/mis"teuh siz'euhm/, n.
1. the beliefs, ideas, or mode of thought of mystics.
2. a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.
3. obscure thought or speculation.
[1730-40; MYSTIC + -ISM]

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Spiritual quest for union with the divine.

Forms of mysticism are found in all major religions. Hinduism, with its goal of absorption of the soul in the All, is inherently predisposed to mystical experience. Buddhism emphasizes meditation as a means of moving toward nirvana. In Islam, Sufism employs metaphors of intoxication and of the love between bride and bridegroom to express the desire for union with the divine. In Judaism, the foundations of mysticism were laid in the visions of the biblical prophets and were later developed in the Kabbala and in Hasidism. Mysticism has appeared intermittently in Christianity, notably in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Teresa of Àvila, and in the works of Meister Eckhart and his 14th-century successors.

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      in general, a spiritual quest for hidden truth or wisdom, the goal of which is union with the divine or sacred (the transcendent realm). Forms of mysticism are found in all major world religions, by analogy in the shamanic and other ecstatic practices of nonliterate cultures, and in secular experience.

      In the 20th century mysticism (“the treasure hidden in the centres of our souls”) has undergone a renewal of interest and understanding and even a mood of expectancy similar to that which marked its role in previous eras. Such a mood stems in part from the feeling of alienation that many persons experience in the modern world. Put down as a religion of the elite, mysticism (or the mystical faculty of perceiving transcendental reality) is said by many to belong to all men, though few use it. The British author Aldous Huxley (Huxley, Aldous) has stated that “a totally unmystical world would be a world totally blind and insane,” and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (Tagore, Rabindranath) has noted that “Man has a feeling that he is truly represented in something which exceeds himself.”

Nature and significance
      The goal of mysticism is union with the divine or sacred. The path to that union is usually developed by following four stages: purgation (of bodily desires), purification (purification rite) (of the will), illumination (of the mind), and unification (of one's will or being with the divine). If “the object of man's existence is to be a Man, that is, to re-establish the harmony which originally belonged between him and the divinized state before the separation took place which disturbed the equilibrium” (The Life and Doctrine of Paracelsus), mysticism will always be a part of the way of return to the source of being, a way of counteracting the experience of alienation. Mysticism has always held—and parapsychology also seems to suggest—that the discovery of a nonphysical element in man's personality is of utmost significance in his quest for equilibrium in a world of apparent chaos.

      Mysticism's apparent denial, or self-negating, is part of a psychological process or strategy that does not really deny the person. In spite of its lunatic fringe, the maturer forms of mysticism satisfy the claims of rationality, ecstasy, and righteousness.

      There is obviously something nonmental, alogical, paradoxical, and unpredictable about the mystical phenomenon, but it is not, therefore, irrational or antirational or “religion without thought.” Rather, as Zen (Buddhist intuitive sect) masters say, it is knowledge of the most adequate kind, only it cannot be expressed in words. If there is a mystery about mystical experience, it is something it shares with life and consciousness. Mysticism, a form of living in depth, indicates that man, a meeting ground of various levels of reality, is more than one-dimensional. Despite the interaction and correspondence between levels—“What is below is like what is above; what is above is like what is below” (Tabula Smaragdina, “Emerald Tablet,” a work on alchemy attributed to Hermes Trismegistus)—they are not to be equated or confused. At once a praxis (technique) and a gnosis (esoteric knowledge), mysticism consists of a way or discipline.

      The relationship of the religion of faith to mysticism (“personal religion raised to the highest power”) is ambiguous, a mixture of respect and misgivings. Though mysticism may be associated with religion, it need not be. The mystic often represents a type that the religious institution (e.g., church) does not and cannot produce and does not know what to do with if and when one appears. As William Ralph Inge (Inge, William Ralph), an English theologian, commented, “institutionalism and mysticism have been uneasy bedfellows.” Although mysticism has been the core of Hinduism and Buddhism, it has been little more than a minor strand—and, frequently, a disturbing element—in Judaism, Christianity, and Islām. As the 15th- to 16th-century Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (Machiavelli, Niccolò) had noted of the 13th-century Christian monastic leaders St. Francis and St. Dominic, they had saved religion but destroyed the church.

      The founders of religion may have been incipient or advanced mystics, but the inner compulsions of their experience have proved less amenable to dogmas, creeds, and institutional restrictions, which are bound to be outward and majority oriented. There are religions of authority and the religion of the spirit. Thus, there is a paradox: if the mystic minority is distrusted or maltreated, religious life loses its sap; on the other hand, these “peculiar people” do not easily fit into society, with the requirements of a prescriptive community composed of less sensitive seekers of safety and religious routine. Though no deeply religious person can be without a touch of mysticism, and no mystic can be, in the deepest sense, other than religious, the dialogue between mystics and conventional religionists has been far from happy. From both sides there is a constant need for restatement and revaluation, a greater tolerance, a union of free men's worship. Though it validates religion, mysticism also tends to escape the fetters of organized religion.

Relation of mystical experience to other kinds of experience
      Mysticism shares a common world with magic, theurgy (power of persuading the supernatural), prayer, worship, religion, metaphysics (transcendent levels of reality), and even science. It may not be always easy to distinguish mysticism from these but its approach and emphasis are different. Though there is an element of magic, psychism, and the occult (occultism) in much of what passes for mysticism, it is not to be equated with a science of the unseen or with voices and visions. Powers of the occult (or siddhis) are viewed as real, but they can also be dangerous and are not of interest to genuine mystics, who have warned against their likely misuse.

       prayer and worship may form part of mysticism, but they are viewed as means and not as essence; also, they are usually continuations of sensory experience, whereas mysticism is a pure unitary consciousness, or a union with God. As for science, it is analytic and discursive and expresses its findings in precise and abstract formulas; mysticism, however, like poetry, depends more on paradoxes and an unusual use of language. Philosophies may lead to or follow from mysticism, but they are not the same. Nature mysticism is another prominent variant, to which poets and artists are particularly prone. This has often been described or dismissed as pantheism (the divine in all), though it is perhaps other than a simple assertion of identity.

      Emotionalism and purified emotion are quite different. Emotionalism, a kind of unsuccessful ecstasy, may arise from unpurged elements in the being; it could also be a concession or inability to hold the flow or touch from above. The natural state of man and, even more, that of the true mystic is serene and not agitated, not at the mercy of what the medieval mystical book The Cloud of Unknowing calls “monkey tricks of the soul.” “Be still, and still, and know.” Mysticism, among the many forms of experience, confirms the claims of religion and is viewed as providing a foretaste of the life after death.

