Enstasy, Ecstasy and Religious Self-reflection:
A history of Dooyeweerd's Ideas of pre-theoretical experience
J. Glenn Friesen
Note: This article is copyright. ©
B. Enstasy and religious self-reflection
Although Dooyeweerd does not accept the idea of enstasis as a pure consciousness that is separated from temporal reality, he does emphasize an inward contemplative direction. He calls this “religious self-reflection.” Self-reflection is experiential. Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is based on experience (Friesen 2009, Thesis 1 and references).
Religious self-reflection is an inward movement. Dooyeweerd emphasizes the inwardness or innerness of our experience. There are “inner human acts of experience” that are ‘necessarily related to the ego as the transcendent centre of human existence.” Animals lack this center (NC II, 114). Inner and outer are related to the distinction between central and peripheral. The heart is central and inner and what is temporal is outer and on the periphery (WdW I, v-vii). Dooyeweerd refers to the human soul or heart as ‘the inner man’ [‘de inwendige mensch’] (Dooyeweerd 1939). In pre-theoretical intuition the transcendent root of our personality thinks inwardly [in-denken] en-statically. Our naïve thought is an in-denken, an inward thought, in enstasis:
So religious self-reflection is related to ‘cosmic consciousness.’ Knowledge of self is related to knowledge of cosmos. Self-reflection is a way that we know the relation between our supratemporal selfhood and its expression within temporal reality. Just as God expresses Himself in man as his image, so our supratemporal selfhood expresses itself in temporal reality (Friesen 2009, Thesis 65 and references). In self-reflection, we know the modal functions as “our own.” (NC II, 474). We know ourselves as “fitted” within temporal reality, but simultaneously transcending it. We will look at these terms ‘cosmic consciousness,’ ‘our own’ and ‘fitted’ in more detail, as well as the idea of pre-theoretical intuition. For now, note that they are connected by Dooyeweerd to the idea of enstasis.
From where did Dooyeweerd obtain this idea of religious self-reflection? One source may be Husserl, who says
Note however that Husserl refers to self-reflection as ‘ecstatic’ whereas Dooyeweerd uses the term ‘enstatic.’
Another likely source of the idea of religious self-reflection is Frederik van Eeden, who emphasized the importance of such inward beholding of the self [zelfschouw]. As discussed, Dooyeweerd corresponded with Van Eeden regarding the meaning of ‘intuition’ (Friesen 2011).
Dooyeweerd says that most philosophers dogmatically reject this idea of “religious self-reflection.” These philosophers want to save at all costs their starting point that assumes a self-sufficient reason. In other words, they start with immanence philosophy, which denies a supratemporal center, a center that would relativize their reason (WdW I, v-vii; inadequately translated in NC). All theoretical pushing away of the human selfhood from this central position in experience rests on a lack of philosophic self-reflection (WdW II, 494; NC II, 562). A truly critical epistemology depends on self-reflection on the cosmonomic Idea from which the thinker starts (NC II, 491). Ideas give an account of our relation to the eternal Origin (God), the supratemporal Totality (selfhood), and the temporal coherence (cosmos).
Note that by ‘critical’ self-reflection, Dooyeweerd means self-reflection that accounts for the existence of our supratemporal selfhood. To be critical is to be engaged in theory, in an attempt to give an account of our pre-theoretical knowledge [rekenschap geven; WdW I, 4). We give a theoretical account of our experience by theoretical Ideas, which point to and approximate the ontical conditions that are required to make such theoretical thought even possible. These ontical conditions include our supratemporal selfhood, the center of all our functions (Friesen 2009, Thesis 2 and references).
But no special science, nor an encyclopaedic sociology, can answer the question, what man himself is in the unity of his selfhood.
Dooyeweerd says that our self-knowledge itself exceeds the limits of theoretical thought and is rooted in our “heart” (NC I, 55). Our experience is rooted in religious self-consciousness (NC II, 560, where he makes clear that ‘religious’ refers to the transcendent horizon of the selfhood). Such self-reflection is the only way leading to the discovery of the true starting-point of theoretical thought. He also says that there was “great promise” in Kant's search for a starting point for his theoretical philosophy which would be raised above the special synthetic points of view.
Baader says that we have self-consciousness only by participating in God’s original self-consciousness [the divine Urselbstbewußtseins]; we know ourselves insofar as we know God (Werke V 95f; II 207f). And Dooyeweerd emphasizes our need to participate in Christ, the New Root of creation. Only as we do so can we truly understand our self.
