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Mysticism (from the Greek μυστικός, mystikos, an initiate of a mystery religion)[1] is the pursuit of communion with, identity with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate reality, divinity, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on a practice or practices intended to nurture those experiences or awareness. Mysticism may be dualistic, maintaining a distinction between the self and the divine, or may be nondualistic. Differing religious traditions have described this fundamental mystical experience in different ways:

Enlightenment or Illumination are generic English terms for the phenomenon, derived from the Latin illuminatio (applied to Christian prayer in the 15th century) and adopted in English translations of Buddhist texts, but used loosely to describe the state of mystical attainment regardless of faith.

Mystic traditions form sub-currents within larger religious traditions—such as Kabbalah within Judaism, Sufism within Islam, Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism within Hinduism, Christian mysticism within Christianity—but are often treated skeptically and sometimes held separately, by more orthodox or mainstream groups within the given religion, due to the emphasis of the mystics on direct experience and living realization over doctrine. Mysticism is sometimes taken by skeptics or mainstream adherents as mere obfuscation, though mystics suggest they are offering clarity of a different order or kind. In fact, a basic premise of nearly every mystical path, regardless of religious affiliation, is that the experiences of divine consciousness, enlightenment and union with God that are made possible via mystical paths, are available to everyone who is willing to follow the practice of a given mystical system. Within a given mystical school, or path, it is much more likely for the mystical approach to be seen as a divine science, because of the direct, replicable elevation of consciousness the mystical approach can offer to anyone, regardless of previous spiritual or religious training.

Some mystic traditions can exclude the validity of other traditions. However, mystic traditions tend to be more accepting of other mystic traditions than the non-mystical versions of their traditions. This is based on the premise that the experienced divinity is able to bring other mystics to their own tradition if necessary. Some, but not all, mystics are even open to the idea that their tradition may not be the most practical version of mystic practice.



The term '"mysticism'" is used to refer to beliefs and practices which go beyond the liturgical and devotional forms of worship of mainstream faith, often by seeking out inner or esoteric meanings of conventional religious doctrine, and by engaging in spiritual practices such as breathing practices, prayer, contemplation and meditation, along with chanting and other activities designed to heighten spiritual awareness. For example, Kabbalah (based in Judaism) seeks out deeper interpretations of the Torah and other mystical works, and may conduct spiritual practices based in Meditation, Theurgy, or Alchemy, as well as song, dance, prayer, and talmudic study, accordingly, as is done in many other mystical traditions. Sufism (in Islam) extends and amplifies the teachings of the Quran in the spirit of universal love, most famously through their devotional musicians dancing Zhikrs and singing Qawwalis. Vedanta reaches for the inner teachings of Hindu philosophy encapsulated in the Vedas, and many students of both Shaivite Tantric schools within Hinduism, as well as Shakta Tantrics, along with usually more mainstream-oriented Vaisnaivas, will use the symbolism and mythologies of their gods and goddessess, to take the initiate home to their highest awareness, via mystical practices designed and proven for these purposes. Mystics hold that there is a deeper or more fundamental state of existence beneath the observable, day-to day world of phenomena, and that in fact the ordinary world is superficial or epiphenomenal. Often mysticisms center on the teachings of individuals who are considered to have special insight, and in some cases entire non-mystical (doctrine-based) faiths have arisen around these leaders and their teachings, with few or no mystical practitioners remaining.

Different faiths have differing relationships to mystical thought. Hinduism has many mystical sects, in part due to its historic reliance on gurus (individual teachers of insight) for transmission of its philosophy. Mysticism in Buddhism is largely monastic, since most Buddhists consider jhana (meditation) to be an advanced technique used only after many lifetimes[2]. Mysticism in Abrahamic religions is largely marginalized, from the tolerance mainstream Muslims grant to Sufism to the active fears of cultism prevalent among western Christians, with Chasidic Kabbalists of Judaism being the notable exceptions. Mysticisms generally hold to some form of immanence, since their focus on direct realization obviates many concerns about the afterlife, and this often conflicts with conventional religious doctrines. Mystical teachings are passed down through transmission from teacher to student, though the relationship between student and teacher varies: some groups require strict obedience to a teacher, others carefully guard teachings until students are deemed to be ready, in others a teacher is merely a guide aiding the student in the process.

Mysticism may make use of canonical and non-canonical religious texts, and will generally interpret them hermeneutically, developing a philosophical perspective distinct from conventional religious interpretations. Many forms of mysticism in the modern world will adapt or adopt texts from entirely different faiths - Vivekananda in Vedanta, for instance, is noted for his assertions that all religions are one. As a rule, mysticisms are less concerned with religious differences and more concerned with social or individual development; what mysticism is most concerned with, however, is having the most effective set of practices with which to attain enlightened consciousness/Union w/God. Not much else beyond this matters to a dedicated mystic - he or she focuses on the inner realms; mind-breath, non-thinking awareness, and so on. Mystics are not too concerned with the opinions or the religious tools of their more conservative religious compatriots.

The mystical perspective



Author and mystic, Evelyn Underhill outlines the universal mystic way, the actual process by which the mystic arrives at union with the absolute. She identifies five stages of this process. First is the awakening, the stage in which one begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality. The second stage is one of purgation which is characterized by an awareness of one's own imperfections and finiteness. The response in this stage is one of self-discipline and mortification. The third stage, illumination, is one reached by artists and visionaries as well as being the final stage of some mystics. It is marked by a consciousness of a transcendent order and a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. The great mystics go beyond the stage of illumination to a fourth stage which Underhill, borrowing the language of St. John of the Cross, calls the dark night of the soul. This stage, experienced by the few, is one of final and complete purification and is marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God's presence. It is the period of final "unselfing" and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will. The final and last stage is one of union with the object of love, the one Reality, God. Here the self has been permanently established on a transcendental level and liberated for a new purpose. Filled up with the Divine Will, it immerses itself in the temporal order, the world of appearances in order to incarnate the eternal in time, to become a mediator between humanity and eternity.[3]

Ambiguities of meaning

The mystic interprets the world through a different lens than is present in ordinary experience, which can prove to be a significant obstacle to those who research mystical teachings and paths. Much like poetry, the words of mystics are often idiosyncratic and esoteric, can seem confusing and opaque, simultaneously over-simplified and full of subtle meanings hidden from the unenlightened. To the mystic, however, they are pragmatic statements, without subtext or weight; simple obvious truths of experience. One of the more famous lines from the Tao Te Ching, for instance, reads:

My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practice;
but there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practice them. (Legge, 70)[4]

References to "the world" are common in mystical and religious traditions including admonitions to be separate and the call to detachment which is analogous to emptiness. One key to enigmatic expressions lies in the perspective that "the world" of appearances reflects only learned beliefs - based on the limitations of time, culture and relationships - and that unquestioned faith in those misperceptions limits one's return to the divine state. The cloaking of such insights to the uninitiated is an age-old tradition; the malleableness of reality was thought to pose a significant danger to those harboring impurities.

Readers frequently encounter seemingly open-ended statements among studies of mysticism throughout its history. In his work, Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, a prominent 20th century scholar of that field, stated: The Kabbalah is not a single system with basic principles which can be explained in a simple and straightforward fashion, but consists rather of a multiplicity of different approaches, widely separated from one another and sometimes completely contradictory[5]


aphorisms, poetry, and etc.
semi-artistic efforts to crystallize some particular description or aspect of the mystical experience in words
  • God is Love (Christian and Sufi in particular), Atman is Brahman (Advaitan), Zen haiku, Rumi's love poems (Sufism). Over time many of these have become trite slogans, losing their core meaning as depictions of practical experience, i.e. "God is Love" - describing the power of creation inherent in pure desire/unconflicted singlemindedness of will.
koans, riddles, and metaphysical contradictions
irresolvable tasks or lines of thought designed to direct one away from intellectualism and effort towards direct experience.
  • The classic "What is the sound of one hand?" (Zen) (or the more popular variant, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?") or "How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?" (Christian). Sometimes these are dismissed as mere incomprehensible silliness (see humor, below); sometimes they are taken as serious questions whose answers would have mystical significance. In either case, the intention is lost; the point being that excessive effort in contemplating the impossible leads the initiate to give up the ego pursuit of doing/getting as opposed to the unity experience of being/having.
  • The evocative Taoist phrase - To yield is to be preserved whole, to be bent is to become straight, to be empty is to be full, to have little is to possess - is another example of a metaphysical contradiction describing the path of emptying of the learned self.
humor and humorous stories
teachings which simultaneously draw one away from serious discussion and highlight metaphysical points
  • Primary examples are the Nasrudin tales, many of which focus on the unreliability of perception, e.g. someone shouts at Nasrudin sitting on a river bank, "How do I get across?" "You are across." he replies; [Bektashi jokes] which serve as a means of opposing the pressures put on society by Orthodox Islam, and the Trickster or Animal Spirit stories passed down in Native American, Australian Aboriginal, and African Tribal folklore. Even the familiar "Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby", for example, is fairly acute psychology wrapped in a children's tale. Humor of this sort is often corrupted into mere jokes: some Nasrudin tales have a clear metaphysics built in, while others have devolved into little more than depictions of a crazy, dimwitted old man.
parables and metaphor
stories designed to teach a particular but unconventional metaphysical view of reality indirectly, by using analogy
  • One familiar example - the Garden of Eden story of Adam and Eve being cast out in shame - has lost its metaphorical meaning over time; the psychological/metaphysical consequences of shame when the innocent creative ego (feminine aspect) is tempted to reach for power and subsequently enters the belief in duality (eating of the tree of good and evil) because reason (masculine aspect of mind) has yet to waken. In the story, return to the Garden and Tree of Eternal Aliveness (divine reality) is only possible through purification of mind (the gate is protected by the lone innocent cherubim/Self wielding a flaming sword.) Compare this to the symbols of fire, masculine/feminine unity, time, fearlessness, and ego transcendence found in images of "Shiva the Destroyer" (Hindu) where the transformational process is described by visual metaphors. Christ is well-known for his use of parables, consistently using them to teach compassion and inclusion, while many contain hidden metaphorical content for "those who have ears to hear." In one of the most enigmatic stories from the Gospel of Thomas, he describes the Kingdom of Heaven as like an old woman returning home after a long journey, carrying all she values - a bag full of grain - on her back. A tear allows the grain to escape during the journey and she arrives home to discover it empty. Very Buddhist in tone, each word of the story has significance in describing the return path to the divine through a gradual emptying of earthbound value concepts and subtle internal conflicts. The use of the term, old woman, is a common metaphor related to the mind's incapacity to create, when controlled by embedded defensive ego values.

These categories are, of course, intended only as guidelines; many mystical teachings cover the gamut. For instance, Yunus Emre's famous passage:

I climbed into the plum tree
and ate the grapes I found there.
The owner of the garden called to me,
"Why are you eating my walnuts?"

is humor, parable, poem, and koan all at once as it describes the human potential for timelessness and moving beyond the vagaries of perception and levels.