Definitions of mysticism and mystical experience

Differences between mysticism and similar phenomena
      To define is to limit, and no single definition will cover every aspect of mysticism. Some have objected to the word itself and believed that “enlightenment” or “illumination” might be better. Though they meet, mysticism has to be distinguished from prophetic religions as well as from shamanism (a belief system built around psychic transformations). Working through chosen individuals—not necessarily saints and chosen for no other reason than God's will—prophetic religions emphasize action to a far greater extent than most forms of mysticism, with its penchant for inwardness and the beyond. Though in ecstasy the barriers seem to disappear, in prophetism God and man are rarely identified. Shamanism, a technique of ecstasy generally found in Siberia and Central Asia but with parallels in primitive society, provides a sort of correspondence with the purgative stage of mysticism (in which physical needs are negated). The closeness to paranormal (or supernatural) phenomena seems more pronounced, however, in shamanism. Both the shaman and the mystic, as communicants with a world beyond normal experience, reveal an identity of goal, if not of practice and content.

Basic patterns
      Paradigmatic pronouncements in regard to mysticism pose problems of their own. The classic Indian formula—“that thou art,” tat tvam asi (Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 6.9)—is hedged in with the profoundest ambiguity. The difficulty reappears in the thought of the medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckehart (Eckhart, Meister), who had the church raising questions for such unguarded statements as “The knower and the known are one. God and I, we are one in knowledge” and “There is no distinction between us.”

      Mysticism may be defined as the belief in a third kind of knowledge, the other two being sense knowledge and knowledge by inference. Adolf Lasson has written:

The essence of Mysticism is the assertion of an intuition which transcends the temporal categories of the understanding. . . . Rationalism (Platonism) cannot conduct us to the essence of things; we therefore need intellectual vision.

      This same view was held by the 3rd-century-AD Greek philosopher Plotinus. But the pattern misses the other dominant quality of mystical experience—love, or union through love. The medieval, theistic view of mysticism (as of religious life) was that it was “a stretching out of the soul into God through the urge of love, an experimental knowledge of God through unifying love.” Its other name was joy, and the endeavour of the mystic to grasp the divine essence or ultimate reality helped him to enjoy the blessedness of actual communion with the highest. This was considered both a science and an art. As a science (i.e., intuitive (intuition) knowledge, or the “science of ultimates”), mysticism is viewed as being able to help in “the overcoming of creatureliness,” and also as being able to maintain “the tendency to stress up to an extreme and exaggerated point the non-rational aspect of religion.”

      Reality, a kingdom of values, is viewed not as a faceless infinite, an impersonal something or somewhat. If not an ego, it is a being, and most mystics would call it God. Mysticism arises when man tries to bring the urge toward a communion with God—a “Being conceived as the supreme and ultimate reality,” according to the British scholar William Ralph Inge—toward a higher consciousness and being in relation with the other contents of his mind and total personality, when he tries to realize the presence of the living God in the soul and in nature or, more generally, in the attempt to realize (in thought and feeling) the immanence of the temporal in the eternal. A 19th-century scholar, Otto Pfleiderer, indicated that religious mysticism is “the immediate feeling of unity of the self with God; it is nothing, therefore, but the fundamental feeling of religion, the religious life at its very heart and centre.” Against such exclusive concentration the British writer Richard Nettleship suggests a corrective element, that of wholeness and symbolism. “Mysticism is the consciousness that everything that we experience is an element, and only an element, in fact, i.e. that in being what it is, it is symbolic of something else.”

Introvertive mysticism
      Certain forms of mysticism, however, would seem to strive toward a naked encounter with the Whole or All, without and beyond symbols. Of this kind of direct apprehension of the absolute, introvertive mysticism offers examples from different times and traditions. Instead of looking out, the gaze turns inward, toward the unchanging, the undifferentiated “One without a second.” The process by which this state is attained is by a blotting out or suppression of all physical sensations—indeed, of the entire empirical content of consciousness. Cittavṛttinirodha (“the holding or stopping of the mind stuff”) was how the 2nd-century-BC Indian mystic Patañjali described it. The model of introvertive mysticism comes from the Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad:

The Fourth, [aspect of self] say the wise, . . . is not the knowledge of the senses, nor is it relative knowledge, nor yet inferential knowledge. Beyond the senses, beyond the understanding, beyond all expression is The Fourth. It is pure unitary consciousness wherein [all] awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. It is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. It is One without a second. It is the Self. (From The Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal; trans. by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester.)

Other definitions and experiences of mysticism
      Such undifferentiated unity or union between the individual and the supreme self is unacceptable to certain traditions and temperaments. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (Buber, Martin) emphasized an “I–Thou” relationship: “All real living is meeting,” and one Thou cannot become It. But even his own “unforgettable experience” of union he would explain as “illusory.” With a wider range, a British scholar, R.C. Zaehner (Zaehner, R.C.), has tried to establish different kinds, or types, of mysticism: of isolation, the separation of spirit and matter, eternity from time; pantheistic, or “pan-enhenic,” in which the soul is the universe—all creaturely existence is one; the theistic, in which the soul feels identified with God; and the beatific, with its hope of deification when “the perishable puts on the imperishable.”

      Definitions of mysticism include a bewildering variety, ranging from the biological through the psychological to the theological. The origin of the word and certain of its features strongly suggest the possibility that mysticism is the science of a hidden life. But there is also a growing belief among 20th-century scholars that “the people of the hidden” should not remain hidden too long and should come out in the open, befitting an era of “open development” and “open realization.” Some 20th-century scientists, among them physicists, biologists, and paleontologists, have shown a marked mystical bias. A biologist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, has confessed to “peak experiences” of a great unity and liberation from ego boundary: “In moments of scientific discovery I have an intuitive insight into a grand design.” He finds no necessary opposition between the rational way of thinking and intuitive experience culminating in what the mystics have tried to express. Both have their place and may coexist. Earlier there had been a sharp dichotomy between scientific and mystical knowledge. The logic of levels may never be amenable to analysis or intellectual understanding, but that is not to deny the role of reason.

      Attitudes toward mysticism since the middle of the 20th century have been considerably modified by an awareness of subliminal consciousness, extrasensory perceptions, and, above all, an evolutionary perspective. The Roman Catholic paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre) asked if in an expanding universe mysticism would not burst the limits of narrow cults and religious rigidity and move toward an ecumenical future. In a larger view, mysticism has not so much to be defined as renewed and redefined.

Universal types of mystical experience

Intellectual and contemplative forms
      Mystical experience, which is centred in a seeking for unity, admits of wide variations but falls into recognizable types: mild and extreme, extrovertive and introvertive, and theistic and nontheistic. Another well-known typology—corresponding to the faculties of thinking, willing, and feeling—employs the Indian formula, the respective ways of knowledge (jñāna (jnana)), works (karma), and devotion ( bhakti). Claims have been made on behalf of each, though maturer mystics have tried to accord to each its place and also to arrive at a synthesis, as in the Bhagavadgītā (Bhagavadgita) (Hindu sacred scripture). Depending on the powers of discrimination, the intellectual or the contemplative type tries to reach the Highest, the One, or the Godhead behind God. In its approach toward the supreme identity it tends to be chary of multiplicity, “to deny the world that it may find reality.” Plotinus was “ashamed of being in the body.” In the 17th century, Spinoza's (Spinoza, Benedict de) nondenominational concept of intellectual love of God revealed a sense of aloofness or isolation reminiscent of the ancient Hindus.

