The Role of Love in the Mystical Traditions

“And therefore, says Ruysbroeck,[1] all those men are deceived whose intention is to sink themselves in natural rest, who do not seek God with desire nor find him in delectable love… it brings man indeed into an emptiness … however evil they may be…"[2]



This quote highlights an apparent difference between the devotees of the Eastern and Western traditions in how they portray love, the consequences of which go so far as to describe the other as evil. 


It will be argued that God, the Tao and Nirvana are the same and that as the adept unites with God, the Tao and Nirvana, love arises in its highest form. The process of the growth of love in the individual begins with love of the mother, then proceeds with love of the father, siblings, friends, partner, and then to the love and union with God. The Christian and Eastern Traditions use each of these types of love to a major or minor degree. From the point of union with God, “agape” or “universal love” arises.  At some point near the end, self love and acceptance permeates existence.  There is little doubt that in the Christian approach, “Love is the greatest Commandment[3]” and is the means, the ends and the consequence of union with God. However if one looks further within Christianity and the Eastern traditions, there are other emotions as well as love that are used in the path towards final union. Furthermore the Tao or Nirvana is not described as love.


This essay describes the various types of love portrayed and used in Christianity and the Tao with occasional references to Buddhism. The majority of evidence will be taken from the mystical aspects of these religions.  It also describes alternate emotions and methods used in these traditions. It will argue against the statement that “God is Love” by equating God, the Tao and Nirvana to the mystics “nothingness” or “emptiness”. Brief mention will be made of the consequences of union with God. In conclusion it hopes to perpetuate the ongoing dialogue between the Eastern and Western traditions by supporting the argument that the goals are the same, and the methods both have similarities and differences, which both traditions can benefit.



Taoism, regarded as the endemic Chinese religion, is a mystical religion that traces its beginning back to LaoTsu and the Tao de Ching, around 500BC. However, the basic tenets of Taoism can be found in Hinduism with its concept Brahma and duality merging into the indescribable “One”.  Buddhism was a reaction to Hinduism, and migrated from India eastward to most of Asia.  A merging of Taoism and Zen Buddhism became known as Chang Buddhism, which migrated to Japan and is the popular Zen Buddhism we know today. Christianity emerged from Judaism in the West. However, there are some theorists who claim that Christ was trained in the East.[4]


Within each of these traditions there is a subset of practitioners who would be classified as mystics. The remainder, for whatever reason, can be considered followers the “religious” component, which is based on rituals, belief in mythology, conduct according to a code of morality and an understanding of God. The latter occurs at an intellectual level rather than a whole body and mind experience. Dr Fromm[5] states:“In the dominant Western religious system, the love of God is essentially the same as the belief in God, in God’s existence, God’s justice, God’s love. The love of God is essentially a thought experience”[6] This drift away from a whole being experience of God is maintained by the mainstream Christian traditions. Jung takes a somewhat conspiracy perspective on this, when he says, "Religion is a defense against a religious experience." [7] William Wainwright, a contemporary philosopher, supports this by saying: “the fact that most people never enjoy mystical experiences”[8]


In order to find commonality in the various traditions we need to leave the belief/ritual/morality   systems of each  to one side and confine our discussion to the mystical traditions and their practitioners.  This essay will draw upon information from Christian mystics such as St John of the Cross, William Blake, Meister Eckhart. In Taoism, while there is a more ritualized religious faction, the majority of literature is based on mystical experience. I have predominantly used quotations from Lao Tsu and a modern day Taoist, Master Mantak Chia[9].


Classification of Love:


Many workers have attempted to elucidate the types and stages and of love.  The ancient Greeks describe the different types of love as Eros, Philia and agape[10]. Jung traces the growth of love though such historical or mythical characters as “Eve”, who he equates with   biological love, “Virgin Mary”, with devotional love, “Helen of Troy”, with romantic love and “Sapienta,” with mystical  love[11]. Dr Fromm, in his book the “Art of Loving”, divides the various modes of loving into: brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love, self-love and love of God.[12] Dianne Wolkstein in her book, “The First Love Stories”, classifies the types of love according to the mythical story told, and exemplifies the darker counterforce to which the love must be found from: love greater than nature (“Isis and Osiris”), fatherly love and creation of the soul (“Layla and Majnun” ), love of community versus self (Tristan and Iseult), passionate love versus instability of mind ( Shiva and Sati), cyclical love with its inherent depression (“Innana and Dumuzi”),  sensuous and yearning love ( “The Songs of Songs”) and the union versus separateness of two sides of self  (“Psyche and Eros”).[13]


Each of these classifications adds a further increment to the nature and knowledge of love. The Greek classification is well entrenched in Christianity and therefore is well known. Jung connects love with archetypal figures who are connected to the unconscious and drives our existence. While Wolkstein exemplifies the interconnectedness of love with the hero’s journey and the adversity that is needed to produce it. Certainly this essay postulates that the hero’s journey is to eventually discover total love after several trials of mortal individual love. This essay will weave fragments of each of these into its fabric, so that an understanding of love between Taoism and Christianity can be discussed. Fromm’s classification will form the base, with the addition of love in the womb and agape.


