of them.
These glimpses, these transcendental visitations as the Hindu metaphysician calls them, bring joy, serenity, and understanding.
No rational explanation has been given of the seemingly eccentric character of these glimpses, no reasonable theory of their why, what, how, and when.
The mystical experience may be beyond reasoned analysis but it is not beyond reasonable description.
Putting words together on paper to tell how this glimpse lifts one out of the ordinariness of the common existence, is a work anyone must enjoy doing.
It is a brief and temporary enlargement of consciousness, in theological language, an improvement of its connection with God.
How is one to describe this experience? It is an expansion, and yet also a concentration, of consciousness.
It is not enough to say that someone has had a mystical experience. This phrase can cover the most opposite, the most widely different experiences.
The experience is so beautiful that no description can transfer the feelings it awakens from one heart to another.
These are the real waking moments of a man's life: for the rest he is asleep without ever guessing that he is.
He has reached a world which is as much beyond good as it is beyond evil.
Here are life's highest processes, an experience beyond thinking and an awareness beyond the sensual.
During this period he is, as the Chinese say, "in the Way," or as we Westerners would say, "in God."
These rare moments lift him out of his animal self and detach him from his lower human self.
Only a poet could portray these experiences as they deserve; to write of them with outer photographic exactness only is to half-lose them.
In religious language he is in God, and in mystical language God is in him.
It is not the highest point of the moral experience, although that approaches it, or can help to bring it on, or acts as a preparation for it. It is not the peak of the aesthetic experience, although that fulfils the same services.
In the world's literatures there are many records left by persons who have had this glimpse, but each has interpreted it in his or her own way, each has reacted within the frame of his or her personal background.
These are sudden and unpredictable emergences from the ignorance and confusion of ordinary consciousness.
These visitations of grace are intimations of reality.
These moments of true consciousness free from the illusion unavoidable in ordinary experience are memorable.
It is to experience while still in the flesh what some others will not experience until they are in the spirit.
At such times he becomes aroused from the sleep of ignorance to the Overself's constant presence.
Put it into words as much as you can, this "Touch of the Untouch," but you will get nothing that is anything more than a whispered hint, a vague clue.
Those strange visitations, when one is suddenly aware of a presence--close, powerful, yet immaterial--are not easily explicable.
These are the moments which inspire a man, renew his dedication, strengthen his will, and give him integrity.
The years of spiritual fulfilment may be far off still, but presages and tokens may come momentarily to hearten him at times.
This is the sacred interlude when man transcends his isolation and feels the universe supporting him.
It is the highest possible form of self-recognition. It is the discovery of who and what we really are.
Part of natural life-experience
Although such glimpses are not common and do not happen every day, still they are more common and more frequent than is generally supposed.
That God is present in each person's life may seem unbelievable to so large a number of us. Yet it is for those undergoing the experience certitude, not theory. It is generally believed that hardly more than a few attain it, but as there are degrees of such an attainment one could say that in the lesser ones there are more successes than people generally know.
Even to ordinary persons moments can come which can pass very easily into glimpses. But their importance is not recognized and so the opportunities are missed. It is pitiful and pathetic that anyone should be so close to the diviner self and not take advantage of the propinquity by a pause of activity and a surrender to the delicate feeling which would develop of itself into a glimpse. It is pathetic, because these moments are in the nature of clues leading to the inward way; pitiful, because such people are living in a kind of blind alley and must one day retrace their steps.
This kind of thing is supposed to lie outside common experience, but the fact is that it comes more often through Nature, art, or music than most people suspect.
There is a moment in most men's lives when they are close to an understanding of the world's real nature.
Psychologists and psychoanalysts are beginning to find a minority among their ranks who put a high value upon these glimpses which they call "peak-experiences." Academically qualified, professionally trained, and science-oriented just like their colleagues, they yet differ in appreciating and studying such experiences as being important to an adequate knowledge of the human being.
Whatever conception of God a man may hold, his secret inner connection with God will disclose itself to him, whether in the pre- or post-mortem state, whether in the present or a future birth. This Revelation is his human right. The guarantee is that the World-Idea, which includes him too, must realize itself in the fullness of time in its irresistible and imperious course. He is bound to get the Glimpse for himself and no longer depend on others' say-so.
The glimpse in its most elementary form does not come only to specially gifted persons. It belongs to the portrait of every human being as a natural and not a mysterious part of his life-experience. It is simply a part of the feeling for Nature, to whose system he belongs, and for the Sun which is Nature's supreme expression. The sun's glory, beauty, power, and benignity arouse reverence. Oriental faiths mostly recognized this and made prayers obligatory at dawn and twilight.
The point which has yet to be made is that these glimpses are not supernatural superhuman and solely religious experiences. When scientific psychology has advanced to the point where it really understands the human being in all his height and depth, and not merely his surface, it will see this.
Although he is normally quite unconscious of this connection with the Overself, once at least in a lifetime there is a flash which visits him and breaks the unconsciousness. He has a glimpse of his highest possibility. But the clearness and intensity of this glimpse depend upon his receptivity. They may amount to little or much.
Many people without pretensions to mystical knowledge or belief have had this experience, this glimpse of timeless loveliness, through Nature, art, music, or even for no apparent reason at all.
