Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness

Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness

By Robert K. C. Forman
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999. Paperback, x + 214 pages.

We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? This title has everything. The author, Robert Forman, is an associate professor of religion at Hunter College and editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Thus he is no novice on the subject. In this volume he has combined published papers, lectures, and some original material to make an interesting but sometimes uneven read. Considering the difficulty of writing about mysticism, mind, or consciousness, perhaps asking for evenness is too much.

Recently books of this type attempt to quantify the mystical experience and then discuss it as if it were a subliminal science experiment. Even worse, quantum mechanics seems to be introduced so the mystical experience will sound up-to-dare. Being a scientist by profession, I find this to be a stretch in the wrong direction. Thankfully, Forman has simply given us a forthright approach. He not only covers the expected medieval mystics, but demonstrates his knowledge of ancient India and China. From his academic knowledge and personal experience, we get a well-balanced discussion of various schools of thought on the subject.

Forman argues that mysticism may not necessarily he formed by culture, language, and background knowledge. Instead, he indicates that mystical experiences are a direct encounter with our very conscious core. He reviews the well-known experiences that are commonly referred to as a "pure consciousness event." However, he favors a new type referred to as a "dualistic mystical state."

The preface says that "this book is the product of a lifetime." That is an interesting opening, but it is also literally the truth. Forman has been practicing a neo-Advaitan form of meditation twice daily since November 1969. Also, on extended retreats, he meditates six to eight hours a day. In doing so, he experienced what he calls the dualistic mystical state (DMS), defined as "an unchanging interior silence that is maintained concurrently with intentional experience in a long-term or permanent way." I interpret this to mean "in the world, but not of the world."

The DMS suggests Krishnamurti's experience. The biographies by Mary Lutyens again and again refer to what appears to be a DMS; for example, Krishnamurti: The Years of Fulfillment (68) speaks of his "going off' during "the process." Simply put, an elemental tended to his physical body while his higher self was elsewhere.

As mentioned above, there is some unevenness in the book. It is mainly editorial, but is distracting since it shows a lack of attention to details. An example is Forman's interview with Diado Sensei Loori, head of the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, which is an interesting and relevant story in the text (21-22) but is repeated in the notes at the end of the text (89). Another instance, although trivial, is surprising, given the book's copyright date of 1999: Forman uses a Compaq 386 computer as an example (16), but almost all of my current students known nothing other than Pentium computers. This example makes the book seem a little out-of-date.


May/June 2000