Mysticism, History of

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Mystical experience is a major form of religious experience, but it is hard to delineate by a simple definition for two main reasons. First, mystics often describe their experiences partly in terms of doctrines presupposed to be true, and there is no one set of doctrines invariably associated with mysticism. Some of the definitions of mysticism advanced by Western writers are quoted by W. R. Inge in his Mysticism in Religion (p. 25): "Mysticism is the immediate feeling of the unity of the self with God" (Otto Pfleiderer); "Mysticism is that attitude of mind in which all relations are swallowed up in the relation of the soul to God" (Edward Caird); "True mysticism is the consciousness that everything that we experience is an element and only an element in fact, i.e. that in being what it is, it is symbolic of something else" (Richard Nettleship). Quite clearly, such definitions import a religious and philosophical interpretation to the phenomenon of mysticism that would not be shared by all contemplatives. For instance, the Buddhist mystic, not believing in a personal God, would reject the first two of these definitions; and he might well be skeptical about the thirdin what sense is the experience of nirvāa symbolic of something else?

Second, there is quite a difference between mystical experience and prophetic and, more generally, numinous experience, but it is not easy to bring out this phenomenological fact in a short definition. (A numinous experience is an experience of a dynamic external presencedescribed classically in Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy as that of a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, an awe-inspiring and fascinating mystery.) Sidney Spencer says, for instance, "What is characteristic of the mystics is the claim which they make to an immediate contact with the Transcendent" (Mysticism in World Religion, p. 9). Such a definition includes under mysticism the experiences of the Old Testament prophets, those of Muammad, and the theophany described in the Bhagavad-Gītā. However, these differ so markedly from the interior illumination of such figures as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Ávila, Śankara, and the Buddha that it is misleading to bracket the two kinds of experience. This article will explicitly exclude the prophetic and numinous experience, save where it becomes relevant to the experiences and doctrines of those properly called mystics. It is thus best to indicate what is meant by "mysticism" by referring to examples, such as Eckhart and the others cited above, and by sketching some of the important features of the type of experience in question without interpreting it doctrinally.

Generally, mystics as typified by Eckhart, Teresa of Ávila, Śankara, and the Buddha feel that their experience is somehow timeless, that it involves an apprehension of the transcendent (of some thing, state, or person lying beyond the realm of things), that it gives them bliss or serenity, and that it normally accrues upon a course of self-mastery and contemplation. These are certainly features of what has been called introvertive mysticism by W. T. Stace (Mysticism and Philosophy, p. 60). There are other experiences, however; those of extrovertive mysticism, where, according to R. C. Zaehner, one gains a kind of rapport with the world, or "panenhenic" feeling (Mysticism Sacred and Profane, Ch. 1). These neither coincide with prophetic experiences nor strictly with those of introvertive mysticism, but since they sometimes occur in conjunction with the latter, it is convenient to treat them as mystical. Various abnormal mental states, such as those induced by mescaline, lysergic acid, and alcohol are sometimes considered mystical, but they are far enough removed from mainstream mysticism for it to be reasonable to neglect them here.

In the light of all this, we can distinguish various aspects of mysticism: The experiences themselves, the paths or systems of contemplative techniques often associated with them, and the doctrines that arise from mysticism or are affected by it. Also, such paranormal phenomena as levitation are sometimes ascribed to mystics, although they usually regard these as of secondary significance.

There is no single history of mysticism because some of the major religious traditions have been largely independent of one another. Further, there is no way of knowing the real origins of mysticism, since for such an intimate type of experience we must rely chiefly on written records and thus have no access to prehistoric mysticism. Studies of contemporary nonliterate culturesin Africa, for instancedo not reveal the presence of much or any mysticism proper; for example, the religious experiences of the Nuer in the Sudan are more akin to those of Old Testament prophecy. It is thus convenient to confine attention to the main literate religious traditions: Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism); Chinese and Japanese religions; and the Semitic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). It may be noted that early Christian mysticism was influenced by Greek, notably Platonist, ideas.

The Indian Tradition

The mainstream of Indian mysticism centers on the practice of yoga, which in its general sense involves techniques of pacifying the mind and of attaining interior insight. Evidence from the pre-Aryan Indus Valley civilization indicates that it may have been practiced in the second millennium BCE or earlier. By contrast, the religion of the Aryans who settled in north India centered on sacrifice set in a polytheistic framework. As this ritual religion became more complex, questions arose concerning the inner meaning of the sacrificial rites. The Upaniads (the chief of which date from about 800 BCE to about 500 BCE) were in part concerned with extending and deepening sacrificial ideas in the quest for vidyā, or knowledge of sacred reality. Quasi-magical ideas surrounded this notionfor instance, that knowledge gives power over the thing known and that one can become identified with the thing known. At the same time, mystical ideas began to permeate religious thinking, notably the idea that through austerity and self-control one could attain a realization of one's eternal self. A confluence of these streams of religious thought resulted in the famous central identification expressed in the Upaniads, "That art thou"; the sacred reality embracing and sustaining the cosmos ("That") and the eternal self ("thou") are one. In brief, inner mystical knowledge brings a union with the Divine.

This union is described in various ways: "Just as a man embraced by his dear wife knows nothing at all, outside or inside, so does the eternal life-monad [purua ], embraced by the supreme spiritual Self, know nothing at all, outside or inside" (Bhadārayaka Upaniad, IV. 3.21); "As rivers flow to their rest in the ocean and there leave behind them name and form, so the knower, liberated from name and form, reaches that divine Person beyond the beyond" (Chāndogya Upaniad, 6). Sometimes the lack of duality between the divine Being and the soul is stressed: "Where there is a duality, as it were, one sees another, tastes another, speaks to another. But when everything has become one's own self then whom and how would one see? The Self is not this, not that" (Bhadārayaka Upaniad, IV. 5.15). Mystical consciousness is also said to be like a state beyond dreamless sleep. These passages hint at what is virtually universal throughout Indian yoga, the fact that the contemplative state in its highest form involves going beyond ordinary perceptions, mental images, and thoughts. It is thus not describable by the ordinary expressions for mental states. It is no doubt partly for this reason that the distinction between perceiver and perceived is not regarded as applicable, and so the contemplative who conceives himself as "seeing" Brahman (the divine Being) thinks of this as a kind of union with Brahman. By contrast, in atheistic systems of Indian religion, where there is nothing for the self to be identified with, the contemplative state is conceived in a rather different way.