Relation to philosophy and sciences

Throughout history and even today mysticism has attempted to gain scientific validity by borrowing from all branches of science various laws, theories, jargon, formula, etc. These are then incorporated into the literature (for example) to give the uninformed reader the feeling that what is being discussed is "scientifically sound" and thus valid. Mysticism is generally considered experiential and holistic, and mystical experiences held to be beyond expression; modern philosophy, psychology, biology and physics sometimes being seen as overtly analytical, verbal, and reductionist. However, in some instances throughout history, mystical and philosophical thought were closely entwined. Parmenides, Plato and Pythagoras, and to a lesser extent Socrates, had elements in their teachings that could be interpreted as mystical in nature; many of the great Christian mystics were also prominent philosophers, and certainly, for some, Buddha's Sutras and Shankara's 'Crest Jewel of Discrimination' (fundamental texts in Buddhism and Advaitan Hinduism, respectively) display what seem to be analytical treatments of mystical ideas. Baruch de Spinoza, the 17th c. philosopher, while supporting the new discoveries of science and eschewing traditional Jewish concepts of God and miracles, espoused that Nature/Universe was one holistic reality with the highest virtue - the power inherent in preserving essence (being) or "conatus," and the highest form of knowledge - the intuitive knowing of the Real. Whether or not these shared understandings occur in the field of philosophy is for students of such subjects or interests to interpret. The pursuit of knowledge in the realm of physics was sometimes seen as inseparable from understanding the mind of God - the 20th c. comment by Albert Einstein that "God does not play dice," referring to the unfathomable discoveries of quantum physics, is often cited to lend an aura of scientific validity to discussions of a mystical nature. The rift between mysticism and the modern sciences derives mainly from elements of scientism in the latter: certain branches of the natural sciences, sometimes disavow subjective experience as meaningless, fully understanding the limitations of the ancient languages. That said, several areas of study in biology (work of Mae Wan Ho and Lynn Margulis are two examples) and philosophy address the same issues that concern the mystic, and some modern physicists are now attempting to understand a multiple dimensional reality that, coincidentally, philosophers and mystics' have attempted to describe for millennia. Physicist David Bohm speaking of consciousness expressing itself as matter and/or energy could be completely understood by the mystic or philosopher, whatever his cultural/religious heritage. It should be clear that no scientific backing need be used in that understanding but it is sometimes forced together for validity's sake.

Furthermore, Continental philosophy tends to be concerned with issues closely related to mysticism, such as the subjective experience of existence in Existentialism. It should be noted that while existentialism suggests a nothingness rather than a oneness, the mystic's pursuit of emptiness - despite its fear producing angst - for the sake of union with the Divine, points directly toward a potential unity between physics and psychology that does not at present exist. The mystic's attempt to describe cause and effect between one's internal state and the miraculous, hints at a close connection between psychological stability (ego transcendence) and the mysterious realm of causality quantum physicists are now deciphering - dimensional reality shifts that synchronize with states of consciousness and unconflicted choices.

Ontology, epistemology, phenomenology

While the three philosophical fields - the nature of reality, knowledge and phenomenon - would appear to all relate to aspects of mystical experience, they have not as yet been correlated in a systematic way. Traditional use of the term ontology makes it a synonym of metaphysics. Prior to Immanuel Kant's theoretical separation of "reality" from the "appearance of reality," with human knowledge limited to the latter, the field of ontology/metaphysics concerned itself with the overall structure or nature of reality. Afterwards, many philosophers separated philosophical and mystical approaches in a seemingly permanent way. 'The general focus on experience in mysticism tends to belie ontological questions; mystical ontology is rarely stated in clear affirmative particulars. Often, it consists of generalized, transcendent identity statements—"Atman is Brahman", "God is Love", "There is only One without a Second" — or other phrases suggestive of immanence. Sometimes it is stated in negative terms, from the Hindu tradition for instance, the word Brahman is usually defined as God 'without' characteristics or attributes. Buddhist teachings explicitly discourage ontological beliefs, Taoist philosophy consistently reminds that ontos is knowable but inexpressible, and certain 'psychological' schools—spiritual schools following after Carl Jung, and philosophical schools derived from Husserl—concern themselves more with the transformation of perceptions within consciousness than the connection between transformed consciousness and the external Real.

Mysticism is related to epistemology to the extent that both are concerned with the nature, acquisition and limitations of knowledge. However, where epistemology struggles with foundational issues—how do we know that our knowledge is true or our beliefs justified—mystics often appear more concerned with process as the means to true knowing. However, every mystical path has necessarily as its ontological purpose, the discernment between truth and illusion, and many approaches emphasize the total discarding of beliefs as the prerequisite to knowledge in the phenomenological sense. Foundational questions are generally answered, in mystical thought, by mystical experiences. Their focus, less on finding procedures of reason that will establish clear relations between ontos and episteme, but rather on finding practices that will yield clear perception. The goals therefore are the same, but the mystic's awareness of evolving levels of consciousness encompass another realm altogether. At least one branch of epistemology claims that non-rational procedures (e.g. statements of desire, random selection, or intuitive processes) are in some cases acceptable means of arriving at beliefs, while the mystic's goal is discarding said beliefs as a limit to knowledge.[citation needed] The term "mysticism" is also used in a pejorative sense in branches of epistemology to refer to material beliefs that cannot be justified empirically, and thus considered irrational.[6] According to Schopenhauer,[7] mystics arrive at a condition in which there is no knowing subject and known object:

... we see all religions at their highest point end in mysticism and mysteries, that is to say, in darkness and veiled obscurity. These really indicate merely a blank spot for knowledge, the point where all knowledge necessarily ceases. Hence for thought this can be expressed only by negations, but for sense-perception it is indicated by symbolical signs, in temples by dim light and silence, in Brahmanism even by the required suspension of all thought and perception for the purpose of entering into the deepest communion with one's own self, by mentally uttering the mysterious Om. In the widest sense, mysticism is every guidance to the immediate awareness of that which is not reached by either perception or conception, or generally by any knowledge. The mystic is opposed to the philosopher by the fact that he begins from within, whereas the philosopher begins from without. The mystic starts from his inner, positive, individual experience, in which he finds himself as the eternal and only being, and so on. But nothing of this is communicable except the assertions that we have to accept on his word; consequently he is unable to convince.

Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. II, Ch. XLVIII<

The emphasis that is placed on subjective direct experience of the "divine and otherworldly transcendent goal of unity", makes it highly controversial to individuals who place a greater emphasis on empirical verification of knowledge and truth (such as scientists for example). In this sense, one again returns to a more philosophical context within the fields of Epistemology and the philosophy of perception, exploring the notions of truth, belief, knowledge and verification.

Phenomenology is perhaps the closest philosophical perspective to mystical thinking, and shares many of the difficulties in comprehension that plague mysticism itself. Husserl's phenomenology, for instance, insists on the same first-person, experiential stance that mystics try to achieve: his notion of phenomenological epoché, or bracketing, precludes assumptions or questions about the extra-mental existence of perceived phenomena.[8] Heidegger goes a step beyond: rather than merely bracketing phenomena to exclude ontological questions, he asserts that only 'beingness' has ontological reality (similar to Baruch de Spinoza's suppositions) and thus only investigation and experiencing of the self can lead to authentic existence. Christian mystics would assert that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within" references the same approach. Phenomenology and most forms of mysticism part ways, however, in their understanding of the experience. Phenomenology (and in particular existentialist phenomenology) is pre-conditioned by angst (existential dread) which arises from the discovery of the essential emptiness of 'the real' and can go no further; mystics, by contrast take the step beyond to "being" and describe the peace or bliss that derives from their final active connection to 'the Real'. Those who adopt a phenomenological approach to mysticism believe that an argument can be made for concurrent lines of thought throughout mysticism, regardless of interaction.[9]

Other perspectives

The integral theorist Ken Wilber who has also studied mysticism and mystical philosophies in some depth comments that:

"There is nothing spooky or occult about this. We have already seen identity shift from matter to body to mind, each of which involved a decentering or dis-identifying with the lesser dimension... consciousness is simply continuing this process and dis-identifying with the mind itself, which is precisely why it can witness the mind, see the mind, experience the mind. The mind is no longer a subject, it is starting to become an object [in the perception of] the observing self. And so the mystical, contemplative and yogic traditions pick up where the mind leaves off... with the observing self as it begins to transcend the mind."
"The contemplative traditions are based upon a series of experiments in awareness: what if you pursue this Witness to its source? What if you inquire within, pushing deeper and deeper into the source of awareness itself? What do you find? As a repeatable, reproducible experiment in awareness? One of the most famous answers to that question begins: There is a subtle essence that pervades all reality. It is the reality of all that is, and the foundation of all that is. That essence is all. That essence is the real. And thou, thou art that. In other words, the observing self eventually discloses its own source, which is Spirit itself, Emptiness itself... and the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following this observing self to its ultimate abode."
Q: "How do you know these phenomena actually exist?
A: "As the observing self begins to transcend... deeper or higher dimensions of consciousness come into focus. All of the items on that list are objects that can be directly perceived in that worldspace. Those items are as real in [that] worldspace as rocks are in the sensorimotor worldspace and concepts are in the mental worldspace. If cognition awakens or develops to this level, you simply perceive these new objects as simply as you would perceive rocks in the sensory world or images in the mental world. They are simply given to awareness, they simply present themselves, and you don't have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out if they're real or not."
"Of course, if you haven't awakened to [this] cognition, then you will see none of this, just as a rock cannot see mental images. And you will probably have unpleasant things to say about people who do see them".[10]

According to author Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg" and "Evolution's End," we have transcendence itself as our biological imperative:

"...Spiritual transcendence and religion have little in common. In fact, if we look closely, we can see that these two have been the fundamental antagonists in our history, splitting our mind into warring camps. Neither our violence nor our transcendence is a moral or ethical matter of religion, but rather an issue of biology. We actually contain a built-in ability to rise above restriction, incapacity, or limitation and, as a result of this ability, possess a vital adaptive spirit that we have not yet fully accessed."

"Historically our transcendence has been sidetracked... by our projection of these transcendent potentials rather than our development of them. We project when we intuitively recognize a possibility or tendency within ourselves but perceive this as a manifestation or capacity of some person, force, or being outside of ourselves. We seem invariably to project onto each other our negative tendencies..., while we project our transcendent potentials onto principalities and powers "out there" on cloud nine or onto equally nebulous scientific laws... we wander in a self-made hall of mirrors, overwhelmed by inaccessible reflections of our own mind."

"Culture has been defined by anthropologists as a collection of learned survival strategies passed on to our young through teaching and the collected embodiment of our survival ideation, is the mental environment to which we must adapt, the state of mind with which we identify. The nature or character of a culture is colored by the myths and religions that arise within it, and abandoning one myth or religion to embrace another has no effect on culture because it both produces and is produced by these elements...That we are shaped by the culture we create makes it difficult to see that our culture is what must be transcended, which means we must rise above our notions and techniques of survival itself, if we are to survive. Thus the paradox that only as we lose our life do we find it."

"A new breed of biologists and neuroscientists have revealed why we behave in so paradoxical a manner that we continually say one thing, feel something else, and act from an impulse different from either of these...A major clue to our conflict is the discovery ...that we have five different neural structures, or brains, within us. These five...represent the whole evolution of life preceding us; reptilian, old mammalian, and human (other two?). Nature never abandons a good idea but instead builds new structures upon it...Thus, while we refer to transcendence in rather mystical, ethereal terms, to the intelligence of life, transcendence may be simply the next intelligent move to make."