      Man, however, does not live by thought alone; to live is to work, and faith without works is dead. The mystic injunction is that works should be done in a spirit of nonattachment, with the ego sense (I, the doer) taken away. In a larger sense, not merely the doing of religious chores but all activity is offered to the Supreme. All life, according to many mystics, turns into a sacrament. “All life is yoga (meditation practice).”

Devotional forms
      For the emotional type of person there is the mysticism of love and devotion. A theistic attitude, or devotional mysticism, depends upon mutual attraction. In the words of a Ṣūfī poet, “I sought Him for thirty years, I thought that it was I who desired Him, but no, it was He who desired me.” The path of devotion includes the rituals of prayer, worship, and adoration, which—if done with sincerity, inwardness, and understanding—can bring some of the most rewarding treasures of the religious life, including ecstasy (or samādhi). There is a paradox and a danger here: the paradox of avoiding the loss of personality, the danger of self-indulgence.

Ecstatic and erotic forms
      Also, in an unpurified medium, the experiences may and do give rise to erotic feelings, a fact observed and duly warned against by the wiser spirits and the Fathers of the Church. (Zen Buddhism avoids both the overly personal and erotic suggestions.) Sometimes the distinction between eros (Greek: “erotic love”) or kāma (Sanskrit: “sexual love”) and agapē (Greek: “a higher love”) or prema (Sanskrit: “higher love”) can be thin. In the Indian tradition the Vaiṣnava (Vaishnavism) (devotional) and Tantric (Vajrayāna) (sexual) experiments were, in their apparently different ways, bold and honest attempts at sublimation, though the majority of these experiments turned out to be failures and disasters.

      The same fate is likely to overtake the craze for psychedelic drugs (psychedelic drug) and pharmacological aids to visionary experience—practices that are by no means new. A yogic writer, Patañjali, speaks of the use of auṣadhi (a medicinal herb) as a means to yogic (Yoga) experience, and the Vedas (Hindu scriptures) and Tantras (Hindu occultic writings) refer to wine as part of worship and the initiatory rites. The Greek Mysteries (mystery religion) (religions of salvation) sometimes used sedatives and stimulants. Primarily meant to remove ethical, social, and mental inhibitions and to open up the subconscious no less than the subliminal, these techniques, as a rule, were frowned upon, even though those who took the help of such artificial aids had undergone prior training and discipline.

      A whole new life-style and vocabulary have developed around medicinal mysticism in the 20th century. Peyote, mescaline, hashish, marijuana, Cannabis indica, LSD, and other similar products have become familiar to much of the world's population. The visions induced by such aids at best resemble the extrovertive type and cannot be easily equated with genuine mystical experience. According to taste, temperament, and tradition, the experience—a parody of creative spontaneity—may come from unexpected sources. In any case, utilizing such medicinal aids rarely achieves union with Self or God, and no permanent change of personality (in the mystical sense) has been known to occur.

Goal of mystical experience and mysticism

Experience of the divine or sacred
      The goal of mysticism is “ghostly,” a state or condition in which the soul is “one'd with God,” according to the Western medieval work The Cloud of Unknowing. This “one-ing” is because all men, according to mystics, are called to their origin. Self-realization is basically one in intent with the injunctions of the Greek Mysteries: “Know thyself.” This knowing, union, or communion with the divine and the sacred is of the essence of the ascent of man. As the only answer to the problem of identity, mystics look upon it as the final end, the summum bonum. At the journey's end waits the knowledge by identity. The direct, intuitive perception is more akin to revealed religion than to science and philosophy, though it is of itself a science, and philosophies spring from as well as lead to it.

Union with the divine or sacred
      In the movement toward the goal there are, naturally, stages and processes, marked differently in different traditions. The discipline of prayer, purification, and contemplation culminates in the highest wordless union with the divine and the ultimate. As the process unfolds itself along the mystic way, an alteration of personality—a conversion, if not reintegration—occurs. The unregenerate “old man” (in Christianity) is replaced by the new being. The “twice born” (in Hinduism) becomes more than a metaphor or sacrosanct social arrangement. There is a change of level and mind. One of the aims or methods of mysticism is to make possible this change and conversion, a shift from the profane to the sacred, from “here” to “there”: “Lead me from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality” (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad). Before the transition, or the “great passage,” is completed, however, the individual or pilgrim feels successively or simultaneously his oneness with nature, with people, and with things—an extension of awareness or expanded selfhood to which no limits can be assigned. Cosmic consciousness is thus a stage in a progressive self-discovery.

Experience of the universal
      The nature of the goal, however, introduces a paradox. Like every other aim and activity, mysticism operates in a historical context. Yet, sooner or later, it also tends to reveal a timeless (time) stance. The mystic is both in and out of time. The eternal now is a kind of release from the temporal order. Such a release may lead to a shift from the local to the universal, to a growing sense of unity of all experience. Though not a declared or conscious aim, this result could be looked upon as a not unworthy goal as well as a pragmatic standard.

      To cure man of a provincialism of the spirit, from which more people suffer than either know or admit it, is one of the goals of a mysticism that has come of age. The true mystic is a cosmopolitan. In man's many-sided growth toward the real, a sane and mature mysticism leads to an ecumenical insight and obligation. Local colour, particulars, and uniqueness will not cease, but, in the perspective of the future and of wholeness, the universal alone will have survival value.

Experience of oneness with people
      The apotheosized (divinized) field of consciousness is mysticism's ultimate goal and gift to the life of an evolving humanity. It alone is fitted to mediate between the anguish of existence and the serenity of essence, between saṃsāra (“cycle of birth and rebirth”) and Nirvāṇa (the State of Bliss). According to an American Roman Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton (Merton, Thomas), “The spiritual anguish of man has no cure but mysticism.”

      Though the mystic goal may seem to be tied to a transcendent reality, this does not mean a sundering of all relations and responsibilities. On the contrary, it is the guarantee of a set of altered relationships and a rehabilitation of what may be called the higher reason. Intuitions that sink into private fancy and morbidity have a short life to live. As for the mystic's “yonder,” it is not spatially or posthumously remote but rather refers to a different order of reality and consciousness. The healthier forms of mysticism do not abjure action or the claims of love. It is an ancient maxim that one becomes what one loves. This is how the psychic birth repeats itself in the mystic soul, as stated, for example, by Meister Eckehart (Eckhart, Meister), a medieval German mystic: “It is more worthy of God that he should be born spiritually of every virgin, or of every good soul, than that he should have been born physically of Mary.”

      The mystic is not always amorous of the beyond, leaving an unredeemed world to its own ways. Not escape but, rather, victory is mysticism's inner urge and promise. The more sober among the mystics do not merely withdraw; they also return to the base and attempt the ancient alchemy, the transformation of men. A solitary salvation does not satisfy either head or heart.