Those who have followed the Quest in previous lives will generally receive a glimpse at least twice during the present one. They will receive it in early life during their teens or around the threshold of adult life. This will inspire them to seek anew. They will receive it again in late life during the closing years of the reincarnation. This will be bestowed as a Grace of the Overself. Those aspirants who bemoan the loss of their early glimpse should remind themselves, in hours of depression, that it will recur before they leave the body. In addition to those glimpses which attend the opening and closing years of a lifetime, a number of others may be had during the intervening period as a direct consequence and reward of the efforts, disciplines, aspirations, and self-denials practised in that time.
We ought not to mistake this for the exception; it is really the type. Most aspirants have experienced this mystical glimpse, brief and unexpected perhaps, which has started or kept them on this quest.
Even those men who assert or lament that they have never had a single glimpse during their whole lifetime will get it at the end. For it is a divinely ordained part of the process of dying.
When the genuine mystical experience comes, it presents the student with the rare chance to know for himself a state in the evolution of consciousness which still lies far ahead of mankind generally.
Such memorable glimpses of a higher state of being, which encourage and reassure him, may occur not only at the beginning of his spiritual career but also at the beginning of each new cycle within it.
A glimpse is apparently something that men rarely experience or something that most of them never experience. But the fact is that more people have had it than have recognized it for what it really is. And this has happened through their admiration of Nature or art, through falling in love, through sudden news.
This mystical glimpse comes to most men only at death, or at the fraction of a fraction of a second during the highest pitch of sexual intercourse.
At present this mystic experience is a fugitive one in the human species. But because it is also the ultimate experience of that species, there is no reason why it should not become a common one in the course of evolutionary development.
Dr. Richard M. Bucke's theory that the standard age of these illuminations is thirty-six is untenable. Mozart died in his thirty-sixth year but he had had glimpses long before. So did many other historically known men in the Orient. To this must be added quite a list of others in the West as well as the East, in recorded history and out of it, who have also had the experience.
We shall never know how many mystical experiences took place within those medieval cloisters and those Oriental ashrams but were lost to human record because those to whom they happened lacked the talent to write them down or the will to dictate them.
My records, gleaned from correspondence or got from interviews, show that some persons have been started off by glimpses during surgical anaesthesia and others just after a near miss of death.
What today is believed abnormal will, in a civilization ahead of ours, be regarded as quite natural. I refer to the transcendental experience.
There are individuals scattered here and there who have found the Overself. It is certain that they are types as well as individuals--therefore, it is certain that the whole race will also one day find the Overself.
Even one who is active, efficient, practical, and worldly may also be touched by this heavenly light: it is not reserved for the dreamers and poets, the artists and saints alone. I have known men who blue-printed public buildings, engineered factories, managed office personnel, filled the lowest and the highest positions in a nation, who themselves had known ITS visitations, who recognized and revered it.
An aspirant wrote in a letter: "I went into a lawsuit upon which depended the existence of an entire business and my own ability to continue to support my family. Judgement was given against me. I experienced the most curious sensation that the whole thing did not matter at all, that I seemed to be the witness of it all, and I was utterly calm. In fact, I had never felt so calm in my entire life, and did not feel the least bit depressed. It seemed to me Mr. . . . [himself] was almost a stranger to me, and I was just a witness of what was happening to him." He had a glimpse of the way in which a sage would have treated the same event, and that glimpse came to him at the right moment, the moment he needed it most.
Many people pass through these experiences of the glimpse and do not really know what is happening to them because they have never studied or been taught anything about such experiences.
If some have had a mystical glimpse before the age of ten, more have done so during adolescence, still more during their thirties or forties. If thereafter the experience is less known, it can still happen even in the seventies.
In the last year of her life, the Glimpse came to Simone Weil several times a week. Yet she was first in a hospital and then in a sanatorium during most of that time!
It is a result which several persons have experienced that the Glimpse which came while reading some inspired passages of a book or verses of a poem, returns again at a later time.
The belief that he must wait many years before he can find a glimpse of his godly self is not accurate.
Those frightened away from the Quest by the high qualifications demanded, may find some comfort in the fact that these "glimpses" increasing in number depth and frequency can be had even at an early stage.
It is as silly to fix the age for such an experience at thirty-six, as the late author of Cosmic Consciousness did, as it is to assert that it always lasts about twenty-four hours merely because St. Francis Xavier was illumined for such a period.
How near to the glimpse do the mass of people come who claim they have never had one? Perhaps the feeling of awe to which certain buildings or persons or ideas may give rise is the nearest.
In ordinary life such glimpses are all too rare but they are not so rare as is generally believed. For their true nature may not be recognized. The external surroundings or the external situations which led to their internal appearance may disguise them so that their independent nature is not understood. Such surroundings as an impressive natural landscape or such situations as a perfectly relaxed physical body are not an absolutely indispensable condition of their existence.
Moments like this have come to many men who have not recognized the preciousness, the special value, and the uncommon nature of the experience.
Often there are only half-glimpses, but even they afford a vague satisfaction.
The time will come when it will be found that glimpses are a proper part of human existence, are within the area of a normal life, are valid topics for study and examination by science.
Everyone has the experience of doing, few of being. Yet that is the most precious, most important of all life's experiences.
This is the experience which makes the fully mature man or woman happiest. It is usually short but its next advent will always be eagerly awaited. It is often isolated by long intervals of prosaic commonplace living, but they only serve to give it even greater value by contrast.
The inner need of man is forever demanding this experience, for it is heaven.
Whether it is born out of appreciation of beauty or an infinite humiliation of the ego, or out of some totally different occasion, this awareness of the Overself's presence is essential to the completion and fulfilment of human life.
