Revered philosopher and psychologist William James celebrated the universality of mysticism when he famously declared that mysticism has “neither birthday nor native land.” Mysticism is the perpetual taproot of all vital spirituality, and it is as much our spiritual birthright to be mystical as it is to express artistic, ethical, scientific, and philosophical impulses. Yet mysticism’s unique power to open the inner door to transcendent experience and a healing sense of oneness with the whole of life is often misunderstood, and it is sometimes dismissed as nothing more than a morbid fascination with weird mental states and paranormal powers. And for those who are committed to a materialist view of life, the word mysticism is a label meant to warn us away from anything that violates the standards of everyday, conventional rationality.
But, as we will see in this course, mysticism is also our genetic birthright as current research on mystical experience in neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary cognitive science shows. The potential for mystical experience has been engraved like a rail upon our brains, which are genetically coded for transcendence. This startling insight is emerging more from science labs than from academic centers of religious study, and this course will trace out the biological basis for deep spiritual experiences. Rather than undercutting mysticism by reducing spiritual experiences to brain states, this new research suggests that our brains, like our minds, are oriented toward harmony with a deathless and immaterial ground of life.
Just as important as these philosophical, religious, and scientific approaches to mysticism is the practical study of mysticism, which we enact through the practice of meditation. Meditation is the inner door to liberative insight. Although meditation is a inbuilt human capacity, which we can all practice, the cultivation of meditation has generally happened most intensely in disciplined religious settings like monasteries and ashrams. As we will see in this course, the meditative yoga of Hinduism, the contemplative practices of mystical Christianity, Buddhist meditative practices, and similar practices in other religious and philosophical traditions are mental programs that activate a mental and biological process that leads from everyday awareness to nondual union with the whole of life.
In this course, Dr. Rose will trace this meditative process as described in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity and link it to the brain’s meditative pathway as described in current contemplative neuroscience and neurotheology. He will also explain how to open the inner door of meditative concentration by outlining and practicing with you some classic and new meditation methods—and will share what he thinks of as the most basic meditation practice.
Dr. Kenneth Rose, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and emeritus professor of philosophy and religion at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. He teaches and publishes in the areas of comparative religion, comparative mysticism, religious pluralism, and the philosophy of meditation. He developed and lead the online course ÒWisdom from World Religions,Ó which is supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant. His degrees include an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and an M.A. and Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University. At Harvard, he was a Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions. His books include_Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks and Pluralism: The Future of Religion. Influenced as much by the_Bhagavad G_t__as by Thomas Merton and the Buddha, Prof. Rose has engaged in a lifelong quest to understand and practice spirituality in light of the sublime mystical texts and practices in the worldÕs wisdom traditions.