Although identification between the self and Brahman is a central theme in Upaniadic religion, some of the writings, notably the Kaha and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniads, are more theistic in spirit and less inclined to speak in terms of identification. These differences of emphasis are partly the reason for the divergences in interpretation found in different types of Vedānta in the medieval period.

jainism and yoga

Jainism, Buddhism, and the tradition later formulated as classical yoga involved an atheistic or agnostic interpretation of mystical experience. Jainism and classical yoga (the long-extinct Ājīvika school) were monadistic: They believed in an infinity of eternal life monads or souls, and the aim of the ascetic was to bring about the isolation of the soul from its material environment. Such an isolation would involve the cessation of reincarnation and thus final deliverance from suffering. Jainism, because it held that karma, the force determining people's situations as a result of their previous deeds, is a subtle form of matter, considered extreme tapas (austerity), which had the effect of annihilating this material force, the central means of liberation. Nevertheless, it seems that the Jain teacher Vardhamāna (known also as Mahāvīra), a contemporary of the Buddha, and his disciples claimed to attain a certain kind of higher state analogous to the experience of nirvāa in Buddhism. Thus, in Jain doctrine the life monad in its emancipated state gains omniscience, a concept reflecting the intense sense of insight accruing upon the contemplative experience.


The accounts of the Buddha's enlightenmenta crucial event in the history of Indian religion and likewise centrally important in the history of Indian mysticismare elaborate and circumstantial. During the first night, the Buddha, seated under the bo tree, remembered the series of his former births; during the second, he acquired the "heavenly eye," which enabled him to view the entire world and the whole cyclical process of rebirth; during the third, he saw how the latter depended upon grasping and ignoranceif living beings were liberated from these, they would escape rebirth; and in the fourth, he attained supreme insight after going through the various stages of meditation (Sanskrit, dhyāna ; Pāli, jhāna ). In all this he gained supreme peace. No doubt the scriptural records are a formalized account, hardly based on the Buddha's autobiographical report, but they certainly point to the type of inner experience early Buddhism prized. Something can be learned from the Theragāthā and Therīgāthā, verses composed by monks and nuns and expressing the flavor of early Buddhist contemplative experience. These poems often show the sensitivity of the recluse to the beauty of nature:

The peacocks shriek. Ah, the lovely crests and tails
And the sweet sound of the blue-throated peacocks.
The great grassy plain with water now
Beneath the thunder-clouded sky.
Your body is fresh; you are vigorous now and fit
To test the teaching. Reach now for that saintly rapture,
So bright, so pure, so hard to fathom,
The highest, the eternal place.
(TheragĀthĀ clxvi)

The eternal place is, of course, nirvāa.

The achievement of inner peace and insight, as opposed to the use of complex psychological categories in explaining human nature, was given comparatively little doctrinal elaboration in early Buddhism because the Buddha apparently felt that the concepts of the transcendent state (nirvāa) and the cessation of rebirth through the perception or attainment of nirvāa were sufficient means of interpreting mystical experience. Certainly, he did not give the more elaborate type of interpretation found in the Upaniads and in theistic mysticism. It is clear, however, that the experience or experiences involved both the attainment of a marvelous serenity and a kind of knowledge or insight (something regarded as knowledge, given the presuppositions of the Buddhist mystical quest). Grasping and ignorance are dispelled by this peace and knowledge.

Buddhism rejected the doctrine of a plurality of eternal souls, but in a sense it can be seen as a transcendence of monadism, with the concept of the eternal soul replaced by that of the capacity to attain release. Thus early Indian mysticism is typically monadistic, except in the Upaniads, where the interior experience is related to the Brahman and where, therefore, the Brahman-ātman (self) equation is formulated. Only because the eternal self of the mystic is identified with the presupposedly single divine Being is the plurality of souls denied. The numinous religion of Brahmanism overlays that of the contemplative mysticism of yoga, and the mystical experience is interpreted in terms of union with the unitary divine Principle.

Mahāyāna Buddhism, from the first century BCE on, moved toward a more elaborate interpretation of the contemplative path. Nirvāa was identified with the Absolute, variously named Suchness (tathatā ) and the void (śūnya ). These terms served to bring out the ineffability and undifferentiated nature of ultimate reality, which in turn corresponded to the undifferentiated and "void" nature of the contemplative experience itself. The Absolute was also identified, from the standpoint of the ordinary worshipers, with the Truth Body of the Buddhasthe transcendent and essential aspect of buddhahoodand thus the mystical path involved being a bodhisattva (buddha-to-be). The distinctionless, non-dual experience of ultimate reality, the goal of the path, was the achievement of identity with the Absolute, which was equated with buddhahood. This is why the Mahāyāna path of contemplation was thought of as the path of bodhisattvahood, so that on his enlightenment the mystic would himself become a buddha.

As a preliminary, the aspirant practices individual worship (pūjā ) of the celestial buddhas and bodhisattvas and can gain assurance from a living buddha that his aspiration to buddhahood will be fulfilled. He practices the perfections of the path, culminating in supreme wisdom or insight (prajn̄ā ).

There are three chief differences between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna, now represented by the Theravāda (in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and parts of Southeast Asia). First, the Mahāyāna stresses self-giving more strongly, so that the aspirant continually looks to the welfare of others; second, it is a path accessible to laymen as well as to monks; third, contemplation is supplemented by the use of sacramental and ritual practices, at least in certain phases of the Mahāyāna. Some of these practices, known as tantra, became well developed in the middle of the first millennium CE in both Hinduism and Buddhism and deeply affected the Buddhism of Tibet. It sometimes involved the ritual breaking of taboos (against meat-eating and against sexual intercourse outside marriage): Such a breaking of taboos was regarded as a means of testing and developing detachment. Coordinate with this type of Buddhism was a highly ritualistic use of sacred texts and recitations. The most outstanding figure of Tibetan mysticism was the poet and yogi Milarepa (10401123).


The theistic religion implicit in some of the Upaniads, reinforced by popular cults and by an emphasis on bhakti, or loving adoration of God, led to a different valuation of mysticism in the Bhagavad-Gītā. The poem speaks of three paths to salvation: the way of knowledge (primarily contemplative knowledge), the way of works, and the way of devotion (bhakti ). The three paths are stressed in different parts of the Gītā, but two significant lessons emerge. First, the pursuit of works (religious and moral duties) need not bind one to the world if they are performed in a spirit of self-surrender to God; the way of works should be seen in the light of the way of devotion. Second, the yogi who pursues knowledge (jnana ) can become Brahman (VI.27). Elsewhere, however, Brahman is spoken of as part of God; the personal aspect of God is more important than his impersonal aspect. Thus the yogi, in pursuing a strictly contemplative path, can only unite himself with the lower, rather than the more important, aspect of the Lord's nature. This doctrine represented a higher evaluation of bhakti than of contemplative yoga. (It must be pointed out that traditional Indian commentators are divided on the question of what is the correct interpretation of the Gītā. However, there is little doubt that extraneous theological and philosophical presuppositions have played a large part in determining interpretations.)

