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Mysticism ( pronunciation (help·info)) is a term with various, historical determined meanings.[web 1][web 2] Derived from the Greek μυω, meaning "to conceal",[web 2] it referred to the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative dimensions in early and medieval Christianity, and became associated with "extraordinary experiences and states of mind" in the early modern period.
In modern times, "mysticism" has acquired a limited definition,[web 1] but a broad application,[web 1] as meaning "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."[note 1] The limited definition has been applied to include a worldwide range of religious traditions and practices.[web 1]
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Definition
- 3 Development
- 4 Mystical experience
- 4.1 Origins of the term "mystical experience"
- 4.2 Influences
- 4.3 Freud and the Oceanic feeling
- 4.4 Criticism
- 4.5 Scientific research of "mystical experiences"
- 4.6 Induction of mystical experiences
- 5 Forms of "mysticism"
- 6 Western mysticism
- 7 Eastern "mysticism"
- 8 Modern "mysticism"
- 9 Skepticism
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Sources
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
The definition, or meaning, of the term "mysticism" has changed throughout the ages.[web 1] The contemporary, limited definition took shape in the 19th century.[web 1] It has been applied to non-western religions and cultures as well,[web 1] which gave rise to a cultural memesis or pizza effect as exemplified by Neo-Vedanta, Buddhist modernism and contemporary spirituality.
Spiritual life and re-formation
According to Evelyn Underhill, mysticism is "the science or art of the spiritual life." It is "the expression of the innate tendency of the human spirit towards complete harmony with the transcendental order; whatever be the theological formula under which that order is understood."[note 2][note 3]
According to Evelyn Underhill, illumination is a generic English term for the phenomenon of mysticism. The term illumination is derived from the Latin illuminatio, applied to Christian prayer in the 15th century. Translated as enlightenment it is adopted in English translations of Buddhist texts, but used loosely to describe the state of mystical attainment regardless of faith.[note 4]
McGinn argues that "presence" is more accurate than "union", since not all mystics spoke of union with God, and since many visions and miracles were not necessarily related to union. He also argues that we should speak of "consciousness" of God's presence, rather than of "experience", since mystical activity is not simply about the sensation of God as an external object, but more broadly about
...new ways of knowing and loving based on states of awareness in which God becomes present in our inner acts.
Related to this idea of "presence" instead of "experience" is the transformation that occurs through mystical activity:
This is why the only test that Christianity has known for determining the authenticity of a mystic and her or his message has been that of personal transformation, both on the mystic's part and—especially—on the part of those whom the mystic has affected.
According to Gellmann,
Typically, mystics, theistic or not, see their mystical experience as part of a larger undertaking aimed at human transformation (See, for example, Teresa of Avila, Life, Chapter 19) and not as the terminus of their efforts. Thus, in general, ‘mysticism’ would best be thought of as a constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation, variously defined in different traditions.[web 2][note 5]
According to Belzen and Geels, mysticism is "a way of life and a 'direct consciousness of the presence of God' [or] 'the ground of being' or similar expressions".
Mystical experience and union with the Divine
According to Cobb, mysticism 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 practices intended to nurture those experiences. According to Cobb, mysticism may be dualistic, maintaining a distinction between the self and the divine, or may be nondualistic.[note 1]
According to McClenon, mysticism is
The doctrine that special mental states or events allow an understanding of ultimate truths. Although it is difficult to differentiate which forms of experience allow such understandings, mental episodes supporting belief in "other kinds of reality" are often labeled mystical [...] Mysticism tends to refer to experiences supporting belief in a cosmic unity rather than the advocation of a particular religious ideology.[web 3]
According to Blakemore and Jennett,
Mysticism is frequently defined as an experience of direct communion with God, or union with the Absolute, but definitions of mysticism (a relatively modern term) are often imprecise and usually rely on the presuppositions of the modern study of mysticism — namely, that mystical experiences involve a set of intense and usually individual and private psychological states [...] Furthermore, mysticism is a phenomenon said to be found in all major religious traditions.[web 4][note 6]
In the Hellenistic world, 'mystical' referred to "secret" religious rituals[web 2] The use of the word lacked any direct references to the transcendental. A "mystikos" was an initiate of a mystery religion.
In early Christianity the term "mystikos" referred to three dimensions, which soon became intertwined, namely the biblical, the liturgical and the spiritual or contemplative. The biblical dimension refers to "hidden" or allegorical interpretations of Scriptures.[web 2] The liturgical dimension refers to the liturgical mystery of the Eucharist, the presence Christ at the Eucharist.[web 2] The third dimension is the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God.