"...Neurocardiology, a new field of medical research, has discovered in our heart a major brain center that functions in dynamic with the fourfold brain in our head. Outside our conscious awareness, this heart-head dynamic reflects, determines, and affects the very nature of our resulting awareness even as it is, in turn, profoundly affected."[11]

Goals sought and reasons for seeking

Theistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic metaphysical systems most often understand mystical experience as individual communion with God. One can receive these very subjective experiences as visions, miracles, dreams, revelations, or prophecies, for example.

Going beyond "natural theology" (theologia naturalis) to direct experience of God is "mystical theology" (theologia mystica) or, as Thomas Aquinas defined it, "experiential knowledge of God" (cognitio dei experimentalis). In Catholicism the mystical experience is not sought for its own sake, and is always informed by revelation and ascetical theology. The effort being analogous to reentering a divine "field" which we misperceive we have been excluded - by sin/shame/remorse. Repentance (awareness of lower-self attachments) and ascetics (giving up the thoughts/behaviors) is the requirement for reestablishing divine communion/unity/grace.

Enlightenment is becoming aware of the nature of the self through observation. By examination of the interior thought system and emotions with detachment, one becomes aware of its processes without being controlled by them, allowing one greater creative capacity and ease of interaction with others and the environment.

Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War[12]

Terms descriptive of a desired afterlife include Moksha (liberation or release), Heaven (traditionally understood as a gathering place for goodly spirits, near to God and other holy beings), and Nirvana (literally extinguishing of the mental fetters or unbinding of the mind), but in mystical parlance these reference an experience of reality "different from the present here and now." The goal is generally established through an "accidental" revelatory or miraculous experience such as a dimensional shift between one structure of reality to another. Once this "potentiality" has been experienced/received/observed, understanding how and why it has occurred becomes the goal of the individual and permanently stabilizing this "direct experience of God" is obsessively pursued. Because terms descriptive of the divine "goal" are defined differently - even by individuals within a given religion - and their usage within mysticism is often no less imprecise, it is extremely difficult for anyone, who has not experienced the simultaneity of the "shift in awareness/reality" to translate mystical language in a useful way.

Types of experience

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes three common classifications of mystical and religious experiences:

  • Extrovertive – mystical consciousness of the unity of nature overlaid onto one's sense perception of the world.
  • Introvertive – any experience that includes sense-perceptual, somatosensory, or introspective content. An experience of "nothingness" or "emptiness", in some mystical traditions, are examples of introvertive experiences.
  • Theistic – experiences of God.

Externos o divinidad interna

De la luz interior de la cuáqueros a la Atman de la hindúes, muchos han encontrado un alma o la esencia fundamental de otros dentro de sí mismos para ser un centro de atención. Incluso los budistas que busca Budeidad por anatta pone un gran énfasis en su mundo interior.

A diferencia de algunos (en particular algunos gnóstico s y dualistas), véase el yo aprendí (a diferencia de la esencia) como malo y merecedor de castigo o negligencia extrema, mediante el ascetismo, con valores positivos colocado sólo en la trascendente verdadero yo. ((cita requerida | fecha = July 2008))

Mysticism and the soul

Abrahamic religions conceive of a soul that lies within each individual, which is of great spiritual significance. However, Judaism, placing more focus on this world than others, has resulted in multiple views ... that man is a partner in God, all the way to the mystical esoteric knowledge of numerology and the Kabbalah.

Christian mysticism has diverse takes on the relationship between God and the soul with purification and reunion the goal and the soul synonymous with the Christ Self or one's true God-given nature. In Catholicism, saints and other beatific individuals are sometimes said to have received the Holy Spirit — who grants them miraculous, prophetic, or other transcendent abilities — and this belief is taken up in certain charismatic and evangelical faiths that seek out testaments to divine revelation through spontaneous speaking in tongues, faith healing, the casting out of demons, etc. However, the practice is generally unrelated to a disciplined mystical approach.

In the Quaker view, the soul is inner light, an inherent presence of God within the individual. Other Christian traditions, such as Catholicism, hold a more distinct division between the individual soul and God, given the traditional belief that the salvation of the soul and union with God will occur only at the resurrection after physical death, but these faiths generally hold that righteousness is possible and necessary during life. Eastern Orthodoxy holds that union with God happens in this life during baptism and continues via the process of theosis. Christian mystics, such as Jacob Boehme, seek this unity state of the soul while in the body, variously, through intense prayer, ascetism (purification), contemplation and meditation, to achieve resurrection of the Christ Self/nature in this life.

The Jainist view of soul is perceivable non-matter which has the ability to connect to infinite knowledge but cannot receive that knowledge without removal of the blanket of karma, but as self knowledge is gained, the hold of karma is loosened, everything can be seen clearly and nirvana(salvation) is achieved. The pure soul — divine unity — is accomplished when all the power of karma is destroyed.

Islam shares this conception of a distinct soul, but with less focus on miraculous powers; the Muslim world emphasizes remembrance (dhikr, zikr): the recalling of one's original and innate connection to Allah's grace. In traditional Islam this connection is maintained by angels, who carry out God's will — returning the soul to one's authentic origin — though only prophets have the ability to see and hear them directly. In Islam the mystical path is incorporated within Sufi and the Self/Soul is embattled (jihad) with the infidel/ego. Sufism holds that God can be experienced directly as a universal love that pervades the universe. Remembrance, for Sufis, explicitly means remembrance of the soul's love/purpose or returning to one's original divine state, and Sufis are particularly noted for the artistic turn their forms of worship often take.

Eastern philosophies, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are concerned with the individual soul's dissolution of ego (moksha) into transcendent reality (generally Brahmanor Ishvara). In the mystical aspects of the Vedic tradition Atman (something not entirely different from the western conception of the soul) is believed to be identical with Brahman. Hindu mystical practices aim for God-consciousness and loss of lower self.

Buddhist teaching holds that all suffering (dukkha) in the world comes from craving, aversion and ignorance ('raga', 'dosa', 'moha'), and that freedom from suffering comes from the extinction ('nirodha') of these poisons which are the source of mental defilements ('klesha'), through the development of insight and equanimity. The doctrine of 'anatta' suggests that the perception of an unchanging and cohesive self (the 'me'), is itself a mere mental construct ('vijnana') to which one may be attached, and is thus also a major source of suffering. While Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist schools invoke various deities and venerated beings, the mystical sects of Buddhism are generally not concerned with, and even overtly deny, the existence of a permanent or unchanging self, or of a permanent or unchanging deity. There is no term equivalent to the Christian idea of 'soul' in the Buddhist lexicon however belief in rebirth is assumed throughout the Buddhist world.

Taoism is largely unconcerned with the soul. Instead, Taoism centers around the tao ('the way' or 'the path'). The human tendency, according to Taoism, is to conceive of dualisms; the Taoist mystical practice is to recapture and conform with that original unity (called te, de, which is translated as virtue).

Regardless of particular conceptions of the soul, a common thread of mysticism is the experience of a collective peace, joy, compassion or love.

Differences of terms and interpretation

Pantheism, acosmism, dualism, non-dualism, syncretism

Pantheism means "God is The All" and "All is God". It is the idea that natural law, existence, and/or the universe (the sum total of all that is, was, and shall be) is represented or personified in the theological principle of 'God'.

In contrast Acosmism denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory (maya), with only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real.

There are also dualist conceptions, often with an evil (though existent) material world of the ego competing with a transcendent and perfect spiritual plane aligned with the true self/essence. Gnosticism is a term for various mystical initiatory religions, sects and knowledge schools which were most active in the first few centuries of the Christian/Common Era around the Mediterranean and extending into central Asia. These systems typically recommend the pursuit of special knowledge (gnosis) as the central goal of life. They also commonly depict creation as a dualistic struggle between competing forces of light and dark, and posit a marked division between the material realm, which is typically depicted as under the governance of malign forces, and the higher spiritual realm from which it is divided. As a result of these traits, dualism, anticosmism and body-hatred are sometimes present within Gnosticism. There is, however, variety, subtlety, and complexity in the traditions involved.

Mysticism is often found in common with nondual worldviews and many mystics, from whichever religion or tradition they originally came, also describe in many ways a non-dual view of existence. Ramesh Balsekar comments on nonduality and mysticism, that it is in order for phenomena to occur, that the illusion of personal existence and doer-ship (ego) is present, and explains mysticism and nonduality in fairly accessible (conventional) terms:

"Consciousness-at-rest is not aware of Itself only the force around it. It becomes aware of Itself only when this sudden feeling, I-am, arises, the impersonal sense of being aware. And that is when Consciousness-at-rest becomes Consciousness-in-movement, Potential energy becomes actual energy. They are not two. Nothing separate comes out of Potential energy becoming the one true being... That moment that science calls the Big Bang, the mystic calls the sudden arising of awareness..."[13]

Related to syncretism, mystics of different traditions report similar experiences of a world/reality outside conventional perception, although this does not infer an abandonment of knowledge understood through normal means. Mystics describe the same unity experience across history, culture and religion - despite the extreme individuality of the experience. If the attempt of religion, philosophy and science to describe reality is comparative to the fable of five blind men attempting to define an elephant by describing its parts, the mystic of every religion and culture sees the elephant despite the individuality of approach and differences in culture and language. Elements of mysticism exist at the core of all religions and in many philosophies, including those where the majority of the followers have no awareness of this. Some mystics perceive a common thread of divine influence in all religions and philosophies. The Vedic tradition is inherently mystic; the Christian apocalyptic Book of Revelation is clearly mystical, as with Ezekiel's or Daniel's visions of Judaism, and Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the Qur'an in a miraculous manner. Indigenous cultures also have cryptic revelations pointing toward a universal flow of love or unity, usually following a vision quest or similar ritual. Mystical philosophies thus can exhibit a strong tendency towards syncretism.

Mysticism and traditional religions

Conventional religions by definition, are marked by strong institutional structures, including formal hierarchies and mandated sacred texts and/or creeds. Adherents of the faith are expected to respect or follow each of these closely.

Most mystical paths arise in the context of some particular religion but tend to set aside or move beyond these institutional structures, often believing themselves to be following the 'purest' or 'deepest' representations of that faith. Thus, to the extent that a mystical path has a hierarchy, it is generally limited to teacher/student relationships; to the extent that they use a central text or ethical code, they view them as interpretable guidelines rather than established law.

Conventional religious perspectives towards mystics varies between and within faiths. Sometimes (as with the Catholic church and Vedantic Hinduism), mystics are incorporated into the church hierarchy, with criteria set up for validation of mystical experiences and veneration of those who achieve that status. In other cases, mystical paths follow a separate but parallel course. Traditionally, Buddhist monks were closely interwoven into the fabric of village life through most of Asia, but had no authoritative position in the community; almost all the traditional Islamic 'orthodox' scholars, however, were Sufis, including Al-Shafi'i, Imam Nawawi, and Al-Ghazali.

Some systems of mysticism are found within specific religious traditions and do not relinquish doctrinal principles as a part of mystical experience. In some definite cases, theology remains a distinct source of insight that guides and informs the mystical experience. Some faiths—including most Protestant Christian sects—find mystical practices disreputable; so called mystic "practices" and beliefs generally restricted to specific sects, such as the Religious Society of Friends or certain Charismatic groups, which have implicitly incorporated them.

