We begin this study of the teachings of mysticism with the cornerstone of all great mystical teachings: the need for a teacher.
In the words of the Zen Master, Dogen: “The way to enter the gate is mastered only by a teacher who has attained dharma (i.e., who has awakened.) It cannot be reached by priests who have studied letters.”
In fact, one can travel but a limited distance on a path by oneself. Books on mysticism may be helpful in the beginning, but at a certain point they must be laid aside, and that which the intellect has absorbed needs to be translated into action, which can be on every level: physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
It is solely through right action based on mystical knowledge that we are capable of developing our ‘being,’ our divine Self. Whoever would take himself as his own teacher of mysticism is severely limited by the scope and subjectivity of his own knowledge.
The divine spark that we are born with is, in reality, the embryo of the soul. It requires nourishment, in the form of mystical wisdom, and guidance. Man is not capable of providing all of this for himself.
Thus, he must first find someone who, as Dogen said has “attained dharma.” It is only under the guidance of someone who has awakened to the internal mystical realm of the divine that is capable of teaching others how to do the same.
The following analogy may help us to understand the need for a teacher of mysticism.
Let us assume that we are in prison, and we have strong desire to escape. Who would be the best person for us to contact in order to ensure that our escape will be successful?
The obvious answer is someone who was a prisoner in the exact same prison, and who successfully escaped. This person’s knowledge of the prison would be of the utmost practicality. It would help us to be sure, for example, that the tunnel we need to dig will lead outside the prison walls, and not into the warden’s office.
The same holds true on the mystical path. Without the assistance of someone who has awakened from the exact same prison of sleep that we presently find ourselves in, our efforts to escape will be hit and miss. With an awakened guide, though, and deep aspiration, our efforts to awaken cannot miss.
Mysticism teaches that man lives in a constant state of imagination. He is either thinking about what he has to do, or what he has already done. As Queen Elizabeth I said, “man’s head and feet are rarely in the same place at the same time.’
Because of this chronic state of imagination, we are rarely truly present to what we are doing in the moment. In the terminology of mysticism, we do not penetrate the moment; we live our life without presence.
Because imagination is our prime barrier to being present, one of the major responsibilities of a teacher of mysticism is to give his students exercises that will support the efforts to be present to the moment.
Being present to our life is the heart of hearts of all mystical teachings, because presence is the fundamental building block of creating a soul.
Dear reader: with just the two ideas mentioned in this essay – the need for a teacher, and the need to be present to one’ life – we gain a vision of the dear and indispensable foundation of mysticism.
In our next essay, we elaborate these teachings by sharing one of the many fruits of our labor to awaken from our sleep: the mystical heart.