The continued growth of devotional or bhakti religion led to a similar interpretation of mysticism during the medieval period. Thus, in the twelfth century Rāmānuja reversed the doctrinal priorities of Śankara (ninth century). Śankara's monism represented the most radical interpretation of the Upaniadic identity texts, asserting a numerical identity between the soul and the divine Being. While for Śankara the personal Lord was a lower manifestation of the Absolute, so that worship and devotion could be transcended when one had attained the apprehension of identity with Brahman, Rāmānuja, although recognizing identity as one religious goal, conceived it as an inferior form of release. The higher form was the vision of the personal God, in which the soul was in a state of loving dependence on the Lord. Both Madhva (thirteenth century) and the theistic Śaivite schools of Indian philosophy interpreted mystical experience in terms of union with God, but not a union involving the numerical identity of the soul and God. Thus, mystical experience was interpreted by reference to the duality of the soul and God implicit in the religion of bhakti : The worshiper has a strong sense of the majesty and glory of God, and thus of the difference between himself and the object of worship. Various analogies were used, including that of the marriage of the soul and God, since sexual love symbolizes the intimate union between the lover and the beloved while presupposing the difference between the two. This analogy tied in with the cult of Krishna: The legend of Krishna's amorous dalliance with the milkmaids was seen as an allegory of the relation between God and men's souls.

The interiorization of religion involved in both devotionalism and contemplation influenced Nānak (14691538), founder of the Sikh religion, who preached doctrines combining the anti-idolatrous monotheism of Islam and such characteristic Hindu ideas as reincarnation and karma.

There have been a number of outstanding contemplatives in modern Hinduism. Chief among them was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (18341886), whose disciple Vivekananda (18621902) did much to popularize his teachings in both the East and the West; Vivekananda's organizing ability was chiefly responsible for the flourishing state of the Ramakrishna movement, in which the contemplative life is geared to social service and also provides a pattern of living that can, according to the teachings of the movement, transcend the differences between the great living faiths. A twentieth-century mystic who tried to adapt traditional teachings to modern thought was Aurobindo. Contemplation and yoga, through the activities of numerous recluses, holy men, and gurus, continue to play a prominent role in Indian religion.

China and Japan

Chinese mysticism has two main sources, Daoism and Buddhism. A product of their interaction was Ch'ān, better known under its Japanese name, Zen. The teachings of Confucius were not much concerned with the contemplative quest for inner illumination, although certain mystical ideas were expressed in the Book of Mencius of the Confucian tradition. On the whole, however, early Confucianism was indifferent to the contemplative ideal.


The chief early mystical writing in China was the Dao-de-jing, traditionally ascribed to Laozi, who is thought to have been an older contemporary of Confucius. It is likely, however, not only that the book was later but also that it was the work of several men. The anthology expresses a roughly consistent viewpoint, one that, on the most natural account of it, has its roots in contemplation (although some commentators give it a nonmystical interpretation).

The Way, or Dao, referred to in the Dao-de-jing is both a principle underlying natural processes and a mode of life whereby the sage can gain identity or harmony with nature. Since nature acts spontaneously and effortlessly, the book claims that the sage likewise can be effective through inaction (wu-wei ) and effortlessness. Thus, the pattern of life suggested is one of withdrawal and passivity. In these themes the Dao-de-jing reflects some of those found elsewhere in mystical literature: The sense of identification with the Principle (li) underlying the world and the need for an unworldly mode of existence. Because the attainment of harmony with Dao was seen as living in accord with nature, the Daoists reacted against what they considered the artificialities of social life and etiquette as practiced by the Confucians, and from the doctrine of wu-wei they derived political views not far from anarchism.

In practice the effortlessness of the Daoist contemplative was modified by the use of techniques of meditation, such as controlled breathing, analogous to those employed in Indian yoga. The Daoist aim of an immediate, intuitive, inner illumination was sufficiently close to the aim of Buddhist meditation for it to be natural that the two streams of religion should influence each other in the period after Buddhism's arrival in China, in the first century CE. In particular, it was during the sixth and following centuries that this interplay was most marked.


The success of Buddhism, which in part resulted, at least among intellectuals, from the subtlety of its metaphysical doctrines, was a factor in stimulating the so-called neo-Confucian revival, in which a metaphysics was elaborated to underpin the Confucian ethic.

One main phase of this revival was the growth of philosophical idealism, which owed something to mystical ideas. Thus, Lu Xiangshan (11391193) argued that there is a single underlying principle, li, that explains all things and is spiritual. Thus, he claimed, his mind and the universe were one. It followed that one can discover the truth by introspection.

Such an idealism was further developed by Wang Yangming (14721529), about whom a significant story is told. He and a friend were concerned about the method by which one should purify the mind, for Zhu Xi (11301200) had said that one should investigate the nature of things. Wang and his friend decided to contemplate a bamboo in the front courtyard but gave up after several days. It is notable that this attempt corresponds to one of the preliminary methods of Buddhist contemplation. Although unconvinced by such "external" contemplation, Wang nevertheless considered the interior questthe purification of consciousnessimportant. He believed that through looking inward at one's own nature one could gain an intuitive knowledge of the whole of reality. It is said that while in banishment and living under poor and menial conditions, Wang had a mystical experience in which he realized this doctrine existentially. However, Wang was far from abandoning the traditional Confucian emphasis on ethical behavior; he did not advocate quietism and passivity but saw in mysticism a way of enhancing moral goodness. Inner illumination would shine through in active concern for others. However, in such neo-Confucianism the influence of Ch'ān Buddhism can be detected.


Ch'ān, or Zen, Buddhism embodies the most distinctive feature of both Chinese and Japanese mysticism, since it incorporated Daoist ideas into Buddhist mysticism. Other schools of Far Eastern Buddhism in varying ways carried on and developed the Buddhist tradition and therefore incorporated Buddhist contemplative ideals. A powerful aspect of Far Eastern Buddhism was the success of the Pure Land school, which centered its teachings on the faith and devotion whereby the ordinary person could receive supernatural aid from the Buddha Amitābha and gain rebirth in the paradise of the Pure Land. With its stress on devotion and the efficacy of the Buddha's grace, this school tended to bypass contemplative mysticism and to focus religion upon worship.