To enter into Heaven is to enter into the fulfilment of our earthly life's unearthly purpose. And that is, simply, to become aware of the Overself. This holy awareness brings such joy with it that we then know why the true saints and the real ascetics were able to disdain all other joys. The contrast is too disproportionate. Nothing that the world offers to tempt us can be put on the same level.
He will find that somewhere within there is a holy presence not himself, a sublime power not his own. He will understand then that no one is truly alive who has not made this discovery.
The glimpse lies at the core of religion, the precious gem which each devotee must find for himself underneath all the sermons, chantings, rituals, prayers, and observances of his creed.
A stillness which is not simply the absence of noise but which is rich, fruitful, and uplifting in beauty and refinement of its presence--this is the best.
No good fortune that comes his way will ever after be counted so great as the good fortune which he now feels to be his in the realization of the Overself.
Omar Khayyam: "Would but the desert of the Fountain yield One glimpse--if dimly, yet indeed revealed, To which the fainting traveller might spring."
Another significance of the glimpse is that of initiation.
We cannot know God in the fullness of his consciousness but we can know the link which we have with God. Call it the soul, if you must, or the Overself if you prefer, but to catch a glimpse of this link is to be reborn.
The glimpse gives him a journey to a land flowing not with milk and honey, but with goodness and beauty, with peace and wisdom. It is the best moment of his life.
When a man's consciousness is turned upside-down by a glimpse, when what he thought most substantial is revealed as least so, when his values are reversed and the Good takes on a new definition, he writes that day down as his spiritual birthday.
What better thing can he find than the divine Overself! That would be the decisive moment of his entire bodily existence, as establishing himself permanently in its fullness and finality would be the grandest sequel.
There is no higher happiness than this discovery of the real man.
We must look upon these glimpses as sacred ones, not less religious than those which bibles and ceremonies may furnish us with. And this is so even if they rise of themselves in our best moments or can be traced to some layman's art, music, or speech. For in these times we, and especially the younger ones among us, need wider definitions of such matters.
These moments, when spiritual presence is distinctly felt, may be rare or frequent, misunderstood or recognized, but they are moments of blessing. And this is true even if they open the door only slightly and let in merely a chink of light.
In these moments of a glimpse, he discovers the very real presence of the Overself. They provide him with a joy, an amiability, which disarms the negative side of his character and brings forward the positive side. These are precious moments; they cannot be too highly valued. And though they must pass, some communication with them is always possible through memory.
The glimpse is of supreme worth morally, helping to free him, bestowing goodwill and humility, uplifting his ideals however fleetingly.
Instead of being an escape from life, as some sceptics foolishly think, they are its fulfilment.
Although life is really like a dream, some phases of the dream are more worthwhile than others--those which bring the Glimpse, for instance.
It is far better than being ignorant to know what is read in books or heard at lectures on this topic, but far better than both of these is to feel vividly the Overself's presence and reality, to know the truth of It with complete certainty.
No better fortune can come to a man or woman than this serene inward well-being and this certitude of universal truth.
"He that loseth his life shall save it." Those who would translate Jesus' words into generous emotion and not into metaphysical insight have never known the real meaning of those words. For the philanthropic service of others is a noble but secondary ideal, whereas the mystical union with the Overself is a priceless and primary achievement.
The freedom he feels in such moments and the consolation he gets from them are indications of the value of the distant goal itself.
Try to describe a colour to someone who has never been able to see any colour at all. Your words will have no meaning for him, however accurate and expressive they may be. In the same way, most mystics are sceptical about the use of describing their experiences to those who have not already had some such experience. This is where the "glimpse" is of such tremendous value.
He will know at the time, and come to confirm when the greater part of his life is already past, that the sacredness which infuses them and the beauty which permeates them make these his best moments.
Those rare moments of exaltation and uplift, of spiritual glimpse and inward freedom, are of inestimable value. They show the aspirant what he may become, affirm the reality of the ideal and reveal its possibility.
This is the one experience which is unique, the most important of all, simply because it throws new uncommon light upon all experiences.
There is a pure happiness in these moments of release which no earthly happiness can surpass.
The Japanese gurus do not consider what they call Satori to be a lasting state but rather to be only a glimpse. Yet, even the achievement of this glimpse is regarded as a very high one.
To become conscious of infinity is no mean achievement for a man even if he does so only for a single hour and cannot keep the glimpse longer.
The primary value of life lies in these beautiful but brief moods when we lose touch with the world, and fortunate is that person who recognizes the higher authority of their accompanying clear insights.
These glimpses come upon us unawares, inadvertently as it were. There is no higher experience in our past to compare with them, and no lovelier.
These mystical moments are the most priceless human experience, did we but know it.
Instinctively he knows it to be one of the most beautiful, most important of experiences he has ever had.
These glimpses scintillate within the dark chamber of man's life like stars in the night sky.
We need these occasional confirmations from the Overself of its own existence.
We all need the calmness and the love associated with this experience.
If he can penetrate to this inmost region of consciousness, he will penetrate also to the secret purpose of the few decades of earthly life.
Some kind of awakening is the usual prelude before people take to the Quest in real earnest. The glimpse provides it.
There is an image of God within each man; once seen, he will forever after court union with it.
It is a blessed state unequalled by another experience, unexcelled by any other satisfaction.
It is such glorious moments--refreshing to the will and revelatory to the mind--which alone can compensate for (or justify, if you prefer the word) the long littleness, the recurring torment of living.
