Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have there been important Buddhist mystics?

If transforming encounter with mystery and the cultivation of mental and spiritual states beyond everyday awareness counts as mysticism, then Buddhist tradition can certainly claim its mystics. But there are important differences between Buddhist mysticism and those of traditions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. All three of those traditions talk of at least two large categories of extraordinary spiritual experience. In “theistic” or “dualistic” mystical experience, the human person meets the divine “other” but retains his or her individuality. In “monistic” or “cosmic” mysticism, the human person becomes one with (or realizes the oneness that already exists in) an ultimate reality, with no trace of individuality surviving. Buddhist teaching insists that there is no “self” to begin with, so neither of those two models quite fits. True, some Buddhist schools use the language and symbolism of deity and union, but they understand those symbols as meditative aids rather than representations of metaphysical realities.


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