A Treasury of Mystic Terms - Reviews and Comments
Treasury of Mystic Terms, Volumes 1-6
These volumes are an amazing editorial achievement on the part of John Davidson and his team. Trained as a scientist at Cambridge, John wrote a number of books on biological principles in the 1980s and has spent much of the last 20 years in India where the research team for this work is based. The six volumes are handsomely produced on fine paper with gold-embossed lettering on the cover. In other words, the quality of the books and their contents are well matched.
The titles and sections of each volume of this Part I, Principles of Mysticism are as follows:
1 - The Universe of Spirituality
2 - The Divine Eternity
3 - The Divine Creative Power
4 - The Hierarchy of Creation
5 - Man and the Cosmos
6 - The Soul in Exile
Some of these volumes contain further sub-sections, but, apart from the first, they all follow the same dictionary format of alphabetical entries on the themes, with illustrative quotations from scripture, poems, philosophy and other spiritual literature. There are over 6,000 quotations in the six volumes as a whole (of PART I, around 26,000 in all). John explains that his aim is both information and inspiration. The slant of the information is to show parallels between the traditions through comparative analysis of mystic terms and specific metaphors within the framework of a universal understanding of spirituality. The inspiration comes from the quotations, and the volumes as a whole are arranged so that the reader can browse freely.
The first volume on the universe of spirituality takes a historical approach beginning with Sumeria and Mesopotamia. The principal world faiths are well represented - Judaism, Islam, Indian Traditions, Buddhism and Taoism. In addition, there are sections on Gnosticism, the Mandaeans, Mani, Greek Mystics and Philosophers, Native Cultures and a short note on the perennial philosophy. The biggest gap here is the lack of treatment of the school of perennial philosophers that include Frithjof Schuon, Rene Guenon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and others. Then there is equally no treatment of New Religious Movements, many of which have a gnostic or mystical basis. These movements are very much part of the contemporary 'universe of spirituality', but space may have excluded them. In the second part of the first volume there is an extensive biographic and bibliographic glossary of texts and mystics. Then at the end of this volume a 60-page bibliography and a 30-page index.
Space precludes detailed analysis of all six volumes so I will confine myself
to volumes 3 and 6. Volume 3 (480 pp.) treats the Divine Creative Power, with
a special section on Divine Music. Key entries in this volume include Bread,
Breath of God, Life Stream, Living Water, Tree of Life and Logos, to name
only some of the Western terms. Both Indian, Hebrew and Islamic terms are
considered in equal detail. Breath of God extends to six pages, starting with
both textual and etymological remarks and moving on to specific usages and
quotations from diverse sources. Breath is an infusion of spirit that brings
life. The water entries include the metaphor of the Fountain as the flowing
word of God in the 'parched desert of the world'. Logos runs to over ten pages,
starting with definitions and illustrating its historical development, especially
in Gnostic texts. There are quotations from Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus, Philo,
Sextus Empiricus, Justyn Martyr, Antony the Great and Maximos the Confessor
- which gives an idea of the extent of John's illuminating scholarly treatment.
Volume 6 - The Soul in Exile - has three parts: Evil, the Devil and the Negative Power, The Veil of the Physical, and Reincarnation, Destiny and the Law of Cause and Effect. Here the structural assumption of the work is evident: that the Divine is both immanent and transcendent, that the soul is essentially one with the Divine Source, that she has become separated by falling into forgetfulness, that the physical body is a limitation and the physical world at one level an illusion, and that the fundamental goal of all religions is a personal relationship with that primal Source. Here the emphasis is on 'experience over belief and dogma, direct perception over philosophy and theology'. The veil of the physical is variously evoked through words such as darkness, ignorance (avidya, literally 'not seeing), desert, illusion, shadow and so on. The final section includes a 10-page entry on karma and very extensive discussions (reminiscent of those in the famous Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics) on reincarnation and transmigration in ancient Greek philosophy, Christianity, Judaism and Manichaeism, amounting to over 75 pages. The discussion is historical, philosophical and mystical, stressing the inner process involved. As I said at the beginning, these volumes are an amazing editorial tour de force that should find a place in the library of any reader engaged on a mystical or more specifically gnostic spiritual path.