An experience so lovely, yielding a memory so precious, is worth the effort of seeking.
What we know is so little that it ought to make us intellectually humble. But that little is nevertheless of the highest importance to us. For we know that the Overself is, that the passage to its stillness from the ego's tumult is worthwhile, and that goodness and purity, prayer and meditation help us to find it.
The fact or absence of enlightenment measures the real value of a person.
Their frequency and duration
There are exalted but rare occasions when inspiration, peace, and spiritual majesty conjoin their blessed presence within us.
It is with him for the flicker of a second--an unfathomable tranquillity, an indefinable beauty--and then gone.
Some enter into this experience only once in a lifetime; others repeat it a few times. Only a rare individual here and there enters it frequently.
How many have asked in puzzlement why the glimpses of reality cannot remain with them, how many have deplored its brevity! Plotinus long ago gave them his answer: "Man can cease to become man, and become God; but man cannot be God and man at the same time."
He can hold himself in this egoless state for a brief while only. The ego soon rises up again and the glorious presence retires, for the two are incompatible.
Such periods are short and uncommon but they lift us up and draw us in. We feel then that there is peace and joy for us as ultimate possibilities, even if they are not immediate actualities.
It is true that the felicity and freedom of such glimpses are too often too momentary. Yet immense forces lie hidden beneath their brief but intense existence.
These glimpses of Reality which wake us out of the world of illusion come to us only at intervals. We cannot hold them, but we can repeat them.
All glimpses are not of equal duration nor of equal degree. One or the other or both may differ from person to person.
The glimpse may last only an instant, or it may last a year.
The glimpse lasts a moment, a minute, an hour, or a week--who can say, for it is a mysterious grace? But in that while, the oscillation of human thoughts is stilled and time takes a rest. It cannot be shared with others--although they may notice or sense some of its fruit--and to that extent it is a private experience.
It comes to us only in gleams whose disappointing brevity is balanced by their overwhelming beauty.
Such moments rarely come to flower in the arid wilderness of a man's life today.
There will even be rare and brief times when these serene glimpses will dissolve into wonderful ecstasies.
The glimpses are usually quite short in duration, quite sudden in onset. This is why the Kenopanishad, a very old Hindu text, likens them to "the splendour of lightning" and says of them, "They disappear within the twinkling of an eye."
Such experiences can be sustained only in small homeopathic doses.
But glimpses, as charming to the mind as scented blossoms to the nose, are fugitive. They cannot be kept. They are ephemeral.
These glimpses are rarely sustained and should be accepted without surprise or disappointment for the short events they usually are.
There is a point which many persons have come to in a large percentage of the several hundred cases which were observed during the years when I investigated such matters--collecting the data from which, together with my own experience and lastly combined with the more authoritative teachings of highly attained and highly respected top-rank persons, conclusions could be drawn that the initial glimpse may have been the first and last for a long period of many years--when they feel too preoccupied with the work of starting to build a career to earn their livelihood and with the distractions of starting to build a family. But in some cases they stay in this period of disinterest because of disillusionments.
The bliss of the glimpse must pass--and often quickly: its confirmation of unworldly values must diminish.
He does not expect to feel often these great moments when he passes through an archway opening on the infinite and enjoys the Best.
These glimpses are fitful and their content is fragmentary.
It is true that the glimpse comes seldom to most people, but it is all the better remembered for that rarity.
The fleeting beauty of these moments veils the harsh greyness of the long periods between them.
These moments of spiritual nearness shine in his life, but the glorious feeling they induce does not stay.
But the glimpse comes to an end. The glorious new identity which he took on for a while will be shed.
These glimpses are often unexpected, usually isolated, and mostly brief.
A brief release from the burdens of living, peace-bestowing and mentally illumining, a healing suspense of all negative traits--but soon gone.
These moments are rare and beautiful. They can never come too soon nor stay too long.
Glimpses and Light
The energy which appears to us as light is the basis of the universe, the principle from which all things are made.
The first aspect of God is Light; the first contact of man with the Supreme Being is Light.
The pure and primal life-force appears, if seen in vision, as golden sunshine.
The light streaming from a table lamp proves the existence of electricity. The light streaming into the mind in these exalted moments proves the existence of the Soul.
Whoever approaches the Divine Source of all things comes into the aura of its Power and the perception of its Light.
This is not ordinary light: it is holy, transcendental, and awe-inspiring.
The experience of divine Light is no hallucination but an actuality, an entirely real one, even a thrilling one.
If the Light is not resisted, by timidity, ignorance, or egoism, it will work upon the entire human being, radically transforming his outlook, life, and consciousness.
In its Light man begins to see what he has not seen with the body's eyes, the intellect's understanding.
If he can hold himself in the Light steadily and unfalteringly, his consciousness will be raised to a higher plane.
The inner light will give him a glimpse of an ennobled and purified life and inspire him with the urge to realize it.
Generally the seeing of light during meditation is a favourable sign of present experience or good omen of future experience. It indicates that meditation in depth is being attained, or will be later. The light may seem spread out in space or as a thin ray alone. It may appear as a tiny black-centered sun or as a large round ball. There are still other forms--such as lightning and stars. Generally, too, there will be a living dynamic quality in it, a movement, a winking, and a fiery flickering.
Light manifestations: (a) throbbing with Energy, (b) as Overself, (c) thought-free Peace or Joy.
