by BARBARA HAMILTON-SMITH
Mysticism in the World's Religions by Geoffrey Parrindcr (Sheldon Press £4.95) By its nature, mysticism defies definition. Is it a thoughtprocess, a phase of feeling or what? The human mind's efforts to grasp the divine essence or the ultimate reality of things will lead, within religious systems. to happiness in actual communion with God.
professor Parrindcr defines mysticism as "the search for unity with the universe. the self, or God" and he introduces his study with a hint that the experiences of mysticism are more common than is generally supposed. "There arc probably greater varieties of religious experience today than the Western world has ever known".
The book is a comprehensive introduction to the subject on a world scale, and goes far beyond the limitations of Christian theology such as David Knowles set himself in his helpful book "What Is Mysticism?'
There has been an increase of interest in comparative religion among students and others. all of whom will find this hook immensely useful. The arrangement is systematic, beginning with chapters on pantheism and Indian Monism, and proceeding to the more familiar ground of Yoga and Buddhism.
Believers in the superior spirituality of the latter may be surprised to read "even monks say that -meditation is impracticable, offering some such excuse as the pressure of affairs or the decline of the doctrine". Familiar phrases?
There are other instances of successful clearing-away of false notions and misunderstandings of non-Western mystical concepts. The author's knowledge of African religions is especially interesting. Lack of a written history has hampered the study of this subject, but Professor Parrinder's scholarship reveals important communal aspects of African mysticism which may take forms bizarre by Western standards. but almost commonplace within their own culture.
The theistic mystics are dealt with equally competently. Writing of the unique nature of Christian mysticism. the professor suggests that "Islam rather than Christianity is the direct heir of all that is truest in Judaism" — a thought-provoking statement that is one of many in this stimulating hook.
Lack of space made the coverage of European mysticism seem least satisfactory: I looked in vain for the Quiestests, Swedenborg or Von Hitgel. Charles de Foucauld might seem an obvious choice as an example of a modern mystic. Professor Parrindcr names Pope John.