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Chinese Mysticism

China's "mantic Way": Knowledge Through Insight And Technics, Self-cultivation As A Secular Pursuit: C. 400 B.c.e.–1600 C.e.

The term mysticism represents a modern approach to a cultural path rooted in antiquity, and given anthropological considerations it is timeless. Mysticism usually concerns any work, study, or praxis that aims at transcendence (the experiencing "self" moving beyond normal limits) or union with the divine. It was (is) often private or even secret, perhaps involving special teachers. To reflect on the experience requires placing it into everyday language and expression.

Mysticism in Chinese thought and society should neither be reified nor reduced to one cultural path or genre of thought. It resonates with some, if not all, ancient Mediterranean practices to which the Greek word mustikos (from the word muo, to be secret) was applied, as well as with mysticism found among thinkers from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. Chinese society produced its own textual adepts and adherents, both within and outside of religious structures. And there are examples of guarded (in some sense hermetic) pursuits and transmittals of curricula and skills.

Three important aims of Chinese mysticism have been: (1) mantic knowledge and divination; (2) individual enlightenment and/or transcendence; and (3) union and cooperation with divinities. Social contexts range widely: individuals, village groups, and royal courts. A village scholar might employ an artisan-practitioner for mantic insight into his place in the cosmos, and priests might pursue hermetic texts and praxis of a rarefied nature.

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