This essay features Part I in the series titled Journey of a Transcendental Anthropology. For the prologue to these series, please see here: Prologue to Series


In the following essay, I do not primarily intend to elaborate on theoretical principles that may constitute a transcendental anthropology. Rather, my aim is to sensitise towards perception, to navigate perspectives. Transcendental anthropology signifies a paradigm, where human living is affirmed as being of a spiritual, or rather transcendental nature. In my experience, whether one affirms our transcendental human nature, or whether one ignores it, leads to profoundly different ways of thinking, of understanding, and of appreciating our world. In these series of essays, my goal is to demonstrate this.

The source of this experience comes from my training and ongoing studies in cultural anthropology, on the one hand; and it comes from my fieldwork investigations, which revolve around the lifeworld of a sage, of a mystical practice, on the other. This concerns a contemporary European mystic Yoginâm, whose life and work I have studied intimately for the past three decades. Mysticism, properly understood, is such a practice where the transcendental is wholly affirmed. And not just as an idea, but as permeating all one’s experience and awareness. It constitutes a way of ‘’transcendental living’’.

In the essay that follows, my aim is to navigate modes of perception that may trigger perspectives of a transcendental anthropology, and in parallel, illuminating the lifeworld of experience of this mystic. These are not two separate realms. Rather, my intent is that they may fully converge. I believe this kind of convergence is needed in the current world, a world engaged in crises of various kinds. In my observation, a major one is a crisis in thought, in how thinking proceeds. Possibly lots of other crises are linked to this. In the purpose of resolution, I believe that integrating a transcendental appreciation of human living is quintessential.  

Holistic Vantage Points

Anthropology is the field of study of human beings and human phenomena. An adjective may precision from which angle this study is undertaken, the perspective from which one is trying to understand the human being. A social anthropology may view the human being as a social creature, physical anthropology by his physical features, or cultural anthropology, by the dimension of cultures in which human beings exist. By trying to understand the culture, we understand the human being in it.

The task of cultural anthropology is to be a holistic science, it is what all students learn in their introductory courses. All features that we may conceive to be within the scope of the culture, should be taken into account to come to understand the human being, ‘’as a whole’’. Or else, human beings of the whole in which they take part, where culture represents a whole. There may be theoretical schools that pinpoint a category as being determinant, or a major signifier for culture, such as economic anthropology (‘’economic man’’), symbolic anthropology, political anthropology, or cultural materialism.

The way in which I envision a transcendental anthropology sets off from the premise that the human being is essentially a transcendental being. This is a creature whose nature is transcendental. We could say his nature is ‘’spiritual’’ and we should be making the same inference. However, I prefer to use ‘’transcendental’’, as more descriptive and neutral in association. As with the feature of spirituality, in the contemporary Western age, humans have gone in all different directions, and it would not necessarily say much.

The term ‘’transcendental’’ should help us being more sensitive to different levels, or dimensions of experience at play in transcendence, a kind of discernment that is required for this subject. Now, I am aware that I should be offering a definition for transcendental at our earliest convenience. This is not so simple, as I see it as a very refined sphere of human experience, and it will be more important to progressively ‘’sensitise’’ for what I mean by it, rather than to be ‘’definitive’’.[i] Moreover, my perception of what is transcendental in the nature of the human being, is very much impacted by my research object, and I will be inclined to use some of his vocabulary for illustration, which will therefore need to be introduced as we move forward.  

To offer a working, even if initially still vague definition of what I understand with transcendental: It refers to a presence, or movement in perceived reality that reaches beyond the individual per se. Referring to it, realises a connection with it. It would be characterised by width and immanence, and it is applied by the individual as a sphere that strongly defines his mode of experience and perception. Usually, it would draw the human being as a whole to it.

Transcendental anthropology appreciates human behaviour as taking place in its transcendental context. This stands in direct relation with the holistic scope of anthropology. The human being in its wholeness obviously includes transcendental spheres. This transcendental nature is what makes the human being whole. Without it, he is not whole.

To understand the human being as-a-whole, we therefore cannot ignore the transcendental nature. This nature determines a lot of his behaviour, his activity, and especially his modes of perception. This transcendental nature, how it is developed and present in human experience, plays an essential part in being human. We cannot fully understand the human being without taking this context into account. These are the premises of a transcendental anthropology. I believe this is especially relevant in our contemporary world.

