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Cloud of Unknowing

A classic mystical treatise written in the 14th century by an unknown Catholic monk to serve as a series of counsels to a novice in the contemplative life. It advocated what is called apophatic spirituality, or a mysticism that is without images. One must enter into a state beyond thoughts and images, a state of “unknowing” as opposed to intellectual knowing. Thus, the contemplative must go beyond rituals, verbal prayers, and even names, no matter how apparently sacred they are. At the same time, the contemplative must put a “cloud of forgetting” between oneself and the world. This approach is in harmony with the other mystical approaches in the East on meditation, such as yoga, which is defined by Patañjali as “the cessation of the movements of the mind substance.”

This work, written in medieval English, has been rewritten into modern English by many editors, such as by Evelyn Underhill. A new version by William Johnston renders it with greater clarity.


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