Transmorality in Mysticism

Is there something beyond traditional moral notions of right and wrong? Is there a higher Law that transcends all other laws? Mysticism has something to say about that.

By transmorality I don’t mean transgender morality, although that may be included in the insight that is transmorality. What I mean is that there comes a point in the spiritual journey when the mystic transcends all morality, or what is commonly perceived by their particular society and culture as a moral code, a legal system, a religious law, commandments, good and evil, right and wrong. By transcending it, that doesn’t mean they become a law unto themselves, and that “anything goes,” rather it means they have been united to the Source of all morality and goodness, the Love from which all ethics flow.

Here’s a passage from Wayne Teasdale’s The Mystic Heart which discusses this. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s a good start to the discussion:

It is often said that mystics are ‘beyond morality.’ This does not mean they are free to act outside morality. The process of socialization inculcates in each person a moral code, with all its norms and expectations of human behavior, which better informs the individual conscience. But we still need external moral norms and laws. Why? Because the whole aim of ethics and law is only fully achieved by the person who achieves an inner transformation in which they now act from love, compassion, mercy, and kindness. The supremely wise persons in whom this inner change has occurred no longer need an external ethics, a moral code, or even a legal system, but everyone else does.

Jesus and the Buddha didn’t need external moral codes; they were already supremely moral in the depths of their being and hence in their actions. The inner life of mystics, grounded in love, compassion, and wisdom, possesses the essence of the highest ethical understanding possible in this life. These sages respect the moral code of their cultures because they understand their importance as stepping-stones to spiritual integrity. They respect morality, and tradition, because they understand their value in people’s instruction and transformation.

Thus actualized moral capacity is based in a transformed inner nature. The moral dimension of the spiritual journey has nothing to do with external rules and regulations but with a fundamental, radical reorientation of the person’s inner commitment to be established permanently and concretely in love and compassion. Once we are so established, we have acquired all we can from the ethical guidelines of the various religious traditions.

-Teasdale, The Mystic Heart

Antinomianism

I think what Brother Teasdale is talking about is more generally referred to as antinomianism, something many may not have heard before. Here is how Wikipedia describes it:

Antinomianism (from the Greek: ἀντί, “against” + νόμος, “law”) is any view which rejects laws or legalism and argues against moral, religious or social norms (Latin: mores), or is at least considered to do so… In Christianity, an antinomian is one who takes the principle of salvation by faith and divine grace to the point of asserting that the saved are not bound to follow the moral law…

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-Wikipedia, “Antinomianism,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antinomianism

So are genuine mystics antinomians? Yes! That is what Teasdale was talking about. Those people who have transcended morality are no longer bound by it. They are one in Love itself, one in the Law-giver, and so they have no need for the moral, religious, or social norms/laws/precepts. That doesn’t mean that all moral law should be done away with for all people, but it does mean that many mystics point to the necessity of a spiritual path that eventually transcends the law and not merely settles for living in it, strictly obeying it to one’s death.

Where I might disagree with Teasdale is that those who have transcended these moral codes are free to act outside of it. That is what transcendence means. They have gone beyond the written law to its Source. They have a higher view. They know a deeper wisdom. They see from a greater perspective than any law could ever articulate. And this may manifest itself in those people seeming to break the moral laws and social norms of their culture. This is the very reason why so many get mad at these mystics. They have a demon! They are breaking the sabbath! He is not following the law! Stone him! Crucify him!

The great sages may “respect” the moral codes of their culture, to a point, but they may also be often quite critical of them as being sufficient. I think this was often Jesus’ argument with the Jewish authorities of his time, and Paul following him. The law is not sufficient! It doesn’t get us to God. It is good insofar as it may be a guide, but it never leads us into Perfection itself. As is written in Hebrews:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

-Hebrews 10:1

The law makes nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19). Nothing! We find this throughout the New Testament. The Old Testament was insufficient. The 613 commandments of the law could not get the Israelites to Perfection, and no number of laws added to it would do it either. That’s not where Perfection is found, or how it is realized.

So how is it realized then? Perhaps by looking deep within one’s self, and discovering that the Divine Spirit is right there, within you, right now. As Saint Augustine realized in his Confessions:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.

Augustine was looking in the wrong place for Perfection. God was within, not without. God was inside of him already, but he was looking in the external world, in outward performances, in exterior forms, in the material creation, which was all created by God, a manifestation of the Divine and therefore lovely, yes, but was not God’s essence. That essence was in St. Augustine himself, and he was blind to it as he went outside of himself and looked throughout the world for it.