A Methodology of the Other

A major value of anthropology lays in its primary methodology. This is the premise that to really understand other human beings, we need to pursue doing this from their point of view. If we wish to understand another’s world, we can only do so when we would accomplish seeing this world from their perspective. This is known in anthropology as the native point of view, and it constitutes its essence.

The primary method by which this is attained is through fieldwork. A method of staying for a longer time span in the direct environment of the humans whose features one is investigating, by way of participant observation. A two-fold method; one participates as if one were entirely and naturally one of them, and at the same time one observes, with the mind-set and analytical framework of the anthropologist. Participating naturally, while keeping one’s analyses in focus, perhaps as a second attention.  

This method means that to approach the native point of view, we need to put our own ideas, values, and prejudices within brackets. For they will influence our perception in such a way, that we end up with ‘’our’’ point of view on someone else’s reality. We need to suspend judgement to be able to sufficiently open and more purely perceive reality as if one were in their shoes. This is not possible when combined with a value judgement on those shoes and how they are positioned. And neither while reflecting on how our own shoes set the standard of what all shoes should be like. This methodological stance is essential to anthropology as a scientific discipline. For value judgements, anyone can have, without discipline. 

In philosophy this attitude of suspending judgement has been expounded by the movement of phenomenology. Phenomenology does not see a world of subjects, with objects out there. It sees a world of phenomena that appear in the perception of the subject, with whom they are naturally intertwined – to put it simply. For phenomenology, to know the essence of a thing, its primordial existence, we need to put our preconceptions within brackets. Logically, the anthropological methodology is intimately linked with the phenomenological attitude, even while this is essentially a philosophical attitude. This attitude would seem essential to philosophy in its original meaning, ‘’Love of wisdom’’. To open for wisdom, say ancient insights, one needs to suspend judgement, place oneself within brackets, and open unreservedly.       

Anthropology and the Confines of Ideology

The discipline of cultural anthropology has brought forth a wealth of research on human cultures, potentially contributing to a better understanding of the human world. Scores of researchers have proceeded with diligent and impressive work, in sincere respect and admiration of the Other.

Nevertheless, we need not ignore that the anthropological discipline has historically developed from a colonial context of the world in terms of Western cultures, where anthropology as a discipline originated. This context has become expressed in overall patterns of thinking in terms of human evolution from the simple to the complex, from the primitive to the evolved, from the savage to the civilised. Which would come to signify that ‘’our’’ culture, our contemporary world, was the latest stage in this process. And consequently, if implicitly, the most evolved, the highest accomplishment.

This ideological pretext also tends to view any latest ideas it comes up with, by default, as ”progress”. Change is progress, and such progress naturally represents ‘the Good’. This shapes the pedestal from which we were then striving to see where other cultures ‘’still’’ are, how they have ‘’not yet’’ attained our standards and values. One will find this language quite commonly used in everyday speech.     

For example, ‘’animism’’ might have been considered as the original religious form of primitive peoples, who were creating meaning by believing that everything existing is alive with spirit. To the more advanced religious frameworks with a complex theological Christianity and a saviour. Or even more advanced, just discarding theistic terms altogether, entering the truthful realm of grasping our world scientifically, that is, rationally, biologically, and technologically. ‘’A stone is a stone, and there is no spirit!’’. The passion for mind and matter. 

For academics and laymen alike, this superiority of our own world would have been unwittingly experienced as an unquestioned matter of fact for many decennia if not centuries, and to certain degrees, it appears to be still in force today. When one views the rest of the world from this attitude, with explicit judgement weighed in, it easily lends itself to a qualification of human phenomena in terms of ‘’more and less advanced’’, ‘’good and bad’’, ‘’better and worse’’. Whether it might concern values, beliefs, knowledge, or systems of governance. This has provided a useful basis for a missionary zeal of a colonial enterprise.

Whenever from a more geopolitical standpoint the ‘’Other’’ might be conflicting with our interests, the relationship will then quickly transform into Manichean terms of good (always us) and evil (always them). From this moment on, we do not even need to fully understand the other anymore. It is sufficient for the adversary to be relentlessly demonised or snubbed and we may refrain from understanding his way of thinking. And we do not need to, because we have all ingredients of what the other is about lined up in our judgement already. This is absolute, without requirement of questioning.

We have strayed far from an academically disciplined anthropology when we find ourselves in this stage. Yet I think this attitude is very much present in our contemporary world, and sadly it has been gaining track. Whilst modern civilisation lives by a self-image of approaching its world in scientific terms – to always ‘’follow the science’’ – in this attitude it has not succeeded to integrate its anthropological axioms for understanding the world. These might not have manifested in daily life to any real effect.

