"Mysticism, a quest for a hidden truth or wisdom ("the treasure hidden in the centres of our souls"), in the 20th century is undergoing a renewal of interest and understanding and even a mood of expectancy similar to that which had 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 has stated that "a totally unmystical world would be a world totally blind and insane," and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore has noted that "Man has a feeling that he is truly represented in something which exceeds himself."
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 (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. (see also purification rite)
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, 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 Islam. As the 15th- to 16th-century Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli 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."
Religious Experience: 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, maqam (Arabic: "place"), and bhumi (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."
Britannica Online (1994-1998 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
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