This threefold meaning of "mystical" continued in the Middle Ages. Under the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite the mystical theology came to denote the investigation of the allegorical truth of the Bible. Pseudo-Dionysius' Apophatic theology, or "negative theology", exerted a great influence on medieval monastic religiosity, although it was mostly a male religiosity, since woman were not allowed to study. It was influenced by Neo-Platonism, and very influential in Eastern Orthodox Christian theology. In western Christianity it was a counter-current to the prevailing Cataphatic theology or "positive theology". It is best known nowadays in the western world from Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross.
Early modern meaning
Luther dismissed the allegorical interpretation of the bible, and condemned Mystical theology, which he saw as more Platonic than Christian. "The mystical", as the search for the hidden meaning of texts, became secularised, and also associated with literature, as opposed to science and prose.
Science was also distantiated form religion. By the middle of the 17th century, 'the mystical' is increasingly applied exclusively to the religious realm, separating religion and 'natural philosophy' as two distinct approaches to the discovery of the hidden meaning of God's universe. The traditional hagiographies and writings of the saints became designated as 'mystical', shifting from the virtues and miracles to extraordinary experiences and states of mind, thereby creating a newly coined "mystical tradition". A new understanding developed of the Divine as residing within human, a core essence beyond the varieties of religious expressions.
In the 19th century the meaning of mysticism was considerably narrowed:[web 1]
The competition between the perspectives of theology and science resulted in a compromise in which most varieties of what had traditionally been called mysticism were dismissed as merely psychological phenomena and only one variety, which aimed at union with the Absolute, the Infinite, or God—and thereby the perception of its essential unity or oneness—was claimed to be genuinely mystical. The historical evidence, however, does not support such a narrow conception of mysticism.[web 1]
Under the influence of Perennialism, which was popularised in both the west and the east by Unitarianism, Transcendentalists and Theosophy, mysticism has acquired a broader meaning, in which all sorts of esotericism and religious traditions and practices are joined together.
The term mysticism has been extended to comparable phenomena in non-Christian religions,[web 1] where it influenced Hindu and Buddhist responses to colonialism, resulting in Neo-Vedanta and Buddhist modernism.
In the contemporary usage "mysticism" has become an umbrella term for all sorts of non-rational worldviews. William Harmless even states that mysticism has become "a catch-all for religious weirdness". Within the academic study of religion the apparent "unambiguous commonality" has become "opaque and controversial". The term "mysticism" is being used in different ways in different traditions. Some call to attention the conflation of mysticism and linked terms, such as spirituality and esotericism, and point at the differences between various traditions.
Many religious and mystical traditions see religious experiences (particularly that knowledge that comes with them) as revelations caused by divine agency rather than ordinary natural processes. They are considered real encounters with God or gods, or real contact with higher-order realities of which humans are not ordinarily aware. Nevertheless, the notion of "religious experience" or "mystical experience" as marking insight into religious truth is a modern development.
Origins of the term "mystical experience"
The term "mystical experience" has become synonymous with the terms "religious experience", spiritual experience and sacred experience. A "religious experience" is a subjective experience which is interpreted within a religious framework. The concept originated in the 19th century, as a defense against the growing rationalism of western society. William James popularized the use of the term "religious experience" in his The Varieties of Religious Experience. It has also influenced the understanding of mysticism as a distinctive experience which supplies knowledgeof the transcendental.[web 2]
Wayne Proudfoot traces the roots of the notion of "religious experience" further back to the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), who argued that religion is based on a feeling of the infinite. The notion of "religious experience" was used by Schleiermacher to defend religion against the growing scientific and secular citique. It was adopted by many scholars of religion, of which William James was the most influential.
The interplay between western and eastern notions of religion is an important factor in the popularisation of the notion of "mystical experience". In the 19th century, when Asian countries were colonialised by western states, there started a process of cultural mememis. In this process Western ideas about religion, especially the notion of "religious experience" were introduced in Asian countries by missionaries, scholars and the Theosophical Society, and amalgated in a new understanding of the Indian and Buddhist traditions. This amalgam was exported back to the west as 'authentic Asian traditions', and acquired a great popularuty in the west. Due this western popularity it also gained authority back in India, Sri Lanka and Japan. The best-known representatives of this amalgan tradition are Annie Besant (Theosophical Society), Swami Vivekenanda and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (Neo-Vedanta), Anagarika Dharmapala, a 19th-century Sri Lankan Buddhist activist who founded the Maha Bodhi Society, and D.T. Suzuki, a Japanese scholar and Zen-Buddhist. A synonymous term for this broad understanding is nondualism. The mutual influence is also known as the pizza effect.