But religious self-reflection is different from critical self-reflection. Critical self-reflection is a theoretical giving an account of what we know by religious self-reflection. And self-reflection is not at all the same as reflexive thought (Friesen 2008b)
We obtain knowledge of God by divine revelation. But Dooyeweerd does not view revelation in terms of propositional exegesis of Scripture (Friesen 2009, Thesis 42 and references). Revelation is not theoretical in nature. Revelation primarily has a religious enstatic character.
Religious self-reflection is dependent on the working in us of God's Word:
Provided that we do not interpret self-reflection as pure consciousness, or nirvikalpa samadhi, we may compare it to some kinds of inner meditation, such as the sahaja samadhi emphasized by Ramana Maharshi (Friesen 2001, 2006d). A central difference is of course Dooyeweerd’s insistence that true enstasis is centered on Christ as the New Root. But both Dooyeweerd and Ramana Maharshi emphasize the importance of our central heart experience. Such experiential religious self-reflection goes beyond theoretical Ideas (NC II, 4). It is religious because it involves the center of our existence, the supratemporal heart, and our heart in turn is dependent on and refers to our Origin, God. Dooyeweerd emphasizes that self-knowledge is linked to knowledge of God and to knowledge of the cosmos. We do not have knowledge of self without knowledge of God. And neither do we have proper knowledge of the cosmos.
This is shown in the biblical revelation of our creation concerning our creation in the image of God. Our self-knowledge is a central knowledge. Self-knowledge exceeds theoretical knowledge and is rooted in the heart or the religious centre of our existence (NC I, 55). The “earthly” cosmos is transcended by Man in his full selfhood where he partakes in the transcendent root (NC II, 593). Even if it is not disconnected from the outer and temporal, religious self-reflection involves an awareness of the inner and supratemporal.
We will now look at the terms ‘cosmic consciousness,’ ‘our own,’ ‘center and periphery’ and ‘fitted’ that Dooyeweerd associates with enstatic experience.
1. Cosmic consciousness
Dooyeweerd links our pre-theoretical consciousness with “cosmic consciousness” (NC II, 479).
Note the distinction between cosmic and cosmological consciousness. Cosmic consciousness is pre-theoretical. Cosmological consciousness, which distinguishes the aspects of our consciousness, is theoretical. But our theoretical consciousness is based on our pre-theoretical cosmic consciousness (WdW II, 415).
The term ‘cosmic consciousness’ is often used to describe mystical ecstatic experience. An early example is given by Richard Maurice Bucke in his book Cosmic Consciousness (Bucke, 1901, 1923).
Bucke was a Canadian doctor. In the spring of 1872 he had been reading some poetry by Whitman, with some friends in London. He left the friends after midnight in a calm mood, and took a long drive in his carriage. While riding, he had an experience of what he called illumination, or cosmic consciousness. It was described in the Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada:
The experience that Bucke reports is visionary and ecstatic. It uses Hindu terminology, relating the experience to Brahman. It is intensely experiential. Bucke says that cosmic consciousness carries with it the conviction of immortality. It is not that we shall have eternal life in the future but that it is possessed and experienced already.
Does Bucke's ecstatic and visionary experience of cosmic consciousness fit with Dooyeweerd's use of the term? Can we regard cosmic consciousness as an “illumination?” Dooyeweerd does speak of our opened naïve experience as an “illumination” of our temporal world:
In the Biblical attitude of naïve experience the transcendent, religious dimension of its horizon is opened. The light of eternity radiates perspectively through all the temporal dimensions of this horizon and even illuminates seemingly trivial things and events in our sinful world (NC III, 29).
Bucke's experience was frequently referred to by later philosophers of mysticism. William James refers to Bucke in his Varieties of Religious Experience (p. 398). We know that Dooyeweerd had read William James as early as 1915, he refers to James in his student article about van Eeden (Dooyeweerd 1915a). Dooyeweerd was still reading James in 1940 when he wrote about James's idea of the "specious present” (Dooyeweerd 1936-39).
Three years after Bucke's book, Wilhelm Wundt (whom Dooyeweerd also read) referred to the idea of cosmic consciousness in his Principles of Physiological Psychology:
Wundt's reference is to Gustav Fechner's Zend-avesta oder über die Dinge des Himmels und des Jenseits. Dooyeweerd makes express reference to that book, so we know he read it (WdW III, 554fn; NC III, 631 ft). But Dooyeweerd certainly rejected Fechner's hylozoism, which regards every movement, even the fall of a stone, as a part of a living organism.
