Mystical and Buddhist Elements in Kierkegaard's Religious Thought

Author: Mulder Jr., Jack
Mysticism is often characterized by, among other things, the annihilation of the self and union with God. On a standard reading of Kierkegaard’s insistence upon the absolute distinction between Creator and creation would force him to reject anything like mystical union with God.
For Kierkegaard, when we attempt to secure some meaning for our lives that transcends the limits of those lives themselves, we meet with utter failure because of our finitude and, ultimately, sinfulness. Thus, we must “die” to our human longing to secure this meaning on our own, and must receive it from God through grace.


“Every now and then, if one is lucky as a teacher, one encounters a student who is smarter than oneself and who takes one’s interest in the subject further than one had dared to go before. One is stimulated, provoked, and challenged in ways that serve to reinvigorate one’s teaching. Then if one is lucky enough as a teacher to have this same student go on to graduate school, and do scholarly work on a thinker as rich and complex as Søren Kierkegaard, one finds one’s whole thinking about Kierkegaard challenged and expanded in altogether unanticipated ways. I am one of those fortunate teachers. Dr. Mulder was a student of mine in a Modern Philosophy class, and right away he showed an interest in and understanding of the fundamental concerns of philosophy that was, and still is, rare. Since that time, he has continued to pursue his questions about the human self, reality, and God with intensity and insight, as evidenced in this current work ... Part of what makes this work on Kierkegaard distinctive and rewarding is that Dr. Mulder is not “just” explicating the views of Kierkegaard (though given the extent and complexity of Kierkegaard’s writings, this would certainly be task enough). Dr. Mulder, with the aid of Kierkegaard, is also actively seeking deeper understanding of human existence. He pursues his investigation into Kierkegaard with the sense that what Kierkegaard is arguing is not merely interesting, but also might just turn out to be true. And what an exciting possibility that is.” – (from the Preface) Professor James B. Allis, Hope College, Michigan

“In this work, the author assigns himself the difficult task of demonstrating a positive relationship between Kierkegaard’s conception of the faith and eastern traditions to which he usually thought to be absolutely opposed. Dr. Mulder makes significant progress in this direction through a series of innovative arguments, culminating with the thesis that when the human individual becomes ‘nothing’ before God in faith, the new ‘self’ that he receives is not separate from God as a distinct person ... Despite its challenging goal, this work is rigorously argued and tightly written, with careful attention to the primary and secondary texts that will earn respect from the most seasoned Kierkegaard scholar. In all, readers from many different religious backgrounds, as well as philosophers of religion, will find much of great interest in this bridge-building book.” – Professor John Davenport, Fordham University

“Dr. Mulder's work is a timely addition to Kierkegaard scholarship. Until recently, philosophers have tended to ignore mysticism as non-conceptual and therefore beyond philosophy's reach or interest. Further, philosophers long left Asian thought to their colleagues in religion departments. But in recent years, interest in both mysticism and comparative East/West philosophy has increased. Accordingly, this study of largely unexplored dimensions of Kierkegaard's thought comes at an opportune moment, and the community of Kierkegaard scholars should be grateful to Dr. Mulder for initiating and advancing discussion of these dimensions of Kierkegaard's thought ... I come away from reading this work with a new sensitivity to Kierkegaard's relation to the Western mystical tradition and lots of excitement regarding possibilities of comparative philosophy involving Kierkegaard.” – Professor George Connell, Concordia College, Minnesota

Table of Contents

1. Kierkegaardian Mysticism? Reading the Critique of Mysticism and the Monastery
2. Becoming a Self, Becoming Nothing
3. Self-annihilation and Union
4. Nothingness and the Second Ethics
5. Can A Kierkegaardian be a Buddhist Too? A Contribution to Comparative Philosophy of Religion