A broad range of western and eastern moevements have influenced the emergence of the modern notion of "mystical experience".
The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis),[note 7] also referred to as "perennialism", is a perspective within the philosophy of religion which views each of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, universal truth on which foundation all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown.
The term philosophia perennis was first used by Agostino Steuco (1497–1548), drawing on an already existing philosophical tradition, the most direct predecessors of which were Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94).
A major proponent in the 20th century was Aldous Huxley, who "was heavily influenced in his description by Vivekananda's neo-Vedanta and the idiosyncratic version of Zen exported to the west by D.T. Suzuki. Both of these thinkers expounded their versions of the perennialist thesis", which they originally received from western thinkers and theologians.
According to the Perennial Philosophy the mystical experiences in all religions are essentially the same. It supposes that many, if not all of the world's great religions, have arisen around the teachings of mystics, including Buddha, Jesus, Lao Tze, and Krishna. It also sees most religious traditions describing fundamental mystical experience, at least esoterically.
[P]eople can differentiate experience from interpretation, such that different interpretations may be applied to otherwise identical experiences".
The "common-core thesis" is criticised by "diversity theorists" such as S.T Katz and W. Proudfoot. They argue that
[N]o unmediated experience is possible, and that in the extreme, language is not simply used to interpret experience but in fact constitutes experience.
According to Steindl-Rast, this common core of mystical experience may be repressed by institutional religion. Conventional religions, by definition, have strong institutional structures, including formal hierarchies and mandated sacred texts and/or creeds. Personal experience may be a threat to these structures.[web 5]
Transcendentalism and Unitarian Universalism
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) was a pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field. He was one of the major figures in Transcendentalism, an early 19th-century liberal Protestant movement, which was rooted in English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume.[web 2] The Transcendentalists emphasised an intuitive, experiential approach of religion.[web 6] Following Schleiermacher, an individual's intuition of truth was taken as the criterium for truth.[web 6] In the late 18th and early 19th century, the first translations of Hindu texts appeared, which were also read by the Transcendentalists, and influenced their thinking.[web 6] They also endorsed universalist and Unitarianist ideas, leading to Unitarian Universalism, the idea that there must be truth in other religions as well, since a loving God would redeem all living beings, not just Christians.[web 6][web 7]
- To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
- To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
- To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
The Theosophical Society has been highly influential in promoting interest, both in west and east, in a great variety of religious teachings:
"No single organization or movement has contributed so many components to the New Age Movement as the Theosophical Society [...] It has been the major force in the dissemination of occult literature in the West in the twentieth century.
The Theosophical Society searched for 'secret teachings' in Asian religions. It has been influential on modernist streams in several Asian religions, notably Hindu reform movements, the revival of Theravada Buddhism, and D.T. Suzuki, who popularized the idea of enlightenment as insight into a timeless, transcendent reality.[web 8][web 9] Another example can be seen in Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret India, which introduced Ramana Maharshi to a western audience.
The New Thought movement is a spiritually focused or philosophical interpretation of New Thought beliefs. New Thought promotes the ideas that Infinite Intelligence, or God, is everywhere, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind, and "right thinking" has a healing effect.[web 10][web 11]
New Thought was propelled along by a number of spiritual thinkers and philosophers and emerged through a variety of religious denominations and churches, particularly the Unity Church, Religious Science, and Church of Divine Science. The Home of Truth, which belongs to the New Thought movement has, from its inception as the Pacific Coast Metaphysical Bureau in the 1880s, disseminated the teachings of the Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda.[web 12]
According to Ernest Holmes, who belongs to the New Thought movement,
A mystic is not a mysterious person; but is one who has a deep, inner sense of Life and Unity with the Whole; mysticism and mystery are entirely different things; one is real while the other may, or may not, be an illusion. There is nothing mysterious in the Truth, so far as It is understood; but all things, of course, are mysteries until we understand them.