The mystic's disregard of religious institutional structures often lends a quasi-revolutionary aspect to mystical teaching, and this occasionally leads to conflict with established religious and political structures, or the creation of splinter groups or new faiths. The relation of mysticism to ethics and morality is more complex than is usually assumed. Mystical experiences do not guarantee that mystics will be compassionate or moral, nor on the other hand is a mystical state incompatible with being morally concerned with others. Rather, a given mystic's ethics will depend on the factual beliefs and values espoused in that mystic's religious tradition..[14]

New religious movements, perennial philosophy and entheogens

The late 19th century saw a significant increase of interest in mysticism in the West that combined with increased interest in Occultism and Eastern Philosophy. Theosophy became a major movement in the popularization of these interests. Madame Blavatsky functioned as a central figure of the theosophy movement. This trend later became absorbed in the rise of the New Age movement which included a major surge in the popularity of psychological self-awareness groups such as EST and many others. At the end of the twentieth century books like A Course in Miracles (purported to be a channeled course of study dictated by Jesus) and Conversations with God (in which the author describes his direct communication with God) became popularized.

The term perennial philosophy, coined by Leibniz and popularized by Aldous Huxley, relates to what some take to be the mystic's primary concern:

[W]ith the one, divine reality substantial to the manifold world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one reality is such that it cannot be directly or immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfill certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit.[15]

Some mystics use the term to refer to a manner wherein the mystic strives to plumb the depths of the self and reality in a radical process of meditative self-exploration, with the aim of experiencing the true nature of reality.

In some cultures and traditions, mind-altering substances—often referred to as entheogens—have been used as a guide; the Uniao do Vegetal being a notable modern example.

It is important to note that many of the self-styled mystical belief systems arising in recent decades essentially differ from mysticism proper in that they rely on the individual seeker's power and will, whereas in the mystic traditions, the states cannot be initiated by the seeker himself, but only by the Ultimate Being.[citation needed] Hence the term mystikos.

In Rosicrucianism, Masonry and Golden Dawn

"The Temple of the Rose Cross," Teophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, 1618.

The Rosicrucian Order is a legendary and secretive Order publicly documented in the early 17th century. It is associated with the symbol of the Rose Cross, which is also found in certain rituals beyond "Craft" or "Blue Lodge" Freemasonry. The Rosicrucian Order is viewed among earlier and many modern Rosicrucianists as an inner worlds Order, composed of great "Adepts." When compared to human beings, the consciousness of these Adepts is said to be like that of demi-gods. This "College of Invisibles" is regarded as the source permanently behind the development of the Rosicrucian movement.

Freemasonry is a worldwide fraternal organization. Members are said to be joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature and, in most of its branches, by a constitutional declaration of belief in a Supreme Being. Freemasonry is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects of its internal work are not disclosed to the public,[16] but they claim that it is not an occult system. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry deal with elements of ritual and the modes of recognition amongst members within the ritual.[17][18]

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or Golden Dawn, as it is commonly referred to) is a tradition of magical theurgy and spiritual development, probably the single greatest influence on twentieth century western occultism and many other traditions, including Wicca, Thelema and other forms of magical spirituality popular today. By the mid 1890s, the Golden Dawn was well established in Great Britain, with membership rising to over a hundred from every class of Victorian society. In its heyday, many cultural celebrities belonged to the Golden Dawn, such as actress Florence Farr, Arthur Machen, William Butler Yeats, Evelyn Underhill and Aleister Crowley. Many men and women of the 19th century Fin de siècle social culture were members of the Golden Dawn.

Mysticism in Buddhism

Buddhism includes a vast array of scriptures, beliefs, traditions and practices. Many of these are not overtly mystical. Yet within Mahayana and Tantric Buddhism, there are doctrines which have a strong flavour of mysticism to them. Pre-eminent amongst these are the teachings of Dzogchen and of the Tathagatagarbha. Both of these doctrines indicate the presence of a hidden, deathless core reality within each being – variously called the Buddha Nature, Buddha Matrix, Awakened Mind, Mind Essence, Dzogchen or Mahamudra - which needs to be recognized and ‘entered into’. This Essence of Mind is empty of tangible substance and is resistant to the intellect’s efforts to conceptualise or ‘model’ it, but it is supremely Aware and filled with benevolence and compassion. Writing on this theme, Lama Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche explains the Buddha’s teaching on the ultimate nature of the Awakened Mind (‘bodhicitta’), stating:

‘What is ultimate bodhicitta? It is truly free from all mental constructs, like space; it cannot be indicated by any analogy whatsoever. It falls into no extreme or category; it is beyond mental constructs. It is the unity of emptiness and compassion; it is empty like space. Yet it is loving and compassionate, open and clear. That is ultimate bodhicitta …According to Mahamudra, the essence is nonarising, its expression is unceasing, and its manifestation is the unity of these two. According to Dzogchen, the essence is empty, the nature is cognizant or luminous and the compassion is the unity of these two.’[19]

In the same work by Chokyi Nyima, one reads that the essence of the mind is not a concrete thing, yet is not to be viewed as non-existent; nor is it a multitude of things or just one thing. It is an essence which might be termed the ‘I’ or the Ground of all that is:

‘It is not found to be a concrete thing … Yet it is not nonexistent, since your mind is vividly awake. It is not a singularity, because it manifests in manifold ways. Nor is it a plurality, because all these are of one essence. There is no one who can describe its nature … It may be given many kinds of names such as “mind essence”, “I”, or the “all-ground”. It is the very basis of all of samsara and nirvana.’[20]

This spiritual essence is not something that has to be developed or created: it is primordially present within each being. It constitutes the inner ‘bodies’ or aspects of the Buddha found in every person. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche writes:

‘Since primordial time, these have been one’s natural possession, intrinsic and inherent to one’s being. We learn that these kayas are not something which one achieves or which occurs through the compassion of the buddhas … It cannot be produced through applying the key points of Dharma [religious] practice. One has possessed them since the very beginning. The kayas are absolutely inherent to oneself, to one’s own nature. The kayas exist spontaneously within oneself. Their presence is not a product of blessings or something slowly produced through practice. One cannot create or manufacture one’s enlightened essence through one’s own intelligence or through study of the teachings. One possesses them primordially. The sutras and tantras all agree on this point.’[21]

In the Tathagatagarbha tradition of Buddhism, this enlightened essence is called the Buddha Nature or (in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra) the Self (see atman (Buddhism). It is the essential, indestructible nature of all beings, but is covered over by moral and mental contamination. Once that is removed, the inner ‘treasure’ of one’s true nature stands revealed in its full radiance and one becomes ‘Buddha’. In the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha teaches:

‘”Self” means the matrix-of-one-gone-thus [i.e. Buddha Nature]. The basic constituent of a one-gone-thus [i.e. Buddha] indeed exists in all sentient beings, but it also is obstructed by types of afflictive emotions. While existing in them, sentient beings cannot see it … The Buddha-nature of sentient beings is, for example, like a treasure of jewels under a poor woman’s house, like a diamond on a powerful being’s forehead, and like a universal emperor’s spring of ambrosic water.’[22]

Elucidating this notion of the Buddha Nature or Buddha Matrix, Professor Jeffrey Hopkins comments:

‘The basis [of the spiritual life] is the ground on which the spiritual path acts to rid it of peripheral obstructions, thereby yielding the fruit of practice. The basis is the matrix-of-one-gone-thus [Buddha Nature], which itself is the thoroughly established nature, the uncontaminated primordial wisdom empty of all compounded phenomena – permanent, stable, eternal, everlasting. Not compounded by causes and conditions, the matrix-of-one-gone-thus [Buddha Nature] … is not something that did not exist before and is newly produced; it is self-arisen.’[23]

This unbegotten and immortal essence within each being is called the Dharma-kaya – Body of Truth – or Buddha Within (as Dr. Shenpen Hookham has termed it[24] Its nature is described in the Samadhiraja Sutra, where the Buddha states:

‘the Body of the Tathagata [i.e. Buddha] should be defined as … having its essence identical with Space, invisible, surpassing the range of vision – thus is the Absolute Body to be conceived. Inconceivable, surpassing the sphere of thought, not oscillating between bliss and suffering, surpassing the illusory differentiation, placeless, surpassing the voice of those aspiring to the Knowledge of Buddhi, essential, surpassing passions, indivisible, surpassing hatred, steadfast, surpassing infatuation, explained by the indications of emptiness, unborn, surpassing birth, eternal from the standpoint of common experience, undifferentiated in the aspect of Nirvana, described in words as ineffable, quiescent in voice, homogenous with regard to conventional Truth, conventional with regard to the Absolute Truth – Absolute according to the true teaching.’[25]

Mystical traditions

An all-seeing Eye of Providence that appears on the tower of Aachen Cathedral.

Examples of major traditions and philosophies with strong elements of mysticism are:

See also

References and footnotes

  1. ^ The Eleusinian Mysteries, Greek: Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια) were initiation ceremonies held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece. Of all the mysteries celebrated in ancient times, these were as held to be the ones of greatest importance. These myths and mysteries, begun in the Mycenean period (c. 1600 BC) [1][2] and lasting two thousand years, were a major festival during the Hellenic era, later spreading to Rome.[3] The name of the town, Eleusís, is a variant of the noun έλευσις, éleusis, arrival. The present meaning of the term mysticism arose, rather, via Platonism and Neoplatonism, which made reference to the Eleusinian initiation as a metaphor for the "initiation" to spiritual truths).
  2. ^ Alexander Wynne, The origin of Buddhist meditation. Routledge, 2007
  3. ^ Greene, Dana, Adhering to God: The Message of Evelyn Underhill for Our Times, Spirituality Today, Spring 1987, Vol. 39, pp. 22-38
  4. ^ Legge, James; Lao-tzu (1891). Tao Te Ching (Sacred Books of the East, Vol 39). 
  5. ^ Scholem, Gershom (1974). Kabbalah. Meridian. ISBN 0-452-01007-1. 
  6. ^ Bothamley, Jennifer (1993). Dictionary of Theories. Gale Research. ISBN 1-873477-05-8. 
  7. ^ Schopenhauer, Arthur (1844). Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. 2. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. pp. 197–208. 
  11. ^ Pearce, Joseph Chilton. The Biology of Transcendence;A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. pp. 2–5. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Balsekar, Who Cares? You Don't!, p. 15-16
  14. ^ Jones, Richard (2004). Mysticism and Morality. Lexington Books. 
  15. ^ Huxley, Aldous (1945). The Perennial Philosophy. Perennial. ISBN 0-06-057058-X. 
  16. ^ "Aims and Relationships of the Craft". 
  17. ^ Emulation Ritual. London: Lewis Masonic. 1991. ISBN 0-85318-187-X. 
  18. ^ Griffin, Mark (2002). "Freemasonry: Your Questions Answered". Retrieved 2006-11-23. 
  19. ^ Chokyii Nyima Rinpoche, The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, Hong Kong, 1989, pp. 188-189
  20. ^ Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, op. cit., p. 122-125
  21. ^ Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, op. cit., 114
  22. ^ Professor Jeffrey Hopkins, Mountain Doctrine: Tibet’s Fundamental Treatise on Other-Emptiness and the Buddha Matrix, Snow Lion Publications, New York, 2006, pp. 53-54
  23. ^ Professor Hopkins, op. cit., p. 8
  24. ^ Dr. Shenpen Hookham, The Buddha Within, State University of New York Press, New York, 1991
  25. ^ Dr. Konstanty Regamey, Philosophy in the Samadhirajasutra, Motilal Banarsidass, 1990, pp. 86-88

