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Reply: Bagger and the Ghosts of GAA

  • Robert K. C. Forman (a1)

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I am grateful for Mr Bagger's thoughtful remarks, as well as those of Professors Cousins, Smith, Katz, and Gimello at a recent American Academy of Religion panel devoted to The Problem of Pure Consciousness. But I cannot help but be struck by the tone of Mr Bagger's notice. As one colleague communicated to me after reading the piece, this is one of the most gratuitously rude pieces he had ever seen! If our book is really as bad as all this, it makes one wonder (a) why Religious Studies, or Mr Bagger, would bother to give it such attention, and (b) whether it indicates how deeply we have touched a nerve in the contemporary debate.

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1 For much of what is interesting and insightful in this article, I am grateful to the hard work, intelligence, and good spirit of my friend and colleague Donald Rothberg.

2 Unpublished talks by Gimello, Robert, Katz, Steven, Smith, Huston, and Cousins, Ewert, American Academy of Religion Mysticism Panel, ‘The Study of Mysticism in the Light of the Problem of Pure Consciousness,’ 11, 1990. While these papers are not published, a tape recording is available from the American Academy of Religion Tape Services.

3 Here I am grateful to a private correspondence with R. L. Franklin.

4 Transcript of Katz's talk, American Academy of Religion Mysticism panel, The Study of Mysticism in the Light of the Problem of Pure Consciousness, Nov. 1990.

6 Quotations in this paragraph are from Katz, Steven, ‘The Conservative Character of Mysticism’, in Mysticism and Religious Traditions, ed. Katz, Steven T. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

7 Quotations in this paragraph are taken from Katz, , ‘Language, Epistemology and Mysticism’, in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

8 Interview transcript, Loori, Daido Sensei, 09, 1990.

9 Indeed in his Mountain Record of Zen Talks, ed. Treace, Bonnie Myotai (Boston; Shambhala, 1988), he does not tell this tale. The book is, after all, not primarily autobiographical but instructive and evocative.

10 This argument is quite close to Wayne Proudfoot's, in his excellent Religious Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).

11 Wainwright, William, Mysticism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1982), also draws an analogy between sense data and mysticism.

12 That means that we accept that pure consciousness is as it seems, without language and interpretation. If we accept this, then, alas, I must plead guilty to Professor Bagger's accusation of committing an error similar to that levelled at the perennialists. I am separating some texts from their experiences, to wit, precisely the experiences into which that text's language does not enter. Sometimes a mystic's words may refer to experiences in which those words played no role. Frankly, I do so with fear and trembling, for if accepted it is a move which clearly could generate some sloppy scholarship and over-easy parallelism between traditions. I fear the college freshman drawing over-easy parallels between texts – and using the Problem of Pure Consciousness as a defence. Perhaps I am guilty of such sloppiness, perhaps we are in our volume. But if the pure consciousness event is indeed as we describe it, i.e. non-linguistic, it is non-textual and hence stands a step removed from the texts. To analyse it correctly then would demand that we look at it as such, and hence that we look at it as if it is ‘behind’ the texts. This raises difficult problems for interpreters. But let us not mis-represent the phenomenon because there are problems in representing it correctly.

My only defence against the accusation that I have committed the sins of which I accuse the perennialists is that, unlike them, we offer epistemological arguments which have, I believe, some cogency. Many are discussed in our book; let me mention just a few. First, the process bringing it about is one of progressively dropping the set's formative elements. Several articles discuss the ‘forgetting model’, which shows that one can, through a progressive sloughing off of content and constructs, come to leave the constructed perceptual world behind. Unlike the perennialists, we do take the modern epistemological paradigm quite seriously, and we offer a plausible account of how a mystic might come to a new epistemological pattern. Second, many argue that the resulting experience itself, pure consciousness, does not show signs of being constructed. Third, we argue that the presuppositions and assumptions of the constructivists themselves disallow a fair analysis of the phenomenon. I will not review them here.

Reply: Bagger and the Ghosts of GAA

  • Robert K. C. Forman (a1)

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