We begin from nothing. Then from an erotic urge from our parents, we begin existence in the womb. After birth, we are defined by motherly attachment, bonding to the father and siblings, then friendships with peers or neighbours. In adulthood, our idea of love is defined by erotic and romantic relationships, then to caring for our children, students or community. Finally, love evolves to an understanding of God and then we die. Somewhere along the journey, self-love is entertained.   Johnston’s position of “existential love”[14], as the link between each of the stages of love, is worthy of consideration. He believes there is some deep unconscious force that dictates our journey though life and predestines our love, or lack of love experiences, before taking us to our final goal of the human heart to rest in totality. The controller of existential love, he states, is the inner universe, the microcosm or unconscious:

The microcosm or inner universe…what it precisely contains, we do not yet know  but one thing is clear, the deep forces of the so called unconscious are profoundly stirred by love. Love of man for woman or woman for man, love of mother for child or of child for mother – this is the power that moves the inner universe and stirs mysterious uncontrollable forces within us.[15]


The practical mystical understanding of the microcosm and how these are all part of the jigsaw of total love, will be considered later in the essay. The sequence of love affairs is laid out like stepping stones in the journey of existence, with each connected by a thread.[16] Redfield[17] supports this argument when he says, “The ancient authors of myth, it seems, were saying that love is the thread that leads us through the labyrinth of life and that this thread is the “clue’ for greater existence. Love is an abiding pointer to the greater life that beckons to us.[18]”


Love in the womb?


Some psychologists claim the experience of God is a reenactment of the blissful life in the womb. This bliss includes the realm of comfort, protection, and oceanic bliss. Perhaps memory of this state of mind is the closest to what we call the experience of God in our adult existence. In Christianity there are references in Jeremiah as him  being known and sanctified by God in the womb[19].


In Taoism, the mind state of simplicity and connectedness is equated with embryonic existence. This is both cultivated within and without.  Within the body during meditation, experience of a fetal-like state is described and sought. This fetus is initially within the abdomen and then given birth through the crown[20]. This meditation experience will be discussed in more length at the end of the essay. Outside the body during a mystical experience, “It describes this non-manifested or mysterious (occult) aspect of Tao as the womb of the universal embryo, the womb which generates Heaven and Earth, which is the source of life.”[21]


There is reluctance in describing this embryonic state as love as it is such a close state to a full experience of the Tao or God. There is little consciousness of self and this essay postulates that love can only exist if there is consciousness of subject and object. This point will be taken up in the third section of the essay: “Is God Love?”


Motherly and Child Love:


In Isaiah correlations are made with motherly love and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is an actual place but is also seen as the mother of the community.  In the following quote, God explains the maternal loving relationship between Jerusalem and its endeared inhabitants. With,  “… be glad with her, all ye that love her… be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.. And I will extend peace to her like a river…. And your heart shall rejoice.”[22] Here, there is love for both the one who acts as the mother and for the recipient of such love. In the New Testament there is a paucity of reference to this type of love from the Virgin Mary towards Jesus.  Jesus’ love seems to be predominantly toward the father in heaven and his disciples, and has little to do with the mother or the earth. Even on his death he refers to the love of his disciple and not to any love of his mother: “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son”.[23]


The Tao de Ching says,

The Valley spirit never dies;

It is the woman, primal mother,

Her gateway is the root of Heaven and Earth,

It is like a veil barely seen,

Use it: it will never fail.[24]           


There have been variations on the translation of this chapter. However, like the concept of the womb above, the mother can be seen as the precursor to dual existence, which generates Heaven and Earth. Another layer of interpretation is that the Valley Spirit is “the way’ that exists before or immanent to Heaven and Earth.[25]  It can be also seen as the thread (in this case a veil or spirit) or “existential love”, which dictates the journey of love in our lives.