Although the Hebrew Bible contains virtually no expression of contemplative religion, mysticism developed within Judaism by the first century BCE. It centered mainly on the imagery of the merkabah (chariot), described in Ezekiel as a complex vision of the manifestation of divine power in the shape of supernatural beings riding on a mysterious four-wheeled chariot (Ezekiel 1). The Talmud indicates that some of the early rabbis practiced asceticism and self-purification as a preparation for a mystical "ascent into heaven." Philo Judaeus (fl. 20 BCE40 CE) mentioned a community of Therapeutae near Alexandria who practiced a form of contemplative monasticism, and likewise mysticism may have been part of the Essene way of life. Philo himself was the greatest figure in these early phases of contemplative Judaism, although he was so deeply affected by Greek ideas that he is outside the mainstream of Jewish thought and piety. According to Philo, man, through his intellect, has an affinity with God; and through the contemplative life he can in principle attain a state where he can see God's essence. In accordance with Platonist and mystical ideas, Philo expounded a negative theology: God eludes the affirmations we try to make about him. Consequently, Philo's interpretation of Scripture was not at all literalistic, and he made lavish use of the allegorical method. He attempted, moreover, to show that the experiences of the prophets were mystical.

The most important period of Jewish mysticism was the Middle Ages. Beginning in the twelfth century there developed Hasidism, which made a lasting imprint on central European Judaism, and Kabbalism, mainly in Spain and southern France. The former takes its name from the term Hasidim ("devout ones"), a name originally applied to a movement of the second century BCE that was a forerunner of Pharisaism. Medieval Hasidism concentrated on the cultivation of the sense of divine presence. Modern Hasidism, dating from the eighteenth century, is more directly contemplative and is indebted to Kabbalism.


Kabbalism centered on the esoteric teachings known as the Kabbalah, which found their chief expression in the Zohar ("splendor"), a work traditionally ascribed to the second century but actually dating from the thirteenth century or a little earlier, that conceives of God as the En-Sof, the "Endless" or "Infinite." In itself the En-Sof is qualityless, but there are ten ideal qualities, known as the Sefirot, that emanate from the Infinitewisdom and power, for instance. These are used to explain the creation of the world. The cosmos that man inhabits, however, is the lowest sphere in which the Sefirot operatea doctrine that expresses the way in which the perfect Infinite is far removed from the imperfect world we inhabit. The hierarchy of stages between God and the material world is reminiscent of Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the En-Sof, being infinite, does in some sense embrace lower forms of existence; and every entity in the universe reflects and interpenetrates everything else.

How is all this related to traditional Jewish teachings? According to the Kabbalah, the doctrine of interpenetration implies that lower events will stimulate corresponding activity from on high. The fall of Adam brought about a rupture in the cosmos; the Shekinah, or Divine Presence, became exiled from the En-Sof. No longer does the Presence pervade the whole world; it appears intermittently here and therefor instance, in ancient Israeland has continued to be especially associated with the Jewish people. The aim of the pious should be to bring about a reunion of the En-Sof with the Shekinah. Since the human soul contains some of the Sefirot, the individual experience of such a reunion will have its cosmic effects and help to restore universal harmony. Consequently, the mystical life was given a dramatic and central place in the operations of the universe.

It will be apparent that some of these ideas, such as the ineffability of the En-Sof and the rather impersonal description of God, echo similar notions in Neoplatonism and other forms of mystical theology. Despite the unorthodoxy of much of their speculation, the Kabbalists continued the detailed observance of Jewish law, ascribing to it a mystical significance.

Isaac Luria

An important figure in the development of Kabbalism was Isaac Luria (15341572), of a Spanish Jewish family living in Palestine. He believed in reincarnation, which would give men ever fresh chances of living the pure life and would provide a framework for the punishment of those who had transgressed. Luria conceived of Adam as a universal being who before the Fall embraced the universe, then in an ideal state. With his fall, the material world was created, and the light of his divine nature was fragmented into the sparks that illuminate the myriads of living souls. In the final consummation, all will be reunited. Asceticism and the practice of kavannah concentrated devotion in all one's actswere the means of purifying the soul. Social conditions may have helped the growth of such doctrines, for the emphasis on meekness, love, and a quiet interior life were well adapted to the unhappy outer circumstances of the Jewish people, and the Kabbalistic reinterpretation of the Messianic hope gave the contemplative a cosmic role.

modern hasidism

The founder of modern Hasidism was Israel Baal Shem-Tov (c. 17001760), who lived in Carpathia in eastern Europe. He gathered round him disciples who were devoted to the mystical life. His successor, Baer of Meseritz (17101772), was an energetic organizer and missionary who spread the movement among Jews throughout eastern Europe and the Ukraine. Stress was laid on the concept of the zaddik, or perfectly righteous man, through whom the favor of God is channeled. Only he can attain union with the divine Being; less perfect folk must find their spiritual development through his guidance. This doctrine is reminiscent of Hindu ideas about the guru as conveyor of illumination. In any event, Hasidism implied that the zaddik, rather than the rabbi or learned person, was the immediate source of authority. This gave Hasidic mysticism a popular following and organization, and the essential simplicity of its messagethat salvation can be attained through prayer and pious actsmade it adaptable to the experience of people of no great sophistication or learning.

As elsewhere in the history of mysticism, antinomian tendencies made their appearance. Thus Sabbatianism, named after Sabbatai Zevi (16261676), a self-styled Messiah who preached apostasy from Judaism, made use of Kabbalistic ideas in order to justify the concept of the God-man who is "beyond good and evil," as in the teachings of Jacob Frank (c. 17261791).

Although the Hasidim often attacked official rabbinical teaching, the revival of Jewish learning in the nineteenth century paved the way for a reconciliation between orthodoxy and Hasidic piety, so that the latter still remains a force within the fabric of Jewish religion.



As has been mentioned, there was little mysticism in the traditions of Judaism until the time of Christ, and there also seems to have been little in the experience of the earliest church. It is true that Paul underwent a powerful experience of being "caught up to the third heaven," which could have had a mystical character, although it is also reminiscent of certain prophetic experiences, such as those of Muammad. The origins of Christian mysticism can more plausibly be sought elsewhere, in the rise of monasticism and the influence of Neoplatonism. Some stimulus to such a development may also have been given by the existence of Gnostic sects both within and outside Christianity, from the end of the first century CE.


Gnosticisma term derived from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge, particularly the immediate inner knowledge of the divine Beingtended to be ascetic and esoteric. Its asceticism was expressed by the doctrine that matter is evil, so that liberation of the soul is achieved through withdrawal from the world. Because of the evil nature of the world, Gnostics frequently postulated a hierarchy of beings below God and concerned with the creation of the world. Thus God himself was not contaminated, so to speak, by direct contract with matter. Such a doctrine was heretical, for it did not square with the Christian doctrine of creation or with Christian attitudes to the world, but it was one factor in stimulating an orthodox asceticism and mysticism within Christianity.


