Sitting In On Mysticism Class
I asked Dr. Folkart at the beginning of the semester if I could sit
in on his Mysticism class. He mostly taught Hinduism and Buddhism, but
this class was going to be a combination of a lot of Asian religions.
It was his first time teaching it. I was glad when he gave me
permission to join the class. The class was divided into two parts,
readings, lecture, and discussion—and—the practice part. Of course,
exams were mandatory, two of them, but the practice part also
required a written account of the feelings and emotional changes that
either happened or didn’t happen.
Mysticism, according to my Professor, referred to a reality that was
rarely experienced, and because of this there was a great deal of
skepticism and doubt concerning its existence. The claim to that other
reality, though, was not merely stated; its credibility came out of a
direct experience of it and no description could substitute for that
direct experience. According to Dr. Folkart, it was kind of like when
an unsuspecting push put you in the deep end of a swimming pool. “How
do you prepare for that kind of experience?” he said. In order for
mysticism to be believed, it had to be experienced, but we were not
expected to become mystics. My Professor just wanted us to learn how
to take seriously the centuries-old claims of the mystics.
Professor Folkart did his PhD work in India, on the Jain religion. He
told the class, “If you keep an open mind and do the practices, I
guarantee that some of the potential that lies dormant in each and
every one of you will be realized.” It was obvious; he really wanted
the class to develop an appreciation for the mystical tradition. With
that end in mind, he handed out the class syllabus. It had a
description of the exercises that were supposed to correspond to the
mystical traditions that we would study: nature-mysticism,
body-mysticism, and mind/consciousness-mysticism. The exercises were
to be explored separately and in combination. For the most part, they
were basic control-disciplines, with emphasis placed on silence,
solitude, and fasting. Some of the exercises were optional. The
meditation and scheduled yoga sessions (under the direction of Dr.
Folkart), however, were required.