We can only speak of the Transcendent by way of the negative (which means “not to say”) –denying in it everything that pertains to our phenomenal experience– or also by way of the positive, that is affirming about it what we experience in our world, but in an eminent way. In any case, we speak about God from our human, historical, cultural reality. Only by means of the symbol can we express the experience of the holy. And symbols are part of our phenomenal experience.
J. Severino Croatto
It is little understood by most people the two approaches for Unio Mystica since for the uninformed this is something difficult to understand and conciliate, we can view this as two complementary but opposite views, parallel in History, and with Geographical boundaries, like the common quandary between East and West, despite clichés like the well known phrase of Rudyar Kipling:
“Oh, East is East, West is West, and never the twain shall meet”
In fact they not only meet but intertwine in a complex and some times strange, and bizarre way, trespassing borders Historical epochs, and, intellectual boundaries that exist only in our Western intellectual obsession for categorize, define, compartmentalize, and isolate , what in reality has no boundaries, or categories, neither exist in isolation, or out of context, it just is, and exist to become a unity, and a complementary whole, like in the well known symbol of the Yin and Yang of the Chinese Tradition, the white dot on the black, and the black dot on the white…
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
Tao Te Ching
The so call Via Negativa it is just a descriptive name with no value as category, but to differentiate two Mystical approaches to the Ultimate Reality of Being, and in our Western dominated culture refer to the Oriental current, who only to our eyes seem like a passive way to the Realization of Being.
In Christianity is a theology that attempts to describe God, the Divine Good, by negation, to speak only in terms of what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God. It stands in contrast with cataphatic theology.
“He is neither number nor order; nor greatness nor smallness; nor equality nor inequality; nor similarity nor dissimilarity; neither is He still, nor moving, nor at rest; neither has He power nor is power, nor is light; neither does He live nor is He life; neither is He essence, nor eternity nor time; nor is He subject to intelligible contact; nor is He science nor truth, nor a king, nor wisdom; neither one nor oneness, nor godhead nor goodness; nor is He spirit according to our understanding, nor a son, nor a father; nor anything else known to us or to any other of the beings or creatures that are or are not; … He suffers no change, corruption, division, privation or flux; none of these things can either be identified with or attributed to Him.”
Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite
In Christian theology, Kenosis (from the Greek word for emptiness κένωσις (kénōsis)) is the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.
The word ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) is used in Philippians 2:7, “Jesus made himself nothing …”
“Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them. We must then dig deeply in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures: however deep we dig, we will never find their end or their limit. Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides. For this reason the apostle Paul said of Christ, “In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training. The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.”
John of the Cross
(Arabic: فناء في الله Extinction of the self in God) One of the important phases of mystical experience which is attained by the grace of God by a traveller on the mystical path is the state of fana fi Allah, “extinction of the self in God”. This is the state where the person becomes extinct in the will of God. It is important to mention that this is not incarnation or union. Most Sufis, while passing through this experience, have preferred to live in the greatest depth of silence which transcends all forms and sounds, and enjoy their union with the beloved.
The highest stage of fana is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana disappears. This is what the Sufis call “the passing-away of passing-away” (fana al-fana). The mystic is now wrapped in contemplation of the divine essence. (Nicholson,The Mystics of Islam, p. 60).
Since it is a state of complete annihilation of carnal self, absorption or intoxication in God, the pilgrim is unable to participate in worldly affairs, he is made to pass into another state known as Fana-al-Fana (forgetfulness of annihilation). It is a sort of oblivion of unconsciousness. Since two negatives make one positive, the pilgrim at this stage regains his individuality as he was when he started the journey. The only difference is that in the beginning he was self-conscious, but after having reposed in the Divine Being, he regains that sort of individuality which is God-consciousness or absorption in God. This state is known as Baqa-bi-Allah — living or subsisting with God. (Alhaj W.B.S. Rabbani, Gems of Sufi Gnosticism)
Sair min Allah
(Arabic: سير من الله journey from the God) Here the person comes back to his existence. Also called Safr-e-Nuzooli.
No one can subsist with The Supreme Creator and to believe as such is shirk. What really happens is the person’s awareness of Allah increases so much so that he forgets his own self and is totally lost in Allah’s magnificence.