Further reading

  • Daniels, P., Horan A., (1987) "Mystic Places". Alexandria, Time-Life Books, ISBN 0-809-46312-1.
  • Fanning, Steven., Mystics of the Christian Tradition. New York: Routledge Press, 2001.
  • Louth, Andrew., The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-19-929140-3.
  • McGinn, Bernard., The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism'.' Vol. 1 - 4. (The Foundations of Mysticism; The Growth of Mysticism; The Flowering of Mysticism) New York: Crossroad, 1997-2005.
  • "Buried Memories on the Acropolis. Freud's Relation to Mysticism and Anti-Semitism", International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, Volume 59 (1978): 199-208. (Jeffrey Masson and Terri C. Masson)
  • Chronicle Books., (1994) Mysticism, the Experience of the Devine: Medieval Wisdom. Labyrinth Publishing (UK) Ltd. ISBN 0-8118-0484-4

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MYSTICISM (from Gr. µuecv, to shut the eyes; µiuQTns, one initiated into the mysteries), a phase of thought, or rather perhaps of feeling, which from its very nature is hardly susceptible of exact definition. It appears in connexion with the endeavour of the human mind to grasp the divine essence or the ultimate reality of things, and to enjoy the blessedness of actual communion with the Highest. The first is the philosophic side of mysticism; the second, its religious side. The first effort is theoretical or speculative; the second, practical. The thought that is most intensely present with the mystic is that ' Farnell, Cults, iii. 299-302.

2 See Archiv fur Religionswiss. (1906), article by Salomon Reinach.

of a supreme, all-pervading, and indwelling power, in whom all things are one. Hence the speculative utterances of mysticism are always more or less pantheistic in character. On the practical side, mysticism maintains the possibility of direct intercourse with this Being of beings - intercourse, not through any external media such as an historical revelation, oracles, answers to prayer, and the like, but by a species of ecstatic transfusion or identification, in which the individual becomes in very truth " partaker of the divine nature." God ceases to be an object to him and becomes an experience. In the writings of the mystics, ingenuity exhausts itself in the invention of phrases to express the closeness of this union. Mysticism differs, therefore, from ordinary pantheism in that its inmost motive is religious; but, whereas religion is ordinarily occupied with a practical problem and develops its theory in an ethical reference, mysticism displays a predominatingly speculative bent, starting from the divine nature rather than from man and his surroundings, taking the symbolism of religious feeling as literally or metaphysically true, and straining after the present realization of an ineffable union. The union which sound religious teaching represents as realized in the submission of the will and the ethical harmony of the whole life is then reduced to a, passive experience, to something which comes and goes in time, and which may be of only momentary duration. Mysticism, it will be seen, is not a name applicable to any particular system. It may be the outgrowth of many differing modes of thought and feeling. Most frequently it appears historically, in relation to some definite system of belief, as a reaction of the spirit against the letter. When a religion begins to ossify into a system of formulas and observances, those who protest in the name of heart-religion are not unfrequently known by the name of mystics. At times they merely bring into prominence again the ever-fresh fact of personal religious experience; at other times mysticism develops itself as a powerful solvent of definite dogmas.

A review of the historical appearances of mysticism will serve to show how far the above characteristics are to be found, separately or in combination, in its different phases.

In the East, mysticism is not so much a specific phenomenon as a natural deduction from the dominant philosophic systems, and the normal expression of religious feeling in the lands in which it appears. Brahmanic pantheism and Buddhistic nihilism alike teach the unreality of the seeming world, and preach mystical absorption as the highest goal; in both, the sense of the worth of human personality is lost. India consequently has always been the fertile mother of practical mystics and devotees. The climate itself encourages to passivity, and the very luxuriance of vegetable and animal life tends to blunt the feeling of the value of life. Silent contemplation and the total deadening of consciousness by perseverance for years in unnatural attitudes are among the commonest forms assumed by this mystical asceticism. But the most revolting methods of self-torture and self-destruction are also practised as a means of rising in sanctity. The sense of sin can hardly be said to enter into these exercises - that is, they are not undertaken as penance for personal transgression. They are a despite done to the principle of individual or separate existence.

The so-called mysticism of the Persian Sufis is less intense and practical, more airy and literary in character. Sufism (q.v.) appears in the 9th century among the Mahommedans of Persia as a kind of reaction against the rigid monotheism and formalism of Islam. It is doubtless to be regarded as a revival of ancient habits of thought and feeling among a people who had adopted the Koran, not by affinity, but by compulsion. Persian literature after that date, and especially Persian poetry, is full of an ardent natural pantheism, in which a mystic apprehension of the unity and divinity of all things heightens the delight in natural and in human beauty. Such is the poetry of Hafiz and Saadi, whose verses are chiefly devoted to the praises of wine and women. Even the most licentious of these have been fitted by Mahommedan theologians with a mystical interpretation.

The delights of love are made to stand for the raptures of union with the divine, the tavern symbolizes an oratory, and intoxication is the bewilderment of sense before the surpassing vision. Very often, if not most frequently, it cannot be doubted that the occult religious significance depends on an artificial exegesis; but there are also poems of Hafiz, Saadi, and other writers, religious in their first intentions. These are unequivocally pantheistic in tone, and the desire of the soul to escape and rest with God is expressed with all the fervour of Eastern poetry. This speculative mood, in which nature and beauty and earthly satisfaction appear as a vain show, is the counterpart of the former mood of sensuous enjoyment.

For opposite reasons, neither the Greek nor the Jewish mind lent itself readily to mysticism: the Greek, because of its clear and sunny naturalism; the Jewish, because of its rigid monotheism and its turn towards worldly realism and statutory observance. It is only with the exhaustion of Greek and Jewish civilization that mysticism becomes a prominent factor in Western thought. It appears, therefore, contemporaneously with Christianity, and is a sign of the world-weariness and deep religious need that mark the decay of the old world. Whereas Plato's main problem had been the organization of the perfect state, and Aristotle's intellect had ranged with fresh interest over all departments of the knowable, political speculation had become a mockery with the extinction of free political life, and knowledge as such had lost its freshness for the Greeks of the Roman Empire. Knowledge is nothing to these men if it does not show them the infinite reality which is able to fill the aching void within. Accordingly, the last age of Greek philosophy is theosophical in character, and its ultimate end is a practical satisfaction. Neoplatonism seeks this in the ecstatic intuition of the ineffable One. The systematic theosophy of Plotinus and his successors does not belong to the present article, except so far as it is the presupposition of their mysticism; but, inasmuch as the mysticism of the medieval Church is directly derived from Neoplatonism through the speculations of the pseudo-Dionysius, Neoplatonic mysticism fills an important section in any historical review of the subject.

Neoplatonism owes its form to Plato, but its underlying motive is the widespread feeling of self-despair and the longing for divine illumination characteristic of the age in which it appears. Before the rise of Neoplaton ism proper we meet with various mystical or semimystical expressions of the same religious craving. The contemplative asceticism of the Essenes of Judaea may be mentioned, and, somewhat later, the life of the Therapeutae on the shores of Lake Moeris. In Philo, Alexandrian Judaism had already seized upon Plato as " the Attic Moses," and done its best to combine his speculations with the teaching of his Jewish prototype. Philo's God is described in terms of absolute transcendency; his doctrine of the Logos or Divine Sophia is a theistical transformation of the Platonic world of ideas; his allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament represents the spiritualistic dissolution of historical Judaism. Philo's ethical ideal is renunciation, contemplation, complete surrender to the divine influence. Apollonius of Tyana and the so-called Neopythagoreans drew similar ethical consequences from their eclectic study of Plato. Wonder-workers like Alexander the Paphlagonian exhibit the grosser side of the longing for spiritual communion. The traits common to Neoplatonism and all these speculations are well summed up by Zeller (Philos. der Griechen, iii. 2.214) as consisting in: " (I) the dualistic opposition of the divine and the earthly; (2) an abstract conception of God, excluding all knowledge of the divine nature; (3) contempt for the world of the senses, on the ground of the Platonic doctrines of matter and of the descent of the soul from a superior world into the body; (4) the theory of intermediate potencies or beings, through whom God acts upon the world of phenomena; (5) the requirement of an ascetic self-emancipation from the bondage of sense and faith in a higher revelation to man when in a state called enthusiasm." Neoplatonism appears in the first half of the 3rd century, and has its greatest representative in Plotinus. He develops the Platonic philosophy into an elaborate system by means of the doctrine of emanation. The One, the Good, and the Idea of the Good were identical in Plato's mind, and the Good was therefore not deprived of intelligible essence. It was not separated from the world of ideas, of which it was represented as either the crown or the sum. By Plotinus, on the contrary, the One is explicitly exalted above the vows and the " ideas "; it transcends existence altogether (i rbcava rijs ouaias), and is not. cognizable by reason. Remaining itself in repose, it rays out, as it were, from its own fullness an image of itself, which is called vas, and which constitutes the system of ideas of the intelligible world. The soul is in turn the image or product of the vas, and the soul by its motion begets corporeal matter.. The soul thus faces two ways - towards the vas, from which it springs, and towards the material life, which is its own product. Ethical endeavour consists in the repudiation of the sensible; material existence is itself estrangement from God. (Porphyry tells us that Plotinus was unwilling to name his parents or his birthplace, and seemed ashamed of being in the body.) Beyond the uaOap ra , or virtues which purify from sin, lies the further stage of complete identification with God (ovrc w aµaprias Eivac; aXAa 0E6v Elm). To reach the ultimate goal, thought itself must be left behind; for thought. is a form of motion, and the desire of the soul is for the motionless rest which belongs to the One. The union with transcendent deity is not so much knowledge or vision as ecstasy, coalescence,. contact ('nvTaacs et rcaves, 60, Ennead., vi. 9.8-9). But in our present state of existence the moments of this ecstatic union must be few and short; " I myself," says Plotinus simply,. " have realized it but three times as yet, and Porphyry hitherto not once." It will be seen from the above that Neoplatonism is not. mystical as regards the faculty by which it claims to apprehend philosophic truth. It is first of all a system of complete rationalism; it is assumed, in other words, that reason is capable of mapping out the whole system of things. But, inasmuch as a God is affirmed beyond reason, the mysticism becomes in a. sense the necessary complement of the would-be all-embracing. rationalism. The system culminates in a mystical act, and in the sequel, especially with Iamblichus and the Syrian Neoplatonists, mystical practice tended more and more to overshadow the theoretical groundwork.

