MYSTICISM. The word mysticism is of a vague signification, out it is generally applied to all those tendencies in religion which aspire to a direct communication between man and his God, not through the medium of the senses, but through the inward perception of the mind. Consequently the term is applied to the Pantheism of the ancient Hindu, to the Gnosticism of the ancient Greek, to the Quietism of Madame Gayon and Fenelon to the Pietism of Molinos, to the doctrines of the Illuminati of Germany, to the visions of Swedenborg, as well as to the peculiar manifestations of mystic views amongst some modern Christian sects. It is a form of error which mistakes the operations of a merely human faculty for a divine manifestation, although it is often but a blind protest in behalf of what is highest and best in human nature.
The earliest mystics known are those of India, the best exposition of their system being the bhagavad-gita (see Wilkins’ translation). Sir William Jones says:—” A figurative mode of expressing the fervour of devotion, the ardent love of created spirits, toward their Beneficent Creator, has prevailed from time immemorial in Asia; particularly among the Persian Theists, both ancient Hushangis and modern Sufis, who seem to have borrowed it from the Indian philosophers of the Vedanta School, and their doctrines are also believed to be the source of that sublime but poetical theology which glows end sparkles in the writings of the old Academics. ‘Plato travelled into Italy and Egypt, says Blande Fleury, ‘to learn the Theology of the Pagans at its fountain head.’ Its true fountain, however, was neither in Italy nor in Egypt, though considerable streams of it had been conducted thither by Pythagoras, and by the family of Misra, but in Persia or India, which the founder of the Italic sect had visited with a similar design.”
Almost the only religion in the world in which we should have concluded, before examination, that the Pantheistic and mystic spirit of Hinduism was impossible, is the stern unbending religions system of Muhammad and his followers. But even amongst Muslims there have ever been those who seek for divine intuition in individual souls, to the partial or entire rejection of the demands of creeds and ceremonies. These mystics are called Sufis, and have always included the philosophers, the poets, and the enthusiasts of Islam. For an account of these Muslims, see the article on SUFIISM.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam