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2. Categories of Mystical Experiences

The thoroughgoing mesh of visionary experience and unitive ideology in Daoism makes it impractical to restrict the term mystical to unitive experiences while treating visions as a separate category. It would be equally arbitrary to impose such a distinction in the case of shamanism. At the centre of the religion is the shaman, an ecstatic figure, male or female, who is thought to heal the sick and communicate with the spirit world.

On such occasions the shaman controls both himself and the spirit that lodges in and manifests itself through his body. In other cases a shaman absorbs his helping spirit, gaining its faculties, capacities, or powers. A shaman who incorporates a hostile god or spirit may in alternating moments be in control of the situation, housing a raging metaphysical being within his body, and in other moments lose control and be possessed by the being.

The examples of shamanism and Hindu and Daoist mysticism demonstrate the difficulty in establishing a single definition of mysticism. Definitions of mysticism in terms of unitive experiences must include spirit possession within their scope, while leaving Daoism out of account. Definitions that emphasize unitive ideologies are able to include Daoism but exempt shamanism from consideration, even though many Daoist visions are variants of shamanic soul flights. To resolve the problem of definition, scholars of comparative mysticism have opted for inclusive approaches that discuss religious uses of alternate states of consciousness without further qualifications.

An important variable among mystical practices is the extent to which mystical experiences and ideologies are integrated into the religious tradition or broader spirituality of the practitioner. In Christianity, for example, mysticism may be practiced from late adolescence onward, but it is pursued chiefly by monks and nuns who form communities apart from their coreligionists. Their mystical experiences are pursued in private. Christianity is not alone in segregating mysticism from its mainstream religious practice.

In Hinduism , Yoga is pursued by adult males of the Brahman priestly caste after they abandon their families and retire to become forest dwellers. In Buddhism , Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha c. His rejection of the identity of atman and brahman coincided with his renunciation of the caste system and his introduction of an egalitarian model of community, the sangha.

Because all is unreal, unreliable, and an illusion maya , caste and the Hindu divinity of the self may be dismissed as fallacies.

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The performances of shamans and Daoist priests, by contrast, are almost always conducted for the benefit of an audience. Daoist priests perform highly varied rites on behalf of their coreligionists. Although shamans and Daoist priests occasionally experience private ecstasies, they are primarily professional ecstatics whose mysticism is a component of group religious activities. Practices that laypeople witness in nonmystical states are conducted in alternate states of consciousness by these professional ecstatics. Although vision quests , in which individuals seek to interact with a guardian spirit , are sometimes pursued by laity in religions that have shamans, the layperson gradually improves at the practice, ultimately attracting a following and becoming a professional.

Mysticism has influenced other religious traditions as well. The Kabbala , a school of Jewish mysticism that dates from the late 12th century, had an important impact on the subsequent development of Judaism. From the 12th through the 14th century, Kabbalists interpreted Jewish practices in a new light and so transformed them into mystical rites and customs. Beginning in the 15th century, Kabbalists devised original rites of mystical character, some of which found their way into common Jewish usage.

Its popularity led to its inclusion in the standard prayer books of Jews internationally. Like the Kabbala, Sufism was grafted onto a religion Islam that was previously nonecstatic. The earliest Sufis were ascetics rather than mystics, and the earliest Sufi mystics were isolated individuals. As the movement grew in size, however, its social organization developed in two directions.

Some individuals formed and belonged to Sufi orders, which are formal organizations that teach and perform specific approaches to Islamic mysticism. Less formally, however, groups of ordinary people—who may be acquainted, for example, through a local mosque—spend an hour or more together at a time, engaged communally in learning, prayer, and meditation. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.

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In ancient Greece, particularly around BCE to about CE, the mystery religions pursued the worship of one or several known Greek gods and goddesses, and sometimes some from other cultures. Using secret religious rituals, the mystery religions provided the mysticism that many Greeks, either at home or in colonies abroad, desired during the uncertain times after Alexander conquered Greece and surrounding areas in the fourth century BCE.

In early Christianity the term mystikos Greek referred to three dimensions of worship, the biblical, the liturgical, and the spiritual or contemplative, which became intertwined. The biblical dimension referred to "hidden" or allegorical interpretations of the scriptures. The liturgical dimension referred to the liturgical mystery of the Eucharist, or the presence of Christ at the Eucharist.

The third dimension was the contemplative or experiential knowledge of God. A link between mysticism and visions of the Divine was introduced by the early Church Fathers, who used the term as an adjective, as in "mystical theology" and "mystical contemplation". Under the influence of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the term mystical theology came to refer to the investigation of the allegories in the Bible to try to discern underlying truths.

Pseudo-Dionysius' "apophatic theology", or "negative theology", exerted a great influence on medieval monastic religiosity. It is best known nowadays in the western world from the works of medieval Christian leaders Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross. In contemporary usage, the term mysticism has become an umbrella term for many kinds of transcendent, or non-rational in the sense of not scientific worldviews and experiences.

A popular view of mysticism holds that a common "mystical experience" runs through a wide diversity of religious traditions as well as modern and less formal spiritual approaches and activities in life. Through enlightenment, one learns that there is a higher, unified reality. This reality can be seen as a higher consciousness that encompasses everything and is present in everything.

It can be taken as a personal and impersonal reality. There are various terms for this in assorted religions such as nirvana emptiness or unity , Brahman, the absolute, the highest reality , or light the holy ghost, enlightenment consciousness, spiritual energy. The founder of each religion has had an experience with enlightenment. God is absolutely present along the spiritual way, to be experienced.

Mysticism/What is mysticism?

What exactly takes place still has to be explained by science. Then the mind can quiet down, one rests in his or her true nature in God and inner peace and happiness awakens. Patanjali consists of three steps which are concentration, meditation and Samadhi bliss. A large danger along every spiritual path is practicing habitually, like a machine. This empty ritual will not advance you spiritually.

Buddha was against this type of empty ritual. He advised the Brahmans Hindu priests to concentrate on arriving at enlightenment instead of focusing on aesthetically, externally perfect ritual form for show. Page - It is helpeful to read spiritual books Jnana yoga and to have sufficient spiritual knowledge. Sometimes one can only escape the danger of formal practice through an enlightened master or guru, or through the grace of the cosmos in that you arrive at enlightenment through spontaneous experience.

The Dalai Lama recommends to test every master before taking his path.

There are many traps along the spiritual path that can be overcome with personal truth and wisdom. According to Swami Sivananda enlightenment occurs through the three principles of calm, practice, and love. If a person lives alone on a quiet place, then he or she is already halfway to enlightenment. The second half is then managed through spiritual practice. The gate to light is passed through via the way of all-encompassing love. Enlightenment comes about when tension in body and mind is dissolved.

The tension builds up through the stress of life and false mental reactions toward that stress. The enlightened mind is distinguished by inner peace and calm. God is not an image, but inner peace and calm facilitates higher consciousness. The human can suddenly find him or herself thinking within the unity of all. This person can see things as they really are. He or she sees things according to their connection. Whereas the person was fixated on the ego before, he or she now thinks without the ego and finds him or herself one with the cosmos.

When the tensions of a person disappear, deep inner peace becomes inner bliss, divine happiness.

mysticism - Dictionary Definition :

This person is one with him or herself and the world. He or she feels peace, happiness, power, love and clarity. He or she has a higher consciousness, an expanded ability to understand what is.

Mysticism - Alan Watts (set to music)

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 the universe. The 19th century saw a growing emphasis on individual experience, as a defense against the growing rationalism of western society.

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. Under the influence of Perennialism , which was popularised in both the west and the east by Unitarianism , Transcendentalists and Theosophy , mysticism has been applied to a broad spectrum of religious traditions, in which all sorts of esotericism and religious traditions and practices are joined together. In the contemporary usage "mysticism" has become an umbrella term for all sorts of non-rational world views. Based on various definitions of mysticism, namely mysticism as an experience of union or nothingness, mysticism as any kind of an altered state of consciousness which is attributed in a religious way, mysticism as "enlightenment" or insight, and mysticism as a way of transformation, "mysticism" can be found in many cultures and religious traditions, both in folk religion and organized religion.