In van Eeden's Johannes Viator, which has the subtitle “The book of love,” van Eeden writes of Johannes who tries to become conscious of cosmic love which holds all of creation in existence and also holds it together, and which will bring redemption to the contrariety in the world. In this book, van Eeden puts forward a worldview in which self and the world are brought together in a cosmic coherence (van Eeden, 1895). And there are other similarities Dooyeweerd and Frederik van Eeden (Friesen 2011).
Dooyeweerd may have obtained the phrase ‘cosmic consciousness’ from Joseph Maréchal. In his “On the Feeling of Presence in Mystics and Non-Mystics” he refers to cosmic consciousness. (Maréchal, 1924). We know that Dooyeweerd was familiar with Maréchal, since he owned a copy of the second French edition of that book (1938). Whether he was aware of the earlier edition is uncertain.
Dooyeweerd may also have obtained the phrase ‘cosmic consciousness’ from Eduard von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious [Philosophie des Unbewussten] (1869). It is clear that he read this, too (NC II, 315). This book was written well before Bucke's use of the term. Hartmann there expresses Schopenhauer's philosophy (itself derived from the Upanishads and Buddhism); von Hartmann refers to a cosmic consciousness that underlies individual consciousness. In most people this cosmic consciousness is unconscious.
Von Hartmann writes this in the context of his view of history as proceeding from an individualistic view of responsibility to the Roman tribal view to one that goes beyond egotism. Dooyeweerd’s exposition of the history of law makes some similar distinctions. What is interesting in the present circumstance is the idea of cosmic consciousness pointing to a whole. But Dooyeweerd did not regard the cosmos in mechanistic terms.
And whereas Bucke tended to regard cosmic consciousness as a kind of pure consciousness of our selfhood, Dooyeweerd uses the term to relate the temporal cosmos to our supratemporal selfhood. Our selfhood is supratemporal. But for Dooyeweerd, the cosmos is always temporal. The illumination that we experience is an illumination of the world, in that we see its deeper unity:
And so for Dooyeweerd, ‘cosmic consciousness’ includes the experience of cosmic unity. A similar idea is found in Baader, where the central intuitive beholding is not a view of a different region, but a view of the same region in a different way.
Dooyeweerd says that cosmic
self-consciousness does not rest in a theoretical
meaning-synthesis (WdW II, 494). Theoretical
consciousness, which distinguishes the aspects of our
experience for the first time, is called ‘cosmological
2. Experiencing temporal reality as “our own”
Enstasis is related to experiencing temporal reality as “our own.” In naïve experience, we have an immediate enstatic experience of temporal reality as our own. It is worth repeating the quotation we have earlier discussed:
Thus, the awareness of temporal reality and of temporal functions as “our own” is also cosmic consciousness. Dooyeweerd emphasizes that cosmic temporal reality is “our own” and not “alien” or foreign [vreemd, Fremd] to us. The problem of foreignness does not arise unless we accept Dooyeweerd’s starting point that our selfhood is beyond time, or supratemporal. The issue is then how our supratemporal selfhood relates to temporal reality, including our own body.
In our cosmic consciousness, we relate temporal reality to the structure of the human selfhood as such:
Because temporal reality is necessarily related to the selfhood, Dooyeweerd denies the existence of things in themselves [Dinge an sich]. In fact, he denies that temporal reality has any existence apart from its rootedness in man as its supratemporal center (Friesen 2009, Thesis 66 and references; Friesen 2006b). A full exploration of this important idea is beyond the scope of this article.
Dooyeweerd says that even the identification of a sensation such as a sweet taste would be impossible without this intuition
What does he mean? In the text, he is responding to the ideas of Johannes Immanuel Volkelt, who said, “When I am immediately certain of the sensation of sweetness, this is not an intuitive certainty” (Volkelt 1918, cited in NC II, 477). Volkelt regarded sensation in an empiricistic way, abstracting from our sensory-psychical aspect of experience. Volkelt says that when we experience something sweet, we do not have certainty of things in their essence, but only of my emotions [Affection] (Volkelt 1873, 90). This is the empiricistic distinction between primary and secondary qualities, a distinction that Dooyeweerd also rejects (Friesen 2009, Thesis 23 and references).
