Mysticism – Karen Armstrong

“One of the lessons we have already begun to learn is the almost uncanny universality of the religious experience. Men and women may express their faith in different terms, but there is an underlying and profound similarity beneath all the differences. We now realise that the great religions of the world are not monolithic institutions but that they all contain several spiritualities – many of which are found right across the board of the world religions – which reflect different attitudes of mind towards our ultimate end. Mysticism is one such spirituality, found in all religions and is a startling example of this deep unity of the religious vision. Mystics often have different beliefs which inevitably affect their experience. They will describe their interior journeys in terms of the orthodox traditions of their faith: Jews, Christians and Muslims, for example, believe in a personal God while Buddhists feel that this is an unreligious idea and prefer to speak of an ultimate but indescribable Reality. But the actual experience of all mystics is strikingly similar: all encounter a reality in the depths of the self, which is, paradoxically, Other and irrevocable separate from us. All emphasise that this ultimate reality, which gives meaning and value to human life, is ineffable, transcending our limited words and concepts. Mystics are aware that their experience can never be explained in rational terms and insist that it is unhelpful and can even be dangerous to attempt to define the ultimate reality in terms of reason and logic. They encounter a presence which transfigures their lives and, provided that they are temperamentally suited to this type of religious activity and have the benefit of expert advice, they experience a satisfaction which is real but inexpressible. They feel that they have transcended the confines of their limited and isolated egos and also feel that they have been somehow absorbed into the ultimate truth and are at one with the world.

People who have no religious faith find this baffling, but it would be wrong to dismiss the mystics as deluded and credulous. However one chooses to interpret it, the mystical experience has been a fact of life, once human consciousness has developed to a certain point.”

– Introduction to THE ENGLISH MYSTICS OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY by Karen Armstrong (ISBN 1856260232)

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