In every religious tradition of the world, a special place is held for those whom the faiths call mystics. These individuals arise from within specific traditions, but also go far beyond the confines of any one tradition. They seem to soar above the mundane world of both religion and everyday life and to enter new realms of experience and insight. This series introduces us to a spiritual level which ultimately links faiths rather than emphasises their differences.
TUESDAY 2 OCTOBER 7-8pm
Exploring Asian Mysticism
Professor Ursula King, Professor Emerita of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol; Professorial Research Associate, SOAS, University of London.
This lecture will first look at the remarkable rise of interest in mystical experience and practice, and in the study of mysticism during the twentieth century, then examine different forms of Asian mysticism found in the spiritualities of India, China and Japan. What is distinctive in each and common to all? How far does the global world of the twenty-first century call for a convergence between the mysticisms of Asia and the West? Can the spiritual resources of mysticism help us to create a mystical ethic of compassion, love and wisdom to heal the wounds of people and the planet?
WEDNESDAY 10 OCTOBER 7-8pm
Mysticism in the Indic Religious Tradition
Professor Arvind Sharma, Birks Professor of Comparative Religion, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Mysticism constitutes a particularly visible part of the religious landscape of India. This lecture will examine reports of mystical experience from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. If mysticism is defined as the belief that direct knowledge of God, or the ultimate reality, is possible then the Indic religious tradition identifies several ways of achieving it. Two of these – the path of knowledge or jñ_na and the path of devotion or bhakti – will provide the main focus of the presentation.
TUESDAY 16 OCTOBER 7-8pm
Navigating the Ocean of the Soul: Sufism
Professor William C. Chittick, Professor, Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies, Stony Brook University, New York.
Muslims have addressed issues that we moderns recognize as “mysticism” mainly in the strands of the tradition that are commonly lumped together as “Sufism.” The major concern of Sufi teachers has been to offer both theoretical and practical instruction on how to follow the example of the prophet Muhammad in achieving nearness to God. In both the theory and practice, the nafs-the soul or self-is the central issue, because it is our own selves that are the locus of awareness and transformation. This lecture will review basic Sufi teachings on the nafs, which is, as the thirteenth century mystic Ibn Arabi puts it, “an ocean without shore.”
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 7-8pm
The Role of the Inspired Fool in Daoist Mysticism
Martin Palmer, Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), Bath and translator of the Penguin Classic ‘Chuang Tzu’.
Chuang Tzu (in pinyin Zhuang Zi) lived in the fourth century BC and the book which carries his name contains stories, saying and legends about him which provide one of the funniest, most profound and enjoyable books of religious mysticism in the world.
Although he is called a Daoist, there was no such thing as Daoism when he was alive. But his writings, together with those of Lao Tzu (Lao Zi) are amongst the most formative forces which flowed into the creation of Daoism itself. But Chuang Tzu, like all mystics is much, much larger than the tradition that claims him. Through anecdote, story and legend, Martin will take us into the mystical, humorous, thought provoking world of one of the world’s very few funny mystics.
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 7-8pm
Dr Charles Ramble, Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, Oriental Institute of Oxford University
India was the source of Tibetan Buddhism, but the directions in which Tibet’s mystic traditions developed were often perceived as shocking and alien by Buddhists from other countries. Tibetans themselves see no contradiction between their beliefs and practices and the most sublime aspirations of the Buddhist enterprise: necromantic and sexual rites, techniques for the generation of psychic heat, transfer of consciousness and other such performances which are pursued in the quest for liberation.