I grew up in a family oriented to Christian Mysticism. My grandparents from both sides were very focused in that way, though they followed different teachers. My mom’s mom was very influenced by Joel Goldsmith who became well known in the 50‘s–60‘s and formed a group called the Infinite Way, this teaching rubbed off on me the most. It‘s focused on experiencing the teachings of Jesus through silence and contemplation. Joel and the teachers that succeeded him would give talks, hold seminars and record them. These recordings would be listened to and contemplated in silence. My mom was also really influenced and I often heard the tapes and went with her to some seminars.
There was a lot of depth conveyed in the tone and words of the teachers, their experience of the kingdom of heaven within sounded a lot like what the Buddha might call the first Jhana where the 5 hindrances fall away giving way to luminosity and rapture. Their experience of the New Testament would be to metaphorically conveying a language describing spiritual depth and experience, not understood from literal interpretation. The goal was to realize the Christ mind within yourself and see yourself and the world through the Christ mind.
Though I was comforted listening to the talks, I didn‘t know how to experience what the teachers were talking about. They‘d just say just stop thinking, go into the silence and see you on the other side. The outer physical world was seen as an illusion including the body, sickness, lack, poverty, war, death and so forth. They were products of the deluded mortal minds creation, split off from God. The thing to do was to train your mind to see past these illusions of the world and see as they truly are as Christ would see them. It was a very different orientation to suffering than Buddha‘s teaching. Suffering was more to be looked past rather than to be entered into and be used as a catalyst for liberation. Also some people seemed mental about it, they‘d try to talk the talk but it seemed like they were trying to talk themselves into it rather than talk from experience. It seemed disjointed from experience. I was fascinated yet I didn‘t know how to get inside and experience what the teachers were talking about.
When I found vipassana it was like a golden key to unlocking the inner world. The talks from the Christian tradition started to make more sense experientially. When I started to develop samadhi, it came to mind, oh this must be what was meant by Christ mind, a Christ mind is a pure mind free from the defilements and this is what that feels like. And when starting vipassana and feeling energy in the body– the flow of energy was what was meant by Holy Spirit. The presence of God could be translated as subtle pleasant sensations or the feeling of peace. But there had been little room for the experience of unpleasant sensations or unpleasant experiences in the Christian tradition, they‘d say you need to change your way of thinking and align your mind with Christ mind. There wasn‘t the concept of the deep-seated habit pattern of the mind to react to pleasant and unpleasant sensations with craving and aversion and the need to observe them with equanimity. It seemed like it was easy to get stuck in the head and removed from the body. There wasn‘t the concept of impermanence, you were either operating from the mortal mind or the Christ mind.
Coming from vipassana I can now look back and appreciate what was being taught and recognize some parallels. I feel so grateful now to have a tool with vipassana to develop experiential wisdom.
2 thoughts on “From Christian Mysticism to Vipassana”
Very interesting, Chris. I recognized some parallels with my own experience, particularly what you said about Vipassana being like a golden key unlocking the inner world, and a tool for developing experiential wisdom beyond disjointed intellectual understanding. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Maria, yes I felt the same way after reading your post. Your post gave me inspiration to think about my religious upbringing and relate it to vipassana.