What is the purpose of mystical experiences?

Typically, mystics, theistic or not, see their mystical experience as part of a larger undertaking aimed at positive human transformation and not as the end point of their [spiritual growth], according to Jerome I. Gellman, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

The late Maurice Bucke, MD, a mystical experiencer, believed that “The Savior of man is Cosmic Consciousness [Bucke’s term for mystical experience] – in Paul’s language – the Christ.  The cosmic sense (in whatever mind it appears) crushes the serpent’s head – destroys sin, shame, the sense of good and evil as contrasted one with the other…”

In Religion and the Modern Mind, W. T. Stace explained that mystical experience – in all its forms and degrees – serves to foster compassion and love, “the fountains of all higher morality.”  Stace wrote:

“The moral urge must be seen as flowing out of [mystical] experience.  And undoubtedly that is true.  For the experience is, according to the account of all who have it, not merely cognitive or emotional, but above all a value experience.  It is blessedness, calm, peace.  It is also, or contains as an integral part of itself, an infinite compassion and love for all men.  And such compassion and love are the fountains of all higher morality.

But it is not enough to state the mere fact that love flows out of the mystic vision.  For if no reason is given for this, it might in that case be a mere accident.  The mystic vision is the unifying vision in which “all is one,” in which all distinctions are transcended.  What, it might be asked, has this peculiar state of mind, wholly unpractical and visionary, got to do with practical life?  The love of man for man is after all a practical affair having to do with the daily routine of our lives.  And if it is true that the mystics do feel, as a result of their ecstasy, an increased love for their fellow beings, may not this be a mere superficial phenomenon?  The mystic may have a sense of emotional uplift which will cause him, at least for the moment, to feel kindly to his fellows in much the same way as an intoxicant does.  And can any such mere emotional [insight] be made the foundation of ethics?

But the connection between mysticism and love is not thus accidental and superficial.  There is a necessary metaphysical relation between the two.  The foundation of this relation lies in the fact that in the mystic vision, all distinctions, and therefore the distinction between one man and another, are transcended.  Selfhood, in the sense in which I am one self and you are another, is gone.  But it is out of such selfhood that all moral evil, especially hatred and envy of others, arises.  He who achieves the vision sees that his self is the self of all men, that he is in them and they in him.  There is for him no such distinction between an “I” and a “you” as would cause him to seek something for the “I” and deny it to the “you,” to hate another while loving himself, to cause pain to another while grasping at pleasure for himself.  He lives in all men and all men live in him.  His desire, his love, therefore, is not for himself but for all men.  It is this which makes mysticism the source of the moral life…

[The mystic consciousness] is actually present in all men now.  What [most] men call religious [i.e., sacred or holy] feeling is a dim [version] of what the [mystic] sees in brilliant illumination….[M]oral aspiration…[flows] out of the religious experience common to all men in proportion as it is dim or bright.  And since that experience is basically the same in all men – the differences being of degree – the morality which flows out of it will be the same everywhere, the same for all men, though some will apprehend it more clearly, others more obscurely…

And we may also think that what some philosophers have called moral “intuitions” are in reality an influx into our ordinary consciousness of elements from that radically different kind of mentality, intuitive and non-discriminating, of which the mystics speak…”

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