There is also the universal method of scientific doubt, which constitutes the primal stepping stone for the scientific attitude. It assures that science always remains open to other possibilities, to new horizons. There are contemporary patters of thought insisting that to follow ‘’the science’’ means that not any doubt of scientific viewpoints is allowed. After all, the science has already spoken, it has been set, there is a consensus – and to doubt it, is to go against the science. A spectacular internal contradiction. In some cases, even nuance is frowned upon. These are instances where the mode of thinking is taking obvious pathways of increasing limitation, and depredation.

I do not know the status quo in the contemporary scientific discipline of anthropology in this respect. Whether it has continued to pursue its methodology with scientific rigor, or whether there is any extent to which it has fallen prey to ideological prejudices and imperatives. Anthropology’s aim to understand reality through the native point of view, as something which by itself has value, is certainly challenging in an ideological context. The anthropologist Louis Dumont has described this in quite refined detail in his essay titled: The anthropological community and ideology.[ii] Dumont’s focus was on the modern ideology of individualism, and how this was ill-fitted to study and understand other societies whose configuration of ideas and values were holistic. But the study has wider implications for any kind of ideological programming we are subject too, wittingly, or unwittingly.

I wished to make this emphasis, because the tendency of qualifying diversity in the human world through such black and white terms, which is so contrary to a scientific attitude, is rather dominant in our current world. From what I see, it is shaping a manifold of problems – psychologically, culturally, and in terms of international relations. It is to be hoped that anthropology is succeeding in maintaining its independence, that is, its science. And that it may succeed to continue contributing constructively to a state of universal openness. 

The transcendental attitude is per its very nature and logic one of openness. For transcendence is always beyond you and beyond your comprehension. One’s realisation of the Whole is never completed. It is infinite, at least from our perspective. Therefore, a transcendental anthropology should consist of a definitive openness to human reality, which can help create a scope for understanding the Other more profoundly.

For one, the transcendental orientation that exists in all human diversity, in this disciplinary approach is seen as just that. All variety of symbolism, myths, stories, concepts, represent a language, a framework of meaning, that means to facilitate the human being connecting to its transcendental nature.

Thus, we do not qualify this as some kind of need of humans to believe in something beyond, figments of imagination to feel secure and safe, and to get answers to an otherwise anxiety-filled existence in a universe devoid of meaning – which exemplifies a general line of thinking in an atheist, secular world. No, in this approach we recognise that the human being is a transcendental being, which naturally connects him to what is beyond him, and thus he finds ways of expression to allow this to live. To let it be a source of living, illuminating its meaning and purpose.

The forms and symbolism in which this is done is secondary to this basic purpose of (re)-connecting. Language and symbolism are cultural, the connection to one’s transcendental nature as a human being is universal. Since the axiom of a transcendental anthropology is that human beings have a nature, an essence, which is transcendental, this means that it is universal for human beings to integrate a transcendental dimension into their lives.

Everyone does this. A human beings cannot not do, because it corresponds to what he is. Obviously the most universal notion associated with this exercise is ‘’God’’ and related terms. From the perspective of transcendental anthropology, it is not a relevant question as to its ‘’real existence’’, and if so, the how and what. The essence is that it is a means of connecting to one’s transcendental nature, to reality being transcendental.

At the same time, so-called ‘’atheists’’, who say they do not believe in such notion of God, do not avoid adhering to transcendentals in their own way. They are just of a different kind, and in effect are less recognisable. Usually considered to be rational or scientific, but nevertheless invoking ideas in a way that they function as a transcendental. Just that one considers an idea ‘’scientific’’ does not mean that it would not manifest in one’s perception as a transcendental. Especially if you are not familiar with ‘’the science’’, but just believe it exists and is real. Since authority associated with science has said so, and per definition it has integrity, for it is science and does not lie, nor is it ever wrong.

In this sense, one might suggest that ideas like a ‘’Big Bang’’, ‘’Democracy’’, a ‘’Planet’’, or simply, ‘’Nature’’, represent transcendentals in the perception of contemporary humans. Especially considering how they are presented and applied as constituting absolutes. It appears that secular transcendentals in our current world tend to be of a materialist nature. Probably not surprising. Applying transcendentals without realising you are doing it seems rather clumsy and confusing, like the man with a wooden leg. The confusion it appears to lead to is again related to discernment of levels and dimensions of experience in our multi-layered reality, to which I should soon return.