Monasticism grew out of eremitic practices, mainly in Egypt. Famous among early hermits was Anthony the Great, whose asceticism became almost legendary. Early in the fourth century monasticism proper was established in Egypt, the key figure being Pachomius. Thereafter the movement spread rapidly in Egypt and the Eastern church. It was further organized by Basil the Great (c. 330379), whose rule formed the basis of Orthodox monasticism. John Cassian (c. 360c. 434) brought Egyptian-style monasticism to the West, founding two monasteries in the south of France. His rule underlay that of St. Benedict, who lived in the following century. The connection of monasticism with mysticism was a straightforward one, for a main rationale of monasticism was the cultivation of the spiritual life, whereby a foretaste of the beatitude of the blessed in heaven could be gained. Thus the ultimate destiny of man was seen in contemplative terms, and it was thought possible to anticipate this destiny by a regulated life withdrawn from the world.


Neoplatonism, which expressed a view of the world in part stemming from, and in part providing a rationale for, mystical experience, made a lasting imprint upon Christian contemplation. A sign of this was the composition of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings, which were ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, a convert of St. Paul, but really date from approximately the beginning of the sixth century. These writings had a wide impact upon medieval mysticism. The negative theology expounded in them was not merely the result of logical difficulties involved in the ascription of ordinary predicates to God but, more importantly, was geared to the expression of the contemplative's inner experience of a "darkness clearer than light." Thus the mystical experience, being different from, and not expressible in terms of, perceptual and related forms of experience, seemed to imply that its object was likewise indescribable and therefore better conveyed by negations than by positive affirmations.

Neoplatonism also, of course, deeply influenced St. Augustine, and he has been a principal source of the notion, enshrined in monastic practice, that introvertive contemplation can give a foretaste of the heavenly life. Thus the highest state of Christian blessedness was increasingly identified with contemplation, and mysticism became the pattern after which eternal life was conceived.

eastern orthodox mysticism

The Pseudo-Dionysian writings also formed an important part of the fabric of Eastern Orthodox mysticism, for there were also features of the general theology of Orthodoxy that favored the contemplative ideal. John of Damascus, who in the eighth century summed up the work of the Cappadocian Fathers (fourth century), expressed in his writings a doctrine of deification that was both typical of and formative of Eastern Orthodox theology. Man was considered the connecting link between the visible and invisible worlds. He was created perfect but through the Fall lost his immortal, incorruptible, and passionless nature. A certain scope for free will remained, however. The image of God, although defaced, was not entirely lost. The restoration of man to the true end for which he was madethe contemplation of Godwas effected through Christ's incarnation. Christ, by uniting the Godhead to human nature, restored that nature to its perfection; and by sharing in his perfect humanity, men also can be raised up and deified. In terms of Dionysian mysticism, this deification takes place through the illumination of the soul; its divinization, through the divine Light. Virtually throughout Eastern mysticism this imagery of light was to play a central part, and thus St. Simeon (9491022), perhaps the most important of Eastern Orthodox mystics, identified the inner light with the glory emanating from God.


Simeon was also a forerunner of the significant contemplative movement known as Hesychasm (from the Greek word hesychos, "quiet"), whose methods of training had some analogy to those found in Indian yoga.

The Hesychasts (eleventhfourteenth centuries) held that their methods were conducive to the inner vision of the uncreated Light, identified with that which suffused Christ at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. This Light was conceived as emanating from God and was not to be identified with his essence, which is unknowable (this was a means of retaining orthodox teaching, by safeguarding mysticism from a full doctrine of union with, or knowledge of, God). Among the training methods used were breathing exercises and the continued repetition of the Jesus Prayer"O Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." In a mysterious manner, the very repetition of the sacred name of Jesus was supposed to contain the divine power.

Gregorius Palamas (c. 12961359), the most noted and controversial exponent of Hesychasm, considered the Jesus Prayer as the central act of piety; and although the use of breathing techniques, which persisted until the eighteenth century, has been discontinued, the Jesus Prayer has survived as a characteristic part of Orthodox religion. Palamas and the Hesychasts were not, however, unopposed. Some opponents thought that the doctrine of the uncreated Light made a division within the GodheadPalamas had even spoken of "divinities." Thus the attempt to soften the idea of mystical union by regarding it as identification not with the divine essence but with the divine illuminative energy, was criticized on the ground that it transferred the difficulty to another locus by introducing something like polytheism. Nevertheless, Hesychastic teaching came to be recognized officially, and the movement was the mainspring of medieval Orthodox contemplation.

roman catholicism

The mystical life served to counterbalance the worldly tendencies that had permeated the early medieval church in the West. Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540604) discovered in his own experience something that could be expressed in terms of the irradiation of the divine Light; and Gregory VII, elected pope in 1073, undertook extensive ecclesiastical and monastic reforms that were partly inspired by the intense cultivation of the personal and contemplative life he had discovered in the Cluniac movementa monasticism whose rules and ideals emanated from the monastic center at Cluny in Burgundy.

The most important figure in monastic reform was Bernard of Clairvaux (10901153). Although he was influenced by Augustine, his concerns were not primarily expressed in metaphysical language. He believed that in the mystical experience the soul is emptied and wholly lost in God, but he did not conceive this as an actual union with the Godhead. The soul and God remain distinct in substance, although they are joined by the "glue of love." Through man's love flowing up to God and through the downward movement of God's grace, the two become united. Bernard combined this intense mysticism with great powers of leadership and played a large part in the forward movement of the Cistercian order.

Other important mystics were Hugh and Richard of St. Victor, an Augustinian abbey in Paris in the twelfth century, and St. Bonaventure (c. 12171274) in the following century. St. Bonaventure evolved a theory of mysticism that set forth the three ways of the spiritual life: purgative, illuminative, and unitive. In the first stage, the individual purifies himself through meditation; in the second, he is illuminated by the divine mercy; in the third, he gains a continuing union with God through love. This love is nourished by concentrating upon God, to the exclusion of mutable things. Thus, Bonaventure's path typically followed that of introversion, while his theological doctrines leaned upon Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius.

There were ways, however, in which mystical teachings, especially where they strongly emphasized the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, could seem unorthodox. The work of Thomas Aquinas (1224?1274), in excogitating a novel synthesis between Christian theology and Aristotelianism, accentuated differences of emphasis between some of the mystics and orthodox doctrine. Thus Meister Eckhart (c. 12601327/1328), a Dominican and therefore versed in Thomism, fell under condemnation.