David Lorimer, Newsletter of the Scientific and Medical Network
A Treasury of Mystic Terms, Volumes 7-10
Although originally from a scientific background and the author of a number of books on biology and consciousness during the 1990s, John Davidson has dedicated the last few decades to spiritual practice and research. These four volumes out of a set of sixteen represent the second part, where first part is dedicated to the principles of mysticism and the last to spiritual experience and practice. The series represents a monumental achievement of intellectual and spiritual energy in terms of the range and depth of coverage. It is similar in scope and ambition to The Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics edited by James Hastings over 100 years ago. The primary objective of these volumes is elucidating the meaning of the essential terms used by many different spiritual and religious traditions of the world throughout history within the framework of a universal understanding of spirituality, as explained in the preface. As such, it speaks to our times. It is arranged alphabetically and will be an invaluable source to scholars and libraries in the decades to come.
Readers will find that many of the terms are new to them, and each begins with the definition, also drawing on appropriate texts and poetry with bibliographical references. Among the entries in 7.1 are anointing, Brahman, Buddha (25 pp.), eagle, fisher, sannyasin, saint, sage, rishi, Messiah, sadguru, shepherd, shamanism as well as historical references, for instance, to the Gnostics, Bogomils, and Cathars. Many entries are cross-referenced. 7.2 is devoted to the inner guide and the inner beloved, with entries also arranged alphabetically, including sessions on the bridal chamber, Image of Christ and many themes from Sufism and Hinduism. 7.3 covers powers, attributes and characteristics where, in mystical perception, 'the physical realm is actually a level of consciousness.' These other powers may impinge on the physical through what we call miracles as a result of siddhis that are associated with advanced sages from all traditions, including in the 20th century Sri Yukteswar. St Padre Pio and Beinsa Douno (Peter Deunov). One of the great features on these volumes is that they are not simply theological, but are rather informed by a unitive and mystical understanding that is the result of many years of inner research and practice. I urge readers to draw the attention of their libraries and universities to these volumes, and arrange for them to be ordered at what amounts to cost price.
David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer: Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network, 2020/2
Food for the Soul: A beautifully produced set on mysticism and spirituality, this is a significant work. More than 40 scholars have worked on it, gleaning over 6,000 (in PART I, around 26,000 in all) nuggets from religious texts from around the globe. The first volume starts with an overview of the universe of spirituality, which helps to put the early spiritual traditions in perspective. you come across some interesting bits of information, like the relationship between Jewish mystics and the Sufis, and the existence of Jewish Sufi manuscripts, which were discovered in Cairo in the late 19th century. Christianity is explained at length, and another interesting section is on Greek mystics and philosophers.
The very strength of these volumes lies in the fact that they bring out the essential similarities in the way man envisions mystical experiences. Once you get over cultural and linguistic differences, the essence is so similar. But then, why should it not be?
One can just not read this set of six volumes, or for that matter any book in it from cover to cover. In fact, it has been designed for the reader who, like this reviewer, would come back for more and more. As one sees the various terms explained in fairly lucid and simple language, one recognizes the work that must have gone behind it to 'de-jargonise' one of the more esoteric subjects. Of course, there can and will be differences of opinion and hair-splitting, but that is only to be expected and would probably be welcomed by the editors.
Brought out by a team of volunteers, the volumes are produced at par with international standards, and priced low even by Indian norms. There is no doubt that this is a labour of love, which is obviously continuing, since Part II of the Treasury is still to come. It will be eagerly awaited by many.
Roopinder Singh, The Tribune, Sunday, April 11, 2004
Although the scholars have found inspiration in the teachings of mystics of Beas in India, they present a variety of illuminating views, all of which serve to make this miscellany a 'treasury' worth cherishing. The reader will thus find a rich cornucopia among the pages that have something for everyone Moreover, despite its thematic coherence, the book also seems ideal for dipping and browsing. Like 'mysticism' and 'myth', the word 'mystery' comes from the Greek verb 'musteion', which means to close the mouth and the eyes. In everyday life, this denotes an experience of obscurity, darkness and silence. In the spiritual world, however, such a closure offers a key to enlightenment. In esoteric techniques such as shambhavi mudra of Hatha Yoga, for instance, the closing of the gates of the body is supposed to lead the seeker from darkness to light. Knowing the various shades of meanings in different traditions can lead to a stimulating 'Aha' reaction or inspiration of its own. This is indeed what makes A Treasury of Mystic Terms invaluable for those interested in inquiring into their own spiritual backgrounds, and those of other cultures.