Father and Son Love:


The New Testament is all about Jesus and his teachings. For “Jesus always speaks of himself as son; his mystical experience is that of a son who loves his father and is loved by him.”[26] For many devotees, their first love affair is based on their rapture of Jesus. They open their hearts because of his teachings, his miracles or even just the man himself. Christian mystics such as William Blake[27] refer to Jesus as love itself, with Blake saying,” Jesus is love in human form”[28] This love of Jesus finally expands and merges to God the father. The love of God, supposedly the most divine form of love, is reached through father-son love.  It is thus personalized and relies on the follower having a healthy internal ability to open this aspect of love. It is potentially exclusive for those who have had painful experiences of their fathers and for those that relate better to maternal or daughter love.


In Taoism, Heaven  is the source of chi[29] from above. It is that force which descends and loves us. In turn it  transforms our physical existence from the mundane to the heavenly – from the supposedly unpleasant reality of day to day existence to the blissful cosmic state of vast spaces and  stars. This is a practice cultivated in the microcosmic orbit  meditation.[30] It does not take away the value of earthly life but is able to make it holy by making a connection to heaven. This is shown by Chang Tsai[31] who  states , “Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst”. He then goes on to make a claim that the hero or successful adept formulates his sense of  self by making this ego readjustment. With, ”…The sage identifies his character with that of Heaven and Earth, and the worthy is the most outstanding man”. And finally the outcome of this expanded or altered consciousness is to form agape type love, with to, “…show deep love toward the orphaned and the weak” [32]


Brotherly and Sisterly Love/ Friendship:


Like the Buddhists who refer to the power of the Sangha (it is one of their three treasures[33]), so Christ recognised the power of the brotherhood and sisterhood in creating a community upon which all would support each other in their endeavours for the journey towards union with God. To place themselves in a mystical state as a group was more powerful than alone. Together they would journey towards the ultimate union as friends.


In Romans Chapter 12, the role of love is emphasized as the path to please God, so as to eventually be with him. “Let love be without kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honour preferring one another.”[34]


In the Tao de Ching, “ He who lives in filial piety and love has no need of morality[35].”  The Taoists are opposed to morality. They see moral law as a prelude to guilt and shame of the devotee, as ultimately it only leads to short term control of people. A society based on ruling the masses with a code of conduct is the antithesis of regaining the Tao. Therefore, ethical teachings are considered against ‘the way’, or the Tao. Discovering love through natural processes, in this case filial love -  has everlasting effects on the community of followers. It helps adepts discover an aspect of love within their hearts that will point them towards the Tao.  This would appear to be in contrast to aspects of Christianity, which gives its followers a set of rules to live by. [36]


Romantic and Erotic Love:


Erotic love loses a major position in the New Testament and modern Christianity. Mother Mary’s sensuality and sexuality is castrated by identifying her pregnancy as immaculate. Jesus’ prioritising filial and father-son love only, has led to the growth of shame and guilt, both into the clergy as well as the lay practitioners. Individuals who have such erotic desires attempt to censor them from their consciousness. Sexuality and sensuality have left the dominion of the church and exist separately. There is however, evidence of erotic love in certain Christian mystics and in the Old Testament.


There is romantic love in the “Song of Songs”, with many interpretations possible for its metaphoric and literal meanings. In the English Bible, erotic and romantic intimacy reflects the love between the future Christ and his Church. Jewish scholars claim it is God’s love for Israel.  Others claim it is a re-enactment of an ancient myth of Ishtar the fertility Goddess, who could only be saved through sexual union. Others see its purpose as to extol romantic and erotic love between man and wife. Wolkstein sees it as “sensuous, celebratory, yearning quality of love[37]”. Either way, the book moves logically from the courtship (1:2--3:5) to the wedding night (3:6--5:1) to the maturation of love in marriage (5:2--8:4) [38].


Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine  (1:2)

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies  (4:4)

Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (6:3)


Only the Christian mystics continue to use erotic and romantic love in their quest of union with God. Erotic love has a special power to “…draw the lovers into a state of deep, unitive silence where thoughts and concepts become unnecessary and even superfluous yet where the inner eye, the eye of love, penetrates powerfully to the core of the other’s being.”[39] We see this typified in stanzas 5 and 8 of St John of the Cross’s poem:  “The Ascent of Mount Carmel - The Dark Night  - Stanzas of the Soul”[40], with the night representing the silence and nothingness of God. The two heads come together as lovers do, and their the two minds become one.  He  rides the chariot of romantic love towards God’s realm.


Oh God in night!

