"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," wrote William James, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."
"This enchantment," James observes, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift of our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word of command. Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]
Writing of this universal experience in an introduction to Swami Prabhavananda's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita ("Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God"), the polymath philosopher, Aldous Huxley, observed that the experience of a higher, unitive consciousness lies at the heart of all the world's great religious and spiritual traditions. Calling it 'the Perennial Philosophy' (a title he would later use for a book examining the religious and spiritual phenomena underlying the world's great faiths), Huxley observed that there are the following four core principals at the heart of all religions and spirituality:
"First: the phenomenal world of matter and individualized consciousness - the world of things and animals and men and even gods - is the manifestation of a Divine Ground within which all partial realities have their beginning, and apart from which they would be non-existent.
Second: human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition, superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known.
Third: man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal Self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with the spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground, which is of the same or like nature with the spirit.
Fourth: man's life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal Self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground."
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In the attached four-part discussion, representatives of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths - a Benedictine monk, a Naqshbandi Sufi teacher, and a Jewish rabbi - explore the mystical traditions that are their common heritage, and the similarities that the mystical experiences of these faiths have with the same experiences reported in other traditions.