Published on July 30th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff4
Mystic Poetry and Yogic Enlightenment
By Swami Tripurari
I think it is fair to say that enlightenment is ineffable: it lies beyond the limits of speech. So how can we say anything about it at all? Dilemma. One way around this might be to speak about that which enlightenment is not, and there is much to be said about that. Avoiding such things one could arguably back oneself into enlightenment—whatever it is. Indeed, is enlightenment anything more than ceasing from acts (karma) that do not constitute it? Or is there another way around the dilemma presented thus far.
Perhaps it would be better to assume that there is not enough we can ever say about enlightenment to do it justice, even while admitting that it is ineffable. I believe this position is more nuanced and closer to the nature of enlightenment than the position that nothing can be said about it owing to its ineffable character. Moreover, words have power and some more than others. Thus the words “mystic poetry” in the title.
By the term “mystic” here I am referring to the enlightened ones, those who appear in this world as the quantitative measurable influence of the transcendent reality. Although they more represent the immeasurable quality of life we could have, they nonetheless have a quantitative influence in the world. The former we cannot measure because it is subjective, whereas the latter we can, and it is not small. Indeed, few have had greater influence than the Christ, Buddha, Rumi, Krishna, Caitanya, and so on—good, but also bad, influence. However, the bad is true only in terms of abuse of the good in their message and example.
A mystic has a unique experience that transcends language within the world of thought and speech, yet he or she is nonetheless pressed to think only of such experience and talk of nothing else. How could it be otherwise? While ordinary words lack power when it comes to the subject of enlightenment, words empowered by enlightened experience do not. In the least they are compelling and push us in the direction of pursuing the experience they seek to describe.
Mystics often speak poetically, and if we are to choose one kind of language to describe the nature of enlightenment, poetry seems most appropriate. Perhaps its opposite is math, the language of logic and science. Math is best employed when we seek to control something, to bring it within our grip for our own purpose. It is a language of quantity and objectivity and it does not address experience and the subjective.
The desire to control is facilitated by math, but the very notion of enlightenment speaks to us of a purpose greater than our individual selves—a purpose that lies beyond our control. Math is the language of the scientific method, the cornerstone of which is, in the words of Jacques Monod, “the systematic denial of final causes.” Scientism admits no purpose, no universal meaning. This is not because such has been proven to not exist, but rather because science’s methodology more readily leads to this conclusion, being inherently flawed when it comes to answering why-questions and discussing meaning. From the desire to control nature the epistemology of empiricism leads to the worldview of naturalism, which results in the alienation of the human spirit from both the world and any sense of ultimate meaning.
Fortunately we are not left only with this method. Empiricism and reason alone tell us we are nothing, while love tells us we are everything. What we need is well-reasoned love, for we are neither nothing nor everything. The language of such love is arguably mystic poetry; its method is the self-discipline of yoga.
Yoga as a method of knowing promotes self-control in the greater context of participation in life. From this participatory approach and the hope that life might reveal its agenda, and our part in it (as opposed to trying to control nature for anthropocentric concerns), comes an epistemology of intuitive, mystic discernment and noetic bliss. Such experience opens us to a holistic worldview, which includes both nature and supernatural and results in enlightenment/ fulfilment.
Mystic poetry as the language arising out of accomplished yoga discipline opens us to possibilities that lie at the heart of experience. It is a subjective language that speaks to us of the quality of life, and is thus better suited to the subject of enlightenment. Mystic poetry helps us let go of our need to control the world while inspiring us to control ourselves such that nature sees fit to let go of us and the supernatural sees fit to bring us within her embrace. I can think of no better example of such poetry than the Bhagavata Purana. Arising as it has from the samadhi of Vyasa, it is sometimes referred to as samadhi bhasya, the language of spiritual trance.