Now let’s see an example of supposed passive, or negative Mystic Realization by Ramana Maharshi:
“There is no dissolution or creation, no one in bondage, no one pursuing spiritual practice. There is no one desiring liberation, nor anyone liberated. This is the absolute truth.
I do not teach only the ajata doctrine. I approve of all schools. The same truth has to be expressed in different ways to suit the capacity of the hearer.
The Ajata doctrine says, `Nothing exists except the one reality. There is no birth or death, no projection or drawing in, no seeker, no bondage, no liberation. The one unity alone exists.’
To such as find it difficult to grasp this truth and who ask, `How can we ignore this solid world we see all around us?’, the dream experience is pointed out and they are told, `All that you see depends on the seer. Apart from the seer, there is no seen.’ This is called the drishti-srishti vada or the argument that one first creates out of one’s mind and then sees what one’s mind itself has created. Some people cannot grasp even this and they continue to argue in the following terms:
`The dream experience is so short, while the world always exists. The dream experience was limited to me. But the world is felt and seen not only by me, but by so many others. We cannot call such a world non-existent.’
When people argue in this way they can be given a srishti-drishti theory, for example, `God first created such and such a thing, out of such and such an element, and then something else was created, and so on.’ That alone will satisfy this class. Their minds are otherwise not satisfied and they ask themselves, `How can all geography, all maps, all sciences, stars, planets and the rules governing or relating to them and all knowledge be totally untrue?’ To such it is best to say, `Yes, God created all this and so you see it.’
All these theories are only to suit the capacity of the learner. The absolute can only be one.
The Vedanta says that the cosmos springs into view simultaneously with the seer and that there is no detailed process of creation. This is said to be yugapat-srishti (instantaneous creation). It is quite similar to the creations in dream where the experiencer springs up simultaneously with the objects of experience. When this is told, some people are not satisfied for they are deeply rooted in objective knowledge. They seek to find out how there can be sudden creation. They argue that an effect must be preceded by a cause. In short, they desire an explanation for the existence of the world which they see around them. Then the srutis (scriptures) try to satisfy their curiosity by theories of creation.
This method of dealing with the subject of creation is called krama-srishti (gradual creation). But the true seeker can content with yugapat-srishti, instantaneous creation.
There may be any number of theories of creation. All of them extend outwardly. There will be no limit to them because time and space are unlimited. They are however only in the mind. If you see the mind, time and space are transcended and the Self is realized.”
In Christian theology, divinization, deification, making divine or theosis is the transforming effect of divine grace. This concept of salvation is historical and fundamental for Christian understanding that is prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Church and also in the Catholic Church, and is a doctrine of growing importance in certain Protestant denominations, being revived in Anglicanism in the mid-19th century.
The importance of divinization (theosis) in Roman Catholic teaching is evident from what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says of it:
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
Divinization has been taught by Catholic theologians, including the most authoritative: Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The gift of grace surpasses every capability of created nature, since it is nothing short of a partaking of the Divine Nature, which exceeds every other nature. And thus it is impossible that any creature should cause grace. For it is as necessary that God alone should deify, bestowing a partaking of the Divine Nature by a participated likeness, as it is impossible that anything save fire should enkindle.” He also wrote of God’s “special love, whereby He draws the rational creature above the condition of its nature to a participation of the Divine good”.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons stated that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”
St. Clement of Alexandria says that “he who obeys the Lord and follows the prophecy given through him . . . becomes a god while still moving about in the flesh.”
St. Athanasius wrote that “God became man so that men might become gods.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria says that we “are called ‘temples of God’ and indeed ‘gods’, and so we are.”
St. Basil the Great stated that “becoming a god” is the highest goal of all.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus implores us to “become gods for (God’s) sake, since (God) became man for our sake.”
