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Encyclopedia > Mystical

Mysticism (ancient Greek mysticon = secret) is meditation, prayer, or theology focused on the direct experience of union with divinity, God, or Ultimate Reality, or the belief that such experience is a genuine and important source of knowledge. In the context of epistemology, it can refer to using any kind of non-rational means, such as feeling or faith, in attempt to arrive at any kind of knowledge or belief.


Perspectives of mysticism

A wide range of perspectives occur among spiritual traditions and beliefs which embrace direct experiential knowledge of God, Divinity, or Ultimate Reality. Different traditions adopt a range of intellectual or rational assessments of what is likely, possible, provable, approvable, or factual. Among these the idea of union or interrelationship of oneself and of all mortal beings with the ultimate imperishable being is often declared to be something that can be experienced in profound, definite, and personally undeniable ways, rather than something that is merely conjectured. Many assert that the triggering of such experience can involve ritual prayer and contemplations focused on such union, or may sometimes occur spontaneously with some individuals.

Subjectivity and mysticism

Theistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic classical pantheist/cosmotheist metaphysical systems most often understand mystical experience as individual communion with a god or goddess. One can receive these very subjective experiences as visions, dreams, revelations, prophecies, and so forth. St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic mystic of the 13th century, defined it as cognitio dei experimentalis (experiential knowledge of God). In Catholicism the mystical experience is not sought for its own sake, and is always informed by revelation and ascetical theology. This causes the subjectivist tendency of mysticism to be curtailed, as experiences not aligned with truths otherwise known are discarded.

Self-transcending self-discovery

In philosophy, the term Perennial Philosophy is used, and relates to a primary concern:

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

Some mystics use the term to refer to a manner wherein the mystic plumbs the depths of the self and reality in a radical process of meditative self-discovery to discover the true nature of reality experientially. Historically in some cultures and traditions, mind-altering substances -- often referred to as entheogens -- have had a place as a 'guide'; others use rituals and methods such as meditation, self-reflection or self-enquiry.

Mysticism and syncretism

Mystics of different traditions report similar experiences of a world usually outside conventional perception, although not all forms of mysticism abandon knowledge perceived through normal means. Based on extraordinary perception, mystics may believe that one can find true unity of religion and philosophy in mystical experience.

Elements of mysticism exist in most religions and in many philosophies. Some mystics perceive a common thread of influence in all mystic philosophies that they see as traceable back to a shared source. The Vedic tradition is inherently mystic; the Christian apocalyptic Book of Revelation is clearly mystical, as with Ezekiel's or Daniel's visions of Judaism, and Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel inspired the Koran in a mystical manner. Indigenous cultures also have cryptic revelations pointing toward a universal flow of love or unity, usually following a vision quest or similar ritual. Mystical philosophies thus can exhibit a strong tendency towards syncretism.

Some systems of mysticism are found within specific religious traditions and do not relinquish doctrinal principles as a part of mystical experience. For example, Christian mystics, through the centuries, have not decided that Jesus is not God after all: in other words, not all mysticism results in syncretism. In some definite cases, theology remains a distinct source of insight that guides and informs the mystical experience. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas' mystical experiences all occurred squarely within the love of the Catholic Eucharist.

On the difficulty of defining mysticism

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

In Catholic traditions, mystical theology is informed by revelation, which averts an apparent tendency to become lost in formless thought. Christian mystics, too, are obligated to obey the forms of ascetical and moral theology, as following Christ is their primary objective, rather than seeking mystical experiences for their own sake. [1] (http://chastitysf.guidetopsychology.com/guide.htm)

Theosophy and Occultism

The late 19th century saw an significant increase of interest in mysticism in the West that combined with increased interest in Occultism and Eastern Philosophy. Theosophy became a major movement in the popularization of these interests. Madame Blavatsky and Gurdjieff functioned as central figures of the theosophy movement. This trend later became absorbed in the rise of the New Age movement which included a major surge in the popularity of astrology. At the end of the 20th Century books like Conversations With God (a series of books which describes what the author claimed to be his experience of direct communication with God) hit the bestseller lists.

Examples in major traditions

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

Hindu mystics

Some examples of Hindu mystics:

Sri Ramakrishna
Ramana Maharshi
Gopi Krishna

Christian mystics

Some examples of Christian mystics:

St. John the Apostle (? -101)
Clement of Alexandria (? -216)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
St. Gregory I (590-604)
Saint Anselm (1033-1109)
Hugh of Saint Victor (1096–1141)
St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-1279)
Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 - 1327/8)
Richard Rolle (c. 1290 - 1349)
St. Gregory Palamas (1296 - 1359)
St. Bridget of Sweden (1302-1373)
Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416)
Margery Kempe (c.1373-1438)
Paracelsus (1493-1541)
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Jakob Boehme (1575-1624)
Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682)
Sarah Wight (1632-?)
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)
William Blake (1757-1827)
Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824)
Jakob Lorber (1800 - 1864)
Max Heindel (1865 - 1919)
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
Aiden Wilson Tozer (1897-1963)

Islamic mystics

Some examples of Muslim mystics (also called sufi):

al-Ghazali, (d. 1111)
al Hallaj (d. 922)
Jalal ad-Din Rumi
Yunus Emre

Jewish mystics

Some examples of Jewish mystics:

Shimon bar Yochai (c.200)
Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240-1291)
Moses ben Shem Tob de Leon (1250-1305)
Isaac Luria (1534-1572)
Moses Chaim Luzzato (1707-1746)
Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)
Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935)
Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994)

Other mystics

Some examples of other mystics:

Rufus Jones (Quakerism)
Plotinus (Neo-Platonist)
Walt Whitman
Heinrich Himmler (Nazi mysticism)
Aleister Crowley (magick)

See also

External links

  • Mysticism (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10663b.htm) in Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/)
  • Who's Who in the History of Mysticism (http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/mys/whoswho.htm) by Professor Bruce B. Janz
  • ChristianMystics.com (http://www.christianmystics.com/) includes many short essays covering various aspects of Christian mysticism
  • Alphabetical List of Mystics (http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/mys/alpha.htm)
  • Christian Mysticism (http://www.digiserve.com/mystic/Christian/)
  • Evelyn Underhill's classic work (http://www.ccel.org/u/underhill/mysticism/mysticism1.0-MYSTICIS.html) A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness
  • Mysticism in World Religions (http://www.digiserve.com/mystic/index.html)
  • The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception or Mystic Christianity (http://www.rosicrucian.com/rcc/rcceng00.htm)
  • Neo-Tech (http://www.neo-tech.com) Neo-Tech a philosophy that says mysticism in all its forms is the "number one enemy of human life" and whose explicit mission is its total elimination

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