The Light is felt as energy pulsing in space and tingling in the body; it is seen, usually with the mind's eye but sometimes with the body's, as an unearthly radiance; it is intuited as a glory filling the whole of one's inner being.
The Light is seen visually as a golden ball, a brilliant ray or shaft or beam, and finally as a vague radiance diffused in all directions.
It may stay within the orbit of vision quite motionless and still. Or it may quiver, throb, and pulsate. Or it may shoot forward like a lightning flash.
One who beholds the Light may be grateful for several reasons. First, it is the only occult experience of which it may be said that it is entirely without risk or peril. Second, it is the loftiest of all clairvoyant visions. Third, it confers the feeling of perfect felicity, not in the worldly sense, but of an ethereal unearthly kind. Fourth, it is a direct manifestation of God to man, being the first of his outpourings, hence an uncommon blessing, a grace. Fifth, if it appears in consciousness as Power, the recipient may feel a tremendous force, unknown otherwise, throbbing all around and within him, or a sudden lightning-like flash of complete comprehension: he understands what neither bodily sense nor intellectual faculty can understand--the supernatural meaning of Spirit, of eternity, of transfiguration, and of reality.
The Light may be sent forth as a ray to touch the heart or head of any particular person to uplift or console, pacify emotions or exalt ideas; it may also be sent to encircle a person protectively.
Light is also symbolic. Contrasted with darkness, it suggests redemption and knowledge as against sinfulness and ignorance.
It is significant that not only is night the time when human crime and passion are at their maximum but it is also the time when worrying thoughts are at their blackest. The day with its brightness has ever been a symbol of spirituality, the night with its darkness a symbol of materiality. For he who has found his own spirit, finds peace and is freed from fear, and consequently from its child--worry--too.
The very nature of sunshine--all light--and the very condition in which sunrises and sunsets occur--stillness--help us to understand why Light and the Overself are bracketed together. "Your own consciousness shining, void, inseparable from the great body of radiance, is subject neither to birth nor death, but is the same as the immutable light, Buddha Amitabha." (Buddhist Sutra)
"Use the light that is within you to revert to your natural clearness of sight."--Tao Teh Ching
Among those who have seen this light, some Christians have named it "the glory of God." Some Hindus termed it "the self-effulgent light."
Saint Makarius the Great (fourth century Egyptian) in his Instructions for Monks wrote: "The Light is a shining of the Holy Spirit in the soul. Through this light, God is truly known by the worthy and beloved soul."
On this point of the Light phenomenon, the Russian Orthodox Church writer Bishop Brianchaninov explains that it is a spiritual light which is seen inwardly but that it may also be seen physically at times. He considers it identical with the Holy Spirit, and that it reveals the reality of that Spirit while sanctifying the person.
(LIGHT) Psalm 27: "The Lord is my Light."
What the Old Testament writers called the shekinah is a sacred and luminous appearance,
More than a hundred years ago, Konko Daijin founded a new religion in Japan. Called Konkokyo, "the religion of golden light," it enjoined its followers to live in dependence on "the God of heaven's brightness."
One of the states of samadhi in Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism is called "Pure Light." One of the Attained Ones in this religion is Amita, or Amitabha, the "Buddha of Boundlessly Diffused Light."
That there is actually a light emitted by the divine world of being is indicated by the following excerpt from, I believe, a Mahayana Buddhist: "There are four successive stages of piercing in reality, identical in sleep and dying. The first, `Revelation,' is experienced in the earliest period of sleep, and appears as a moonlit cloudless sky. The Drowsiness deepens and `Augmentation' is reached. It appears as brilliant clear sunlight. Few can go beyond this into the third stage, `Immediate Attainment.' Here there is total darkness. It vanishes when sleep gets deeper still; then the Void is penetrated, called `Innate Light,' the first clear radiance. The student thus passes into Reality and Enlightenment, whether in the nightly death of sleep or the end of human life."
The Quakers believe that what they call the Inner Light is a supernatural thing.
Saint Brendan saw, while at ceremonial prayer in the presence of other celebrated ancient Irish holy men, a bright flame-like light rising above his head and continuing until the end of the ceremony.
Meister Eckhart: "If God is to be seen then it must happen in a Light, as God himself is Light."
LIGHT: The seventeenth-century Welsh poet Henry Vaughan expressed the same idea in his lines:
I saw Eternity the other night
Like a great Ring of pure and endless light.
(Light) The blind Milton could write, "Hail, holy Light."
A young, innocent, well-educated girl of good family found herself pregnant after being seduced by a sophisticated man. She was too ignorant to know what to do, and too ashamed to confess to her parents. In despair, she decided to kill herself. When the fatal day arrived, she called out several times in prayer and agony to whatever God there be, to give some evidence of Its existence so that she should not feel utterly alone and to help her. About one hour later, to her astonishment, the room became filled with an unearthly light for a few minutes. With it came the feeling of being in the presence of the Higher Power, of not being alone any more, and an assurance of help. She slept heavily the rest of the day and all that night, and next morning awoke with a clear guidance of what to do. She went to her parents and in great calmness told them of the trouble which had befallen her. They treated her well and took appropriate measures to deal with it. Thirty years after this event, she related the story to me, after I had described the experience of a titled English lady, who told me how she was saved from committing suicide because of the death of all her babies one after another by the manifestation of Light, along with a Voice that spoke the saving words.