The greatest of the German contemplatives, Eckhart spoke in ways that suggested not merely that there is an ontological distinction between the Godhead, which is beyond description, and the Trinity of describable Persons but also that it is possible for the contemplative to go "beyond God" in achieving identity with the Godhead. Despite his unorthodox language, Eckhart inspired a strong following, and the mysticism of Johannes Tauler (c. 13001361), Heinrich Suso (1295/13001366), Jan van Ruysbroeck (12931381), and the partly lay group known as the Friends of God in Germany, the Low Countries, and Switzerland owed much to him.

It was out of the Friends of God that the anonymous but famous mystical treatise, the Theologia Germanica, originated, stressing the abandonment of the soul to God. The corruption of the church and the disillusioning events of the Great Western Schism were motives for the Friends of God to attempt to revitalize faith through the inner life, and this sometimes involved a highly critical attitude toward ecclesiastical authority. It is worth noting, however, that the rather sudden flowering of mysticism in Germany during the fourteenth century owed much to the fact that in 1267 the Dominican friars had been charged by Pope Clement IV with the spiritual direction of the nuns in the numerous convents in the Rhineland. Hitherto they had frequently been without proper religious supervision.

Mysticism could lead in directions that seemed to be the reverse of Christian piety. The sect known as the Brethren of the Free Spirit, which dated from the early thirteenth century, believed that men are of the same substance as God: Every man is capable of becoming divine. It followed that when this divinization was achieved, a person could no longer sin, for God is sinless. Thus, whatever one did, it would not be a sin. Commandments and conventional tests of morality could no longer apply, and mysticism was therefore interpreted as justifying antinomianism. (Thus, it was not surprising that some of Eckhart's language, although not intended in this sense, could be regarded as dangerousas when he said that God is beyond good.) Despite the efforts of the Inquisition, the Brethren of the Free Spirit spread, partly because they were able to organize themselves into a secret society.

The asceticism often associated with mystical religion may also be seen in another heretical movement of the twelfth and thirteenth centuriesthe Albigensians or Cathari, found in southern France, northern Italy, and parts of Spain, who held doctrines close to those of Manichaeism.

The fourteenth century also saw a marked development of mysticism in England, as exemplified by the writings of Richard Rolle de Hampole (c. 12901349), who led the life of a hermit; the anonymous author of the famous Cloud of Unknowing, which was influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius; Julian of Norwich (c. 13401415); Walter Hilton (d. 1396), and others. On the whole, the temper of their mysticism was nonspeculative, and they emphasized the practical means of developing the inner life.

A movement closely related to the Friends of God was that of the Brethren of the Common Life, which was deeply influenced by Ruysbroeck. Its best-known fruit was the widely read Imitation of Christ, attributed to Thomas à Kempis. With its stress on practical love, it was well adapted to the needs of those who did not necessarily feel the call to the cloister and was a means of giving mysticism a wider social impact. Similarly, Catherine of Siena (13471380) exhibited a dynamic concern for social and ecclesiastical service. She ministered to victims of the Black Death and played a part in the attempt to strengthen the ailing papacy, persuading Gregory XI to return from Avignon to Rome.

Catherine of Siena spoke vividly of mystical experience in terms of spiritual marriage, paralleling the symbolism whereby the church was looked on as the bride of Christ. Another woman mystic, Teresa of Ávila (15151582), gave further expression to this imagery. Her accounts of her own experiences in pursuing the contemplative life, in such works as The Interior Castle and in her autobiography, are valuable and sensitive sources for understanding the inner phenomena of mysticism.

Another important mystic who used the imagery of marriage was a younger contemporary of St. Teresa, John of the Cross (15421591). He gave detailed expression to the experience of the "dark night of the soul," an experience also recorded by Ruysbroeck and others. The mystic has, according to St. John, periods of despair in which he feels deserted by God. This he interprets as a means of purgation sent by God. The experience probably reflects the contrast between the bliss of union and the condition of striving for that bliss. It is not much written about in nontheistic mysticism, although Buddhist meditation involves the attempt to repress the feeling of bliss accruing on the attainment of higher states of consciousness, in order to obviate the depression liable to occur upon their cessation.


In one way, Protestantism provided a favorable milieu for mysticism, but in another and ultimately more important way, it provided an unfavorable one. The Protestant emphasis on personal experience of God could easily link up with the ideals of the contemplative life. Thus, the writings of the most famous Protestant mystic, Jakob Boehme (15751624), were widely diffused. Groups of followers known as the Behmenists flourished in England and were later absorbed in the Quaker movement, whose doctrine of the "inner light" was characteristically mystical. However, the type of experience that figured so centrally in early Protestantism and that has continued to be stressed in evangelical Christianity was that which gives the individual certitude of salvation. Such a "conversion" experience differs from the imageless rapture that is at the center of mystical religion. Moreover, Protestantism was organizationally unfavorable to the contemplative life, since this had flourished principally in monasteries and indeed had provided a main rationale for their existence. Protestantism could be puritanical, but it did not favor withdrawal from the world.

The antinomian tendencies exhibited by the Brethren of the Free Spirit in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were reproduced in various offshoots of Protestant mysticism, as in the movement known as the Ranters, who were strong in seventeenth-century England. Their doctrines were held by opponents to be pantheistic, but more correctly they believed in the essential divinity of all human beings. Since God cannot sin, neither can divinized men, however wrong their actions may look from the standpoint of conventional morality. This was another instance in the history of religion where mystical teachings, normally nurtured in the context of asceticism and unworldliness, were interpreted to justify the opposite. Other important mystics in the Protestant tradition were George Fox (16241691), the founder of Quakerism; William Law (16861761); and the eccentric poet William Blake (17571827).

Although contemplative writings have been less prominent in more recent times, there have been a number of striking mystics since 1850, among them the pseudonymous Lucie-Christine (18441908), whose experiences are recorded in her Spiritual Journal ; the converted French army officer Charles de Foucauld (18581916), and the Indian Christian Sadhu Sundar Singh (18891929).

Moreover, there has been a renewed scholarly interest in mysticism, as seen in the writings of William James, Evelyn Underhill (18751941), and William Inge (18601954). Further stimulus to the study of mysticism has been provided by the increased interaction between Eastern religions and Christianity.