It was probably about the end of the 5th century, just as. ancient philosophy was dying out in the schools of Athens, that the speculative mysticism of Neoplatonism made a. definite lodgment in Christian thought through the literary forgeries of the pseudo-Dionysius (see Dionysius The Areopagite). The doctrines of Christianity were by that time so firmly established that the Church could look upon a symbolical or mystical interpretation of them without anxiety. The author of the Theologia mystica and the other works ascribed to the Areopagite proceeds, therefore, to develop the doctrines of Proclus with very little modification into a system of esoteric Christianity. God is the nameless and supra-essential One,. elevated above goodness itself. Hence " negative theology," which ascends from the creature to God by dropping one after another every determinate predicate, leads us nearest to the: truth. The return to God ( g vw6es, 6Ewaes) is the consummation of all things and the goal indicated by Christian teaching. The same doctrines were preached with more of churchly fervour by Maximus the Confessor (580-622). St Maximus represents, almost the last speculative activity of the Greek Church, but. the influence of the pseudo-Dionysian writings were transmitted to the West in the 9th century by Erigena, in whose speculative spirit both the scholasticism and the mysticism of the middle ages have their rise. Erigena translated Dionysius into Latin along with the commentaries of Maximus, and his system is, essentially based upon theirs. The negative theology is adopted, and God is stated to be predicateless Being, above all categories, and therefore not improperly called Nothing. Out of this Nothing or incomprehensible essence the world of ideas or primordial causes is eternally created. This is the Word or Son of God, in whom all things exist, so far as they have substantial existence. All existence is a theophany, and as God is the beginning of all things, so also is He the end. Erigena teaches the restitution of all things under the form of the Dionysian adunatio or deificatio. These are the permanent outlines of what may be called the philosophy of mysticism in Christian times, and it is remarkable with how little variation they are repeated from age to age.

In Erigena mysticism has not yet separated itself in any way from the dogma of the Church. There is no revulsion, as later, from dogma as such, nor is more stress laid upon one dogma than upon another; all are treated upon the same footing, and the whole dogmatic system is held, as it were, in solution by the philosophic medium in which it is presented. No distinction is drawn, indeed, between what is reached by reason and what is given by authority; the two are immediately identical for Erigena. In this he agrees with the speculative mystics everywhere, and differentiates himself from the scholastics who followed him. The distinguishing characteristic of scholasticism is the acceptance by reason of a given matter, the truth of which is independent of rational grounds, and which remains a presupposition even when it cannot be understood. Scholasticism aims, it is true, in its chief representatives, at demonstrating that the content of revelation and the teaching of reason are identical. But what was matter of immanent assumption with Erigena is in them an equating of two things which have been dealt with on the hypothesis that they are separate, and which, therefore, still retain that external relation to one another. This externality of religious truth to the mind is fundamental in scholasticism, while the opposite view is equally fundamental in mysticism. Mysticism is not the voluntary demission of reason and its subjection to an external authority. In that case, all who accept a revelation without professing to understand its content would require to be ranked as mystics; the fierce sincerity of Tertullian's credo quia ab-' surdum, Pascal's reconciliation of contradictions in Jesus Christ, and Bayle's half-sneering subordination of reason to faith would all be marks of this standpoint. But such a temper of mind is much more akin to scepticism than to mysticism; it is characteristic of those who either do not feel the need of philosophizing their beliefs, or who have failed in doing so and take refuge in sheer acceptance. Mysticism, on the other hand, is marked on its speculative side by even an overweening confidence in human reason. Nor need this be wondered at if we consider that the unity of the human mind with the divine is its underlying presupposition. Hence where reason is discarded by the mystic it is merely reason overleaping itself; it occurs at the end and not at the beginning of his speculations. Even then there is no appeal to authority; nothing is accepted from without. The appeal is still to the individual, who, if not by reason then by some higher faculty, claims to realize absolute truth and to taste absolute blessedness.

Mysticism first appears in the medieval Church as the protest of practical religion against the predominance of the dialectical spirit. It is so with Bernard of Clairvaux (109053), who condemns Abelard's distinctions and reasonings as externalizing and degrading the faith. St Bernard's mysticism is of a practical cast, dealing mainly with the means by which man may attain to the knowledge and enjoyment of God. Reason has three stages, in the highest of which the mind is able, by abstraction from earthly things, to rise to contemplatio or the vision of the divine. More exalted still, however, is the sudden ecstatic vision, such as was granted, for example, to Paul. This is the reward of those who are dead to the body and the world. Asceticism is thus the counterpart of medieval mysticism; and, by his example as well as by his teaching in such passages, St Bernard unhappily encouraged practices which necessarily resulted in self-delusion. Love grows with the knowledge of its object, he proceeds, and at the highest stage self-love is so merged in love to God that we love ourselves only for God's sake or because God has loved us.

To lose thyself in some sort, as if thou wert not, and to have no consciousness of thyself at all - to be emptied of thyself and almost annihilated - such is heavenly conversation.... So to be affected is to become God." " As the little water-drop poured into a large measure of wine seems to lose its own nature entirely and to take on both the taste and the colour of the wine; or as iron heated red-hot loses its own appearance and glows like fire; or as air filled with sunlight is transformed into the same brightness so that it does not so much appear to be illuminated as to be itself light - so must all human feeling towards the Holy One be self-dissolved in unspeakable wise, and wholly transfused into the will of God. For how shall God be all in all if anything of man remains in man? The substance will indeed remain, but in another form, another glory, another power " (De diligendo Deo, c. 10). These are the favourite similes of mysticism, wherever it is found.

Mysticism was more systematically developed by Bernard's contemporary Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141). The Augustinian monastery of St Victor near Paris became the headquarters of mysticism during the 12th century. It had a wide influence in awakening popular piety, and the works that issued from it formed the textbooks of mystical and pietistic minds in the centuries that followed. Hugh's pupil, Richard of St Victor, declares, in opposition to dialectic scholasticism, that the objects of mystic contemplation are partly above reason, and partly, as in the intuition of the Trinity, contrary to reason. He enters at length into the conditions of ecstasy and the yearnings that precede it. Walter; the third of the Victorines, carried on the polemic against the dialecticians. Bonaventura (1221-1274) was a diligent student of the Victorines, and in his Itinerarium mentis ad Deum maps. out the human faculties in a similar fashion. He introduces. the terms " apex mentis " and " scintilla " (also " synderesis"' or o"vvr'iip ats) to describe the faculty of mystic intuition.. Bonaventura runs riot in phrases to describe the union with God, and his devotional works were much drawn upon by mystical preachers. Fully a century later, when the system of scholasticism was gradually breaking up under the predominance of Occam's nominalism, Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1425), and his more famous scholar John Gerson (1363-1429), chancellor of the university of Paris, are found endeavouring to combine the doctrines of the Victorines and Bonaventura with a nominalistic philosophy. They are the last representatives, of mysticism within the limitations imposed by scholasticism. From the 12th and 13th centuries onward there is observable in the different countries of Europe a widespread reaction against the growing formalism and worldliness of the Church and the scandalous lives of many of the clergy. Men began to feel a desire for a theolo g Y g of the heart and an unworldly simplicity of life.

Thus there arose in the Netherlands the Beguines and Beghards,. in Italy the Waldenses (without, however, any mystical leaning), in the south of France and elsewhere the numerous sect or sects. of the Cathari, and in Calabria the apocalyptic gospel of Joachim of Floris, all bearing witness to the commotion of the time. The lay societies of the Beghards and the Beguines (for men and women respectively) date from the end of the 12th century, and soon became extremely popular both in the Low Countries and on the Rhine. They were free at the outset from any heretical taint, but were never much in favour with the Church. In the beginning of the 13th century the foundation of the Dominican and Franciscan_ orders furnished a more ecclesiastical and regular means of supplying the same wants, and numerous convents sprang up at once throughout Germany. The German mind was. a peculiarly fruitful soil for mysticism, and, in connexion either with the Beguines or the Church organization, a number of women appear about this time, combining a spirit of mystical piety and asceticism with sturdy reformatory zeal directed against the abuses of the time. Even before this we hear of the prophetic visions of Hildegard of Bingen (a contemporary of St Bernard) and Elizabeth of SchOnau. In the 13th century Elizabeth of Hungary, the pious landgravine of Thuringia, assisted in the foundation of many convents in the north of Germany. (For an account of the chief of these female saints see the first volume of W. Preger's Geschichte der deutschen Mystik.) Mechthild of Magdeburg appears to have been the most influential, and her book Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit is important, as the oldest work of its kind in German. It proves that much of the terminology of German mysticism was current before Eckhart's time. Mechthild's clerico-political utterances show that she was acquainted with the " eternal gospel " of Joachim of Floris. Joachim had proclaimed the doctrine of three world-ages--the kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit. The reign of the Spirit was to begin with the year 1260, when the abuses of the world and the Church were to be effectually cured by the general adoption of the monastic life of contemplation. Very similar to this in appearance is the teaching of Amalric of Bena (d. 1207); but, while the movements just mentioned were reformatory without being heretical, this is very far from being the case with the mystical pantheism derived by Amalric from the writings of Erigena. His followers held a progressive revelation of God in the ages of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as the Mosaic dispensation came to an end with the appearance of Christ, so the sacraments of the new dispensation have lost their meaning and efficacy since the incarnation of God as Holy Spirit in the Amalricans. With this opposition to the Church they combine a complete antinomianism, through the identification of all their desires with the impulses of the divine Spirit. Amalric's teaching was condemned by the Church, and his heresies led to the public burning of Erigena's De divisione naturae in 1225. The sect of the New Spirit, or of the Free Spirit as it was afterwards called, spread widely through the north of France and into Switzerland and Germany. They were especially numerous in the Rhineland in the end of the 13th and during the 14th century; and they seem to have corrupted the originally orthodox communities of Beghards, for Beghards and Brethren of the Free Spirit are used henceforward as convertible terms, and the same immoralities are related of both. Such was the seedground in which what is specifically known as German mysticism sprang up.

In Meister Eckhart (? 1260-13 2 7) the German mind definitively asserts its pre-eminence in the sphere of speculative mysticism.

Eckhart was a distinguished son of the Church; E but in reading his works we feel at once that we have passed into quite a different sphere of thought from that of the churchly mystics; we seem to leave the cloister behind and to breathe a freer atmosphere. The scholastic mysticism was, for the most part, practical and psychological in character. It was largely a devotional aid to the realization of present union with God; and, so far as it was theoretical, it was a theory of the faculties by which such a union is attainable. Mysticism was pieced on somewhat incongruously to a scholastically accepted theology; the feelings and the intellect were not brought together. But in Eckhart the attitude of the churchman and traditionalist is entirely abandoned. Instead of systematizing ,dogmas, he appears to evolve a philosophy by the free exercise of reason. His system enables him to give a profound significance to the doctrines of the Church; but, instead of the system being accommodated to the doctrines, the doctrines - and especially the historical facts - acquire a new sense in the system, and often become only a mythical representation of speculative truth. The freedom with which Eckhart treats historical Christianity allies him much more to the German idealists of the 19th century than to his scholastic predecessors.