Mystical relationship between man and the sacred

Nature of the relationship
      Within man is the soul of the holy, said Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th century. This is true of society, too. As the French sociologist Émile Durkheim (Durkheim, Émile) saw it, the sacred is but a personified society. Mysticism, one might say, is the art and science of the holy. Theologically, it is but “the experience of the Holy Ghost, . . . the realization of the Spirit of Holiness.” As the opposite of the profane and as a distinct and irreducible quality of the religious and mystical life, the sacred has always existed. It is indeed a mark of the real, and, when the German theologian Rudolf Otto (Otto, Rudolf) isolated the sacred as a “quite distinctive category” of mystical apprehension, he had no lack of evidence. The emphasis, however, was not unanimously accepted. Some, like Inge (Inge, William Ralph), thought the sacred might as well be elicited from such ultimate values as “truth, goodness, and beauty.”

      According to the respective world view, the interpretation or emphasis varies, but the universal core remains unaffected. The sacred is in its own way a coherent system, though not rational. The dualists no less than the theists insist on the unqualified and irreducible “otherness,” the unbridgeable gulf, even when one speaks of union or communion. It is the distance that preserves the sacred.

      Christian mystics, who often speak of “union with God,” generally do not imply identity with the divine, since this might lead to heresy. The 16th-century Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila (Teresa of Ávila, Saint) could write with impunity: “It is plain enough what unity is—two distinct things becoming one.” But most others could not be so plain and had to use special strategy to cover up traces of possible deviation from what was permissible. Even if there had been a semblance of interpenetration between man and the divine, there could be no substantial identity. “Each of these,” wrote the medieval Dutch mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck (Ruysbroeck, Jan van), “keeps its own nature. There is here a great distinction, for the creature never becomes God, nor does God ever become the creature.” The same doctrine is preached in the Middle Ages by the mystic Heinrich Suso (Suso, Heinrich):

In this merging of itself in God the spirit passes away and yet not wholly; for it receives indeed some attribute of God, but it does not become God by nature. It is still something that has been created out of nothing, and continues to be this everlastingly.

      Identification of man with the divine, according to many the heart of mysticism, raises problems from other points of view as well. pantheism, which asserts that all is God (or Nature), and God (or Nature) is all, is looked upon as a false doctrine in many religions. To John Calvin's leading question—“The Devil also must be God, substantially?”—the unsuspecting Spanish theologian and physician Michael Servetus had answered smilingly: “Do you doubt it?” The opinion cost him his life. The Hindus' Upaniṣads, however, insist on this identity in passage after passage. Closely looked at, this may not be simple pantheism but an identity in difference, a paradox present in even Vedānta (a Hindu monistic system). Islām has been fiercely critical of these claims of oneness and the medieval mystic al-Ḥallāj (Ḥallāj, al-) had to pay with his life (922) for making the unorthodox announcement of his identity with the divine: “Anā al-ḥaqq” (“I am the Truth”). He was not the only one to speak in this manner. The more moderate Maḥmūd Shabestarī (Shabestarī, Saʿd od-Dīn Maḥmūd) had reported an experience (c. 1320):

In God there is no duality. In that presence “I” and “we” and “you” do not exist. “I” and “you” and “we” and “He” become one. Since in the unity there is no distinction, the Quest and the Way and the Seeker become one.

      But Muslim theologians as a rule tended to dismiss those who “boasted of union with the Deity” as merely “babblers.” In the Jewish (Judaism) tradition, it is generally considered improper and indecorous for any man to give a personal account of his own mystical experience.

Awe and mystery
      Behind these and other interpretations, the reality of the sacred—and its persistent ambiguity—appears to be too true to be denied or ignored. Awe may or may not be the best part of man, but without it a necessary dimension is left out of the image of man, the dimension of what Otto called the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“the mystery that repels and attracts”). The mystics are loath to leave this dimension out and, directly or indirectly, insist on its inclusion. The reason was suggested in the 5th–4th centuries BC by the Greek philosopher Plato, who maintained that the divine was the head and root of man. The mystic's is the eye, the third eye, with which the world beholds itself and knows itself divine. Though the vision is partial and passes away, there could be an ideal state of unbroken awareness of the Real Presence, an epiphany (manifestation).

      According to the mystical point of view, the rational content of religion is not enough; it is not of the essence of religion. The sense of the holy, the mark of man's encounter with the “other,” is usually invested with an ethical aura or undertone. This is how most people understand it. But this lowers its potency considerably. There is clearly an overplus, below good and evil and beyond good and evil. The numinous (spiritual) is not altogether free of the ominous. Thus, though the holy may be discussed, it cannot be well defined. It can, however, be experienced and evoked, as part of that wordless mystery that man must face—even if he is not able to explain satisfactorily—in his journey toward the real. This may happen early or late in his mystical journey, and the notion of evolution may not be applied to it uniformly.

      The holy is not always and altogether a pleasant experience. Often shrouded in a fear that is more than fear, it is an inward dread and shuddering. The holy as awe-inspiring can be found in the Indian pantheon in such figures as Rudra and Kālī, the dark and wrathful faces of the divine, in which—in a collapse of finitude—majesty and unapproachability are inexplicably blended. The feeling of being consumed in the presence of the divine is a profound expression of man's relation to the holy. As for the ultimate mystical identity with the Supreme, Self, God, or the Unknowable, that also confirms the nonrational and suprarational nature of the experience in which ego, logic, and grammar are shattered alike. A frightful and traumatic adventure, not unlike the Greek Mystery rites, it can erupt at every crisis, break through an insulated universe. A clergyman cited by William Starbuck, an American psychologist of religion, spoke of having experienced

a [silent] presence [in the night], all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that He was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.

      Diminution apart, the holy generally gives rise to a sense of energy and urgency, which may take different forms. At a higher level, the consuming fire of love reported by mystics could be an extension or refinement of the same energy, for “Love is nothing else than quenched Wrath.” The “nothing else” may be an exaggeration, but such paradoxes of the religious life—e.g., the unity of opposites—meet man at every turn. The void in Buddhism, like the nothing in Western mysticism, may be a numinous ideogram of the “wholly other.”

Means and modes of the relationship
      As means to meet the divine, some mystics have taken recourse to fasting, breath control, meditation, ecstasy, simplification, autosuggestion, and monoideism (absorption in a single idea). Rituals (ritual), in some cases, provide contact. An old method is the via negativa (“negative way”): “the emptier your mind, the more susceptible are you to the working of the presence.” In other words, the impediments have to be removed. Among other indirect—but no less effective—means would be the shock therapy of the blood-curdling images that one notes in Tibetan iconography and symbology, which have their links with the archaic and the chthonian (infernal). On more negotiable levels, works of art—as far apart as Sung (Chinese) paintings, Gothic cathedrals, medieval temple architecture in India, the Egyptian Sphinx, music such as the Missa Solemnis or Sanskrit (Hindu) hymns—are accredited conductors of the numinous. Darkness, solitude, silence, and emptiness are sometimes enough for the sensitive soul, and the doors of perception open to a wider world beyond. A wide stretch of land or cranes flying against a cloudy sky were enough to throw the 19th-century Indian saint Ramakrishna into transport. But, always, it is less the object than something seen through the object, a bodiless presence, that forms the essence. Without symbols (religious symbolism and iconography) in which the holy is embodied, the experience of the holy vanishes.