The “Heresy” of Antinomianism

Antinomianism has been a “heresy” forever. The ego can never even imagine that the Divine is found within. It can’t comprehend it. It doesn’t like it. It despises it even (Isa. 53:3)! It screams that we must have order, we must have structure, we have to write down the rules of the game. We can’t live by the Spirit! Oh, no. We have to have laws here, otherwise there is chaos. And so we write the laws, we engrave the ten commandments, we form the scriptures, we canonize a lower law, we build the churches, erect the religious and political institutions, we build, build, build, tightening what is allowed more, and more, and more in our efforts to become further righteous and more pious. Because certainly it is by becoming ever more “right” that we find God. Right? No, I don’t think so. That has never been how God is ultimately found. Ever, in the whole history of the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We need laws, we need moral codes, we need scriptures, we need churches and political institutions. If we didn’t have them, we would create them. Life demands structures, but, as David Steindl-Rast has pointed out, structures never create life. At some point we have to go beyond the structures to realize Life itself which can never ever be fully articulated by the structures and institutions and laws.

Historical Examples

Here are a few examples of this antinomian “heresy” in history.

The “Brethren of the Free Spirit” was a group of Christians from the 13th to 15th centuries:

“Nothing is a sin except what is thought to be a sin” [perhaps not unlike what Paul said explicitly in Romans 14:14]. Critics of the Free Spirit interpreted their beliefs to mean that they considered themselves to be incapable of sin and above the moral conduct of the Church. Verses such as Galatians 5:18 (“Those who are driven or led by the Spirit of God are no longer under the law”) were seen as foundational to such beliefs.

-Wikipedia, “Brethren of the Free Spirit,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brethren_of_the_Free_Spirit

They were deemed heretical by the Catholic Church and many were exterminated. The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses this in its article about the “heresy” of Quietism:

Quite in accord with their Pantheistic principles, the Brethren and Sisters of the Free Spirit (thirteenth to fifteenth century) held that they who have reached perfection, i.e. complete absorption in God, have no need of external worship, of sacraments, or of prayer; they owe no obedience to any law, since their will is identical with God’s will; and they may indulge their carnal desires to any extent without staining the soul.

-Pace, Edward. “Quietism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 29 Aug. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12608c.htm>.

The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses several other groups that held similar beliefs, including the Illuminati:

The name assumed by some false mystics who appeared in Spain in the sixteenth century and claimed to have direct intercourse with God. They held that the human soul can reach such a degree of perfection that it contemplates even in the present life the essence of God and comprehends the mystery of the Trinity. All external worship, they declared, is superfluous, the reception of the sacraments useless, and sin impossible in this state of complete union with Him Who is Perfection Itself. Carnal desires may be indulged and other sinful actions committed freely without staining the soul. The highest perfection attainable by the Christian consists in the elimination of all activity, the loss of individuality, and complete absorption in God (see QUIETISM).

-Weber, Nicholas. “Illuminati.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 16 (Index). New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1914. 29 Aug. 2019<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/16046a.htm>.

But wait, these say that these groups were “indulging in their carnal desires,” which they realized would “not stain their soul.” I think this may be exaggeration caused by a longstanding phobia of sexuality in Christianity. Any enjoyment of sex whatsoever would probably be considered “indulging in carnal desire.” Sex is original sin! The horror. Perhaps these mystics realized that the spirit and body are one, and that the body is an incarnation of the Divine, a manifestation of God, and one profound way we may honor and glorify that divine incarnation is through the sacredness of sexuality. But that’s a topic for another post.

Here are a few more “heretics” The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions. They seemed to just keep popping up throughout history. It was hard for the church to crucify them fast enough, damn mystics:

Gnosticism, especially the Antinomian School, looked for salvation in a sort of intuitive knowledge of the Divine which emancipated the “spiritual” from the obligation of the moral law. The same Quietistic tendency appears in the teaching of the Euchites or Messalians, who maintained that prayer frees the body from passion and the soul from evil inclination, so that sacraments and penitential works are useless. They were condemned at the Synod of Side in Pamphilia (383) and at Ephesus (431). The Bogomili of the later Middle Ages were probably their lineal descendants.

Medieval Quietism is further represented in the vagaries of Hesychasm, according to which the supreme aim of life on earth is the contemplation of the uncreated light whereby man is intimately united with God. The means for attaining to such contemplation are prayer, complete repose of body and will, and a process of auto-suggestion. Among the errors of the Beguines and Beghards condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311-12) are the propositions: that man in the present life can attain such a degree of perfection as to become utterly impeccable; that the “perfect” have no need to fast or pray, but may freely grant the body whatsoever it craves; that they are not subject to any human authority or bound by the precepts of the Church (see Denzinger-Bannwart, 471 sqq.). Similar exaggerations on the part of the Fraticelli led to their condemnation by John XXII in 1317 (Denzinger-Bannwart, 484 sqq.). The same pope in 1329 proscribed among the errors of Meister Eckhart the assertions that (prop. 10) we are totally transformed into God just as in the sacrament the bread is changed into the Body of Christ; that (14) since God wills that I should have sinned I do not wish that I had not sinned; that (18) we should bring forth the fruit, not of external actions, which do not make us good, but of internal actions which are wrought by the Father abiding within us (Denzinger-Bannwart, 501, sqq).

