There is a hindu contemplative tradition called self-inquiry, where a seeker of God asks "who am I?" to expose the person as unreal (a collection of self-image, body, identification, etc.) The experience of witnessing the person exposes the true witness as beyond the person, beyond quality, and as absolute knowing itself. God alone is, and the person is but an imaginary extension.

I'm looking for Christian traditions that follow a similar path toward an experiential discovery of God. I found that the term is Hesychasm (going into one's "self"), but it looks like outside of Eastern Orthodox it's a dead tradition.

The closest work I've found to this understanding is the Cloud of Unknowing The Philokalia has also been recommended (written by the "watchful" saints).

I've also been looking at the Franciscans ("What we are looking for is what is looking" St Francis) and the Trappist Centering Prayer. Also someone pointed me to this scripture: "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14): Moses asks what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask what god has sent him to them, and Yahweh replies, "I am who I am," adding, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I am has sent me to you.'"

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    An awesome tv show called Joan of Arcadia from about 2004-2006, maybe, was on. I was an atheist then, but still watched. One line by 'God' in that show stood out to me and stayed with me till this day. "When you find peace in the contradictions, you will find me." Or something very close to that. There is a deeper truth that is revealed by this statement which has always resonated with me. It isn't for everyone, but you may find value in it. – Adam Heeg May 15 '18 at 17:14

Hesychasm is foundational to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and is one of the things that distinguishes it from Roman Catholicism and the Protestant confessions that arose out of Roman Catholicism.

The watershed event in Orthodoxy regarding hesychasm was the so-called "Hesychastic Controversy", that occurred on Mt. Athos in the early 14th century. Gregory Palamas, a monk originally from Constantinople, helped define the Orthodox tradition as a result of the controversy.

The Orthodoxwiki entry on Gregory Palamas describes the event as follows:

[Gregory] He was initially asked by his fellow monks on Mount Athos to defend them from the charges of Barlaam. Barlaam believed that philosophers had better knowledge of God than did the prophets, and he valued education and learning more than contemplative prayer. He stated the unknowability of God in an extreme form, having been influenced by a reductionist interpretation of the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. As such, he believed the monks on Mount Athos were wasting their time in contemplative prayer when they should instead be studying to gain intellectual knowledge.

When St. Gregory criticized Barlaam's rationalism, Barlaam replied with a vicious attack on the hesychastic life of the Athonite monks. Gregory's rebuttal was the Triads in defense of the Holy Hesychasts (c. 1338), a brilliant work whose teaching was affirmed by his fellow Hagiorites, who met together in a council during 1340-1341, issuing a statement known as the Hagioritic Tome, which supported Gregory's theology.

A synod held in Constantinople in 1341 also supported St. Gregory's views, condemning Barlaam. Later, in 1344, the opponents of hesychasm secured a condemnation for heresy and excommunication for Gregory, the saint's theology was reaffirmed at two further synods held in Constantinople in 1347 and 1351. Collectively, these three synods in Constantinople are held by many Orthodox Christians and several prominent theologians to constitute the Ninth Ecumenical Council. Between the latter two synods, Gregory composed the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, a concise exposition of his theology.

This latter work - One Hundred and Fifty Chapters - can be found in English translation in Volume 4 of the Faber and Faber edition of The Philokalia.

The Orthodoxwiki entry gives some additional background on Gregory's hesychastic theology:

Contrary to Barlaam, Gregory asserted that the prophets in fact had greater knowledge of God, because they had actually seen or heard God himself. Addressing the question of how it is possible for humans to have knowledge of a transcendent and unknowable God, he drew a distinction between knowing God in his essence (in Greek, ουσία) and knowing God in his energies (in Greek, ενέργειαι). He maintained the Orthodox doctrine that it remains impossible to know God in his essence (God in himself), but possible to know God in his energies (to know what God does, and who he is in relation to the creation and to man), as God reveals himself to humanity. In doing so, he made reference to the Cappadocian Fathers [Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus] and other early Christian writers.

