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The theory and practice of religious ecstasies. Traditionally conceived as the spiritual quest for union with the Absolute, the Infinite, or God and the perception of its essential oneness, mysticism is now understood to encompass many other varieties of ecstatic experience and perception, including that of nothingness or of the disappearance of the soul. Forms of mysticism are found in all major religions. Ancient and medieval Christian mystics included St. Augustine, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Teresa of Àvila, and Meister Eckhart and his 14th-century successors. Whereas Hinduism and, in Islam, Sufism generally aim at unity with or absorption by the divine, Buddhism and the esoteric Jewish mysticism known as Kabbala are directed toward nothingness; Buddhism in addition emphasizes meditation as a means of moving toward enlightenment. Other mystical traditions are found within Daoism and shamanism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on mysticism, visit Britannica.com.