John Horgans book Rational Mysticism breaks new ground because it is written by a man who is clearly a sceptic but who seems to want to believe in something beyond rationality – yet doesn’t want it so much that he forgets to ask the tough questions. And the strong side of this book is precisely the questions. What is mysticism? What are spiritual experiences, what causes them, why should we seek them and what do they signify? Are mystical experiences triggerede by hallucinogenic drugs as reald or “valid” as those triggered by meditation or prayer? All good questions to which the book offers no one set of answers but rather an examination of many different viewpoints.
Each chapter of the book describes Horgans encounter with one aspect of mysticism, eg. drug related experiences, meditations, prayer, etc. He’s talked to many of the prominent people in the field, such as Ken Wilber, Huston Smith, Stanislav Grof and Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD. He allows each of these people to present their viewpoints on mysticism while offering his own thinking also.
One of the main questions examined in the book is that of the perennial philosophy. Here’s a quote from the book:
The perennial philosophy holds that the world’s great spiritual traditions, in spite of their obvious differences, express the same fundamental truth about the nature of reality, a truth that can be directly apprehended during a mystical experience. Implicit in the perennial philosophy is the notion that mytical perceptions transcend time, place, culture, and individual identity. Just as a farmer in first-century China and a website designer in twenty-first-century New York City see the same moon when they look skyward, so will they glimpse the same truth in the depths of a mystical vision.
Do we each see our own little world in our mystical experiences or do we look at the same world only differently. This difference is crucial because it seems to me, that mystical experiences would somehow be truer and more real, if they were not just individual “fantasies” but new ways of seeing our world.
The book is very well-written, highly entertaining and well researched and I recommend it to anyone interested in a view of mysticism that transcends the cool scepticism of the scientist types and the blind willingess to believe of the new-age generation.