Oh night more lovely than the dawn!

Oh night that has united

The lover with His beloved, 

Transforming the beloved in her Lover.  


I abandoned and forgot myself, 

Laying my face on my Beloved;

All things ceased; I went out from myself,

Leaving my cares

Forgotten among the lilies.


In erotic love there is a passionate desire for a complete sense of oneness that is driven by power from the loins and genitals. Fromm states, “Erotic Love is the craving for complete fusion, for union with one other person.”[41]  Meister Eckhart [42] shows the power of erotic love:


“If I therefore I am changed into God and He makes me one with Himself, then by the living God, there is no distinction between us… Some people imagine that they are going to see God, that they are going to see God as if standing yonder, and they here, but it is not to be so. God and I: we are one. By knowing God I take him to myself. By loving God, I penetrate him.[43]


It is the latter aspect of erotic penetration that changes him into God.


Taoism and schools of Buddhism, such as the Mahayana school, use erotic love as a basic instrument in mystical training in the search for the Tao, or Nirvana. In Taoism there are two paths, the right hand and the left hand. The former involves single cultivation and the use of self-erotic stimulation, which then awakens the sexual energy. The other path is dual cultivation whereby a partner or partners work together. Sexual energy in either path is used to bathe the body, the organs (particularly the heart), muscles, flesh and the brain. Sexual energy is used to magnify the virtuous energies from the organs. It also has a healing force and in the heart makes more love. While in the brain it creates a poetic mind. Sexual energy is used for the body to fuse with the heavenly force or spirit worlds, taking the realm of existence from mortality to immortality and from earthly existence to heavenly existence. The final ecstatic orgasmic union is the “Congress of Heaven and Earth”, which involves: “Uniting the body soul, spirit and the universe. Fully developing the positive to eradicate the negative completely. Returning to the spirit of nothingness”[44].


Alternate Emotions and methods used for union with God


It is quite apparent that individuals, whether they are lay, religious devotees or even ascetics, journey towards union with their God for reasons and emotions other than love. [45]


For some Christians including famous philosophers as Kierkegaard[46], the pain and suffering is the motivating factor for seeking God. For many, they connect primarily to the torture and crucifixion of Christ. There rituals of devotion can range from self-flagellation to lying on a bed of nails.  Others discover Christ, or God, through illness, divorce, addictions or bereavement. Therefore, it seems that for some, “love” is not the greatest commandment, but “suffering” is.  Certainly in erotic love, “…sexual desire can be stimulated by the anxiety of aloneness, by the wish to be conquered, by vanity, by the wish to hurt and even destroy, as much as it can be stimulated by love.”[47] The love (or lack of it) coming from this space is inevitably doomed to fail, and consequently despair will ensue.  With the other types of love, whether it is the failure of parental love, loss of a friend or sibling or even self-love through disease, there are always the dark emotions that appear when the apparent pleasurable love leaves our bodies. In all, the pain opens the individual to Christ and God. This is discussed in Romans where followers are advised to identify their suffering through Christ so that the opposite emotions such as glory may appear: “And if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”[48]


In Taoism, to escape from the negative emotions of day-to-day life, adepts were offered the discipline of physical and meditation practice. The emotional world was divided into positive and negative. Negative emotions included sadness, fear, anger, impatience, cruelty and worry. Often these emotions were the consequence of love, with a seemingly positive emotional high changing swiftly into its opposite. Master Mantak Chia[49] a modern Taoist master comments on the interplay between love and negative emotions:  “Although we generally think of love as a positive force, what we commonly call love can actually evoke more negativity in our lives than all the other negative energies combined. For example, we know extreme love can often quickly turn to hatred of the most bitter and violent kind.[50] The Taoist practitioner learns to transform these negative emotions into positive ones. Negative emotions are transformed from hatred to love, from sadness to courage and from fear into gentleness.  This is like the Buddhists who start with “suffering” as the beginning, and the Christians that see life starting with the “original sin”. The Taoist practitioners slowly, though practice, dissipate and balance the negative and open to the positive emotions. They build a mind or existence that involves the harmony of heaven and earth, which connects to the Tao. The starting point is not “to love”, but a desire to end the suffering and pain of emotional hurt.


So there seems to be other emotions that can help us to unite with God. However, a deeper understanding could see love as a spiral. The loss of love triggers a downward journey into displeasure, which then creates motivation to seek solace at a higher grade of love. Therefore, “existential love” could be seen to work in a spiral, allowing itself to continually grow and mature through its many and varied stages. A thread makes the spiral; the high aspects of the spiral are the stepping-stones of the stages of love, and the underside are the cycles of suffering[51].