These traditions include practices to induce religious or mystical experiences, but also ethical standards and practices to enhance self-control and integrate the mystical experience into daily life. Dan Merkur notes, though, that mystical practices are often separated from daily religious practices, and restricted to "religious specialists like monastics, priests, and other renunciates. According to Dan Merkur, shamanism may be regarded as a form of mysticism, in which the world of spirits is accessed through religious ecstasy.

Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world. The term "shamanism" was first applied by western anthropologists to the ancient religion of the Turks and Mongols , as well as those of the neighboring Tungusic and Samoyedic -speaking peoples. The term is also used to describe similar magico-religious practices found within the ethnic religions of other parts of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.

Neoshamanism refers to "new"' forms of shamanism , or methods of seeking visions or healing, typically practiced in Western countries. Neoshamanism comprises an eclectic range of beliefs and practices that involve attempts to attain altered states and communicate with a spirit world, and is associated with New Age practices. The Eleusinian Mysteries , Greek: The apophatic theology , or "negative theology", of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite 6th c. The Orthodox Church has a long tradition of theoria intimate experience and hesychia inner stillness , in which contemplative prayer silences the mind to progress along the path of theosis deification.

Theosis , practical unity with and conformity to God, is obtained by engaging in contemplative prayer , the first stage of theoria , [58] [note 16] which results from the cultivation of watchfulness nepsis. In theoria , one comes to behold the "divisibly indivisible" divine operations energeia of God as the "uncreated light" of transfiguration , a grace which is eternal and proceeds naturally from the blinding darkness of the incomprehensible divine essence.

Symeon the New Theologian , embraced by the monastic communities on Mount Athos , and most notably defended by St. Gregory Palamas against the Greek humanist philosopher Barlaam of Calabria. According to Roman Catholic critics, hesychastic practice has its roots to the introduction of a systematic practical approach to quietism by Symeon the New Theologian.

Symeon believed that direct experience gave monks the authority to preach and give absolution of sins, without the need for formal ordination. While Church authorities also taught from a speculative and philosophical perspective, Symeon taught from his own direct mystical experience, [61] and met with strong resistance for his charismatic approach, and his support of individual direct experience of God's grace.

The High Middle Ages saw a flourishing of mystical practice and theorization in western Roman Catholicism, 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: Moreover, there was the growth of groups of mystics centered around geographic regions: The later post- reformation period also saw the writings of lay visionaries such as Emanuel Swedenborg and William Blake , and the foundation of mystical movements such as the Quakers. 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 allegedly inspired or " channeled " work A Course in Miracles represents a blending of non-denominational Christian and New Age ideas. Many western esoteric traditions and elements of modern spirituality have been regarded as "mysticism," such as Gnosticism , Transcendentalism , Theosophy , the Fourth Way , [62] and Neo-Paganism. Modern western spiritually and transpersonal psychology combine western psycho-therapeutic practices with religious practices like meditation to attain a lasting transformation.

Nature mysticism is an intense experience of unification with nature or the cosmic totality, which was popular with Romantic writers. In the common era, Judaism has had two main kinds of mysticism: Merkabah mysticism and Kabbalah. The former predated the latter, and was focused on visions, particularly those mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel.

It gets its name from the Hebrew word meaning "chariot", a reference to Ezekiel's vision of a fiery chariot composed of heavenly beings. 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 forward. Sufism is said to be Islam's inner and mystical dimension. 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 which is the Sufi order and each has a Silsila , which is the spiritual lineage, which traces its succession back to notable Sufis of the past, and often ultimately to the last 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. Membership 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.

The aims of Sufism include: 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. God in a trance. Rabia Basri was the most prominent female Sufi. Sufism first came into contact with the Judeo-Christian world during the Moorish occupation of Spain.

Sufism has also long been present in Asian countries that do not have a Muslim majority, such as India and China. In Hinduism, various sadhanas aim at overcoming ignorance avidhya and transcending the limited identification with body, mind and ego to attain moksha. Hinduism has a number of interlinked ascetic traditions and philosophical schools which aim at moksha [71] and the acquisition of higher powers.