Early Islam was not especially conducive to mysticism, since its main spirit was that of the prophetic dynamism of Muammad's numinous experiences. Nevertheless, by the eighth century mysticism was developing within Islam. Greek philosophy had already made its impact on the Arabs and thus had opened the way to speculation about God that was partly contemplative. More important, the ex-Christians who had been absorbed into the faith in many Middle Eastern areas carried with them a respect for the ascetic life. Further, the culture of the Arabian desert had encountered the rich and sophisticated standard of living of the conquered, and this confrontation had induced tensions within Islam. Those who held to the older tradition were moved to accentuate the puritanism of early Islam, and such asceticism accorded with the practice of contemplation. Moreover, it was possible for Muslims to interpret Muammad's prophetic experience in a mystical sense.

Muslim mysticism is generally known as Sufism. The word ūfī is probably derived from the term ūf, "undyed wool," which was the material of a garment worn as a sign of simplicity and austerity. Although complete world denial was scarcely in accord with Muammad's teachings, the world acceptance expressed in the struggle for power among his successors brought conformity with mere orthodoxy into disrepute among the pious. This represented an opportunity for the growth of an ascetic otherworldliness. Those who adopted the contemplative life could withdraw from politics and could harness self-mortification to the task of concentrating solely upon Allah.

The general structure of Islamic faith was adapted to the service of the inner life. The repetition of prayers enjoined by Islam could be extended from that normally required of the faithful until every moment could be spent in remembrance of God and adoration of him. Almsgiving, one of the seven "pillars of Islam," could be interpreted in terms of thoroughgoing self-denial. The whole of life could be seen as a pilgrimage to a spiritual Mecca. Although the earliest teachings of Islam had laid duties on the individual as a member of the communityconceived as a brotherhoodtendencies later developed that made religion essentially a matter for the individual alone.

The new asceticism was regarded primarily as a means toward inner illumination. Fear and obedience of God melted into a burning interior love of him that carried with it the hope that union with him might be gained through negation of the self. This interior knowledge was described in terms of light, and an important passage in the Qurʾan (Koran), the so-called Light Verse, was quoted as a backing for mysticism: "God is the light of the heavens and of the earth; His light is like a niche wherein there is a lamp, a lamp encased in glass, the glass as it were a glistening star." Also, the Sufis came to use the imagery of love as some Christian mystics did. An early example of this is to be found in the life and teachings of Dhūʾl-Nūn (d. 861), an Egyptian influenced by Greek speculation.

heretical aspects

The knowledge prized by the Sufis was not the rational knowledge developed by the scholastic theologians (in Islam this meant mainly those who had come into contact with Greek philosophy); rather, it was the direct knowledge of Allah, or maʿrifa. This maʿrifa or gnosis was the crown of the Sufi path. However, the idea of direct acquaintance with God could have consequences that were scandalous to the orthodox.

Thus, Abū Yazīd of Bistam (d. 875) was so convinced of his identity with God in the experience of maʿrifa that he could say "Glory to mehow great is my majesty." This seemed like claiming divinity, which was blasphemous and strictly contrary to the orthodox opposition to any doctrine of incarnation. Abū Yazīd also put forth an idea destined to play a large part in subsequent Islamic mysticismthat of fanāʾ, the passing away and extinction of the empirical self, which follows self-control through asceticism and contemplative techniques. The "passing away" involved the loss of the consciousness of one's own individuality and helps to explain why the Sufis sometimes spoke in terms that suggested that they became merged or identified with God. As has been seen, similar ideas were expressed on occasion by Christian mystics such as Eckhart and are found in Hindu and Buddhist mysticism.

The most notable example of this trend was the experience of al-Hallāj (854922) of Baghdad, who spoke as though he were an incarnation of the divine Being through mystical experience and consciously and overtly modeled himself upon Jesus. Such ideas were intolerable to the orthodox and he was (appropriately) crucified.

Although at first the Sufis operated individually, they later associated in loose groups. The elaboration of contemplative techniques and the trend toward celibacy (scarcely in accord with the spirit of the revealed law contained in the Qurʾan) brought about the creation of orders of Sufis who could work, and often live, together. It was common for such a group to be under the spiritual direction of a shaykh or pīr, and very often his residence would turn into a monastic community. The prestige of such holy men became great, and miraculous powers were ascribed to them. This prestige, combined with concepts clustering around maʿrifa, brought the ideal of the divine human and the cult of saints into Islam.

Persecution, as in the case of al-Hallāj, was no lasting answer to threats to orthodoxy; what was required was a synthesis between the new ideas and traditional theology that could harness Sufi piety to Qurʾanic ends. Al-Ghazālī (10581111) provided the most acceptable and influential solution to the problem. In his The Revival of the Religious Sciences he dealt with the question of how fanāʾ could most properly be interpreted. He held that the mystic, in experiencing the vision of God, is so overwhelmed that he imagines he is united with him. However, this is a sort of illusion, analogous to the belief of a person who sees wine in a transparent glass and thinks that wine and glass are a single object. When the contemplative returns from the state of ecstasy ("drunkenness," as Ghazālī called itmetaphors of drinking were common in Sufi writings), he recognizes that there is a distinction between the soul and God. In such ways, Ghazālī tried to do justice both to the actual experience of the contemplative and to a religion's requirements of worship, which presupposes a dualism between the worshiper and the object of worship. Ghazālī stressed the way in which self-purification, as part of the Sufi path, follows penitence, which in turn depends on the recognition of the awe-inspiring majesty and holiness of Allah. Thus he tried to show that contemplation and orthodox religion go hand in hand. Hence, he also did not believe in a mysticism that involved withdrawal from the world. The mystic returns to ordinary life, revitalized by the dazzling vision of the divine Reality. Ghazālī's synthesis meant that henceforth Sufism had an accepted place within orthodox Islam, but contemplative and philosophical thought were not restricted.

pantheist tendencies

Notable among those who expressed a poetical and metaphysical Sufism was Ibn al-ʿArabī (11651240) of Spain. He influenced Dante Alighieri, who adopted the outline of Ibn al-ʿArabī's description of the ascent into heaven (combining astronomical theory and the story of Muammad's journey to heaven). His doctrines were pantheistic, and he considered human beings as offshoots of the divine essence that exist because of God's desire to be known; and in the realization of the divine Being, the contemplative reflects in his own person the structure of the universe. He also made use of the logos idea: The logos as the creative principle in the universe was identified with the spirit of Muammad. However, there are hints in Ibn al-ʿArabī's work that he considered himself superior to Muammad, having realized identity not with the logos but with the Godhead.

