The Mystical Experience, or the Way to Transformative Union

The Mystical Experience, or the Way to Transformative Union

Puiu Ionita (Al. I. Cuza University of Iasi, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1955-3.ch007


Mysticism is a way of knowing, but one based solely on experience. It is basically knowledge through love. Although religions have visible differences, mysticism is only one. The yogi and the Kabbalah worshiper, the Sufi, the hesychast and the Western mystical, all go through the same route, have the same behaviour and follow the same purpose. In contrast to other ways of knowing, the mystical way is one of direct experience. Knowledge is not achieved through a focus on the object, but by transforming the subject itself. Not by a protrusion, but by deepening itself. The mysterious path leads inexorably inwards. It is an ascending road passing through asceticism, unceasing prayer (the prayer of the heart) and progressing enlightening, to reach eventually, through ecstasy and revelation, the uniting purpose (Unio Mystica). Although secret and based on initiation, sometimes mysticism attracted massive groups of people, having a strong impact on the social level. Thus, in the last century Romania, there occurred two phenomena mainly due to the Eastern mysticism, respectively to hesychastic teaching and experience. These were the revival movement of religious life within the Romanian Orthodox Church, called the “Army of God”, and the movement initiated by intellectuals from the group “Burning Bush”.
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Mysticism is practical, but not pragmatic. It is entirely devoted to living, but it does not have utilitarian purposes. Being a purely spiritual activity that seeks finality detached from any earthly interest of union of man with God through love, mysticism is centred on the person rather than the social group. In this case, the social impact is not a purpose, but a consequence. Contemplative experience thus has as its primary objective the transformation of the person, and the result is the transformation of the group, the community. So mysticism appears to be the most effective means of building the human – it acts spiritually to subsequently affect all the other aspects of life. St. Augustine's expression: “dilige et quod vis fac” captures the subtlety of the mechanism by which love configures the spiritual, which in turn determines all spheres of human existence. From the mysterious feeling of love of God arise all virtues and a person's social behaviour, the value system that guides their passage through the world.

Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky observes that religion rests on two pillars: theology and mysticism. Between these pillars, which are of equal importance, there is an interdependent relationship. While theology paves the believer's way to keep him from wandering, mysticism gives life to religion, for it represents the act of effectively living the religious sentiment. It can be said that mysticism is blind without religion and theology is dead without mysticism. Religion can exist only through the contribution of this complementarity.

Any discussion about mysticism must have as its starting point the concept of the sacred, since sacred is the essence of the religious phenomenon. On the other hand, it is said that the Church, in its institutional sense, does nothing but manage the sacred. The miracle of faith makes the mystical and the institutional Churches confuse one another mysteriously and paradoxically.

The word “sacred” has, in the European tradition, several expressions and values (in Greek hagios = “saint” and hieros = “holy, divine”; in Hebrew qadosh = “sacred” and isirah = “strong,” “life-giver”; in Latin Sacros = “sacred,” “sacred character” and Sanctus = “saint”). But the most interesting etymology is the root sak-. For the Romans, the Latin equivalent of the Greek hag- is sak-, explained by H. Fugier using the verb sancire, which means “to make it become sak” i.e. “to validate,” “to give real character.” Sak- is the root of all Indo-European terms that refer to the sacred (whose fundamental meaning, in Indo-European thinking, is “in accordance with the cosmos, the basic structure of things which really exist”) and its importance comes from the fact that it originally meant “to exist,” “to be real.”

Rudolf Otto distinguishes between sacred, considered to be more accessible and comprehensive, and numinous – less accessible and smaller, a mysterious and irrational object reflected in the consciousness as a sense of faith, a religious feeling literally lived in its innermost state, without which there is no religion. According to Otto, numinous is the “sacred minus its moral element and even minus any of its rational elements” (Otto, 1996, p.13). The basic elements of numinous, the attributes through which it can be perceived are, according to the German thinker, the frightening mystery (misterum tremendum), the fascinating, and the energy.

The noun “mysticism” has Greek etymology and belongs to a lexical family whose lexical terms are closely related to the idea of sacred:

  • μυειν = “to close eyes,” “to tighten lips”; “to initiate in secret things”;

  • μυστης = “the one initiated into a mystery”;

  • μυστηριον = “mystery,” “secret,” “religious ceremony attended only by initiates”;

  • μυσταγωγος = “the one who initiates,” “the custodian of the mystery”;

  • μυστικος = “mysterious,” “secret,” “related to mysteries.”

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