Freud and the Oceanic feeling
The understanding of "mysticism" as an experience of unity with the divine is reflected in a famous comment by Fread on the "Oceanic feeling". In response to The Future of an Illusion (1927) Romain Rolland wrote to Sigmund Freud:
By religious feeling, what I mean—altogether independently of any dogma, any Credo, any organization of the Church, any Holy Scripture, any hope for personal salvation, etc.—the simple and direct fact of a feeling of 'the eternal' (which may very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and as if oceanic). This feeling is in truth subjective in nature. It is a contact.[web 13]
Rolland derived the notion of an "oceanic feeling" from various sources. He was influenced by the writings of Baruch Spinoza, who criticized religion but retained "the intellectual love of God". Rolland was also influenced by Indian mysticism, on which he wrote The Life of Ramakrishna (1929/1931) and The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel (1930/1947).[web 13]
In the first chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents (1929/1930) Freud describes this notion, and then remarks that he doesn't know this feeling himself. He then goes on to locate this feeling within primary narcissism and the ego ideal. This feeling is later reduced to a "shrunken residue" under the influence of reality.[web 13]
The notion of "experience" has been criticised. Robert Sharf points out that "experience" is a typical Western term, which has found its way into Asian religiosity via western influences.[note 8] The notion of "experience" introduces a false notion of duality between "experiencer" and "experienced", whereas the essence of kensho is the realisation of the "non-duality" of observer and observed. "Pure experience" does not exist; all experience is mediated by intellectual and cognitive activity. The specific teachings and practices of a specific tradition may even determine what "experience" someone has, which means that this "experience" is not the proof of the teaching, but a result of the teaching. A pure consciousness without concepts, reached by "cleaning the doors of perception",[note 9] would be an overwhelming chaos of sensory input without coherence.
Other critics point out that the stress on "experience" is accompanied with favoring the atomic individual, instead of the shared life on the community. It also fails to distinguish between episodic experience, and mysticism as a process, that is embedded in a total religious matrix of liturgy, scripture, worship, virtues, theology, rituals and practices.
Richard King also points to disjunction between "mystical experience" and social justice:
The privatisation of mysticism - that is, the increasing tendency to locate the mystical in the psychological realm of personal experiences - serves to exclude it from political issues as social justice. Mysticism thus becomes seen as a personal matter of cultivating inner states of tranquility and equanimity, which, rather than seeking to transform the world, serve to accommodate the individual to the status quo through the alleviation of anxiety and stress.
Scientific research of "mystical experiences"
Essentialist and contextualist approaches
The essentialist model argues that mystical experience is independent of the sociocultural, historical and religious context in which it occurs, and regards all mystical experience in its essence to be the same.
The contextualist model states that mystical experiences are shaped by the concepts "which the mystic brings to, and which shape, his experience". What is being experienced is being determined by the expectations and the conceptual background of the mystic.
Stace - extrovertive and introvertive mysticism
Walter Terence Stace distinguished two types of mystical experience, namely extrovertive and introvertive mysticism. Extrovertive mysticism is an experience of unity within the world, whereas introvertive mysticism is "an experience of unity devoid of perceptual objects; it is literally an experience of 'no-thing-ness'". The unity in extrovertive mysticism is with the totality of objects of perception; the unity in introvertive mysticism is with a pure conscousness, devoid of objects of perception. Stace's categories of "introvertive mysticism" and "extrovertive mysticism" are derived from Rudolf Otto's "mysticism of introspection" and "unifying vision".
According to Hood, the introvertive mystical experience may be a common core to mysticism independent of both culture and person, forming the basis of a "perennial psychology". According to Hood,
[E]mpirically, there is strong support to claim that as operationalized from Stace's criteria, mystical experience is identical as measured across diverse samples, whether expressed in "neytral language" or with either "God" or "Christ" references.
According to Hood,
...it seems fair to conclude that the perennialist view has strong empirical support, insofar as regardless of the language used in the M Scale, the basuc structure of the experience remains constant across diverse samples and cultures. This is a way of stating the perennialist thesis in measurable terms.
Zaehner - Natural and religious mysticism
R. C. Zaehner has identified two distinctively different mystical experiences, namely natural and religious mystical experiences, as described in his book Mysticism Sacred and Profane. Natural mystical experiences are, for example, experiences of the 'deeper self' or experiences of oneness with nature. Zaehner argues that the experiences typical of 'natural mysticism' are quite different from the experiences typical of religious mysticism.
Zaehner is directly opposing the views Aldous Huxley. Natural mystical experiences are in Zaehner's view of less value because they do not lead as directly to the virtues of charity and compassion. Zaehner is generally critical of what he sees as narcissistic tendencies in nature mysticism.
