Yoga Meditation Mysticism book

Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks by Kenneth Rose (2016)

Contemplative experience is central to Hindu yoga traditions, Buddhist meditation practices, and Catholic mystical theology, and, despite doctrinal differences, it expresses itself in suggestively similar meditative landmarks in each of these three meditative systems. 

In Yoga, Meditation and Mysticism, Kenneth Rose, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and emeritus professor of philosophy and religion at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, shifts the dominant focus of contemporary religious studies away from tradition-specific studies of individual religious traditions, communities, and practices to examine the ‘contemplative universals’ that arise globally in meditative experience. Through a comparative exploration of the itineraries detailed in the contemplative manuals of Theravada Buddhism, Patañjalian Yoga, and Catholic mystical theology, Rose identifies in each tradition a moment of sharply focused awareness that marks the threshold between immersion in mundane consciousness and contemplative insight. As concentration deepens, the meditator steps through this threshold onto a globally shared contemplative itinerary, which leads through a series of virtually identical stages to mental stillness and insight. Rose argues that these contemplative universals, familiar to experienced contemplatives in multiple traditions, point to a common spiritual, mental, and biological heritage. 

Pioneering the exploration of contemplative practice and experience with a comparative perspective that ranges over multiple religious traditions, religious studies, philosophy, neuroscience, and the cognitive science of religion, this book is a landmark contribution to the fields of contemplative practice and religious studies. 

Introduction to the Study of Mysticism

*An Introduction to the Study of Mysticism by Richard H. Jones (2021)

The purpose of this book is to fill a gap in contemporary mystical studies by providing an overview of the basic ways to approach mystical experiences and mysticism. It discusses the problem of definitions of “mystical experiences” and “mysticism” and advances characterizations of “mystical experiences” in terms of certain altered states of consciousness and “mysticism” in terms of encompassing ways of life centered on such experiences and states. Types of mystical experiences, enlightened states, paths, and doctrines are discussed, as is the relation of mystical experiences and mysticism to religions and cultures. 

The approaches of constructivism, contextualism, essentialism, and perennialism are presented.  Themes in the history of the world’s major mystical traditions are set forth. Approaches to mystical phenomena in sociology, psychology, gender studies, and neuroscience are introduced. Basic philosophical issues related to whether mystical experiences are veridical and mystical claims valid, mystics’ problems of language, art, and morality are laid out. Older and newer comparative approaches in religious studies and in Christian theology are discussed, along with postmodernist objections. 

The intended audience is undergraduates and the general public interested in the general issues related to mysticism.    


*The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

The Varieties of Religious Experience is a book by the late Harvard psychologist and philosopher William James, comprising 20 lectures given at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  While The Varieties of Religious Experience was first published in 1902, the work continues to be the subject of academic study and is still considered to be one of the best psychological studies of spiritual experience to date.

William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, are the backbone of the world’s spiritual life. His discussion on conversion, repentance, mysticism, and saintliness – and his observation on actual, personal religious experiences – all support this thesis.

The lectures included in The Varieties of Religious Experience concerned the nature of religion and the neglect of science, in James’ view, in the academic study of religion. Soon after its publication, the book found its way into the canon of psychology and philosophy, and has remained in print for over a century.  A free, PDF copy of James’ book is available on the University of Notre Dame’s website at the page listed below:


The Teachings of the Mystics by W.T. Stace (1960)

What is mysticism? Who is a mystic? The late W.T. Stace of the Princeton University philosophy department seeks to answer these questions.

In this impartial and perceptive survey, a leading modern philosopher interprets and analyzes the characteristics, nature, meaning, and value of mystical consciousness as it has been described by the great mystical writers of the world down through the ages.

The Teachings of the Mystics includes selections from: The Upanishads, Sri Aurobindo, Buddhist texts, Professor D. T. Suzkuki, Lao-Tzu, Plotinus, Dionysius the Areopagite, Meister Eckhart, Jan Van Ruysbroeck, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Farid Al-Din Attar, Jalal Al-Din Rumi, The Zohar, and Arthur Koestler.

If you are new to mysticism studies or are seeking a summary of Stace’s ideas along with a broad array of mystical writings, then we recommend reading this before reading Stace’s more scholarly book, Mysticism and Philosophy.


The Spiritual Nature of Man: Study of Contemporary Religious Experience by Alister Hardy (1983)

This book is based upon the first eight years’ work of the Religious Experience Research Unit set up at Manchester College, University of Oxford, in 1969. Sir Alister Hardy, the founder of the Unit, was a distinguished marine biologist at Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society. In Hardy’s words, the book is “intended as a contribution towards the study of this important, but still so little understood, part of our make-up, made in the spirit of an inquiring naturalist.”

The Spiritual Nature of Man: Study of Contemporary Religious Experience offers a discussion of the whole range of religious experience as revealed by the examination of the first three thousand personal accounts sent in to the Religious Experience Research Unit.  These accounts include ecstasies, visions, voices, illuminations, unitive/mystical consciousness, and many other experiences.  Chapters cover: Varieties of spiritual awareness, Dynamic patterns of experience, Triggers and consequences, Studies from the records, Quantitative research, and more.

