‘Mysticism for Modern Times – Conversations with Willigis Yager’- – Edited by Christoph Quarch, PH D.

A review by Claire Conroy – April 2010

In this deeply engaging book Yager draws together Eastern and Western ideas about Mysticism, Religion and Philosophy. As a Benedictine monk living in Japan, Yager gained insight into the Eastern worldview which later lead to his becoming a Zen master. He teaches meditation and contemplation at Haus St Benedikt in Wurtzburg, Germany.

He first explains the difference between Mysticism and Theism and states that the dualistic philosophy underpinning Western religions has its origins in the philosophy of Aristotle whereas Mysticism, which is the goal of all religions, is founded on the philosophy of Plato. “Theism – a philosophical system that accepts a transcendent and personal God – can lead to a dualistic view of the world, resulting in a wide gap between God and creation” (Introduction p xx).
“Mysticism finds its foundation in an experience of unity where separation between God and the world disappears. Theism, on the other hand, is founded on a fundamental dualism between God and the world.” (p51)
Dualism then, is the paradigm of ‘God is out or up there and we are down here’; whilst mysticism leads us to find the mystery of God within.

“We find that the most important areas of concurrence (between Platonic philosophy and mysticism) in the realization that there is no dividing gap between God and the world, that the world is no less than the revelation of the divine, and accordingly, that salvation can be understood not as a bridging of a gap but as an awakening to our actual essence. . . Here is where I find the essential significance of Jesus. . . in showing us a way to an experience of unity with the original divine principle. . .” (Introduction xxii; words in italics in this paragraph are mine).
“Jesus is the type by which God wants to make the mystery of his incarnation visible in us.” (p60)

“In Platonic philosophy God is both in the world and outside the world. Matter alone does not exist; it only becomes reality through timeless ideas manifest in it.”(Introduction xxii).
“God is incarnate in the cosmos. He and his creation are inseparably connected with one another. He is not In his incarnation: He manifests himself as Incarnation. . . ” (p56)

He adds that the new Quantum Physics is prompting today’s scientists to refer back to Plato’s “idealism” which also parallels many Eastern worldviews of reality.

Religious Models

He describes religions as models created to explain our place in the cosmos and which – like scientific models – need to be updated when new knowledge is obtained. “When a species has reached the level of Spirit, it needs answers to questions about the meaning of its existence, questions about where it came from and where it is going.” (p45)
“During many years of living in Japan I gained insight into the Eastern worldview outside. I realized that religions are models that we use to understand the world and ourselves. While models spring from experience, they do not always portray reality. In many cases they are based on postulates that, over time, are simply repeated without question. Even the empirical field of science explains complicated life processes with awareness that models – postulates, theories, laws – are not life itself, but simply an explanation of it. As such, scientific models change as life changes.” (Forward p ix).
“Our ideas of faith were formed when human beings still believed that the earth was flat and stars were holes in the firmament.” (p45)

“When science creates a model, it does so to explain facts. When new knowledge is obtained, the model is revised. Religions must attempt to do the same.” (p51)

Yager explains that Jesus and Buddha (and others like them) who reached the highest level of human development – spiritual union with the divine – tried to put into words an experience which is beyond words and that then their followers made doctrines and dogma out of their teachings. But for our spirituality to be alive we need to tap into the experience of – the essence of those teachings. He says that the primary reality, namely God, is an evolutionary God who is manifest in our expanding and evolving universe; that just as each human being develops through different stages of consciousness so do nations and religions. At each stage we might understand and interpret the wisdom contained in those teachings from a different perspective in accordance with our level of consciousness.

All of this confirms the essence of those teachings while encouraging and empowering people to have the experience for themselves. We are all connected and the mystery of the divine is within each of us – we, and all of creation are in fact manifestations of the divine. He adds that all traditions teach by helping their students /or disciples to engage with the process of their own spiritual practice. Spirituality is inherent in all of us; it is our nature and we can grow spiritually whether we belong to a Church or tradition or not, yet he urges us to belong somewhere so that we can give and gain support from and celebrate with our own spiritual community.

Mysticism is for Everyday Life

He tells us that mysticism is not a matter of faith but of experience and that for the person who has a mystical experience “He or she is now filled totally with an all embracing love of each and every person. Love becomes for that person the single determining norm, which pervades everything that he or she does.” (p27) Mysticism makes us fully alive, fully engaged with the present moment. How we live our life is our spirituality. He speaks of Jesus coming down from his transfiguration on Mount Tabor in order to go to Jerusalem to undergo his passion and death. “Any mysticism that seeks a permanent escape from the world is pseudomysticism. . . genuine mystical experience leads us inevitably back into everyday life. Mysticism is for everyday life; for it is in everyday life that we encounter the primary reality. It is only in that moment of life fully lived that communication with God can occur.” (p113)

He says that the people who come to Haus St Benedikt come for many different reasons. Some belong to Churches, some don’t; some of those who do may be disillusioned with their Church or struggling with an inner crisis or confusion – people are searching for meaning and hope in their lives. Yet all come because they are open to and wanting to grow in their Spirituality. He is passionate about his mission of teaching people to live in a contemplative way and about teaching Christians how to do this in their own tradition of Christian Mysticism (which has been lost for the last several centuries). He also teaches meditation in the Zen tradition to those who are pursuing the Zen path. For him the Eastern traditions throw light on and complement his Christian tradition.

In the book, Yager looks in detail at the ways people can open themselves to experience mysticism, while using many wonderful analogies to illustrate the different paths people take in their spiritual journeys. One such image is of a mountain where the people climbing different faces see only their own ‘climate’ of religious/philosophical beliefs and the ‘terrain’ of their own spirituality and culture; yet on nearing the summit all of mankind converges because we are all climbing to the same place. Another metaphor uses the analogy of different stained glass windows – each with its own pattern and colours – representing the different religions and philosophies. Yet all are illumined by the same light – the same primordial reality. (See p 34 and p 18 respectively).

In a short review I can hardly do justice to this exciting and challenging book – which affirms, and encourages me – it validates my own experience; yet maybe I can inspire people to investigate Yager’s writings some of which have been translated into English from his native German. His books are available from the Amazon.com website. ‘Mysticism for Modern Times’ is published by Liguori/Triumph. Liguori, Missouri.


  1. Well done Claire Beautifully written

  2. Great book and great review Claire. It makes life a lot more exciting knowing there’s mysticism in it!


  3. Thanks, Sean.

    Like your sense of humour!


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