Praxis of theosis
The journey toward theosis includes many forms of praxis. The most obvious form being Monasticism and Clergy. Of the Monastic tradition the practice of Hesychasm is most important as a way to establish a direct relationship with God. Living in the community of the church and partaking regularly of the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, is taken for granted. Also important is cultivating “prayer of the heart”, and prayer that never ceases, as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians (1 and 2). This unceasing prayer of the heart is a dominant theme in the writings of the Fathers, especially in those collected in the Philokalia. It is considered that no one can reach theosis without an impeccable Christian living, crowned by faithful, warm, and, ultimately, silent (hesychast), continuous Prayer of the Heart.The “doer” in deification is the Holy Spirit, with whom the human being joins his will to receive this transforming grace by praxis and prayer, and as Saint Gregory Palamas teaches, the Christian mystics are deified as they become filled with the Light of Tabor of the Holy Spirit in the degree that they make themselves open to it by asceticism (divinization being not a one-sided act of God, but a loving cooperation between God and the advanced Christian, which Palamas considers a synergy).This synergeia or co-operation between God and Man does not lead to mankind being absorbed into the God as was taught in earlier pagan forms of deification like Henosis. Rather it expresses unity, in the complementary nature between the created and the creator. Acquisition of the Holy Spirit is key as the acquisition of the spirit leads to self-realization.
(Arabic: بقاء بالله eternal life in union with Allah The Creator) This is the state where man comes back to his existence and God appoints him to guide the humans. This is a state in which the individual is part of the world, but unconcerned about his or her rewards or position in it. This doctrine is further explained in an authentic tradition of the prophet which states that God said:
- And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks
“The Messanger of God said there is no path to knowledge of God but knowledge of self, for he said “He who know himself best knows his Lord best” Hence he made you a signifier. That is he made your knowledge of yourself signify your knowledge of Him. This is either by way of the fact He describe you with the same essence and attributes with which He describe Himself and He made you His vicegerent and deputy in His earth; or it is you have poverty and need for Him in your existence; or it is the two affairs together, and inescapably so.
We also see that, concerning the Knowledge of God that is called ma’rifa, God says, We shall show them our signs upon the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that He is the Real. hence the Real turned us over to the horizons, which is everything outside of us, and to ourselves, which is everything that we are upon and in. When we come to understand these two affairs together, we come to know Him and it become clear to us that He is the Real. Hence the signifying of God is more complete.
This is because, when we consider ourselves to begin with, we do not know if consideration of the cosmos outside ourselves-indicated by His words, in the horizons-give us a knowledge of God that is not given by ourselves or by everything in ourselves, we would gain the knowledge of God that is gained by those who consider the horizons. As for the Lawgiver, he knew that the self brings together all the realities of the cosmos. Hence he focused you upon yourself because of His eager desire-since, as God said concerning Him, His is eagerly desirous of you (9:128). He wanted you to approach the signifier so you will win knowledge of God, quickly and through it reach felicity.
As for the Real, he mentioned the horizons to warn you of what we mentioned-lest you imagined that something remains in the horizons giving a knowledge of God that is not given by yourself. Hence He turned you over to the horizons. Then, when you recognize from them the very signifier of God that they provide, you will consider yourself, and you will find that the knowledge of God that is yielded by your consideration of the horizons is exactly the same as yielded by your consideration of yourself. then no obfuscation will remain to cause misgivings on you, because there will be nothing but God, you, and what is outside you, that is, the cosmos.
Then He taught you how to consider the Cosmos. He said, Do you not see how your Lord draws out the shadow?(25:45). What, do they not consider how the clouds were created, and so on (88:17)Have they not considered the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth? (7:185) Such is every verse in which He urges you to consider the signs. In the same way He says, Surely in that are signs for a people who have intelligence (13:4), Who reflect (13:3), Who hear (10:67), and who understand (6:98), and for the Knowers (30:22), for the faithful (15:77), for the possessors of understanding (20:128), and for the possessors of the kernels (3:190). He knew that He created the creatures in stages, so He enumerated the paths that lead to knowledge of Him, since no stage oversteps its waystation, because of what God has mounted within it.
The Messenger turned to you over to yourself because he knew that the Real would be your faculties and that you would know Him through Him, not through other than He. For He is the Exalted, and the “Exalted” is the forbidden through its unreachability. When someone attains someone else, the later it is not forbidden in its unreachability, so he is not exalted. That is why the Real is your faculties. When you Know Him and you attain to Him, none will have known and attained to Him save he. Hence the attribute of exaltation never leave Him. Such is the situation, for the door to knowledge is shut, unless it come from Him, and inescapably so.”