The English language is endowed with a broad range of terms for describing the ecstatic/mystical experience, borrowing extensively from both classical and contemporary traditions. This rich abundance of synonyms apparently selected (over time) for precise shades of meaning. For instance, the cohesive grouping of ecstasy, bliss, joy, and harmony represents themes specifically mentioned by William James in his Varieties of Rel. Experience. All four terms all seem to share a common set of themes.
The first and foremost of the mystical values, ecstasy, is traditionally defined as an overwhelming sense of rapture (primarily in a spiritual sense). Its modern spelling derives from the Greek ekstasis (displacement), from ek- (out) and histanai (to place). This theme eventually took on a mystical significance, variously described as an overwhelming sense of joy accompanied by supreme feelings of delight. According to St. Teresa of Avila, this ecstatic state can be delicately gentle or violently rapturous (as in full-blown flights of the spirit). In the throes of such divine contemplation, the mystic becomes “one” with the experience of the Absolute. The mystic generally becomes impervious to outside sensations, even to the point of ignoring pain or discomfort. Indeed, this trance-like quality of ecstasy is also suggested in its subordinate theme of beauty.
Allied to any discussion of ecstasy is the related theme of bliss. Its modern spelling derives from the Anglo Saxon blisse, from bliths (joy). These traditional connotations survive to our modern era with respect to the related contexts of rapture and gladness. This broad focus would further appear to restrict bliss to just another synonym for ecstasy were it not for its incorporation into the popular expression “ignorance is bliss.” Here, an alternate truth function is suggested for bliss. A casual survey the mystical literature brings to light many stirring accounts of blissful states where the grand scheme of things becomes supremely apparent. Indeed, ignorance is bliss in this elementary sense, a supreme overview clearly invoking such a transcendental perspective.
The third of the mystical values, joy, traces its origins to the Old French joye, from the Latin guadium (of similar meaning). It is traditionally defined as extreme happiness or gladness, often used interchangeably with ecstasy or rapture. The ancient Romans worshipped this concept as their god Comus (the divine personification of joyous revelry). This Latin tradition, in turn, traces its origins to the Greek god Komos, the same root-stem for the related theme of comedy. In particular, this congenial god is figuratively featured on the distinctive “smiling” style of mask generally worn during the performance of classical comedies.
These classical themes find similar consideration in the field of ethical inquiry, where joy is defined as “the prevailing quality of a rightful act” (a sense consistent with its transcendental affiliation to goodness). Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas defines joy as: “The delight that is the healthy complement of intelligent and willed activity, when the appetite is actively at rest in a good really possessed.” Furthermore, St. Paul fittingly numbers joy among the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). These rewarding aspects of the term are particularly reflected in the popular expression “taking joy in one’s work.” Accordingly, joy is figuratively symbolized as a tolling bell, a singing lark, the midday sun, or the color yellow: indicative of its related connotations to goodness.
The fourth and final of the mystical values, harmony, spans a rather broad range of meaning consistent with its transcendental placement within the power hierarchy. Its modern spelling derives from the Greek harmonia (a fitting together, an agreement), from harmos (a fitting or joining). According to classical Greek mythology, the goddess Harmonia is traditionally described as the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite: an insightful allegory in light of the fact that Ares was revered as the god of war, whereas Aphrodite was worshipped as the goddess of love. This theme also extends to the aesthetic realm of classical music and the fine arts: where agreement in form, function, and melody proves crucial to any meaningful attempts at composition. In medieval iconography, Harmony is depicted as a beautiful matron bedecked with an ornate crown, further flourishing a violin and a bow. In a more restricted relationship sense, harmony directly expands upon the humanitarian theme of wisdom, wherein reflecting a transcendental sense of agreement within a universal sphere of affairs.