The political circumstances of Germany in the first half of the 14th century were in the last degree disastrous. The war between the rival emperors, Frederick of Austria and Louis of Bavaria, and the interdict under which the latter was placed in 1324 inflicted extreme misery upon the unhappy people. From some places the interdict was not removed for twenty-six years. Men's minds were pained and disquieted by the conflict of duties and the absence of spiritual consolation. The country was also visited by a succession of famines and floods, and in 1348 the Black Death swept over Europe like a terrible scourge. In the midst of these unhappy surroundings religion became more inward in men of real piety and the desire grew among them to draw closer the bonds that united them to one another. Thus arose the society of the Friends of God (Gottesfreunde) in the south and west of Germany, spreading as far as Switzerland on the one side and the Netherlands on the other. They formed no exclusive sect. They often took opposite sides in politics and they also differed in the type of their religious life; but they uniformly desired to strengthen one another in living intercourse with God. Among them chiefly the followers of Eckhart were to be found. Such were Heinrich Suso of Constance (1295-1366) and Johann Tauler of Strassburg (1300-1361), the two most celebrated of his immediate disciples. Nicolas of Basel, the mysterious layman from whose visit Tauler dates his true religious life, seems to have been the chief organizing force among the Gottesfreunde. The society counted many members among the pious women in the convents of southern Germany. Such were Christina Ebner of Engelthal near Nuremberg, and Margaretha Ebner of Medingen in Swabia. Laymen also belonged to it, like Hermann of Fritzlar and Rulman Merswin, the rich banker of Strassburg (author of a mystical work, Buck der neon Felsen, on the nine rocks or upwards steps of contemplation). It was doubtless one of the Friends who sent forth anonymously from the house of the Teutonic Order in Frankfort the famous handbook of mystical devotion called Eine deutsche Theologie, first published in 1516 by Luther.

Jan van Ruysbroeck (1294-1381), the father of mysticism in the Netherlands, stood in connexion with the Friends of God, and Tauler is said to have visited him in his seclusion at Groenendal (Vauvert, Griinthal) near Brussels.Ruy sbroeck. He was decisively influenced by Eckhart, though there is noticeable occasionally a shrinking back from some of Eckhart's phraseology. Ruysbroeck's mysticism is more of a practical than a speculative cast. He is chiefly occupied with the means whereby the unio mystica is to be attained, whereas Eckhart dwells on the union as an ever-present fact, and dilates on its metaphysical implications. Towards the end of Ruysbroeck's life, in 1378, he was visited by the fervid lay-preacher Gerhard Groot (1340-1384), who was so impressed by the life of the community at Groenendal that he conceived the idea of founding a Christian brotherhood, bound by no monastic vows, but living together in simplicity and piety with all things in common, after the apostolic pattern. This was the origin of the Brethren of the Common Lot (or Common Life). The first house of the Brethren was founded at Deventer by Gerhard Groot and his youthful friend Florentius Radewyn; and here Thomas a Kempis received his training. Similar brother-houses soon sprang up in different places throughout the Low Countries and Westphalia, and even Saxony.

It has been customary for Protestant writers to represent the mystics of Germany and Holland as precursors of the Reformation. In a sense this is true. But Mystics it would be false to say that these men protested against the doctrines of the Church in the way the Reformers felt themselves called upon to do. There is no sign that Tauler, for example, or Ruysbroeck, or Thomas a Kempis had felt the dogmatic teaching of the Church jar in any single point upon their religious consciousness. Nevertheless, mysticism did prepare men in a very real way for a break with the traditional system. Mysticism instinctively recedes from formulas that have become stereotyped and mechanical. On the other hand its claim for spiritual freedom was soon to be found in opposition also to the Reformers.

The wild doctrines of Thomas Miinzer and the Zwickau prophets, merging eventually into the excesses of the Peasants' War and the doings of the Anabaptists in Minster, first roused Luther to the dangerous possibilities of mysticism as a disintegrating force. He was also called upon to do battle for his principle against men like Caspar Schwenkfeld (1490-1561) and Sebastian Franck (1500-1545), the latter of whom developed a system of pantheistic mysticism, and went so far in his opposition to the letter as to declare the whole of the historical element in Scripture to be but a mythical representation of eternal truth. Valentin Weigel (1533-1588), who stands under manifold obligations to Franck, represents also the influence of the semi-mystical physical speculation that marked the transition from scholasticism to modern times. The final breakdown of scholasticism as a rationalized system of dogma may be seen in Nicolas (or Nicolaus) of Cusa (1401-1464), who distinguishes between the intellectus and the discursively acting ratio almost precisely in the style of later distinctions between the reason and the understanding. The intellect combines what the understanding separates; hence Nicolas teaches the principle of the coincidentia contradictoriorum. If the results of the understanding go by the name of knowledge, then the higher teaching of the intellectual intuition may be called ignorance - ignorance, however, that is conscious of itself, docta ignorantia. " Intuitio," " speculatio," " visio sine comprehensione," " comprehensio incomprehensibilis," " mystica theologia," " tertius caelus," are some of the terms he applies to this knowledge above knowledge; but in the working out of his system he is remarkably free from extravagance. Nicolas's doctrines were of influence upon Giordano Bruno and other physical philosophers of the 15th and 16th centuries. All these physical theories are blended with a mystical theosophy, of which the most remarkable example is, perhaps, the chemico-astrological speculations of Paracelsus (1493-1541). The influence of Nicolas of Cusa and Paracelsus mingled in Valentin Weigel with that of the Deutsche Theologie, Andreas Osiander, Schwenkfeld and Franck. Weigel, in turn, handed on these influences to Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), philosophus teutonicus, and father of the chief developments of theosophy in modern Germany (see Boehme).

Mysticism did not cease within the Catholic Church at the Reformation. In St Theresa (1515-1582) and John of the Cross Other the counter-reformation can boast of saints second Forms of to none in the calendar for the austerity of their Mysticism. mortifications and the rapture of the visions to which they were admitted. But, as was to be expected, their mysticism moves in that comparatively narrow round, and consists simply in the heaping up of these sensuous experiences. The speculative character has entirely faded out of it, or rather has been crushed out by the tightness with which the directors of the Roman Church now held the reins of discipline. Their mysticism represents, therefore, no widening or spiritualizing of their theology; in all matters of belief they remain the docile children of their Church. The gloom and harshness of these Spanish mystics are absent from the tender, contemplative spirit of Francois de Sales (1567-1622); and in the quietism Fof Mme Guyon (1648-1717) and Miguel de Molinos (1627-1696) there is again a sufficient implication of mystical doctrine to rouse the suspicion of the ecclesiastical authorities. Quietism, name and thing, became the talk of all the world through the bitter and protracted controversy to which it gave rise between F&.nelon and Bossuet.

In the 17th century mysticism is represented in the philosophical field by the so-called Cambridge Platonists, and especially by Henry More (1614-1687), in whom the influence of the Kabbalah is combined with a species of christianized Neoplatonism. Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) exhibits a violent reaction against the mechanical philosophy of Descartes, and especially against its consequences in Spinoza. He was an ardent student of Tauler and Thomas a Kempis, and became an adherent of the quietistic doctrines of Mme Bourignon. His philosophical works emphasize the passivity of the reason. The first influence of Boehme was in the direction of an obscure religious mysticism. J. G. Gichtel (1638-1710), the first editor of his complete works, became the founder of a sect called the Angel-Brethren. All Boehme's works were translated into English in the time of the Commonwealth, and regular societies of Boehmenists were formed in England and Holland. Later in the century he was much studied by the members of the Philadelphian Society, John Pordage, Thomas Bromley, Jane Lead, and others. The mysticism of William Law (1686-1761) and of Louis Claude de Saint Martin in France (1743-1803), who were also students of Boehme, is of a much more elevated and spiritual type. The " Cherubic Wanderer," and other poems, of Johann Scheffier (1624-1677), known as Angelus Silesius, are more closely related in style and thought to Eckhart than to Boehme.

The religiosity of the Quakers, with their doctrines of the " inner light " and the influence of, the Spirit, has decided affinities with mysticism; and the autobiography of George Fox (1624-1691), the founder of the sect, proceeds throughout on the assumption of supernatural guidance. Stripped of its definitely miraculous character, the doctrine of the inner light may be regarded as the familiar mystical protest against formalism, literalism, and scripture-worship. Swedenborg, though selected by Emerson in his Representative Men as the typical mystic, belongs rather to the history of spiritualism than to that of mysticism as understood in this article. He possesses the cool temperament of the man of science rather than the fervid Godward aspiration of the mystic proper; and the speculative impulse which lies at the root of this form of thought is almost entirely absent from his writings. Accordingly, his supernatural revelations resemble a course of lessons in celestial geography more than a description of the beatific vision.

Philosophy since the end of the 18th century has frequently shown a tendency to diverge into mysticism. This has been especially so in Germany. The term mysticism is indeed often extended by popular usage and philosophical partisanship to the whole activity of the post-Kantian idealists. In this usage the word would be equivalent to the more recent and scarcely less abused term, transcendentalism, and as such it is used even by a sympathetic writer like Carlyle; but this looseness of phraseology only serves to blur important distinctions. However absolute a philosopher's idealism may be, he is erroneously styled a mystic if he moves towards his conclusions only by the patient labour of the reason. Hegel therefore, to take an instance, can no more fitly be classed as a mystic than Spinoza can. It would be much nearer the truth to take both as types of a thoroughgoing rationalism. In either case it is of course open to anyone to maintain that the apparent completeness of synthesis really rests on the subtle intrusion of elements of feeling into the rational process. But in that case it might be difficult to find a systematic philosopher who would escape the charge of mysticism; and it is better to remain by long-established and serviceable distinctions. So, again, when Recejac defines mysticism as " the tendency to draw near to the Absolute in moral union. by symbolic means," the definition, as developed by him, is one which would apply to the philosophy of Kant. Recejac's interesting work, Les Fondements de la connaissance mystique (Eng. trans. 1899), though it touches mysticism at various points, and quotes from mystic writers, is in fact a protest against the limitations of experience to the data of the senses and the pure reason to the exclusion of the moral consciousness and the deliverances of " the heart." But such a position is not describable as mysticism in any recognized sense. On the other hand, where philosophy despairs of itself, exults in its own overthrow, and yet revels in the " mysteries " of a speculative Christianity, as in J. G. Hamann (1730-1788), the term mysticism may be fitly applied. So, again, it is in place where the movement of revulsion from a mechanical philosophy takes the form rather of immediate assertion than of reasoned demonstration, and where the writers, after insisting generally on the spiritual basis of phenomena, either leave the position without further definition or expressly declare that the ultimate problems of philosophy cannot be reduced to articulate formulas. Examples of this are men like Novalis, Carlyle and Emerson, in whom philosophy may be said to be impatient of its own task. Schelling's explicit appeal in the Identitdts-philosophie to an intellectual intuition of the Absolute, is of the essence of mysticism, both as an appeal to a suprarational faculty and as a claim not merely to know but to realize God. The opposition of the reason to the understanding, as formulated by S. T. Coleridge, is not free from the first of these faults. The later philosophy of Schelling and the philosophy of Franz von Baader, both largely founded upon Boehme, belong rather to theosophy (q.v.) than to mysticism proper.