Induction of mystical experiences
Various religious practices include:
- The traditions of Mantra Marga (literally, "the way of formulae") in particular stress the importance of saying, either aloud or to oneself internally, particular Mantras (phrases to be repeated) given by their teacher. Combined with this is the set of practices related to Yantras (symbols to be meditated on).
- Dance, such as:
- Yoga, consisting of postures (Asanas), controlled breathing (Pranayama), and other practices.
- Extreme pain, such as:
- Profound sexual activity,
- Use of Entheogens, such as:
- Psychological or neurophysiological anomalies, such as:
- Near-death experience
Forms of "mysticism"
||This article possibly contains original research. (December 2013)|
The following table briefly summarizes the major forms of mysticism within world religions and their basic concepts. Inclusion is based on various definitions of mysticism, both mysticism as a way of transformation, and mysticism as an experience of union.
|Host religion||Form of mysticism||Basic concept||Sources of information|
|Buddhism||Shingon, Vajrayana, Zen||Attainment of Nirvana, Satori, Bodhi, union with Mahamudra or Dzogchen|||
|Christianity||Catholic spirituality, Quaker tradition, Christian mysticism, Gnosticism||Spiritual enlightenment, Spiritual vision, the Love of God, union with God (Theosis)|||
|Hinduism||Vedanta, Yoga, Bhakti, Kashmir Shaivism||Liberation from cycles of Karma (moksha), self-realization (atma-jnana), non-identification (Kaivalya), experience of ultimate reality (Samadhi), Innate Knowledge (Sahaja and Svabhava)|||
|Islam||Sunni, Shia, Sufism||Innate belief in God (Fitra); Fana (Sufism); Baqaa.|||
|Jainism||Moksha||Liberation from cycles of Karma|||
|Judaism||Kabbalah, Hasidism||Abnegation of the ego, Ein Sof|||
|Sikhism||-||Merging with God, liberation from cycles of Reincarnation|||
|Taoism||-||Te: connection to ultimate reality|||
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The Eleusinian Mysteries, (Greek: Ἐλευσίνια Μυστήρια) were annual initiation ceremonies in the cults of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, held in secret at Eleusis (near Athens) in ancient Greece. The mysteries began in about 1600 B.C. in the Mycenean period and continued for two thousand years, becoming a major festival during the Hellenic era, and later spreading to Rome.
The High Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mystical practice and theorization corresponding to the flourishing of new monastic orders, with such figures as Guigo II, Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, the Victorines, all coming from different orders, as well as the first real flowering of popular piety among the laypeople.
The Late Middle Ages saw the clash between the Dominican and Franciscan schools of thought, which was also a conflict between two different mystical theologies: on the one hand that of Dominic de Guzmán and on the other that of Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure, and Angela of Foligno. This period also saw such individuals as John of Ruysbroeck, Catherine of Siena and Catherine of Genoa, the Devotio Moderna, and such books as the Theologia Germanica, The Cloud of Unknowing and The Imitation of Christ.
Moreover, there was the growth of groups of mystics centered around geographic regions: the Beguines, such as Mechthild of Magdeburg and Hadewijch (among others); the Rhineland mystics Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler and Henry Suso; and the English mystics Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich. The Spanish mystics included Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius Loyola.
Catholic mysticism continued into the modern period with such figures as Padre Pio and Thomas Merton. The philokalia, an ancient method of Eastern Orthodox mysticism, was promoted by the twentieth century Traditionalist School. The inspired or "channeled" work A Course in Miracles represents a blending of non-denominational Christian and New Age ideas.
Kabbalah is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an unchanging, eternal and mysterious Ein Sof (no end) and the mortal and finite universe (his creation). Inside Judaism, it forms the foundations of mystical religious interpretation.
Kabbalah originally developed entirely within the realm of Jewish thought. Kabbalists often use classical Jewish sources to explain and demonstrate its esoteric teachings. These teachings are thus held by followers in Judaism to define the inner meaning of both the Hebrew Bible and traditional Rabbinic literature, their formerly concealed transmitted dimension, as well as to explain the significance of Jewish religious observances.
Kabbalah emerged, after earlier forms of Jewish mysticism, in 12th- to 13th-century Southern France and Spain, becoming reinterpreted in the Jewish mystical renaissance of 16th-century Ottoman Palestine. It was popularised in the form of Hasidic Judaism from the 18th century onwards. 20th-century interest in Kabbalah has inspired cross-denominational Jewish renewal and contributed to wider non-Jewish contemporary spirituality, as well as engaging its flourishing emergence and historical re-emphasis through newly established academic investigation.
|Sufism and Tariqa|
[A] science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.