From the viewpoint of transcendental anthropology, the point is that when a human being does not pro-actively integrate a transcendental sphere into his life – of a spiritual nature – this leaves an empty vacuum, that will need to be filled-up – as it is his nature. And it will be filled up, even if it is by a daily dream that this year your favourite sports club will win the title. From this perspective, it might seem that the wise thing to do, would be to acknowledge one’s transcendental nature, and in full awareness apply the means that connect you most optimally to it. This, I think, is what mystics and sages do.    

A Focus of Mysticism

As I said in the introduction, my views on transcendence, perception, and experience, some of which described above, have been much impacted by the subject of my anthropological scrutiny, which is the practice of mysticism, the way and life of a mystic. When referring to mysticism, obviously not everyone will understand the same by it. Someone whom I consider an authority on the academic study of mysticism is Fillip Holm, whose working definition is as follows: “Mysticism is that which concerns experiences of, practices related to, and explanations of, direct encounters with the divine, usually also accompanied by altered states of consciousness”.[iii]

In my experience, this involves the active management of perception and experience, as it is an attitude that seeks to activate transcendental awareness, as natural to being human, in the scope of living. The sage Yoginâm calls this activation a practice of Affirmation. It means integrating the transcendental as a living (re)-source, fully and wholly, in daily living. While there can be a variety of ways in which people may integrate the transcendental in their lifeworld of experience, my view has always been that mysticism represents the instance where humanity has done so in the most profound way, aspiring to the very core. I believe that many religious traditions have this mystical awareness and aspiration as their origin.

An original authority on mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, has offered a comprehensive definition, which I think is still valid: Mysticism is “… the expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order, whatever be the theological formula under which that order is understood. This tendency, in great mystics, gradually captures the whole field of consciousness, it dominates their life and, in the experience called ‘’mystical union’’ attains its end. (…) the desire to attain it and the movement towards it-so long as this is a genuine life process and not an intellectual speculation-is the proper subject of mysticism. I believe this movement to represent the true line of development of the highest form of human consciousness.” .[iv]

When speaking of this phenomenon, many associations may be with the aspect of ‘’mystical experience’’, indeed the immersion in some state of Oneness. A lot of association may also be with poetry and love, thanks to the richness of expression by Sufi mystics, such as Rumi and Hafez. But certainly, in the case of my object of study, I would emphasise a high degree of intellectualism that may evolve from mystical awareness. The Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, or the Sufi mystic from Andalusia, Ibn Al-Arabi, would certainly also be good examples. This rational, or perhaps supra-rational component, may be particularly relevant for our current times, and it manifests strongly in the phenomenon of my investigation.      

The researcher of mysticism Borchert has provided some useful stipulations[v]: ‘’A mystical experience is not enough to turn somebody into a mystic. We confine the use of the name to one who enters into the experience, tries to give it form, and wants to live it’’ (p. 12). Further: ‘’Mysticism is not only an experience but is also a creative process in which this experience is given shape in language, pictures, worldview, and behaviour.’’  (p.16).

This nuancing of the aspect of ‘’experience’’ in mysticism is quite significant for my research. For Yoginâm emphasises this point, indicating that the transcendental is beyond experience. To sensitise for this, he distinguishes between Experience and Awareness. Awareness is the transcendental sphere of the human being, which is not of Experience. Experience will only be coloured by Awareness once the human being opens for it.

For the mystic, there is an Other. While for an anthropologist the Other tends to be in an objective world ‘’out there’’, for the mystic the Other is All-what-is: As it is. And it is perfectly good, as it is, since he holds no judgement over it. He resides in embrace of it. The Other is a totality, that is material and immaterial. Any direction in totality, is a direction of totality. This is not an abstract notion; it is very much alive. Since Totality, whatever it is, it is living.