Authorities. - Besides the sections on mysticism in the general histories of philosophy by Erdmann, Ueberweg and Windelband, and in works on church history and the history of dogma, reference may be made for the medieval period to Heinrich Schmid, Der Mysticismus in seiner Entstehungsperiode (1824); Charles Schmidt, Essai sur les mystiques du 14me siecle (1836) Ad. Helfferich, Die christliche Mystik (1842); L. Noack, Die christliche Mystik des Mittelalters (1853); J. Gorres, Die christliche Mystik (new ed., 18 791880); Rufus M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (1909). On the German mystics see W. Preger's Geschichte der deutschen Mystik (vol. i. 1874; vol. ii. 1881; vol. iii. 1893). The works of Eckhart and his precursors are contained in F. Pfeiffer's Deutsche Mystiker des 14. Jahrhunderts (1845-1857). (A. S. P - P.)

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(From myein, to initiate).

Mysticism, according to its etymology, implies a relation to mystery. In philosophy, Mysticism is either a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity, or a system growing out of such a tendency and desire. As a philosophical system, Mysticism considers as the end of philosophy the direct union of the human soul with the Divinity through contemplation and love, and attempts to determine the processes and the means of realizing this end. This contemplation, according to Mysticism, is not based on a merely analogical knowledge of the Infinite, but as a direct and immediate intuition of the Infinite. According to its tendency, it may be either speculative or practical, as it limits itself to mere knowledge or traces duties for action and life; contemplative or affective, according as it emphasizes the part of intelligence or the part of the will; orthodox or heterodox, according as it agrees with or opposes the Catholic teaching. We shall give a brief historical sketch of Mysticism and its influence on philosophy, and present a criticism of it.


In his "History of Philosophy", Cousin mentions four systems, between which, he says, philosophical thought has continually wavered, viz., Sensism, Idealism, Scepticism, and Mysticism. Whatever may be thought of this classification, it is true that Mysticism has exercised a large influence on philosophy, becoming at times the basis of whole systems, but more often entering as an element into their constitution. Mysticism dominated in the symbolic philosophy of ancient Egypt. The Taoism of the Chinese philosopher Lao-tze is a system of metaphysics and ethics in which Mysticism is a fundamental element (cf. De Harlez, "Laotze, le premier philosophe chinois", in "Mémoires couronnés et autres de l'Académie", Brussels, January, 1886). The same may be said of Indian philosophy; the end of human reflection and effort in Brahmanism and Vedantism is to deliver the soul from its transmigrations and absorb it into Brahma forever. There is little of Mysticism in the first schools of Greek philosophy, but it already takes a large place in the system of Plato, e.g., in his theory of the world of ideas, of the origin of the world soul and the human soul, in his doctrine of recollection and intuition. The Alexandrian Jew Philo (30 B.C-A.D. 50) combined these Platonic elements with the data of the Old Testament, and taught that every man, by freeing himself from matter and receiving illumination from God, may reach the mystical, ecstatic, or prophetical state, where he is absorbed into the Divinity. The most systematic attempt at a philosophical system of a mystical character was that of the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria, especially of Plotinus (A.D. 205-70) in his "Enneads". His system is a syncretism of the previous philosophies on the basis of Mysticism--an emanative and pantheistic Monism. Above all being, there is the One absolutely indetermined, the absolutely Good. From it come forth through successive emanations intelligence (nous) with its ideas, the world-soul with its plastic forces (logoi spermatikoi), matter inactive, and the principle of imperfection. The human soul had its existence in the world-soul until it was united with matter. The end of human life and of philosophy is to realize the mystical return of the soul to God. Freeing itself from the sensuous world by purification (katharsis), the human soul ascends by successive steps through the various degrees of the metaphysical order, until it unites itself in a confused and unconscious contemplation to the One, and sinks into it: it is the state of ecstasis.

With Christianity, the history of Mysticism enters into a new period. The Fathers recognized indeed the partial truth of the pagan system, but they pointed out also its fundamental errors. They made a distinction between reason and faith, philosophy and theology; they acknowledged the aspirations of the soul, but, at the same time, they emphasized its essential inability to penetrate the mysteries of Divine life. They taught that the vision of God is the work of grace and the reward of eternal life; in the present life only a few souls, by a special grace, can reach it. On these principles, the Christian school of Alexandria opposed the true gnosis based on grace and faith to the Gnostic heresies. St. Augustine teaches indeed that we know the essences of things in rationibus aeternis, but this knowledge has its starting point in the data of sense (cf. Quæstiones, LXXXIII, c. xlvi). Pseudo-Dionysius, in his various works, gave a systematic treatment of Christian Mysticism, carefully distinguishing between rational and mystical knowledge. By the former, he says, we know God, not in His nature, but through the wonderful order of the universe, which is a participation of the Divine ideas ("De Divinis Nomin.", c, vii, §§ 2-3, in P. G., III, 867 sq.). There is, however, he adds, a more perfect knowledge of God possible in this life, beyond the attainments of reason even enlightened by faith, through which the soul contemplates directly the mysteries of Divine light. The contemplation in the present life is possible only to a few privileged souls, through a very special grace of God: it is the theosis, mystike enosis.

The works of Pseudo-Dionysius exercised a great influence on the following ages. John Scotus Eriugena (ninth century), in his "De Divisione Naturæ", took them as his guide, but he neglected the distinction of his master, identifying philosophy and theology, God and creatures, and, instead of developing the doctrine of Dionysius, reproduced the pantheistic theories of Plotinus (see ERIUGENA, JOHN SCOTUS). In the twelfth century, orthodox Mysticism was presented under a systematic form by the Victorines, Hugh, Walter, and Richard (cf. Mignon, "Les Origines de la Scolastique et Hugues de St. Victor", Paris, 1895), and there was also a restatement of Eriugena's principles with Amaury de Bène, Joachim de Floris, and David of Dinant. A legitimate element of Mysticism, more or less emphasized, is found in the works of the Schoolmen of the thirteenth century. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there was, as a protest against a sterile dialecticism, a revival of mystical systems, some orthodox--J. Ruysbroek, Gerson, Peter d'Ailly, Denys the Carthusian--and others heterodox--John of Ghent, John of Mirecourt, the Beguines and Beghards, and various brotherhoods influenced by Averroism, and especially Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), who in his "Opus Tripartitum" teaches a deification of man and an assimilation of the creature into the Creator through contemplation (cf. Denifle in "Archiv für Literatur und Kirchengeschichte des Mittelalters", 1886), the "Theologia Germanica", and, to a certain extent, Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64) with his theory of the coincidentia oppositorum. Protestantism, by its negation of all ecclesiastical authority and by advocating a direct union of the soul with God, had its logical outcome in a Mysticism mostly pantheistic.

Protestant Mysticism is represented by Sebastian Frank (1499-1542), by Valentine Weiler (1533-88), and especially by J. Böhme (1575-1624), who, in his "Aurora", conceived the [[God, Nature and Attributes of (Catholic Encyclopedia)|God, Nature and Attributes of (Catholic Encyclopedia)nature of God]] as containing in itself the energies of good and evil, and identified the Divine nature with the human soul whose operation is to kindle, according to its free will, the fire of good or the fire of evil (cf. Deussen, "J. Böhme ueber sein Leben und seine Philosophie", Kiel, 1897). Reuchlin (1455-1522) developed a system of cabalistic Mysticism in his "De arte cabalistica" and his "De verbo mirifico". We may also assign to the influence of Mysticism the ontological systems of Malebranche and of the Ontologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The romantic Mysticism of Fichte (1762-1814), Novalis (1772-1801), and Schelling (1775-1854) was a reaction against the Rationalism of the eighteenth century. A pseudo-Mysticism is also the logical outcome of the Fideism and evolutionistic Subjectivism of modern Protestants, inaugurated by Lessing (1728-81), developed by Schleiermacher (1768-1834), A. Ritschl (1822-89; cf. Goyau, "L'Allemagne Religieuse, Le Protestantisme", 6th ed., Paris, 1906), Sabatier, etc., and accepted by the Modernists in their theories of vital immanence and religious experience (cf. Encyclical "Pascendi"). (See MODERNISM.)


A tendency so universal and so persistent as that of Mysticism, which appears among all peoples and influences philosophical thought more or less throughout all centuries, must have some real foundation in human nature. There is indeed in the human soul a natural desire for, an aspiration towards the highest truth, the absolute truth, and the highest, the infinite good. We know by experience and reason that the knowledge and enjoyment of created things cannot give the fulness of truth and the perfection of beatitude which will completely satisfy our desires and aspirations. There is in our soul a capacity for more truth and perfection than we can ever acquire through the knowledge of created things. We realize that God alone is the end of man, that in the possession of God alone we can reach the satisfaction of our aspirations. (Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica God more intimate than that which we possess through created things? Can we expect more than a knowledge of God by analogical concepts and more than the beatitude proportionate to that knowledge? Here human reason cannot answer. But where reason was powerless, philosophers gave way to feeling and imagination. They dreamt of an intuition of the Divinity, of a direct contemplation and immediate possession of God. They imagined a notion of the universe and of human nature that would make possible such a union. They built systems in which the world and the human soul were considered as an emanation or part of the Divinity, or at least as containing something of the Divine essence and Divine ideas. The logical outcome was Pantheism.

This result was a clear evidence of error at the starting-point. The Catholic Church, as guardian of Christian doctrine, through her teaching and theologians, gave the solution of the problem. She asserted the limits of human reason: the human soul has a natural capacity (potentia obedientialis), but no exigency and no positive ability to reach God otherwise than by analogical knowledge. She condemned the immediate vision of the Beghards and Beguines (cf. Denzinger-Bannwart, "Enchiridion", nn. 474-5), the pseudo-Mysticism of Eckhart (ibid., nn. 501-29), and Molinos (ibid., nn. 2121-88), the theories of the Ontologists (ibid., nn. 1659-65, 1891-1930), and Pantheism under all its forms (ibid., nn. 1801-5), as well as the vital Immanence and religious experience of the Modernists (ibid., nn. 2071-109). But she teaches that, what man cannot know by natural reason, he can know through revelation and faith; that what he cannot attain to by his natural power he can reach by the grace of God. God has gratuitously elevated human nature to a supernatural state. He has assigned as its ultimate end the direct vision of Himself, the Beatific Vision. But this end can be reached only in the next life; in the present life we can but prepare ourselves for it with the aid of revelation and grace. To some souls, however, even in the present life, God gives a very special grace by which they are enabled to feel His sensible presence; this is true mystical contemplation. In this act, there is no annihilation or absorption of the creature into God, but God becomes intimately present to the created mind and this, enlightened by special illuminations, contemplates with ineffable joy the Divine essence.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

Mysticism is the belief that people can directly experience God or true reality, rather than through books, ritual or other people. People who practice this are called mystics.

Mystics exist within most religions, though not all people who practice religions are mystics. Mystics may experience visions or dreams, or hear God as a voice.


Hindu mystics

Some examples of Hindu mystics:

Sri Ramakrishna

Christian mystics

Some examples of Christian mystics:

St. John the Apostle (? -101)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
St. Gregory I (590-604)
George Fox (1624-1691)
William Blake (1757-1827)
Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Islamic mystics

Islamic Mysticism is also known as Sufism. Some examples of Muslim mystics (also called sufi):

al-Ghazali, (d. 1111)
Yunus Emre
Qalandar Baba Auliya,(d.1979)

Jewish mystics

Some examples of Jewish mystics:

Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994)

Buddhist mystics

Some examples of Buddhist mystics:

Siddhartha Gautama (563 BC-483 BC)
Bodhidharma (440-528)


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