S. N. DASGUPTA, Ph.D.
Author of A History of Indian Philosophy and Yoga as Philosophy and Religion
Chicago: Open Court Publishing Co.
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Scanned at sacred-texts.com, November 2005. Proofed and Formatted by John Bruno Hare. This text is in the public domain in the United States because it was published between 1922 and 1964 and not renewed at the United States Copyright Office in a timely fashion as required by law at the time. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice of attribution is left intact in all copies.
The Rt. Hon’ble Victor Alexander George Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Earl of Lytton P.C., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., Chancellor of The University of Calcutta and Governor of Bengal, India.
May it please your Excellency,
I know that your noble and cultivated soul will always be eager to receive with cordial hospitality the high ideals, thoughts and attainments of the people of any age and of any country, but more particularly of India, over the destinies of a part of which your excellency had to preside for some time.
Mine is a humble performance, but I feel extremely grateful to you that it was solely through the kind patronage of your excellency that I could avail myself of the opportunities that came and accept the invitations of many foreign universities, at one of which these lectures were delivered. Your generous courtesies, cordiality and sympathetic willingness to help will always endear your name to me, as it will do to many others. By associating this brief account of the mystics of India with your name I am only paying my tribute of respect to you for the high respect that you yourself have for the lofty ideals of humanity. I shall be glad if you will kindly accept this unworthy gift and sometimes think of India, her past greatness and future possibilities.
I remain your Excellency,
Loyally and sincerely yours,
was presented first in the form of six lectures given by Professor Dasgupta in 1926 as the Norman Wait Harris Foundation Lectures at Northwestern University. The author was at one time a Lecturer, University of Cambridge; Professor of Sanskrit, Chittagong College, Bengal; and Professor of Philosophy, Presidency College, Calcutta.
BOTH on the continent and in America, Hindus are associated with mysticism, but, so far as I know, the subject of Hindu mysticism has as yet received no systematic treatment, either in the way of general introduction, or in the way of a comprehensive account. The man in the street cannot, as a rule, distinguish between the lower and the higher forms of mysticism. He looks upon mysticism in general with some kind of superstitious awe or reverence, and he thinks of it as an obscure and supernatural method by which, in some unaccountable manner, miraculous feats may be performed or physical advantages reaped--departed spirits made visible, fortunes told, muscles developed, riches earned without effort, dangerous and incurable diseases cured by simple amulets or blessings, infallible prophesies made, and the like. I shall not say anything as to whether or not such phenomena are possible, for my present interest concerns not facts but beliefs. But whether or not the phenomena actually occur, they imply beliefs that there are short cuts to the attainment of advantages through mysterious, supernatural or miraculous powers undiscoverable by reason. I refer to this as inferior mysticism, because the purposes relate solely to the attainment of inferior
mundane benefits. Distinguishable therefrom is the belief that the highest reality or the ultimate realisation and fulfilment (whatever may be their nature) cannot be attained by reason alone, but that there are other avenues to them, namely, the firm and steady control of will, the development of right emotions, or both combined, or by them both along with the highest functioning of reason. This is superior and true mysticism because it is directed to the liberation of the spirit and the attainment of the highest bliss.
Mysticism in Europe has a definite history. In spite of the variety of its types, it may roughly be described to refer to the belief that God is realised through ecstatic communion with Him. With the Islamic mystics, the Christian mystics, and the devotional mystics or bhaktas of India, the vision of God and His grace is attained through devotional communion or devotional rapture of various kinds. But in all these mystics, we find a keen sense of the necessity of purity of mind, contentment, ever alert striving for moral goodness, self-abnegation, and one-pointedness to God. There can be no true mysticism without real moral greatness. This mysticism should therefore be distinguished from a mere delusory faith that God often grants us a vision of Him or appears to us in dreams, or from a faith in the infallibility of the scriptures and so forth, for the latter are often but manifestations of credulity or of a tendency to believe in suggestions, and may often be associated with an inadequate alertness of critical and synthetic intellect.
I have defined mysticism as a belief or a view, but in reality it means much more than that. In the life of the true mystics, beliefs exert a great formative influence. They are no mere intellectual registrations of opinions or temporary experiences, but represent the dynamic, the dominant tone of their personality as it develops and perfects itself. Mysticism is not an intellectual theory; it is fundamentally an active, formative, creative, elevating and ennobling principle of life. I have not here taken note of poems or thoughts involving merely mystical beliefs but have touched only upon those which are the outward expressions of a real inner flowering of life in the persons of those who have tried to live a saintly life of mysticism.
Mysticism means a spiritual grasp of the aims and problems of life in a much more real and ultimate manner than is possible to mere reason. A developing life of mysticism means a gradual ascent in the scale of spiritual values, experience, and spiritual ideals. As such, it is many-sided in its development, and as rich and complete as life itself. Regarded from this point of view, mysticism is the basis of all religions--particularly of religion as it appears in the lives of truly religious men.
An acquaintance with Indian religious experience shows that there are types of religious and mystical experience other than that of an intimate communion with God. I have therefore made my definition of mysticism wider, so that it may include not only the Islamic, Christian, and the Bhakti forms of Indian
mysticism but other types of Indian mysticism as well. I could not hope to give an exhaustive analysis or even a fairly comprehensive treatment of the chief features of the different types of Indian mysticism within the limits of these six lectures. I have therefore attempted only a brief general outline of some of the most important types, indicating their mutual relations, sometimes genetically and sometimes logically. I have omitted all reference to the connected metaphysical issues, as a comprehensive treatment of these philosophical problems may be found in my "A History of Indian Philosophy" (Cambridge University Press), the first volume of which has already been published and the other volumes are in the course of publication.
I have first described the sacrificial type of mysticism. This cannot in all its particulars be regarded as a mysticism of a superior order, but it develops many features of the higher types and marks the starting-point of the evolution of Indian mysticism. I have then discussed the four chief types of mysticism: the Upanishad, the Yogic, the Buddhistic and the Bhakti, though there are many branches of these particular types upon which I could not enter. I have mentioned some other minor types of mysticism. In addition there are some which are of a syncretistic nature, exhibiting elements of belief and duties of two or three distinct types of mysticism in combination. I could not present them all. The five main types that I have here described, however, may be regarded as fundamental;
and, though very much more could have been said in the way of elaboration and illustration, all their striking characteristics have been briefly touched upon and materials have largely been drawn directly from the original sources. I hope that I may in the future have an opportunity to take up the subject again and to deal with it more elaborately.
Perhaps I should have entitled the present volume "The Development of Indian Mysticism." But the word "Indian" might be misunderstood in America. I have therefore selected "Hindu Mysticism," "Hindu" standing for Indian. I have dropped the word "Development" to avoid any initial impression of forbidding technicality. For similar reasons diacritical marks have been omitted.
I now have the very pleasant duty of thanking the Harris Foundation Lecture Committee which did me the honour of asking me to deliver these lectures and President Walter Dill Scott, Professor Edward L. Schaub and Professor T. W. Koch, the Secretary of the committee. Considering the high reputation of my predecessors, who were outstanding scholars in their respective branches of learning, I feel extremely diffident about my own humble performance. I have received so much hospitality and kindness in America that I shall always think of this great country with appreciative enthusiasm and admiration. But I can never express adequately my gratefulness and thanks to Professor Edward L. Schaub, who was chiefly responsible for my invitations to the American Universities
and who helped me so generously in seeing these lectures through the press, as well as in suggesting many changes of style and expression--to say nothing of his personal courtesies and cordiality which will always endear his name to me.
S. N. Dasgupta.
Calcutta, India, 1927.