In the lifeworld of the mystic, all that is, is the expression of the Other, expressing infinite potentiality. Any human being is naturally, and in all situations, a ‘’re-presentation’’ of the Other, of totality. This Other may become for him a ‘’Beloved’’, and its presence is at once infinite as it is intimate. Since this Other is his Beloved, his intent of opening for it is absolute and unrestrained. It is not even a matter of putting his preconceptions within brackets. All of him, all programming that keeps him from openness shall readily dissolve. This shapes his attitude and behaviour. For the mystic, the relationship to the transcendental is not dualistic; it is ‘’monistic’’. It is naturally all-inclusive.[vi]

Mysticism is a concept that for me is deep with meaning. Now, I need to point out that the sage Yoginâm, rarely uses the term mysticism to refer to his practices. Nevertheless, one knowledgeable with the subject will recognise all the key features. An alternative, more descriptive term could be ‘’transcendental living’’, a concept that Yoginâm has used. Since the orientation to transcendence is driving one’s experience in all circumstances of living. Gradually I intend to move away from using the concept of mysticism, but up to this stage I think it has been useful to be able to pinpoint the nature of what I am discussing. The same for the term ‘’mystic’’. I see the one who lives that state identical to one, who one may refer to as a ‘’sage’’. I prefer to use the word Sage in this respect, taken with the same meaning as I would use the word mystic.

Fieldwork Study of a Way of Transcendental Living

My fieldwork originated in the direct environment of the Sage, known by the name of Yoginâm, who is in and from the wider European neighbourhoodHis practice of mysticism is a practice he describes as affirmation, which is the essential meaning of ‘’Nâm’’[vii] He is an extraordinary individual, not simply by the transcendental awareness of a Sage, but by the kind of Sage he is, how the spiritual endeavour comes to expression through his life.

When I met him, he resided in Western Europe, in the Netherlands, the area of his birth. He had returned there, after having lived extensive periods of his life outside of the geographic and cultural area of Europe, in West Asia. Currently, he lives the secluded life of a hermit, in his hermitage in the Mediterranean region of Andalusia. Even though he lives a secluded life, he has produced a wealth of written works, and is visited by people on a continuous basis. He has a supporting entourage around him, but no PR apparatus.

When I met him, I learned that in the expression of his mysticism, he was seeking an optimal resonance with the cultural environment of the modern West, to make it accessible for people from this environment in their daily living. His observation was that in the West, the human environment had largely lost its connection to the transcendental nature of living. In his view, a living connection is essential for a sustainable state of humanity. He perceives it as urgent for people in the Western globe to make this reconnection. Out of this inspiration, or calling, has evolved what is called Nâm; a transcendental orientation to living, in a contemporary supra-rational language, borne from the source of mystical awareness.

This Sage and his way of transcendental living has been my anthropological Other. In the objective of aspiring to the native point of view, I do think the mystical practice is a special case. The anthropological methodological stance being essentially dualistic, the world of the Sage, and the practice of transcendental living, is essentially monistic. This may raise a question on attaining to the native point of view, without going native. It seems impossible, and even undesirable. I will return to this, but first, I should engage in a short life-history.

Meeting Yoginâm, a Contemporary Sage

Meeting Yoginâm has occurred in my life quite parallel to having started anthropological studies, during my first year in university. While the source of both might have been similar motives – seeking to attain a deeper awareness of the ultimate nature of human being, to penetrate to a realisation of his spiritual nature in whole.

Since an earlier age I was convinced, in a rather intuitive way, that there must be some absolute reality to the universe we are living in, something ultimate, infinite – a binding core. Truth of some sort. And it had to have been attainable for a human being to arrive at a realisation of this, in this life. Not through ‘’knowing’’ but by some mode of ‘’being’’, and thus, by ‘’becoming’’.  I had been engaged in internal scrutiny and questioning during many years. I explored traditions where I could find what resonated with this quest most clearly.

My logic was simple. If you consider that such a state of transcendental awareness is attainable, then there must be people existing who have attained it. Certainly, in the historic archives of literature and poetry, evidence of this can be found abundantly. But I felt that such people must exist not only historically, but also contemporarily. And when they do, perhaps they would not appear so readily in a television set, or on a large stage of concert halls. They may not even have websites – and yet exist and be legitimate!

In this sense, I found it would be most optimal to encounter such one in this lifetime, instead of solely pursuing the thought of historical figures, and trying to put that to practice. I felt a realisation of this nature could only be fully explored in a complete way through the lifeworld of direct experience. Ideally in the presence of one who lives in awareness of that state. The alchemy that this would involve simply felt highly efficient to the core. In which context mere written guidelines, even when combined with intuition would always have their limitations, even while utterly inspiring.