Yoga is the physical , mental , and spiritual practices or disciplines which aim to attain a state of permanent peace.

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Classical Vedanta gives philosophical interpretations and commentaries of the Upanishads , a vast collection of ancient hymns. At least ten schools of Vedanta are known, [79] of which Advaita Vedanta , Vishishtadvaita , and Dvaita are the best known. The best-known subschool is Kevala Vedanta or mayavada as expounded by Adi Shankara.

Advaita Vedanta has acquired a broad acceptance in Indian culture and beyond as the paradigmatic example of Hindu spirituality. Various Shaivist traditions are strongly nondualistic, such as Kashmir Shaivism and Shaiva Siddhanta. 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. It can also include sexual and other antinomian practices.

Mysticism in the Sikh dharm began with its founder, Guru Nanak , who as a child had profound mystical experiences. The goal of Sikhism is to be one with God. According to Oliver, Buddhism is mystical in the sense that it aims at the identification of the true nature of our self, and live according to it.

Buddhism aims at liberation from the cycle of rebirth by self-control through meditation and morally just behaviour.

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Some Buddhist paths aim at a gradual development and transformation of the personality toward Nirvana , like the Theravada stages of enlightenment. Others, like the Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition, emphasize sudden insight , but nevertheless also prescribe intensive training, including meditation and self-restraint. Although Theravada does not acknowledge the existence of a theistic Absolute, it does postulate Nirvana as a transcendent reality which may be attained.

Jones, Theravada is a form of mindful extrovertive and introvertive mysticism, in which the conceptual structuring of experiences is weakened, and the ordinary sense of self is weakened. Chinese and Japanese Zen is grounded on the Chinese understanding of the Buddha-nature as one true's essence, and the Two truths doctrine as a polarity between relative and Absolute reality. Suzuki noted similarities between Zen -Buddhism and Christian mysticism, especially meister Eckhart. The Tibetan Vajrayana tradition is based on Madhyamaka philosophy and Tantra. It holds that "mind-nature" is manifested when one is enlightened, [] being nonconceptually aware rigpa , "open presence" of one's nature, [] "a recognition of one's beginningless nature.

Taoist philosophy is centered on the Tao , usually translated "Way", an ineffable cosmic principle. The contrasting yet interdependent concepts of yin and yang also symbolise harmony, with Taoist scriptures often emphasing the Yin virtues of femininity, passivity and yieldingness. Today there is also occurring in the West what Richard Jones calls "the secularization of mysticism".

Zaehner distinguishes three fundamental types of mysticism, namely theistic, monistic and panenhenic "all-in-one" or natural mysticism. Walter Terence Stace , in his book Mysticism and Philosophy , distinguished two types of mystical experience, namely extrovertive and introvertive mysticism.

Stace argues that doctrinal differences between religious traditions are inappropriate criteria when making cross-cultural comparisons of mystical experiences. This may result in different accounts of the same phenomenon. Since the 19th century, mystical experience has evolved as a distinctive concept. It is closely related to "mysticism" but lays sole emphasis on the experiential aspect, be it spontaneous or induced by human behavior, whereas mysticism encompasses a broad range of practices aiming at a transformation of the person, not just inducing mystical experiences.

William James ' The Varieties of Religious Experience is the classic study on religious or mystical experience, which influenced deeply both the academic and popular understanding of "religious experience". Under the influence of William James' The Varieties of Religious Experience, heavily centered on people's conversion experiences, most philosophers' interest in mysticism has been in distinctive, allegedly knowledge-granting "mystical experiences. Yet, Gelman notes that so-called mystical experience is not a transitional event, as William James claimed, but an "abiding consciousness, accompanying a person throughout the day, or parts of it.

For that reason, it might be better to speak of mystical consciousness, which can be either fleeting or abiding. Most mystical traditions warn against an attachment to mystical experiences, and offer a "protective and hermeneutic framework" to accommodate these experiences. The theoretical study of mystical experience has shifted from an experiential, privatized and perennialist approach to a contextual and empirical approach.

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