Vithal Nadkarni, Sunday Times of India, February 8, 2004
The Principles of Mysticism constitutes Part I of A Treasury of Mystic Terms, and deals mostly with the theoretical aspects. It will be followed by Part II, The Practice of Mysticism, in a near future. As the title indicates, it is not a dictionary or an encyclopaedia, but a treasury of the essential terms and concepts used by different spiritual traditions. The Treasury deals with mysticism, as a transcendental experience in the sphere of consciousness. It is not intended to be exclusively an academic reference book, but it is further intended to provide for the cultivated reader a presentation in ordinary words of fundamental mystic concepts. All the entries of the Treasury have been written with great care, drawing from the best English translations available.
With the Treasury, Davidson has found an excellent opportunity to illustrate that gnosticism is not circumscribed to Early Christianity, neither to any specific place or time, but has developed in all the major spiritual traditions of the world, up to now.
Instead of adopting a continuous alphabetical sequence, the editor has intelligently adopted a presentation in six subject areas, each presented in one volume. Volume 1 also contains a very handy glossary of the main texts and authors of those traditions, with cross-references.
While dealing with this book, the reader should be aware of its backdrop. Its structure corresponds to the creed of gnosticism: existence of God and immortality of soul separated from the Divine, soul prisoner in the corporeal body, quest for a relation with the Divine through fusion.
All the entries concerning the different spiritual traditions are treated from the specific angle of mystic gnosticism. If the reader accepts this prerequisite, even though he may not adhere completely to gnosticism, he can still make a very fruitful reading. For the Christian, he may discover new aspects of the Christian faith which have remained in the shadows of history and, through this contact, the Christian faith may be challenged to open itself new horizons.
Thierry Meynard SJ, March 3rd 2004
John Davidson, in his book A Treasury of Mystic Terms, says that wherever man exists, so does mysticism. Mysticism is a transcendent experience that is not a philosophy or religious doctrine but is an expansion of normal consciousness. Though it is not religious doctrine, the one who has this experience often expresses the experience in terms that are associated with the most profound association with the divine. If the experience is written down in prose or verse, these writings often become the sacred scripture of religious doctrine. No amount of reasoning or study can replace the mystic experience. This experience is open to all who take interest in having it. It also has been had by the testimony of many of the world's greatest men and women. All mystic experience obtains a certain common understanding. The expression of that understanding assumes widely different aspects according to the mystic's disposition, time and place. This mystic understanding can be found in all cultural traditions of the world. According to traditional Western sources, the earliest known recorded or written history dates from 3,000 to 4,000 BCE. This is not as early as the previous civilization referred to in the Indus valley. The Sumerians are often considered the earliest as they left written remains. The Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient epic about a semi divine hero who goes in search of wisdom and immortality. He finds the "Plant of Immortality - the Herb of Life - at the Fountain of Youth." Zoroastrianism was well known throughout the Middle East in ancient times. It was mentioned by Plato and the Magi, Zoroastrian sages, were said to be present at the birth of Christ. John Davidson mentions that Zoroastrian doctrines (which were written in the Avestan language) are echoed in the Vedas and the three world religions that have emanated from the Middle East Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Terms like aeretatat in Avestan translates into amartyata in Sanskrit and immortality in English. Avestan manthra translates as word and becomes mantra in Sanskrit which is normally understand to be a word or phrase repeated to bring a heightened state of awareness.
Patrick Holiman, Acu Polarity Newsletter, Spring 2004
The headline "Young People turn to Mysticism" in a recent Sunday paper caught my eye. I was quickly irritated when I discovered that mysticism was equated with reading a horoscope! It was a relief to turn to this amazing Treasury of Mystic Terms. It begins by affirming that "Wherever man exists, so does mysticism." In its broadest sense it is said that "mysticism is an expansion of normal consciousness," which may issue (sic) in union with God and feelings of interior joy. Significantly, it is stated that "No one who has experienced anything remotely mystical has ever regarded it as something other than a glimpse of Reality." I had thought a 'treasury' would be a sort of dictionary or encyclopaedia, where you look up information about a name or a word. In part, this is the ease, but the Treasury begins with a wide-ranging account of the mystical tradition which is to be found in almost every religion, and some entries arc more like short essays. Many entries include a quotation from a holy book, so almost every page has something to inspire as well as to inform. Moreover, the material is arranged by subject, so you can read a series of entries and find they are related - even though the book is partly designed for the 'dipper.'