A practitioner of this tradition is nowadays known as a ṣūfī (صُوفِيّ), or, in earlier usage, a dervish. The origin of the word "Sufi" is ambiguous. One understanding is that Sufi means wool-wearer- wool wearers during early Islam were pious ascetics who withdrew from urban life. Another explanation of the word "Sufi" is that it means 'purity'.
Sufis generally belong to a Khalqa, a circle or group, led by a Sheikh or Murshid. Sufi circles usually belong to a Tariqa, literally a path, a kind of lineage, which traces its succession back to notable Sufis of the past, and often ultimately to the prophet Muhammed or one of his close associates. The turuq (plural of tariqa) are not enclosed like Christian monastic orders; rather the members retain an outside life. Mmebershp of a Sufi group often passes down family lines. Meetings may or may not be segregated according to the prevailing custom of the wider society. An existing Muslim faith is not always a requirement for entry, particularly in Western countries.
Sufi practice includes
- Dhikr, or remembrance (of God), which often takes the form of rhythmic chanting and breathing exercises.
- Sema, which takes the form of music and dance — the whirling dance of the Mevlevi dervishes is a form well known in the West.
- Muraqaba or meditation.
- Visiting holy places, particularly the tombs of Sufi saints, in order to absorb barakah, or spiritual energy.
The aims of Sufism include: the experience of ecstatic states (hal), purification of the heart (qalb), overcoming the lower self (nafs), the development of extrasensory and healing powers, extinction of the individual personality (fana), communion with God (haqiqa), and higher knowledge (marifat). Some sufic beliefs and practices have been found unorthodox by other Muslims; for instance Mansur al-Hallaj was put to death for blasphemy after uttering the phrase Ana'l Haqq, "I am the Truth" (i.e. God) in a trance.
Notable classical Sufis include Jalaluddin Rumi, Fariduddin Attar, Saadi Shirazi and Hafez, all major poets in the Persian language. Al-Ghazzali and Ibn Arabi were renowned philosophers. Rabia Basri was the most prominent female Sufi.
Sufism first came into contact with the Judea-Christian world during the Moorish occupation of Spain. An interest in Sufism revived in non-Muslim countries during the modern era, led by such figures as Inayat Khan and Idries Shah (both in the UK), Rene Guenon (France) and Ivan Aguéli (Sweden). Sufism has also long been present in Asian countries that do not have a Muslim majority, such as India and China.
Mysticism in the Sikh dharm began with its founder, Guru Nanak, who as a child had profound mystical experiences. Guru Nanak stressed that God must be seen with 'the inward eye', or the 'heart', of a human being. Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, added religious mystics belonging to other religions into the holy scriptures that would eventually become the Guru Granth Sahib.
In Sikhi there is no dogma but only the search for truth. Sikhs meditate as a means to progress towards enlightenment; it is devoted meditation simran that enables a sort of communication between the Infinite and finite human consciousness.
The goal of Sikhi is to be one with God. For the Sikhs there is no concentration on the breath but chiefly the remembrance of God through the recitation of the name of God. Sikhs are instructed to recite the name of God (Waheguru) 24 hours a day and surrender themselves to Gods presence often metaphorized as surrendering themselves to the Lord's feet.
There are no priests, monastics or yogis in the Sikh dharm and these mystic practices are not limited to an elite few who remove themselves from the world. Rather, Sikhs do not renounce the world and the participation in ordinary life is considered spiritually essential to the Sikh.
Hinduism has a number of interlinked ascetic traditions and philosophical schools which aim at moksha and the acquisition of higher powers. With the onset of the British colonisation of India, those traditions came to be interpreted in western terms such as "mysticism", drawing equivalents with western terms and parctices. These western notions were taken over by Indian elites, and popularised as Neo-Vedanta, in which the notion of "spiritual experience" as validation of "religious knowledge" plays an essential role.
|Subschools of Vedanta|
Classical Vedanta gives philosophical interpretations and commentaries of the Upanishads, a vast collection of ancient hymns. Vedanta originally meant the Upanishads. By the 8th century, it came to mean all philosophical traditions concerned developed by interpreting the three basic texts, namely the Upanishads, the Brahman Sutras and the Bhagavadgita. At least ten schools of Vedanta are known, of which Advaita Vedanta, Vishishtadvaita, and Dvaita are the best known.