His voluminous writings, although regarded with distaste by the orthodox, were influential, especially in Persia, among such mystical poets as Jalāl ad-Din Rūmī (12071273) and Mawlana Nur ad-Din Jāmī (14141492). Rūmī, who founded one of the darwīsh orders (darwīsh literally means "mendicant," and is commonly transliterated dervish ), also wrote poetry expressing the longing of the soul for its return to God. However, he was also keenly appreciative of the beauties of nature, and he saw in the ritual of the Mevlevi order, which he founded, with its solemn swirling dance to the sound of drum and pipe, a reflection of the movements of the planets and of nature in general.

It may be noted that some of the orders experimented with various external means of inducing ecstatic experiences, and the dance was one. (The term dervish should properly apply to all mendicant orders, and not just to the Mevlevi "dancing dervishes.")

Certain features of Sufi teaching are reminiscent of Indian mysticism, and it has been argued, although not conclusively, that there were borrowings from India. (See R. C. Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, on this question.) For instance, Abū Yazīd's language is similar to that of the Upaniads ; and Ibn al-ʿArabī argued, with a logic like that of Śankara, that it is inappropriate to speak of becoming God through mystical experience, since one is already essentially identical with Godmystical realization involves no change of ontological status. Again, like nearly all Hindu theologians, Ibn al-ʿArabī treated hell as a purgatory, rather than as a place of everlasting punishment. Various similarities of this kind can probably best be explained not so much as borrowings but rather as reflections of similar patterns of experience and speculation.

modern sufism

In the modern period, Sufism has undergone a considerable decline, and the revitalization of Islam has come about through other forcesthe puritanism of the Wahhābī, Pan-Arabism, and political advance. Sir Muhammad Iqbal (18771938), however, an important figure in Muslim modernism, was influenced by Sufi thought. Since he wished to distinguish sharply between religion and sciencethe former having to do with personal lifehe found the interior quest of Sufism attractive.

See also Absolute, The; al-Ghazālī, Muhammad; Asceticism; Augustine, St.; Bernard of Clairvaux, St.; Blake, William; Boehme, Jakob; Bonaventure, St.; Buddhism; BuddhismSchools: Chan and Zen; Caird, Edward; Chinese Philosophy; Confucius; Dante Alighieri; Eckhart, Meister; Gnosticism; Hinduism; Ibn al-ʿArabī; Illumination; Inge, William Ralph; Iqbal, Muhammad; Jainism; James, William; John of Damascus; John of the Cross, St.; Kabbalah; Laozi; Law, William; Lu Xiangshan; Mani and Manichaeism; Mysticism, Nature and Assessment of; Mysticism: The Indian Tradition; Neoplatonism; Nirvāa; Otto, Rudolf; Philo Judaeus; Pseudo-Dionysius; Rāmānuja; Ruysbroeck, Jan van; Śankara; Stace, Walter Terence; Sufism; Suso, Heinrich; Tauler, Johannes; Teresa of Ávila, St.; Thomas à Kempis; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism; Wang Yangming; Yoga; Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi).


A good introduction to mysticism is Sidney Spencer, Mysticism in World Religion (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963). Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism, 6th ed. (London: Methuen, 1916), is a classic, although dated in some respects and confined largely to theistic mysticism. The same is true of William James, Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Longmans Green, 1902). See also W. R. Inge, Mysticism in Religion (London, 1907); R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957); W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960); Steven Katz, ed., Mysticism and Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God, 3 vols (New York: Crossroad, 19911998); Barry Windeatt, English Mystics of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Geoffrey Parrinder, Mysticism in the World's Religions (New York: Oneworld, 1995); and Steven Katz, ed., Mysticism and Sacred Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

On Indian mysticism, see Edward Conze, Buddhist Meditation (New York: Dover, 2003); S. N. Dasgupta, Hindu Mysticism (London, 1927); D. T. Suzuki, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist (London: Allen and Unwin, 1957); Rudolf Otto's classical Mysticism East and West, translated by B. L. Bracey and R. C. Payne (New York and London, 1957, in paperback); Ninian Smart, Doctrine and Argument in Indian Philosophy (London: Allen and Unwin, 1964), Ch. 10; Krishna Sivaraman, ed., Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta, World Spirituality Series vol. 6 (New York: Crossroad, 1989); K.R. Sundararajan and Bithika Mukerji, eds., Hindu Spirituality II: Postclassical and Modern, World Spirituality Series vol. 7 (New York: Crossroad, 1997).

On Chinese and Japanese mysticism, see K. L. Reichelt, Meditation and Piety in the Far East (London: Lutterworth Press, 1953) and Religion in Chinese Garment (London: Lutterworth Press, 1951); Henri Maspero, Le Taoisme (Paris, 1950); Fung Yu-lan, A History of Chinese Philosophy, 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 19521953); and Julia Ching, Mysticism and Kingship in China: The Heart of Chinese Wisdom (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Livia Kohn, Early Chinese Mysticism: Philosophy and Soteriology in the Taoist Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992). The Dao-de-jing has numerous English translations, ranging from that of Lionel Giles (London, 1911) to that of D. C. Lau (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963).

For mysticism in Judaism, see G. G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (London: Thames and Hudson, 1955); E. Müller, History of Jewish Mysticism (London, 1956); Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal-Shem, translated by Maurice Freedman (London: Horowitz, 1956); Ira Chernus, Mysticism in Rabbinic Judaism: Studies in the History of Midrash (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1982); and Arthur Green, Keter: The Crown of God in Early Jewish Mysticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

On Christian mysticism, see R. M. Grant, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (London: Oxford University Press, 1959); W. R. Inge, The Philosophy of Plotinus, 2 vols. (London: Longmans Green, 1918); A. J. Festugière, Personal Religion among the Greeks (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954); Cuthbert Butler, Western Mysticism, 2nd ed. (London: Constable, 1922); Evelyn Underhill, The Mystics of the Church (London: James Clarke, 1925); Vladimir Losskii, The Theology of The Eastern Church, translated by the members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (London: James Clarke, 1957); Jon Gregerson, The Transfigured Cosmos (New York: Ungar, 1960); Margaret Smith, Studies in Early Mysticism in the Near and Middle East (London: Sheldon Press, 1931); R. M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion, 3rd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1909); E. A. Peers, Studies of the Spanish Mystics, 3 vols. (London: Sheldon Press, 19271960); and Louis Bouyer, et al., A History of Christian Spirituality, 3 vols (New York: Seabury, 1969).

On mysticism in Islam, see A. J. Arberry, SufismAn Account of the Mystics of Islam, 2nd impression (London, 1956); Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden: Brill, 2000); R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1921, reissued 1979); Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975); A. J. Wensinck, La pensée de Ghazzali (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1940); and R. C. Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (London: University of London, Athlone Press, 1960).

Ninian Smart (1967)

Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005)