Mysticism

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.”
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 55:7-9

Statue of Lady Justice in FrankfurtThe Teaching of Mysticism is used to balance reason-based evaluation. Negotiation is reason-based because it is based on calculation, while institutional orientation is reason-based because it requires grammar and logic to interpret rules. Alternative forms of evaluation more easily recover from (or even benefit from) reasoning errors. Nevertheless, they do use reasoning, so non-reason-based evaluation can seem hypocritical. The Teaching of Mysticism balances this concern by convincing us that our reasoning faculties are so flawed that commitment to complete correctness ultimately obliges us to rely on something beyond reason.

Perhaps appropriately, the Teaching of Mysticism can get very technical, culminating in Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. This theorem is considered one of the greatest works of reasoning, yet ironically proves that reasoning, by its very nature, can never access all truth. The proof is so technical that it is generally reserved for graduate students specializing in the study of reasoning.

It is easier, and often sufficient, to teach merely that humans cannot always recognize errors in our own reasoning. For example, Confucius said, “I should just give up! I have yet to meet someone who is able to perceive his own faults and then take himself to task inwardly.” (Analects 5:27) The Prophet Muhammad wrote “Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realize it not.” (Quran 2:12) The first pope, wrote, “He who lacks these things is blind.” (2 Peter 1:9). The Gita warns, “Foolish ones, even though they strive, discern not” (Bhagavad Gita 15.1) and Jesus of Nazareth explained, “‘Whoever doesn’t have [understanding], whatever they have will be taken away from them. That’s why I speak to them in illustrations, because seeing, they do not see; and hearing, they do not hear, nor do they understand. To them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: ‘Even though you hear, you won’t comprehend, and even though you see, you won’t understand’. They have a hardhearted attitude, they don’t want to listen, and they’ve closed their eyes.’ ” (Matthew 13:12-15).

For those who hope that our historical pattern of reasoning errors can somehow diminish, but who will not go so far as to study Gödel, an entire branch of philosophy called the philosophy of language locates the problem in that fact that reasoning inevitably relies on some sort of imperfect language (e.g. words mean different things to different people). This may be what the Buddha was referring to,when he said, “As to speaking truth, no truth can be spoken.” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, Ch. 21) and “All that has a form is illusive and unreal.” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, Ch. 5), and Laozi meant by “The Dao cannot be named by common rules.” (Tao Te Ching 14).

The Teaching of Mysticism is, in a sense, a warning against treating Teachings as guides: “The Master said, ‘If you try to guide the common people with regulations…[they] will become evasive and will have no sense of shame…’ ” (Analects 2:3) “The timeless masters of the Teachings is not about enlightening the people with it, but about humbling the people with it.” (Tao Te Ching 65). The prophet warns against substituting technical obedience for genuine emotion: “With their lips they honor Me, but their heart they draw far away from Me, and their fear of Me has become a command of people, which has been taught. Therefore, I will continue to perform obscurity to this people, obscurity upon obscurity, and the wisdom of his wise men shall be lost, and the understanding of his geniuses shall be hidden.” Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 29:13-14

Buddhism offers the following defense for those who use reasoning but evaluate in a non-reason-based way: “When the Buddha explains these things using such concepts and ideas, people should remember the unreality of all such concepts and ideas. They should recall that in teaching spiritual truths the Buddha always uses these concepts and ideas in the way that a raft is used to cross a river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded.” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, Chapter 6)

The preceding is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of GRIN Free – GRIN Together: How to let people be themselves (and why you should) by Christopher Santos-Lang.