Advaita Vedanta is a branch of Vedanta, which states that there is no difference between Atman and Brahman. The best-known subschool is Kevala Vedanta or mayavada as expounded by Adi Shankara. Shankara's interpretation was influenced by Buddhism[note 10], was reformulated by Shankara who systematised the works of preceding philosophers. In modern times, due to the influence of western Orientalism and Perennialism on Indian Neo-Vedanta and Hindu nationalism, Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality.
Shankara emphasizes anubhava, correct understanding of the sruti, which is supposed to lead to mukti, liberation from endless cycles of reincarnation. In modern times, the term anubhava has been reinterpreted by Vivekananda and Radhakrisnan as meaning "religious experience" or "intuition".[web 14]
- prajñānam brahma - "Prajñānam (consciousness) is Brahman (Aitareya Upanishad 3.3 of the Rig Veda)
- ayam ātmā brahma - "I am Brahman", or "This Self (Atman) is Brahman" (Mandukya Upanishad 1.2 of the Atharva Veda)
- tat tvam asi - "Thou art That" or "Thou arrt Brahman"(Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.7 of the Sama Veda)
- aham brahmāsmi - "I am Brahman", or "I am Divine" (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda)
[T]he sages of the Upanishads believed in a supra-conscious experience of pure self-illumination as the ultimate principle, superior to and higher than any of our mental states of cognition, willing, or feeling. The nature of this principle is itself extremely mystical; many persons, no doubt, are unable to grasp its character.
Yoga is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace. The term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali defines yoga as "the stilling of the changing states of the mind". Yoga has also been popularly defined as "union with the divine" in other contexts and traditions.
Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In Hinduism, yoga is one of the six āstika ("orthodox") schools of Hindu philosophy. Yoga is also an important part of Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
- karma yoga, based on ethical action.
- bhakti yoga emphasising devotion to deities.
- jnana yoga, the "path of knowledge"
- raja yoga, based on meditation.
In the vedantic and yogic paths, the shishya or aspirant is usually advised to find a guru, or teacher, who may prescribe spiritual exercises (siddhis) or be credited with the ability to transmit shakti, divine energy.
Tantra is the name given by scholars to a style of meditation and ritual which arose in India no later than the fifth century AD. Tantra has influenced the Hindu, Bön, Buddhist, and Jain traditions and spread with Buddhism to East and Southeast Asia.
Tantric ritual seeks to access the supra-mundane through the mundane, identifying the microcosm with the macrocosm. The Tantric aim is to sublimate (rather than negate) reality. The Tantric practitioner seeks to use prana (energy flowing through the universe, including one's body) to attain goals which may be spiritual, material or both.
The Fourth Way
The Fourth Way is a term used by George Gurdjieff to describe an approach to self-development he learned over years of travel in the East that combined what he saw as three established traditional "ways," or "schools" into a fourth way. These three ways were of the body, mind and emotions. The term "The Fourth Way" was further developed by P. D. Ouspensky in his lectures and writings. According to this system, the chief difference between the three traditional schools, or ways, and the fourth way is that "they are permanent forms which have survived throughout history mostly unchanged, and are based on religion. Where schools of yogis, monks or fakirs exist, they are barely distinguishable from religious schools. The fourth way differs in that it is not a permanent way. It has no specific forms or institutions and comes and goes controlled by some particular laws of its own."
The Fourth Way mainly addresses the question of people's place in the Universe, their possibilities for inner development, and transcending the body to achieve a higher state of consciousness. It emphasizes that people live their lives in a state referred to as "waking sleep", but that higher levels of consciousness and various inner abilities are possible. The Fourth Way teaches people how to increase and focus their attention and energy in various ways, and to minimize daydreaming and absentmindedness. According to this teaching, this inner development in oneself is the beginning of a possible further process of change, whose aim is to transform a man into what Gurdjieff taught he ought to be.
In the widest sense, mysticism is every guidance to the immediate awareness of what 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.
Meditator: It suddenly seemed as if I was surrounded by an immensely powerful Presence. I felt that a Truth had been "revealed" to me that was far more important than anything else, and for which I needed no further evidence. But when later I tried to describe this to my friends, I found that I had nothing to say except how wonderful that experience was.
This peculiar type of mental state is sometimes called a "Mystical Experience" or "Rapture," "Ecstasy," or "Bliss." Some who undergo it call it "wonderful," but a better word might be "wonderless," because I suspect that such a state of mind may result from turning so many Critics off that one cannot find any flaws in it.