      Though it creates a sense of awe and exaltation, the idea of the holy also produces a mood of dependence, leading to action aimed at appeasing the deity or the powers behind the universe. At first, the policy of appeasement may have been inspired by fear and hope of reward. But, since the deity is not ultimately malevolent, it could also evolve into an idea of grace. Mystical theology, both in the East and in the West, has sometimes been divided over the issue whether the union with the divine is the result of one's unaided effort or supernatural grace.

      The approaches to the divine or sacred are various rather than uniform. Moving through physical, intellectual, devotional, and symbolic rituals and disciplines, it moves toward the ultimate goal: the annihilation of the self, unio mystica (“mystical union”) in Western Christianity, mokṣa (“salvation”) in Hinduism, Nirvāṇa (the State of Bliss) in Buddhism, and fanāʾ (“the snuffing out of self”) in Islām. Though the words differ, the experiences are perhaps allied, if not the same. In a Ṣūfī (Ṣūfism) (Islāmic mystical) poem the divine voice speaks exultantly:

Annihilate yourself gloriously and joyously in Me, and in Me you shall find yourself; so long as you do not realize your nothingness, you will never reach the heights of immortality.

      The description could as well be applied to the Buddhist śūnyatā (“void”) and the self-negating of the Christian mystics.

      The ultimate has been, as a rule, thought of as something “other” and apart, even if in mysticism what is sought is union or unity. Hierophany (manifestation of the holy) implies a choice and a distinction: between that which manifests the sacred and that which does not. Also, though a hierophany may represent a historic event that does not minimize its larger validity (and in any culture there may be local as well as general hierophanies), a hierarchy is not unlikely. On occasions, the sacred may manifest itself in something profane. Ideally, to a mystic, “the integrated quality of the cosmos is itself a hierophany.” From this follows the possibility of consecrating the whole of life, so that by sacramental transformation, at any moment, “the flash of a trembling glance” may be inserted into the great time and project the man amphibian (having dual life) into eternity. Deification, without doubt one of the goals of the mystical life and a fundamental concept of orthodox Christendom, is part of the dialectics of the sacred. The alchemic undertone, in the man–God idea, has never wholly been extinguished. But, as part of the continuing paradox, one should also mention a resistance to the sacred. Depending on the ambivalence of the response to the sacred, which at once repels and attracts, the resistance is ultimately a flight from reality.

Semantics and symbolism in mystical experience

Union of opposites
      Mystical experience is flanked with a communication hazard, a “polar identity.” The linguistic liberties and extravagances are part of the logical impossibility of having to describe one order of experience in terms of another. Hence, the rhetoric of mysticism is largely one of symbols and paradoxes. The most striking of the strategies, as the medieval Christian scholar Nicholas Of Cusa put it, is coincidentia oppositorum (“union of opposites”). Since the opposites coincide without ceasing to be themselves, this also becomes an acceptable definition of God, or the nature of the Ground. God, said Heracleitus, is day and night, summer and winter, war and peace, and satiety and hunger—all opposites. A 5th- to 6th-century-AD Christian mystical writer called Dionysius the Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius The Areopagite) advised people to

strip off all questions in order that we may attain a naked knowledge of that Unknowing and that we may begin to see the superessential Darkness which is hidden by the light that is in existent things.

      This use of language or view of things is obviously not normal.

      Old myths and archetypes are full of examples of such dichotomy. The Zoroastrian tradition has Ormazd (the Good Lord) and Ahriman (the Lie); the Gnostic myth speaks of Christ and Satan as brothers; and the same idea is found in the Vedas, where the suras (“good spirits”) and asuras (“bad spirits”) are shown to be cousins. In a different context there is the androgyne (“man–woman”), the ardhanārīśvara in Indian myth. As for the Hindu jīvanmukta, the liberated individual, he is liberated from duality. This is also part of what the Lord Kṛṣṇa (Krishna) said, when he asked the hero Arjuna to rise above the three guṇas (“modes”). The Tantras refer to the union of Śiva (a Hindu god) and Śakti (Śiva's consort) in one's own body and consciousness and provide appropriate practices to this end. The Chinese had their Yang and Yin (opposites), the Tibetans their Yab and Yum (opposites), and Buddhism its saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa as aspects of the Same. In Prajñāpāramitā, a Mahāyāna (northern Buddhist) text, the Illumined Ones are supposed to engage in a laughter in which all distinctions cease to exist.

Emptiness and fullness
      Mystical experience permits complementary and apparently contradictory methods of expression: via affirmativa (“affirmative way,” or fullness) as well as via negativa (“negative way,” or emptiness). For fullness and freedom both are needed. This is because the reality affirmed contains its own opposite. In fact, the apparent negations—neti-neti, (“not this, not that”) of the Upaniṣads, the śūnyatā (“void”) of the Buddhists, or the Darkness beyond Light of Dionysius—perform a double function. They state a condition of being as well as its utter freedom from every determination. As Dionysius explains it, “While God possesses all the attributes of the universe, being the universal Cause, yet in a stricter sense He does not possess them, since He transcends them all.” The “negative way,” a way of turning the back upon the finite, is part of an old, positive, verified insight, at once the last freedom and, as far as many men are concerned, perhaps a lost freedom.

Symbolism of divine messengers
      Experiences relating to these realities could not at any time have been common or widespread and must have come mainly through consecrated channels: yogis (Hindu meditation practitioners), gurus (Hindu teachers), prophets, mystics, saints, and spiritual masters of the inner life. This channelling through human agents has given rise to a host of divine messengers: a hierarchy of angels, intermediaries, and incarnations, singly or in succession. This manner of approaching or receiving the divine or holy is the justification of avatars (incarnations of God) and the man–God in various religions. “God was made man in order that man might be made God.”

      The mystical experience is a renovation of life at its root; that is, of the forgotten language of symbols and symbolism. The mystic participates in two worlds at once, the profane and the sacred. Rituals and ceremonies become the means of integration with a higher reality and consciousness. But symbols cannot be deliberately manufactured, nor do they make an arbitrary system. “Being for ever communicating its essence” is the source of their abundance, potency, and unity. Even a nontheistic mysticism, such as Buddhism, has deployed symbols freely, of which perhaps the most well-known is the formula oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ (“the jewel in the lotus”).

      Symbols point beyond themselves, participate in that to which they point, open up levels of reality that are otherwise closed to man, unlock dimensions and elements of the soul that correspond to reality and cannot be produced intentionally or invented. Symbols may be inner or outer. To some, nature symbolism comes easily.

