Before examining their respective spiritual lives and teachings, it is important to consider certain characteristics of mysticism in general. Common to the mystical state is an experience of God, a practical experience of the most intense and personal form.
Mysticism is simultaneously an act of the highest love, an act of surrender and an act of supreme perception. Mysticism is not to be seen as a religion in itself; but rather that which is most vital in all religions, and which revolts against merely formal and lethargic religion. It is not a philosophical system, although it subscribes to a scheme of things. It is an entirely spiritual activity which transcends the world of senses, yet it entails a definite psychological experience.
To achieve the unitive experience, the mystic must pass from the finite to infinite, from a lower reality to the highest Reality, from a sense of the personality or ego self to being Being itself. 'Mysticism claims that the soul can undertake this tremendous journey and pass from that which is temporal to that which is Eternal, and it bases its claims on certain postulates.' (The Way of the Mystics, Margaret Smith, Oxford University Press, New York.)
The first one states that 'the soul can see and perceive by a spiritual sense... that
inner sense which is called intuition.' In this state one receives direct revelation and knowledge of God. 'Mysticism, then, asserts.... that knowledge is not attained only by the sense or intellect or the normal processes of consciousness, but that the highest knowledge is attained... by this spiritual sense of intuition.
Secondly, mysticism maintains that the soul, in order to know God, must itself be a partaker of the Divine Nature. In this context it can be said that there is an inward light or divine spark which seeks to reunite with Eternal Flame.
The third point makes it clear that unless the soul is 'stripped of the veils of selfishness and sensuality' it cannot attain to the knowledge of God. The act of purification requires the seeker to surrender self will, self seeking, and also to still the
Finally, mysticism sees love as the guiding principle and inspiration of the soul journeying to God. 'The mystics, throughout the ages, have conceived of the Object of their search as the Beloved, and it is as lovers that they seek for the communication of their love in union with the One.'