Mysticism comes from the word “Mystic” which means an initiate of the sacred mysteries. The mystic, by undergoing certain challenges and training, gained knowledge of and especially personal experience of different states of consciousness and levels of being. The mystic came to know reality in a whole new way, one that went beyond normal human perception and involved the development of a direct connection with a supreme being.
Mysticism is both the practices that lead a person to become a mystic and also the practices developed by mystics to strengthen their connection to altered states of consciousness and to help others experience those states.
The main practice of mysticism is meditation – and this can be accomplished in a variety of ways including intellectual study, physical activity, and interaction with people particularly in a charitable way, and various ritualistic programs – besides the common idea of sitting quietly and attempting to gain clarity of mind.
Almost all the founders of the world’s great religions were mystics (Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Krishna, etc.), and elements of mysticism are apparent in religious activities. However, most religions rely on a structured, formalistic approach to their practices to maintain their organizations and thus, mysticism is often deprecated or persecuted. Mystics, in a religious context, need to be controlled or they might set up a competing organization.
The goal of mysticism is to prepare people to experience an awakening to cosmic reality – that is, an experience of absolute union with the universe or God.