Symbolism of love and marriage
      A far more risky but inescapable mode of symbolism than pantheism has been the use of the analogy of human love and marriage. Not all the mystics have been deniers or champions of repression. The soul, it may be added, is always feminine. The Christian mystics St. Bernard (Bernard de Clairvaux, Saint) and St. John of the Cross (John of the Cross, Saint), the Islāmic Ṣūfī poets, and the Hindu Dravidian and Vaiṣṇava saints could teach lovers. Not only the church but the faithful are viewed to be among Christ's brides and speak the language of love. “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!” The speaker is the bride, thirsting for God. St. Bernard has shown that through carnal, mercenary, filial, and nuptial love the life of man moves toward the mystery of grace and union.

      The hermeneutics (critical interpretation) of “the Bridegroom-Word” is that “the soul's return is her conversion to the Word, to be reformed through Him and to be conformed to Him.” In the West, the roots of the tradition go back to the Song of Solomon in the Bible, not, perhaps, the best of models. The Hindu līlās (“love plays”) of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa have been freely misunderstood in spite of the repeated disclaimer that the events described are not facts but symbols. The charge of immorality has been loudest against the Tantras, which had made a subtle, bold, and strict experiment in sublimation, whose inner sense may fail to be intelligible even to those who are attracted by it. That the marriage symbol should find a readier response among the brides of Christ is only to be expected. In The Interior Castle, St. Teresa has been fairly outspoken: “He has bound Himself to her as firmly as two human beings are joined in wedlock and will never separate Himself from her.” But this was not a monopoly of nuns. The medieval theologian Richard of Saint-Victor has described as well as explained the “steep stairway of love” made up of betrothal, marriage, wedlock, and fruitfulness. In a slightly different set of symbols, St. John of the Cross states that after the soul has driven away from itself all that is contrary to the divine will, it is “transformed in God by love.”

Symbolism of the journey
      Another prominent mystical symbol is the way, quest, or pilgrimage. Having lost the paradise of his soul, man, as the 16th-century physician and alchemist Paracelsus says, is a wanderer ever. A Christian monk, St. Bonaventure, has written about the mind's journey to God, and an English mystic, Walter Hilton (Hilton, Walter), has described the Christian journey thus:

Right as a true pilgrim going to Jerusalem, leaveth behind him his house and land, wife and child, and maketh himself poor and bare from all that he hath, that he may go lightly without letting: right so, if thou wilt be a ghostly pilgrim, thou shalt make thyself naked from all that thou wouldst be at Jerusalem, and at none other place but there. (From The Ladder of Perfection.)

      According to the Ṣūfīs, the pilgrim is the perceptive or intuitional sense of man. Aided by attraction, devotion, and elevation, the journey leads, by way of many a wine shop (divine love), to the tavern (illumination), “the journey to God in God.” In his Conference of the Birds, the 12th-century Persian Ṣūfī ʿAṭṭār (Aṭṭār, Farīd al-Dīnʿ) refers to the seven valleys en route to the king's hidden palace: the valleys of quest, love, knowledge, detachment, unity, amazement, and, finally, annihilation. Others have gone further and spoken of “annihilation of annihilation.” In the symbolic universe, denudation may be viewed as a way of fullness.

      Men are called to the journey inward or upward because of a homing instinct. Eckehart put the matter simply: earth cannot escape the sky. All men are called to their origin, which implies God's need of man. A mutual attraction, the tendency toward the Divine cannot be stifled indefinitely, since it returns after every banishment. For some, paradise is not enough; it is too localized and perhaps perishable. They strain toward eternity, a leap beyond history into the incommunicable forever. A white radiance to some, to others it is “a ring of pure and bright light.” The Veda speaks of the kālahahaṃsa (“the swan of time”) winging back to the sky and nest, eternity.

      Essentially a way of return, ricorso, the final aim of mysticism is transfiguration. But

by what alchemy shall this lead of mortality be turned into that gold of divine Being? But if they are not in their essence contraries? If they are manifestations of one Reality, identical in substance? Then indeed a divine transmutation becomes conceivable. (From Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine.)

      This is a clue to the Vedas (Veda), those hymns to the mystic fire and the inner sense of sacrifice, burning forever on “the altar Mind.” Hence the abundance of solar and fire images: birds of fire, the fire of the sun, and the isles of fire. The symbol (religious symbolism and iconography) systems of the world religions and mysticisms are profound illuminations of the human-divine mystery. Be it the cave of the heart or the lotus of the heart, “the dwelling place of that which is the Essence of the universe,” the third eye, or the eye of wisdom—the symbols all refer back to the wisdom entering the aspiring soul on its way toward progressive self-understanding. “I saw my Lord with the Eye of the Heart. I said, ‘Who art Thou?' and he answered, ‘thou'.” Throughout the ages man, homo symbolicus, has been but exploring the endless miracle of being. Mystical experience is a living encyclopaedia of equations and correspondences, pointer readings that partly reveal and partly conceal.

Psychological aspects of mysticism

      Mysticism has been accused of passing off psychological states for metaphysical statements. But the psychological base has never been questioned seriously. It would, however, be proper to call it autology (the science of self). If the word psychology is to be retained, it must be in the original sense of the word now discarded. The contrast between the old and the new has been well expressed by the Russian philosopher P.D. Ouspensky:

Never in history has psychology stood at so low a level, lost all touch with its origin and meaning, perhaps the oldest science and, unfortunately, in its most essential features, a forgotten science, the science of [man's] possible evolution.

      Mysticism is that science in which the psychology of man mingles with the psychology of God. The major change or orientation is from the level of the profane to the sacred, an awareness of the divine in man and outside. The source and goal of such a psychology was revealed in the 18th-century Methodist leader John Wesley's dying words: “The best of all is this, that God is with us.”

      A mark of the mystic life is the great access of energy and enlarged awareness, so much so that the man who obtains the vision becomes, as it were, another being. Mansions of the mind, maqām (Arabic: “place”), and bhūmi (Sanskrit: “land”), open up to the gaze of the initiate, a wayfarer of the worlds. This means a renewal or conversion until one knows that the earth alone is not man's teacher. The mystic begins to draw his sustenance from supersensuous sources. He has “drunk the Infinite like a giant's wine,” and a hidden bliss, knowledge, and power begin to sweep through the gates of his senses.

Role of identification
      The state of energizing is facilitated by controlled attention. It is customary to fix the mind on some object or idea, some focus of contemplation. According to the Indian formula, to worship God one must become like him (devam bhutva devam yajet). Exercises, physical no less than mental, including methods of worship and prayer, have been developed to this end until one becomes what one contemplates. The ranges and creative aspects of the mind are part of the psychology of the mystics and one of the oldest traditions of mankind. The old Indian psychology divided consciousness into three provinces: waking state (jāgrat), dream state (svapna), and sleep state (suṣupti), and added a fourth (turīya), which is the consciousness of man's pure self-existence or being. The fourfold scale represents the degrees of the ladder of being by which man climbs back to the source, the absolute divine. The change, from “here” to “there,” is not an uneventful process. There come dry periods, deviations, violent alterations, and temptations. If there are raptures and blue heavens, there are python agonies and absolute abandonments, howling deserts and “dark nights of the soul” to go through. Tears of joy, horripilation (bristling of the hair), stigmata (bodily marks or pains), and parapsychological phenomena have been known to develop.