Initially, I felt most inspired by the tradition of Sufism. Upon my first encounters, it was a profound and immediate recognition. This expressed a wisdom, focus and resonance I had aspired to encounter and was convinced existed. This was certainly triggered by its richness of sublime storytelling and poetry, portraying deeper spheres of meaning beyond the words. Clearly displaying a source of wisdom.[viii]

I am no expert on Sufism, and I am aware that there are many different viewpoints of it, certainly in its historical and cultural context. It could be seen as a mysticism intimately connected with Islam, which comes to expression in many different forms in the different regions and cultures where it exists. Various authors have written extensive works on the subject.[ix] Filip Holm has produced some excellent episodes on the topic. [x]

Suffice to say that a distinctive feature of Sufism is the existence of a spiritual Master, also called Guide or Friend. He is not a prophet, nor is he a teacher (guru), though this would depend on definitions used. This is a man who has reached a state of mystical realisation, whose role it is to make himself available for a sage-disciple relationship. A relationship which induces an alchemy, where the disciple will gradually find ways of opening and undergo profound transformations needed for the realisation to become possible. The relationship is not horizontal, but vertical; and it is a vehicle for a way. The guide provides a transcendental focus, and mirror.

After Sufism set me on this course, through coincidental occurrences and intuitive choices, I encountered this Sage, an intriguing man. He had some links to Sufism through his own master, but he did not profess his way as a Sufi way. I entered a sage-devotee relationship, which is existential and unconditional. I had only just started studying anthropology at this point; it was during my first year in university at the age of eighteen. I would live as a part of his household, which adopted a monastic lifestyle, for over a decade. I have been in a close relationship with this sage for nearly three decades now.

I would later learn that my initial encounter with him occurred right when in his life a crossroads had appeared, which expressed itself in a rather new and profound direction, a calling. I was provided an opportunity to be there right at the beginning of a remarkable and unique process, that I have consistently followed very closely – often in awe and wonder.

A Transcendental Orientation and Anthropological Aspirations

Having encountered Yoginâm the moment that it occurred, provided an opportunity of being present at a significant conjunction in the development of his path as a guide and inspiration of a new expression of an ancient approach to living. It became soon obvious to me that the Sage, his message, and his task in living, was certainly also intriguing from an anthropological perspective. I developed my academic programme in anthropology with the aim to position myself for making this the subject of my overall research. My regional focus became Europe, and I included subjects such as phenomenology, religious and symbolic anthropology, and methodological studies. I graduated with a master in anthropology in 2004 with a thesis on the life and work of this sage titled The Beautiful Mystic, an anthropological study of a mystical path in contexts of Western culture.

I have always considered phenomenology a very useful reference, when dealing with the practice of a transcendental orientation on living. Henry Corbin, in the introduction to one of his studies on Sufism, identified this: ‘’Today, with the help of phenomenology, we are able to examine the way in which man experiences his relationship to the world without reducing the objective data of this experience to data of sense perception or limiting the field of true and meaningful knowledge to the mere operations of the rational understanding. Freed from an old impasse, we have learned to register and to make use of the intentions implicit in all the acts of consciousness or transconsciousness.’’[xi]   

I have found the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty of high interest in this respect.[xii] His phenomenology of perception might provide a relevant ontological reference. In a certain sense, mysticism, a spiritual endeavour, is a practice of existential phenomenology. It works on the premise of the primacy of perception (when perception is seen holistically, that is beyond sense perception only). Mystics have always emphasised that the way proceeds in and through living, that is through existence involving the whole of one’s being. It is certainly a thrive for Essence.

There are a lot of subjects to address in this anthropological investigation, and I will be doing this step by step in the upcoming essays. Let me just touch upon a few more aspects in this concluding section. Doing so, will also facilitate illuminating more precisely how to understand ‘’transcendental’’ in this context.

One key to understand about the life and work of Yoginâm is that there are two dimensions, or layers to it. First, there is this dimension associated with the spiritual endeavour, where the practitioner aspires to a realisation (call it Enlightenment, or Unio Mystica). The phenomenon of the spiritual relationship between the guide and a devotee is geared to this state. Its focus is a complete annihilation of all of aspects of self that stand in the way of that realisation. In the tradition of Yoginâm, this way is there, but the calling to pursue that way is usually more exceptional. It requires a persistent and natural will. Nevertheless, in all cultures there will be people who are inspired to this, and it serves when this is available.