Is God Love?


Many Christians see God as more than just a personalised deity. They support the position that God is a force that binds, nurtures and allows development of mankind. This is shown by the statement, “The basic doctrine of Christianity is “God is Love”.”[52]  Yet when we examine the writings of the Christian mystics, there is the potential to reach other conclusions. They describe God as an experience beyond love and even consciousness – it is an experience of the “emptiness” or “nothingness”:  “Eckhart[53] and others to say that God, or the Godhead is pure Nothingness, is a “desert” or “wilderness” and so on..”This is the darkness of God.”.”[54] This fits in with the definition of contemporary philosophers, who define mysticism as a state of mind that experiences God.  Stace[55] defines mysticism as, “ involves the apprehension of an ultimate non - sensuous unity in all things, a oneness or a one to which neither the senses nor the reason can penetrate. In other words, it entirely transcends our sensory – intellectual consciousness. Furthermore we can take  make no distinction between subject and object. We should say the experience is the One.” [56]


Certainly in the Tao this is supported with:

Look, it cannot be seen – it is beyond form.

Listen, it cannot be heard – it is beyond sound.

Grasp, it cannot be held – it is intangible

These three are indefinable;

Therefore they are joined in one.[57]


Love demands an object and a subject or a lover and the loved. In an undifferentiated unity there can be no such duality, so by definition love cannot exist. To most, love is a positive pleasant emotion generated from the heart. Furthermore from Stace’s definition, the experience of God is beyond emotion. Therefore, from these two points, it does not make sense to call God love. However love can  take us there and love shall arise from that space, so it is understandable that certain Christians deduce that God is love. But from an actual, real-time experience of God, this cannot be. God for a mystic is an experience of “nothing”. It helps the argument of this essay to know that as we grow through the stages of love, we can learn to fall in love with “nothing”. This truly sets the energy of love free from any bonds, objects and conditions. It creates “agape”!


God as The Fountain of True Love – Agape:


Walter Stace discusses the birth of agape in the following quote:

The Christian Mystics especially have always emphasized that mystical union with God brings with it an intense burning love of God which must overflow into the world in the form of love of our fellow- men; and this must show itself in deeds of charity, mercy, and self sacrifice, and nor merely in words.  For all selfishness, cruelty and evil result from the separateness of one human being from another… This is the mystical and metaphysical basis of love, namely the realization that my brother and I are one, and therefore his suffering are my suffering and his happiness is my happiness[58]


So the origin of agape can now be understood. It is given birth by the mystical realization of God. Once in that space, there is a reorientation of self such that the adept loses the usual ego barrier to others. Now it is easier to understand the following citations from the bible: “maintaining love to thousands”[59],  “you are to love those who are aliens”[60] and “You love those who hate you”[61].


In Taoism, compassion arises from sacrificing oneself to the Tao.  Then Lao Tsu says, “Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things. Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.”[62]



Self Love: 


From this Lao Tsu quote, it seems the self and the world are intimately connected. The more one can love of the world, the more one can love self. Our ability to love another, or thousands, is intimately interrelated to love of self.  As an example of what I mean, Kierkegaard says: “

“It is a grave error to imagine one can love another person intentionally without at the same time – and more fundamentally – loving the highest within oneself and above oneself.[63] This concept is further reinforced from Mathew when he quotes Christ, “love your neighbor as yourself”[64]


Meditation, Mysticism and Love:


It is difficult to find an orderly approach to obtaining the mystical experience of God in the Christian mystical systems. Christian alchemy seems to be shrouded in allegory and myths[65], obscure engravings[66], symbols[67] and poetry.  This seems to leave the adept more to some mysterious inner guidance, much like the stepping stones connected by the thread metaphor approach discussed above, to achieve the desired goal. 


