Global Mysticism

Hinduism is the most mystical of all the higher religions because in Judaism, Christianity and Islam there is a tendency towards a dualism which creates a gulf between the human and divine. Underhill describes the emergence of Hindi mysticism as follows: c1000 BC, with the flowering of the Upanishads in Hindu scripture, there emerged something of immense significance, the most profound and revolutionary statement on the nature of reality which mankind had as yet made: "Everything has its origin and being in spirit, 'seed of all seeds'. Everything in the world is a manifestation of spirit. There is nothing in the world that is not god, everlasting spirit. Indian philosophy then went on to explore the union of Atman-self, soul, with the Brahman-God.

In China, although Confucianism was not based on a belief in transcendent reality, it was balanced, by Lao Tzu (c604-531 BC) in the Tao Te Ching, by the Tao which, in its transcendental aspect is the primal meaning, the undivided unity, which lies behind all phenomena; but the Tao which can be spoken (as with the Jewish concept of Yahweh) is only metaphorical.

Post Old Testament Jewish religious thinking and writing shows a marked leaning towards the mystical in the Kabbalah which sought to evolve a pattern of life centred on interior experience and contemplation. This literature gave a new and esoteric account of the relations between god and creation.

In Islam, Sufi (from suf, the undyed wool worn by monks and hermits) mystics claimed adherence to the orthodox tradition by reference to the Koran. Mystics sought to deny the self in order to reach higher stages of the spiritual life towards union with god, an idea that is found in St. Paul and Christian mystics such as Eckhart (1260-1328) and St. John of the Cross (c1542-1591) and it also lies at the heart of the Hindu concept of Tat Twam Asi, thou art that. The Eastern Orthodox St. Simeon (949-1022) was the forerunner of Hesychasm (from the Greek Hesychos meaning quiet) which used methods of spiritual training similar to yoga to induce a vision of the uncreated light of god.

Mysticism has often had an uncomfortable relationship with more formal and structured religion; as we will see (Study Sheet 28), St. John of the Cross was under deep suspicion from the Spanish Inquisition but earlier a Sufi was crucified for claiming to be god.


BT/KC viii/06

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