Yoginâm has emphasised that it is most optimal for someone to pursue such a way within his own cultural context. The reason is that to a far extend the spiritual endeavour involves psychology. To practice the spiritual endeavour in another cultural context, one may not be sensitive to the symbolic content in the same way as someone who grew up in that culture. And consequently, it may not have the same desired effect in how it will stir your perception and experience. Another pitfall is that an exotic fascination with the other culture, may easily distract you from the mystical core. He has witnessed this happening in circles where Westerners were involved with Sufism, or traditions from India, for example.

The other dimension to the work of Yoginâm springs from the awareness that for human living in general it is most appropriate and optimal to acknowledge its transcendental nature and to attune its way of living to it; to integrate it in how living is approached. This does not necessarily involve the dynamic of a master-devotee relationship. It is an acknowledgement and attitude you take towards living, and it is creative. It opens to different aspects of human reality.  

His inspiration has been to provide a framework of vocabulary and practices which facilitates this integration, with a specific focus on the mindset and the needs of people living in modern and secular cultural contexts. In other words, contexts that do not necessarily have such a transcendental framework available anymore. This is what Nâm Living means in its fullest sense. Therefore, he does not use such terms as enlightenment, but speaks of ‘’Well-Being’’ as the ultimate human state when it is aligned with, or ‘’attuned’’ to the transcendental nature of living.

What is essential in the approach of Nâm, is that the transcendental sphere is considered unknowable, even while it is your essence. Thus, the practice is not to come to know it, and neither to base a practice on knowing it. The acknowledgement of its unknowability itself rather creates the opening of a transcendental orientation.   

Yoginâm will emphasise that there is no difference between ‘’spiritual life’’ and ‘’ordinary daily living’’. Or rather, the spiritual endeavour transforms ordinary daily life into a transcendental environment, which consequently will be filled by meaning and purpose. The playground is right there, it is right here. Living becomes a Way of realisation, and all one engages in it, belongs to it.

This is how Yoginâm never speaks about mysticism. He speaks about ‘’Living Optimally’’. And living optimally can only evolve when we integrate the transcendental sphere, which is inherent in living, into our daily lives. Not as a matter merely to believe in, but as an active component, that is Alive, both in, and beyond us. Since it involves a transformation that is largely a matter of ‘’reconnecting’’, or of ‘’remembering’’ our nature, Yoginâm also refers to it as a ‘’Journey of the Return’’.

‘The’ Whole is living, and our living is taking part in It – this cannot be denied (though to an extend it can be ignored). It is All around us. This is why Yoginâm says that it is ‘’interactive’’, for living constantly gives indications. It requires an attitude of listening in openness, for this interactive reality to come to life. This creates a purposeful way of living. Significantly, this interactive aspect is not seen as a ‘’communication’’, since the transcendental sphere is unknowable, and you would not know ‘’what’’ you are communicating with. Yet it is intimately present in living. Yoginâm also refers to it as ‘’Permanence’’.  

The vocabulary that has evolved through him is rich of means facilitating a transcendental positioning in living. Yoginâm sometimes emphasises that the practice of Nâm is ‘’supra-rational’’, and how its practice generates an existential state of ‘’certainty’’. I think this is of interest for a modern world that appears to generate many who live in degrees of anxiety.  

The nature of our connection with the Whole, that we have qualified as monistic, also has a direct impact on the Ethics that one will be living by. When your attitude is affirming this monistic relationship to the Whole, which is transcendental, it means you activate it with intent in the course of living. Everything in your universe of perception will be affirmed as an aspect, or if you will, ‘’Face’’ of the Whole. Your attitude will naturally be harmonising, when it concerns other human beings, animals, or the natural environment. This brings forth an ethics that immerses from your inner will, since it is the consequence of a transcendental orientation. This is no ethics of externally imposed morals. I believe this is an interesting feature to further scrutinise, in the context of contemporary moralising social patterns.  

Yoginâm sees the human being as an amalgamation of ‘’Dimensions of Experience’’. He highlights how all subjective reality is evolving in perception through experience. The transcendental endeavour therefore involves an active management of one’s states of perception. Yoginâm also speaks of the ‘’Management of Experience’’.[xiii] Through his own experience of living, has evolved a perspective on the various dimensions of experience that the human being consists of. This leads to a holistic depiction of the human being as an amalgamation of various dimensions of experience.[xiv] Apart from experience the human being is of ‘’Awareness’’, which is the transcendental essence. Highlighting that ‘’Awareness’’ is not ‘’Experience’’ is very significant for discernment of how transcendence evolves.