SPECULATIONS INTO THE SUPERNATURAL REALM
In conclusion, the completed description of the mystical values effectively rounds out the stepwise description of the transcendental authority realm. Any further extension of this format necessarily specifies the existence of an even more abstract form of authority; namely, that transcending transcendental authority. Although this extreme conceptual perspective definitely stretches the limits of abstract sensibility, in theory, there does not appear to be any conceptual limit governing the degree to which reflection can serve as a basis for itself. Any such upper limit must necessarily be a technical one; namely, that degree of abstraction that finally exceeds the capacity of the human intellect to distinguish the respective affective dimensions (precluding their incorporation into the collective language culture). This observed blending of meanings would, indeed, suggest that this upper conceptual limit has finally been reached. GLORY------PRUDENCE
Beginning with the transcendental authority level, the respective listing of humanistic values (peace-love-tranquility-equality) all exhibit a fair degree of distinctness, even though some measure of conceptual affinity is hinted at in their dictionary definitions. For the next higher level of the transcendental follower, however, the mystical values (ecstasy-bliss-joy-harmony) collectively exhibit a greater degree of conceptual affinity: reflected in dictionary definitions that are similar (if not synonymous) in form and function.
Taking this trend to the limit predicts a complete blending of meanings at the next higher meta-meta-order level of transcendence. At this seemingly inconceivable level of abstraction, the four requisite affective dimensions effectively merge into a unified conceptual continuum, essentially unnamable except in the broadest supernatural sense; e.g., God, the Absolute, etc. One experiencing this extreme level of transcendence would certainly be impressed by the paradoxical blending of emotional states, in direct contrast to the more concrete range of experience characterizing the lower levels. In ordinary consciousness, the mind is typically restricted to entertaining only a single power maneuver (or emotion) at any given time. With respect to the supernatural dimension, however, the distinctions between the emotions become so blurred as to merge into a unified state: the “one becomes the many,” as many mystics have reported down through the ages.
This paradoxical experience of all-inclusive awareness has traditionally been documented using a broad range of themes; such as the Universal Mind, the Oversoul, Cosmic Consciousness, Brahma, the Great Spirit, etc. These collectively serve as a primordial prototype for the continuum of lower (more differentiated) states. The supremely abstract nature of this supernatural perspective (by definition) encompasses all of the lower levels as subsets; hence, accounting for the corresponding flooding of the emotions. Perhaps herein lies the basis for the tradi-tional Judeo-Christian belief that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Ordinary consciousness (with its sequential limitations) is formally theorized to differentiate out of this all-inclusive primordial state. At this supreme supernatural level, we seem to tune in to the Universal Mind as the sum-potentiality of all that is transcendent in nature.
Perhaps it is really only a matter of convention (devised by the ordinary mind) to regard the mystical state as a wholly separate entity. Indeed, William James appears to make a similar point in the following quotation from his Varieties of Religious Experience. “This overcoming of all of the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystical achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition hardly altered by differences of clime or creed.” Here, the spiritually-minded can fittingly view the unified power hierarchy as rooted entirely within such a supernatural realm: where all power emanates from the Supreme Godhead as creator of all that is spiritual and material. All authority therefore filters down from this supernatural domain consistent with God’s creative command over all human endeavors. The individual mystical traditions scarcely appear to be the crucial issue here, for many a religious sage has noted that “Many roads lead to enlightenment.”
This supreme supernatural perspective further underscores the basic paradox underlying the ethical hierarchy in general; namely, its openness at both its upper and lower margins. The lower margin blends with the mysterious and materialistic realm of instinctualism, whereas the upper end extends to the supernatural domain. Although the limited human intellect clearly favors such a dualistic interpretation, this general perspective (on a grander scale) might actually amount to a grand illusion! Is it truly possible to distinguish the spiritual from the material, the mental from the physical? No matter how one frames this inquiry, these two themes always appear to remain intimately connected. So long as the mind-body puzzle remains unresolved, these issues must remain open to further speculation.
Excerpt courtesy of: www.world-peace.org