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Mysticism and religious experience Essay

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With reference to the life and work of Martin Buber – describe and explain this contribution to Mysticism and religious experience. (35) Mysticism is an aspect of religious experience that is little understood. This term has been used to describe experiences that reveal spiritual recognition of truths beyond normal understanding, from the mildly ecstatic to the occult. It has been said that there are certain features which accompany such experiences which enable their recognition, such as a sense of freedom from the limitations of time, space and the human ego.

Believers may also experience a sense of “oneness” or unity with God, accompanied with bliss and serenity. Mysticism is seen as the closest a human being can ever come to actually meeting God in this life. Mystical experiences can also be classified into two areas: extrovertive, where one experiences unity in the world through the physical senses and introvertive, where the person loses their identity as a separate individual and slowly merges into the divine unity. A key extrovertive mystic is Martin Buber.

In examining his contribution to religious experience, a good place to start is considering his background. Martin Buber was a mystic who lived from 1878-1965. He was an Austrian Jew and was highly influenced by his grandparents and by his grandfather in particular who was a respected Jewish “Midrash” writer. He was essentially brought up by his grandparents after the break-up of his parent’s marriage and Buber was included and encouraged to engage in discussion with the dinner guests, mostly on theological and philosophical issues.

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Buber’s early philosophical ideas were heavily influenced by Kant, Neitzche and later those of Kierkegaard. Buber had a keen sense of the political and understood political fervour and religious faith to be complementary to each other. Thus Buber became a pivotal member of the Zionist Movement. This was an organization aiming to establish a Jewish State so that the Jewish people could be a great nation again and influence the rest of the world. They also aimed to share the Jewish principles of love for God and others.

In Paths to Utopia he believed the answer to the Arab/Israeli problem is to be found in a bi-national state, positive affirmation of strength and similarities of both national traditions. Buber understood that unless there was a meeting of minds, mutual respect and sensitivity, there would be no peace. He admired the corporate sharing of the Kibbutz but felt that the denial of God made it prone to failure. Buber believed that only God could bring peace amongst the nations, societies and families. People must recognise God (the Eternal Thou) in each other.

This compliments the Jewish Shema – “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself. ” Buber was also a Hasidist; this was a Jewish separatist movement which had strong emphasis on worship, scriptural study and living a simple life in community. Buber however later abandoned any kind of extremism since he believed that very few in the movement wished to live out the religious principles of love and compassion alongside what had become a political aim.

His influence extends beyond theology to the wider field of humanities: social psychology, social philosophy and religious existentialism. Buber realised that God extends beyond the political and national. Buber has influenced mysticism and religious experience by publishing many works, the most famous of which are “Works by Rabbi Nachman”, “the Legend of Baalschem”, “I and Thou” and “Paths to Utopia”. In Ich-Es Ich-Du Buber identifies two ways of living. I-it is treating the rest of the world as an object to be exploited for personal gain or benefit.

This is a selfish way to live and fails to recognise the worth in God’s creation. Buber calls this monologue. I-Thou engages without agenda and meets the world seeking only to understand and form relationship. This was what Buber believed was a meaningful way to live, and he called it dialogue. He admired the worship of Quakers who emphasise silence – waiting on God – because this encounter was a demonstration of the I-Thou relationship. (Psalm 46:10 reads, “Be still and know that I am God. ”)

Buber’s ideas are as relevant today as when he penned them. The modern world is characterised by individualism, materialism, selfishness and seems to have lost touch with the need for meaningful relationships, even more so, being silent and waiting on God. Buber was counter cultural. Religion, for Buber, is tied essentially to human relations. The link between human-human association and divine-human association takes place on three levels: First, the relation between human beings is seen as a model for the relation to God.

Second, we only arrive at the encounter with God through our encounters with human beings. And third, our encounter with God improves our relations with human beings. To quote Buber, “The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings. ” Buber opposes all movements, philosophical and otherwise, which attempt to understand our relationship with God as anything other than a conversation between two active participants.

Most fervently, however, he opposes the Enlightenment philosophers who seek to turn God into an abstract principle, the Romantic philosophers who sought to turn God into nature, and the 19th century atheists, such as Nietzsche and Marx, who sought to prove that God is nothing but a sad delusion. Overall, Buber was an incredible scholar whose contribution to mysticism and religious experience has been immense. To quote him, “When I meet a man, I am not concerned about his opinions, I am concerned about the man; I think that no human being can give more than this, making life possible for the other if only for a moment. ”

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