Bessie M. Lasky, Candle in the Sun (autobiography): "As I lay tucked in bed at night, thinking of the evening, a white light came into focus before my closed eyes. It grew brighter as I watched, until it seemed as tho' all the light in the world was there. I was dazzled and perplexed, wondering what this ray could mean. Where was it coming from? It completely enveloped my whole being and increased as the moments passed. It had come instantaneously. I seemed suspended in a wholeness of life, detached from earth. A part of me was radiating a new joy. I held this radiance for at least 15 minutes. Then it changed and disappeared. I fell into sleep, comforted and blissful for the first time. I decided never to speak about this experience, for they would never understand." (Comment by P.B.: Within the next few weeks she made a number of new friends all spiritually minded, or spiritually more advanced than herself: such persons she had never known before).
(a) G. saw a descent of light over P.B. It expanded and everything was finally in it. (b) F. saw a small light, felt she was a priestess offering to it. There was great power present. P.B. was there. (c) A Czech once saw himself, in meditation, surrounded by "fluid gold" and with it experienced great peace. (d) Another Czech saw a ball of light coming towards him, again in meditation, and during the whole day afterward felt as it walking on air, so free, light and happily care-free.
Mack F. Hewitt, California: "While lying in bed thinking, I was suddenly aware of a blinding brilliance. It was a flash of light that I could feel as well as see. It frightened me and instantly it disappeared. I went to sleep immediately. Other occasions followed this first one and I seemed to observe that the light I saw was bluish-white at the outer edges and intensely white at the centre. It was just a little to the left of me and somewhat above me. I had the sensation that I could feel, sense, that I was on the threshold of all knowledge. The experience of light only lasted one second the first time and somewhat longer the other times. It was all-enveloping and came several times during two years. It came at night when retiring and left behind exhilaration and upliftment."
"When I was eighteen years old I had a mystical glimpse. In this experience I was surrounded by light and inwardly felt a strengthening peace. Its support led me to my acceptance of what was then a very difficult situation. I understood its meaning and the lesson it taught me. With time and patience it came to an end but it left me more developed."--a medical secretary.
The Light dazzled a man on the Damascus road; it changed his mind from anti- to pro-Christian, his name from Saul to Paul. The radiance of the same Light, long before, appeared in a bush to Moses and brought him the uttered message of Jehovah.
Saint John of the Cross, held unjustly as a prisoner, found his cell filled with light as he dreamed one night that the Virgin appeared to him promising help if he escaped. Martinus, the Danish mystic, told me that Jesus appeared to him in meditation surrounded by a ball of light.
"After I had been with the guru (at first meeting) a little while, I became aware that I was sitting very still. I was motionless. I did not seem to be breathing. A white light appeared, seeming to fill the entire room. I became a part of that wondrous light."--the late Swami Lynn
Mr. A. had the experience of light three times. Each time it happened at night when he actually saw sunshine. Usually he couldn't sleep after going to bed and again after the light appeared he could not sleep. However, he felt such peace coming from the light that it was some kind of a compensation for the lack of sleep. After an interval of several months devoid of incident, the experience reappeared. At night he saw the Light shining powerfully but briefly. He deliberately shut his eyes to test if it were only physical, but still it persisted. And another phenomenon began, for in his official life he had to meet very important personages; at such times he found his thoughts wandering away into a sensation of great uplift and great peace. He had to stop the experience by sheer will so as to attend properly to the conversation. When he did so the feeling of great power came too, so that there was a transformation rather than a loss. During the following months all light phenomena vanished, and so did the spiritual exhilarations. But at the end of this period, he felt ready to take up regular practice of meditation, and did so. The results were favourable, if undramatic, bringing an immensely relaxed feeling, a tremendous peace, a stillness of thought, and firsthand knowledge of spiritual reality.
The Vision of Mr. A. (a) "I went to bed and was on the verge of nearly falling asleep when, through my closed eyes, I saw a round shape of light to the left of me. It moved towards me, growing larger as it came, until I was surrounded by it. So brilliant was the visual effect, that I received the impression that the room itself was lit up. At the same time there was a powerful pulsating vibration going on around me, as if dynamic energy accompanied the light. With it all, there was a strong feeling that P.B. was present, or somehow associated with it, and with him, strong peace. But as I had never before had any mystic experience or any, in my ignorance, intellectual familiarity with the subject, I became alarmed as to what would happen next, and quite frightened, got up and brought the experience to an end. A week or two later, while sitting at a crowded public function, the peace returned very markedly but briefly, yet I saw no light. A couple of weeks later I stayed awake in bed for some time unable to sleep. Then the light appeared to the left of the bed. It expanded until the whole room was full of it. I got a feeling of boundless energy being at my command, with its centre in the region behind the navel. Another few weeks and a third experience happened. I had just switched off the bedside lamp and in the darkness that fell with eyes only half shut I saw a vertical shaft of light in the distance. I felt myself drawn out of the body and propelled forward at jetplane speed into space. There was peace and power but in two or three minutes it was all over. The light remained in the distance all the time I moved towards it." (b) "Generally the experience started with inability to sleep at night causing a restless feeling, but around midnight a throbbing of the solar plexus started and this powerful force was felt there. It mounted and then there was a kind of change of consciousness, a feeling of not being the body, almost of being out of it and separated from it, of being weightless and in space yet near to the body, developed. The dynamic character of the experience was followed by a sense of utter peace. Nevertheless I seemed to know that there was something beyond this which I had not attained. I wanted to attain it so I resolved to continue the meditation practice regularly if possible."