In the Taoist approach the meditations towards the “nothingness” seem more prescriptive and mapped out from start to end. As the adept connects with the love and archetypal energy, they are able to extend the mind to that space in love. This is shown by the meditations of the microcosmic orbit, Fusion and Kan and Li meditations.[68]


In the Taoist “microcosmic meditation”,[69] the experience achieved is regarded as a reflection of the macrocosm. The goal is to uncover the entire mind and to realize the bigger picture and to rest the mind in the totality of the universe. The adept first learns the process of allowing the chi, or energy from the earth, to ascend up through the body.  This is like receiving love, touch and connection from the mother as the sacred earth below.  The body is bathed in silk-like gentle feelings. The mind extends into the earth, initially like roots of a tree, and then extends to involve the whole globe. Once there, the earth disappears, but the mind somehow remains extended in emptiness. This phenomenon, once connected and known, then results in a disappearance in emptiness, and is the paradox of mystical contemplation. Then the adept is baptized from above – the love of the father (or the work of the holy spirit). This can penetrate all the organs, and coexists and supports self-love. The mind extends upwards and involves the terrestrial realm with all its beautiful stars, planets and empty spaces. All turning and spinning! The energy of the father and mother then spin in the microcosmic orbit. Soon the sexual or erotic energy, or perhaps better known as the “kundalini” energy, awakens.  This creates an orgasmic bliss, which sets up a fusion reaction in the lower abdomen, and gives birth to the “immortal fetus”[70]. Now the adept is reborn and has given birth to him/her self. The fetus is given birth upward through the centre of the body to form the spiritual body. This ascends (much like the ascension of Christ to God in heaven) for the final merging and union with the centre of universe[71]. The adept then enters the bosom of God or the Tao and finds him/herself bathed in glorious nothingness[72].


Meditation thus becomes a metaphor of the journey of “existential love”. There is a mysterious desire for the mind to love and join each part of symbolic existence. As one loves the self, father, mother and child, they all join in an erotic fusion, and in turn they dissolve. To join, and to know these symbols, thus begets a sacrifice, or a submission to die in emptiness. As one connects and feels, so then the consequence is to disappear into the universal nothingness of God, or the Tao.  The journey in mystic meditation, though love and connection of each of the symbolic archetypes, is a search for totality. It mirrors, or perhaps is begotten, by actual love of the archetypes in individual physical love. If life is a journey from the physical to the spiritual, or from the material to the immaterial, then this all makes sense. This also reinforces the concept that individual physical love may be very important, and those ascetics that leave the world without experiencing it, may diminish their quest for union with God. Now let us return to our original diagrammatic metaphor of  the journey of existential love – the spiral can now be viewed from a side perspective. Each accomplishment of each stage of love covers a further portion of a circle. Eventually, all the space in the circle is accomplished or covered. The circle represents totality, which for some represents God. The journey is now complete[73].


Both Christianity and Taoism reveal the energetic symbols of existential love through meditation and mystical experiences. The Taoist system offers a more programmed and mapped-out evolution of this pursuit. The Christian system offers priority to the father and heaven, with less emphasis on the mother earth and erotic fusion. However, it is able to offer a very personal connection to mystical experiences through the personal story of Christ.




So the journey of love in this essay started with disparity. For some, the worship of nothingness in Taoism and Buddhism manufactured a sense of alienation to the Christians – even to the extent of seeing eastern adepts as evil. I traced the journey of love from womb to the tomb. It was postulated that each episode of love was not by chance but determined by some mysterious force within the microcosm, or unconscious. A thread connected each varied love event that potentially guides us towards total love. The two traditions covered each step, or stage of love, but varied somewhat in terms of emphasis and how it is used. There were differences between love portrayed in the old and New Testaments.


The experience of love in the womb was seen as problematic, as the ability of the foetus to differentiate between object and subject is minimal. Nevertheless, the Taoist reveres this state in their meditation, just prior to an experience of the nothingness. As a child we experience the love of mother and father. It takes us further away from the pain of separateness and provides a special type of love. Taoist practitioners would regard the Tao as the great mother and desire to enter the womb or sanctuary of her tender care. The earth is also regarded as a sexual mothe,r in that it is the source of physical fertility. The earth is also an apparent source of sexual and sensual energies akin to a fertile feminine partner and mother. This latter aspect is missing from the New Testament. 


Father and son love is a prominent feature of modern Christianity. Jesus is the Son of God and through our love of Jesus, we experience the love of the father – God! Taoism lacks such a personalised vehicle towards the Tao. There is no son of the Tao! However in Taoism the heaven is father and in Christianity the father lives in heaven.  Filial love in Buddhism and Christianity is seen as the bonding between our fellow man and woman that creates the community upon which we practice together.  The Taoists are keen to comment that forced filial piety through morality is not the way. Erotic love is used in the Old Testament, the Christian Mystics and the Taoists. Unfortunately erotic love has gone out of favour in Christian modernity. Perhaps with negative consequences!


