What is Mysticism?

Mysticism, Analogy, and Metaphor IX, part two

What is Mysticism IX.

Sacred Speech Masterclass IX, part two.

Mysticism is one of these words whose meaning has changed a great deal over the centuries and now has become so personalized that it has become almost a total abstraction. We explore what is mysticism in the context of sacred speech.

As Kailash introduced in one of his comments regarding what is mysticism, that it’s originally a Greek word coming from I believe “mystikos,” correct me if I am wrong about this Kailash, and the way that it was used originally in Greek and mysticism was referring to the Christian mystery cults and it was usually used in one of three ways or actually usually in combination of three ways, and number one referring to the interpretation of scripture in such a way that it went beyond historical circumstance and had a deeper esoteric meaning. This is a curious aspect, because, even though the same kind of concept is applied to Indian scripture, there’s a very different set of circumstances that exist here. And the one that stands out in the forefront is the fact that we’re dealing with on one hand a literary tradition and the other an oral tradition.

So we have a text, the Bible, that says a specific thing, and the first aspect of this mystikos is discovering God’s message, as it were, or God’s universal message beyond the historical circumstances of the Bible. The second would be in the performance of the Eucharist in the mystical connection with the divine through the Christian ritual, the Eucharist, and the third would be the more experiential aspect of mysticism which has come to dominate mysticism post-William James and the 20th and the 21st centuries, a contemplation and experience including visions and so forth as experienced much later on by Theresa of Avila and other Christian mystics.

Kailash: Babaji?

Babaji: Yes.

Kailash: Babaji, I think it might be useful to point out that mysticism essentially in that last sense do has to do with mystical union the integration of divine and all else or of the recognition of the divine as everything and the felt sense, the intimate sense of infinite connection with that one. This notion of the tying together, the connection is consistent with the Sanskrit notion of yoke, from which both of which we get both “yoga” and “yoke,” in the sense of connecting oxen to pull a plough, and even in the Latin root for religion we have “religare (sp?)” which means to tie together as with cords. …So yoga, religion, mysticism, and especially, in this sense of union, they have a common sense, common felt sense of meaning.

Babaji: Yeh. Thank you. I think that, I think that that’s excellent. However, we have to be a little bit careful of that because as mysticism … the use of the word “mysticism” and the thinking about it changes in the 20th century post-William James, post the publication of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and post the heavy psycho-analytical influence on the thinking at the time, and William James of course was in the forefront of all of that. There arises a perennialism, a “perennialism” basically means that there is a common element that links the mystics of all the various religions that they are experiencing the same thing, or they have the same goal or one of these kinds of things.

Aldous Huxley wrote his famous book I believe in 1946 on perennialism, where, in which, he took the major religions of the world and he took some of the writings of some of the mystics of those various religious traditions and put them all together in a book side by side and he could say, well, look, look how similar all of these things sound to each other—there must be a common thread that links all what is mysticism, these various mystical traditions of all these various religions. There’s some serious problems with that, of course. One of which is the nature of Aldous Huxley’s text itself. Now mind you Aldous Huxley was one of my favorite people ever so I don’t, I have no criticism of him as a human being, but I am highly critical of his text, Perennialism, because the selections of the text are of course selections. An editor made decisions of which sections of which texts we should compare. Then the next thing you may notice when you go over this text is that all of the translations are basically written in a similar style which is sort of a biblical style. You’ll notice this, for example, if you read translations of Sanskrit texts, especially in the 19th Century. Very often the translators will use “thee’s” and “thou’s” and “hath’s” and all sorts of sort of King James version Bible English in the translation and although you can say this is just a style of a translator, it also I think leads leads people to automatically go into certain kind of mode. So, the third thing about perennialism that is that I am critical of, that I can point out, is that that in finding, in reducing, the various religions, or the mystical aspects of various religions, to elements that can be identified in each of the other traditions, the elements become so reduced that they are virtually unrecognizable in any of the traditions that they are coming from. But that’s all beside the point.

About the Author

Baba Rampuri, author of "Autobiography of a Sadhu, a Journey into Mystic India," and frequent commentator on Oral Tradition, Sacred Speech, and Consciousness, is an American expatriate,  the first foreigner to be initiated into India's largest and most ancient order of yogis, the Naga Sannyasis of Juna Akhara.  He has lived in India since 1970, where he practices and teaches the oral tradition of the Sanatan Dharma, conducts sacred ceremony and rites, and hosts workshops and retreats.

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