Religion and Mysticism are not the Same

Religion and Mysticism

Reli­gion and mys­ti­cism – many peo­ple believe they are the same.  It is under­stand­able that this is so because his­to­ry records many famous mys­tics among the ranks of the reli­gious. Mys­tics may add to the con­fu­sion when they refer to “their prac­tice,” as a form of reli­gion. How­ev­er that may be, we hold that reli­gion and mys­ti­cism are not the same. Here is an easy break­down.

Religion and Mysticism

  1. One may be reli­gious, but not spir­i­tu­al or mys­ti­cal.
  2. One may be reli­gious and spir­i­tu­al, but not mys­ti­cal.
  3. One may be reli­gious, spir­i­tu­al and mys­ti­cal.
  4. One may be spir­i­tu­al, but not reli­gious or mys­ti­cal.
  5. One may be spir­i­tu­al and mys­ti­cal, but not reli­gious.

The moment one begins to explore their unique way of con­nect­ing with the Divine – a mys­tic is born.

Religions and Traditions

At its sim­plest, reli­gion is a set of tra­di­tion­al prac­tices and beliefs about the divine that a group of peo­ple accept and reg­u­lar­ly prac­tice. Catholics, Bap­tists, Bud­dhists, Hin­dus, and oth­ers have a rich tra­di­tion of reli­gious prac­tices that intro­duce their fol­low­ers to the Divine. The impor­tant thing here is that a reli­gious per­son iden­ti­fies with tra­di­tions – and all that entails – along with the faith itself.

Mysticism as a Unique Practice

Reli­gion and mys­ti­cism dif­fer in that mys­tics com­pose their own prac­tices of com­muning with the Divine. Reli­gions con­tain ele­ments of mys­ti­cism, but mys­ti­cism, as a prac­tice, includes spir­i­tu­al exer­cis­es unique and suit­ed to the indi­vid­ual. You may find any num­ber of mys­ti­cal prac­tices on this web­site – many based in med­i­ta­tion. While med­i­ta­tion is a uni­ver­sal prac­tice, mys­ti­cal exer­cis­es are as unique as fin­ger­prints.

Religion versus Mysticism: An Illustration

Reli­gion and mys­ti­cism may be illus­trat­ed using a tri­an­gle. The broad base rep­re­sents the var­i­ous reli­gious tra­di­tions. The sides rep­re­sent spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. At the base, all mem­bers of the reli­gious tra­di­tion more or less expe­ri­ence the same thing – such as songs, prayers, lec­tionar­ies, and the like. As one moves towards the pin­na­cle of the pyra­mid, spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ences become more per­son­al, focused, and unique. For instance, a mys­tic might rely upon spe­cif­ic mys­ti­cal prac­tices to induce visions or astral trav­el that some reli­gious tra­di­tions frown upon.

Some have not­ed that reli­gions are like paths up the moun­tain – all lead­ing to the top. (We appre­ci­ate the anal­o­gy but notice many faiths don’t climb the hill as much as they con­tin­u­al­ly loop it.) Even so, many mys­tics note that mys­ti­cism replaces reli­gion the high­er up the moun­tain one trav­els. Peo­ple some­times ref­er­ence their mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ence in a reli­gious frame­work – such as describ­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with Jesus, Bud­dha, and so one. How­ev­er, time and expe­ri­ence, reveal to most mys­tics that it is only the lan­guage describ­ing one’s expe­ri­ence that dif­fers. Mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences in all reli­gious tra­di­tions are remark­ably sim­i­lar.

Practices: Religious, Spiritual, Mystical


Here is a quick descrip­tion of the three types of prac­tice – reli­gious, spir­i­tu­al, and mys­ti­cal. Reli­gious prac­tices include com­mon meet­ings, pub­lic prayer, singing, shared dog­ma, and com­mon approach­es to under­stand­ing sacred text. The key here is that the faith tra­di­tion decides what is cor­rect for all. An excel­lent illus­tra­tion of this is the Vat­i­can – which deter­mines mat­ters of faith and prac­tice for mil­lions of Catholics world­wide.


Spir­i­tu­al prac­tices are rit­u­als and rou­tines that help one draw nigh to the divine. Though some meth­ods are com­mu­nal­ly prac­ticed, many belong in the realm of per­son­al prac­tice such as indi­vid­ual or direct­ed scrip­tur­al study, prayer, con­tem­pla­tion, and med­i­ta­tion. Our dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between those things which are spir­i­tu­al ver­sus mys­ti­cal mat­ters is that spir­i­tu­al prac­tices are usu­al­ly favor­ably “endorsed” the one’s reli­gious tra­di­tion. Spir­i­tu­al prac­tices are usu­al­ly more famil­iar to most peo­ple and less eso­teric than mys­ti­cal ones.


The mys­tic, on the oth­er hand, may employ reli­gious­ly approved spir­i­tu­al prac­tices, but exer­cise their right as a Spir­i­tu­al Sov­er­eign to select any mys­ti­cal prac­tice or exer­cise, whether or not oth­ers approve. Many prac­tices are obscure – not well known. Mys­tics care less about the ori­gin of an exer­cise and more about its out­come. Mys­tics tend to uni­ver­sal­ly accept any path that poten­tial­ly leads to com­muning with Source Con­scious­ness.

One may be Spiritual and Mystical without Religion

Final­ly, we note that no reli­gious back­ground is nec­es­sary to be either spir­i­tu­al or mys­ti­cal. In many ways, reli­gion ham­pers one’s jour­ney on the mys­ti­cal path. A fresh view of the Divine, with few­er pre­con­cep­tions, is cer­tain­ly an asset. One is cer­tain­ly able to con­nect with the Divine out­side of a faith tra­di­tion. The moment one begins to explore ways of con­nect­ing with Source – a mys­tic is born.

We encour­age you to read more about this sub­ject in the les­son enti­tled A Mystic’s View of God. You will find it in the Meta­phys­i­cal Foun­da­tions sec­tion of this web­site.

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