Online College Courses for Credit




This lesson explores a variety of practices relating to the belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are present within various religions.central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

29 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

314 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 27 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Video Transcription

Download PDF

[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on mysticism. Mysticism is an interior path of approaching divinity. It works by removing our concepts of God as much as by thinking about concepts of God.

Let's take a look at some of the features of mysticism. We can say the mysticism is a type of religious experience and not a path or practice, per se. So various different practices of religions around the world, such as meditation or contemplative prayer, or chanting, drumming and dancing, and the indigenous traditions, may predispose a practitioner to the mystical experience. But the experience itself happens in a flash of inspiration.

So most mystics would say that they can invite this mystical state to happen but they can't force it to happen. Here are some examples from the Christian tradition, here on the left. What's called contemplative prayer, which is a form of silent prayer.

Or perhaps practicing the rosary. There's Catholic rosaries, Anglican rosaries, and Orthodox rosaries. Repeating a formulaic prayer many, many times, perhaps even thousands of times, over and over again. To get to the point where the prayer is almost automatic and it works its effect without the words.

Moving on to lectio divina, which means divine reading. A devotional reading of the Bible that can be another path of contemplation. Two medieval books set the stage for Christian mysticism. The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. And The Cloud of Unknowing, by an unknown medieval writer.

On the right, some examples of what we might call mysticism and Buddhism. Of course the Buddhist stance of anatta or anatman, which means no soul or no self. And shunyata, which means emptiness. We can find the beginnings of Buddhist practice in the Dhammapada, which is a collection of the teachings of the Buddha.

So more examples from Hinduism. There's a school of thought in Hinduism called Advaita Vedanta, which means the end of the Vedas. And Advaita Vedanta teaches a form of non-dualism, in which everything is immersed in God. So the practitioner seeks to reach this non-dual state. We can find accounts of non-dualism in the Upanishads and in the Bhagavad Gita.

Some schools of Hinduism also ascribed to four yogas. Jnana yoga, which is the path of wisdom. Seeking to reach God through philosophical contemplation. Bhakti, which means devotion. Being devoted to a particular deity in much the fashion as two lovers who long to be with each other, oftentimes through drumming and chanting and singing.

Karma yoga, which is the path of selfless service. And raja yoga, the kingly yoga, which has physical and psychological exercises. What you might be familiar with what are called asanas-- yoga postures, and breathing practices and other physical methods of using the body as a vehicle to reach the divine.

Some examples from other traditions in both Tibetan Buddhism and Tantric Hinduism. The three M's-- mandala, mudra, and mantra. The mandala is a geometric design that is thought to embody some aspect of divinity. A mudra is a hand position that is assumed for spiritual purposes. And mantra is a prayer or formula that is recited in order to come close to divine nature.

And then the Afro-Caribbean religions. Santeria, Vodoun, and other religions will use Catholic symbolism combined with African deities. And oftentimes, there is a spirit possession that takes place in these Afro-Caribbean services. Or Sufism, a type of Islamic mysticism that involves frequent invocations of the divine name and devotional dancing and other ecstatic practices.

Ecstatic means just simply moving outside of self and emerging with the divine nature. It comes from the "ecstasis" in the Greek, just means out of place. So getting out of your place and moving into the divine. And also Kabbalah Jewish mysticism, which is focused on a numerological exploration of the scriptures. Intense, devotional study of the Torah.

It's important to remember that these are all practices. That these are means to reach the mystical state. They are not the mystical state itself. Which practitioners from various different religions insist that this state is completely incommunicable.

Thank you for watching this tutorial on mysticism. We said that mysticism emphasizes a direct approach towards the divine. And that practices may open the possibility for a mystical experience. But they cannot guarantee a mystical experience.

Mystics often claim that their experiences are simply incommunicable and can only be hinted at by metaphorical methods. Mysticism exists in traditions around the world. In fact, in every nearly every religious tradition. And this has led scholars of religion to sometimes posit mysticism as a possible link between the various different traditions.

We gave examples from around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, Hinduism. We also mentioned the Afro-Caribbean religions, which practice a form of spirit possession. All of these examples are ways that people use to come into direct contact with divinity.

And some more vocab for this lesson. Anatman, which means no soul or no self. Shunyata, which means emptiness. And advaita, or non-dual consciousness, which is when the soul of the individual worshipper merges with God or with the outside world.

Terms to Know
Advaita (non-dual) consciousness

An altered mental or emotional state in which the person no longer experiences a difference between the internal and external.


In Buddhism, the experience of the loss of self, usually combined with mystical religious experience.


An often-repetitive song that aims to induce a state of spiritual receptivity in the worshiper.

Contemplative Prayer

An attempt to put oneself in contact with the sacred/divine via clear and quiet thinking.


A state of intense spiritual joy and/or physical pleasure.


A practice that aims to clear the mind in order to be receptive to divinity.


A religious approach that emphasizes one's personal experience of divinity and/or the presence of divinity over philosophical or rational approaches.


In Buddhism, “emptiness” that leaves one more receptive to enlightenment through prayer and contemplation.