"A Writing Mystic in Uniform" by Monique Benoit (notebook includes cutting with a photo of Walter H. Cronk): We met in the elevator of the Chronicle building one day. As I was talking with someone the man behind me asked where I was from in France. "Paris." "Do you remember what you were doing on August 24, 1944?" "Certainly. I was greeting and kissing soldiers from the French Second Armored Division who had entered Paris." "Did you kiss American soldiers, too?" "Quite a few, on that day," I smiled. "Then we may have kissed. I was with Patton's Third Army and entered Paris with the Leclerc soldiers." One thing led to another--all very respectable--and Lieutenant Colonel Walter Cronk, a reserve officer in the Air Force, invited me to lunch at a later date, when he would be at Travis Air Force Base for two weeks. Walter, who is advertising sales manager for Pacific Telephone in Los Angeles, left with me his book, Golden Light, which was published recently. I read it and was puzzled. The rugged-looking man didn't appear to be a mystic, yet this was a spiritual book. It described how on Easter, 1953, he was struck by the "Golden Light," which paralyzed him for a few minutes while a thunderous voice asked: "Is This What You Want?" Some time later, in Rome, he had another ecstatic experience, beholding the Star of the East. "Why did you write that book? I don't mean to sound cynical, but even if you experienced those spiritual revelations, why write about them? Isn't spirituality, like love, a very private thing?" "Since I was eight, I have had a strong spiritual awareness. Later, I met a man who was my teacher for many years. He said that when he would leave his physical body, he would be `as close to me as the paper on the wall.' Since then, a little voice has been with me constantly to guide and protect me. One night I had a call from a mystic. He didn't know me but had been told to call me to say that a sick person would come to see me. Through my prayers I would heal this person, whose name would be Evans. The caller didn't know whether it would be a man or a woman. This would be a sign that I should write a religious book. It all happened as predicted, and I felt compelled to write the book. Its purpose is to show people how the "Golden Light" is there for everyone to see." "But don't you think that when people don't get struck by that light and don't hear the thunderous voice they feel cheated?" "But it can happen to them, too. I explained how through meditation we can all experience spiritual ecstasy. This book is meant for people who cannot be reached by the chaplains, ministers, rabbis, or priests. They need to be shown that there is something besides materialism, and that when our spirit leaves our body it is not the end. We are here to realize Oneness with God and will come back until we achieve this." "Don't you think `humanism' is a more positive answer, one that pleases God just as well as all that spirituality? Many people aren't spiritual, yet are good and compassionate." Walter reluctantly agreed it might be true. In Golden Light the author describes how he was also compelled to give up meat when waves of golden lines appeared before his eyes as he read a passage of the Dead Sea Scrolls. "My `Little Voice' bugs me at times. It has made me give up cigars and Scotch. I wonder about what it might ask next. If it's wine and sex I think I'll rebel," said Walter, laughing. Ah ha--not altogether spiritual, after all.
Walter Cronk, Golden Light [excerpts]: (1) My legs and arms became rigid in cross-form. I was astonished to see a brilliant golden light, starting at my solar plexus, a foot in diameter. It moved upward and outward until it became tubular. An odor of raw ozone permeated the room. The light shimmered at the outer edges as if it were vibrating. It cast no shadow. I was unable to call out and unable to move. I prayed that I now believed in the force of Spirit, and would never doubt again. I visited Hollywood Vedanta Swami and told him my experience. He replied: "Life is a journey. This will remind you of God's beauty. As you continue your journey you can't keep asking to see the Grand Canyon again if you are traveling from L.A. to New York. God has many faces." (2) Emerson, Whitman, Voltaire, Ford, Emmet Fox, and Franklin expect a series of rebirths on our path toward perfection. (3) The life of Teresa Neumann, Bavarian Catholic mystic, says she saw this heavenly light, and that she lived 30 years without eating, and died in 1962. At 18 she became ill, saw a light brighter than the sun, recovered and developed stigmata. (4) The Maharaja of Burawan invited a woman mystic, Giri Bala, of Bengal, to stay in his palace to test her claim that she has not eaten for many years. She remained in a room there for two months without food, in 1936 emerged with no loss of weight. She is a saint and once prayed to be relieved of hunger. (5) Teresa Neumann had seen the Light many times. I went to visit her in 1958, but in the village suddenly knew that whether she or I had seen the golden Light was not the key at all. I had really come to find out only one thing: "What should a man do to live a perfect life in God's eyes?" (6) I did not speak to Teresa. I knew now that this question and its answer were what I had come here for. I had nothing to say. (7) Teresa had effected healing for many persons. (8) 1 John 1:5 "God is Light." (8a) Professor Edmond Szekely, an authority on the Essenes; is qualified in Aramaic and Greek. His writing is based on ancient scripts in the Vatican and other libraries. In his translation, "Essene Gospel of John," I found phrases which were not in apocrypha nor in the Bible. One para vibrated waves of golden light from the pages to me. In it Jesus forbade slaughter of animals for food. I forthwith stopped eating flesh. Even the desire was taken away at that moment. I asked Professor Szekely to explain the experience. He theorized that perhaps I put myself in the same thought vibrations as he who wrote the words. (9) Dr. Lewis, of San Diego, who died in 1960, recommended that I face east when sitting to meditate, because cosmic rays emanate from east to west and this polarizes me. "Simply reaffirm the oneness of your soul," he said, "with the Infinite Soul. Meditation means to know that you are one with God." I did this, and a blue light, ringed with gold, appeared several successive times. Dr. Lewis told me he had been waiting for me to describe it, and now to meditate longer, and not once a day: early morning and late evening. (10) I attended a Mass. As it progressed the golden light and the heavenly blue light appeared, bathing the spirit in Infinite Love. A beautiful white star appeared in the blue light another time during my meditation. (11) Practical exercise in meditation is simply to recognize oneness with God, omnipresence of God, and activity of God within one here and now. (12) Here Churches become country clubs. (13) If few Mount Athos monks attain the light, it could be that they are too proud of the experiences which they've had already, that is, they may lack humility. (14) How close is Christ when we call on him! (15) If only Churches would encourage worshippers to look within as the only place to find God! (16) Light is only the opening of the door, the beginning. The final state is oneness with infinite intelligence. (17) In everything we do we ought to think of God, and thus reduce ego to nothingness. (18) That which is behind our eyes, never dies.