What might that "powerful Presence" represent? It is sometimes seen as a deity, but I suspect that it is likely to be a version of some early Imprimer that for years has been hiding inside your mind. In any case, such experiences can be dangerous—for some victims find them so compelling that they devote the rest of their lives to trying to get themselves back to that state again.
Minsky's idea of 'some early Imprimer hiding in the mind' was an echo of Freud's belief that mystical experience was essentially infantile and regressive, i.e., a memory of 'Oneness' with the mother.
- Original year of publication 1914
- Original quote in "Evelyn Underhill (1930), Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness.
- Underhill: "One of the most abused words in the English language, it has been used in different and often mutually exclusive senses by religion, poetry, and philosophy: has been cliamed as an excuse for every kind of occultism, for dilute transcendentalism, vapid symbolism, religious or aesthetic sentimentality, and bad metaphysics. on the other hand, it has been freely employed as a term of contempt by those who have criticized these things. It is much to be hoped that it may be restored sooner or later to its old meaning, as the science or art of the spiritual life."
- According to Wright, the use of the western word enlightenment is based on the supposed resemblance of bodhi with Aufklärung, the independent use of reason to gain insight into the true nature of our world. As a matter of fact there are more resemblances with Romanticism than with the Enlightenment: the emphasis on feeling, on intuitive insight, on a true essence beyond the world of appearances. See also Enlightenment (spiritual).
- According to Waaijman, the traditional meaning of spirituality is a process of re-formation which "aims to recover the original shape of man, the image of God. To accomplish this, the re-formation is oriented at a mold, which represents the original shape: in Judaism the Torah, in Christianity Christ, in Buddhism Buddha, in the Islam Muhammad." Waaijman uses the word "omvorming", "to change the form". Different translations are possible: transformation, re-formation, trans-mutation. Waaijman points out that "spirituality" is only one term of a range of words which denote the praxis of spirituality. Some other terms are "Hasidism, contemplation, kabbala, asceticism, mysticism, perfection, devotion and piety".
- blakemore and Jennett add: "[T]he common assumption that all mystical experiences, whatever their context, are the same cannot, of course, be demonstrated." They also state: "Some have placed a particular emphasis on certain altered states, such as visions, trances, levitations, locutions, raptures, and ecstasies, many of which are altered bodily states. Margery Kempe's tears and Teresa of Avila's ecstasies are famous examples of such mystical phenomena. But many mystics have insisted that while these experiences may be a part of the mystical state, they are not the essence of mystical experience, and some, such as Origen, Meister Eckhart, and John of the Cross, have been hostile to such psycho-physical phenomena. Rather, the essence of the mystical experience is the encounter between God and the human being, the Creator and creature; this is a union which leads the human being to an ‘absorption’ or loss of individual personality. It is a movement of the heart, as the individual seeks to surrender itself to ultimate Reality; it is thus about being rather than knowing. For some mystics, such as Teresa of Avila, phenomena such as visions, locutions, raptures, and so forth are by-products of, or accessories to, the full mystical experience, which the soul may not yet be strong enough to receive. Hence these altered states are seen to occur in those at an early stage in their spiritual lives, although ultimately only those who are called to achieve full union with God will do so."[web 4]
- More fully, philosophia perennis et universalis; sometimes shortened to sophia perennis or religio perennis
- Robert Sharf: "[T]he role of experience in the history of Buddhism has been greatly exaggerated in contemporary scholarship. Both historical and ethnographic evidence suggests that the privileging of experience may well be traced to certain twentieth-century reform movements, notably those that urge a return to zazen or vipassana meditation, and these reforms were profoundly influenced by religious developments in the west [...] While some adepts may indeed experience "altered states" in the course of their training, critical analysis shows that such states do not constitute the reference point for the elaborate Buddhist discourse pertaining to the "path".
- William Blake: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern."
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- Otto, Rudolf (author); Bracy, Bertha L. (translator) & Payne, Richenda C. 1932, 1960. Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism. New York, N. Y., USA: The Macmillan Company
- Stace, W. T. Mysticism and Philosophy. 1960.
- Stace, W. T. The Teachings of the Mystics, 1960.
- Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. 1911
- Stark, Ryan J. "Some Aspects of Christian Mystical Rhetoric, Philosophy, and Poetry," Philosophy and Rhetoric 41 (2008): 260-77.
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