-Pace, Edward. “Quietism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 29 Aug. 2019 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12608c.htm>.

Modern “Antinomianism” or Transmorality

Do we have any examples of such “antinomianism” or transmorality today? Here is one example very close to home, in my former tradition of Mormonism. Joseph Smith revealed, in the voice of God:

Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever…

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God.

-D&C 132:19, 26

Here we see that Joseph Smith noted that when we transcend and become “resurrected,” and at-one in the “Holy Spirit,” we enter a different space where we are beyond all traditional “sins” and “transgressions,” and “all manner of blasphemies” whatever, which cannot change the reality of our exaltation in God’s kingdom. Such activities may lead to suffering “in the flesh,” and the “buffetings of Satan” or the ego, but the reality of our redemption has been realized in perfection. It has been seen, and it cannot be unseen. The Truth has been realized of our eternal condition in God, and there is nothing that we can do that will change that.

It is perhaps related to another scripture from Paul:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 8:38-39

Nothing can separate us from that Love of God. Nothing! Not death, not demons, no powers, nothing in all creation. Not. A. Single. Thing. Why? Because it is the divine nature of our eternal soul, which is God its Self.

The Risk

I think the reason why many institutions and authorities might be so terribly concerned about antinomianism is perhaps because those who are not actually or consciously at-one in that divine Love may feel like they have license to do whatever they please, and this can lead to chaos, disorder, destruction, and suffering. They are simply law-less, rather than abiding in the Law-giver. They have not actually transcended the law, but simply reject it. They have not gone beyond the law into transmorality, but have just become immoral. It is perhaps a subtle difference, but a real one, in my view. So there is a risk in unintentionally giving the ego license to do as it pleases, instead of surrendering and submitting that ego to its utter death, and allowing Love to fill the void.

A friend once said:

If we Love all, there are no rules.

Otherwise the rule is to Love all.

Love is the basis of all morality. It is the Source from which all ethics and law and justice flows. It is the Divine from which we know right from wrong in every circumstance. When we are established in the heart of that Love, we don’t need an external moral code or legal system. We know what is expedient to do in life, and we are in harmony with the Tao. The Spirit tells us all things that we should do (2 Nephi 32:3, 5). This is a transmoral state, beyond all known morality, which is actually a higher morality, not a lower one.

But it can appear quite immoral to those who are still living the lower relative moral codes of the society. It looks like they are breaking the law! Because, of course, they are. They are obeying a higher Law, at-one with that Law-giver. And this can get such realized mystics into trouble, so much so that they imprison them, exile them, banish them, excommunicate them, censor them, discipline them, marginalize them, ostracize them, torture them, stone them, burn them at the stake, and even crucify them. They know not what they do. Yes, they even did this to Jesus, perhaps one of the greatest embodiments of Love this world has ever seen.

Conclusion

Transmorality is perhaps something that every mystic will encounter along their journey to the Divine. They will realize things about the moral codes, the religious laws of their community, and the political laws of their society that are not truly “right,” that are not aligned with Love, with justice, with mercy, with goodness, with truth, with beauty, with God, and they will act against those things. They will break the law. They will resist the law. They will reject the law. They will refuse to cooperate or comply. It can be dangerous. It can be risky.

But these are the reformers of history, the prophets who get stoned, the activists who get arrested, the Christs who get assassinated or martyred, those who push history forward, who recognize that there is a “more beautiful world our hearts know is possible,” as Charles Eisenstein says, which has not been adequately encapsulated or articulated by our society’s “laws.”

The law is insufficient, lacking, blind, weak, incomplete, partial, and ultimately wrong. Transmoralist mystics seek to change it, and to do the right thing, in Love.

The 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi famously expressed the reality of this transmorality in beautiful poetic form:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

-Rumi, “A Great Wagon”

What are your thoughts about transmorality? Please share in the comments.


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2 thoughts on “Transmorality in Mysticism

  1. This is an excellent article on morality and carefully researched. Mystics are certain that they must do good. It is not only a moral teaching, or a social code, but the acceptance of the unity of all beings makes it the unquestioned right mode of conduct.

    Disobey the laws of society and you might be ostracized and/or go to prison. Disobeying divine law is a sin in most Western religions and causes bad karma, negative consequences, in Eastern faiths. Universal law supersedes all worldly laws.

    1. Thank you, Ron. Great thoughts. The paradox of disobeying divine law is that we seem to be going against the grain of Reality itself. But can Reality ever go against its Self? Can Reality ever not be Reality?

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