It was then discussed, how practitioners discover God using other emotions besides love. Love has a dark underside, which is unpleasant but perhaps part of the maturing process of “existential love”. Finally, it was postulated that God is not love. The mystics of both traditions would hold this position. This position of God as “nothing” or “emptiness” makes love free, in turn allowing it to mature and make agape possible. It also allows us to equate Nirvana, the Tao and God with this “nothingness” or “emptiness”. The experience of the latter state is postulated to be the fountain of love, which spurs the practitioner to carry out agape and compassion in the world.


A further understanding of the role of each stage of love and connection is made clear by the description of Taoist meditation. To connect and love the totality, the mind in meditation must connect with each symbolic aspect of that love.


Both traditions undoubtedly use love and seemingly have the same goal. Each has differences, which make their respective traditions strong and interesting. So our original Franciscan friar, who finds God through passionate love of Christ has a lot of catching up to do with our detached monk, who feels the answer, is “emptiness”. It is hoped that they will have a fruitful dialogue and come together as brothers.


Confucius said: "In the world there are many different roads but the destination is the same. There are a hundred deliberations but the result is one." [74]



[1] French Franciscan friar, John Ruysbroek, whose eyewitness account of the Mongol realm is generally acknowledged to be the best written by any medieval Christian traveller. Surnamed the Admirable Doctor, and the Divine Doctor, undoubtedly the foremost of the Flemish mystics, born at Ruysbroeck, near Brussels, 1293; died. at Groenendael, 2 Dec., 1381.

[2]  Quoted in Zaehner, R.C.,”Nature Mysticism, Soul Mysticism and Theistic Mysticism”, in Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973  p382 (From Mysticism: Sacred and Profane Clarendon press, Oxford ) p.378

[3] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997. p. 31

[4] Cornwell, John,  The Case of the Empty Tomb, The Weekend Australian Magazine, March 26 –27, 2005, Nationwide News, Surry Hills NSW, Australia.

[5] A German born psychotherapist who practiced in New York

[6] Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1984 p69

[7] Johnson, Brian, Famous Quotes from Carl Jung available on line  viewed Oct 2005

[8] Wainwright, William J., “The Cognitive Status of Mystical Experience”, Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973 P 398

[9] Master Mantak Chia currently runs the Universal Tao centre in Thailand. He has over thousand teachers and was voted “Chi Kung Master of the Year in 2000”

[10] Eros defined as erotic or romantic love, Philia as brotherly or sisterly love and agape as universal love.

[11] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997.p139

[12] Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1984 p43

[13] Wokstein, Diane., The First love stories from Isis and Osiris to Tristan and Iseult, ,Harper  Perennial, NY 1992 p XV

[14] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997. p 138

[15] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997. p33

[16] See appendix 4

[17] James Redfield is best known through his bestselling book the Celestine prophecy

[18] Redfield, James., Michael Murphy,  and Sylvia Timbers., God and the Evolving Universe, Tarcher Putnam, NY 2002

[19] Jeremiah 1:5

[20] Wilhelm, Richard tr. & Carl Jung (Commentary) The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1975,  stage 2 and 3, p36-46 see appendix 2&3

[21] Tortchinov, Evgueni A.,The Doctrine of the "Mysterious Female" in Taoism, A Transpersonalist View, available online, viewed Oct. 2005 reprinted from Everything Is According to the Way: Voices of Russian Transpersonalism Bolda-Lok Publishing and Educational Enterprises Brisbane, Australia , 1997

[22] Isaiah 66 11-14

[23] John 19:26

[24] Lao Tsu, Trans. By Gia Fu Feng & Jane English, Tao Te Ching Vintage Books, NY, 1972 Chap. 6

[25] Zhang Dainan, Edmund Ryden Tr. Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing 2002 p 13

[26] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997. p140

[27] William Blake a Christian Mystic, poet and engraver born Nov. 28, 1757, London

[28] Four Zoas, 1:364  by William Blake quoted in Damon, S Foster. 1979, A Blake Dictionary, Thames and Hudson, London.  P 255

[29] Chi is prana, life force or energy

[30] see Chia, Mantak ., Awakening Healing Light of the Tao Healing Tao Books, NY 1993 p85 and Appendix 1

[31] Chang Tsai was a philosopher  born in Ch'ang-an (modern Xian) in 1020 Chang Tsai was an important forerunner of neo-Confucianism - a Confucianism deepened by absorbing elements from Taoism.

[32] Weiming, Tu., Confucianism and Taoism, available on line viewed Oct 2005

[33]  The three treasures are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. These translate into the veneration of the founder, the teaching and the community of followers.