Gregory further asserted that when the Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor, that they were in fact seeing the uncreated light of God; and that it is possible for others to be granted to see that same uncreated light of God with the help of repentance, spiritual discipline and contemplative prayer, although not in any automatic or mechanistic fashion.

He continually stressed the Biblical vision of the human person as a united whole, both body and soul. Thus, he argued that the physical side of hesychastic prayer was an integral part of the contemplative monastic way, and that the claim by some of the monks of seeing the uncreated light was indeed legitimate. Like St. Simeon the New Theologian, he also laid great stress in his spiritual teaching on the vision of the divine light.

Gregory Palamas is such an important figure in Eastern Orthodoxy that the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent every year is reserved for his commemoration.

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  • Thanks! I'll assume then that Protestants and Catholics don't have a similar line of contemplation. Loved reading Palamas's Wikipedia article, his life, and his final words: "To the heights! To the heights!" – Kyle May 15 '18 at 17:01
  • I think there is some ambiguity today in how Gregory Palamas is viewed within the Roman Catholic Church. There are many jurisdictions within the Roman Catholic Church that were acquired from the Eastern Orthodox Church and placed under the authority of the Pope - sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. Byzantine Catholics comprise one of these groups. I believe that Gregory Palamas and other post-Schism eastern Fathers still maintain some kind of authority among these Catholics, but I am not completely sure. – guest37 May 15 '18 at 17:33
  • The Indian tradition that the OP is referring to, appear to be the ideology of `Aham Brahmasmi' roughly translated as 'I am the cosmic being" . For deeper research, log on to : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aham_Brahmasmi – Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan May 18 '18 at 16:13

If you are interested in mystical traditions you may want to look further afield:

There are surprising parallels with

"For the first time you [lift your heart to God with stirrings of love], you will find only a darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing [...] Whatever you do, this darkness and the cloud are between you and your God, and hold you back from seeing him clearly by the light of understanding in your reason and from experiencing him in the sweetness of love in your feelings. [...] And so prepare to remain in this darkness as long as you can, always begging for him you love; for if you are ever to feel or see him...it must always be in this cloud and this darkness."

— The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works. Translated by A. C. Spearing

and a work by Ibn Arabi, the Spanish Islamic mystic, The Universal Tree and the Four Birds where he writes:

I heard a voice coming from me – but neither inside me nor outside me – say: “Why do you demand a high station when you are on the road? What have you to do with the sittings on the Throne; What have you to do with the celestial couches and sublime litters? What have you to do with the uppermost horizon? What have you to do with the screens of splendour? What have you to do with the radiant curtain? What have you to do with the Cloud? What have you to do with the impenetrable Veil of Sublimity?

The Cloud here is referred to in a hadith in which, before creation, God is said to have been in a Cloud above and below which there was no air. Given that Ibn Arabi lived in Andalusia (and well before The Cloud of Unknowing had been written) it wouldn't surprise me if there has been some cross-over; the Wikipedia page suggests the inspiration may have been St Augustines Confessions where he mentions he might have 'given more vigilant heed to the voice from the clouds' and 'thy Word which now appears to us in the dark image of the clouds and through the glass of heaven, and not as it really is'.

As further evidence of the above; there is this article, published in Greek Orthodox Theological Review by Seyyed Nasr in 1986 who writes:

There is a striking resemblance between Hesychast and Sufi teachings concerning the nature and meaning of the prayer of the heart itself ... The Hesychast tradition and Sufism share the belief that one should remember God constantly and with every breath, that this remembrance is none other than the invocation of a divine Name revealed as a sacrament, that this prayer is related to the heart understood spiritually and that the practice of the incantory method must be based upon the guidance of a teacher and master and is accompanied by appropriate instruction concerning meditation, the practice of virtue and other elements of the spiritual life

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