Eventually there will be two parts: The Principles of Mysticism and The Practice of Mysticism. Part One has now been published - in six volumes. The subject of Volume One is 'The Universe of Spirituality', followed by 'The Divine Eternity' and 'The Divine Creative Power'. Volume Four is 'The Hierarchy of Creation'. Volume Five, 'Man and the Cosmos' and finally (Volume Six) 'The Soul in Exile'.
This is an amazing piece of work. Much of the text has been written by John Davidson, but he has drawn on the expert knowledge of a wide range of consultants, many of whom have been influenced by the Radha Soami Satsang of Beas, near Amritsar. The Radha Soami Satsang is a religious movement, which was founded in North India in the middle of the nineteenth century hy Swami Ji Maharaj (Swami Shiv Dayal Singh, 1818-1878). There are now branches in several countries. Devotees are from different countries and various religious backgrounds, but the movement encourages a religious universalism. This is reflected in the affirmation at the end of the first section. While acknowledging the great variety of religious expression, it is stated that "behind everything there is one God, one Great Spirit, one common ground on which all human beings are the same - this belief is never completely smothered. It runs as a common thread through all human existence. To find that reality is the aim of all true mysticism, and the height of all true mystical experience." (Vol. 1, p.222) I am sympathetic to this claim, but some of the entries reflect clearly the position of their author. For example, the section on 'Reincarnation in Christianity' is much more sympathetic to this belief than is usual in orthodox Christianity. The material needs to be read with discernment, but the cumulative effect is astonishment at the richness of the mystical tradition in so many cultures. It is in my belief the true basis for interfaith work and for a more peaceful world, because the person who experiences oneness with the Divine will also feel at one with every living being.
I did not find any entry about 'horoscopes', but I do hope young people are turning to authentic mysticism.
Marcus Braybrooke, Faith and Freedom 160, vol. 58:1, 2005
One of the marks of this age of interspirituality is that we acknowledge and honour the similarities that draw the different religions together. The link that makes this possible is mysticism. The prolific spiritual writer Matthew Fox once said that we all have a mystic inside of us who can't wait to play in the universe. Our inner mystic rejoices in the fact that the ordinary world is extraordinary, that we are connected to other beings, that beauty abounds and soothes our souls, that wonder is the best way of seeing, and that gratitude forms the essential prayer. St Martin of Tours said that "all mystics come from the same country and understand the same language." They will rejoice in this publishing venture by the Science of the Soul Research Centre, a non-profit group based in New Delhi, India. More than 40 scholars have worked on this collection. Their aim is to help eradicate ill will and acrimony among people by revealing their common spiritual heritage and thus forming bonds of empathy and fellowship.
The six volumes that comprise Part One of A Treasury of Mystic Terms come under the umbrella of "The Principles of Mysticism." Here are more than 6,000 (in PART I, around 26,000 in all) quotations from religious texts of all traditions including Sumerian and Mesopotamian spirituality, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Greek mystics and philosophers, Islam, six Indian traditions, the Sikh tradition, Buddhism, Taoism, and the primal religions of peoples in North America, Central America, and Australia. The six volumes are: The Universe of Spirituality, The Divine Eternity, The Divine Creative Power, The Hierarchy of Creation, Man and the Cosmos, and The Soul in Exile. The first volume also contains a biographic and bibliographic glossary. Our favourite is the volume on the Divine Creative Power where there are passages on the fragrance of life, life stream, living voice, living waters, Logos, manna, wisdom, and much more.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Treasury of Mystic Terms ... is really a most remarkable work and the highest compliments are due to all those who participated in it.
Eli Kahn, Koren Publishers, Jerusalem
I received your six volume set of A Treasury of Mystic Terms. What a beautiful and amazing collection. Thank you so much for creating such an inclusive work. Thank you especially for sharing this collection with me.
Paulette Millichap, Millichap Books, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA, Dec. 2014
Thank you very much for your valuable donation which enriches our Philosophical Library. We are sure that some visitors of the Library, interested in the topics of the publication, will find very useful material in the impressive volumes of the Treasury.
Prof. Dr. Linos G. Benakis, Academy of Athens Philosophical Library, Athens, Greece, April 25, 2004
Excellent work. Many million thanks.
MS, January 2020