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The term mysticism is actually derived from the Greek word ‘mueo’ which means ‘to initiate into a secret cult’, and also into a ‘mystery’. It can also be defined as a direct experience of God or a union with God.
The oxford dictionary defines mysticism as ‘an immediate knowledge of God attained in this present life through personal religious experience’.
Harper’s encyclopedia of mystical and paranormal experience defines it as the ‘belief in or pursuit of unification with the one or some other principle; the immediate consciousness of god; or the direct experience of religious truth’.
There are so many ways that you can define mysticism that it eludes and avoids being put into a box. This is because it might mean different things to different people. For example, a theologian would define it differently as compared to a person who meditates everyday.
Mystical theology is similar to praying. Research has shown that the topic of conversation for both mystical theology and praying is always God (the beloved). The difference is that prayer deals with God while mystical theology deals with him as a supremely lovable being.
"Mysticism, according to its historical and psychological definitions, is the direct intuition or experience of God; and a mystic is a person who has, to a greater or less degree, such a direct experience -- on whose religion and life are centered, not merely on an accepted belief or practice, but on that which the person regards as first hand personal knowledge."
Mystics of the Church
Mysticism, as all the above mentioned definitions and explanations try to indicate, is apparently an intriguing and elusive system of spiritual pursuit which cannot be put into a box. This is further testified by the fact that the practices or methods pursued in mysticism defy the common intellectual perceptions and beliefs in popular faiths.
Mystics, as the practitioners of this faith are known, are generally ascetics or hermits. They live a reclusive life. They have inscrutable, weird almost crazy ways of living, communicating and praying. They talk in enigmas and their explanations and teaching are filled with apparent contradictions which puzzle their disciples as well as the common people.
They explain their views through parables, allegories, metaphors and symbols. An important characteristic of Mysticism is that its followers emphasize on achieving oneness with God by merging their identities with him. Most Oriental mystics, for example dervishes-wandering mendicants-, meditate on God as their human beloved and companion.
Mystics have been found in almost all the major religions of the world especially Hindu religion, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
A typical mystic
A brilliant exponent of the creed, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī of Turkey, popularly known as Rumi in Western world, was a famous Persian poet and Sufi mystic. His poems have been translated into almost all the popular languages of the world and interestingly enough, he is considered the “most popular poet in America" and the "best selling poet in the US."(Wikipedia)
Here are two of his typical couplets:
“The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries”
“Suddenly the drunken sweetheart appeared out of my door.
She drank a cup of ruby wine and sat by my side.
Seeing and holding the lockets of her hair
My face became all eyes, and my eyes all hands.”
Mystics welcome people of all beliefs, faiths and thought systems into their fold like the proponents of New Age. Sample Rumi’s call, reminiscent of the spirit of the New Age:
Whoever you may be, come
Even though you may be
An infidel, a pagan, or a fire-worshipper, come
Our brotherhood is not one of despair
Even though you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come.
It should be interesting to note that mystics do not follow the standard belief system and practices of the religion or the society they belong to. Each mystic evolves his own ways of prayer or worship depending upon their spiritual experience.
But a common factor that unites them is that they are all deeply devoted to God and develop their personal relationship with him, which is normally of a lover and beloved or servant and master.
Their vision of God is generally based on their individual experiences and perceptions regardless of the belief system of the religion they are born in. Nonetheless, their personal experiences and equation with God remain within the broad framework of their religion and do not clash with them in any way.
Mystics believe that love is a unifying force, which unites all the disparate elements of the universe. The supreme state of love for a mystic is one wherein he completely merges his identity-both physical and spiritual- with God, his beloved so that the two become indistinguishable from each other. The state of love so attained acquires a transcendental status.
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