He calls this vision of Awareness and Dimensions of Experience SIWEB. It provides a methodology for self-analysis, and for understanding the dynamics of human phenomena in a wider sense. I see SIWEB as a holistic ‘’tool’’, as it illuminates both the structure of experience in whole, as well as the transcendental nature of human being. In my view it is special to consider, since it is a vision that evolved through a phenomenological process in the lifeworld of a mystic. I have referred before, to the high level of intellectual expression in this expression of mysticism.

I have used SIWEB as an anthropological instrument of analysis before. When one’s focus is to study human phenomena in terms of the dynamics of perception which are involved – a facet of a transcendental anthropology – SIWEB facilitates to study this holistically. I will devote a separate essay to SIWEB in the aim to demonstrate its potential for anthropological analyses.   

In the next essay, Part II of these series, I will attend to a theoretical perspective in anthropology that helps us appreciate how the Sage is positioned in relation to the social world, and I intend to demonstrate possible implications of this for our contemporary age. I will apply the analytical concept of the outworldly individual, developed by the French anthropologist Louis Dumont. This will follow with the pursuit of a phenomenological description of the lifeworld of experience as expressed by this sage, with reference to what he calls the four A’s. Being Affirmation, Abbah, Asha, and Attitude, which in their continuity and consistency facilitate a full integration of the transcendental nature of human living.  

Contact the author:

[i] The reference that I have always found meaningful is that social science is a discipline that works with ‘’sensitising concepts’’, rather than with ‘’definitive concepts’’. The sociologist Herbert Blumer professed these terms, e.g. What is wrong with social theory (1954).

[ii] Louis Dumont. Published in Essays on Individualism; Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective (1986), pp. 202-234.

[iii] Filip Holm is well known for his popular channel on YouTube, where he presents traditions of mysticism elaborately, demonstrating quite a sophisticated appreciation of it. This definition comes from the episode on Mysticism in Ancient Greece (minute: 3:30).

[iv] Evelyn Underhill. Mysticism, A Study in Nature & Development of Spiritual Consciousness (originally published in 1911, see edition published in 2022 by Dekton Publishing, p. xiv).

[v] Bruno Borchert. Mysticism; Its History and Challenge (1994).

[vi] Reference to inclusivity is of course not to be confused with modern day ‘’inclusivity’’, which is not unconditionally all-inclusive in a compassionate embrace, but that defines the preconditions of what is conclusively inclusive. Which means it carries its opposite – exclusivity – within it. You might, if you do not meet the conditions, not be a part of it. One of those instances of modern contradictions. Here one can see, how a transcendental orientation would help dissolve that.

[vii] A comprehensive overview on what is Nâm, can be found in the book by Yoginâm, The Book of Nâm (2020).

[viii] In terms of the Sufi stories, the books of Idries Shah provided my first readings. The poetry of Hafez was very inspirational in those days.

[ix] Scholars like Henry Corbin, Annemarie Schimmel, William Chittick, and H.J Witteveen, are some of the references in the academic study of Sufism.

[x] See the YouTube channel Let’s Talk Religion, for example episodes: What is Sufism? Origins of Andalusian Mysticism

[xi] Henry Corbin. Alone with the Alone, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi (1969), p. 3.

[xii] The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty is associated with existential phenomenology, his work revolving around the premise of the primacy of perception: The Primacy of perception and other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics (1964). His major work was Phenomenology of Perception (1945), where he showed that perception is the primary lifeworld of human experience, which is pre-reflective and pre-objective. He thereby went beyond the conventional dualism between subject and object. A presumed separation that does not exist: A human being is a ‘’Being-in-the-World’’.   

[xiii] Yoginâm. SIWEB; Dimensions of Experience (2023).

[xiv] SIWEB merits a series of essays. The dimensions of experience illuminated are related with Body experience, Mind experience, Soul experience, and Spirit experience. Awareness is Heart and is not of experience. Yoginâm emphasises it is a ”working hypothesis”, a tool through which to shape, direct and manage your perception in the lifeworld of experience.  


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Table of Contents

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new updates and articles.

Related Posts

PART I: Opening to the Other

This essay features Part I in the series titled Journey of a Transcendental Anthropology. For the prologue to these series, please see here: Prologue to Series Introduction

Wisdom and Abbah

In the early Zoroastrianism, that of the Gathas, the ultimate, which was called Ahura Mazda, was conceived of as Wisdom. The ultimate was not imagined