[34] Romans 12:9-10

[35] Tsu, Lao. 1972, Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Gia Fu Feng& Jane English (trans), Vintage Books, NY. chap.19

[36] see Leviticus 25:18, Ezekiel  34:282Chronicles 31:2136:27, 1Corinthians7:19

[37] Wokstein, Diane., The First love stories from Isis and Osiris to Tristan and Iseult, ,Harper  Perennial, NY 1992  pXV

[38] Malick, David., The Song of Songs available online:, viewed Oct 2005

[39] Johnston, William, The Inner Eye of  Love… Mysticism and Religion, Fordham UP, NY, 1997 p 19

[40] Kavanaugh, Kieran. (ed &trans) 1973, The Collected works of St John of the Cross, ICS Pub, Washington.

[41] Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1984 p48

[42] B 1260 Germany, Professor Theology at Strasbourg. Like all true avatar’s, he was charged with heresy to the Church by Archbishop of Cologne.  From : Fleming, Ursula., Meister Eckhart – The Man from Whom God Hid Nothing, Fount Paperbacks, Glasgow, 1988 p15

[43] Eckhart, Meister., quoted in  Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1984 p69

[44] Chia, Mantak.  Cosmic Fusion of the Eight Forces, Universal Tao Publications, Chiang Mai Thailand, 2002. p31

[45] Nolan, Richard T.. Internal Suffering and Christianity viewed on line Oct 2005

[46] Soren Kierkegaard was a  Danish philosopher  in the 1800’

[47] Fromm, Erich, The Art of Loving, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1984 p49

[48] Romans 8:17

[49] Master Mantak Chia currently runs the Universal Tao centre in Thailand. He has over thousand teachers and was voted “Chi Kung Master of the Year in 2000”

[50] Chia, Mantak ., Awakening Healing Light of the Tao Healing Tao Books, NY 1993 p68

[51] See Appendix 4

[52] Zaehner, R.C.,”Nature Mysticism, Soul Mysticism and Theistic Mysticism”, in Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973  p382 (From Mysticism: Sacred and Profane Clarendon press, Oxford )

[53] Meister Eckhart was a renowned Christianmystic, born in 1260 and became professor of Theology in Paris.

[54]  Stace , Walter “The Nature and Types of Religious and Mystical Experience, in Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973 p.372

[55] Walter Stace is a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, born 1886.

[56] P367 Stace , Walter “The Nature and Types of Religious and Mystical Experience, in Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973

[57] Lao Tsu, Trans. By  Gia Fu Feng & Jane English, Tao Te Ching Vintage Books, NY, 1972 Chap 14

[58]  Stace , Walter “The Nature and Types of Religious and Mystical Experience, in Rowe, William L., and William J. Wainwright (Eds), Philosophy of Religion 3rd Ed, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth, 1973 p375

[59] Exodus 34:7

[60] Deuteronomy 10:19

[61] 2 Samuel  19:6

[62] Lao Tsu, Trans. By  Gia Fu Feng & Jane English, Tao Te Ching Vintage Books, NY, 1972 Chap 13

[63] quoted in :  Redfield, James., Michael Murphy,  and Sylvia Timbers., God and the Evolving Universe, Tarcher Putnam, NY 2002 p124

[64] Mathew 19:19

[65] Agrippa, Henry Cornelius., James Freake Tr., Donald Tyson Ed., Three Books of Occult philosophy, The Foundation Book of Western Occultism, Llewellyn Pub., MN, 1993

[66]  De Rola, Stanislas Klossowski,, The Golden Game, Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century, Thames and Hudson, London 1988

[67] Jung, Carl., R F C Hull Tr., Alchemical Studies, Princeton Bollingen, NJ, 1983

[68] The Fusion meditations involve the merging of the five elemental energies in the body. While Kan and Li symbolises water and fire and  is a meditation that centres around the coupling of the duality of yin and yang.

[69] Wilhelm, Richard tr. & Carl Jung (Commentary) The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1975 p 72 see appendix 1

[70] Wilhelm, Richard tr. & Carl Jung ( Commentary) The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1975 p 75 see appendix 2.

[71] Wilhelm, Richard tr. & Carl Jung ( Commentary) The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1975 p 76 see appendix 3.

[72] Wilhelm, Richard tr. & Carl Jung ( Commentary) The Secret of the Golden Flower. A Chinese Book of Life. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1975 p 77

[73] see Appendix 5

[74] Wilson, Andrew Ed., The Truth in Many Paths, viewed on line:, Oct 2005 Confucianism. I Ching, Appended Remarks 2.5