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
- One may be religious, but not spiritual or mystical.
- One may be religious and spiritual, but not mystical.
- One may be religious, spiritual and mystical.
- One may be spiritual, but not religious or mystical.
- 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.