      The earlier phases of a naturalistic psychology had no qualms in relegating most of these experiences to the scrap heap of obsolete and archaic vanities, disorders, and morbidities—in a word, hallucination. One reason for such overall denigration was that complacent aliens to the mystical life did not care to distinguish between abnormal and supernormal phenomena. To them all were the same, at best some kind of religious sport. An American Quaker philosopher, Rufus Jones, has noted that psychology, as 20th-century man knows it, is empirical and possesses no ladder by which it can transcend the empirical (Platonism) order.

      According to mystics, most men live in a prison, the walls thick with ego, the senses, and restricting interests. But some prisoners develop a passion to scale the walls and move toward an unwalled horizon, an adventure of ideas, if nothing more. Thus, the hypothesis that there might be cherubs and seraphs (angels of knowledge and of love) who call and guide men in the upward way is difficult to ignore. But if the distinction between love and knowledge is at all valid, the achievements of men would seem to be the products of love, since, as Aristotle maintained, the intellect by itself moves nothing. Without “the driving and drawing that we feel in the heart,” mysticism would lack power and might sink into quiescence, as has sometimes happened. To will what the Supreme wills is the supreme secret, the primum mobile. “Nothing burns in hell but self-will” (Theologia Germanica, ch. 34). The mystic approaches this knowledge and mobility even when he is compelled to withdraw from society for long or short periods. But withdrawal without return is not complete. As scientists of the psyche, the mystics insisted on the primacy of the inner factors. Modern psychoanalysis claims to have made available to man's knowledge areas of darkness beneath the conscious levels. However revealing these evidences of the ape and the tiger, psychoanalysis is debarred from understanding the superconscious, and it is viewed by mystics as being less than correct in its reading of the irrational in man. The inescapable pessimism of the psychoanalytic conclusion stands in contrast to the possibilities of self-development and sublimation to which mystics have always pointed.

      Among other discoveries on the mystical way is that of ambivalence, or the alternate ways of looking at the world: temporal as against eternal. The double vision characterizes the saint whose life forms a point of intersection between time and timelessness. Mystical psychology assumes a transcendental faculty, in the hiddenness, beyond the threshold. It is committed to a breakthrough and could never have sustained itself without constant verification. In many ways a guarded secret, meant for the competent few, the experiment has hazards and could upset any but the most disciplined. The rousing of energy, the infusion of grace, and confrontation of the levels of reality create tensions and difficulties. Hence, the insistence on moderation and balance on all hands. “The higher the love, the greater the pain,” a voice had consoled a 13th-century German mystic, Mechthild von Magdeburg. “Believe me, children,” wrote a 14th-century German mystic, Johann Tauler (Tauler, Johann), “one who would know much about these matters would often have to keep to his bed, for his bodily frame could not support this.”

      These upheavals of “mystic ill health” are part of a developing consciousness that has to move through and adjust to habits of inertia and resistance in the system and to an inability to support the emerging powers and their demands. A little imbalance now and then should take no one by surprise. The possibility of ranges of consciousness without thinking is one of the basic premises of yogic or mystical psychology. It constitutes a confutation of the formula of the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes: cogito ergo sum (cogito, ergo sum) (“I think; therefore, I am”). Being can exist without cogito (or ratio, “reason”) in a direct awareness of things that is the function of intuition, prajñā.

Systematic exposition of mystical experience

Attempts of mystics to record the nature of their experiences
      The theory or interpretation of mysticism is not mysticism. Generally, there are two sides to the theory: philosophical and practical. There may be another: confessional and justificatory. Though some mystics have been content to record what happened, others have worked out manuals of praxis (techniques), or sādhāna. As a rule, mystical method, experience, and exegesis cannot be sharply set apart from one another. However ineffable, raids on the inarticulate and expositions of the same have not ceased. The expositions have formed part of a particular framework of culture, tradition, and temperament. The 8th- to 9th-century-AD Indian philosopher Śaṅkara and the 16th-century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross are not likely to talk in the same tone or accent. However universal in intent, all expositions tend to be localized.

      The study of comparative mysticism as well as the spirit of the age make it possible and perhaps mandatory for modern man to move toward an open and untethered mysticism, the “ocean of tomorrow.” Indications of this change in attitude and emphasis are not wanting, especially in the 20th-century writings of the Indian mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, who represent something totally new but allied. R.C. Zaehner (Zaehner, R.C.) has explained that both, though unknown to each other,

not only accepted the theory of evolution, but enthusiastically acclaimed it, indeed were almost obsessed with it. Both were profoundly influenced by Bergson, both were deeply dissatisfied with organized religion, and both were vitally concerned not only with individual salvation or “liberation,” but also with the collective salvation of mankind.

The value and meaning of mystical experience
      Among the attempts to explain the value and meaning of mystical experience, a few features may be indicated. Claimed to be a guarantee for order and reconciliation, mysticism does not take away mystery from the world, nor is it essentially irrational. Though in their penchant for the beyond or God-intoxication some mystics have inclined to reject the world, the maturer variety has not divided the world of spirit and matter but has tried to mediate between spirit and matter with the help of emanations, correspondences, and a hierarchy of the real. As a giver of life, mysticism is meant to fulfill and not to destroy. Thus, it need not be world negating.

      Pointing to a scale of senses and levels of mind, mysticism provides an escape from a life of uninspired existence. It magnifies man and gives him a hope and destiny to fulfill. With its abiding sense of the “more,” mysticism may be called the religion of man or the religion of maturity. It offers not irrational developments or inducements but the working out of inherent potentials. Evolution, according to mystics, is not yet ended.

      The mystical life is not for those who are well adjusted and other oriented. In Ramakrishna's homely phrase, at some point or other one has to “take the plunge.” A change so radical calls for a kind of attention other than what most people seem prepared to give. To make it his supreme business one must have a call to holy living. He who seeks the divine must consecrate himself to God and to God only.

Problems of communication and understanding
      The problem of communication, of tidings from another country, is obvious. Transvaluation of values is not easy to accept, adjust to, or express. The dialogue between mystical and other pursuits is an unsolved problem. After he had undergone a spiritual experience, the 13th-century Christian philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas (Aquinas, Thomas, Saint) is reported to have said, “I have seen that which makes all that I have written and taught look small to me. My writing days are over.” This, from the author of the voluminous Summa theologica (“Summary of Theology”), is not without its importance.

