Archives for posts with tag: mysticism

There appears to be a common thread going through all three of the mystical traditions we’ve looked at. This is, which goes through Kabbalah, Chrisitian mysticism and Sufism is love. Each tradition places a slightly different accent on it but all of them include love and the heart as important aspects of the mystic’s life, the mystic’s relationship with the Divine and the mystic’s relationship with humanity.

In Lurianic Kabbalah the Divine’s desire to share was the initial impetus that led to the act of creation. The interplay between the desire to give and the desire to receive is one of the strongest themes in Kabbalah and is the focus of the process of tikkun. We undergo the process of tikkun in order to transform our desire to receive for the sake of the self alone to a desire to receive for the sake of sharing. This is a process of letting go in which the heart learns to relax the self-constriction and open up to receive the divine light.

In Christian Mysticism we see on one side the mystic’s love for the Divine which manifests as an urgency and eagerness to unite with the Divine. This love is expressed by many mystics and sometimes takes on erotic overtones as exemplified in the work of Hadewijch of Antwer. On the other side, the love of the Divine for the soul is described as a powerful force that purges the soul from its imperfections. This entire love affair is probably best described by the mystic works based on the Song of Songs, in itself a mystical text that describes the love between the Divine and the people of Israel.

Finally, for the Sufis love and longing are central to the spiritual path. The creation itself, according to the Sufis, is an act of longing: “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known” (Hadith Qudsi). The end of the path is the ecstatic union of lover and beloved in the seeker’s heart. This relationship between lover and beloved is also echoed in the relationship between seeker and teacher as we can see in Rumi’s love for his teacher Shams Tabrizi. Since nothing is separate from the Divine, the sufi’s love and devotion to the Divine translate to love and service for all beings. This allows the sufi tradition to be open and inclusive of people of various faiths.

Obviously these different variations of love are each grounded in specific time and culture but what all of them share is the importance of the open heart. From the open heart shine forth love, generosity, kindness, compassion, joy and more but what does a heart need in order to continue being open? I think that the answer offered by the mystics is faith (or trust) in the heart’s capacity to love, to be loved and, eventually, to be love. At the end of the mystical path lies the union between lover and beloved. In this union the seeker discovers that the Divine’s love for the seeker is in fact the seeker’s own love for himself, for the Divine and for all of creation.

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“The point which I would like to make first of all is this: Mysticism is a definite stage in the historical development of religion and makes its appearance under certain well-defined conditions. It is connected with, and inseparable from, a certain stage of the religious consciousness. It is also incompatible with certain other stages which leave no room for mysticism in the sense in which the term is commonly understood.

The first stage represents the world as being full of gods whom man encounters at every step and whose presence can be experienced without recourse to ecstatic meditation. In other words, there is no room for mysticism as long as the abyss between Man and God has not become a fact of the inner consciousness. That, however, is the case only while the childhood of mankind, its mythical epoch, lasts. …

The second period which knows no real mysticism is the creative epoch in which the emergence, the break-through of religion occurs.Religion’s supreme function is to destroy the dream-harmony of
Man, Universe and God, to isolate man from the other elements of the dream stage of his mythical and primitive consciousness. For in its classical form, religion signifies the creation of a vast abyss, conceived as absolute, between God, the infinite and transcendental Being, and Man, the finite creature. For this reason alone, the rise of institutional religion, which is also the classical stage in the history of religion, is more widely removed than any other period from mysticism and all it implies. Man becomes aware of a fundamental duality, of a vast gulf which can be crossed by’nothing but the voice; the voice of God, directing and law-giving in His revelation, and the voice of man in prayer. The great monotheistic religions live and unfold in the ever-present consciousness of this bipolarity, of the existence of an abyss which can never be bridged. To them the scene of religion is no longer Nature, but the moral and religious action of man and the community of men, whose interplay brings about history as, in a sense, the stage on which the drama of man’s relation to God unfolds.

And only now that religion has received, in history, its classical expression in a certain communal way of living and believing, only now do we witness the phenomenon called mysticism; its rise coin­cides with what may be called the romantic period of religion. Mysticism does not deny or overlook the abyss; on the contrary, it begins by realizing its existence, but from there it proceeds to a quest for the secret that will close it in, the hidden path that will span it. It strives to piece together the fragments broken by the religious cataclysm, to bring back the old unity which religion has destroyed, but on a new plane, where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man. Thus the soul becomes its scene and the sours path through the abysmal multiplicity of things to the experience of the Divine Reality, now conceived as the primordial unity of all things, becomes its main preoccupation. To a certain extent, therefore, mysticism signifies a revival of mythical thought, although the difference must not be overlooked between the unity which is there before there is duality, and the unity that has to be won back in a new upsurge of the religious consciousness.”

From Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershom Scholem (1941).