While Hardy sought to examine spiritual experience broadly rather than to make a case for any specific religion, he believed that, “The bringing of the elements of religion [i.e., spiritual elements] into the realm of scientific thought may prove to be a vital issue:  unless this can be done, religion as a moral force may disappear, and we cannot be sure that our civilization will survive without it.  Accordingly, one of Hardy’s main goals in writing his book, was “to present such a weight of objective evidence in the form of written records of these subjective spiritual feelings and of their effects on the lives of the people concerned, that the intellectual world must come to see that they are in fact as real and as influential as are the forces of love.”


The Shape of the Soul: What Mystical Experience Tells Us about Ourselves and Reality by Paul Marshall (2019)

When Paul Marshall began to pay attention to his dreams, he could not have anticipated the transformative experience that would follow. A tremendous expansion of consciousness exposed the insignificance of his everyday self but also revealed unsuspected depths of mind and hinted at a deeper self that holds the universe within.

In The Shape of the Soul, Marshall—now a mysticism scholar—draws on personal experiences, along with a wealth of religious, philosophical, and scientific ideas, to explore this deeper self, sometimes experienced in mystical and near-death states as spherical in form. Drawing inspiration from the philosophers Plotinus and Leibniz, Marshall takes mind to be more fundamental than matter and views the basic units of nature as perceptual beings. We ourselves are such beings, striving for fulfilment in a long evolutionary journey of soul-making.

Bringing together mysticism, philosophy, biology, and even some physics, The Shape of the Soul offers a deeply integrated vision of the self and the universe. Addressing the mind–body problem, the origin of the world, evolution, reincarnation, suffering, and the nature of God, Marshall delivers what will surely prove an intellectual classic.


Religious Experience by Wayne Proudfoot (1987)

This book seeks to answer questions such as:  How is religious experience to be identified, described, analyzed and explained?  Is it independent of concepts, beliefs, and practices?  How can we account for its authority?  Under what conditions might a person identify his or her experience as religious?

Wayne Proudfoot, a Columbia University Professor specializing in the philosophy of religion, aims to show that concepts, beliefs, and linguistic practices are presupposed by the rules governing this identification of an experience as religious.  Proudfoot contends that some of these characteristics can be understood by attending to the conditions of experience, among which are beliefs about how experience is to be explained.


Piercing the Veil: Comparing Science and Mysticism as Ways of Knowing Reality by Richard H. Jones (2010)

This book explores an area in the field of “science and religion” that scholars usually neglect – science and mysticism. It examines the recent efforts of New Age popularizers and scholars who see a convergence of modern science and various Asian schools of mysticism – in particular, Madhyamaka Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. The works examined include the Dalai Lama’s The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, B. Alan Wallace’s Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground, the physicist Victor Mansfield’s Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge, and Fritjof Capra’s best seller, The Tao of Physics. The entire New Age idea of any “quantum mysticism” is shown to be groundless.

In Part I, the distinctions that any comparative study of science and mysticism should recognize are outlined.  Philosophical problems arising in comparing science and mysticism as ways of knowing reality are highlighted here, including issues surrounding the neurological study of meditators by such scientists as Eugene G. D’Aquili, Andrew B. Newberg, and Mario Beauregard.  Other topics, such as what role mysticism may have played in the history of science, are also discussed. In Part II, the efforts of those who see convergences or parallels between modern science and Asian mysticism are examined. In Part III, central questions in the philosophy of religion related to mysticism are addressed, and a way that science and mysticism can be positively related is set forth.


Philosophy of Mysticism: Raids on the Ineffable by Richard H. Jones (2016)

This 2016 work provides a thorough, contemporary study of the philosophical issues raised by mysticism.  As the author notes in the book’s preface, “A comprehensive treatment of the basic problems in [the field of mysticism] is long overdue.  No major comprehensive book on the philosophy of mysticism has been published since Walter Stace’s Mysticism and Philosophy in 1960….  Since then, a number of developments and new issues have arisen – in particular, those raised by postmodernism and scientific research.”

The book focuses on the skeleton of beliefs and values of mysticism:  knowledge claims made about the nature of reality and of human beings; value claims about what is significant and what is ethical; and mystical goals and ways of life. Jones engages language, epistemology, metaphysics, science, and the philosophy of mind. Methodological issues in the study of mysticism are also addressed. Examples of mystical experience are drawn chiefly from Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, but also from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Daoism.


Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness by Robert K. C. Forman (1999)

In an exploration of mystical texts from ancient India and China to medieval Europe and modern day America, Robert K. C. Forman, one of the leading voices in the study of mystical experiences, argues that the various levels of mysticism may not be shaped by culture, language, and background knowledge, but rather are a direct encounter with our very conscious core itself.

Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness focuses on first-hand accounts of two distinct types of mystical experiences. Through examination of texts, recorded interviews, and autobiographical experiences, the author describes not only the well-known “pure consciousness event” but also a new, hitherto uncharted “dualistic mystical state.” He provides a readable depiction of what mysticism feels like. These accounts, and the experiences to which they give voice, arise from the heart of living practices and have substance the greatly adds to the literature on mysticism.

The book also reexamines the philosophical issues that swirl around mysticism. In addition to examining modern day constructivist views, Forman argues that the doctrines of Kant, Husserl, and Brentano cannot be applied to mysticism. Instead he offers new philosophical insights, based on the work of Chinese philosopher of mind Paramartha. The book concludes with an examination of mind and consciousness, which shows that mysticism has a great deal to tell us about human experience and the nature of human knowledge far beyond mysticism itself.