      Even if it is difficult to describe visions and dangerous to systematize, the direction in which mysticism points is clear: relational transcendence. The 20th-century crises and the mass media suggest the possibility of a mysticism brought up to date that will serve “the Creative Intention that past ages have called God.” Whether it comes through symbols, systems, paradigmatic examples, or extreme situations, there will probably always be some response to the call of the real.

Mysticism as a social factor
      Mystical experience is no doubt solo, the experience of a singular person. But more than “a flight of the alone to the Alone,” it could also be a redemption of solitude no less than of society. In the mystic experience, as Jakob Böhme (Böhme, Jakob) said, the world is not destroyed but remade. At times a protest against heteronomy (i.e., external authority and ecclesiastical machinery), mysticism has expressed itself in diverse backgrounds and flourished during dark periods of history.

      Because of its other-worldly bias, the belief still persists that the solitary mystic, absorbed in a vertical relation with God or reality, owes no social responsibility. Altogether an outsider, he has deliberately undergone a civil death. This is not an ideal or wholly accurate picture. “A Mystic who is not of supreme service to the Society is not a Mystic at all” (from preface to R.D. Ranade, Mysticism in Maharashtra). According to Zen Buddhism, the great contemplative—even when “sitting quietly, doing nothing”—has been a man of action, perhaps the only kind of action that leaves no bitter residue behind. The less extravagant forms of mysticism represent attitudes and principles of charity, detachment, and dedication, which should guide the relation of the individual to the group. The mystics have fought the inner battle and won, creating themselves and their world.

      Mysticism proves the individual's capacity to rise above the conditioning factors of nature, nurture, and society and to transform collective life, though this has not been generally recognized. With a hidden and potent force, mystics have tried, as best as circumstances permitted, to mend the universal ill. As in the classic resolve of the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”), they have looked forward to universal enlightenment. If the attempt by mystics to create a new order or a better society has failed, the incapacity or defection of the majority may be the reason for the failure.

      “Revolution” is a word too often profaned. The change suggested is mainly, if not wholly, from without. In such contrived salvation by compulsion, the inner core is hardly touched. “But it is an eternal law that there can be no compulsion in the realm of the spirit. It is essentially a world of free creative choices” (Rufus Jones (Jones, Rufus Matthew), Some Exponents of Mystical Religion). Mystics insist on a change of consciousness, a slower and more difficult process, and also on a scrupulous equation between ends and means. Impatience, deviations, and subterfuges in this respect can be costly, ironic, and instructive. According to mystics, the individuals who will most help the future of humanity will be those who recognize the unfinished and ultimate revolution—the evolution of consciousness—as the destiny and therefore the great need of all men as of society.

      Holiness does not mean a retreat from or a rejection of the world. To be a mystic or a seer is not the same thing as being a spectator on the fence. As the Swedish secretary-general of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, proved with his life, in the modern era the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action. Many with a mystical frame of mind look beyond what mystics call quasi-revolutions to a great life—an entire civilization, the civilization of consciousness. The need of synthesis places its stake on the future and the All.

The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human—these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together. (From Teilhard de Chardin (Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre), The Phenomenon of Man.)

      According to mystics, here may be the outline of a revolution whose message has reached but a few. The hope of a Kingdom of Heaven within man and a City of God without remains one of mysticism's gifts to what many mystics view as an evolving humanity.

Sisirkumar Ghose

Additional Reading
Richard M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind (1905, many later editions), introduced two important ideas as one, ideas that would recur, with modifications, in later writings. Rufus M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (1908, reprinted 1970), provided a balanced and liberal attitude that emphasized its experiential quality, its value as a practical guide, and the presence of a mystical brotherhood through the centuries. Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 12th ed. rev. (1957), has been a pioneer work, though its insistence on the Mystic Way has been questioned. Reynold A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (1913, reprinted 1966), is one of the earliest studies in Ṣūfism that still holds interest. Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga (first published, serially, 1914–21, later in book form), with much collateral illumination, explains the idea of Integral Yoga. Henri Bergson, Les Deux sources de la morale et de la religion, 3rd ed. (1932; Eng. trans., Two Sources of Morality and Religion, 1935), forms part of a general thesis on creative evolution and, paradoxically, on the need for mysticism in an age of mechanization. Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 3rd rev. ed. (1954), clearly brings out the distinction that the concept of union is not an essential of mystical experience as understood in the Jewish tradition. Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (1946), is an anthology with sophisticated, sometimes cynical, commentary with an ascetic bias. Jacques de Marquette, Introduction to Comparative Mysticism (1949), is a fair and straightforward survey in which its relevance to modern life and thought is brought out and an awareness of possibilities hinted at. R.C. Zaehner, Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (1957), beginning as a caveat against the use of drugs for transcendental experience, goes on to make critical distinctions between four types of mysticism. D.T. Suzuki, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist (1957), offers a sympathetic study of contrasts as well as some resemblances between two traditions. Radhakamal Mukerjee, The Theory and Art of Mysticism (1960), is an overall study, particularly good with regard to the Eastern material. Walter T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (1960), is balanced and analytic but singles out introvertive mysticism as more genuine and superior. Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion (1963), is a helpful anthology with a reliable introduction to the field of comparative mysticism. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Le Phénomène humain (1955; Eng. trans., The Phenomenon of Man, 1959), though its scientific accuracy has been questioned, its poetic and impassioned attempt to mediate between religious insights and a hope for man and the future has made it the object of much attention. See also Louis Dupré, The Deeper Life: An Introduction to Christian Mysticism (1981); and Richard Woods, Mysterion: An Approach to Mystical Spirituality (1981).

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • Mysticism — • Mysticism as direct union of the human soul with the Divinity primarily from a Catholic perspective, but does mention other mystical traditions Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Mysticism     Mysticism …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Mysticism — Студийный альбом …   Википедия

  • Mysticism — Mys ti*cism, n. [Cf. F. mysticisme.] 1. Obscurity of doctrine. [1913 Webster] 2. (Eccl. Hist.) The doctrine of the Mystics, who professed a pure, sublime, and wholly disinterested devotion, and maintained that they had direct intercourse with the …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • mysticism — index mystery Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • mysticism — (n.) 1736, from MYSTIC (Cf. mystic) (adj.) + ISM (Cf. ism) …   Etymology dictionary

  • mysticism — asceticism (see under ASCETIC n) …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • mysticism — ► NOUN 1) the beliefs or state of mind characteristic of mystics. 2) vague or ill defined religious or spiritual belief …   English terms dictionary

  • mysticism — [mis′tə siz΄əm] n. 1. the doctrines or beliefs of mystics; specif., the doctrine that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation 2. any doctrine that asserts the possibility of attaining an intuitive knowledge of spiritual …   English World dictionary

  • Mysticism — The goddess Persephone, from the great Eleusinian relief in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens …   Wikipedia

  • mysticism —    It is impossible to overemphasize the significance of mysticism in Islamic philosophy. Most of the classical thinkers regarded themselves as mystics, and some strains of Islamic philosophy were entirely mystical. Isma‘ili thought, for example …   Islamic philosophy dictionary

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