Oxford Dictionary of Christian Church History on Hesychasm ("Quiet"), a fourteenth-century Mount Athos mystical system: Its chief tenet was that by perfect quiet of body and mind man is able to arrive at vision of the "Uncreated Light of the Godhead." The result of these practices was ineffable joy and seeing the Light, which surrounded Our Lord on Mount Tabor. It was held that this Light was not God's essence, which is unapproachable, but his Energy which can be perceived by the senses, and that it was this Light, and not, as Western theologians hold, God's Essence, which is the object of the Beatific Vision. Philotheus Kokkinus in his contribution to the anthology called Hagioritic Tome, written at Mount Athos about 1339, states that the Mount Athos doctrine of Divine Light was revealed experientially to the contemplatives who lived there.
Easier methods, therefore more mechanical, to procure this vision of Divine Light, included: (a) breathing exercises, (b) pressing chin against the chest, (c) indefinite repetition of the ejaculation "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me." Hesychast theology conceives of God as a compound of essence and activity, whereas Western theology denies the possibility of an uncreated light that was not God's essence, on the grant that any distinction would destroy His unity and simplicity.
The Russian Staretz (experienced spiritual guide) Silouan, who lived on Athos for more that forty years until he died in 1938, saw the Christ at the door leading to the sanctuary of a church joining his monastery, saw too a great light all around, felt himself transported to heaven while joy and peace filled his heart. The vision was ever after regarded as the peak of his inner life, but the uplift it brought slowly faded away. It did not exempt him from further struggles and strains of his ascetic existence, as well as dark nights of the soul. These gave him a great humility, which smashed any pride the glimpse might have engendered.
R. Fulop-Miller: In the sixteenth century there arose on Athos a controversy which shook the whole Orthodox world. A monk, after a long period of profound meditation on his navel, could see the divine light of Mount Tabor. His example was followed by many other monks who also saw "the Uncreated Light." The question was fought out through a series of Councils and finally decided in favour of the mystics by a Council at Constantinople, which declared the Light was really Divine.
Dionysios, the founder of one of the Athos monasteries, lived in a cave as a hermit high up on a mountain side; he saw one day a strange supernatural light shining lower down. He felt inspired to build a monastery at the spot and eventually persuaded the emperor to materialize his inspiration. This was in the fourteenth century and the buildings are still there.
The first thing that God gave the created world was physical light. The first communication God makes to the man who has attained His presence is the vision of supernatural Light. This is the doctrine held by the Eastern Church, which calls what is seen "the Uncreated Light." During this rare experience the man feels that he is free from earthly attachments and worldly desires, that the intense peace he enjoys is the true happiness, that God's reality is the overwhelming fact of existence. This vision is a gift, a grace, so it may come suddenly, unexpectedly, but more often it comes to someone who has prepared himself for it by purification and contemplation. It does not last, the Light leaves him as strangely as it came and as independently of his personal control. But its exquisite memory can never leave him. From that date, too, certain beneficial changes appear in his character and his outlook. The lower nature is weakened, the baser attributes are thinned down. From that date, too, certain spiritual truths are confirmed for him, and certain false beliefs are cancelled. Yet, if the vision of Light brought union with God, intimacy with God, it did not and could not enable him to know God as God knows Himself. He could not penetrate His inmost nature and substance. This, the ultimate beyond the Light, is called "the Divine Darkness" by the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Seeing the Light in front of him is one state; being merged into it is another, and superior.
This Light is the penultimate experience, the last but one on the mystic's way. He finds himself totally lost indeed but lost in the most dazzling Light. The ego seems to have vanished: infinity and universality of being have replaced it. Ecstatic rapture fills him. Is it any wonder that the Greek Orthodox Church mystics of the first few centuries believed this was the ultimate experience of pure Spirit, the final union with God? Yet it may not last, cannot last, must come to an end. It may have held him for one or two minutes only or it may have done so for a longer period. It may never recur again in his whole lifetime--this is so in most cases--or it may come several times more. But it stands as a landmark until the end of his years.
Where the Greek Orthodox Church regards the Light experience as the highest point reachable by man, the Indian Philosophic Teaching regards it as the last stage before the highest. For anything which is "seen" implies the existence of a "seer" as separate from it. This is not less so even in the case of the Holy Light. Not seeing but be-ing is the final experience according to this Teaching. "You have to go beyond seeing and find out who is the `I' who experiences this light," said Ramana Maharshi to a disciple.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.