In contrast to Volkelt, Dooyeweerd asserts:
Again, there is a distinction here between animals that do not have a supratemporal center, and humans that do. And for that (enstatic) relation between selfhood and temporal reality we need intuition. Volkelt held that intuition is what goes beyond experience, but for Dooyeweerd, intuition is what relates our experience to our selfhood. And again, this selfhood is supratemporal:
These temporal meaning functions which we know as “our own” include our function of thought. Our central supratemporal selfhood relativizes even our thought; it is not autonomous (WdW I, v-vii). If we improperly regard our thought as autonomous, we then have the problem of relating that which is not thought to thought. The non-rational aspects of reality are then “foreign to thought.” This problem occupied Dooyeweerd’s brother-in-law Vollenhoven, as he wrestled with the idea of what is foreign to thought [het denkvreemde] (Tol 2011; Friesen 2011).
Dooyeweerd followed his former teacher Jan Woltjer, who said that we ourselves stand in close connection with the world, and we can learn it because our own selfhood is not foreign [vreemd] to it:
Dooyeweerd affirms the same position: that which is a-logical is not foreign to me:
So to see temporal reality as “our own” is to relate it by means of our intuition to our supratemporal selfhood.
From where did Dooyeweerd obtain this idea of making things “our own”? One source may be Husserl, who says in the Cartesian Meditations, “Moreover, this life is continually there for me.” (Husserl, 1960, First Meditation, 19).
A more likely source is be Frederik van Eeden, who says in his poem Het Lied van Schijn en Wezen,
3. Center and periphery
For Dooyeweerd, enstasis is the relation of our central heart to the peripheral cosmos, including our temporal body. We experience temporal reality as “our own.” The movement inwards of religious self-reflection is towards this center. It is only in that center that we have a view of totality (Friesen 2005a). We have seen how for Baader, true stasis is a relation to our true center. Baader also speaks of a view of totality from that center. And we have seen how Scheler, influenced by Baader, says that (in contrast to humans), temporal reality is ‘ecstatic’ because of its inability to report back to a center.
The distinction between our central supratemporal heart and its peripheral functions is emphasized by Dooyeweerd in the opening pages of his major work, De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (1935). Dooyeweerd begins with a discussion of the importance of this central significance of the heart. Kant’s Copernican revolution was not central or radical (from ‘radix’), but only a revolution in the periphery, because rationality is only a peripheral function that finds its center in the heart. In contrast, a truly radical and revolutionary philosophy begins with the central supratemporal heart, which relativizes everything temporal, including our rationality. That is why Dooyeweerd can criticize the “autonomy of thought.”  Thought is not autonomous, but is only one temporal function of our supratemporal center (WdW I, v-vii, poorly translated in NC I, v-vii; see Friesen 2011).
In one of his last lectures before his retirement, Dooyeweerd again emphasized the importance of the distinction between central and peripheral (Dooyeweerd 2007; lecture given in 1964).
4. That we are “fitted into” cosmic time
Dooyeweerd relates cosmic self-consciousness to our being ‘fitted’ into temporal reality. This idea of being ‘fitted’ is related to Baader’s idea of being ‘placed’ in time. This placement is actually a displacement because of the fall, whereby man fell into time. Dooyeweerd, too speaks of a fall into time (Friesen 2009, Thesis 76 and references). Baader says that this placement is a being set [gesetzt] by God’s Law [Gesetz]. Dooyeweerd makes a similar play on words for his idea of our being fitted into the temporal cosmos. See his February, 1923 address, “Advies over Roomsch-katholieke en Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde.” As far as I can tell, this is his first use of the word ‘gesteld’ which is translated “fitted into.”
There is a play on the words ‘stelt’ and ‘gesteld,' just as Baader makes a play on the words ‘setzen’ and ‘gesetzt.’ Selbstsetzung is autonomy, and being ‘gesetzt’ is being placed or sub-jected to God's law [Gesetz].
The idea of being fitted is therefore related to our being at the same time both supratemporal beings as well as beings who are placed, fitted within time (Friesen 2009, Thesis 76 and references).
In 1931, Dooyeweerd uses the word ‘ingesteld’ in this way. Our pre-theoretical experience is of being fitted into temporal reality, and this experience is one of enstasis, as opposed to theoretical synthesis of meaning:
Dooyeweerd contrasts our merely being fitted into temporal reality in our pre-theoretical or naïve experience with the deliberate “setting over-against” of theoretical thought. Dooyeweerd here plays on the meaning of the words:
There are a couple of instances of the word ‘gesteld’ in the WdW. Dooyeweerd criticizes Rickert's view that thought can autonomously set its own limits (door het denken gesteld) (WdW I, 36). There are several instances of the word ‘ingesteld’ in WdW II, 401-08). But Dooyeweerd generally changes to the word ‘gevoegd.’
In Encyclopedia of Legal Science (1946), Dooyeweerd says,
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